Monday, March 02, 2015

Wk.8- Second Banana Spotlight

second banana - noun, Informal.
1.a comic who supports the leading comedian, often as a straight man, especially in burlesque or vaudeville.
2.any person who plays a secondary role or serves in a subsidiary capacity.

Sometimes, even seeming "second bananas" are the stars. It surely was the case in Week 8, as some oft-overlooked players who usually play in the shadow of others stepped into a spotlight all their own.

DOHA, QATAR (Premier $731K/HCO)
S: Lucie Safarova/CZE def. Victoria Azarenka/BLR 6-4/6-3
D: Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears (USA/USA) d. SW.Hsieh/Mirza (TPE/IND) 6-4/6-4

S: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI def. Caroline Garcia/FRA 6-3/6-0
D: Arruabarrena/Torro-Flor (ESP/ESP) d. Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) 7-6(1)/5-7 [13-11]

...2015 has already been a very good year for "Czech #2" Safarova... and, to think, she lost three of her first four matches this season and has yet to play in a Fed Cup tie. She won her first slam doubles title in Melbourne to close out January, then put up back-to-back QF results in Antwerp and Dubai. Last week, the Czech's February-closing title run in Doha, where she grabbed the first Premier level singles title of her career and her first at any level on tour since September '13 in Quebec City, will lift her to a career-best #11 in the rankings. In Qatar, Safarova knocked off Sam Stosur, Ekaterina Makarova, Andrea Petkovic, Carla Suarez-Navarro (giving three straight Top 20 wins) and Vika Azarenka in the final for her first ever win against the former #1. Career title #6 comes as the 28-year old has now won eight of her last nine matches. March arrives with growing-ever-more-consistent Safarova now just 195 points from entering the Top 10 and becoming the seventh Czech to accomplish the feat, following in the footsteps of Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova, Helena Sukova, Jana Novotna, Nicole Vaidisova and (current Czech #1 banana) Petra Kvitova.


RISERS: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Caroline Garcia/FRA
...Belinda Bencic has gotten most of the recent press, but Bacsinszky, eight years older than the New Swiss Miss, is now the highest-ranked woman from Switzerland after she picked up her first tour singles crown since winning in Luxembourg more than five years ago. Since finally putting behind her the foot injury that limited her play for three seasons, Bacsinszky has really come into her own the last two years. The 25-year old had her first Top 50 season in '14, has been a key to Switzerland's Fed Cup success and in early February set a new career-best ranking at #36. She reached her first final since '10 in Shenzhen in Week 1 of 2015, and reached the fourth of her career last week in Acapulco. Wins over Richel Hogenkamp, Lesia Tsurenko, Johanna Larsson, Sesil Karatantcheva and Caroline Garcia gave her career title #2 and raised her ranking this week to another career-high at #31.

Garcia, a Fed Cup star who is still seeking the weekly consistency to become a true force on the regular tour (without Amelie Mauresmo leading her cheering section each match), put up Acapulco wins over Polona Hercog, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni before getting a pass into the final when #1-seed Maria Sharapova pulled out of the semifinals with a viral illness. It put the 21-year old Pastry into her second career final (she won Bogota last year), but she was only able to take three games off Bacsinszky once she got there.

SURPRISES: Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL & Berfu Cengiz/TUR
...once upon a time, Karatantcheva was a true character on the WTA tour. So much so that her early-career exploits helped her earn a spot on the "All-Time Backspin MVP" list at #19 just a few year ago. A slam quarterfinalist at age 15 in Paris in 2005, Karantcheva was talented, talkative and little bit crazy and on-the-edge. Maybe that played a part in the problems that came after her big breakthrough, namely a two-year drug suspension that kept her off tour in 2006-07 after her claim that her positive test had been because she was pregnant. No one really bought it. But she "did her time," and returned, but only to occasional success, and most of that on the ITF circuit. Since that '05 Roland Garros QF, Karatantcheva has gone just 4-8 in slam MD matches, with only two wins coming since 2006 (interestingly, one as a lucky loser at RG in '12). After climbing as high as #35 in '05, Karatantcheva has only put together one Top 100 season (barely, at #93 in '12) since. From 2009-14, the Bulgarian led the way in the nation-hopping merry-go-round, representing Kazakhstan in a deal that helped secure her financial footing. She returned to playing under the Bulgarian flag this season, and last week things really began to look up. But, Sesil being Sesil, she took the long way around the WTA barn to get there. Now 25 and ranked #158 heading into last week, Karatantcheva lost in Acapulco qualifying to Lucie Hradecka. After getting into the draw as a lucky loser, she proceeded to reel off victories over junior slam champ Marie Bouzkova, Kiki Bertens and Monica Puig (saving three MP) to reach just her second career tour semifinal, and her first since Pattaya in 2010. Sesil's ranking jumps thirty-one spots this week, up to #127, and things seem to be heading in the right direction for a player still young enough to live out a few of the dreams that stretch back nearly a full decade now. With the spirit of JJ waning, the tour could use a little of Karatantcheva's craziness. Check that, modulated craziness. When she made the Backspin MVP list, I said of her, "she's listed here because of the underlying sense of mischief that used to practically ooze from her pores. Essentially, in so many ways, she was a ruder, cruder, louder off-court version of Jelena Jankovic, but with a hint of 'danger' inherent in her headline-grabbing comments." Yep, that was surely part of the charm. Hopefully, there's still a chance for something more tangible before it's all over. After playing seven matches in seven days in Acapulco, she's already lost in Monterrey qualifying this weekend, though, so we'll have to wait a little longer for another step to be taken.

Meanwhile, in a $10K challenger in Antalya, Turkish 15-year old Berfu Cengiz strung together multiple main draw wins a pro event for the first time, advancing all the way to the final while defeating players with a combined 20 career challenger titles -- fellow Turks Basek Eraydin (8) and Melis Sezer (5), as well as #1-seeded Dia Evtimova (7) -- before losing the final to Swarmette Diana Buzean, who won her 11th career crown in a 4-6/6-4/6-0 victory. Cengiz is the #110-ranked junior in the world, and yet another point of interest in a growing pool of women's tennis talent in Turkey.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...the resurrection -- or maybe "further polishing?" -- of the career of 34-year old Williams was awarded another chapter in Doha. Not that it was an easy read. Venus came back from a set down to defeat Casey Dellacqua, saved a match point in what turned out to be a controversial (and contentious, especially at the net after the match) win over Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova and needed three sets to defeat Aga Radwanska. In the semifinals, Williams lost a one set lead over Azarenka (who'd never beaten her), then couldn't quite turn around 4-0 and 5-1 deficits in a 3rd set that ended up closing at 6-4 in favor of the Belarusian. Meanwhile, CSN put up her second straight great result in the Middle East. After a QF run in Dubai that included wins over Camila Giorgi and Petra Kvitova, the Spaniard went to Doha and did even better, reaching the semis with three Top 20 wins over Garbine Muguruza (a week after losing to her doubles partner in singles, CSN advanced via a retirement this time around), Karolina Pliskova and, again, Kvitova.

COMEBACK: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
...things didn't go as perfectly in Doha for Vika as they had in her previous visits, when she won the title in 2012 and '13. But they nearly did. After opening her belated "title defense" with a 6-0/6-3 win over the suddenly-freefalling Angelique Kerber, Azarenka took out Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki (at 3 & 1, an even harsher beating than the one the Belarusian put on the Dane in Melbourne) to reach her first semifinal since being the Brisbane runner-up in January '14. Her three-set SF win over Venus Williams, her first in five career meetings, came after nearly squandering a 4-0 lead and failing to serve out the match at 5-2 while playing on despite a noticeable leg injury. From that point on, the "imperfect storm" ended Azarenka's 14-match, four-year long undefeated run in Qatar, as her long week, the injury and an in-form Lucie Safaraova produced a disappointing result in her straight sets loss in the final. Still, she's back inside the Top 40 and on her way up again. As long as the injury bug doesn't trip her up yet again, that is... and, I guess, so long as she doesn't have any bad break-up flashbacks if she happens to catch Redfoo as a contestant on the new season of "Dancing with the Stars" while she's playing in the U.S. in March.

Slowly turning into a zombie on this layover! Long flight ahead! ??

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

...the 15-year old junior who made such a splash in last year's U.S. Open women's draw, Bellis has continued to grow her career on the ITF circuit since last summer. Over the past week, the Bannerette notched wins over Usue Arconada, Johanna Konta and Ipek Soylu to reach the $25K challenger final in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Sunday's final was pushed back to Monday, where Bellis will face off with another American, 25-year old Maria Sanchez, in an attempt to bank her third career singles challenger crown. Her previous wins also came at $25K tournaments.
DOWN: Petra Kvitova/CZE & Sloane Stephens/USA Doha, Kvitova suffered her second Middle East loss to Carla Suarez-Navarro in as many weeks, after having had a 5-0 career record against the Spaniard two weeks ago. Kvitova's quick and encouraging 7-1 (and a title in Sydney) season's start, which was ended with her Australian Open upset at the hands of the bringing-the-thunder Madison Keys, has devolved into a 4-3 mark in her last seven. Not a total spin out (not yet, anyway), but a definite step back. Meanwhile, in Acapulco, Stephens continues to prove that coaching changes don't make much of a dent in her flagging results over the last (now) TWO full years. Her 1st Round loss to Johanna Larsson drops her to 2-4 in '15, and 3-7 in her last ten matches. She's already fallen out of the Top 40 (and, unlike Azarenka, who passes Stephens in the new rankings, she doesn't have a long-term injury absence to blame). Not only that, but fellow Bannerettes Alison Riske, Madison Brengle, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis are currently breathing down her neck and threatening to make Sloane the tenth highest-ranked U.S. woman after having been as high as second-best less than twenty-four months ago.
ITF PLAYER: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT
...a week ago, Ostapenko was celebrating a semifinal result in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, her best-ever result in a $50K-or-bigger event. Well, she must have liked the feeling, because this past week the 17-year old '14 Wimbledon girls champ moved on to St.Petersburg, Russia and did even better, winning a $50K event there for her biggest title yet and running her pro final record to 15-1 (7-1 singles, 8-0 doubles). The Latvian was a qualifier last week, then put up main draw wins over #7-seed Olga Govortsova (who won the Kreuzlingen event), Akgul Amanmuradova, Ivana Jorovic, #5-seed Aliaksandra Sasnovich and 12-time career challenger champer Patricia-Maria Tig in a 3-6/7-5/6-2 final.
JUNIOR STAR: Kristina Schmiedlova/SVK
...a week ago, Anna Schmiedlova reached her first career tour singles final in Rio, losing to Sara Errani. This week, perhaps inspired by her sister's success, 17-year old Kristina took her turn in the spotlight. The #6 junior in the world, the younger Schmiedlova won her second career ITF singles crown at the $10K in Port El Kantaoui, defeating Ksenia Lyskina, Clothilde de Bernardi and then Tereza Malikova in straight sets in the final.
DOUBLES: Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears (USA/USA)
...the veteran U.S. pair have proven to be one of the best hard court duos on tour in recent years. Their run to the Doha title, during which they knocked off two-time slam champs Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina and then top-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei (who won the title in '14 w/ Peng Shuai) & Sania Mirza in the final, gives then eleven tour titles as a team, and they now have a 10-5 record in hard court finals since 2011. 33-year old Spears has won fifteen career titles, while, Kops-Jones, 32, has claimed thirteen.


1. Acapulco QF - Karatantcheva d. Puig
Karatantcheva's lucky loser-to-semifinalist run included her blowing a 4-0 2nd set lead against Puig, then seeing the Puerto Rican charge back to hold two match points at 6-5 in the 2nd set. In the tie-break, Karatantchova lost a 6-3 advantage, then staved off a third MP before finally winning 9-7 to force a deciding 3rd set.
2. Doha QF - Suarez-Navarro d. Kvitova
A love and three finish after taking the 1st? Oh, Petra.

3. Doha QF - Azarenka d. Wozniacki
Vika won 4 & 2 in Melbourne. Caro hasn't taken a set from Azarenka since they played in Tokyo in 2010.

4. Doha Final - Safarova d. Azarenka
They hadn't met since Madrid in 2011, with Safarova winning just one set in their six total meetings. Needless to say, Lucie made up for lost time here.
5. Acapulco 1st Rd. - Torro-Flor d. Brengle
Brengle held a match point at 5-3 in the 3rd, so I guess this officially ends the "Summer of Brengle," just in time for spring to arrive (soon, hopefully) as BrengleFly dives into the first Indian Wells/Miami swing of her career.
6. Doha 1st Rd. - Suarez-Navarro d. Muguruza
...6-5 ret.
Muguruza retired with -- wait for it -- a viral illness. Evidence suggests that she recovered pretty quickly, though.

Mi momento Dirty dancing!! My Dirty dancing moment!! :)))

A video posted by Garbiñe Muguruza (@gabimuguruza) on

7. Doha 2nd Rd. - Petkovic d. Diyas
Petko battled back from down a break three separate times in the 3rd to take out the Kazakh in a quick rematch of the "gummy legs" match from Doha won by Diyas.
8. $25K Campinas Final - Andreea Mitu d. Olivia Rogowska
The Swarmette picks her thirteenth career ITF title, denying the Aussie a sweep of both the singles and doubles titles in Brazil.
9. Argentina Cup Final (G2) - Julieta Lara Estable d. Bianca Andreescu
The top-seeded Argentine takes the home country final over the #4-seeded Canadian, handing Andreescu her first loss of 2015. The 14-year old defeated Estable to win the doubles titles with Isabelle Boulais, running her combined season singles/doubles record to 19-1. She's won at least one title in six of her last eight junior events.
10. Acapulco Final - Bacsinszky d. Garcia
The last time a Swiss woman won a tour singles title? October 2009. And it was Bacsinszky.

HM- Acapulco Final - Arruabarrena/Torro-Flor d. Hlavackova/Hradecka
...7-6(1)/5-7 [13-11].
The Czechs held a MP at 11-10 in the match tie-break, but failed to grab their first WTA title as a duo since taking the U.S. Open crown in 2013. Maybe the dolphins gave Arruabarrena a vital edge?


Meanwhile, on Caro Corner... it was just that sort of week for the Dane.

1. Doha SF - Azarenka d. Venus Williams
Vika is now the only player on tour with three 2015 wins over former #1 players -- two vs. Caro, and now Venus . Lucie Safarova and Karolina Pliskova both have two this year.
2. Doha QF - Venus Williams d. Aga Radwanska
Make that a pair of three-set victories by Williams over Radwanska this season, all since Venus lost to Aga in the Montreal final last summer.
3. Acapulco 1st Rd. - Krunic d. Anna Schmiedlova 6-2/6-1
$10K Port El Kantaoui Final - Kristina Schmiedlova d. Malikova 7-5/6-2
6627.10 air miles apart, the Schmiedlovas had very different weeks.
4. Doha 2nd Rd. - Venus Williams d. Zahlavova-Strycova
BZS -- who climbs into the Top 20 for the first time this week despite her early exit -- has a history of interesting post-match meetings at the net. Who can forget her impromptu handshake etiquette class with Elina Svitolina?

After questionable-at-best calls benefited Venus in a match in which the Czech failed to put away a MP, there was a brief stare down moment at the net initiated by Strycova. But, as is often the case in nature, the dominant individual generally "wins" these sort of face-offs without ever having to really fight. It was the case here, too... as Venus' "Do you have a problem with me?" reaction pretty much put an end to the notion of any sort of real confrontation with the always-feisty Czech.

5. $25K Beinasco Final - Kristina Kucova d. Krejcikova
Hey, Czech Maidens can't win EVERYTHING. Slovak tennis sisters need to eat, too. It's Kristina's eighth career challenger crown.
HM- Doha Final - Kops-Jones/Spears d. Hsieh Su-Wei/Mirza
New partners Su-Wei & Sania are still looking for their first title, but they're getting closer.


Hey, even though things didn't go TOTALLY great for Vika in Doha, at least there was this:

Picture of the day, of the year and my favorite on Instagram... #ImBlushing #whoWouldnt #hotdamn

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

And this, too:

**2015 WTA FINALS**
2...Simona Halep, ROU (2-0)
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS (1-1)
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (0-2)

34...Venus Williams, USA
33...Serena Williams, USA
31...Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
34...Martina Hingis, SUI
32...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
32...Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP
34...Martina Hingis, SUI
[combo - doubles/mixed]
75...Hingis/Paes (34/41) - mixed
65...KOPS-JONES/SPEARS (32/33)
64...Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja (32/32)

Madison Brengle, USA (Q, Hobart RU)
Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL (Q, Sydney SF)

2008 Quebec City - Angeles Haynes SSF)
2008 Tokyo - Jarmila Gajdosova (SF)
2012 Fes - Mathilde Johansson (SF)
2012 Stanford - Coco Vandeweghe (RU)
2012 Linz - Irina-Camelia Begu (SF)
2013 Brisbane - Lesia Tsurenko (SF)
2013 Paris - Kiki Bertens (SF)
2015 Acapulco - Sesil Karatantcheva (SF)
Brisbane - Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS (QF)
Pattaya - Yuliya Beygelzimer (2nd Rd.)
Pattaya - Zhu Lin (2nd Rd.)
Acapulco - Mariana Duque-Marino (2nd Rd.)
Acapulco - Sesil Karatantcheva (SF)

Hobart - (un) Watson d. (Q) Brengle
Pattaya - (un) Hantuchova d. (un) Tomljanovic
Doha - (un) Safarova d. (WC) Azarenka

It was (another) birthday week on the WTA tour -- in both new and (recent) classic forms, as Genie turned 21...

while Na turned 33...

and celebrated the anniversary of her first career title.

Meanwhile, Serena saw fit to mention another particularly important anniversary factoid:

14 Final: Ivanovic d. Jaksic
14 Doubles Final: Jurak/Moulton-Levy d. Babos/Govortsova
15 Top Seeds: Ivanovic/Errani

Mladenovic d. #3 Garcia
#4 Bacsinszky d. #2 Errani
Mladenovic d. #4 Bacsinszky

...and now officially marks the moment in this weekly section where I throw out a "why not?" flier of a prediction because so many of my previous '15 picks have stumbled before the finish line. So, why not go with Kiki, who'd be reaching her first tour level singles final? Why not, indeed.

14 Final: Vekic d. Cibulkova
14 Doubles Final: Babos/HC.Chan d. YJ.Chan/Sai.Zheng
15 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Lisicki

#1 Wozniacki d. (Q) Kulichkova
#8 Goerges d. #6 Nara
#1 Wozniacki d. #8 Goerges

...and, of course, this probably dooms Caro's chances of getting her first title in '15.

And, since Sharapova's "sure thing" title in Acapulco went POOF with her semifinal withdrawal, and a possible Venus title run was blown up by (of all people... but at least she softened the blow a little bit) Vika, the Monterrey event gets the "picks out of a hat" treatment for this week. I figure this can't be much worse than the real picks, right?

The methodology: 32 numbered slips of paper pulled out of a hat, corresponding with each of the 32 players in the main draw. The first player selected from each of the four sections -- #1-8, #9-16, #17-24, #25-32 -- is the semifinal pick, with the lowest 1-2-3-4 order-of-selection determining the semifinal and final winners.

(WC) Schiavone d. #1 Ivanovic
Bertens d. #7 Hantuchova
(WC) Schiavone d. Bertens

...we'll see how that one goes. Maybe Francesca has already been inspired by the events of this weekend?

Meanwhile, the Genie World Tour continues. This week: "Sheldon's spot."

No one sits in Sheldon's spot...except for me ?? #thankyoujim @therealjimparsons

A photo posted by Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) on

And, finally...

All for now. February BSA's up next.


Blogger Eric said...

BLUE AND WHITE! Believe me, I'm color blind.

Also, I'm the black llama. Take the quiz!

Mon Mar 02, 03:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

That dress was black and blue.Like Tomic's hitting partner after a session with John Tomic. Also, thoughts on Venus being seeded fairly high at Wimbledon? If she is could she win it?

Mon Mar 02, 08:46:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I doubt she'll get a special seeding. It's a Wimbledon allowance to give one, but like all things Wimbledon, it's a privilege that tends to be granted to ATP only.

I think Venus has an outside chance, anyway. The grass may be a lot slower than it used to be, but it's still grass, and not many players can manage it expertly. Venus, Serena, Petra, Katya. Anyone else?

Mon Mar 02, 09:45:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And don't forget Sabine... ;)

Mon Mar 02, 11:43:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Well, what do you know? I did forget her. I wonder why.....

Tue Mar 03, 12:18:00 AM EST  
Blogger Galileo said...

Pironkova, Kerber. Paszek. I sat on Henman Hill and watched Venus lose to Petra in heartbreaking fashion. She was the better player. If Venus plays like that and gets say Halep and Woz as the big seeds in her section...
I don't have to be sensible with my picks, so come June I'll find a way to pick her to do well haha.
I also saw Paszek play Wickmayer on court 18 one year. They hit the ball so hard. It's mind boggling.

Tue Mar 03, 04:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Bellis won that third $25K title yesterday in Racho Santa Fe, by the way. Colette Lewis' comments on her chances for a U.S. Open WC at the other end of the link. ;)

Tue Mar 03, 10:59:00 AM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home