Wk.41- The Road (Back) To Osaka (and Linz)
October is often the month on the WTA calendar when youngsters take advantage of the relative lull in the action to knock down a few "career-first" doors and trumpet their future arrival on the tour's bigger stages. It's also when players who've faced a season (or two) of disappointment often find the moment and time are just about perfect to right a few wrongs, set their career on a different course and maybe even lock away a handful of very important ranking points that will enable them to close out their year as a member of the select field at the WTA Championships.
Yep, Week 41 had all of the above... as well as another head-shaking performance by a certain Twitter-(but not Serena)-loving American.
*WEEK 41 CHAMPIONS*
LINZ, AUSTRIA (Int'l $235K/HCI)
S: Angelique Kerber/GER def. Ana Ivanovic/SRB 6-4/7-6
D: Ka.Pliskova/Kr.Pliskova (CZE/CZE) d. Dabrowski/Rosolska (RUS/POL)
OSAKA, JAPAN (Int'l $235K/HCO)
S: Samantha Stosur/AUS def. Eugenie Bouchard/CAN 3-6/7-5/6-2
D: Mladenovic/Pennetta (FRA/ITA) d. Stosur/Sh.Zhang (AUS/CHN)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Angelique Kerber/GER
...it probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Kerber's results have taken a bit of an upswing -- she's reached two 4Q finals and her eleven wins tie Aga Radwanska for the most on tour since the U.S. Open) -- since it's safe to assume that after (unwisely?) playing through injuries all season she may finally have outlasted her maladies and might just be healthier now than she has been for most of the past year. If so, it's hard to blame the German to trying to strike while the iron is hot, as she slipped into the Linz draw last week as a very late entry (knocking Austrian wild card Lisa-Maria Moser out of the main draw) and was installed as the #1 seed -- at the BOTTOM of the draw -- to the consternation of many. In the end, though, she made it all worth her while as she managed to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul, and her string of victories over Monica Niculescu, Alexandra Cadantu, Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Ana Ivanovic finally ended her eighteen-month title drought after having not won since doing so in Copenhagen in April of last year.
RISERS: Eugenie Bouchard/CAN, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...look out above, here come Genie and Kristina! 19-year old Bouchard, already the highest-ranked teenager on tour, managed to take yet another step up in her career last week in Osaka. Coming in at #35, the Canadian was the second highest-ranked player (behind #12 Sloane Stephens) without an appearance in a WTA singles final. Well, no more. The now #32-ranked Bouchard's run to her first career final, and the first on tour by a Canadian since Aleksandra Wozniak in Ponta Vedra Beach in '09, included wins over Varvara Lepchenko, Luksika Kumkhum, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Kurumi Nara. In the final against Sam Stosur, even with her first serve not being at full strength, she won the 1st set and was on serve at 4-4 in the 2nd before the more experienced Aussie pulled away to take her second Osaka crown. Meanwhile, in doubles, Pasty Mladenovic seems to have found yet another doubles partner who'll likely jump at the chance to play with her again. Teaming with Flavia Pennetta for the second straight event, the very intriguing duo were crowned champions in Osaka with a win in the final over Stosur & Zhang Shuai. Counting her Mixed slam win with Daniel Nestor at Wimbledon, this is Mladenovic's sixth different doubles title this season -- and she's won them with six different partners. Since the summer of '12, the 20-year old has shared her nine tour-level, WTA 125 or slam titles with nine different players. Now, if only she could add a little more confidence to her singles game, where she once again lost early (2nd Rd. - Zheng Jie) after, as the newly-appointed #9 seed, she slid into Jelena Jankovic's spot at the top of the draw when the Serb withdrew after having officially qualified for the year-end championships in Istanbul. And, so as not to slight her for another week, it should be noted that Carla Suarez-Navarro continues to put up some great non-clay results. In Linz, the Spaniard had her fourth SF-or-better result of '13 (on three different surfaces) with wins over Kristyna Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Kirsten Flipkens. CSN lost in the semis to eventual champ Angelique Kerber, leaving her as the second-highest ranked player (#17), behind only Stephens, without a tour singles title in her career (though she's reached five finals).
SURPRISES: Stefanie Voegele/SUI & Katarzyna Piter/POL
...Voegele continued her under-the-radar ascent last week in Linz. Earlier this summer, the 23-year old Swiss reached a career-high ranking of #47. After her third semifinal result of the season, which included victories over Klara Zakopalova, Karin Knapp and the come-from-behind salvaging of a match against Sloane Stephens, she's left with a current ranking of #54 as she seeks her first career year-end Top 50 finish. She's already assured of just her second Top 100 (and first since '09) at the conclusion of '13. Piter, 22, still lives in the Polish shadows of Aga and Ula, but she's been putting up some of her best-ever results in recent weeks. Earlier this season, Piter reached her first $100K challenger final (losing to Polona Hercog in the Czech Republic) and claimed her maiden WTA tour title of any kind when she won the Budapest doubles with Kristina Mladenovic. Last week, she qualified in Linz, notching a win over Irina-Camelia Begu before finally going down to renowned-Radwanska-foe Dominika Cibulkova in the 2nd Round. She also reached the doubles semis with Irina Buryachok. This weekend in Luxembourg, she put up a qualifying win over Christina McHale and, as of this post, stands one additional win away from joining the main draw there, as well. In the new WTA rankings, Piter, the highest-ranked Pole not named Radwanska, has achieved new career-highs in both singles (#144) and doubles (#81).
VETERANS: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Flavia Pennetta/ITA
...one could say that Stosur's singles career finally began to take shape when, finally, after going 0-5 in tour finals, she won her first in the inaugural WTA event in Osaka in 2009. With her confidence stoked concerning her decision to de-emphasize her brilliant doubles career and instead focus on singles, she won the U.S. Open less than two years later. Of course, it nearly took two more years for her to win another title, this summer in Carlsbad. Immediately afterward, she parted ways with longtime coach David Taylor, then started working with Alicia Molik. When she was upset by 17-year old Vicky Duval in the 1st Round of the Open, and as her ranking nearly slipped out of the Top 20, it was apparent that Stosur's career would once again have to begin a new chapter. Or else. And what better place for it to start than Osaka? Again. Wins over Johanna Larsson, Belinda Bencic, Misaki Doi, Madison Keys and Eugenie Bouchard gives Stosur two titles in a season for the FIRST TIME IN HER CAREER, as she's now 19-3 in her five trips to the Japanese city. Sure, she might still only be 5-12 in career finals, but this crown does tie her with Molik on the all-time Aussie WTA title list. After her victory in singles, Stosur had the chance to do something that no other woman had done this season -- sweep both the singles and doubles at a tour-level event. The Aussie was the sixth woman to give it a go in both finals as she reached the doubles decider with Zhang Shuai. She wasn't able to pull it off, though Stosur, who's won just one doubles title ('11 Stuttgart) since '07, is the only one of the six to win the singles title during her attempt to take both crowns. Also in Japan, Pennetta's successful comeback from wrist surgery, after an early singles loss at the hands of Vania King, struck some unexpected gold in that Osaka doubles final, as it was the Italian & Kristina Mladenovic who defeated Stosur & Zhang for the title. Prior to this, Pennetta's only doubles crown over the past three seasons came when she teamed with Gisela Dulko to win the Australian Open title in 2011.
COMEBACKS: Ana Ivanovic/SRB & Arantxa Rus/NED
...it'd been nearly two years since AnaIvo had reached a tour singles final (Sofia TOC '11) before her runner-up result this past week in Linz, the same event that the Serb won in both 2008 and '10. Wins over Yanina Wickmayer, Francesca Schiavone, Dominika Cibulkova and Stefanie Voegele sent Ivanovic to the final, where she at least put up something of a fight against Angelique Kerber, fighting off three match points, then holding four set points of her own in the 2nd, before finally losing on MP #4. Of course, that AnaIvo would shine at this time of the year, when the schedule is populated with indoor events, is no shock. Five of her eleven singles titles have come indoors, and she hasn't lifted a trophy at an outdoor event since she won Roland Garros in 2008. Meanwhile, Rus continues to totally re-write the story of her 2013 season. Earlier this year in Bad Gastein, the Dutch woman finally put an end to that WTA record-tying streak of eighteen straight main draw tour event losses, eventually reaching the QF at that tournament. Since then, she's gone 23-3 on the ITF circuit, a stretch that has included four successful appearances in challenger finals, including her second in as many weeks this past weekend in the $25K in Sant Cugat, Spain when she defeated Alberta Brianti in three sets in the championship match.
FRESH FACES: Madison Keys/USA, Kurumi Nara/JPN & Karolina Pliskova/Kristyna Pliskova (CZE/CZE)
...it was a week of firsts. Keys, 18, defeated Anna Schmiedlova, Zhang Shuai and Zheng Jie in Osaka to reach her first career tour semifinal, while 21-year old Nara, a wild card in the same event, knocked off Caroline Garcia, Monica Puig and Polona Hercog to also reach HER first career WTA semi after having never even advanced to a QF before last week. Meanwhile, in Linz, the 21-year old Pliskova sisters, less than three months after reaching their first tour final in Baku as an all-sisters doubles duo (after previously winning five ITF crowns), won the first WTA doubles title for both with a straight sets win in the final over Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolka. Karolina also won her first tour singles title earlier this season in Kuala Lumpur.
DOWN: The Brits & Sloane Stephens/USA
...a year that began (Robson def. Kvitova in Melbourne) with much promise for British tennis, and included Andy Murray's triumph at Wimbledon, isn't ending with nearly as high spirits. Murray is out after having an operation on his back, while the nation's two best women's players are stumbling over the 2013 finish line. A season ago, Robson became the first British woman to reach a tour singles final (Guangzhou) since 1990 and just three weeks later (in Osaka) saw Watson became the first to win a crown since 1988. Both women had year-end rankings either just inside or outside the Top 50. In 2013, Watson's season has included a prolonged bout with glandular fever and a coaching change. As the defending champ last week in Japan, she was ousted in the 1st Round by Monica Puig. Meanwhile, #42 Robson, also changed coaches and dealt with a wrist injury. Additionally, she's been saddled with many losses throughout the season to lesser-ranked foes. In Osaka, she was taken out by such a player once again, in the form of 42-year old, #54-ranked Kimiko Date-Krumm in another opening round match. For the season, #92 Watson is 11-19 while Robson is 18-22. Stephens, on the other hand, has seen her ranking jump from #38 at the end of last season to #12 as she's become a big stage (both on and off) star, complete with wins over Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. At 37-22, her record is great for an up-and-coming player, but her spectacular 15-4 mark in slams glows far brighter than her more pedestrian 22-18 mark away from the sport's brightest lights. Last week in Linz, the penchant for Current Sloane to make Future Sloane wince at her fumbled-away potential victories popped up yet again. While the American was swiped of the #1 seed with Angelique Kerber's (controversial) late addition to the draw as the top seeded player, Stephens nonetheless kept her place at the top of the draw. She even got a few wins from that position. But, in the QF, Sloane's version of "Groundhog Day" happened again as once more she exited via a come-from-ahead loss, this time to Swiss Stefanie Voegele. After leading the 1st set 5-2, Stephens failed to convert eight set points before being forced to a tie-break. There, she finally took the set on SP #10, only to drop the 2nd. In the 3rd, she once again led 5-2, then proceeded to drop the final five games of the match to be sent out in defeat as she maintains her standing as, at #12, not only the highest-ranked player without a tour singles title, but the highest-ranked without an appearance in a final. The only other similarly final-less Top 50 players (now that Bouchard's name has been removed from the list)? Stephens' younger American counterpart Madison Keys (#36), who reached her first career semi in Osaka, #47 Kristina Mladenovic (though she has won a WTA $125 crown) and #49 Monica Puig. Of course, the stat doesn't stick like flypaper to any of those three... considering they haven't already reached a slam semifinal and don't have wins over the world's #1 and #3 players.
ITF PLAYER: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
...the 31-year old Croat claimed the title at the $50K event in Joue-les-tours, France, defeating An-Sophie Mestach in the final to win her first challenger crown since 2010. Now ranked #106, Lucic-Baroni, after season-ending rankings of #105, #116 and #108 the last three years, is looking for her first Top 100 finish since 1999, the same season that she was a surprise Wimbledon semifinalist.
JUNIOR STAR: Tornado Alicia Black/USA
...after winning her first ITF-level singles title two weeks ago, 15-year old Black dropped down a level and claimed her biggest junior title yet at the Grade B1 ITF Pan-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The #1 seed, Black double-bageled #13-seeded Bannerette Kaitlyn McCarthy in the final match. McCarthy, 15, just led the U.S. Girls to the Junior Fed Cup semis after Black had been left off that team's roster despite having reached the U.S. Open girls final just a few weeks earlier.
1. Linz Final - Kerber d. Ivanovic
...6-4/7-6. Kerber becomes the twenty-first #1 seed to claim a tournament crown this season, while Germany is the ninth nation to produce multiple singles champions.
2. Osaka Final - Stosur d. Bouchard
...3-6/7-5/6-2. Their only other match-up came earlier this season in Charleston when, still nursing a calf injury from Indian Wells, Stosur retired in the 2nd set just nine games into the match. In this one, the games that never happened in Match #1 were where the Aussie pulled away in Match #2.
3. Linz QF - Voegele d. Stephens
...6-7/6-4/7-5. Maybe Commander (Future) Sloane should abandon The Cause and come back and rescue Current Sloane from herself?
4. Linz 2nd Rd. - Hercog walkover Lisicki
...The German might have gotten a win over Venus in Beijing the other week, but she's just 6-5 (and now this walkover) since defeating A-Rad in London to reach the Wimbledon final.
5. Osaka 1st Rd. - Date-Krumm d. Robson
...6-4/6-4. As the season gets later... the 42-year old gets stronger.
1. Osaka Doubles QF - Mladenovic/Pennetta d. Hsieh/Hsieh 6-2/6-2
Linz Doubles Final - Pliskova/Pliskova d. Dabrowski/Rosolska 7-5/6-4
...there was room for only one all-sisters champion doubles team in Week 41, but beating a pair of siblings gave you a leg up on winning it all. Apparently.
2. $25K Asuncion 2nd Rd. - Adamczak d. Y.Sema 3-6/6-4/6-3
$25K Ascuncion QF - Adamczak d. E.Sema 6-4/6-0
$25K Asuncion Doubles SF - Adamczak/Patterson d. S-J.Kim/Y.Sema 7-6/6-4
...Aussie Adamcak filled her stomach with yummy Sema sister bits-and-pieces last week in Paraguay.
3. $25K Asuncion Doubles Final - Lertcheewakarn/Ar.Rodionova d. Adamczak/Patterson
...6-2/3-6/10-8. But that just made her susceptible to a Rodionova sister sneak attack -- or maybe it was just indigestion? -- in the doubles final. Apparently.
**SINGLES/DOUBLES FINALS IN SAME EVENT**
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)
Ningbo 125 - Zhang Shuai, CHN (L/W)
Osaka - SAMANTHA STOSUR, AUS (W/L)
**MOST 2013 WTA/WTA 125 FINALS BY NATION**
15...United States (10 titles)
9...Czech Republic (4)
**2013 WTA/WTA 125 SEMIFINALISTS BY NATION**
14...Czech Republic, Romania
[total # of nations in SF in recent seasons]
**MLADENOVIC DOUBLES TITLES w/ partners**
Montreal: Klaudia Jans-Ignacik
Quebec City: Tatjana Malek (Maria)
Taipei 125: Chan Hao-Ching
Memphis: Galina Voskoboeva
Charleston: Lucie Safarova
Oeiras: Chang Yung-Jan
Wimbledon Mixed: Daniel Nestor
Palermo: Katarzyna Piter
Osaka: Flavia Pennetta
**2013 FIRST-TIME WTA/WTA 125 FINALISTS**
Bogota - Paula Ormaechea, ARG (lost to Jankovic)
Kuala Lumper - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (def. Mattek-Sands)
Eastbourne - Jamie Hampton, USA (lost to Vesnina)
Bad Gastein - Andrea Hlavackova, CZE (lost to Meusburger)
Baku - Elina Svitolina, UKR * (def. Peer)
Suzhou 125 - Zheng Saisai, CHN (lost to Peer)
Guangzhou - Zhang Shuai, CHN (def. King)
Osaka - EUGENIE BOUCHARD, CAN (lost to Stosur)
* - first-time in regular WTA final (previously in WTA 125 final)
**2013 WTA/WTA 125 SINGLES & DOUBLES TITLES**
Lara Arruabarrena, ESP (1 singles, 1 doubles)
Mona Barthel, GER (1/1)
Sara Errani, ITA (1/3)
Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1/1)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (2/1)
KAROLINA PLISKOVA, CZE (1/1)
Elena Vesnina, RUS (2/2)
Roberta Vinci, ITA (2/3)
Zhang Shuai, CHN (1/1)
**2013 DOUBLES TITLES**
6 - KRISTINA MLADENOVIC, FRA (5 WTA + 1 Mixed)
5 - Sania Mirza, IND
5 - Timea Babos, HUN (4 WTA + 1 WTA 125)
4 - Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
4 - Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
4 - Peng Shuai, CHN
**2013 ITF CHALLENGER TITLES**
8...Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
6...Denis Khazaniuk, ISR
5...Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR
5...Jovana Jaksic, SRB
5...Melanie Klaffner, AUT
5...Anna Morgina, RUS
5...Teliana Pereira, BRA
4...Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
4...ANETT KONTAVEIT, EST
4...ARANTXA RUS, NED
4...Stephanie Vogt, LIE
**MOST CAREER WTA TITLES - AUSTRALIANS**
92...Margaret Court, 1968-76
68...Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, 1970-80
17...Kerry Melville-Reid, 1968-79
15...Dianne Fromholtz-Balestrat, 1973-79
9...Wendy Turnbull, 1976-83
6...Jelena Dokic, 2001-11
5...SAMANTHA STOSUR, 2009-13
5...Alicia Molik, 2003-05
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Premier $794K/hard court indoor)
12 Final: Wozniacki d. Stosur
12 Doubles Final: Makarova/Vesnina d. Kirilenko/Petrova
13 Top Seeds: #2 Vinci/#3 Kirilenko (#1 Kerber w/d)
Pavlyuchenkova d. #6 Suarez-Navarro
#4 Ivanovic d. #2 Vinci
#4 Ivanovic d. Pavlyuchenkova
...I may regret not going with Halep here, but I've got the Swarmette's (slight) late-season slip -- when it comes to putting away winnable matches -- playing on my mind. So, I'll go with AnaIvo as she gives it another go indoors.
LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG (Int'l $235K/hard court indoor)
12 Final: V.Williams d. Niculescu
12 Doubles Final: Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Begu/Niculescu
13 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Stephens
#7 Bouchard d. #1 Wozniacki
#2 Stephens d. #5 Safarova
#7 Bouchard d. #2 Stephens
...Canadian vs. American. The proverbial rubber meets the proverbial road. Current Genie vs. Current Sloane, with their Future selves watching with great interest, as well as amusement. It'd be a fitting conclusion to what would be a trilogy of 4Q head-to-head meetings.
All for now.