Monday, March 31, 2014

Wk.13- Serenativity Lite Stays Supreme in South Florida

While we didn't see the sort of vintage Serenativity moments in Miami that we saw so often in 2012 and '13, Serenativity Lite still proved to contain enough Serena Williams in the ingredients to get the job done.

At various times over the two weeks of play in south Florida, an almost-there Williams seemed to be walking through sections of her matches. She still has what is probably the best serve in the history of the women's game, but she didn't serve particularly well. After her improved footwork turned her into an even more fearsome force on the court the last two seasons, she didn't move her feet very well, either. Still, she dropped just one set, her seventh Miami singles title is now in her back pocket and she's ready to begin her preparation for the defense of her Roland Garros title less than two months from now. But, make no mistake, after a middlin' (for her) first two-plus months of the season, Williams did have something to prove in Miami, even if only to herself.

Naturally, she did just that. But it wasn't easy. Williams road to the title was hardly a dominating one, at least not until the very end.

In the 2nd Round, Yaroslava Shvedova served for the 1st set at 5-4, and led 6-3 in the tie-break. The Kazakh still didn't win the set. In the 3rd Round, Caroline Garcia did, though, as she pushed Williams to three sets. In the semis, Maria Sharapova led 4-1 in the 1st, and was also up a break in the 2nd. She lost both. Then, in the final, Li Na led 5-2 in the 1st and twice served for the opening set. But after getting a break of serve to pull within 5-3, Williams finally saw her game begin to pull itself upright. Serena ran off five straight games to take the set, finally hit her first ace of the match in game #2 in the 2nd set to avoid facing a break point. She didn't lose another game, taking out the Chinese world #2 by a 7-5/6-1 score.

Now Williams begins the transition from the hard courts back to the clay courts that have made her thirtysomething reawakening so special. Her efforts begin quite quickly, too, as this week she's on the green clay in Charleston, where's she's already the two-time defending champ and odds-on favorite to win her fourth title.

Game on. And good luck to the field. Because, you know, they're probably going to need it. A lot.

MIAMI, FLORIDA USA (Premier $5.427m/HCO)
S: Serena Williams/USA def. Li Na/CHN 7-5/6-1
D: Hingis/Lisicki (SUI/GER) d. Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) 4-6/6-4/10-5

...she didn't play Great, but 70% (or so) capacity of Serenativity was good enough for a record seventh title in Miami for Williams. While she cut things close a few times, she only lost one set while successfully defending her title, knocked off two Top 10 players, and got her 42nd career win over a Top 2 player en route to career crown #59. Sheesh... and, at 32, she wasn't even the oldest champion at the tournament, either. (Throws up hands.)
RISER: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK

...Cibulkova didn't come to Miami with particularly fond memories of this event, after blowing a 6-1/5-2 lead to Victoria Azarenka two years ago, then failing to put away Serena Williams last year after having a 6-2/4-1 advantage. So even while she once more went down to Li (0-3 head-to-head in '14) in this year's semifinals, she'll leave with far better memories than in her previous excursions to Florida as her wins over Alize Cornet, Venus Williams and Aga Radwanska (saving three MP, further proving that the you-know-what has abandoned you-know-who) were enough to lift her ranking into the Top 10, making her the first Slovak to debut there in a dozen years and just the third all-time since the split of Czechoslovakia.
SURPRISE: Sabine Lisicki/GER

...what does the Lisicki say? Well, I don't know, but she DID have the last word in Miami after getting off to a rocky start. Doin' in again, the German had to withdraw in the 3rd Round of the singles after coming down with yet another stomach flu. That's nothing new, but the bigger news was that her condition threatened to imperil her and Martina Hingis' doubles run. The pair had briefly teamed up in Indian Wells, losing their first match to Barty/Dellacqua, and had only played one match in Miami before Lisicki's continued participation became a mystery. She recovered pretty quickly, though, and the wild card duo worked their way into the final, where they took out Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina to take the title. Turning chicken**** into chicken salad, Lisicki ended up lifting just the third tour doubles title of her career. Not bad. Now if she can just whisper into Martina's ear that this is a sign that they should team up more often in '14 , after the Hall of Famer's doubles comeback fell way short of her hoped-for mark last year with Daniela Hantuchova, and her continued presence on tour was thrown into question.
VETERAN: Li Na/CHN wasn't pretty, but Li got the job done. Well, until Serena had something to say about it. After her runner-up result in Miami, Li still tops the tour in titles (2, tied with Serena), finals (3, tied with Zakopalova) and semifinals (4), but her #2 ranking surely took quite a few shots in south Florida, even if Li did survive nearly all of them. At times, her serve was startlingly bad, and it allowed nearly every opponent (all but Carla Suarez-Navarro, maybe, who went out rather quickly) the opportunity to beat her. In the 3rd Round, Madison Keys led 5-3 in the 1st and had three set points, then had four break points for a two-break lead at 3-0 in the 2nd. But Li won in straight sets. In the QF, Caroline Wozniacki served at 5-3 in the 2nd set. Li again won in straights. In the semis, Li escaped with the 1st set, but saw Dominika Cibulkova take the 2nd and run off five straight game to go up 2-0 in the 3rd, then move out to a 3-1 lead. Li won the last five games to advance. After a slow start in the final, Williams took care of Li, sweeping the final five games to take the title. At times, Li looks like the player Carlos Rodriguez envisions her to be, but at others she's been anything but in 2014. Still, the "old Li" would have been shipped out of Miami in the first few rounds, but the "older" Li remains steadfast in the face of uneven play and finds a way to win. That shows the continued progress of the 32-year old's game (and her belief in it), and it's why she's sitting pretty solidly at #2 in the rankings and in the early lead for Player of the Year even if she really has a slim-to-none chance to truly challenge Serena for the #1 spot on the computer.
COMEBACKS: Martina Hingis/SUI & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN noted earlier, 33-year old HOFer Hingis came into Miami as a feel good story and walked away a champion for the first time since 2007. She and Lisicki, granted a wild card into the main draw, knocked out the #2, #5 and #6-seeded teams, including Black/Mirza in the semis and Makarova/Vesnina in the final. It's Hingis' 38th career doubles title. Meanwhile, Wozniacki looked like a different player for most of her time in Miami. Or at least different from the free-falling singles player she's been over the past year. After saying goodbye to yet another coach (sayonara, Mr. Mortensen), Caro seemed to have something to prove. The Dane did just that, too, recapturing some of her old defensive, error-free consistency as she worked her way into the quarterfinals in sometimes-dominating fashion on the scoreboard. But was it for real? After all, she had to go three sets against a more fiery and aggressive Monica Puig in her first outing, then had an easy time of things against a sleepwalking Sloane Stephens (1 game won) and hardly-a-world-beater-of-late Varvara Lepchenko (1 game won). Wozniacki seemed to answer a few questions in the QF vs. Li Na, as she had her chances (of course, who hasn't against Li lately?) in both sets in the 7-5/7-5 loss, but that she managed to give up a 5-3 lead in the 2nd and didn't force a 3rd set leaves a lingering hint of doubt in one's mind. We'll see what happens in Monterrey. At least we'll get to see if everyone tries to confuse people again and call dad/coach Piotr by his other official name -- Victor K. Wozniacki. Here's "the scoop" on that, though it's not nearly the sort of story that lends itself to making light-hearted jokes about Caro having a new "mystery coach."

FRESH FACE: Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
...the 19-year old Slovak, who last week got some spotlighted coverage due to her early-round Miami match vs. Venus Williams, grabbed the title at the $50K green clay challenger in Osprey, Florida. She took out Mathilde Johansson to reach the final four, then had to double-up on Sunday against two vets, winning both the semi against Johanna Larsson and the final over Marina Erakovic on the same day. It's her eighth career ITF circuit singles crown. As it turned out, winning was a family affair for the Schmiedlova clan. See below.
DOWN: Sloane Stephens/USA
...after a decent showing in Indian Wells that might have just been a "pre-party" for her birthday grab via Target, Stephens' "so what? I'm still young" comments after losing in the desert served as a good foreshadowing of her disastrous turn in Miami. After again resembling Future Sloane in her first match against Zarina Diyas, Current Sloane looked at her winless (and w/ no sets won) history vs. Wozniacki before their 3rd Round meeting and decided to forego any game plans and instead looked for the first window to jump through, as the thought of having to play a bunch of long points against the ball-retrieving Dane was apparently too much for her to bear. "Hit a bunch of error-free shots to win a point? Psssht... I just know I've got some presents to open that would be a better use of my precious time." As it turned out, an early break proved to be her ticket to ride, and she was a nowhere woman for the rest of the "match." She won just a single game against Caro, whose recent plight SHOULD have been a lesson to Stephens, as Wozniacki also once talked about being young and having all the time in the world to reach her tennis destiny. Instead, playing with as much life force as a cardboard cutout in a department store window, Stephens reacted to nearly getting bageled in the 1st set by winning just five total POINTS in the 2nd set of her 6-1/6-0 defeat. It was a classic example of a player taking about three (at least) steps back after tentatively having taken one and a half forward in California. Paul Annacone must look at himself in the mirror every morning and ask, "Am I just wasting my time here?" At least the money in green.
ITF PLAYER: Denisa Allertova/CZE
...Allertova, 21, won her second ITF crown in as many weeks when she claimed the $10K in Antalya, Turkey. The Czech got wins over youngsters Veronika Kudermetova (RUS) and Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) before defeating Bibiane Schoofs (NED) in the final to run her 2014 record to 10-0.
JUNIOR STAR: Kristina Schmiedlova/SVK
...Kristina, Anna's 16-year old sister, was also a champion in Week 13. The #20-ranked junior in the world, Schmiedlova claimed both her first singles and doubles Grade 1 titles at the Perin Memorial in Umag, Croatia. She defeated Serb Katerina Jokic -- answering the question, "What do you get when you cross a Jankovic and a Djokovic?" A Jokic. Ah, well... it sounded funny when I said it in my head -- in the singles final.

[Week 13]
1. Miami SF - Li d. Cibulkova
On her third MP, Li once more kept 2014's most improved player from improving even more.
2. Miami 4th Rd. - Kvitova d. Ivanovic
Crazy scoreline. And a typical Petra match.
3. Miami QF - Sharapova d. Kvitova
Kvitova was up 2-0 in the 1st and had won fourteen straight games over two matches. She led 4-2, had a bad call go against her, then saw Sharapova get a break for 4-4. Kvitova, laboring once more, then ran off a string of seven straight games lost to fall behind 5-0 in the 2nd. Sadly, this was also a typical Petra match.

1. Miami QF - Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska
Radwanska -- possibly because of her knee injury? -- refused to budge from her position behind the baseline for muchof the match, and even while fourteen of the first seventeen games of the match ended with service breaks, the Pole seemed poised for a quick victory. After climbing back from 3-1 down in the 2nd, then holding for a 5-3 lead after falling behind love/40, Radwanska got to match point one game later. On a Cibukova second serve, A-Rad's return seemed to snag the baseline for a winner that would send both to the lockerroom. But Cibulkova challenged the call, and everything changed. The converted MP was overturned on replay, then the Slovak saved two more MP and hold serve. In the tie-break, A-Rad led 5-2, but dropped the last five points and then had a hard time mentally getting past the collapse in the 3rd set. A rash of Radwanska errors and a late Cibulkova break for 5-3 assured the Top 10 would welcome a newcomer to the party, and permanently filed that double-bagel loss to Aga last January in the circular file.
2. Miami Final - Serena Williams d. Li
In the final act of her Miami magic act, Serena overcomes a slow start, an ill-time racket change (she was a GP in game #1, switched rackets, then had three straight errors and lost her opening service game), a double-break deficit at 5-2 that saw Li serve for the set on two occasions and hold a set point, and an ace-less opening stanza to somehow STILL get out of Miami with a title and twelve sets won out of thirteen played.
3. Miami 4th Rd. - Cibulkova d. Venus Williams
Cibulkova was twice up a double-break in the 3rd, only to give half the advantage back both times. The Slovak held for 5-3 despite being break point down and tossing in two double-faults in the game, but Venus always seemed like she was THIS CLOSE to turning the whole thing in a her favor. A few years ago, she probably would have, and Cibulkova would have allowed it to happen. But the Venus of 2014, even while she sometimes looked like the Venus of yesteryear under the lights in this one, couldn't quite gain that final step to pull off a comeback, while the Cibulkova of today simply would not allow it to happen on her watch. Not again.
4. Miami SF - Serena Williams d. Sharapova

Once more, Sharapova had chances but Serena swatted them away like annoying gnats. The Russian was up a break at 3-1 in the 1st, led 4-1 and was a point away from serving for the set before Williams put in two big serves and dug herself out of the situation. In the 2nd, Sharapova was up a break at 2-0, and had a game point for 3-0. But she was broken -- via her own DF -- and then fell behind when Serena got another service break in game #7. The rest was and is history, and it's a history that is not treating Sharapova kindly. Williams is now 16-2 against her, with fifteen straight victories since a loss in the Tour Championships in 2004. In the pair's last eleven meetings, Sharapova has won just one set and has lost the last ten sets in a row.
5. $50K Croissy-Beaubourg FRA Doubles Final - Gasparyan/Lyudmyla Kichenok d. Barrois/Daniilidou
Kichenok, who lost to eventual singles champ Claire Feuerstein in the QF, joined with her Russian playing partner to take out 32-year old Kristina Barrois and 31-year old Eleni Daniilidou, both of whom some might have recently wondered whether they were actually still active players. Yes... yes, they are.

...hey, you just never know what you'll find hanging out by the side of the road in Paris.

**WTA #1 vs. #2 MATCH-UPS**
8...Serena Williams, USA (6-2)
8...Victoria Azarenka, BLR (4-4)
7...Maria Sharapova, RUS (2-5)
1...Li Na, CHN (0-1)
Brisbane Final - #1 S.Williams def. #2 Azarenka
Miami Final - #1 S.Williams def. #2 Li

167...Martina Navratilova
154...Chris Evert
107...Steffi Graf
92...Margaret Court
68...Evonne Goolagong
67...Billie Jean King

**CAREER PREMIER TITLES, 2009-14 - active**
["Premier 9" = Premier Mandatory+Premier 5]
7...Victoria Azarenka
5...Maria Sharapova
5...Caroline Wozniacki
3...Petra Kvitova
3...Agnieszka Radwanska
[Premier Mandatory ($2.05m+)]
4...Victoria Azarenka
2...Agnieszka Radwanska
2...Caroline Wozniacki

**SERENA vs. TOP 10 PLAYERS - since 2012**
2012 - 18-2
2013 - 21-2
2014 - 6-0

**WTA FINALS - 2012-14**
16...Victoria Azarenka (9-7)
14...Maria Sharapova (5-9)
11...LI NA (4-7)

**2014 WTA SF**
4...LI NA (3-1)
3...Klara Zakopalova (3-0)
3...Agnieszka Radwanska (1-2)

**CONSECUTIVE SEASONS w/ 2 TITLES - active streaks**
8 years - SERENA WILLIAMS (2007-14)
[streaks not yet extended in '14]
5 years - Victoria Azarenka (2009-13)
4 years - Maria Sharapova (2010-13)
3 years - Agnieszka Radwanska (2011-13)
3 years - Petra Kvitova (2011-13)

**SLOVAKS IN WTA TOP 10 - w/ years debuted**
1997 - Karina Habsudova
2002 - Daniela Hantuchova
2014 - Dominika Cibulkova

79...Lisa Raymond, USA
57...Cara Black, ZIM
53...Liezel Huber, USA
34...Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
26...Kveta Peschke, CZE

38...Kveta Peschke (Paris doubles)
33...Venus Williams (Dubai)
33...MARTINA HINGIS (Miami doubles)
32...Serena Williams (Brisbane)
32...Flavia Pennetta (Indian Wells)
32...Klara Zakopalova (Florianopolis)

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA USA (Premier $710K/green clay outdoor)
13 Final: S.Williams d. Jankovic (Williams 2012-13)
13 Doubles Final: Mladenovic/Safarova d. Hlavackova/Huber (Safarova 2012-13)
14 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Jankovic

...yep, Maria K. is healthy (supposedly), back from the cold of Sochi and scheduled for her first action of 2014. Not picking her, though, of course, because...

#1 S.Williams d. #3 Errani
#2 Jankovic d. #7 Stosur
#1 S.Williams d. #2 Jankovic

...well, because Serena is going for her third straight Charleston title and she seems determined to work her way back into form before heading off to Paris and London town. There's an outside shot at a Williams/Stephens match in the semis, but Future Sloane would have to show up for three straight matches, and there's a far better likelihood that Charleston will be overwhelmed by Current Sloane's presence again (as early as the 2nd Round, in fact, maybe vs. Svitolina). A rematch of last year's championship between Serena and JJ would be choice.

MONTERREY, MEXICO (Int'l $500K/hard outdoor)
13 Final: Pavlyuchenkova d. Kerber
13 Doubles Final: Babos/Date-Krumm d. Birnerova/Tanasugarn
14 Top Seeds: Pennetta/Ivanovic

#1 Pennetta d. #7 Knapp
#3 Wozniacki d. #2 Ivanovic
#3 Wozniacki d. #1 Pennetta

...yeah, it'd be smarter to pick Pennetta. But going with Midge would allow me to react more loudly if she doesn't take advantage of a pretty good draw (assuming Muguruza pulls another of her recent fades in a potential QF match-up) which features a you-never-really-know AnaIvo as the biggest obstacle to the Dane's first final since winning Luxembourg last year in her only final appearance of '13. So, here's Caro's chance to really prove something. If she loses -- or wins, I guess -- I can include another shot of ol' Vic next week, too.

1Q BSA's later this week. All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

mmm, i have to go with my version of safe choice in monterrey - ivanovic and pennetta.

li always has letdown after big win. it's not too bad that she dug our a few holes this time.

Mon Mar 31, 04:29:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

"There's an outside shot at a Williams/Stephens match in the semis, but Future Sloane would have to show up for three straight matches, and there's a legit question whether or not she'll be overwhelmed by Current Sloane's presence again as early as in the 2nd Round (maybe vs. Svitolina)."

And yet you pick Errani! :P

Mon Mar 31, 04:51:00 AM EDT  
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Mon Mar 31, 06:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Z -

Hmmm, didn't mean that to sound quite as opposite as I'm thinking that maybe did. A slight edit and all will be fine. ;)

Just remember... Future Sloane = good, reliable and capable. Current Sloane = not quite up to speed on either account. :)

(Taking a shot with Errani on clay -- even green -- is still "safer" than picking Caro, I guess.)

Mon Mar 31, 11:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

that, i didn't see it coming. pennetta no. 1 seed bumped out by date-krumm. who to pick to come out of top half, flipkens?

Tue Apr 01, 01:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Something about Italians following up (the few there have been) good results this season, I guess. :(

It's not just Flavia, either. Ever since her FC starring role, Knapp's results have gone way down. She lost again on Monday in the 1st Round in Monterrey to Jovana Jaksic, the Serb who saved those 14 MP vs. Paszek a few weeks back.

Wozniacki's road through Mexico WAS cleared of Muguruza yesterday, as she went out -- coming up short in tight situations yet again -- 7-6(5)/7-6(2) to Vekic.

Oh, and Kirilenko's comeback was brief, as Bencic took her down in straight sets. The teenager just has no respect for her elders. :)

Tue Apr 01, 11:46:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Well well two Danes in the main draw in Monterey when did we see that last time Ok maybe that needs a little explanation. The qualifier - present #302 - [Q] Julia Boserup (USA) has just defeated [4] [WC] Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) - current #25 - 64 16 62. Both Julias parents are Danes living in USA and their daughter is American. A similar situation as with Caroline Wozniacki. Funny I think and must be one of the biggest upsets this year.

Tue Apr 01, 08:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha, yeah, except that it turns out to not even be the upset of the day. Not with Jana Cepelova knocking off Serena 6-4/6-4 in Charleston!

Serena fell behind 5-0 to start things, and had her thigh wrapped mid-match. She didn't make any excuses, though, and talked afterward about needing rest. Still, of course, Williams isn't losing to the world #78 without some complicating circumstances going on. Really opens up the draw, though.

Tue Apr 01, 10:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Caroline aiming at her 400th win today as professional tennisplayer that's something for a 23 year old IMHO :)

Wed Apr 02, 05:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Sloane beaten again - early - seems to be a lot to do on the mental side IMHO.

Wed Apr 02, 02:32:00 PM EDT  

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