Thursday, October 23, 2014

BACKSPIN TIME CAPSULE: 2004 WTA Championship & Fed Cup

Yep, it's been a full decade.

Throughout this season, I've posted a series of "Time Capsules" spotlighting the highs of the breakthrough season of the Russian Tennis Revolution of 2004. From Anastasia Myskina's surprise run at Roland Garros, to the birth of a would-be tennis legend named Sharapova at Wimbledon and an early-career flash of talent from Svetlana Kuznetsova in New York, the Hordettes took control of the grand slams ten years ago, sweeping to three consecutive titles, two of which came after an all-Russian clash in the final.

But the crowning of a trio of first-time major champions wasn't enough. The Russians weren't finished.

As the summer rolled into the fall, the leaves changed. But the level of Hordette success did not.

Maria Sharapova went on to end her season by winning her first and (so far) only Tour Championships title, becoming the only Russian to ever do so when she pulled off a sequel to her Wimbledon triumph by getting a second victory over (an injured) Serena Williams in the final in Los Angeles. Nearly a full decade later, Sharapova is still seeking win #3 over Williams. A week later, in the Fed Cup semifinals and finals competition held in Moscow (naturally), the Hordettes won the first of multiple FC championships claimed by Team Russia during the remainder of the 2000's.

Here's how I recounted it all at the time. First, the WTA Championships held in Los Angeles, and the the final, fitting result on the concluding Fed Cup weekend of the 2004 season..

November 18, 2004 - "OH, TO BE 17...and Backspin's 2004 Player-of-the-Year"

"The closer you sit, the hotter she gets."

Welcome to the ever-expanding world of Maria Sharapova, at a moment in time when she is the poster girl of the WTA Tour's big season-ending tournament in just her first appearance in the event. A moment where she's complimented on her "sexy legs" by the tour's preeminent stylist and former #1 (and, as it turned out, the Supernova's eventual opponent in the final). A moment where the 17-year old born of the cold environs of Siberia somehow manages to exceed all the slogans (such as the one above) and slick Los Angeles marketing campaign tricks that some might have found a little excessive.

Got Sharapova? Got another title. In the end, the Russian's star power outshined even that of Serena Williams, and the Superova picked up a Tour Championship title to place next to that Wimbledon champion's plate she got over the summer.

One of the great things about watching Sharapova this year has been seeing the process of her traversing her tennis learning curve while on the job, and in the spotlight. Again, her education was evident in the Championship final. After failing to convert big points late in the 1st (including tossing in a DF on set point), she fell down a break to Williams at 1-2 in the 2nd. With failure staring her in the face, she won the last five games to take the set, the final one after Williams' "well-timed" abdominal injury break. Then, Williams ran off a 4-0 lead with whipping groundstrokes while Sharapova was overhitting Serena's slow serves and was generally off-kilter against her injured, but still lethal, opponent.

It was easy to question the severity of Williams' injury at that point in the match. Or at least it was until her "painful" (to watch) series of serves after Sharapova, having kept her wits about her, had closed to within 4-3. To put it in tennis '04 terms, Serena's serve was starting make Elena Dementieva's serve look good by comparison. The Supernova's waiting game had paid off, as Serena physically wilted down the stretch and Sharapova fed on her slowing momentum like a starved animal, closing out the match, the tournament and her season by claiming the final six games of the set. Her victory completed the Russian Horde's big-tourney sweep over the last half-year (and the three straight slams, plus the Tour Championship, could soon be joined by Russia's first-ever Fed Cup crown... in Moscow, no less). All that, and Sharapova somehow avoided knocking someone out with that (literally) huge check she received during the post-match trophy presentation, too.

Sharapova's talent and star wattage not only carried the day in L.A., as her triumph further cemented her burgeoning role as possibly the women's game's most recognizable face. In record time. It also earned her Backspin's 2004 "Player of the Year" award. The final standings:

1.Maria Sharapova
2.Lindsay Davenport
3.Anastasia Myskina
4.Amelie Mauresmo
5.Justine Henin-Hardenne
6.Svetlana Kuznetsova
7.Virginia Ruano-Pascual & Paola Suarez
8.Elena Dementieva
9.Serena Williams
10.Vera Zvonareva

In my heart of hearts, I guess I wouldn't have had it any other way this year... even if I did think a week ago that Sharapova was such a longshot for PoY that the court would need to open up and swallow the likes of Davenport and Mauresmo for her to steal away with the honor. Well, as it turned out, that's pretty much what happened as Davenport stumbled in one of the year's biggest events (again), and Mauresmo (again) didn't take advantage of her great opportunity to take year-end #1 (then pulled out of her Fed Cup commitment less than two weeks before the semifinals and final).

Sharapova might be just #4 on the computer (a career-high, which could be obliterated come her re-emergence in January), but her strong 4Q finish (three titles and a RU), a slam crown (Davenport and Mauresmo didn't even reach a slam final), five titles (two of them at the biggest five events on the WTA schedule), a Tier I RU (Zurich) and more intangibles that are great for the game than you could shake a broken Marat Safin racket at (no one person did more for their sport in '04 than the Supernova did for tennis) more than qualify her for "Player of the Year." Just look at the actual crowds in L.A. last week, after so many "fans" came disguised as empty seats a year ago... you'd be a fool not to attribute the new success to the 'Nova's presence. "Person of the Year" was a given. Winning this final title gave the self-described "Renaissance Woman" just one more advantage that couldn't be ignored. With every title, the dream scenario of a player with Kournikova-like crossover appeal AND a Graf-ian sense of the moment, is starting to appear as if it might become a reality in the lithe form of the Supernova.

Maria's annexation of the tour is not yet complete, either. There are still three players ahead of her on the computer... and she's not even the top-ranked Russian yet. But that's what Melbourne is down there for, isn't it?

As for the allocation of some of that million dollars that Sharapova won on Monday night? Well, in her own words, "that's a lot of shoes." So, apparently, there are still boxes-full of new Supernova looks that we've yet to be graced by.

It should be fun.

S: Maria Sharapova d. Serena Williams 4-6/6-2/6-4
D: Petrova/Shaughnessy d. Black/Stubbs

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maria Sharapova were expecting someone else? Oh, in a fitting conclusion, while she isn't ranked #1 (at least not yet) it should be noted that the Supernova ended up at the top of the tour's prize money list for 2004.
RISERS: Sharapova & Nadia Petrova/Meghann Shaughnessy
...the Petrova/Shaughnessy team didn't win a grand slam in 2004, but a handful of Tier I's and this WTA Championships title made for a great year anyway for two players whose singles results maybe didn't reach the heights they would have preferred.
SURPRISE: Serena Williams's not often that Serena ends up in this category, but who really saw her performance in L.A. coming? She seemed more likely to not even bother to show up than to have a shot to win the title. Of course, it wasn't a surprise that she managed to slight Davenport after losing to her in the Round Robin, sport an "I (heart) Me" t-shirt to a press conference, act (albeit somewhat playfully) as if she didn't actually play and lose that Wimbledon final against Sharapova in July, and raise questions (at least initially) about her latest injury when it occurred just as Sharapova was starting to take control of the 2nd set. But that's why Serena is Serena -- she's a lightning rod for good as well as bad vibes. And now the "Serena vs. Supernova" rivalry has surpassed the non-rivalry that was "Venus vs. Serena."
VETERAN: Lindsay Davenport
...sure, she went out with a whimper after not getting out of the Round Robin, but she still finished #1 for the third time in her career ('99,'01).
FRESH FACES: Michaella Krajicek & Hana Sromova
...15-year old Krajicek's win in Stockholm was her third ITF title of the year. But that's only half as many as Hana Sromova, #250 and another in the Czech Republic's well-stocked pool of young talent. Her win in Mumbia, India gave her six ITF titles this year, tying her for the season lead with India's own Sania Mirza.
DOWN: Amelie Mauresmo
...after Davenport failed to reach the SF, Mauresmo had a shot at year-end #1 if she could have won the Championships. But she blew a set lead on Serena in the SF, then said that #1 wasn't her "main concern." The next day, she pulled out of her Fed Cup SF/F commitment (to the dismay of angry French team coach Guy Forget) in order to get more rest and focus on her training in an attempt to win her elusive first slam title in Melbourne. Mauresmo was 6-1 in Fed Cup play this year, after leading France to the title in 2003. If she wins Oz, then this will be a good move. If not, this is a pretty low way to treat her French team at such a critical juncture.

1.F - Sharapova d. S.Williams
The long-awaited rematch of the sonic boom that sounded back in July was the fitting end to a WTA season that turned out to be subtitled "Maria's World."

2.SF - Sharapova d. Myskina
The Supernova had never beaten the Czarina before.
3.SF - S.Williams d. Mauresmo
Hey, #1 wasn't Mauresmo's "main concern," anyway. If she doesn't care, why should we?
4.RR - S.Williams d. Myskina
Myskina led 6-4/3-0 before Serena ran off eight straight games. She was up 3-2 with a BP in the 3rd, too. If the Czarina had won, Davenport would have advanced to the SF, not Serena.
5.RR - Myskina d. Davenport
This was Myskina's first match after losing to Williams -- nice to see she didn't have another Athens-like hangover.
6.RR - Davenport d. S.Williams
Too little, too late for Davenport. Considering the Williams injury woes, Capriati's struggles and the dearth of top American talent, might Davenport be the last #1-ranked woman from the USA this decade?
7.RR - Sharapova d. Zvonareva
Vera the Almost. After failing to get a RR win, she finished 60 points out of the year-end Top 10.
8.RR - Sharapova d. Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova might actually be the more talented of the two at the moment, while Sharapova has more ice in her veins in big moments. The big question for '05 might end up being which of these two teenagers can challenge for #1 first.

A week after Sharapova won the Tour Championships, Anastasia Myskina led the Russians to their first-ever Fed Cup title with little if any help from the season's other two slam champions. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who'd eventually become a FC legend (twice winning title-clinching singles matches in '07 and '08), performed well in that week's semifinal action vs. Austria, but went 0-2 in the final against France, while Sharapova wasn't even on the team, mostly because Myskina, who had issues with Maria's father Yuri, had essentially forbid it if she was going to devote her own time to the Fed Cup cause. Sharapova wouldn't make her FC debut until 2008.

The '04 FC win for Team Russia would be the first of the Hordette's four FC titles in five years. After having lost in four finals with Soviet/Russian squads prior to '04, the team has since reached additional finals in '11 and '13. Myskina officially became the Russian team's Captain before the 2014 campaign.

Here's how it went...

November 28, 2004 - Fed Cup Final

Team Russia & Russian President Boris Yeltsin

FED CUP (Supreme Indoor/Moscow)
Russia d. Austria 5-0
France d. Spain 5-0
Russia d. France 3-2

Match #1- Dechy(FRA) d. Kuznetsova(RUS) 3-6/7-6/8-6
Match #2- Myskina(RUS) d. Golovin(FRA) 6-4/7-6
Match #3- Myskina(RUS) d. Dechy(FRA) 6-3/6-4
Match #4- Golovin(FRA) d. Kuznetsova(RUS) 6-4/6-1
Match #5- Myskina/Zvonareva(RUS) d. Bartoli/Loit 7-6/7-5

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Myskina
...the Czarina issued an ultimatum about Maria Sharapova joining the Horde's Fed Cup team in '05 (because of her antipathy for the Supernova's dad, she says she won't be playing if Sharapova is), then proceeded to show her value by spearheading Russia's come-from-behind first-ever Fed Cup title. In the Final versus France, after Svetlana Kuznetsova faltered twice in singles, Myskina first leveled the sinking ship then subbed for Kuznetsova in the title-deciding doubles tie and carried the day in true leading lady style. For the week, she was 4-0 in singles and 1-0 in doubles. With some additional teeth behind her assertions about the team's future makeup, will Myskina go through with her power play and attempt to block the Supernova's participation? Stay tuned.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva & Nathalie Dechy
...a year ago, an unprepared Zvonareva was thrown into her first Fed Cup action in the SF and she came up with nothing but disappointment. A year older and wiser, she teamed with Myskina to clinch Russia's first Fed Cup title in the final's fifth match. Could Vera the Almost have set the stage for her coming of age in 2005? While Dechy ultimately came up short, she took the defending champion French team's lead role (vacated by the "otherwise engaged" Mauresmo and injured Pierce) and ran with it, upsetting Kuznetsova in the final's first match and forcing Myskina into her usual heroics on Russian soil.
SURPRISE: Yvonne Meusburger
...the 21-year old, ranked #173, took the only set (off Myskina) the Austrians could muster against the Horde in the SF.
VETERAN: Kveta Peschke
...the former Miss Hrdlickova, 29, is serving notice that she might be looking for a career resurgence in '05 as she claimed her 3rd ITF title of the year in just the last few months. She defeated Alona Bondarenko, Kateryna's sister, in the Deauville final.
FRESH FACE: Tatiana Golovin
...if Dechy hadn't taken the French lead, the 16-year old Frussian Pastry showed that she was more than capable of doing so herself. Back in her birth city of Moscow, she followed up Dechy's upset of Kuznetsova with one of her own to force the deciding doubles match.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova
...2004 finally caught up with Kuznetsova, as her 0-2 singles record in the final nearly cost the Horde the Fed Cup. On a bright note, though, Kuznetsova is finally getting a long-overdue Backspin nickname. The oft-overshadowed teen isn't the Russian Czarina, and no one would consider her a Supernova... but she deserves a semi-royal title of her own. "The Contessa" has a nice ring to it, made more Russian by converting it to "The Contessova."

1.FC F - #5 - Myskina/Zvonareva d. Bartoli/Loit
The 2004 WTA #8 doubles team replaced the #3 (Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva), and the move worked as the Horde ended 2004 the only way it rightly should have -- as champions once again.
2t.FC F - #1 - Dechy d. Kuznetsova 3-6/7-6/8-6
FC F - #4 - Golovin d. Kuznetsova 6-4/6-1
The Contessova's (first nickname usage alert!) troubles will now largely be forgotten in the championship afterglow.

3.FC F - #2 - Myskina d. Golovin
In a must-win situation, the Czarina was worth her weight (and pointed opinions) in gold.
4.FC SF - #1 - Golovin d. Medina-Garrigues
The indoor surface wasn't exactly the Spaniards' cup of tea, but their sweep in the SF was still a bit shocking with the French minus both Mauresmo and Pierce.
5.FC SF - #3 - Myskina d. Meusburger
The 1st set was the only time all week that the Czarina wasn't on top of her game.

Team Russia & Captain Shamil Tarpischev

1st Round - def. Australia 4-1
QF - def. Argentina 4-1
SF - def. Austria 5-0
F - def. France 3-2

On Yuri Sharapov's behavior during her WTA Championship SF match, during which she accused him of illegally coaching his daughter: "I feel his behavior is totally incorrect, simply rude. I don't want to be around people like him."

On the prospect of Sharapova playing Fed Cup for Russia in '05 (she's agreed to do so): "If she joins our team next season, you won't see me there for sure. I do not want to be on a team with people who do not respect me." the problem is Yuri, right? But didn't the Czarina make comments about Sharapova being "more American" than Russian (Dementieva echoed the sentiments), and talked about her "course" accent when speaking Russian? Yeah, Sharapova didn't train with the rest of the Horde's top players at the Spartak Club, but does that make her any "less Russian" than the rest?

...a big "boo! hiss!" to all the Supernova detractors who popped up after Sharapova's WTA Championship title.

First, I think we (the Czarina included) can agree that Yuri needs to take a "chill pill" and pull back on his becoming-tiresome post-title actions, lest he start to be grouped in the Damir Dokic/Jim Pierce class of tennis dads. But why all the post-event fuss about Sharapova's "less-than-stellar" actions?

First, she's attacked for forgetting to mention Serena during the post-match ceremony (she corrected the not-uncommon error later), but then... now let me get this straight... for also having the temerity to celebrate after her victory? Apparently, the victory was "hollow" because Williams was injured. So, a teenager wins the second-biggest title of her career (over a player who during the week had tried to lesson the impact of her victory over her at Wimbledon for her BIGGEST title) and she's supposed to walk forlornly to the net with her head down? After her supposedly seriously injured opponent ran up a 4-0 3rd set lead AFTER her injury timeout, and was so "incapacitated" that she played an exhibition against her sister a few days later? Oh, and let's not overlook the notion that Serena should be celebrated because she was "graceful" in defeat (for once). Oh, really? Let's be honest. Serena is a smart lady. She knew her injury timeouts (the first conveniently coming when she'd fallen down 2-5 in the 2nd set, but that's another story, isn't it?) meant that she didn't need to search for an excuse for her loss ("headache," anyone?)... everyone else was obviously prepared to offer one up for her.

I wonder if Serena would have performed the same "woe is my opponent, how can I be happy now?" act if the shoe had been on the other foot and Sharapova had been injured? Anyone familiar with the Williams "body of work" in front of the camera knows she's hardly so good a thespian that she could have pulled that one off with what is apparently necessary to stack up on the "grace meter" these days... unless, of course, those standards only apply to a good-looking teenage champion with more endorsement deals in the last six months than the rest of the tour seemingly combined, who's expertly built to be looked upon with intense jealousy by all but a few of her counterparts.

Is it any wonder that women's tennis tends to eat its young? A 17-year old doesn't comport herself like a member of the royal family at high tea time and the vultures are already circling, looking to pick at the meat on her bones. Talk about lacking grace.

[Tour Championship Finals]
2004 Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams
2007 Justine Henin def. Maria Sharapova
2008 Venus Williams def. Vera Zvonareva
2012 Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova
[Fed Cup Finals]
1999 USA def. RUS 4-1
2001 BEL def. RUS 2-1
2004 RUS def. FRA 3-2
2005 RUS def. FRA 3-2
2007 RUS def. ITA 4-0
2008 RUS def. ESP 4-0
2011 CZE def. RUS 3-2
2013 ITA def. RUS 4-0

And so we come to the end of our season-long, Hordette-themed look back.

In the final '04 rankings, four Russians finished in the Top 6 and, though their numbers at the top of the sport have waned the past few years due to attrition brought on by injury and retirement, Hordettes have been a consistent force in the sport for most of the past decade. Since Anna Kournikova became the first post-Soviet era Russian to find WTA success in 1997, finishing in the Top 10 in 2000, nine additional Russian women have reached the Top 10 since '01, more than any other nation during that span. Two -- Sharapova and Dinara Safina -- reached #1. In all, they've won eight slam crowns, produced thirteen major runner-ups, one singles Gold Medalist (Elena Dementieva), as well as five others who ended up on the Olympic medal stand (including the historic sweep of all three singles spots in Beijing in '08).

Team Russia would go on to win four Fed Cup titles over a five-year stretch, and have since returned to the final in both 2011 and '13.

Kuznetsova won a second slam in Paris in '09, while Sharapova completed a Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in '13, then defended her crown earlier this year to claim her fifth career major. Heading into the 2014 WTA Finals, Sharapova still had a chance to become the first Russian to end a WTA season ranked #1, while Ekaterina Makarova (currently #11), a slam semifinalist for the first time in '14, looks to be a good bet to soon add her name to the roster of Russian Top 10ers. And, of course, there's always hope that the likes of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will finally live up to the great promise she showed during her sterling junior career and, occasionally, during the now 23-year old's time on the WTA tour.

While the lack of impact of the NextGen Hordettes that have followed the slam-winning generation isn't particularly surprising (after all, no German has won a slam crown since the Graf era, nor any Spaniards since the Sanchez/Martinez heyday, either), it doesn't diminish the accomplishments of the first wave of Hordettes. It's unlikely that any single group of players from any other nation -- well, unless that TRUE, post-Li Chinese talent wave one day arrives in full, elite force -- will ever have the impact that the Russians have had over the last decade on the WTA tour. This "Time Capsule" series was meant to provide both a few moments to remember, as well as celebrate, the unlikely nature of what happened a decade ago. Hopefully, the effort succeeded, at least on a small scale.

Needless to say, it was quite a body of work for the Hordettes... and likely one in a single season that won't be replicated anytime soon, if ever. Wow... ten years can go by oh so fast, can't they?

All for now.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

WTA Finals Day 4: Wozniacki d. A.Radwanska 7-5/6-3; Kvitova d. Sharapova 6-3/6-2; S.Williams d. Bouchard 6-1/6-1

...while Halep managed to advance into the SF without playing today, the other players jockeyed for position, and have to hope things go their way tomorrow or else their time in Singapore will end.

Wozniacki moved to the top of Group B, lifting her record to 2-0 this week with a straight sets win over A-Rad. After a friendly greeting at the net before the match (I think they spoke in Polish, as Kader Nouni told them he had no idea what they were saying, but that it was "all right"), the two engaged in a 1st set full of long rallies, as expected. But the Dane's clean game and aggressive tactics ultimately allowed her to pull ahead. Wozniacki got a late break and hold to take the 1st, as her winner/unforced errors (14/10) totals were more favorable that the Pole's. Aga was forced to do more (19/19) and more and, as a result, more errors were produced. In the 2nd, Caro won the final four games of the match. Aga ended up with 31 errors in the match's 19 games (and she's rarely going to win with numbers like that).

After having many of their previous matches turn on her own inability to put away crucial break points, Kvitova was the far more efficient player against Sharapova today. The Czech got a 1st set break to go up 4-2 (w/ Sharapova's error off a ball that clipped the net on its way to her side of the court), then held her advantage. Kvitova was 2-for-3 in BP chances, while Sharapova was 1-for-3 and had just a 50% 1st serve percentage.

In the 2nd, Kvitova quickly went up two breaks, then saved a BP to keep the Russian at bay, going up 4-0. 5-0 came with a Sharapova error, but she avoided a bagel by getting her first game just as the match hit 1:00. In the next to last game, Sharapova saved 2 MP before finally holding on her sixth game point. Kvitova put away MP #3 a game later, with a crosscourt winner off an angled Sharapova return. The match lasted just 1:15, and this time it was Kvitova with the better big point numbers - 5/8 on BP vs. Sharapova's 2/7, while the Czech's W/UE numbers (19/13 vs. 11/20, w/ 6 DF) win was just as good. Sharapova drops to 0-2 in round robin play.

In the third match, Bouchard came back from love/40 down to hold in the first game, but that was the end of her contention, as she dropped her third match in Singapore (and wasn't close in any of them). Williams, a day after one of her worst losses ever (2 games won vs. Halep), took the next eleven games. Bouchard avoided a 2nd set bagel by getting a game after falling behind 5-0. Williams threw in a 127 mph serve in this match, as well.

Williams seems a solid bet for #1 now, but she's hardly out of the woods as far as reaching the SF. If AnaIvo defeats Halep in straights tomorrow it'll come down to game win pct. If Halep takes just one set, though, Williams will get the nod.

Doubles: Black/Mirza d. Kops-Jones/Spears 6-3/2-6/12-10 the third of the three doubles QF, Black & Mirza saved a MP in the match tie-break to advance.

Legends: Bartoli/Majoli d. Austin/Navratilova 8-4 the last of the Legends doubles matches, Bartoli completed her 3-0 run in the new competition. As a result, La Trufflette was named the first-ever Legends champion.

Thu Oct 23, 03:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i'm glad all the players came to play at this year's YECs...

If I'm a fellow competitor, I'm increasingly aware that Serena's belief is coming from external sources these days...her old unwavering belief is not there and it's affecting her in match fighting skills...just look at all her losses in 2014...the sets she's lost have been blowouts.

And of course, her opponents were playing well too...but I figure that Serena has enough experience to mess with their game a bit...or at least fight...

Openings for her fellow competitors...the gap is closing...

Thu Oct 23, 04:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

so basically your time capsule is a throwback thursday........

i think si tennis copied you...

Thu Oct 23, 04:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

All I remember about the 04 WTA YECs was how myskina beat serena in RR and then serena beat lindsay davenport in 3 sets so they both made it out of RR play. I remember we were discussing on teh forum how there might have been a phone call between the two the night before (jokingly).

And then I remember the after the second set, Serena pulled something in her abs...and the commentators would not stop talking about her gamesmanship...and then she went on a roll got super aggressive and won 4 games straight in the third...and then waited out the rest of the set...and then the commentators would not stop talking about how great sharapova mention of serena's injury...anyway...times were different then...lindsay and capriati were still around so ppl were still pretty negative twds the sisters.

i mean i was too...i forgot who my fave player was then...

oh and the final between kuz and serena in beijing in 04 was amazing. seriously.

Thu Oct 23, 04:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said... that backwards...serena beat myskina...and davenport won in 3 over serena...

Thu Oct 23, 04:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

This week has brought some of the best promotion of womens tennis - ever. Brilliant and exciting matches - full house every day - the audience has been higly entertained and then it has been unpredictable. It's of course not bad that my babe is playing well too. YEC is thr top of the cake to me where top 8 only are playing. Maybe some special rules but all in all a great event in Singapore. Hope you find something nice to write about the arrangement too.

Fri Oct 24, 12:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Eric -
Yeah, as you can see in the re-post of the '04 YEC, I was still questioning of some of Serena's tactics -- based on past history -- at the time, too.

Leif -
Yes, it's been heartening to see the WTA's decision to go to Singapore get such a warm greeting there. The crowds have been great (though it was sometimes a little hard to see the people in the seats since it was so dark in the arena), and the tennis intriguing. I've liked the addition of the extra events, too, as well as the expansion of the doubles field. Rather than adding another meaningless POST-year ending tournament to the schedule for the players who didn't make the Singapore field, they should have just made this a two-week event (giving the Top 8 a little rest during the round robin), adding a second, official "Tournament of Champions" style tier to the competition for the #9-20 players (like w/ juniors at the majors). In effect, it would make the event something of a WTA-only "slam" that would bring the year to a close without the, "oh, then again..." situation we have now with Sofia and, next year, with the ridiculously-titled "Elite" event for the players who weren't "elite" enough to reach Singapore.

Fri Oct 24, 05:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

WTA Finals Day 5: Sharapova d. A.Radwanska 7-5/6-7(4)/6-2; Wozniacki d. Kvitova 6-2/6-3; Ivanovic d. Halep 7-6(7)/3-6/6-3 was a day featuring a Russian saving face, a Dane still looking golden and two players getting into the semifinals via a semi-ajar backdoor.

In the opening match, Sharapova needed a straight sets win over Radwanska in order to keep alive her slim hopes of advancing out of round robin play and staying viable in the #1-ranking race. After a series of early breaks in the 1st, the two held serve in the middle of the set. Aga led 4-3, 40/15. But, as has so often been the case over the last eighteen months, she couldn't finish. Sharapova served for the set at 5-4 but, naturally, was broken again. She got another chance to serve things out at 6-5, and did so by holding at love, taking the set with a Radwanskian lob winner over A-Rad on set point as Radwanska dropped four of the final five games.

Needing that straight sets win, Sharapova nearly got it. She held two match points at 5-1 in the 2nd, then a third at 5-3. But she couldn't put Aga away quickly enough. She was broken at love for 5-5, having scored just two points on serve in a pair of service games in which she tried to close out the match. In the deciding tie-break, Sharapova double-faulted on SP and her time in Singapore was officially "on the clock."

She still had a match to win, though. After an eight-minute break as she left the court, Sharapova came back out ready for the business of "saving face" and avoiding a 0-3 record for the week, which would included a pair of 3-hour matches. A break for 4-2 put her on the path, and on MP #4 she nailed a crosscourt forehand winner off a Radwanska second serve to close out the 3:09 affair. In all, Sharapova had 61 winners vs. 63 errors, while A-Rad was 12-to-27.

Aga wasn't dead yet, though. She needed her buddy Caro to take care of Kvitova for her in order for the Pole to slip into the SF with a 1-2 mark. And the Dane did the deed for her, too.

Wozniacki allowed just five games to Kvitova, shutting the Czech out of the semis as she herself became the only player to go 3-0 in RR play. It's the first time the Dane has defeated multiple Top 5 players at an event (and it means she's finally met my preseason prediction of three Top 5 wins on the season, too -- score!).

Said Aga of Wozniacki, "I think we're going to go shopping, but with my credit card." Caro noted of her friend, "She owes me a handbag."

Petra's next stop: the Fed Cup final.

Meanwhile, Serena Williams needed Halep to just take a set off AnaIvo for the world #1 (she's the fifth woman to finish #1 in four different seasons) to reach the semifinals and attempt to defend her crown. After the Serb took the 1st in a tie-break, Halep grabbed the 2nd and, again, another player was forced to play out (and win) a 3rd set while knowing that there wouldn't be another match to follow. Ivanovic got the win, but still ends her season with her tour-best 58th match victory of '14.

8 - Steffi Graf
7 - Martina Navratilova
5 - Chris Evert
4 - Lindsay Davenport
4 - Serena Williams

Williams and Wozniacki will meet in the semis, while Halep and Radwanska face off. Halep will be attempting to become the eighth player to reach the final in her season-ending tournament debut.

1979 Austin (RU)
1981 Jaeger (RU)
1994 Davenport (RU)
1996 Hingis (RU)
2001 S.Williams (W)
2004 Sharapova (W)
2011 Kvitova (W)

In doubles, the final semifinalist duo was determined when Peschke/Srebotnik advanced when Errani/Vinci retired at 2-1 in the 1st set due to Errani's rib injury. So, only two of the top four seeded teams (#2 Hsieh/Peng and #3 Black/Mirza) managed to get a QF victory.

Fri Oct 24, 05:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Todd -

That's a great idea! Having the TOC within the YEC! Altho I think the WTA wants to have it at two locations to "spread the wealth" and "promote"...but yours makes more sense...make it a tournament with a lot of gravitas...very selective.

In '04 were you in full pro-LPT mode yet? I feel like you were at the apex of LPT mode in 06-07...

Leif -

You're right. It's been really thrilling having such an unpredictable tournament. It felt like all the players were conspiring against Sharapova at the end.

Fri Oct 24, 10:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

COnsidering her propensity for indoors, Petra had a terrible tournament.

Fri Oct 24, 11:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

What I learned today:

- The Sharapova/Radwanska match was exhausting. All the points were long...many deuces in the games... Sharapova looked surprisingly ungraceful at times... Her footwork is just amazing now. Surprised she lost focus in the middle considering everything that was on the line...or maybe all the pressure got to her.

- Ana Ivanovic is amazing at the net. She hit some great volleys today. Moving forward is such a weapon for her. It was nice to see her smiling so much during the tournament.

I do wonder how much of a role Jelena Ristic/Nole having a baby will play on her...if she gets the baby's very contagious...

Sat Oct 25, 12:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I think full-LPT mode was just around the corner. Henin won the Open in '03 with her Capriati/Clijsters double, and had just won the '04 Olympics while fighting her virus.

I maybe should look back at '05 to try to pinpoint "the moment." ;)

Sat Oct 25, 04:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I feel like Wozniacki has changed since becoming friends with Serena. She's more willing to show emotion on the court.

Serena should be worried about "younger sisters" since she is one.

Wozniacki and Halep are really not afraid of playing Serena. Along with Vika...this could make for some interesting matches next year.

I really really wish Petra would be more consistent. I want to see her and Serena play more matches against each other. I want to test these two statements: "serena is GOAT" and "when Petra is on, no one can keep up with her". It's just really hard to know when they don't play each other. Blowing Eugenie Bouchard out of the water is an accomplishment, but not the same thing.

Sat Oct 25, 01:22:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

WTA Finals Day 6: S.Williams d. Wozniacki 2-6/6-3/7-6(6); Halep d. A.Radwanska 6-2/6-2

...yep, Wozniacki's new-found aggression and blossoming friendship with Serena seems to have made her fearless when it comes to facing Williams. Hmmm.

She very nearly took her friend out today, too. Out of the tournament, that is. She took it to Serena in the 1st set, only to see Williams come charging back in the 2nd with upped aggression of her own. In the 3rd set, the two were on serve at 4-4. Wozniacki moved into the net and Williams dumped a backhand to give the Dane the break and herself a shot to serve for the final (and her third Top 5 win of the week) at 5-4.

Williams immediately broke back, but Wozniack held BP again in the next game. Eventually, Serena put in two big serves -- the first a service winner off Caro's racket, and a second that set up a short put-away shot for Williams -- to hold. A game later, Wozniacki saved a MP on a wonderful point that saw Serena make a series of defensive saves, only to see the camped-at-the-net Dane pull off several volleys and claim the point. She held for 6-6 as the match hit the 2:00 mark.

Williams was 7-0 in 2014 TB's (Caro 6-9), but when she had a DF on point #5 it was Wozniacki who led 4-1. A Williams shot that clipped the net and bounced a foot onto Wozniacki's side of the court proved to be the key point, as it made the score 4-2 rather than 5-1. It turned the momentum of the TB.

An angled crosscourt backhand put Williams back on serve at 4-3, then two points later a big serve put Serena in control of the next point from the start as she went up 5-4. A fifth consecutive point came with an overhead winner as Williams held her second MP. Again, Wozniacki saved it at the net. On MP #3, the first on Williams' serve, Serena committed a forehand error -- after Caro's deep return landed near the baseline -- to tie things again at 6-6.

After having her ace called a let by Kader Nouni, Williams shook it off and hit another that touched nothing but the service box (her 12th ace of the day) to get to MP #4. A big Serena return produced a wide reply from Wozniacki and -- whew! -- Williams was through to the final after having needed Halep to win a set off Ivanovic on Friday just to get the defending champ into the semis.

In the end, even in defeat, Wozniacki held a 91-87 advantage in total points. Williams is now 10-1 vs. the Dane, who still managed to Tweet out congrats to Serena after the match.

Hopefully, Wozniacki can hold this form into 2015. It could make for a very interesting slam season.

Sat Oct 25, 04:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

WTA Finals Day 6 (cont'd):

Meanwhile, in the second SF, Halep was back to the Singapore form she showed while winning her first two round robin matches (before losing to AnaIvo, but taking a set and sending Serena to the semis). Again, everything was working against Aga, as the Romanian got an early break in both sets and never let Radwanska up from under the heel of her shoe. Oh, she had a few "moments," such as when Halep led 3-0, 40/love in the 2nd set, only to be broken. Of course, she immediately broke back. Make no mistake, this was a "take Aga to the woodshed" sort of match.

As a sign in the crowd declared: "Simona is on Fire."

Halep was so "on fire" and expecting every point to be perfectly played that any time she missed a shot she was liable to offer a death glare either at the ball (for not doing what it was supposed to) or her group in the stands. Up 6-2/5-1 30/30 she angrily cracked her racket on the court after Radwanska made a good play on a ball to win a point and move to within one point of the final game she'd win.

So Halep becomes the eighth woman in Championships history to reach the final in her maiden appearance. To become the fourth to win the event in her first try she'll have to beat Serena for a SECOND time in the same event. No one has ever done such a thing in singles when it comes to Williams. As Halep noted after the match, she expects Serena to be more focused this time than she was when Halep handed her her worst loss in sixteen years a few days ago.

Wonder if she has second thoughts about taking that set off Ivanovic now? Probably not... Simona just takes it as it comes to her, and makes the most out of it that she can.

Doubles SF: Black/Mirza d. Peschke/Srebotnik 4-6/7-5/11-9

...after a dramatic match vs. Kops-Jones/Spears (4 MP blown, 1 MP saved), Black & Mirza were at it again in the semis. In another match tie-break, Black/Mirza trailed 9-6 and faced triple match point. On the first MP, Peschke dumped an overhead into the net that SHOULD have ended the match. On #2, a return was yanked wide. On #3, Peschke sailed a swing volley forehand long to knot the score at 9-9. Mirza smacked a forehand winner to reach her and Black's first MP. They'd only need one. Black's volley put away a fifth straight point to give her a chance to win her third WTA Championships title tomorrow, and Mirza shot at her first.

In the 4Q of this season, Black/Mirza have now reached three straight finals, while Black has reached four in a row (Mirza was off playing the Asian Games one week during the stretch, where she won a Mixed Doubles Gold).

Sat Oct 25, 04:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

In the other doubles SF, Hsieh/Peng easily handled Kudryavtseva/Rodionova, 6-1/6-4, and will have a shot to end their partnership on a winning note by defending the 2013 title they won in Istanbul.

Sat Oct 25, 05:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I agree about Simona. I wonder if she knows how the TC commentators were practically begging her to throw the match.

Sat Oct 25, 07:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, and also, if she hadn't won a set vs. Ivanovic than AnaIvo would have made the SF and she might have been playing HER again. Try to fiddle with the numbers too much and you just might get blindsided by the UNexpected.

Sat Oct 25, 07:53:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Honestly, I think Simona started to figure Serena out during their last match at Cincy in 2013. She lost the first set 60. You can see the difference in the sets in the highlights. Simona stopped playing 10 feet behind the baseline...and that's exactly what she did earlier this week.

I felt like Simona played Serena like JJ did when JJ was No.1. Serena likes to play with some margin and spin...and JJ and Simona both just redirect the ball on the rise so quickly to a place in the court that is the farthest away from Serena as possible...and then Serena is out of position all the time. And then they start playing behind her as well since that option becomes available during the match.

Serena needs to execute her shots...

What I like about Simona is that you know that even without the money and the fame, she would still be playing tennis because she loves it. She's also not afraid of who she faces... She's laid back like that.

Sun Oct 26, 03:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I'm really curious how the WTA is always able to fill the stands for YECs...but not at other events...

Do they give tickets away for these events?

Sun Oct 26, 03:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Hello hello am in Singapore to watch the finals.

Simons played so well last night against aga, every point she wanted to win. Relentless is the word. She has been playing extremely well the whole week. Really deserves to win. Only questions, will she be nervous and serena is serena.

Santa and cara played incredibly well. Was surprised as they weren't as impressive last night. But I guess that's tennis, you never know.

Sun Oct 26, 06:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Amazing support for simona. A lot of Romania flag flying. I will be cheering for her. :)

Sun Oct 26, 06:37:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

No doubt who is the best player of the year and congrats with that. Simona is an exciting new player (not new in that sence but as taking part in the championships) who we'll see a lot more from the next many years along with Caroline. A question. Vika has been out for a while and is in the rankings in the #32 spot - that means ouside the top seeds in AO. A slam tournament can't they seed the players as they like so Vika eventually get a seeding as eg. #16 - becuse she's done well there?

Sun Oct 26, 09:10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Leif - Only Wimbledon uses other critera than the official rankings to determine seeds. And even there: Wimbledon uses a simple mathematical formula in which the official rankings count for 75% of the score and grasscourt results in the last year for the other 25%, which explains why their seedings are still usually very close to the official rankings.

Sun Oct 26, 10:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Wimbledon used to make far bigger adjustments in the seedings than occurs now. I wonder if they had more leeway with that in the past, say, for when Sampras would get a higher seeding because of his history?

With the extra week of grass court tune-ups in '15, it might be interesting to see if there might be a player (Venus, say) who might get a bigger bump if they play and get a good result before SW19.

Also, Vika has some pre-AO points to defend in Brisbane in Week 1 (RU '14), so she might even slip a bit more in the rankings before Melbourne (or maybe win it and slip in at #28-32, I guess). Either way, you don't get too many more recent two-time champions who are bigger floaters in a draw than she would be. Well, other than Serena when she was making one of her every other year comebacks a few seasons ago. Could see a bonanza of a first week match in that case.

Sun Oct 26, 03:09:00 PM EDT  

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