Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wk.2- And the Qualifiers Inherit the Earth... well, at least an Aussie portion of it

With the start of the Australian Open just days away, it's time for a quick(er than usual, though not "brief") look back at the action of Week 2, which saw a pair of qualifiers rise to the occasion... and yet another mysterious WTA phenomenon strike precisely when no one was looking.

Hmmm, remember "all the way back" in December, when I managed to see fit to leave Tsvetana Pironkova off my 70-player (70!!) Grand Slam Master List, despite my nod a few seasons ago to The Pironkova's spooky slam existence, especially on the grass at Wimbledon? Well, it took less than a day to begin to wonder if it might have been a big mistake.


From the comments section of that post:

Zidane said...
All the way I was reading, I was like "Ok, where is Pironkova?" And then you took her out! :O
Tue Dec 03, 08:50:00 PM EST

Todd.Spiker said...
Yeah, I might regret that. She DID reach the Round of 16 at Wimbledon last season, losing to Aga, but she seemed "less threatening" than usual for some reason.

Of course, Wimbledon WAS sort of overtaken by something spooky... and Pironkova DID lose to a Radwanska.

Hmmm, might this mean that any destruction in London next summer might be blamed on The Pironkova rather than The You-Know-What!

Have I inadvertently created something dangerous???
Wed Dec 04, 12:37:00 AM EST

Zidane said...
We'll know who to blame!
Wed Dec 04, 09:42:00 PM EST

Todd.Spiker said...
Sigh... Citizen Anna's work will NEVER be done.
Thu Dec 05, 12:22:00 AM EST


Sure enough, playing the role of "Weeping Angel" to Backspin's version of "Doctor Who," Pironkova struck back with some serious intentions the minute a back was turned on her.



Could yet another monster have been born on that day in December? Maybe... but, remember, we are talking about the player that Diane Dees dubbed "The International Woman of Tennis Mystery" the other day at Women Who Serve. Tsvetana could just decide to slip back into the shadows, and then take her good sweet time before she decides to allow her lethal side to see the light of day once more.

While The Pironkova may go by many names, it prefers the anonymity that inconsistency provides.

Unless that just changed, of course.



*WEEK 2 CHAMPIONS*
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (Premier $710K/HCO)
S: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL def. Angelique Kerber/GER 6-4/6-4
D: Babos/Safarova (HUN/CZE) d. Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA)

HOBART, AUSTRALIA (Int'l $250K/HCO)
S: Garbine Muguruza/ESP def. Klara Zakopalova/CZE 6-4/6-0
D: Niculescu/Zakopalova (ROU/CZE) d. Raymond/Shu.Zhang (USA/CHN)



PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL

...once more, one is left looking at the path of destruction left in the wake of an in-form Pironkova, wondering why she doesn't do this sort of thing more often. Thing is, even with all her big upsets (three slam wins over Venus!) and an appearance in the Wimbledon semifinals, the 26-year old Bulgarian has maybe never been as good for as long a stretch as she was this past week in Sydney. After having finished outside the Top 100 in 2013, and notching just eleven wins on the season, Pironkova blew into town last week and put together a run that will surely rank as one of the best of the entire season when we look back over 2014 at the end of the year. Eight match victories in eight days,, with three Top 10 wins, over Sara Errani, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber. As a qualifier ranked #107, Pironkova ended her 0-7 tour semifinal run to reach her first career singles final on the back of good first serves and her usual (or unusual) knack for sometimes looking like a nerve-less, big match, great player who might just beat anyone on any given day if she's feeling in the mood for it. Thing is, she so rarely is. As I said, this performance will go down as one of the best of '14, but whether we'll have to be reminded of it -- "oh, yeah... I forgot she did that!" -- come November will likely depend on what Pironkova does between now and them. It'd be nice to think that this might be the start of something long overdue, but it's probably more likely that it'll be seen later as one of those rare moments when Pironkova managed to catch lightning in bottle. Again.
=============================
RISER: Angelique Kerber/GER
...Kerber didn't ultimately win Sydney, but a final run complete with victories over Dominika Cibulkova, Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Madison Keys is nothing to sneeze at, and will allow her to go to Melbourne with the feeling that she could still peak during the next two weeks rather than "pull an Aga" and do so too early Down Under.
=============================
SURPRISES: Estrella Cabeza-Candela/ESP & Storm Sanders/AUS
...ECC was one of two Spanish qualifiers to reach the Hobart semifinals. The world #114 notched qualifying wins over Nastassja Burnett and Silvia Soler-Espinosa, then added main draw victories in matches with Karin Knapp, Elena Vesnina and Monica Niculescu. 19-year old Sanders -- you know, she and Hurricane & Tornado Black could form a band and call themselves "The Weather Girls -- upset Peng Shuai in Hobart, then pushed #2-seeded Kirsten Flipkens to three sets, the last two going to tie-breaks, before the Belgian finally won on her fifth match point.
=============================
VETERANS: Klara Zakopalova/CZE & Lucie Safarova/CZE
...the 31-year old Zakopalova reached both the singles and doubles finals in Hobart. She and Monica Niculescu won the doubles, giving them two titles already in the young season. But after wins over Yvonne Meusburger, Zhang Shuai, Alison Riske and Sam Stosur, the thirteen-time WTA singles finalist lost in straight sets to first-time finalist Garbine Muguruza. This was just the Czech's second final since 2010, and she hasn't won a tour singles title since 2005. Overall, she's now 2-11 in career finals. Zakopalova's countrywoman Safarova had similar success in Sydney. She got wins over Francesca Schiavone and Caroline Wozniacki, but couldn't get past the QF in singles. In doubles, though, she and Timea Babos upset the #2-seeded Peschke/Srebotnik (hey, it's nice to see the '12 Sydney champs back together here after playing with other partners in '13) and went on to take the title.
=============================
COMEBACKS: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA & Sam Stosur/AUS
...after another injury-plagued campaign in '13, Mattek-Sands came roaring into 2014 in Sydney. She qualified with wins over Heather Watson and Julia Goerges, then upset Eugenie Bouchard and Agnieszka Radwanska in the main draw. Unfortunately, she then had to retire from her QF match with a groin/lower back injury, and one wonders just how effective she can now be against Maria Sharapova in the 1st Round in Melbourne. Meanwhile, could it be? Yes, it is. Stosur in a category other than "Down" in the first month of a season. Of course, her time in Hobart wasn't always calm or pretty. She took five match points to put away Madison Brengle in the 1st Round. But she DID. She had to save match point against Kristina Mladenovic in the 2nd Round. But she DID... and won, too. Then she even beat Bojana Jovanovski, giving rise to the crazy notion that she might actually have a shot to reach her third straight tour-level final and, gulp, maybe even win a title in Australia. Of course, that all came tumbling down in the semis against Klara Zakopalova. But, no matter, it was a good week Down Under for Sam. And I'm pretty sure that phrase has never, ever been uttered around here... and likely nowhere else either, unless someone said it way back in 2005 when, obviously in another life, Stosur actually reached singles finals in tournaments at Gold Coast and Sydney.
=============================
FRESH FACES: Garbine Muguruza/ESP & Madison Keys/USA

...big things were expected of both these players when I did the Prediction Blowout last month, and both came through in Week 2. Muguruza took the biggest step, moving through qualifying and winning a total of eight matches en route to her maiden tour singles title in her first appearance in a final. Wins over An-Sophie Mestach, Yanina Wickmayer (ret.), Estrella Cabeza-Candela and Klara Zakopalova won't put the 20-year old's week's work on the level of Pironkova's when we look back at the end of 2014, but the chances that the Spaniard will have a better, more consistent season over the next ten months are probably pretty good. Muguruza, by the way, won the doubles title in Hobart a year ago. In Sydney, the promising Keys, 18, put up a big win over Simona Halep in the nearly-in-the-Top-10 Romanian's season debut, then followed up with a victory over Ajla Tomljanovic before reaching the semifinals when Bethanie Mattek-Sands retired in their QF encounter.
=============================
DOWN: Jelena Dokic/AUS
...sigh. Things never seem to go Dokic's way. After missing last year with a wrist injury, the Aussie's latest comeback fell short in Tennis Australia's Wild Card Playoff tournament in December. At the time, there was hope that maybe she'd get a shot to play in the AO via a MD wild card, or find a spot in the qualifying rounds. But while she was in Perth providing commentary for the Hopman Cup, she actually managed to injure her back during a practice session. What it'll mean for the coming weeks and months isn't known, but Dokic didn't make any wild card or qualifying draw lists leading into Melbourne. Few players have ever had to fight through so many things to get anywhere as Dokic has, though, so here's to hoping we'll eventually see her back in a tour-level match sometime in 2014.
=============================
JUNIOR STAR: Naiktha Bains/AUS
...the 16-year old Aussie, ranked outside the Top 1000, got upset wins in Hobart qualifying over Maria Elena Camerin and Teliana Pereira before falling in the final Q-round to Muguruza.
=============================


1. Sydney Final - Pironkova d. Kerber
...6-4/6-4.
The Bulgarian hit 32 winners against the German and erased a 4-2 2nd set deficit that had seemingly threatened to spoil her week. Not so fast, Angie!
=============================
2. Sydney SF - Pironkova d. Kvitova
...6-4/6-3.
While Pironkova served well here, Kvitova -- stop me if you've heard this before -- contributed a great deal of errors and, after having had a refreshingly good week before this SF, didn't seem to handle the Aussie heat very well at all. Might that second slam NEVER come?
=============================
3. Hobart 2nd Rd. - Stosur d. Mladenovic
...6-4/2-6/7-6(7).
Aha! Proof that Sam DOES have a tennis pulse when she goes back home. Down 5-2 in the 3rd set, Stosur saved a match point before going on to win. Of course, Mladenovic, as great as she is in doubles, has a tendency to fail to hold her nerves -- or serve -- in singles matches like this.
=============================
4. Hobart Final - Muguruza d. Zakopalova
...6-4/6-0.
Muguruza put up two bagels, and lost just one game in another set, in a pair of straight sets wins in the semifinal and final. I guess you could call the "leaning into the tape."
=============================
5. Sydney 1st Rd. - Wozniacki d. Goerges 3-6/6-2/6-4
Sydney 2nd Rd. - Safarova d. Wozniacki 6-4/7-6(7)
...
all in all, not a terribly bad start for the Dane, who came in with a shoulder injury, as well as a likely-distracted mind after getting engaged to Rory McIlroy during Week 1.
=============================
6. Sydney 1st Rd. - McHale d. Cornet
...6-7/6-2/7-5.
Ummm... make that a 1-4 start for the Pastry.
=============================
7. Sydney Doubles Final - Babos/Safarova d. Errani/Vinci
...7-5/3-6/10-7.
The Italians are still the co-#1's in doubles, but maybe not for much longer. With a chance to pick up some important points in Sydney, where they were runners-up a year ago, they simply repeated the result. They'd like to do the same in Melbourne, where they won the crown a year ago (then followed up with a title at the Paris Indoors). It's hard to shake the feeling, though, that they won't still be the reigning champions in two weeks.
=============================


Sydney 2nd Rd. - Mattek-Sands d. A.Radwanska
...7-5/6-2.
At this time last year, Aga was heading to Melbourne having opened her season by winning back-to-back titles.
=============================


And, I guess you could consider this a mini-preview of this weekend's Chapter 3 of the latest Citizen Anna tale...






**RECENT QUALIFIERS IN WTA FINALS**
[2012]
Hobart - Mona Barthel, GER (W - def. Wickmayer)
Kuala Lumpur - Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE (W - def. Pennetta)
Fes - Kiki Bertens, NED (W - def. Pous-Tio)
Birmingham - Melanie Oudin, USA (W - def. Jankovic)
's-Hertogenbosch - Urszula Radwanska, POL (L - lost to Petrova)
Tashkent - Donna Vekic, CRO (L - lost to Begu)
[2013]
Eastbourne - Jamie Hampton, USA (L - lost to Vesnina)
Tashkent - Bojana Jovanovski, SRB (W - def. Govortsova)
Guangzhou - Vania King, USA (L - lost to Shu.Zhang)
[2014]
Hobart - Garbine Muguruza, ESP (W - def. Zakopalova)

**2014 WTA SEMIFINALISTS - BY NATION**
5 - USA
2 - CHN,CZE,ESP,GER,SRB
1 - AUS,BLR,BUL,RUS

**ALL-TIME LOW-RANKED PREMIER/TIER I-II TITLISTS**
#201 Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU (Warsaw '09)
#133 Kim Clijsters, BEL (Indian Wells '05)
#107 TSVETANA PIRONKOVA, BUL (Sydney '14)
#85 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN (Stanford '08)
--
Pre-2009: "Tier" level events
2009-present: "Premier" level events



=AO Q-AWARDS=
Q-PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Belinda Bencic, SUI
...the current junior #1 opened the qualifying action by upsetting #1 q-seed Sharon Fichman, then didn't look back, reaching the women's main draw at the AO after winning the girls titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon last season.
RISERS: Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU & Anna Tatishvili/GEO
...these two were the North American Dream Killers. Begu took out the last remaining American qualifying hope -- Madison Brengle -- in the final round, while Tatishvili eliminated Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak in the opening round.
SURPRISE: Katarzyna Piter/POL
...Piter continues to prove she's the best Polish player not named Radwanska. At #5, she was the highest seed to actually survive qualifying.
VETERANS: Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS & Lucie Hradecka/CZE
...Kudryavtseva authored Aravane Rezai's early-as-possible exit in the first round of qualifying, then took out Hradecka's former doubles partner in the second. Meanwhile, the 28-year old Czech was the oldest woman to earn her way into the draw.
COMEBACK: Heather Watson/GBR
...hey, it's a start. After a very trying 2013 season remembered mostly for illness and coaching changes, Watson took her first real steps toward righting the ship with wins over Arina Rodionova, Stephanie Foretz-Gacon (ret.) and Irina Falconi.
FRESH FACE: Carina Witthoeft/GER
...the German teen's success meant that the Australian with the best chance to make it through qualifying -- Anasastia Rodionova, who Witthoeft faced in her second match -- didn't.
JUNIOR STEP-UPS: Ana Konjuh/CRO & Katerina Siniakova/CZE
...Konjuh won the AO and U.S. Open girls titles last year, and made her WTA debut in Week 1 with an upset of a #1-seeded Roberta Vinci. Her Q3 win came over #18 Mathilde Johansson. Siniakova was runner-up to Konjuh in the Aussie junor final in '13, and is once again right on her heels. The Czech's Q3 win over Vicky Duval provided the final touch to her introduction to the AO main draw.
STEPPING UP FOR ASIA IN THE "SLAM OF ASIA/PACIFIC": Duan Yingying/CHN & Zarina Diyas/KAZ
...Duan is the only AO qualifier who also qualified at Flushing Meadows last summer, while Diyas wasn't the highest-seeded Kazakh in the Q-rounds (that'd be Sesil Karatantcheva), but she was the only one still standing three rounds later.
DOWN: Sharon Fichman/CAN & Andrea Hlavackova/CZE
...Fichman was coming off her first tour doubles title in Auckland, but was rudely bounced in her first match as the #1 q-seed by Bencic. Hlavackova ended her successful doubles teaming for '14 with Hradecka because she wanted to focus more on her singles. With both Czechs relegated to the Q-rounds, though, it was Hradecka who made it to the main draw, while Hlavackova fell out in the second round. Whoops.
WILD CARDS: Ashleigh Barty/AUS, Casey Dellacqua/AUS, Jarmila Gajdosova/AUS, Pauline Parmentier/FRA, Olivia Rogowska/AUS, Storm Sanders/AUS, Tang Haochen/CHN, Sachia Vickery/USA
LUCKY LOSER: Irina Falconi/USA (as it turned out, an American qualifier DID enter the field: when Bannerette Jamie Hampton -- the #27 seed -- pulled out with a hip injury)

=QUALIFYING MATCHES=
Q1: Bencic d. #1 Fichman 6-3/6-1
Q1: #12 Tatishvili d. Wozniak 3-6/6-2/6-3
...Genie, it's now all on your shoulders in the MD.
=============================
Q1: #9 Kr.Pliskova d. Kleybanova 6-3/6-4
...the comeback will have to continue elsewhere.
=============================
Q2: Duan d. Paszek 6-2/6-1
...oh, Tamira.
=============================
Q3: Siniakova d. Duval 6-2/6-3
...Duval upset Stosur at the last major. Australia got some measure of revenge for Sam this time around.


=The Q-Rounds Began with Eight Sisters=
Q1 - Paszek d. Tomic 6-2/7-5
Q1 - #7 Watson d. Ar.Rodionova 6-4/6-4
Q1 - Kania d. K.Kucova 4-6/7-5/6-2
Q1 - #8 Linette d. L.Kichenok 6-3/6-4

...but, right of the box, four went out.

=And the 2nd Q-Round Ended...=
Q2 - Witthoeft d. An.Rodionova 6-3/7-5
Q2 - Piter d. Y.Sema 7-6/6-4
Q2 - #10 Dushevina d. E.Sema 6-1/6-2
Q2 - Duval d. #9 Kr.Pliskova 6-2/6-2

...with zero

=The 3rd Q-Round=
...just crickets

*AUSTRALIAN OPEN "Q-PLAYER OF THE WEEK" WINNERS*
2006 Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2007 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
2008 Julia Schruff, GER
2009 Elena Baltacha,GBR
2010 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2011 Vesna Manasieva, RUS
2012 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2013 Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2014 Belinda Bencic, SUI

*AUSTRALIA QUALIFIERS/WILD CARDS*
=YOUNGEST=
WC: Ashleigh Barty (17), Sachia Vickery (18), Storm Sanders (19), Tang Haochen (19)
Q: Ana Konjuh (16), Belinda Bencic (16), Katerina Siniakova (17), Carina Witthoeft (18)
=OLDEST=
WC: Casey Dellacqua (28), Pauline Parmentier (27), Jarmila Gajdosova (26)
Q: Lucie Hradecka (28), Alla Kudryavtseva (26)

=CONSECUTIVE SLAM QUALIFYING RUNS=
2 - Duan Yingying, CHN ('13 US, '14 AO)
=CONSECUTIVE AO QUALIFYING RUNS=
none
=CONSECUTIVE SLAM WILD CARDS=
2 - Sachia Vickery, USA ('13 US, '14 AO)
=CONSECUTIVE AO WILD CARDS=
6...Olivia Rogowska, AUS (2009-14)
3...Ashleigh Barty, AUS (2012-14) - WC at seven of last nine slams
2...Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS (2013-14)
=CONSECUTIVE SLAM Q/WC/LL COMBOS=
2...Olivia Rogowska, AUS ('13 US LL, '14 AO WC)


Citizen Anna arrives -- well, maybe it'd be more accurate to say QC does, since it seems the fate of the world is suddenly in her hands -- this weekend, then Day 1 of the Australian Open starts on Sunday night/Monday, depending on your time zone. From there, the Daily Backspin will be here every day for the proceeding two weeks.

All for now.

4 Comments:

Blogger Colette Lewis said...

Bains lost to Muguruza, not Davis, in final round of Hobart qualifying

Sat Jan 11, 10:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, yeah. Thanks, Colette. You're right. I got Bains confused with Konjuh in Week 1 -- Davis ended that youngster's run in Auckland.

Things sort of smear together in Week 1 and 2, I guess... especially in the early morning hours. ;)

Sat Jan 11, 02:30:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Late note: Hampton has pulled out of the AO with a hip injury, so maybe Vika gets a break there?

Her place in the draw has been taken by Jovanovski (seed #33), with Falconi joining the field as a Lucky Loser.

Sat Jan 11, 02:31:00 PM EST  
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Sun Feb 23, 10:40:00 AM EST  

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