Monday, July 28, 2014

Wk.30- Livin' the Dream

Hmmm, this is one of those moments when you can't help but ponder what it is that best exemplifies the short window of time before the kickoff of the North American hard court circuit that leads into the U.S. Open.

Is is a weekend in which a 19-year old Elina Svitolina defends the maiden tour singles crown she won last year in Baku, running her record in singles finals to 7-0 -- 2-0 WTA, 1-0 WTA $125K, and 4-0 in ITF finals -- since 2012 and becoming the most successful teenager on the WTA over the past three years, while on the same day 28-year old Peng Shuai claims the biggest singles title of her career in a $125K WTA Challenger Series event in China, while still maintaining her title-less WTA singles career despite appearing in six finals in the last nine seasons?

Or is it the notion of Taylor Townsend, in World Team Tennis playoff action, "living the dream" of so many doubles players from the last few years by (accidentally) pegging Liezel Huber in the head with a forehand? Even if it did mean that she then had to play, by you-gotta-be-kiddin'-me league rule, two-on-one "Canadian doubles" tennis the rest of the way, not even being able to return serve on Huber's vacated side of the court.

Some of Huber's past opponents would likely say it would be a small price to pay for such an opportunity.

Come now, does the question really need to be posed twice?

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN (Int'l $250K/Hard Court)
S: Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Bojana Jovanovski/SRB 6-1/7-6(2)
D: Panova/Watson (RUS/GBR) d. Olaru/Peer (ROU/ISR) 6-2/7-6(3)

NANCHANG, CHINA (WTA $125K Challenger/Hard Court)
S: Peng Shuai/CHN def. Liu Fangzhou/CHN 6-2/3-6/6-3
D: C-J.Chuang/Namigata (TPE/JPN) d. C-W.Chan/Y.Xu (TPE/CHN) 7-6(4)/6-3

S: Washington Kastles def. Springfield Lasers 25-13


...while quite a few teenagers and young twentysomethings have grabbed titles in '14, lost in the surge has been that a year ago an 18-year old Svitolina was on the leading edge of the NextGen revolution when she won her maiden tour title in Baku. Well, she made a point to remind everyone of that fact this past week by successfully defending her title. Stringing together wins over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Pauline Parmentier, Francesca Schiavone and Bojana Jovanovski, the now 19-year old Ukrainian thus becomes the first teenager to win multiple tour singles titles since Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2010 (the Russian ultimately won three), and is just the third player under age 20 (Pavlyuchenkova & Wozniacki) to defend a singles title in the last seven seasons. Last week, Svitolina won her first tour level doubles title in Istanbul. Last year in Baku, Svitolina lost one set and defeated two Top 100 players during her title run. This time she again dropped just one set, while notching wins over four players in the Top 100.
RISERS: Bojana Jovanovski/SRB & Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith (GBR/GBR)
...Jovanovski reached her third career WTA singles final in Baku, the same event at which she claimed her maiden tour title two years ago. BoJo survived a trio of three-setters while getting past Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Katarzyna Piter, Misa Eguchi and Stefanie Voegele to reach the final, coming back from a 6-4/4-2 deficit in the QF vs. Eguchi and 4-1 in the 3rd in set in the SF against Voegele. In the final against Svitolina, the Serb fell in straight sets, losing a tie-break in the 2nd in a set that had no service breaks. A week ago, Brits Rae & Smith reached their first WTA doubles final in Bad Gastein. Last week, they were back on the ITF tour, where they kept up their winning ways, claiming the Lexington $50K in the U.S., defeating the duo of Aoyama/Wang to claim their sixth circuit doubles title of '14, and their ninth in eleven finals as a team since last November.

SURPRISES: Liu Fangzhou/CHN & Maria Sakkari/GRE, have we finally seen the first real post-Li Generation threat from the Chinese tennis establishment in 18-year old Liu? While her run last week occurred not in a regular tour event, but in a WTA 125 Challenger in Nanchang, hers was an impressive week. The world #422, Liu was the last player to gain direct entry into the main draw, but she opened the week by downing #2-seeded vet Zheng Jie, who retired down 7-6/2-0. Rather than fall by the wayside after her big win, she followed up with victories over Nastja Kolar, Zhang Ling and, even more impressively, #4 seed Luksika Kumkhum. In the final against top-seeded Peng Shuai, she forced things to a 3rd set and held 3 early break points to take the lead before falling via a late break. Liu made her tour debut in January in Shenzhen, losing to Peng in the 1st Round, and later made her Fed Cup debut, as well, going 1-3. Sure, this loss drops her to 0-5 in pro singles finals, raising the possibility that she'll be more like Peng in her WTA career than Li, but that's hardly a bad thing. Someone emerging to continue to carry the Chinese tennis torch as the leading generation reaches its expiration date is a big step, and it may have just been made. Liu's ranking jumps from #422 to #273 with this result, but she's still the eleventh-highest ranked Chinese. She the youngest in the Top 474, though, with 16-year old Xu Shilin, one of two Chinese girls ranked in the current junior Top 15, coming in at #475. On the ITF tour, 19-year old Greek Sakkari grabbed her fourth ITF title of the season (in a circuit-leading seven finals, after having gone 0-4 in finals from 2011-13) with a win in the $10K in Tampere, Finland. Sakkari defeated Anastasia Pivovarova 6-4/7-5 in the final, and also teamed with Aussie Alexandra Nancarrow to take the doubles.
VETERANS: Peng Shuai/CHN & Martina Hingis/SUI

...Peng, 28, is still looking for her first WTA singles title, but at least she's getting closer. A former Top 20 singles player, and the doubles #1 for a large chunk of this season, Peng went into the Nanchang WTA 125 Challenger event in China as the 50th ranked player in the world, and without a singles crown of any kind since winning an ITF challenger event in Taipei in 2010. Avoiding the higher-ranked players in the draw as the #1 seed, Peng got past countrywoman Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai, the latter in a 3:22 semifinal marathon that nearly turned into another of many lost opportunities in the Chinese woman's career, to reach the final, where she met Liu Fangzhou, an 18-year old ranked #422. Even then, it wasn't easy for Peng, as she was forced to go the distance in the match and had to fight off early break points to avoid falling behind in the deciding set. After getting a late break, though, Peng served out the match to claim the title. Now, about that 0-6 record in tour-level singles finals. In the WTT final, it was Martina Hingis who was the star, as the Original Swiss Miss continues to spin a nice Second Comeback story in 2014. The 33-year old wasn't named the league Female MVP (that was Daniela Hantuchova, though Hingis had a far better winning percentage for the season with 66.1% compared to the Slovak's 53.6%, which was actually third-best in WTT play), but it was she who led the Washington Kastles to their record-tying fourth straight championship, and fifth in the last six years, as they defeated the Olga Govortsova-led Springfield Lasers 25-13 in the final. Hingis, who was named the Finals MVP, defeated Govortsova 5-2 in singles, teamed with Anastasia Rodionova to win a double set, and then did the same with Leander Paes in the concluding mixed set.

COMEBACKS: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP
...hmmm, don't count Francesca out just yet. A week after reaching the QF in Istanbul, the Italian vet did things one better by getting to her first semifinal since reaching the same stage in Seoul last September. Schiavone notched wins over Julia Glushko and Kristina Mladenovic (winning in a love 3rd set, a week after Kiki had outlasted her in three last week in Turkey) before pushing eventual champ Svitolina to three sets in a loss that still leaves her with a good 8-4 record in her last four events. Meanwhile, AMG is apparently through playing singles on the WTA tour, but that didn't mean she couldn't hone her solo skills over the last few weeks in WTT play for the Texas Wild. The Spaniard won the third-most games in women's singles this WTT season and, at age 31 (32 this coming Thursday), was named the Female Rookie of the Year. And, no, that's not a typo.
FRESH FACES: Taylor Townsend/USA, Tornado Black/USA & Sachia Vickery/USA
...look out, America! Here come the Bannerettes... a whole slew of them. With so many big moves made by U.S. players on the women's tour this year, the occasion of the tour winding its way back to North America offers the chance for the new young stars to enjoy the sort of home court advantage that hasn't even occurred when the U.S. Fed Cup team has played in home ties in recent seasons (hey, don't try to sneak away, MJF). Phase One took place this weekend, as a trio of Bannerette teenagers made it through qualifying in the summer hard court season's first two events. Townsend, 18, fresh off her headline-grabbing stint in the WTT as a substitute for an ailing Vicky Duval (her Philadelphia Freedoms team reached the SF) and unexpected "Canadian Doubles" star, qualified in Washington, D.C. with a Q2 win over Wimbledon star Tereza Smitkova (6-3/6-4), while 16-year old Tornado Black did the same with a 6-3/6-0 victory over Brit Emily Webley-Smith. It'll the first time the '13 U.S. Open girls runner-up has qualified for a main draw WTA event. In Stanford, 19-year old Vickery also pulled off a successful qualifying run of her own, ending things with an impressive 6-4/6-1 win over Aleksandra Wozniak, the 2008 champion of the event.
DOWN: Urszula Radwanska/POL

...Ula opened her week in Baku on a good note, getting a nice win over Alison Van Uytvanck in the 1st Round. Yeah, sure, it came via retirement in the 2nd set, but it was a victory over the world #86, the best win put up by Aga's sister all season long as she attempts to climb back up the rankings after undergoing shoulder surgery last autumn. Unfortunately, U-Rad's week ended a round later with a 6-2/6-1 loss to (ouch) qualifier Misa Eguchi, the world #186. So far, it's hard to call Radwanska's '14 anything other than a nightmare that can't be put behind her fast enough. She's 6-17 for the season, which at one point included a ten-match losing streak. With the loss, after finishing at #31 and #43 the last two seasons, Ula's current ranking fell from #117 to #133.
ITF PLAYER: Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...three years ago, the 23-year old Hordette swept the singles and doubles crowns at a $100K challenger event in Astana, Kazakhstan. This weekend, she did it all over again. Wins over Lyudmyla Kichenok, Veronika Kudermetova and Akgul Amanmuradova (the same player Diatchenko defeated in both finals in '11, guaranteeing some bad dreams tonight for the Uzbeki) preceded a 6-4/3-6/6-2 win in the final over Cagla Buyukakcay. It's Diatchenko's eight career ITF singles title (second in '14), while her win with Margarita Gasparyan raises her number of doubles crowns to ten (shared with ten different partners, by the way).
JUNIOR STARS: Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov/ESP & Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP
...there have been a handful of young Spaniards rising to the surface this season, and here are two more. Zadoinov, currently the #8 junior in the world, has popped up to take this award a few times this season. With a WTA ranking of #606, the 16-year old's second career ITF challenger title came at this weekend's $10K in Les Contamines-Montjoie, France (she won a $10K in Spain in '13). The Spaniard took out fellow teens Katy Dunne and Katie Boulter in the early rounds before defeating Germany's Tayisiya Morderger in the final by outlasting the 17-year old in a love 3rd set. She also claimed the doubles title with Pasty Carla Touly. Meanwhile, Sorribes Tormo hadn't actually played a junior event since last year's U.S. Open, where she reached the 3rd Round after wins over Jana Fett and Francoise Abanda, and reached the girls doubles final with Belinda Bencic. SST's best pro result this season has been a runner-up (to Andreea Mitu) in the $10K Santa Margherita Di Pula challenger in April, but this weekend she returned to the junior stage in the European Junior Championships, a Grade B1 event held in Klosters, Switzerland and headlined by Wimbledon girls champ Jelena Ostapenko and SW19 runner-up Kristina Schmiedlova. The 17-year old notched wins over Iryna Shymanovich and Ioana Loredana Rosca, then completed her triumphant junior return with a win in the final over yet another Spaniard, Paula Badosa Gibert.

1. Nanchang SF - Peng d. Zheng Saisai
Peng led 6-4/5-2 and held two MP, but Zheng forced things to a 3rd. Finally, on her 6th MP, Peng advanced to the final. Where...
2. Nanchang Final - Peng d. Liu
Peng had to fight off three BP early in the 3rd, then get a late break for 5-3 before finally being able to put away her teenaged countrywoman.
3. Baku 1st Rd. - Mladenovic d. Watson 6-2/3-6/6-0
Baku 2nd Rd. - Mladenovic d. Vekic 2-6/6-3/6-0
Baku QF - Schiavone d. Mladenovic 6-3/4-6/6-0
the Mladenovic Magic worked quite well in the 3rd set in Baku. For a while. Then it went horribly wrong. Of course, one might say this was just a case of the Tennis Gods evening things out, since Mladenovic defeated Schiavone in three sets in last week's Istanbul QF.
4. Baku Final - Svitolina d. Jovanovski
BoJo had pretty much played all her cards by just getting to the final, I suppose.
5. Baku Doubles Final - Panova/Watson d. Olaru/Peer
The Russian/British pair had been down a MP in the 1st Round vs. Jovanovski/Kovinic.
6. Baku 2nd Rd. - Peer d. Dolonc 3-6/6-2/6-3
$50K Sobota Doubles Final - Krejcikova/Krunic d. Vasylyeva/Zanveska 3-6/6-0 [10-6]
the art of being a Serbian Bad Luck Charm, and a Serbian Good Luck Charm.
7. Wash.DC Q1 - Webley-Smith d. Paszek
But the week wasn't a total loss. Paszek confirmed she's dating her coach, former ATP player Andrei Pavel.

8. $50K Lexington Final - Brengle d. Gibbs
Still, former NCAA champ Gibbs' results on the circuit won her the USTA's wild card playoff entry into the U.S. Open main draw.
HM- WTT SF [WD] - Hingis/Rodionova (WAS) d. Huber/Townsend (PHI)... err, I mean Townsend (PHI)
All right, one more. Note the unintentionally humorous #RefuseToLose hashtag in the background.


1. Baku 2nd Rd. - Eguchi d. Urszula Radwanska 6-2/6-1
Baku 1st Rd. - Glushko d. Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2/2-6/7-5
U-Rad wasn't the only sister to fall in the early going in Azerbaijan.
2. $50K Sobota Final - Kristina Kucova d. Karatantcheva
Meanwhile, in Poland, Kucova followed up her tour-level Bucharest semi with a good-sized challenger win. By the way, this was Sesil's first singles final since 2012. Unfortunately for her, she's gone 1-6 in ITF finals since March 2008.
3. $10K Palic Final - Elizaveta Ianchuk d. Bukta
Ianchuk grabs her third '14 ITF singles crown in four appearances in finals. Sister Olga is 1-1 in a pair of finals this season.

Vika then:

Vika now:

Serena Williams - Brisbane
Li Na - Shenzhen
Serena Williams - Miami
Maria Sharapova - Stuttgart (2012-14)
Serena Williams - Rome
Anastasia Rodionova - Brisbane
Errani/Vinci - Australian Open
Garrigues/Shvedova - Florianopolis

17y,10m,3w - Donna Vekic, CRO (Kuala Lumpur)
19y,4m,2w - Madison Keys, USA (Eastbourne)
19y,10m,1w - ELINA SVITOLINA, UKR (Baku)

Caroline Wozniacki - New Haven 2008-09
Caroline Wozniacki - Ponta vedra Beach 2009-10
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Monterrey 2010-11
Elina Svitolina - Baku 2013-14

9...United States (6 titles)
7...SERBIA (3)
7...Czech Republic (2)
6...Russia (5)
6...Germany (3)
6...Italy (1)

Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Elina Svitolina/UKR
Lara Arruabarrena/ESP, Shahar Peer/ISR, Bojana Jovanovski/SRB, Zhang Shuai/CHN, Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL
Peng Shuai/CHN

**2014 ITF TITLES**
5 - Denisa Allertova, CZE
5 - Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
4 - Elise Mertens, BEL
4 - Nadia Podoroska, ARG
4 - Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX
4 - Zhu Lin, CHN

1974 Denver Raquets
1975 Pittsburgh Triangles
1976 New York Sets
1977 New York Apples
1978 Los Angeles Strings
1981 Los Angeles Strings
1982 Dallas Stars
1983 Chicago Fyre
1984 San Diego Buds
1985 San Diego Buds
1986 San Antonio Raquets
1987 Charlotte Heat
1988 Charlotte Heat
1989 San Antonio Raquets
1990 Los Angeles Strings
1991 Atlanta Thunder
1992 Atlanta Thunder
1993 Wichita Advantage
1994 New Jersey Stars
1995 New Jersey Stars
1996 St.Louis Aces
1997 Sacramento Capitals
1998 Sacramento Capitals
1999 Sacramento Capitals
2000 Sacramento Capitals
2001 Philadelphia Freedoms
2002 Sacramento Capitals
2003 Delaware Smash
2004 Newport Beach Breakers
2005 New York Sportimes
2006 Philadelphia Freedoms
2007 Sacramento Capitals
2008 Kansas City Explorers
2009 Washington Kastles
2010 Kansas City Explorers
2011 Washington Kastles
2012 Washington Kastles
2013 Washington Kastles
2014 Washington Kastles

And, now, here comes Aga! Look out, west coast...

13 Final: Cibulkova d. A.Radwanska
13 Doubles Final: Kops-Jones/Spears d. Goerges/Jurak
14 Top Seeds: S.Williams/A.Radwanska

The U.S. Open Series begins, and the proverbial rubber suddenly is forced to meet the road. Some intriguing -- and maybe telling -- match-ups that we might get in northern California? Well, how about Vika/Venus in the 2nd Round, with the winner likely facing either Stosur or Petkovic, who could also meet in the 2nd? Not enough? Well, there's former Stanford finalist-turned-tour-title-winner Coco Vandeweghe against Angelique Kerber in the 2nd Round, Serena/AnaIvo in the QF, and then the possible resumption of some very good head-to-head series in the semifinals, be it Serena/Vika, Serena/Venus or A-Rad/Cibulkova (last year's final). Is Serena back, and does she feel like she has something to prove in order to make everyone forget her embarrassing Wimbledon exit? How about Azarenka, who is still pretty match-lite for '14? Did some time off refresh Aga? I'd really like to pick either Vika or Venus here, but I'll go the safe, "boring" route...

#1 S.Williams d. #5 Ivanovic
(WC) V.Williams d. #8 Petkovic
#6 Cibulkova d. Vandeweghe
#2 A.Radwanska d. #7 Suarez-Navarro
#1 S.Williams d. (WC) V.Williams
#6 Cibulkova d. #2 A.Radwanska
#1 S.Williams d. #6 Cibulkova

...Serena, sight unseen. It says something about her season that that doesn't sound as good as it usually does. But she's been pretty good everywhere but in the slams in '14, so it might turn out to be a smart choice. Of course, if we get another fiasco that creates unwanted headlines, well, then at least there will be something to talk about next week.

Meanwhile, I guess Aga will have a few additional moments to visit her "old friends." She was already thinking about it last week...

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Int'l $250K/HCO)
13 Final: Rybarikova d. Petkovic (Rybarikova 2012-13)
13 Doubles Final: Dushevina/Aoyama d. Bouchard/Townsend (Aoyama 2012-13)
14 Top Seeds: Safarova/Makarova

#7 Keys d. #3 Cornet
#4 Stephens d. Riske
#7 Keys d. #4 Stephens

...speaking of looking for a Wimbledon follow-up. A second title for Keys would surely soothe a bit of the lingering "what if's" associated with that missed opportunity to complete that suspended SW19 match against Yaroslava Shvedova. I just want to see Keys face off with Cornet again (a rematch of that Fed Cup career-changer), then go up against Stephens in what would rightfully be deemed a "litmus test" for Thomas Hogstedt's latest pupil. Honestly, I really don't think Stephens will reach the final (she could lose her 1st Rounder vs. McHale), but, naturally, if she does... ummm, I'll surely count it up as a "win" for me. Ha-HA! Them's just the rulz, I tell ya! Of course, last time I picked Keys to win a title (which would have been her first) she lost early, and then won her maiden crown a week later. So, if she ends up playing next week in the Rogers Cup... well, look out, Montreal!

Bouchard pulled out of this week's D.C. event, where she reached the doubles final last year with Townsend and would have been the #1 singles seed this time around, for medical reasons. She's appearing SOMEWHERE, though...

Hmmm, somehow, I doubt that she'll get the same "Sloane treatment" that Stephens got in her interview in the American version of Elle. Just an educated guess.

All for now.


Blogger Percival Adonis CasiƱo said...

It would be very interesting to see how Vika fares in her much-beloved hard courts. Her presence makes it all more competitive throughout the draw, at least with regard to Serena. But a potential match-up with Venus makes her comeback soooo compelling. :(

BTW, Tornado was a WC in Acapulco (lost to Jovanovski), right?

Mon Jul 28, 05:38:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yep, you're right. Someone needs to tell everyone back in her hometown, since I read that in a local item and didn't think to check up on it. Although, I guess I may have read it incorrectly, since this was the first event Black has actually QUALIFIED for. Either way, I made the edit in the post. Thanks. :)

Mon Jul 28, 12:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Stanford 1st Round: Naomi Osaka d. Sam Stosur 4-6/7-6(7)/7-5

Osaka is a 16-year old qualifier ranked #406 in the world who was making her tour main draw debut. Stosur held a match point in the 2nd set TB, and served at 5-4 in the 3rd.

Yep, Stosur won the U.S. Open three years ago, after having won her first WTA singles title in Osaka, Japan in 2009.

You just can't make these things up!

Mon Jul 28, 07:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

The sad part is that it doesn't surprise me when this happens. All credit to Osaka, who apparently played her heart out, but where, oh where, did Sam Stosur--U.S. Open champion--go?

Hers is such a strange career in so many ways. I can't quite figure out what goes wrong, but I haven't given up on her.

Mon Jul 28, 08:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

This is her fourth straight loss at Stanford. Last year, after a bye, she lost her first match against Olga Govortsova, who was ranked #83 at the time.

Mon Jul 28, 10:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And... Keys loses in the 1st Round again when I pick her to win a tournament.

On the bright side, based on past experience, that might be great news for her next time out! :D

Mon Jul 28, 11:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Inside-out Keys curse!

Tue Jul 29, 10:09:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh no!

(Head Hits Desk)

Tue Jul 29, 11:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Mladenovic Magic, Part ?? (there have been a lot of sequels this summer)

D.C. 1st Rd. - Mladenovic def. #1 Safarova 2-6/6-3/6-3

Tue Jul 29, 06:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

D.C. 1st Rd. - McHale d. Stephens 6-4/4-6/6-0

Hogstedt... you're fired!

Tue Jul 29, 11:49:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

The British are here!

D.C. Doubles - Rae/Smith d. #1 Black/Mirza 6-4/6-3

Wed Jul 30, 10:13:00 PM EDT  

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