Monday, May 25, 2015

RG.2- Is The Radwanska Dead? *

Unless something drastic happens over the next five months, Aga Radwanska is going to want to redact her entire 2015 season from her career biography. And her memory.

On Day 2, glittery diamond/disco ball dress and all, she was run out of Roland Garros by world #81 Annika Beck, the same 21-year old German that the Pole had sandblasted out of Indian Wells 6-0/6-0 last season in their only other previous meeting.

“I can’t really do what I want on court and it’s not really working. That makes me nervous and angry,” Radwanska told "Maybe (I'm) getting older,” she said when admitting that she is slipping for the first time in her career.

Considering their previous encounter, no matter the surface of action, today's 6-2/3-6/6-1 loss has to strike right at the heart of Radwanska, who's looking these days much like a lapsed magician who has seen all her tricks exposed and being explained from the audience before she's able to perform any slight of hand. If you now can't defeat a player you handed double bagels barely a year ago, it's difficult to see any progress in your flagging game. It's Aga's worst slam loss since the 2009 Australian Open, and the lowest-ranked opponent she's been defeated by since going down by the hand of an #82-ranked Olga Govortsova in New Haven in 2012.

Worse yet, a longer-term trend has been established for her in the big events in which she longs to perform her best. Ever since her run to the Wimbledon final in '12 and the six slams that followed (in which she reached at least the 4th Round each time, including two SF and a two QF), her results trajectory has only pointed downward. Not only is she 1-6 in her last two WTA Finals, but her last five majors have seen her results struggle to bob above the surface of merely "good" (3r-4r-2r-4r-1r).

“Clay season is not really my favorite one, and I guess it's not getting better, even when I'm really trying to do everything,” Radwanska said. “So I just want to forget about that and focus on grass. My game is not really working together.”

While the 26-year old Pole has never really liked to play on clay courts (she's 2-3 on the surface this year), the loss gives her a mediocre 15-13 mark for her entire season, and a 22-21 record since she won her a tour title in Montreal last summer. After recently falling outside the Top 10 for the first time in 187 weeks, then the second-longest streak on the tour, the current #14-ranked Radwanska might soon see her tour-best streak of 379 straight weeks in the Top 20 become endangered, as well.

Desperate times call for desperate measures... but a trip back to the All-England Club will have to suffice.

So, it's off to the grass court circuit for Aga, with her eye on a return to the AELTC, the site of her teenage dreams ('05 girls champ), her career-best moment ('12 Ladies runner-up, when she came within a set of a slam title and the #1 ranking) and the moment of opportunity that could have made her career, but instead provided a ghastly pivot point from which her career has never fully recovered (the loss to Sabine Lisicki in the '13 semis when she was the odds-on favorite to take the title, which was followed by the "non-handshake handshake").

It's become clear that the old "malevolent entity" that seemed to walk in Radwanska's footsteps not that long ago has since abandoned her. Who knows, maybe It is dead and gone and will never be fully resurrected in Its well-known, frightening form. Its spirit does likely still reside on the grounds of the AELTC, though, no matter that Its masterpiece now looks more like a swan song of epic proportions than a signal of evil things to come.

Could Aga's longing for a return to the lawns be a secret call to It for a fateful resurrection, to save her tennis soul? And if so, will her plea for some otherworldly assistance be answered? Aga has never needed Its help more than she does now, after all.

Bless her... and prepare for the possible repercussions for the rest of us should things go a certain way.

"There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable." - Mark Twain

...while Day 1 was pretty dreadful for the Pastries, Day 2 was a bit better. Sunday's 0-3 mark was followed up by a 3-2 record today.

#29 Alize Cornet contributed a nice comeback win in the Chatrier court opener over Roberta Vinci, winning 4-6/6-4/6-1 to avoid a fifth straight loss to the Italian vet. Unlike her countrywoman Caroline Garcia (see below), Cornet was grateful for being placed on the tournament's biggest court.

"I was really glad that this court was chosen for me today," she said. "The ambiance on this court is amazing," adding, "I think that's why I could actually come back in this match, because the people were behind me. It's just a great atmosphere in this court."

Maybe she and Caroline should talk.

Wild card Virginie Razzano, fresh off her (retirement-shortened) semifinal run in Strasbourg, notched her fourth RG victory in the last three years with a 2-6/6-4/6-2 win over Q-Round Player of the Week Veronica Cepede Royg. The woman from Paraguay was the better player early, while Razzano's injury led to her pulling out an underhand serve (shades of Michael Chang in '89) in the 2nd set. As she pulled away in the 3rd, she pulled out the underhand(ed?) serve again on a second serve match point... and seemed to have a bit of an evil gleam in her eye after she did it, too, to be honest. It sailed long, but she closed out the match soon afterward.

Of course, Razzano hasn't worried about using tactics that might aggravate an opponent in the past. Just ask Elena Vesnina, who said as much last week after the Pastry utilized a number of medical timeout/treatment opportunities during their match.

The other Frenchwoman to win on Day 2 was another wild card, Amandine Hesse. The 22-year old defeated Jarmila Gajdosova to notch her first career slam victory.

...other winners on Monday included Strasbourg champ Samantha Stosur, who defeated Madison Brengle 6-1/6-3 to hand the Bannerette her sixth straight loss on clay this spring. Angelique Kerber reminded everyone why she was an early "Queen of Clay" nominee last month, taking down Timea Babos 6-0/6-1. And Carla Suarez-Navarro, who won't stay "under the radar" very long in this event, scored her tour-best 32nd win of 2015 with a 6-2/6-2 victory over Monica Niculescu.

While Aga didn't reach the possible all-Pole 2nd Round match that I talked about in the RG Preview post, qualifier Paula Kania did. She eliminated Mona Barthel and WILL be the Last Pole Standing at this slam. hasn't been a great week for Monica Puig. Last week, she lost in the 1st Round of her maiden title defense in Strasbourg. She then dedicated her first match at Roland Garros:

Puig lost today to #20 Sabine Lisicki. Well, it was still a nice thought. it turned out, the first meeting between #15 Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens turned out to be one of those matches from Venus that you just throw in the round file and move on from. She seemed well on her way in the 1st set, moving to the net and taking charge in the tie-break. She was serving up 4-3 and then, well, she just wasn't the same the rest of the match.

Stephens won four of the final five points of the set, including all three of the points on the Williams serve. In the 3rd, Stephens committed fewer errors, didn't show any nerves and essentially coasted to the win with little of the outright opposition from Venus that we see when she's recalling her glory days. Sloane added a slam win over the older Williams Sister to her one over the younger in Melbourne in '13 with a 7-6(5)/6-1 triumph.

Stephens, coming off her first semifinal result in twenty-eight months last week, even closed out things rather well, hitting her second ace of the day on match point to put away a surprisingly quiet victory. Which isn't really what most were expecting when this match-up was announced in the draw last week.

#27 Vika Azarenka's first match in Paris since 2013 was a rather quiet one (insert own joke here), as well. She handled Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor with none of the drama that accompanied many of her recent matches, winning 6-2/6-1. She even won BOTH sets on her very FIRST set point opportunity in each! (Affirmative head-shake required here.)

#2 Maria Sharapova, battling illness (though, as she said, she'd have to be "in a coffin" to skip this event because of it), opened up her title defense with a 6-2/6-4 win over Kaia Kanepi. She's now 65-6 on clay since 2012.

Late in the day, a crazy little match took place between Denisa Allertova and British qualifier Johanna Konta. After a 1st set that included no breaks of serve, the tie-break featured fifteen set points shared by the two women in a record-breaking 36-point contest. Konta held eight SP at 6-4, 6-5, 10-9, 12-11, 13-12, 14-13, 15-14 and 17-16; while Allertova held seven at 7-6, 8-7, 9-8, 11-10, and 16-15 before finally converting her final chance at 18-17.

The 2nd set had similar late-stage drama, as a serving Allertova saved four break points before Konta knotted the match by converting on her fifth chance to send things to the 3rd. Things calmed down considerably there, as the Czech won out to take the match 7-6(17)/4-6/6-2.

...oh, and -- not that we haven't heard this before -- Tsvetana Pironkova took out another seeded player in another grand slam. Today it was #22 Barbora Strycova. Welcome to the victim's club.


DAY 2 WILD CARD WINS: Amandine Hesse/FRA, Virginie Razzano/FRA

DAY 2 PASTRY WINS: Alize Cornet, Amandine Hesse, Virginie Razzano

...the NCAA singles championship was played today in Waco, Texas with #2 Carol Zhao (Stanford) taking on #7 Jamie Loeb (North Carolina).

With Loeb leading 6-2/0-1, the weather sent things indoors.

Loeb ultimately won the match, 6-2/4-6/6-1, to become the first North Carolina Tar Heel to take the women's title.

Loeb won the Billie Jean King USTA event that accompanied the U.S. Open last summer, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I actually picked Loeb to be this season's NCAA champion in the Prediction Blowout before this season began. Ha!

"I was born modest. Not all over, but in spots." - Mark Twain

In the women's doubles, it'll be defending champions Maya Jansen/Erin Routliffe of Alabama taking on California's Klara Fabikova/Zsofia Susanyi.

Read all about the tournament at Colette Lewis' Zoo Tennis.


...DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: For the rest of the women in the draw, I'm guessing.

..."WHERE IN THE WORLD IS TIMEA BACSINSZKY?" FROM DAY 2: Have you seen this woman? And can she ride on these city buses for free by just saying, "Hey, I'm already ON the back of the bus."

..."HMMM..." FROM DAY 2: The REAL cause of the "absence" of The Rad???

...????? FROM DAY 2: Ummm, this.

..."WHAT IF?" FROM DAY 2: Imagine if someone -- injured or not -- who wasn't French did this what the overwhelming crowd reaction would be. Whatever the situation, Razzano throwing in a surprise underhand serve on a second serve match point seems a tad, what shall I say, "cheeky."

I mean, defending champ Maria Sharapova, suffering from a cold and having a hard time talking, was booed today for not doing an on-court interview. French people. Heehee. (It's the Mark Twain influence.)

...LIKE FROM DAY 2: Nothing can hold Vicky back! Hopefully we'll see her on court again soon.

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." - Mark Twain


Fashion Tip #493: Never wear glittery dresses on a partially-overcast day. All the intended impact is lost. Sigh.

...and, finally, some Caroline Garcia postscript from Day 1.

There's losing in the 1st Round of a slam, and there's losing in the 1st Round of your HOME slam. And then there's losing in the 1st Round of your home slam, and then openly admitting that -- even as the top women's singles hope for your nation for the next decade -- that you simply can't handle the pressure of playing on the tournament's #1 court and asking to have your match placed on a "hidden court where there is nobody."

The latter is the category in which Garcia placed herself yesterday. And while the honesty is admirable, it sort of makes you want to totally reassess your opinion about the trajectory of her entire career.

“I’m disillusioned,” Garcia said after her loss to Donna Vekic on Sunday, dropping her career RG mark to 2-5 despite flashing considerable potential in her '11 debut in Paris when she pushed Maria Sharapova in their 2nd Round encounter. “Every French Open I can’t play tennis, whether I’m playing a Top 10 player or Vekic, who is a good player. I can’t make it here."

She tried to get tournament organizers to move her match away from Chatrier, preferably to a far smaller court, but the powers that be would have none of it. "It’s a big court,” Garcia noted. “It does encapsulate what Roland Garros is. For me, it’s too much to play on this court, and next year I will ask to play on Court No. 9, a sort of hidden court where there is nobody.”

Not to drag out the old "pressure is a privilege" comment from Billie Jean King, which has always been the Hall of Famer's attempt to convince a young/old star to not look at the pressure of playing in a big moment on a big stage as a bad or overwhelming thing, but to instead embrace the experience that all their hard work and talent has allowed them the privilege to take part in. But it IS more than a bit applicable here.

Not only that, but how often are slam organizers rightfully brow-beaten for NOT placing a women's match on the #1 show court in favor of a men's contest? For once, Roland Garros showcased a home-grown women's match on Day 1 on Chatrier... and the player in question practically begs to be placed elsewhere because she just can't handle it? The thing is, if Garcia is going to become the player she could be she's going to face pressure moments all over the place, whether they be in Paris or elsewhere. Sure, playing in your home slam brings a special kind of level of expectation and stress (just ask Sam Stosur, and French FC Captain Amelie Mauresmo... something, by the way, which Garcia admitted yesterday she HAS NOT done even while struggling, just like Mauresmo, to play her best tennis at Roland Garros), but it probably doesn't help that she had already pretty much psyched herself out BEFORE she'd even stepped on the court yesterday.

That's a sure recipe for career disappointment.

"We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it -- and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again -- and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore." - Mark Twain

Garcia at least strives to get better. "It doesn’t depend on the opponent. It just depends on myself, and I can’t play here at the French Open, and hope that will change in the future.”

“It’s very tough for me to play in Paris,” she said, “far more difficult than in other tournaments. I’m quite emotional at times." She added, "So far being emotional hasn’t helped me (at Roland Garros), so I will continue to work and to make strides.”

One would hope so, since [insert BJK quote here].

Taking the Australian thing to an expected corner... without the help of an "Army." Well, not yet, at least. Hmmm, just what would a Gavrilovian Army look like, anyway?

[recent singles winners]
2010 Chelsey Gullickson, Georgia
2011 Jana Juricova, California
2012 Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
2013 Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
2014 Danielle Collins, Virginia
2015 Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
[overall singles champions by school]
14 - Stanford
4 - Florida
3 - Georgia
2 - California, Duke
1 - Baylor, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, San Diego, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Wake Forest
[most singles titles]
2 - Sandra Birch, Stanford
2 - Patty Fendick, Stanford
2 - Laura Granville, Stanford
2 - Amber Liu, Stanford
2 - Lisa Raymond, Florida
2 - Nicole Gibbs, Stanford

TOP QUALIFIER: Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Wang Yafan/CHN d. #15 Richel Hogenkamp/NED 2-6/7-6(7)/8-6 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: (Q) Teliana Pereira/BRA (def. WC Ferro/FRA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Caroline Garcia/FRA (lost 1st Rd. to Vekic/CRO)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Early Nominee: France
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Rd.1 wins: Hesse/FRA, Razzano/FRA
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Rd.1 wins: Cornet, Hesse, Razzano
IT "??": xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #31 Garcia (1r; doesn't want pressure of Chatrier Court)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Nominee: Cornet/FRA, Razzano/FRA (underhand serves)

* - a nod to Mark Twain's Is Shakespeare Dead? (1909)

...born Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910). American author, lecturer and humorist. Writer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Twain's writing and large personality made him a public figure and, ultimately, an American icon. A renowned traveler, Twain entertained fans around the world with his opinionated wit.

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Some 1st Round numbers (w/ 20 more 1st Rounders to be played on Day 3):

5-3 - RUS (w/ Gavrilova)
4-1 - ROU
4-2 - GER
4-3 - CZE
3-1 - ITA
3-3 - AUS (w/ Gavrilova & Tomljanovic)
3-5 - FRA
1-7 - USA
0-3 - CHN

Mon May 25, 05:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, just realized.


Ekaterina Makarova (Serena '12 AO, Venus '14 AO)
Sloane Stephens (Serena '13 AO, Venus '15 RG)

Mon May 25, 07:22:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Perhaps the darkest scenario hasn't even occurred to you (or you don't want to deal with it!)--that The Radwanska, being basically evil, has now turned against Aga. That's my story, and--for now--I'm sticking with it. Oh, Aga.....

Garcia is a headcase's headcase. This is a delightful young woman with loads of talent, but don't you just want to say, "Hey, Caroline--grow up!" (When I asked her what she had learned from Mauresmo, she replied "Nothing." Maybe go back and try to learn something?)

Bartoli had the Paris problem, too, but overcame it when she realized she had failed to use the crowd for support. That year, she made it to the quarterfinals. Maybe learn from her, also?

Mon May 25, 07:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, I've considered that over the last almost two seasons... but It has sort of gone "dormant" (or maybe underground) since the Massacre, so I've wondered about the status. Well, either that or QC really DID take It out a while back and all we're left with are vague memories, while Aga suffers from withdrawal.

(Speaking of which, I hear that QC has returned to Backspinville with a tale to tell... and, hopefully, it'll be safe to reveal it around Wimbledon time. Of course, Aga's plea could change things... for good, or bad. Hmmm) :)

Garcia could even learn from Cornet, who gave a nod to the crowd for her comeback today. Even if it's not REALLY 100% factual, what fans don't want to hear that and won't cheer louder and support the player even more next time out?

Mon May 25, 08:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Oh good! Gives me something to look forward to; you know how much I love Wimbledon :(

I liked Aga's dress, by the way.

Mon May 25, 08:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Nicolas Willy said...

I wonder if Maria`s coughing crises it`s a sign of something great. See Serena in Australia.

Mon May 25, 09:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Garcia may have the Mauresmo problem, but less worried about Dodin. Even though she was up a set and a break, her game is built for in order-grass, hardcourt, clay. She eventually will beat players like Doi on clay on talent alone, but it will never be her best surface.

Can't remember a slam that has been as predictable so far. All of the slumping slam finalists(Bouchard, Radwanska, Jankovic) lost.

Tue May 26, 12:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Sometimes signs are signs (or just coughs, too, I guess). It depends on how cheeky the Tennis Gods are feeling, I guess. :)

I'll never forget watching Dodin for the first time (vs. Pliskova) during this year's AO. Exciting. Though she might have to reign in that power a LITTLE over time. The "whoa, what a great shot!" followed immediately by a, "whoa, what a wild shot!" thing will only take her so far. ;)

Tue May 26, 02:12:00 PM EDT  

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