Monday, September 23, 2013

Wk.38- Aga Is as Aga Does

Just a little weekly WTA recap, yearning to breathe free... but Aga demands a little extra attention.

Thirty-six weeks ago, Agnieszka Radwanska began her 2013 season on a tear, winning back-to-back titles and double-bageling Dominika Cibulkova in the Sydney final. Since then, things have been pretty interesting on the Radwanska front, as she's had quite an eventful year, but it took over eight months for her to return to the winner's circle this weekend in Seoul.

Hmm, let's see, what's happened since January? Well, she had those tastefully nude photos in ESPN Magazine, then was criticized back home in Poland by Catholic groups and dropped as a youth group spokesperson. As the highest-remaining seed in the semifinals at Wimbledon, she looked to have quite possibly her best-ever chance to win a slam crown... until she was ousted by Sabine Lisicki. After leaving London, she came to North America and found still more disappointment there, blowing a big lead in the Stanford final to none other than Cibulkova.

While it's been, at times, both a tough summer and overall season for Radwanska, the world #4 has still had quite a fine, under the radar campaign. Nestled right behind the Big 3.

At the slams, she had arguably her best-ever combined year. Even without matching her Wimbledon final run from '12, she reached at least the Round of 16 at all four slams for just the second time (2008) ever, and for the first time put up three QF-or-better results at those majors as she had, in order, QF-QF-SF-4th Round results. The finishes matched (AO/US) or bettered (RG) her career-best advancement at three slams.

Also, when, or if (I guess), Marion Bartoli's name ever drops out of the rankings, Radwanska will sport the longest active streak of weeks ranked in the Top 20 (she's at 293). She has the third-longest -- behind Azarenka & Sharapova -- current Top 10 streak with 103 weeks, too.

But, wait. There's more.

Aga's fifty-two wins are second on tour to only Serena, she's set to finish in the Top 5 (maybe Top 4) for the second straight season, and her title run this weekend in Seoul not only gives her three crowns in 2013, but it makes this year the third straight in which she's managed to win so often. The only other pro players who can say that? Ummm, just some people named Rafa, Andy, Novak and Vika.

No, she didn't win Wimbledon. Her malicious alter ego played out a scorched earth policy at SW19 that got WAY out of control instead. But, make no mistake, Radwanska demands to be recognized.

If we know what's good for us.

S: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS 6-7(6)/6-3/6-4
D: Chan Chin-Wei/Xu Yi-Fan (TPE/CHN)

S: Zhang Shuai/CHN def. Vania King/USA 7-6/6-1
D: Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN) d. King/Voskoboeva (USA/KAZ)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
...eleven sets up in Seoul. Ten sets down in Aga's win column. In fact, after easily dusting off the likes of Alexandra Cadantu, Estrella Cabeza-Candela, Vera Dushevina and Lara Arruabarrena, the only set Radwanska lost last week came in a 1st set tie-break against Anastasia Palvyuchenkova in the final as A-Rad swept to her thirteenth career title. Hmmm, thirteen... well, considering what's happened with a few current players when they hit #13 it might be advisable for Aga to get #14 as quickly as possible. Remember, Serena's German restaurant excursion came after winning slam #13, while the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova are stuck on thirteen career tour titles, and one has to wonder at this point whether they'll EVER get to fourteen. Jelena Jankovic has thirteen titles, as well, but considering who we're talking about there there's no reason to chalk up any occurrences and/or strange moments to anything having to do with anyone's potential case of triskaidekaphobia. Of course, the fear of The Rad might be even stronger than superstition... so Aga will likely be just fine.
RISERS: Zhang Shuai/CHN & Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai (TPE/CHN)

...if you're Chinese and you want to win your first title, Guangzhou is a pretty good place to visit. Over the weekend, 24-year old Zhang Shuai became the fifth woman from her country to claim a WTA singles title, and the third (after Yan Zi and Li Na) to win her first crown inside China's borders in Guangzhou. A wild card last week, Zhang has placed her name back into many conversations over the course of this season. She first garnered big headlines late in '09 when, ranked at #226, she became the lowest-ranked woman to ever defeat a world #1 (Dinara Safina at the time), a record that still stands. She finished 2010 in the Top 100, so far her only such year-end finish. Still, she hadn't managed to win an ITF crown for three years before she took a $75K challenger earlier this season. Zhang has had success in Guangzhou before, reaching a singles semi in '10 and winning the doubles there a year ago with Tammy Tanasugarn. This time around, wins over Olga Puchkova, defending champ Hsieh Su-Wei, Johanna Konta, Yvonne Meusburger and Vania King have put into another category altogether. Better yet, she insists this isn't just a new career highlight, but is actually just "the beginning." Also in Guangzhou, Hsieh & Peng continued to make a case for being the best doubles duo on tour in '13. Their eighth career title as a team is their fourth this season, more than any other WTA combo, though it's actually quite small compared to their other crowns this year -- "little trinkets" picked up in Rome, Cincinnati and Wimbledon.
SURPRISES: Teliana Pereira/BRA & Jang Su Jeong/KOR
...Pereira reached a tour-level semifinal in Bogota this year as a qualifier, but the 25-year old is still at her best on the ITF level. In a $25K in Saint Malo, France she grabbed her fourth challenger title of the season this weekend, knocking off Pauline Parmentier in the final. Meanwhile, in Seoul, 18-year old wild card Jang, the world #540 and fifth-highest ranked Korean, took out world #33 Klara Zakopalova, the second-ranked Czech, in straight sets in the 1st Round, then followed up with an upset of Ons Jabeur to become the first Korean in a WTA quarterfinal since Cho Yoon Jeong was a finalist at Canberra in 2006.
VETERANS: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Zheng Jie/CHN
...Schiavone, 33, reached her second semifinal of the season (she won the title in Marrakech) in Seoul with wins over Andrea Petkovic, Virginie Razzano and 42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm. Once there, she engaged Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a two-set battle that included 13-11 and 8-6 tie-breaks. Unfortunately for Francesca, she lost both of them. In Guangzhou, Zheng advanced to her first semi of '13, getting wins over Yaroslava Shvedova, Timea Babos and '12 finalist Laura Robson.
...the 24-year old is still the youngest American to win a tour singles title since a 17-year old Serena Williams took the U.S. Open by storm in 1999. King, also 17, won a title in Bangkok in '06. Her Guangzhou final run last week, which began in the qualifying rounds, was her best WTA result since that improbable performance in Thailand seven years ago. King's wins included triumphs over Anastasia Rodionova and Chan Yung-Jan in qualifying, and then main draw victories over Chanelle Scheepers, Bojana Jovanovski, Monica Puig and Zheng Jie before losing to Zhang Shuai. To top things off, King also reached -- but also lost -- the doubles final with partner Galina Voskoboeva.
FRESH FACE: Lara Arruabarrena/ESP
...the #113-ranked Spaniard, who won a tour title in Bogota last year and a WTA 125 challenger crown earlier this year in Cali, reached her first regular tour semifinal of 2013 in Seoul. She notched wins over Elina Svitolina, Alexandra Dulgheru and wild card mover-and-shaker Jang Su Jeong.
DOWN: Maria Kirilenko/RUS
...well, on the bright side, at least Kirilenko is maybe finding some extra free time for some wedding planning. Ever since the Russian climbed into the Top 10 for the first time after Roland Garros her fortunes have gone decidedly south. She was 27-10 for the season up until her new career height, but had gone just 7-6 since, including a 2nd Round loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm last week as the #2 seed in Seoul, where she's twice reached the final (winning in '08). Kirilenko, currently #19, is in danger of not even finishing the season in the Top 20 after doing so two of the past three years.
ITF PLAYER: Shelby Rogers/USA
...Rogers grabbed the USTA's wild card into the U.S. Open main draw by putting up the best results in a series of North American challenger events. Well, she's not playing for a spot in a slam now, but she's still winning. She claimed her third ITF title of the season in a $75K in Albuquerque, breaking good with wins over Sachia Vickery, Veronica Cepede Royg and Anna Tatishvili in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Belinda Bencic/SUI
...the girls Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion picked up her first WTA win in the 1st Round in Tokyo, defeating Daria Gavrilova. She lost today in the 2nd Round to Petra Kvitova.

1. Seoul Final - A.Radwanska d. Pavlyuchenkova
A-Rad had lost eleven games in her first four matches before dropping fourteen against the Hordette in the final. By the way, it's easy to forget that Pavlyuchenkova has reached a career-best four finals in '13 (as many as she'd made the last three years combined) -- but that's the case mostly because of the seven players who've done it this season the Russian is by far the lowest-ranked.
2. Seoul SF - Pavlyuchenkova d. Schiavone
Schiavone failed to convert on three set points in the 1st, and it took Pavlyuchenkova five tries herself to lock it away. She eventually won the two and half hour (but just two sets long!!) contest on her third match point.
3. Seoul 1st Rd. - Jang d. Zakopalova
Just based on the numbers -- #540 vs. #33 -- it'll be difficult to top this one in the Upset of the Year contest.
4. Seoul QF - Schiavone d. Date-Krumm
"You make me feel so young," said Francesca to Kimiko... then she beat her in three sets.
5. Guangzhou Final - Sh.Zhang d. King
Players ranked #100+ in 2013 finals are 2-12 this season, but a win was assured for one of them here, as Zhang was #112 and King #124.
HM- $25K Dobrich Final - Mayr-Achleitner d. Dinu
The "lucky loser" who reached the U.S. Open 3rd Round has done it again, winning the second of back-to-back ITF challengers as a #1 seed.

1. Ningbo WTA 125 1st Rd - A.Schmiedlova d. Ka.Pliskova
Slovak sister-on-Czech sister crime, in the post-Czechoslovakian era.
2. Tokyo Q1 - Watson d. Y.Sema 6-1/6-0
Tokyo Q1 - Torro-Flor d. E.Sema 6-7/6-3/6-1
last weekend, the Sema sisters were facing off in the Incheon challenger final. They shared an experience in Tokyo this weekend... just not a good one.
3. Guangzhou 1st Rd - Dolonc d. U.Radwanska 7-5/6-2
Tokyo 1st Rd - Cibulkova d. U.Radwanska 6-3/6-3
sure, Ula isn't exactly in good form lately, but is it wise for Dominika to poke a Radwanska with a stick when she could possibly face off with Aga again the 3rd Round? I'm sure A-Rad remembers Stanford in even more detail than Cibulkova did Sydney.

55...Serena Williams
44...Venus Williams
29...Maria Sharapova
20...Caroline Wozniacki
17...Victoria Azarenka
13...Jelena Jankovic
13...Svetlana Kuznetsova
13...Nadia Petrova

**2013 WTA TITLES**
9...Serena Williams, USA
4...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Victoria Azarenka, BLR

**2013 WTA FINALS**
11...Serena Williams (9-2)
6...Victoria Azarenka (3-3)
5...Maria Sharapova (2-3)
4...Simona Halep (4-0)
4...Sara Errani (1-3)

Hobart - Elena Vesnina, RUS (age 26, #68)
Memphis - Marina Erakovic, NZL (age 24, #71)
Kuala Lumpur - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (age 20, #127)
Florianopolis - Monica Niculescu, ROU (age 25, #75)
Nuremberg - Simona Halep, ROU (age 21, #58)
Bad Gastein - Yvonne Meusburger, AUT (age 29, #86)
Baku - Elina Svitolina, UKR (age 18, #71) [won WTA 125 in '12]
Guangzhou - ZHANG SHUAI, CHN (age 24, #112)
[first-timers in recent seasons]
2006: 11
2007: 13
2008: 6
2009: 13
2010: 9
2011: 6
2012: 13
2013: 8

Hobart - Elena Vesnina, RUS (Barthel in Final)
Cali 125 - Lara Arruabarrena (Dulgheru in 2nd Rd.)
Memphis - Marina Erakovic, NZL (Arvidsson in 2nd Rd.)
Miami - Serena Williams, USA (A.Radwanska in SF)
Palermo - Roberta Vinci, ITA (Errani in Final)
New Haven - Simona Halep, ROU (Kvitova in Final)
Guangzhou - ZHANG SHUAI, CHN (Hsieh in 2nd Rd.)

Paris - Sara Errani, ITA (L/W)
Cali 125 - Catalina Castano, COL (L/W)
Tashkent - Olga Govortsova, BLR (L/L)
Guangzhou - VANIA KING, USA (L/L)

Kuala Lumpur - Karolina Pliskova/CZE d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (WC)
Florianopolis - Monica Niculescu/ROU d. Olga Puchkova/RUS
Birmingham - Daniela Hantuchova/SVK d. Donna Vekic/CRO
Eastbourne - Elena Vesnina/RUS d. Jamie Hampton/USA (Q)
Bad Gastein - Yvonne Meusburger/AUT d. Andrea Hlavackova/CZE
Guangzhou * - Zhang Shuai/CHN (WC) d. Vania King/USA (Q)
* - all-unseeded semifinalists

20 - Yan Zi (2005 Guangzhou)
21 - Zheng Jie (2005 Hobart)
22 - Li Na (2004 Guangzhou)
24 - ZHANG SHUAI (2013 Guangzhou)
25 - Sun Tiantian (2006 Tashkent)

3...Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
3...Nadia Petrova & Katarina Srebotnik, RUS/SLO
2...Timea Babos & Mandy Minella, HUN/LUX
2...Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
2...Raquel Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears, USA/USA
2...Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
2...Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Sania Mirza, USA/IND

#226 Zhang Shuai def. Safina ('09 Beijing 2nd)
#188 Julie Coin def. Ivanovic ('08 US Open 2nd)
#133 Zheng Jie def. Ivanovic ('08 Wimb 3rd)
#133 Kim Clijsters def. Davenport ('05 IW Final)
#132 Chang Kai-Chen def. Safina ('09 Tokyo 2nd)
#129 Jelena Dokic def. Hingis ('99 Wimb 1st)

2003 Netherlands d. Canada
2004 Argentina d. Canada
2005 Poland d. France
2006 Belarus d. Russia
2007 Australia d. Poland
2008 United States d. Great Britain
2009 Russia d. Germnay
2010 Russia d. China
2011 Australia d. Canada
2012 United States d. Russia
2013 Russia vs. U.S.

TOKYO, JAPAN (Premier $2.216m/hard court outdoor)
12 Final: Petrova d. A.Radwanska
12 Doubles Final: Kops-Jones/Spears d. Groenefeld/Peschke
13 Top Seeds: Azarenka/A.Radwanska

#1 Azarenka d. Kuznetsova
#2 A.Radwanska d. Pennetta
#1 Azarenka d. #2 A.Radwanska

...what scares Aga most? Hmmm, I don't know for sure. But I bet Vika is pretty high on the list.

NINGBO, CHINA (WTA $125K Challenger/hard court outdoor)
12 Final: ($100K ITF) Hsieh d. Sh.Zhang
12 Doubles Final: ($100K ITF) Aoyama/Chang d. Luzhanska/Sai.Zheng
13 Top Seeds: Jovanovski/J.Zheng

#1 Jovanovski d. Larsson
#4 Meusburger d. #2 J.Zheng
#1 Jovanovski d. #4 Meusburger

...BoJo landed in the correct airport and already has a main draw win in Ningbo, so at least she's got that under control. By the way, one look at the draw of this WTA 125 Challenger and you can't help but smirk about how the tour once said these small events were supposed to be designed for young players to get much needed experience, etc.

12 Final: USA d. RUS

Russia d. United States

...a rematch of the '12 final, but with a different result without the likes of Townsend, Chirico & Andrews on the Bannerette team.

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

I am utterly convinced on my early theory that vika cannot play 2 weeks in a row barring slams.

Tue Sep 24, 08:09:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

She does seem to lose her concentration a bit when "nothing is really at stake." Of course, that's the case with a lot of the higher-ranked players at this time of the season. That's why I wonder whether it'd be smarter to cut about a month off the end of the season so that it ends a little closer to the completion of the U.S. Open. Smaller events could still be held for the lower-ranked players, as well as the WTA Championships and FC. The bigger events in Asia -- Tokyo and Beijing -- could be shifted to earlier in the season, after Australia, when the time zone shift difference wouldn't be so much of a change for the players. Haha -- just throwing ideas at the wall. :D

As far the Vika/Venus match, Azarenka had six DF in nine service games, while Venus won 75% of her own 1st Serve points. Obviously, Vika still hasn't solved those service issues.

Tue Sep 24, 12:45:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Regarding Allaster's comments about women playing best-of-5 matches at the slams if asked, following still more commentary from men's players about equal prize money and the men "providing more entertainment"...

Really, you'd think that with all the money that the top players on the ATP make that it wouldn't even be an issue how much the women earn, how long they play, etc. There aren't other things to be concerned with? And, anyway, for one, if the women start playing best-of-5's, they're going to have to turn the slams into two and a half week, Olympic-sized (16-19) events in order to have time to fit all the matches in. And, really, as far as Simon's assertion that the men provide "more entertainment" with five-setters, I know that there are more boring-ass five-set men's matches at slams than I could possibly count. Fact in, in most men's matches at slams, the first set and a half is usually simply "meaningless" action (sort of like all but the last 5 minutes of most NBA games), since the "real match" doesn't start until late in the 2nd or the 3rd set. In other words, the men often provide three sets of real entertainment, but take twice as long to have it play out.

How about a compromise like, say, both the men and women play best-of-three sets up until the Round of 16 or QF, then best-of-five after that? Best of both worlds... and less time for needless carping from some of the men's players and/or media members, too. Just a thought.

Tue Sep 24, 04:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I like your compromise. I hadn't even thought of that--good idea! The 5-sets things in the early rounds generally bores me.

I think that Vika is ill, by the way.

Tue Sep 24, 04:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I always wanted women players to play best-of-5 matches at one point during Slams. Not because of equal wage or anything like that, but really because it annoys me to see players showing exhaustion in a third set, often with less than 2 hours of play. I truly have no sympathy when a player loses a match because she's not fit enough for a close match that goes in three.

I've never seen men players exhausted that quickly, mostly because they have to train in order to be fit enough for best-3-out-of-5. If women had to do as well, it's the overall quality of all matches that would improve.

Your format proposal is a good idea. It would also shorten these early quick disposals by top male players.

Tue Sep 24, 05:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, the women's players training to be prepared to play best-of-five matches in the second week of a slam WOULD likely raise the overall fitness level of the tour and lead to better day-in, day-out matches over the course of the year, and maybe cut down on some injuries, too. It'd be a nice offshoot that would benefit the tour as a whole.

Tue Sep 24, 06:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Now, on to convincing the Wimbledon organizers!

Tue Sep 24, 07:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Time for a call to Citizen Anna! ;)

Tue Sep 24, 08:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

I like best of five only because consistency counts more than reckless hitting in shorter time frame. Also might eliminate one time wonders.

Wed Sep 25, 01:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Todd, who were the other Chinese title winners? Everyone's been saying Zhang is number 5, but I can't seem to recall anyone besides Li, Zheng, and Zi Yan. Peng is title-less, I believe.

Wed Sep 25, 08:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

oh. i thought of it. sun tiantian.

i can't believe that that was in back in 2006.

kind of surprising to realize that no chinese player other than zheng and li have won titles since then.

it was also surprising to realize that vania king, who i always consider to be very young, has been around that long.

where has the time gone?

Wed Sep 25, 09:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Watching an interview of Venus in Japan...I feel like she's a bit different now. More open, less results driven...The first thought that actually came to mind was that "she's lost her edge." But that's not quite accurate...I think she feels more "lived". Maybe "experienced" is a better word. Like she's seen life on the other side. She's definitely gone through her trials recently.

I'm glad that she's finally getting some matches. Watching her play recently has been hard because she'll make some really poor decisions or not be able to execute things that everyone is used to seeing her do.

I hope she's able to stay healthy. Her athleticism and power should still place her in the top 20, if not top 10.

Wozniacki's playing well too.

Also, re: Sam Stosur...different styles of play really get to her. Her game has little traction against Vika, Maria, and I guess Safarova...but she's never lost to Li Na. Is there any other top player who has streaks like that? I feel like other players are more even.

Wed Sep 25, 11:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I think, at this point, now that everyone KNOWS it won't last forever (of course, we always knew that, but it's more "real" now), we all appreciate every little good moment -- no matter how fleeting and/or temporary they might be -- that Venus provides these days. And she does, too.

Ha, yeah, it's hard to think of too many top players as streaky as Stosur. Of course, Nadia comes to mind, but she's never reached a slam final. Kuznetsova, too, has always traded off moments of brilliance with moments that make you want to run your head into a wall.

Hmmm, then again, now that I think about it, Kvitova sort of fits rather snugly into a very Stosur-like category these days, too. Unfortunately. :(

As far as the Chinese title winners. Umm, Eric, all five were always listed in the Lists section of this post... right under your nose all along. :D

Thu Sep 26, 01:09:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I like one-time wonders :)

Thu Sep 26, 10:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ah... visions of Iva Majoli. ;)

As it's turned out, Tokyo has turned into an event revolving around former wonders rising up all over again. Semifinalists: Venus, Kvitova, Wozniacki & Kerber.

A bit of a theme, to say the least. :)

Thu Sep 26, 10:58:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

A nice theme I think. By the way a nice thing is that the semi finalists get a bye in Beijing not bad ;)

Congrats to Serena she's turning 32 today probably singing karaokee in her bathtub ;)

Thu Sep 26, 12:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Existential question of the day: Tokyo semifinalists get a bye in Beijing (excellent idea). But since Bouchard's good results in Tokyo are not computed in the rankings, she still has to qualify in Beijing.

So, what would have happened if Bouchard had beat Venus and reached the semifinals? Would she have obtained a wild card in addition to a first-round bye?

Fri Sep 27, 12:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

You're always pondering life's great questions while sitting on the mountain top, Zidane. :D

Fri Sep 27, 05:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Great win in the Tokyo final for Kvitova... as well as those of us who raise an eyebrow about the "interference" of her coach in her career's progress the last year or so.

Kvitova handled Kerber in the 1st set, was on her game, and hit many more winners than errors (17/5) while never having her serve broken. After taking the set 6-2, she got a visit from Kotyza... then promptly went out and lost the 2nd set at love, dropping her serve three straight times.

She righted herself in the 3rd after taking an off-court break.

Of course, this sort of thing hasn't been out of character for Kvitova, coaching visit or not, this year. .. but talk about anecdotal evidence.

Sat Sep 28, 11:47:00 AM EDT  

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