Monday, February 03, 2014

Wk.5- A Russian Winter, "Nicha Lertpitaksinchai" and a New Azarenka

Just a few days before the Olympic opening ceremonies in Sochi, the Hordettes got a head start on things by fashioning Week 6 into something of a Russian winter for the rest of the WTA title-seeking field.

Aside from that, the last seven days will be remembered for:

Results that could be the key factor in the birth of a brand new doubles #1 a few weeks down the line.
The sneaking suspicion that Caro may be looking over your shoulder. At least if you're a coach "currently" employed by Midge.

Early last week, Caroline Wozniacki turned on her heels and gave the boot to coach Thomas Hogstedt after just three months of employment, then immediately hired Michael Mortensen as his replacement. Hmmm, is the Dane hoping that history will repeat itself? Remember, Mortensen shepherded Li Na to the Roland Garros title in 2011 after replacing former Li coach Hogstedt, who'd been stolen away by Maria Sharapova, who'd go on to win Roland Garros in 2012. Yeah, I don't think "history" had anything to do with Caro's latest move, either.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova discovering the kryponite that allowed another Russian to finally get a win over Sharapova. Of course, one could say that the key was always there, hidden within Sharapova's very own serve. Or the lack of a consistent one, at least.
The notion that a movement should be created to give Kimiko Date-Krumm TWO match wins any time she defeats a player less than half her age.
The fervent desire that one day an ESPN2 or Tennis Channel commentator will have to say the name "Nicha Lertpitaksinchai."
Oh, Petra. But... oh, Nadia! Well, at least on a small scale.
The news that there's a new member of the Azarenka family!

As for the details...

PARIS, FRANCE (Premier $710K/HCI)
S: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Sara Errani/ITA 3-6/6-2/6-3
D: Groenefeld/Peschke (GER/CZE) d. Babos/Mladenovic (HUN/FRA)

S: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-3/7-6
D: Peng/Sh.Zhang (CHN/TPE) d. Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova (RUS/AUS)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS

...Week 5 will surely soon provide a juicy bit of future evidence that can be brought back into the light whenever Pavlyuchenkova goes through another of her stretches during the season when she'll lose several 1st Round matches in a row, or gets upset early in a slam. When that happens, the great contrast between THAT Pavlyuchenkova and the one who once again showed how good she CAN be last week will cause all sorts of head-scratching. But, as of right now, all things are good for Anastasia. Pounding groundstrokes and taking over matches en route to career title #6 (her biggest yet) at the Paris indoors, the Russian's victims included Francesca Schiavone, Carla Suarez-Navarro and three Top 10 players in Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani. All five of her matches went three sets, as she survived a tight contest against Kerber (3rd set TB) in the QF, then saw Sharapova implode down the stretch in the SF and Errani be unable to keep up with the Russian's power after taking a set and a break lead in the final.
RISERS: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS & Alize Cornet/FRA

...Makarova completed the Russian singles title sweep with her win in Pattaya for just her second career title. She got wins over Olga Savchuk, Vera Zvonareva, Kimiko Date-Krumm, Andrea Hlavackova and Karolina Pliskova to finally step into the singles winner's circle for the first time in three and a half years, since winning on the grass in Eastbourne in 2010. Meanwhile, Cornet didn't win, but she continued her burst of feel good success since teaming with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to win the Hopman Cup in Week 1. The Pastry went just 1-3 in singles play that week in Perth, but she's gone 5-3 since, including her semifinal run last week in Paris. In her four matches, which included wins over Magdalena Rybarikova, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and Andrea Petkovic, Cornet spent around twelve total hours on the court.
SURPRISE: Nicha Lertpitaksinchai/THA
...the 22-year old Thai wild card, ranked #347 in the world, notched her first career main draw tour victory with a 1st Round upset of qualifier Aleksandra Krunic. Speaking of the "Serbian Good Luck Charm," she'll next be seen at the Complexe Sportif Claude Robillard in Montreal this week in what could be a very intriguing World Group II Fed Cup tie against Genie & the Canadians.
VETERANS: Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Kveta Peschke (GER/CZE) & Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN
...Groenefeld, 28, and Peschke, 38, won their third title as a duo (in eight finals) in Paris, coming back from match point down in the 1st Round against Hradecka/Krajicek and then erasing a set and 3-1 deficit in the final against Babos/Mladenovic. It's ALG's fourteenth career title, and Peschke's twenty-sixth. #11 Peschke, the oldest player ranked in the doubles Top 35, joins Jana Novotna and Liezel Huber as the only women to hoist three Paris indoors doubles titles, having previously won in 2005 with Iveta Benesova (now Melzer) and 2006 with Emilie Loit. Date-Krumm, 43, reached the quarterfinals in Pattaya, saving two match points to defeat 20-year old January starlet Garbine Muguruza, and then knock off Tadeja Majeric before going out against Ekaterina Makarova after leading the Russian 2-0 in the 3rd set. The result has lifted KDK's ranking back into the Top 100 at #97.
COMEBACK: Vera Zvonareva/RUS the tournament she won in both 2009 and '10, Vera Zvonareva took one more small step in her comeback after missing the last year and a half with shoulder surgery and illness. In Pattaya, coming in as the #992-ranked player in the world, the former world #2 notched her first win since the 2012 Olympics with a 1st Round victory over Peangtam Plipuech. She lost in the 2nd Round to eventual champion Makarova.
FRESH FACE: Karolina Pliskova/CZE
...the Czech won her maiden tour title last year in Kuala Lumpur, and was back in Asia in her second career final this weekend in Pattaya. After traversing a rocky road through the main draw -- saving match point and erasing a 3-0 final set deficit along the way -- with wins over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Alla Kudryavtseva, Sorana Cirstea and Julia Goerges, Pliskova couldn't crack Makarova, losing in straight sets.
DOWN: Sabine Lisicki/GER & Petra Kvitova/CZE
...the beat goes on for these two, and not in a good way. Lisicki, the #1 seed in Pattaya after reaching last year's final, struggled through her 1st Round match with Donna Vekic, finding a way to defeat the young Croat despite having difficulty serving due to a bad shoulder. After resting and hoping things would be better the next day, they weren't. So the German had to pull out of the event. Kvitova, a former Paris indoors champion (2011) and the #2 seed in this year's event, didn't even get onto the court, withdrawing mid-week after having a 1st Round bye due to... wait for it... a respiratory illness. This sort of thing is becoming a serious issue for Kvitova, who simply can't make it through hardly any stretch of the season without being slowed by illness and/or issues with her asthma. As of today, she's still scheduled to lead the Czechs in their 1st Round Fed Cup match vs. Spain. Even at less than 100%, she's likely the Maiden's best bet for team success... but we shall see.
...the 21-year old from Japan won the $50K challenger in Burnie, Australia to claim her first title since 2011. Eguchi's fourth career ITF win came after wins over Tereza Mrdeza, Jarmila Gajdosova, Olivia Rogowska and AO girls champ Elizaveta Kulichkova in a three-set final.
JUNIOR STAR: Darya Kasatkina/RUS

...maintaining the Hordette theme of Week 5, 16-year old Kasatkina, the #7-ranked junior in the world and a member of Russia's Junior Fed Cup championship team (second from the left) last year, won her first professional singles title in the $10K Sharm El-Sheikh challenger in Egypt. She defeated Czech Pernilla Mendesova in the final.

1. Paris Final - Pavlyuchenkova d. Errani
Coming from behind to take a title worked for Errani in the Australian Open doubles final, but not here. Instead, the Italian was the one who couldn't hold on, seeing her 6-3/2-0 (and point for 3-0) lead taken away by the Russian, who made it official when she hit her forty-eighth winner on match point.
2. Pattaya 1st Rd. - Date-Krumm d. Muguruza
KDK put up maybe the most spirited comeback of the season, saving match points in the 2nd (at 5-3) and 3rd sets (at 6-5 in the tie-break) to take away a win from a player twenty-three years her junior in a match that lasted 2:50.
3. Paris SF - Pavlyuchenkova d. Sharapova
Sharapova's thirteen double-faults, including four in her final two serve games, and two in a row to end the match, provide an easy statistical highlight/lowlight from this one. Ah, but here's another: the loss ends Sharapova's fifteen match winning streak vs. fellow Russians since the start of the 2011 season. She hadn't played another Hordette since defeating Elena Vesnina in the 3rd Round in Miami last season, but her run of dominance extended back ever longer than her streak, as she was 23-1 in her twenty-four Russian-vs.-Russian matches since she lost to Maria Kirilenko in the 1st Round of the Australian Open in 2010. She's now 77-23 in her career vs. her countrywomen.
4. Paris Doubles Final - Groenefeld/Peschke d. Babos/Mladenovic
Mladenovic was trying to add Babos to her list of champion partners, and when the the pair were up a set and 3-1 it seemed like a good bet. Up 5-4 in the match tie-break, it STILL seemed as if things would go their way. Six points later, umm, things didn't look quite so good.
5. Paris 1st Rd. - Svitolina d. Vinci
Vinci has yet to win a singles match since her thrilling Fed Cup final victory over Alexandra Panova, going 0-4 so far this season.
6. Paris 1st Rd. - Petkovic d. Jovanovski 6-2/6-3
Pattaya 1st Rd. - Lertpitaksinchai d. Krunic 6-3/6-3
combined with the men's ouster by the Swiss in the 1st Round of the Davis Cup, it wasn't a great week for Serbian tennis.
7. Paris Q2 - Pfizenmaier d. Petrova
Well, look at the bright side, at least Nadia is back playing singles. Her Q1 win over Maria Teresa Torro-Flor was her first victory since last May in Madrid.
8. Pattaya 1st Rd. - Goerges d. Kumkhum
Goerges is no Kvitova. Apparently.
9. Paris 1st Rd. - Voskoboeva d. Voegele
Voegele led 7-5/4-2, but never held a match point. Voskoboeva finally won on her fourth.
10. Pattaya 1st Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Zhang Shuai
Sveta notched her 500th career victory, but withdrew with a hip injury before she could go for #501.
HM- Paris 1st Rd. - Mladenovic d. Halep
Halep is 0-2 in regular tour matches in 2014, but 4-1 in grand slam play. Who does Simona think she is, Sloane Stephens?

1. Pattaya Doubles Final - Peng/Sh.Zhang d. Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova
Rodionova and Kudryavtseva fail to match WTA leaders Niculescu & Zakopalova with a second tour doubles title on the season. But the more interesting topic of discussion here is Peng, who has tried and tried again to lock away her first career singles title, only to go 0-6 in her six appearances in tour finals. Quite the opposite is the case when it comes to doubles, though. There, she's 13-3 in tour finals, and this is her fourth win while not partnering childhood friend/longtime doubles partner Hsieh Su-Wei. Already having reached a career-high in doubles in '14, sharing the #3 spot with Hsieh, Peng moved into sole possession of the ranking with this win. Not only that, but with the semifinal walkover in Paris of defending champions and co-#1's Errani & Vinci, Peng moves to within just five points of the Italians in the new rankings. If she can climb into the top spot, she'd become the first Chinese player to ever hold a #1 ranking in professional tennis.
2. Pattaya Final - Makarova d. Ka.Pliskova
The last time Hordettes swept a pair of singles titles on a single weekend was in September '10, when Alisa Kleybanova won in Seoul while Alla Kudryavtseva took the title in Tashkent. Incidentally, the most recent time before that was exactly four years ago, when Elena Dementieva won in Paris, while Vera Zvonareva did the same in Pattaya.
3. Pattaya 2nd Rd. - Ka.Pliskova d. Kudryavtseva 4-6/6-3/6-4
Pattaya QF - Ka.Pliskova d. Cirstea 1-6/7-6/6-0
just reaching the final has to be looked up on a something of a moral victory for the Czech, as she had to come back from 3-0 down in the 3rd vs. Kudryavteva, then saved two match points en route to taking out Cirstea.

...the latest member of the Azarenka family. Nice to meet you, Duke.

**MOST WTA FINALS - 2012-14**
21...Serena Williams (19-2)
16...Victoria Azarenka (9-7)
14...Maria Sharapova (5-9)
10...SARA ERRANI (5-5)
10...Li Na (4-6)
9...Agnieszka Radwanska (6-3)
8...Angelique Kerber (3-5)
7...Simona Halep (6-1)
6...Petra Kvitova (4-2)
6...Caroline Wozniacki (3-3)
6...Samantha Stosur (2-4)

32 - Serena Williams
31 - Li Na (2)
26 - Ana Ivanovic, Tsvetana Pironkova
20 - Garbine Muguruza

I'll be back on Tuesday with a preview of the first week of 2014 Fed Cup action.

Thumbnail Preview: the big-named and highly-ranked Hordettes are still M.I.A., Sam is in Australia (uh-oh?), the Italians will be in Cleveland (but Serena & Sloane won't be), and Genie heads home. Hmmm, I wonder if Bouchard's hometown fans will take up the challenge of finding yet another stuffed animal to chuck at her from the stands? They can't let the Aussies steal her heart, can they? I mean, now that Bieber has seen the other side of a jail cell and all, someone has to step in, right? I wait with bated breath.

All for now.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Aha! I guess predicting something every year for four years DOES work, as Nicole Vaidisova, now 24, has annouced via Twitter that she is returning to tennis after retiring from the sport in 2010 and marrying (then divorcing) current Kvitova beau Radek Stepanek.

Mon Feb 03, 02:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

now i am waiting for a nicole vs petra match. how odd would it be?

Tue Feb 04, 02:14:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Better than "odd" :)

When NV was on the tour, she had a real problem with her temper. We can assume, perhaps, that at age 24, she is more mature and won't be throwing things around in anger. When she retired, someone close to her said that NV simply didn't have the ability to engage in a competitive process.

I thought she was talented, but it was obvious that she hadn't learned to control her emotions. Now she's going to have to deal with the frustrations of stsrting over.

Tue Feb 04, 10:07:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Jo -
Hmmm, that would be interesting... although, unfortunately, that sort of match would also bring out all the too-easy-to-hype aspects of the WTA tour that have been used lately when it comes to the relationships (or lack thereof) between some of the top players, too.

Diane -
In a lot of ways, the "old" angry Vaidisova was reminiscent of the "old" angry Vika, with obvious exceptions, as Azarenka matured and found her way through it.

Well, at least I now get to dust off one of my favorite Vaidisova quotes (from 2005), when she attempted to explain one of her detrimental outbursts: "People who never care that they lose have never won so much."

Good luck with that. :)

Tue Feb 04, 12:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

That's a great quote--don't think I ever heard it before. With NV, it always seemed to me that, behind the angry eyes, there was nobody there. As a fan, I couldn't engage with her. It will be interesting to see what she's like now.

She used to come to Charleston every year and get beaten in her first round. She finally stopped coming. The transition is really hard for some players.

Tue Feb 04, 02:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It'll be interesting to see what happens. She was SO close to reaching a slam final at one point, which might have changed everything, but she just got discouraged so easily and then seemed to be more content with giving up the fight than trying to find it in herself.

Unlike with someone like, say, Dokic, it's not a given that the fight is still inside there to pull out of Vaidisova as long as her body cooperates.

Ha! I've had that quote on the computer file that I use to keep notes, records, etc. for years, and see it all the time. I always hoped that I'd get the chance to use it again, but I didn't want to do so until I could use it while talking about HER playing again. Good thing I got it in here, since who knows whether or not this return will last long enough to use it down the road!

Tue Feb 04, 04:56:00 PM EST  

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