Monthly BSA's 4: Past Imperfect
What is this woman so happy about?
That and more in the latest monthly edition of the Backspin Awards...
**PLAYERS OF THE MONTH - WK. 14-17**
1. Angelique Kerber, GER
...sure, Kerber may have gotten more attention for a Fed Cup match she DIDN'T play last month than for the 11-0 record she compiled from Week 14-17. But no matter what happens from now until Paris (and the German is already 0-1 in the new month), Kerber was 2015's first "Queen of Clay"... and she has a brand new Porsche to prove it. Thing is, a month ago she stood at 8-9 for the season, with just three wins in her last ten matches. But the clay -- be it the green or red variety -- soon became very, very good to her. After a season-defining title-run in Charleston, she backed up her resurgent form with another win in Stuttgart. The run gave her back-to-back wins in finals for the first time since she won the Paris Indoors and Copenhagen to grab the first two titles of her career in 2012. She lost eight of her next nine championship matches before ruling the courts in April (though not for that extra match on Fed Cup weekend vs. Russia... but, hey, no one said Angie's perfect, even if she WAS for a month). After notching two Top 20 wins in Charleston, Kerber knocked off three Top 10 players in Stuttgart, including #2 Maria Sharapova and #5 Caroline Wozniacki in a seesaw final that included a comeback after the Dane served for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd set. Will any of this mean anything at Roland Garros? Well, just to set the table, the last German to win in Paris was in 1999. Her name was Steffi. Angie was 11 years old at the time. I'm just sayin'.
2. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
...through three Premier tournaments, it was three titles for Hingis/Mirza. A 14-0 run. Although, they DID slip a little in Charleston, as they opened with a tight three-set match against the Rodionova sisters, then dropped a set each against defending champs Medina-Garrigues/Shvedova and Hordettes Kudryavtseva/Pavlyuchenkova before taking out their anger about all that extra work in the final by blitzing Dellacqua/Jurak 6-0/6-4 to claim the title. Of course, the result of all this was that Mirza became the #1-ranked doubles player in the world, the first Indian woman to ever hold the top spot on the WTA computer. The pair DID finally lose a match in Stuttgart after returning from Fed Cup weekend, but have since picked up where they left off. Of course, there IS a little footnote that goes with Mirza's accomplishment. While she's the 33rd woman to be ranked #1 in doubles, and has three Mixed slam crowns, she's the only one without a women's doubles slam title on her resume. She's not going to be hounded like a certain Dane about that little fact, but it's surely a glaring -- and surprising -- omission that needs to be rectified. Going into the Charleston final, Hingis stated that her goal was to get Mirza the #1 ranking. Well, mission accomplished. Now onto the NEXT challenge. Hint, hint.
3. Czech Fed Cup Team
...sometimes, even Amelie Mauresmo can't save you. The thought that the Pastries, for all their charms, had bitten off than they could realistically chew with the defending champion Czechs in the FC semifinals ultimately proved to be dead-on. French Captain Mauresmo, with an ailing Alize Cornet a question mark, had few "razzle-dazzle 'em" options at her disposal, so she simply went back to the same well that had worked against the Italians in February -- turn everything over the Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic and hope that her trust in their skills would prove to be enough to tear down the seemingly indestructible Great Wall of Czechs. Garcia gave it a good effort, holding five MP against Lucie Safarova in the opening match, but once the veteran turned around the contest it was just a matter of the Czech's calling the final score. At that point, Petra Kvitova took control... as usual. Kvitova is the unquestioned leader of what is one title away from being an OFFICIAL historic Fed Cup dynasty. She allowed just seven games to Mladenovic on Saturday, then clinched the return to the final by giving up just five to Garcia a day later. Her back-to-back victories give the Czech team an astounding fifteen consecutive live rubber match wins over the last three seasons. The chance for a fourth title in five years -- in the same W-W-x-W-W sequence as the Russians from 2004-08 -- is no longer just a notion for the Maidens. Of course, now the Hordettes are the only thing that stands in their way from the accomplishment. If the Maidens conquer the Fed Cup yet again later this year, what will be next on their agenda? Hmmm...
4. Sara Errani & the Italian Fed Cup Team
...oh, ye -- well, me -- of little faith. After Italy's meltdown against the French in February, it looked like the team's era of relevance might just be over. Some -- cough, cough -- even suggested that it was LIKELY the case. Team Italia may never win another FC title with this group of (mostly) veterans, but the win over the Serena Williams-led (and MJF-sabotaged) U.S. squad in Brindisi shows that Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani and the current generation of stars would NOT allow their legacy to be tainted by what happened two months ago. This could be their last great Fed Cup victory as essentially a single-souled group, but if it is it'll surely leave a wonderful aftertaste. Viva Italia!
5. Anastasia Myskina & the Russian Fed Cup Team
...back when she was forced to play high-level FC ties with "C"-team Hordettes yet still often managed to get competitive losses out of literal neophytes, Russian Fed Cup Captain Anastasia Myskina showed more than a few Mauresmoistic tendencies as the Hordette leader of women. She only grew in stature last month. Consider, she lost her #1 player mid-week when Maria Sharapova pulled out. In a very un-Fernandez-like move, she then added the versatile Vera Zvonareva to the team as an emergency option on a roster that already had built-in flexibility with Elena Vesnina sitting on the far end of the bench. Meanwhile, her singles players were the will-she-or-won't-she (show up, that is) tandem of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who lived up/down to their reputations by only producing one good singles performance each out of their combined four individual matches. But Myskina stuck with Pavlyuchenkova for doubles, as the youngest member of the squad HAD played a vital role in Russia's comeback from 0-2 down vs. France in 2011, and teamed her with smart roster pick Vesnina, a Sochi native (the site of the tie) and one of the best doubles players on tour. The pair rewarded her with a clinching win over the team of Petkovic/Lisicki in the deciding doubles match, sending the Hordettes to their ninth FC final since 1999. Myskina led the Russian team to Fed Cup glory on the court as an Original Hordette, and now she's got the opportunity to do the same as their Captain. After the deciding doubles victory, Vesnina said of the Czarina, “It was an unbelievable victory and we are so excited and I am so proud of my team. The whole team worked so hard and I just want to thank my Captain as she was amazing and helped us so much." Hmmm, sounds a little like the comments Pastries often make about another Captain with the initials A.M., doesn't it?
HM- Karolina Pliskova, CZE
...when it comes to matches, wins and aces no woman has more in '15 than Pliskova. Her three finals are tied for the tour lead, while her four semis are in a dead heat for second-best. She's even won the second most points on her 1st serve and recorded the shortest match win (:38). But through eight events she had no titles to show for her efforts this season. That changed in Prague. It wasn't an easy week for the Czech, but the end results were sweet. She was taken to three sets in three of her five matches, but her win over Lucie Hradecka in the final gives her four career titles in nine final appearances. On the cusp of joining Petra Kvitova in the Top 10, Pliskova is poised to soon assume the #2 position behind her countrywoman on the ungodly successful Fed Cup team, as well. She led the 1st Round effort with Kvitova and longtime #2 Lucie Safarova absent, and very well could be called upon to win a tie-clinching match come the FC final against Russia. The best is yet to come for this one.
1. Angelique Kerber, GER
2. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
3. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
4. Madison Keys, USA
5. ROU Fed Cup Team
6. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
7. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
8. Camila Giorgi, ITA
9. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
10. Madison Brengle, USA
11. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
12. NED Fed Cup Team
13. SUI Fed Cup Team
14. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
15. Timea Babos, HUN
16. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
17. Zarina Diyas, KAZ
18. Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
19. ESP Fed Cup Team
20. Mariana Duque, COL
HM- BLR Fed Cup Team
1. Elina Svitolina, UKR
2. Belinda Bencic, SUI
3. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
4. Ana Konjuh, CRO
5. Danka Kovinic, MNE
6. Carina Witthoeft, GER
7. Denisa Allertova, CZE
8. Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
9. Francoise Abanda, CAN
10. Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
11. Tereza Smitkova, CZE
12. Andreea Mitu, ROU
13. Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
14. Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP
15. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
16. Akvile Parazinskaite, LTU
17. Jana Fett, CRO
18. Silvia Njiric, CRO
19. Danielle Lao, USA
20. Gabriela Pantuckova, CZE
HM- Marie Bouzkova, CZE
"This has been the best week of my life." - Teliana Pereira, after winning the Bogota title to become the first Brazilian singles champ on tour since 1988
1. Teliana Pereira, BRA
2. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
3. Madison Brengle, USA
4. Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
5. ESP Fed Cup Team
6. Andreea Mitu, ROU
7. Tereza Smitkova, CZE
8. Tatjana Maria, GER
9. Petra Martic/Stephanie Vogt, CRO/LIE
10. Laura Siegemund, GER
11. Olga Govortsova, BLR
12. Danielle Lao, USA
13. LTU Fed Cup Team
14. Marina Melnikova, RUS
15. Alexandra Panova, RUS
16. Kathinka von Deichmann, PHI
17. Ankita Raina, IND
18. Lu Jiajing, CHN
19. Prarthana Thombare, IND
20. Karen Barbat, DEN
HM- Jenny Claffey, IRL
1. Angelique Kerber, GER
2. Sania Mirza, IND
3. Sara Errani, ITA
4. Martina Hingis, SUI
5. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
6. Andrea Petkovic, GER
7. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
8. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
10. Serena Williams, USA
11. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
12. Shahar Peer, ISR
13. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
14. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
15. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
1. ITA Fed Cup Team
2. RUS Fed Cup Team
3. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
4. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
5. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
6. Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
7. SRB Fed Cup Team
8. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
9. SVK Fed Cup Team
10. Shahar Peer, ISR
11. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
12. Nastassja Burnett, ITA
13. Mihaela Buzarnescu, ROU
14. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
15. Irina Falconi, USA
1. Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN
2. Paula Badosa Gibert, ESP
3. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK
4. CiCi Bellis, USA
5. Michaela Gordon, USA
6. USA Jr. Fed Cup Teams
7. Bianca Andreescu, CAN
8. Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
9. Claire Liu, USA
10. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
11. Kristina Schmiedlova, SVK
12. Katie Swan, GBR
13. Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
14. Eva Guerrero Alvarez/ESP
15. Rebeka Masarova/SUI
1. Aga Radwanska, POL
2. Genie Bouchard, CAN
3. GER Fed Cup Team
4. USA Fed Cup Team
5. POL Fed Cup Team
6. Maria Sharapova, RUS
7. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
8. Simona Halep, ROU
9. CAN Fed Cup Team
10. Sabine Lisicki, GER
11. ARG Fed Cup Team
12. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
13. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
14. Donna Vekic, CRO
15. AUS Fed Cup Team
1. Sania Mirza, IND
2. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
3. Sara Errani/Flavia Pennetta, ITA/ITA
4. Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic, HUN/FRA
5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
6. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
7. Timea Bacsinszky/Viktorija Golubic, SUI/SUI
8. Victoria Azarenka/Olga Govortsova, BLR/BLR
9. Ysaline Bonaventure, BEL
10. Ysaline Bonaventure/Demi Schuurs, BEL/NED
11. Belinda Bencic/Katerina Siniakova, SUI/CZE
12. Paula Cristina Goncalves/Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA/BRA
13. Petra Martic/Stephanie Vogt, CRO/LIE
14. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, UKR/UKR
15. Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, ESP
HM- Casey Dellacqua/Darija Jurak, AUS/CRO
1. Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
2. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
3. Zheng Saisai, CHN
4. Fatma Al Nabhani, OMA
5. Katerina Stewart, USA
6. Anne Schaefer, GER
7. Mihaela Buzarnescu, ROU
8. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
9. Louisa Chirico, USA
10. Allie Kiick, USA
11. Marcela Zacarius, MEX
12. Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
13. Clothilde de Bernardi, FRA
14. Nicoleta-Catalina Dascalu, ROU
15. Fernanda Brito, CHI
16. Ralucu Georgiana Serban, ROU
17. Katarzyna Kawa, POL
18. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
19. Ksenia Palkina, KGZ
20. Julie Coin, FRA
HM- Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar, ESP
1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
4. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
5. Sara Errani/Flavia Pennetta, ITA
6. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
7. Arantxa Rus, NED
8. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Elena Vesnina, RUS
9. Timea Bacsinszky/Viktorija Golubic, SUI
10. Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
11. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
12. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
13. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
14. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
15. Kiki Bertens, NED
16. Lucie Safarova, CZE
17. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
18. Andreea Mitu, ROU
19. Victoria Azarenka/Olga Govortsova, BLR
20. Akvile Parazinskaite, LTU
21. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
22. Prarthana Thombare, IND
23. Sania Mirza, IND
24. Karen Barbat, DEN
25. Francoise Abanda, CAN
HM- Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP
#1 - Angelique Kerber becomes 2015's first "Queen of Clay," winning back-to-back titles in Charleston (her first since '13) and Stuttgart, putting up three Top 10 victories (def. Sharapova, Makarova & Wozniacki) while becoming just the third German (Anke Huber '91/'94, Julia Goerges '11) to be crowned champion in the 37-year history of the tournament
#2 - In Charleston, in their third event as a duo, Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza win their third straight title. The win lifts Sania Mirza into the #1 doubles ranking, making her the first Indian woman to ever top the WTA rankings.
#3 - Teliana Pereira wins in Bogota, becoming the first Brazilian woman to claim a tour singles title since 1988. Combined with a $50K challenger title, a WTA-level qualifying run and main draw victory, Pereira's overall winning streak hit fourteen matches.
#4 - With Belinda Bencic absent and Martina Hingis' singles comeback producing no wins (0-2), Timea Bacsinszky puts the Swiss Fed Cup team on her back in the World Group Playoffs. Bacsinszky has a hand in all three points for the Swiss, defeating both Radwanska sisters in singles and Aga a second time in the deciding doubles along with Viktoriya Golubic, as the "Queen of Mexico " -- The People's Timea -- expands her kingdom to Poland, sending the Swiss into next season's World Group for the first time since 2004.
#5 - Karolina Pliskova, already leading the tour in too many categories to count -- other than titles, that is -- finally gets her first '15 singles title in front of a home crowd in Prague, winning a trio of three-set matches, including her second all-Czech final (vs. Kvitova in Sydney) this season against Lucie Hradecka
[Best Imperfect-but-Redemptive Performance]
Sara Errani was at the heart of Italy's collapse on home court red clay in February vs. the Pastries. But she and her countrywoman made good use of their second chance. After handling Lauren Davis on Day 1 of Italy's World Group tie vs. the U.S., Errani took a set off Serena Williams (just the second in the world #1's FC career) on Day 2 and even served for the match. She didn't hand Williams her first-ever FC loss there, but she wore her down enough to make her easy prey (w/ Alison Riske) in the deciding doubles, which became necessary after Flavia Pennetta made her long-awaited appearance in her hometown and added another singles win to her heroic FC history. Errani and Pennetta then destroyed the American duo 6-0/6-3, erasing what had been a 2-1 deficit mid-way through Sunday's play, regaining a large chunk of the current veteran Italian generation's Fed Cup reputation, which had been dented a bit courtesy of Amelie & Co. earlier this season. The Italians have won three titles in four FC finals since 2007, but their era of success looked close to ending when that 2-0 lead over France was lost in a Fed Cup collapse of epic proportions. Of course, it could be that this was indeed this generation's last big FC win. If so, they left us with one more wonderful memory. Grazie.
[Best Non-Dream Team Doubles Result]
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova teamed for the first time in January in Melbourne. All they did was win the Australian Open. It sort of set the bar a bit high. The duo failed to live up to their own standards in Indian Wells, losing in their opening match. But they teamed up for a third time in Stuttgart and went about setting things right, winning the title and keeping alive the hope of a Grand Slam season. Yeah, that crazy sort of accomplishment isn't likely. But the Dream Team can't do it. Only BMS and Safarova can... and they've already won on hard courts and red clay.
[Best Non-Championship Weeks]
Caroline Wozniacki didn't win in Stuttgart (though she served for the title and came within two points of claiming it... twice), but she notched two Top 10 victories (CSN & Halep) to reach her first clay court final since 2011, and her first at a Premier event since 2012.
Lucie Hradecka was the clay court workhorse of the last month. Twice she qualified for events in Charleston and Prague, advancing to the semifinals and final, respectively, in the two events. She's still 0-7 in career tour singles finals... but why quibble with near-success?
[Best NextGen Moments]
In Katowice, Anna Schmiedlova won her first career tour singles title and put together a ten-match winning streak (which included her second Fed Cup anchor stint for the Slovak squad this season) that was snapped in the Marrakech semis by Elina Svitolina, the 20-year old Ukrainian who upped her record in WTA finals to 3-0. Last year, Svitolina defended her maiden career title (Baku) and became the first teen with multiple career singles crowns since 2010. She's now swept all six sets in her three career finals, each of which included her defeating a player who'd previously won a tour singles title in the championship match.
[Most Expected Result]
Serbia downed Paraguay 4-1 in the World Group II Playoffs, winning back-to-back Fed Cup ties for the first time in three years. With The Bracelet around, what else would you expect? The one "bright side" of Jelena Jankovic's Charleston injury was that Serbian Good Luck Charm Aleksandra Krunic got to once again take on the majority load of a FC tie for Serbia, going one more step toward righting a wrong that took far too long for the Serbian Tennis Powers That Be to recognize as Krunic-less (or de-emphasized) teams lost tie after tie. After having ably held down the #1 singles position in February as the Serbs claimed a tie in FC for the first time since winning in the 2012 semifinals, Krunic led the way again with Ana Ivanovic on the roster (going 1-0) and JJ watching. She even played a "meaningless" doubles match, guiding the younger Ivana Jorovic just as JJ and AnaIvo had her during Serbia's run to the 2012 final. On the court to clinch yet another tie in her second singles match, Krunic lost a total of nine games in her three matches. She is simply a Fed Cup demon. (The good kind.)
[Best New Threat to Civilization?]
Forget The Radwanska. Maybe we should all fear the Swarm. Serena Williams sure was spooked by the whole notion of a Romanian threat a few months ago in Miami, and now the Canadians can confirm that the Swarmettes -- collectively -- are a single-minded force to be reckoned with in North America and beyond. I first started calling this surging generation of Romanians "The Swarm" all the way back in 2008, so it's nice to finally see things coming together. I've been touting a possible FC title run for 2016-17 for over a year, as well, and the last two ties have sure made it look like the process might be moving along right on schedule. In February, even with a Simona Halep loss, a fully-stocked Romanian roster (led by Irina-Camelia Begu) advanced past Spain. In April, on the road without two of their top three ranked players, the Romanians still had enough talent to spare, advancing past Canada with the likes of Alexandra Dulgheru (who hadn't played FC in four years) and Andreea Mitu (subbing for an injured Begu and making her own debut) leading the charge. Only the Czechs have been able to pass through multiple Fed Cup rounds (the Russians at least always had Sveta) even while occasionally going without the unquestioned #1 singles star in recent years, but even the sting of the Romanian "B" players have proven lethal in 2015. Sure, it might take a good 1st Round draw (i.e. one where they don't play the Czechs, and maybe where the Maidens are finally tripped up while playing without Kvitova or Safarova, something which no team could pull off the last two Februarys) for the Swarmettes to stake a claim to a possible FC title as early as next year. But don't be surprised if that's just what we'll be talking about come '16.
[Fed Cup Captain Threat Level Chart - 2015 SF/WG I Edition]
French Captain Amelie Mauresmo
Dutch Captain Paul Haarhuis
Romanian Captain Alina Cercel-Tecsor
Swiss Captain Heinz Guenthardt
German Captain Barbara Rittner
Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti
Australian Captain Alicia Molik
Polish Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski
Canadian Captain Sylvain Bruneau
U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez
=READY FOR A RUMBLE=
Czech Captain Petr Pala
Russian Captain Anastasia Myskina
[Best Comedy Team]
"The fans help tremendously, especially when you're an emotional wreck." - Andrea Petkovic
Charleston Final - Angelique Kerber d. Madison Keys
...6-2/4-6/7-5. Things got off to an error-heavy start for both, but as the match went on it transformed into both an offensive (Keys) and defensive (Kerber) clash full of momentum swings, ultimately becoming a pretty tense and dramatic contest down the stretch. Keys' errors ultimately did her in, though, as she failed to hold in three of her first four and two of her last three service games in the match, losing a 4-1 3rd set lead. Serving at 5-5, Keys led 40/love, but Kerber edged back and the American double-faulted to give the German a break point. An unforced error gave Kerber a 6-5 lead, and she then served out the match at love.
Prague 1st Rd. - Ana Konjuh d. Belinda Bencic
...7-5/6-7(6)/7-6(3). In a battle of two-time 2013 junior slam champs, Konjuh got to match point with a 6-0 lead in the 2nd set tie-break. Bencic saved those six consecutive MP, then three more at 5-4 in the 3rd set as the Croat double-faulted to break herself. Up 6-5 in the 3rd, Bencic actually held three MP of her own, but Konjuh proved that turnabout is more than fair play by saving all three, then finally winning on her own 10th MP.
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Serena Williams/USA d. Sara Errani/ITA
...4-6/7-6(3)/6-3. Going into the match, Williams had lost just one set in fifteen career matches in FC competition. Errani made it two by taking the 1st, then served for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd. Williams ultimately claimed the win (and point), but the Italian won the war as Errani and Flavia Pennetta returned shortly afterward and handed a tired Serena (w/ Alison Riske) her first-ever FC loss (6-0/6-3) to win the tie in front of on the home crowd in Brindisi.
Stuttgart SF - Caroline Wozniacki d. Simona Halep
...7-5/5-7/6-2. In this one, Halep was the one who couldn't win the big points. The Romanian was 0-for-5 on break point chances in the 1st set, and very nearly blew a two-break lead in the 2nd (the Dane closed to 5-5). After being frustrated by Wozniacki's defense, which dragged out rallies and forced her to hit extra shots, Halep showed the fight that she'd said earlier in '15 that she'd always have. Wozniacki got to within two points of a straight sets win before Halep forced a 3rd. In the final set, she saved three MP at 5-1 before Wozniacki finally converted on #4.
Stuttgart Final - Angelique Kerber d. Caroline Wozniacki
...3-6/6-1/7-5. Kerber spoiled the day for Caro's home fans in the Copenhagen final in 2012, but the Dane couldn't do the same in front of a German crowd on Sunday. She came close... but this ain't horseshoes. The Dane opened up the final in aggressive form, taking the 1st before having Kerber turn the tables on her in the 2nd. The 3rd played right into Carol's hands. Well, until it didn't. She served for the title at 5-3, coming within two points of the win before being broken. She was two points from the title a game later, as well. But as has been the case on more than one occasion against top players in '15, Wozniacki failed to win the big points down the stretch.
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Francoise Abanda/CAN d. Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU
...4-6/7-5/6-4. The 18-year old from Montreal opened the CAN/ROU tie in her hometown with a bang, winning a tight match (107-107 in points) in 2:39 to notch her first career FC win. Now, if only teammate -- and fellow Quebec native -- Genie Bouchard had shown similar verve.
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Timea Bacsinszky/Viktorija Golubic (SUI) d. Aga Radwanska/Alicja Rosolska (POL)
...2-6/6-4/9-7. In the deciding doubles, the Swiss battle back from a set down and don't fold against the Poles after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the 3rd. The win allows the Swiss to reach the World Group round for the first time since 2004.
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Arantxa Rus/NED d. Jarmila Gajdosova/AUS
...0-6/7-6/7-5. Gajdosova has a history in Fed Cup play of playing long, drawn-out matches and ultimately losing them. It happened again here. In a seesaw final set, Rus led 5-2 and held two MP at 5-3. She double-faulted on the first, then another DF broke herself. Gajdosova held for 5-5 in a three-ace game, but back-to-back DF from the Aussie two games later, the last on Rus' fourth MP, sealed the fate of herself and the Aussie team as the 2:23 match -- and the "live" nature of the tie -- came to an end. This is the third straight tie in which Rus has provided the clinching point for the Dutch.
Fed Cup World Group II Playoff - Lara Arruabarrena/ESP d. Paula Ormaechea/ARG
...6-1/4-6/9-7. The Spaniard nearly blew a 4-1 lead in the 3rd, and Ormaechea saved a MP in game #14 of the set. But Arruabarrena converted on her second attempt to keep Spain from dropping down into zone play for the first time in the nation's Fed Cup history.
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Aga Radwanska/POL d. Martina Hingis/SUI
...6-4/6-0. Aga proved adept at handling the game of the player whose style her own is most often compared to. Better yet, we finally got to see what it looks like when the "cheeky smile" meets the stoic "face of Radwanska." Of course, Hingis hadn't played a full singles match that counted since 2007, and while the solo return of the Swiss Miss was nice, Martina's 0-2 singles mark for the weekend ultimately left her limping, exhausted an unable to take part in what was rightly considered the main benefit of having her on the team in the first place -- the ability to call upon her doubles skills in a deciding concluding match. As it turned out, the Swiss won the deciding doubles without her. So it's all right be be nostalgic about Martina the Singles Player without feeling guilty about it, I suppose.
*WINS AND LOSSES ARE FINE, BUT COMEBACKS ARE FOREVER*
Stuttgart 1st Rd. - Belinda Bencic d. Julia Goerges
...3-6/6-3/7-5. Sparking memories of her breakout Fed Cup debut in '14, the New Swiss Miss spoils the days for a player in front of a partisan crowd. Down 4-5, love/40 in the 3rd set, Bencic survives her triple match point moment and goes on to take out the German just days after Goerges was part of Germany's lost Fed Cup moment vs. the Russians.
Fed Cup Semifinals - Lucie Safarova/CZE d. Caroline Garcia/FRA
...4-6/7-6(1)/6-1. Had Garcia converted one of her five match points in the 2nd set against Safarova, picked by Czech Captain Petr Pala to play over Karolina Pliskova, would it have made a difference in the tie? Well, it might have meant that Pala would would have gone with Pliskova on Sunday, and if she hadn't been able to get a win, things would have gone to the doubles with Garcia/Mladenovic striving for a second straight epic Pastry FC upset (after overcoming a 0-2 deficit vs. Italy in February). But after Safarova won, the rest of the tie proved to be rather elementary, as the the Maidens advanced to their fourth final in five years.
Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Simona Halep d. Garbine Muguruza
...3-6/6-1/6-3. 0-2 lifetime against the Spaniard, and with the memory of her February Fed Cup beat down still fresh in her mind, Halep found herself down a break in the 3rd set. She saved two break points to avoid a double-break disadvantage, and then the promising Muguruza did what unfortunately still occurs far too often -- she let a victory slip through her fingers.
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU d. Francoise Abanda/CAN
...3-6/7-5/6-2. Abanda very nearly made up for teammate Genie Bouchard's FC weekend misfires against the Romanians. The teenager opened the tie with a victory, then was tasked with evening the score in match #4 after Bouchard went 0-2 in singles. She led Dulgheru, the emotional leader of the Swarmettes and the player who'd shown up a defeated Bouchard a day earlier, 6-3/4-2 before the Swarmette seized the moment once again by surging back and clinching the tie.
Fed Cup Semifinals - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Sabine Lisicki/GER
...4-6/7-6(4)/6-3. Things could have been so very different for Germany had Lisicki been able to put away Pavlyuchenkova when she had the chance. Captain Barbara Rittner may not have been criticized for not playing Petkovic and Kerber (both of whom had asked out of play due to tiredness) on Day 1, and the Germans' furious comeback attempt on Day 2 (Petko and Kerber notched fiery wins to send things to the doubles) wouldn't have needed to be absolutely flawless. Instead, Lisicki failed to convert a MP at 6-5 in the 2nd set, then quickly fell behind 5-1 in the deciding 3rd as the Hordettes took a 2-0 lead that proved to be large to overcome.
Prague 2nd Rd. - Lucie Hradecka d. Tereza Smitkova
...6-3/4-6/7-6(11). Hours after notching a career-best win over countrywoman Lucie Safarova, Smitkova was asked to face yet another fellow Czech. Up 5-1 in the 3rd, and with a MP at 5-4 and three more in the deciding tie-break, Smitkova looked like she was going to celebrate for a second time. But Hradecka battled back to win on her own fourth MP and went on to reach the final, where she lost to yet another Czech, Karolina Pliskova.
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Urszula Radwanska/POL d. Martina Hingis/SUI
...4-6/6-7(5)/7-6(4). Hingis was looking to clinch the tie for Switzerland in her second singles match of the weekend. She served for the match at 5-3 in the 2nd, but after failing to put away the tie she literally limped to the finish with a leg injury as U-Rad forced things to a deciding doubles contest. Ailing and exhausted, Hingis skipped the doubles, but she still cheered on/helped coach Timea Bacsinszky & Viktoriya Golubic to a win to send the Swiss into the World Group in 2016.
Charleston 1st Rd. - Jana Cepelova d. Elena Vesnina
...6-2/6-7(5)/7-6(4). For one match, Charleston was home for Cepelova all over again. Vesnina served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but surprise '14 Charleston finalist Cepelova re-lived her glory of a year ago (she def. Serena, remember) and found a way to advance. A sequel wasn't mean to be, though, as the Slovak dropped her next match.
$15K Leon Final - Danielle Lao d. Aleksandrina Naydenova
...3-6/6-3/7-5. "The Little Giant," a two-time NCAA All-American at USC, wins her first ITF singles title by knocking off three seeded players. In the QF vs. #1-seeded Mayo Hibi, Lao saved six match points, then in the final against Naydenova she overcame a 4-1 3rd set deficit and finally served out the match on her second attempt despite trailing her opponent (95-94) in total points won during the match.
Marrakech QF - Anna Schmiedlova d. Timea Bacsinszky
...6-3/3-6/7-5. What was more impressive: Schmiedlova's title run in Katowice, or that she maintained her roll through a Fed Cup weekend (2-0) and then extended her winning streak to ten matches with this win over Bacsinszky? The Swiss was up a break in the 3rd and served at 4-3. Ultimately, she was broken by Schmiedlova to end the match a few games later, ending her eight-match winning streak in three-setters following the Australian Open
"I don't want to comment on the gesture, it depends on the person's education. I would never do that but it's maybe just how she was raised and we have to accept this attitude. Alex played really well and I'm very happy she beat Bouchard. (The Celebration) was very well thought of and actually funny." - Simona Halep, on Genie Bouchard and Alexandra Dulgheru
*LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE! IT's SUPER-... umm, UPSETS*
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU d. Genie Bouchard/CAN 6-4/6-4
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Andreea Mitu/ROU d. Genie Bouchard/CAN 4-6/6-4/6-1
...after at first deciding against it, Bouchard's late announcement that she would indeed join the Canadian team back home in Montreal was initially greeted with enthusiasm. Little did everyone know that it would simply be the first act of Genie's "lost weekend." Playing against a Romanian team without Simona Halep, Bouchard was expected to carry the team on her shoulders. Instead she caused it to bite the dust, losing on Day 1 to Alexandra Dulgheru in the injury-plagued Swarmette's first FC action since 2011. The last game, a hold by the Romanian, included three break points and four match points. But the final result was still the same, no matter the too-little-too-late fight that Bouchard put forth. Afterward, Dulgheru openly mocked Bouchard's refusal to shake hands with her opponents during the ceremony attended by both teams earlier in the week. Day 2 proved to be even worse for the (what-does-it-take-for-her-to-be-chagrined?) Canadian, as she was taken down by Irina-Camelia Begu's late replacement, Andreea Mitu, who clinched the tie in her FC debut.
Charleston 1st Rd. - Lauren Davis d. Genie Bouchard
...6-3/6-1. Not to pile on, but Felina makes it so easy. In this case, Davis grabbed her first career Top 10 win as Bouchard suffered her third consecutive loss, all to players ranked #65+. Numbers four and five in a row would come a week later in Fed Cup play vs. Romania.
Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Madison Brengle d. Petra Kvitova
...6-3/7-6(2). BrengleFly's hard-earned upward mobility continued, as she skipped over one milestone in favor of an even greater one. The Bannerette had never defeated a Top 10 player in her career, but that didnt' stop her from taking out Top 5er Kvitova in the wake of the Czech's undefeated Fed Cup weekend.
Fed Cup World Group Playoff - Sara Errani/Flavia Pennetta (ITA) d. Serena Williams/Alison Riske (USA)
...6-0/6-3. On her first weekend of play on red clay this season, the poor roster makeup of the U.S. team and absence of sister Venus proved to simply be too much for even Serena to overcome. Of course, a resurgent Italian team still smarting from a February FC collapse had something to do with it, as well. After being forced to a tie-break in a straight sets win on Saturday, then having to battle for three sets to defeat Errani (the Italian took just the second ever set lost by Serena in FC competition and even served for a straight sets win) earlier in the day, Williams was forced into action yet again for Mary Joe Fernandez's why-would-we-ever-need-a-doubles-player? squad and simply wasn't able to bring anything to the table. Serena hadn't played FC doubles in a dozen years. Playing with Riske for the first time (they hadn't even met until earlier in the week) in the deciding doubles match, the Americans fell behind 5-0 in just seventeen minutes as the Italian duo thrilled the crowd -- Pennetta was playing in her hometown -- and proved that the fabled veteran squad had at least one more heroic weekend left for which history would be able to judge them. Williams was broken at love twice in the 2nd set, as she suffered her first loss in seventeen career Fed Cup matches.
Stuttgart 1st Rd. - Petra Martic/Stephanie Vogt d. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza
...6-3/6-3. Martic & Vogt, playing in their first match as a duo, become charter members of the exclusive We Beat the Dream Team Club, ending the undefeated run of Hingis/Mirza after fourteen straight wins. Of course, it likely helped that Hingis wasn't exactly 100% after a weekend of Fed Cup singles action, and both she and Mirza had to fly into Germany (Sania all the way from Hyderabad) after both had participated in FC action just a few days earlier.
Fed Cup World Group II Playoffs - Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP d. Paula Ormaechea/ARG
...4-6/7-6(2)/6-1. Ormaechea has been Argentina's best FC player the last few years, but the Spanish teenager made her debut for Team Espana a memorable one, setting the tone for a disappointing performance for the host nation. Sorribes dropped the 1st set, then staged a successful comeback despite twice being down a break in the 2nd. After having nearly pushed the Williams-stacked U.S. squad to the doubles in February, Argentina went on be shut out by the Spanish "B"-team, with Ormaechea dropping a second match against Lara Arruabarrena, who was also playing in her first career FC tie.
Meanwhile, on Caro Corner...
And Martina on a horse... just because.
Let's go for a swim! pic.twitter.com/vUCJJ8FaRj— Martina Hingis (@mhingis) April 30, 2015
Holy Maria Bueno! The Brazilians are coming, the Brazilians are coming! Well, maybe not like a Russian horde or a Romanian swarm, but... something. Fifteen months before the Rio Olympics, Brazilian women's tennis at least won't be a laughingstock heading into next summer. Not with the likes of Bogota champ Teliana Pereira, who became the first Brazilian to win a tour singles title in twenty-seven years, leading the way along with players like Paula Cristina Goncalves & youngster Beatriz Haddad Maia, who took the doubles title in Bogota to give the nation a sweep of both tournament titles.
The Bannerettes...just not when MJF is around
Mary Joe Fernandez's ongoing Fed Cup disaster aside, the American presence continues to grow roots of success. In the last month, Madison Keys reached the Charleston final, Madison Brengle clipped Petra Kvitova en route to the Stuttgart semis, Lauren Davis upended Genie Bouchard, CiCi Bellis once more led the U.S.'s super-successful junior FC efforts, while fellow teens Katerina Stewart, Louisa Chirico and Allie Kick flashed on the ITF circuit. AO doubles champ Bethanie Mattek-Sands won another doubles title, too. Heck, even Romanian vet Edina Gallovits officially began to play under the flag of the stars-and-stripes. Of course, she should expect to be asked by MJF to play Fed Cup... just ask Varvara Lepchenko and Anna Tatishvili (just to name a few).
The Czech Fed Cup Dynasty
They're at it again. Later this season, the Czech FC team will play in another FC final, seeking a fourth title in five years. Not only that, but they've won fifteen consecutive "live" matches during their current run.
Sveta's Hall of Fame Resume?
Svetlana Kuznetsova's pair of slam titles and long Fed Cup history may have already secured a future place in Newport, but any little bit more helps. Her 27th match win in FC play this past month made her the most successful Russian ever in the competition, and she'll likely be called upon to deliver in this year's Fed Cup final if the Russians are to have any legit chance to take down the defending champion Czech squad and claim a fifth title of their own to quite possibly put a final period (Maria's future slam results aside) at the end of the story of the Russian Revolution that kicked in over a decade over.
The Dutch Force
You usually don't think of the Dutch when it comes to great tennis accomplishments. At least not since Wimbledon champ Richard Krajicek retired more than a decade ago. But the women's Fed Cup team, led by Kiki Bertens and Arantxa Rus, have now advanced to the World Group in '16 for the first time since 1998. The Dutch women's win over Australia, a 2014 semifinal nation, was their seventh straight victorious tie in FC competition.
Sam Stosur 2.0?
The Aussie has recently reconnected with former coach David Taylor, and she's already flashed a bit of her old spunkiness in Madrid.
Caro & Arantxa?
Could the addition of slam-winning, clay-loving former #1-ranked Arantxa Sanchez to Caroline Wozniacki's coaching team prove to be the "back door hire" that, while it came without all the hoopla of her previous coaching decisions, might prove to be her best decision yet? After middlin' clay results in the past, the Dane's impressive run to the Stuttgart final was surely intriguing. The Spaniard's run-for-days gameplan made her a force to be reckoned with on the clay. Maybe the Danish Marathoner will be the same by the end of this spring, as well?
The New Spanish Threat
Speaking of the Spaniards. Spain hasn't produced a whole heap of great results since the end of the Sanchez/Martinez era, but from top to bottom the nation might have its best group of women's players ever. Carla Suarez-Navarro recently became the first Spaniard to debut in the Top 10 since Conchita Martinez in 1989, and Garbine Muguruza looks to be the first true new threat to one day win a slam in twenty-five years. But it doesn't stop there. Lara Arruabarrena led Spain's recent "B"-team winning Fed Cup effort, while youngsters like Sara Sorribes, Paula Badosa and Aliona Bolsova are suddenly putting up big wins against WTA competition. Had CSN been on the roster in February, Spain might have taken out the Halep-led Romanians in FC play. If she and CSN and doubles partner Muguruza play, Spain is going to be a bear to face down in '16. The great Spanish teams won four FC titles in five years, and five in eight, during the Sanchez/Martinez heyday. That sort of thing won't be repeated, but they might be able to contend within two years for the nation's first title since 1998 if Muguruza continues her rise and commits to following down the FC path taken by her Hall of Fame Spanish footstep-makers. The group won't have to look far for motivation, either. Conchita is the Team Espana Captain.
Last year's run to the Fed Cup final was Germany's first since 1992. Not even the Graf Era produced back-to-back FC final appearances (the nation only pulled that off in the pre-Steffi 1982-83 seasons), but this year's squad had a real chance to do it. If either Angelique Kerber or Andrea Petkovic had played on Day 1 vs. Russia, or Sabine Lisicki had been able to put away the match she led against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the Germans would have avoided the 0-2 deficit that ultimately proved to be too much to overcome as the Russians won the deciding doubles. Kerber, who'd just won in Charleston, then went on to take Stuttgart a week later. Petko, Angie & Co. might very well return to the FC final in 2016, but that wouldn't erase the fact that history slipped through the team's fingers this time around.
Captain Obvious' Luck
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez's roster and lineup mistakes are usually covered up by the Williams Sisters. They don't play every tie, but when at least one does they generally are able to make up for multiple previous, Williams-less disastrous weekends for the team. Not against Italy, though. With even the presence of a Williams not enough to make up for the absence from the roster of most of the deep American talent pool, what will be the Captain's move for 2016? To resign, maybe? [Oh, did I say that out loud?]
The End of the Odd Experiment
Aside for their mutual love of grass court tennis, Aga Radwanska and Martina Navratilova always seemed to be an odd combination when the Pole announced that the serve-and-volleying all-time great was being brought onto Team Aga before the season. After a disappointing start to A-Rad's year, and with the given reason that she isn't able to fully commit enough time to help their teaming become a successful one, Martina walked away from the situation.
The turn in Aga's fortunes over the past season-plus are no more apparent than in her Fed Cup results in 2015. She entered the year having won fourteen straight matches for Poland, but in a pair of ties against Russia and Switzerland she's lost three of four singles matches and dropped a deciding doubles match on home soil. Hmmm, maybe Mary Joe Fernandez should be the only coaching A-Rad?
Maria Sharapova, dealing with a leg injury and a few troubling matches in which she wasn't able to call upon her usual inner fortitude to put away a tight match, ended her month by losing in her first match of an event for the third straight time. Thankfully, she's opened her stint in Madrid in far better form. Might the defending champ, possibly armed with the #2 ranking should Simona Halep's clay results this spring continue to be wanting, turn out to be a co-favorite on the opposite side of the draw from Serena in Paris, after all?
Are AnaIvo's Nightmares in French?
Maybe it's just something about France. Ana Ivanovic's career took a hit AFTER she won her sole slam title in Paris. The Serb has rebounded in recent seasons, but Caroline Garcia is having none of it this year. With her win this past month in Stuttgart, the Pastry is now 3-0 against AnaIvo in 2015.
And, it's about time...
So, there. Are we done?
All right then. If you two say so.
All for now.