Monday, October 05, 2015

Wk.39- The Good, the Bad & the Predictable

As the season's end rapidly approaches, the "time of the recapping" has officially begun. This week: a look back at the picks made in the preseason "Prediction Blowout," just to see how right (or wrong) they turned out to be.

These were my early predictions of the eleven potential year-end Top 10-ranked players for 2015 (alphabetical):

Victoria Azarenka, BLR: a nice comeback, but still too many injury issues
Simona Halep, ROU: a solid #2, with room to grow (even if Serena won't let her pass)
Ana Ivanovic, SRB: she's been there all year, but slips out this week to #15
Petra Kvitova, CZE: even without a good Wimbledon result, she's Top 5
Ekaterina Makarova, RUS: an injury-plagued summer has knocked her out of the Top 20
Andrea Petkovic, GER: after an up and down year, she's slipped outside the Top 20
Aga Radwanska, POL: after a crazy inconsistent season, she's found her way back into the Top 10
Lucie Safarova, CZE: was a bit of a "wild card" pick that has worked out rather well
Maria Sharapova, RUS: a mixed bag season, but still in the elite (#3) when healthy
Serena Williams, USA: easy-peasy
Caroline Wozniacki, DEN: at #11, she's still got a shot to get there for '15

So, that's a solid six, with remaining hopes for two more (Caro & AnaIvo). Not too bad, I guess.

Of course, I had a "second tier" worth pondering...

Eugenie Bouchard, CAN: umm. Nope.
Belinda Bencic, SUI: not yet, but really close (maybe after Beijing?)
Angelique Kerber, GER: Angie's back in the Top 10, at the moment.
Garbine Muguruza, ESP: a new Top 5 arrival
Karolina Pliskova, CZE: even with her up-and-down results in recent months, she's still at #9
Venus Williams, USA: she's up to #14 with her Wuhan title roll

So that pretty much only leaves Flavia Pennetta from the current Top 10 that I didn't have on my lists, and only Carla Suarez-Navarro from the players ranked between #11-15. I'll take that.

My "grab bag" players who'd been under consideration:

Dominika Cibulkova, SVK: healthy, she'll be on the edge of consideration for '16, too
Sara Errani, ITA: maybe she'll be the rising Italian NEXT season
Jelena Jankovic, SRB: she surged upward, but not quite into the Top 10
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS: never again (my vow)
Peng Shuai, CHN: injury destroyed her entire season

I picked a doubles Top 10, too:

Sara Errani, ITA
Martina Hingis, SUI
Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
Lucie Hradecka, CZE
Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
Sania Mirza, IND
Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Elena Vesnina, RUS
Roberta Vinci, ITA

Things can still change with big points still available (unless Hingis/Mirza get them ALL), but it's not a bad group. Of course, the changing landscape of the doubles partnerships in '15 sort of sent everything into disarray. Hingis, Makarova, Mirza and Vesnina are in the Top 10 now. The breakup of Errani/Vinci sent them both plummeting. Hlavackova, Hradecka, Hsieh and Pennetta aren't TOO far outside the Top 10. Of course, if I'd know that Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova would become a Dynamic Duo these picks would have been WAY better. Casey Dellacqua & Yaroslava Shvedova, both with good histories with other partners, have teamed with great results, as well.

My Award/First-Timer predictions:

2015 NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Ana Konjuh/CRO and Taylor Townsend/USA
...Konjuh won her first tour title, while Siniakova had her moments in '15. Townsend took a step back, though.
2015 MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Annika Beck/GER, Anna Schmiedlova/SVK and Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...Beck and Schmiedlova won titles, while Diatchenko is further along than she was a year ago (though she's gotten more mentions here in the aftermath of her 1st Round U.S. Open loss to Serena -- a series which continues below). As for Pavlyuchenkova... never again (I vow).
2015 SURPRISE PLAYERS: Denisa Allertova/CZE, Andreea Mitu/ROU, Patricia Maria Tig/ROU and Wang Qiang/CHN
...Allertova and the two Swarmettes lived up to the call, while Wang was just a tick behind on that front.
2015 COMEBACK PLAYERS: Victoria Azarenka/BLR, Laura Robson/GBR, Vicky Duval/USA and Jamie Hampton/USA; (doubles) Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA, Nadia Petrova/RUS
...Petrova and Hampton never played, but Azarenka had flashes of her old self. BMS was a doubles superstar. Robson and Duval returned to the court, so that counts for something.
FIRST-TIME WTA CHAMPIONS: Belinda Bencic/SUI, Jana Cepelova/SVK, Zarina Diyas/KAZ, Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER, Camila Giorgi/ITA, Ana Konjuh/CRO, Peng Shuai/CHN, Shelby Rogers/USA, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Tereza Smitkova/CZE
...Bencic, Giorgi and Konjuh won maiden titles. Not bad, but not as good as my 7-of-8 picks for 2014 (w/ #8, Giorgi, twice holding MP but losing in finals last season).
FIRST-TIME WTA FINALISTS: Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER, Ana Konjuh/CRO, Barbora Krejcikova/CZE, Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Evgeniya Rodina/RUS, Anna Schmiedlova/SVK, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Tereza Smitkova/CZE, Carina Witthoeft/GER, Zheng Saisai/CHN
...Konjuh, Mladenovic and Schmiedlova reached their first finals. Zheng reached the final of and won a WTA $125K Series event.
NCAA CHAMPION: Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
...nailed it!
NAMES TO WATCH IN THE JUNIOR SLAMS: Dalma Galfi/HUN, Elena Gabriela Ruse/ROU, Paula Badosa/ESP, Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
...Galfi and Badosa won junior slams, while Vondrousova reached girls #1 and was the MVP of the Junior Fed Cup finals this weekend. I think those are pretty good predictions there, if I do say so myself.
FIRST SECOND-WEEK SLAM RESULTS: Annika Beck/GER, Caroline Garcia/FRA, Madison Keys/USA, Karolina Pliskova/CZE, Katerina Siniakova/CZE
...well, at least I got Keys right. Oh, Pliskova. Oh, Garcia.


#1-RANKED SINGLES PLAYER DURING SEASON: Serena Williams and (briefly, 2-4 weeks), another player (Sharapova, Kvitova or Halep?)
...Serena, yes. Others, no.
#1 RANKED DOUBLES PLAYERS DURING SEASON: Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci (co=#1's), Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina (co-#1's), Sania Mirza
...Errani & Vinci were succeeded by Mirza.
RUSSIANS IN YEAR-END TOP 20: Maria Sharapova, Ekaterina Makarova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
...need I say it again about Pavlyuchenkova?
NORTH AMERICANS IN YEAR-END TOP 20: Serena Williams, Eugenie Bouchard, Venus Williams, Madison Keys
...Bouchard's fall, even while a slip was expected, has been stunning.
...looks like this one will be correct.
...this one, too.
OLDEST IN YEAR-END TOP 100: Venus Williams/USA
...ditto, unless KDK slips in somehow.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 10 JUMPS: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS, Lucie Safarova/CZE and Garbine Muguruza/ESP
...yes on all three.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 20 JUMPS: Madison Keys/USA, Belinda Bencic/SUI, Karolina Pliskova/CZE, Elina Svitolina/UKR, Coco Vandweghe/USA and Camila Giorgi/ITA
...yes on all but Coco (#32 in February) and Camila (#30 in July).
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 50 JUMPS: Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER, Ana Konjuh/CRO, Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Carina Witthoeft/GER
...only Witthoeft qualifies at this point, but Konjuh rose as high as #55, Krunic #62 and Friedsam #73.
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 100 JUMPS: Francoise Abanda/CAN, Denisa Allertova/CZE, An-Sophie Mestach/BEL, Andreea Mitu/ROU, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Patricia Maria Tig/ROU, Taylor Townsend/USA
...Allertova, Mestach, Mitu and Townsend (in February, though she's barely holding onto a Top 300 spot now) reached the Top 100. Tig is at #110.
...Stephens won a title this year, while Lepchenko didn't, but she's not in the running for this "honor." The current leader is Kristina Mladenovic, with Daria Gavrilova and Madison Brengle not far behind.

As far as my miscellaneous "throw-ins":

Serena Williams leads tour in titles for fourth consecutive year
...she leads with five, but Kerber has four (so far).
Martina Hingis wins a grand slam title in either doubles or mixed (or both)
...five -- two WD, three MX. So...
Azarenka defeats Serena in a hard court final, but she had MP and chances in multiple non-finals against her, though.
Maria Sharapova does not get her first win over Serena Williams since 2004, but Caroline Wozniacki does get HER second ever (as well as a career-best five other wins over Top 5 players)
...neither defeated Serena in 2015 (but only three did), while Caro has just one Top 5 win.
Garbine Muguruza reaches her first career slam singles semifinal, and a slam doubles final
...YES on the singles semi (Wimbledon final, actually), no on the doubles final.
Sania Mirza becomes the first Indian woman to be ranked #1 (in doubles)
...nailed it!
Sloane Stephens and Genie Bouchard meet in a grand slam for the first time, sometime in the first three rounds
Genie wasn't around long enough in the majors. Nor was Sloane, for that matter.
Two players are first-time slam singles champions
...umm, nope. But there was Flavia!
Ana Ivanovic reaches her first slam semifinal since winning Roland Garros in 2008
...considering how I've been down on AnaIvo for so long, I think this was maybe my best pick of the year (she reached the RG semis).
Nicole Vaidisova reaches a slam Round of 16
...I couldn't pick her to return from retirement anymore. But THAT multiple-year prediction eventually became true, so I'll probably be picking this again in '16, too.

My slam final outlooks were good on the Serena front, as I had her winning in Melbourne and London, but not NYC. The rest weren't too hot. Meanwhile, hardly any of the preseason doubles slam-winning teams are even in existence at this point.

AO: S.Williams d. Azarenka
RG: Halep d. Sharapova
WI: S.Williams d. Kvitova
US: Wozniacki d. Halep
WTA: S.Williams d. Wozniacki
AO: Hsieh/Mirza
RG: Errani/Vinci
WI: Makarova/Vesnina
US: Hingis/Pennetta - I got half of it!
WTA: Hsieh/Mirza - I could get half of it!
[mixed doubles]
Martina Hingis - three!
Sania Mirza
Kristina Mladenovic (2)
FC: Czech Republic def. Germany - we'll see

Here's what Galileo West said...


...five are currently in the Top 10, while Wozniacki and Ivanovic still have a shot.

Jankovic, V. Williams, Cornet, Puig

...Venus (#14), with another title run, could slip in

AO: S. Williams d. Sharapova
RG: Sharapova d. Halep
WI: Kvitova d. S. Williams
US: S. Williams d. Halep
WTA: Halep d. Sharapova

...Galileo nailed the Serena/Maria AO final (hmmm, I smell home cooking there), and still has a shot at the WTAF match-up.

Radwanska continues to disappoint and falls out of the top ten.
...he was right for a while, then Tokyo happened.
A recent slam champion retires: Kuznetsova, Stosur, Schiavone?
...not so far. Stosur looks safe, and Francesca is chasing Sugiyama's consecutive slams record. Kuznetsova? Well, let's not be too hasty predicting ANYTHING for Sveta. As usual. The retiring Pennetta doesn't really count. Sorry, Galileo.
Sharapova finally finishes as the world number one.
No Italian player is in the top twenty come next December
...he almost had this one, then Pennetta/Vinci happened.
Stacey Allaster announces she will step down in 2017 and begins to look for a replacement as CEO.
...ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding! Wow, I'd forgotten he'd made this one. Sure, he's a year off, but it's still a GREAT pull. Bravo!
Zvonareva wins a title, makes the top thirty.
...Vera played a bit, then drifted off with continued injury concerns. I don't believe she's made any official retirement plans yet, though.
Sharapova finally wins in Miami.
...Maria was upset in the 2nd Round by Official Backspin Mascot Daria Gavrilova.
Hingis takes a wildcard into a singles event with a weak field and actually wins it.
...this was a wild one, and it didn't happen. But Hingis did play singles in one of Switzerland's Fed Cup ties. But considering how she was physically left in a heap after back-to-back long matches in which she went 0-2 vs. the Radwanska sisters, then wasn't able to play the deciding doubles and immediately had her worst WD results with Sania Mirza as she took a bit of time to get her body healthy again, I can't imagine the Original Swiss Miss will step back into full-match singles again, even as a one-week lark. Asked about it recently, she said that she wouldn't make a singles comeback because she'd rather be healthy enough to play half a court with Mirza and Leander Paes than physically break down while trying to play her ENTIRE side of the net.

All in all, we both had hits and misses. But the picks were pretty good. We'll see how our picks go for 2016 in a few months. And, yes, I'm already jotting down some early predictions for next year.

WUHAN, CHINA (Premier $2.212m/HCO)
S: Venus Williams/USA def. Garbine Muguruza/ESP 6-3/3-0 ret.
D: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) def. Begu/Niculescu (ROU/ROU) 6-2/6-3

S: Nao Hibino/JPN def. Donna Vekic/CRO 6-2/6-2
D: Margarita Gasparyan/Alexandra Panova (RUS/RUS) d. Vera Dushevina/Katerina Siniakova (RUS/CZE) 6-1/3-6 [10-3]

FED CUP 16s FINAL (Madrid, ESP)
Czech Republic def. United States 2-1

...Venus began 2015 by winning a title in Auckland in January, and the 35-year old showed in Wuhan that she's still got gas sloshing around in the tank in October. In a week in which she also notched her 700th career victory, Venus knocked off Tokyo champ Aga Radwanska and Julia Goerges, survived Johanna Konta (the Brit served for the match and got within two points of the win) and Roberta Vinci (served for the match and had a MP), then saw Garbine Muguruza retire after a set and a half in the final, which was extra good fortune since Williams herself played with both thighs wrapped, was limping around early in the match and her lack of mobility led to a game plan of trying to end points as early as possible. Thus, career final #77 produced career title #47, and Venus' wins over Radwanska and Muguruza gives her six or more Top 10 victories in a single season for the first time since 2009. She's currently positioned in the final spot for Singapore (thanks to Serena's decision not to play), and Karolina Pliskova's early loss in Beijing (she's one spot behind Venus) on Sunday means she'll likely be able to hold onto the spot through this week whether or not she's up to putting forth much in Beijing. Of course, the other day the WTA was touting that twenty-seven players still had a shot to join the WTA Finals field heading into this week... so any number of combinations of results could still push Venus down and out. As it is, Williams now holds two spots in the WTA's all-time Top 5 when it comes to oldest singles champions. Well, that is, until Serena's many future titles probably eventually crowd her out of the list.

RISERS: Garbine Muguruza/ESP & Angelique Kerber/GER
...ask and ye shall receive. I said last week that Muguruza needed another final run to ensure a good spot on the final "Ms. Backspin" list, and that's just what she managed to pull off in Wuhan as she, at times, flashed the sort of game that makes it easy to believe that she'll win a slam title within the next two seasons. Muguruza only allowed two games to Sloane Stephens, won twelve of the final thirteen games in a three-setter over Ana Ivanovic, defeated Anna Schmiedlova 2 & 2 and was in the process of defeating Angelique Kerber in straight sets when a foot injury led to her taking a medical timeout at 3-3 in the 2nd set tie-break (I can't imagine Angie liked that). After a 8-9 minute break, she DID escape that match in straights despite being unable to move around or serve during what remained of the TB, blasting a few all-or-nothing winners from the baseline to edge out the German in the 2nd set and reach her second '15 final (w/ Wimbledon). But Muguruza was only able to last fifty-one minutes against an also-injured Venus Williams in the final before being forced to retire. The Spaniard, who was working with Sam Sumyk on a trial basis in Wuhan (seems like a good fit... better than Bouchard, at least), will still jump to a career-best #5 in the new rankings. But she's still not assured of a place in the Singapore field, and it's hard to imagine she'll be able to offer Beijing anything more than most of the other top players who've already pulled out or lost at this week's event.

Meanwhile, Kerber's SF run in Wuhan will once again lift her into the Top 10 (let's see how long this visit lasts) on the back of her victories over Jelena Jankovic, Camila Giorgi and Coco Vandeweghe (ret.). Still, the lingering memory of her trip to Wuhan is how big this week COULD have been for her, considering if the German just won a few more points to take that 2nd set TB against Muguruza the Spaniard would have likely retired from the match, and against a Venus Williams who was also nursing a leg injury (or two) and wasn't going to be able to play a whole lot of long points throughout the final Kerber would probably have to be seen as the favorite to take the title. Her fifth title would have tied Serena, who announced the end of her '15 season this week, for the tour lead.
SURPRISES: Johanna Konta/GBR & Kateryna Kozlova/UKR's gotten to the point that good results from Konta are no longer considered a "surprise," but she still fits into this category this week since the others are all filled up. Although, even while the Brit has been on fire in recent months, I doubt if too many would have thought she'd head into Wuhan, make it through qualifying, and then put up wins over Andrea Petkovic, Victoria Azarenka (via retirement) AND Simona Halep (winning from 5-1 down in the 3rd, no less!), then find herself serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd against Venus Williams in the QF, coming within two points of a win over the player who'd go on to win the title. Konta's win over #2 Halep was the best by a British woman in thirty-four years (Sue Barker in 1981). And, naturally, her accomplishments drew the attention of the ATP's Patron Saint of Women's Tennis.

In Tashkent, 21-year old Kozlova qualified with wins over Sara Sorribes and Petra Martic, then put up MD victories over Klara Koukalova and Katerina Siniakova to reach her first tour singles QF. Kozlova came into the week at #203, having returned in August after sitting out the final four months of a six-month suspension for testing positive for a stimulant. Her suspension was reduced and backdated when it was determined she'd ingested the stimulant under the advice of her doctor, thus she lost the points she'd earned and had her prize money confiscated from a five-event stretch from February to April. Before having to step away, Kozlova had gone 17-7 in all matches this season (and put up wins over the likes of Barthel, Babos, Watson, Konjuh and Vesnina), and she's now 16-5 since her August return. She'll rise to #165 in the new rankings.

VETERAN: Roberta Vinci/ITA
...Flavia Pennetta may be calling it quits, but fellow U.S. Open finalist Vinci isn't. In Wuhan, the 32-year old showed that she's still got her Italian juices flowing after her Flushing Meadows run, knocking off Danka Kovinic, Irina-Camelia Begu, defending champ Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova to reach the semifinals. With a chance to become the only player to defeat BOTH Williams Sisters in 2015, Vinci served for the match and held a MP late in the 3rd set vs. Venus, but the nerves that didn't slow her roll in NYC finally did this time as a string of backhand errors squandered her lead and Williams surged back to take the match and, eventually, the title.
COMEBACKS: Donna Vekic/CRO & Evgeniya Rodina/RUS
...forget about the whole Wawrinka-Krygios-Kokkinakis mess, the fact is that Vekic's ON-tour results have been severely lacking ever since she won her first career title in Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. After becoming a maiden champion, the now-19 year old Croat went 6-16 to finish out 2014, and was 17-22 this season as she came into Tashkent as the #137-ranked player on the WTA computer. As it turned out, Vekic ran off four wins over Kiki Bertens, Catarina Witthoeft, Anna-Lena Friedsam (saving 3 MP) and Evgeniya Rodina to reach her fourth career final, but only after having not reached the semifinals at a tour event since winning KL. Already a 2012 Tashkent runner-up, Vekic turned out to be so for the second time after losing to Nao Hibino. She'll be up to around #108-110 on Monday, and will still need at least one more good result to have a shot at her third straight Top 100 finish.

The second phase of Rodina's career (after getting married and becoming a mom during a 15-month absence from the tour from March '12 to August '13) continues to set new benchmarks. The Hordette found herself outside the Top 800 at one point after her time away, but had climbed back into the Top 500 by the end of '13 and nearly the Top 150 at the close of the '14 season while picking up five ITF titles last year. Back into the Top 100 this season, she's nevertheless had a bit tougher sledding playing mostly WTA events (21 of 26), often having to qualify on the weekend just to make it onto the weekday schedule. In Tashkent, the 26-year old started out in the main draw and got victories over Ula Radwanska, Yaroslava Shvedova and Johanna Larsson to reach her first tour level semifinal since losing in the 2011 Memphis event to the lamentably missed Rebecca Marino. After reaching a career high of #74 in '11, Rodina (30-26 in all matches for the season) will jump to #84 in the new rankings on Monday. So I guess the next benchmark is pretty clear.

FRESH FACES: Nao Hibino/JPN & Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
...I'll take a wild guess and say that NOBODY had the 20-year old Hibino grabbing her first career WTA singles title this weekend in Tashkent. Ranked #117 and in just her second career tour MD, it'd been a difficult result to predict for even the wildest of imaginations. But victories over Anhelina Kalinina, a walkover from Seoul finalist Aliaksandra Sasnovich and additional wins over qualifier Kateryna Kozlova, '14 finalist Bojana Jovanovski and Donna Vekic in the final made Hibino just the second Japanese woman (Kurumi Nara, Rio '14) to win a tour singles crown since Kimiko Date-Krumm won her only "second" career title in Seoul in 2009. Hibino, now 8-2 in career pro singles finals (7-2 on the ITF circuit, including 3-1 in four $50K challengers this season), will rise to #76 in the new rankings -- she's now the #1-ranked Japanese woman on tour.

Schmiedlova followed up her Seoul semifinal with a QF run in Wuhan that included wins over Mariana Duque and Kristina Mladenovic, as well as a comeback from 6-1/4-1 down against Caroline Wozniacki to notch her third career Top 20 victory. The Slovak has already dropped her 1st Round match in Beijing to Alison Van Uytvanck, but she'll still rise to another new career-high (#27) ranking on Monday.

DOWN: The WTA's "Top Tier"
...Stacey Allaster is leaving the WTA having endeavored to "shorten" the season and take a substantial load off the shoulders of the players in what has become a physically and emotionally grueling schedule. Say what you will about whatever her other accomplishments may be, but this past week has proven that she has fallen far short of altering the tour environment to the point of making it possible to see top players at or near their best throughout an entire season. In just the past week, the Top 10 has looked like a beaten-down crop of athletes looking for a corner to crawl into for the offseason, yet finding themselves pulled in all sorts of directions in the season's closing six weeks, be it being required to play or promote events in far-off Asian locales or seek to end their seasons by trying to compete one final time at something considered an optimal level in the WTA Finals. Based on how things look, don't be surprised if much of the action in Singapore this year once again resembles the blown-out-tire appearances by Aga Radwanska and Genie Bouchard in recent seasons in the SEC. #2 Simona Halep blew a 5-1 3rd set lead in Wuhan to Johanna Konta, said afterward that she had "no idea what happened"... then retired during her 1st Round match in Beijing with an Achilles' injury. #3 Maria Sharapova, finally back on court, retired in her first match with a forearm/wrist injury (her left) and then pulled out of Beijing (which she won in '14). Her WTA Finals appearance could be in jeopardy, as well, though she's said it's a "priority" for her to join the Russian team for the Fed Cup final. #4 Petra Kvitova barely escaped Daria Gavrilova in Wuhan then blew a 1st set lead and was ousted by Roberta Vinci, and has already lost to another Italian (Sara Errani) in Beijing. New #5 Muguruza had a great week, but had to retire from the final. #6 Lucie Safarova is out after being hospitalized with a bacterial infection, #7 Flavia Pennetta is back in Beijing but is playing out the final weeks of her career, #8 Aga Radwanska was bounced quickly by Venus just days after winning the title in Tokyo and #9 Karolina Pliskova's decent Wuhan run (QF) was ended unceremoniously by Sloane Stephens in Beijing in a 6-3/6-2 defeat on Sunday.

And all that's not even counting Sabine Lisicki ending her season with a knee injury, and with Vika Azarenka likely soon following suit considering her retirement in Wuhan (her second in-match exit in a little more than a month, w/ Cincinnati, after not having any since 2012... after two other walkover losses this summer) and withdrawal from Beijing. Azarenka admitted "my mind is not totally here right now" last week, as she's thinking about her offseason plans to get fully healthy and attempt to regain the step of speed that all her injuries have cost her.

The only player making any real sense is probably Serena Williams, who announced last week that she was ending her season early (she won't defend her WTAF crown) in order to "properly address my health and take time to heal" after a season in which she often played with injuries and was devastated after her Grand Slam dream was ended by Vinci the U.S. Open semis. In order to preserve herself for a good run in 2016, it would seem the ONLY right decision was the one that Williams has made. But she's Serena... she can do that, while most others don't have such an option. Though, maybe they should think about following suit, for their own good, even if they don't want to admit it...

Bouchard is scheduled to play this week in Beijing for the first time since the locker room concussion she suffered at the U.S. Open.

Late note: once again, Bouchard's concussion symptoms recurred in her match vs. Petkovic, with her retiring in the 2nd set. So, as I just suggested...

ITF PLAYER: Michaella Krajicek/NED

...the Summer of Michaella Krajicek, Emmrich, Krajicek (whichever) has become the Autumn of Michaella Krajicek, Emmrich, Krajicek (whichever)! A week after winning a 75K challenger title in Albuquerque, the 26-year old Dutch woman went a bit north and won a $50K event in Las Vegas, defeating Arantxa Rus, #4-seeded Sachia Vickery, #5 Alexa Glatch, #6 Nicole Gibbs and #7 Shelby Rogers in the final. Krajicek is now 12-1 in career ITF singles finals (15-1 in all pro singles finals), and after jumping from #435 to #242 last week she's set to leap into the Top 200 on Monday.
JUNIOR STARS Czech Junior Fed Cup (16s) Team & Dalma Galfi/HUN
...Marketa Vondrousova, Anna Slovakova & Monika Kilnarova. The next wave of Czech Fed Cup Maidens are already making their mark. While the women will be looking to defend their FC crown next month the 16's set were busy winning the nation's fourth FC 16s crown in Madrid, claiming both semifinal (vs. Canada) and final (vs. USA) ties via 2-1 scores with Vondrousova and Slovakova winning deciding doubles matches. In the semis, the Czechs took out the Canadians as Vondrousova's 6-0/6-4 win over Charlotte Robillard-Millette forced the tie into the doubles, where she and Slovakova defeated CRM & Bianca Andreescu 2-6/6-3/6-2 after having fallen behind 5-0 in the 1st set.

In the final against the Bannerettes (in their third final in four years), the Maidens beat the U.S. squad to four titles (the Americans won in '08, '12 and '14) as Vondrousova once again led a comeback effort after the Czechs had dropped the opening singles match. The former girls #1 defeated Claire Liu 7-5/6-4 to force the deciding doubles, then earned her MVP honors by leading the blitz against Liu & Kayla Day by ripping off the first ten games of the match and winning 6-0/6-2. The nation's previous FC 16s titles came in 1985 (as Czechoslovakia), 2000 and 2001, with the latter team being led by none other than Lucie Safarova.

Meanwhile, junior #1 and U.S. Open girls champ Galfi won the $15K Tweed Heads, Australia (great name -- and it doesn't look half bad, either) challanger with victories over the #3, #5 and #8 (Storm Sanders in the final) seeds to run her career record in ITF singles finals to 4-0. The 17-year old Hungarian is getting used to this winning thing because, you know, it's pretty much ALL she does. Since late last October, Galfi has gone 36-7 in junior action, ending last year by winning a Grade A event in Mexico City, reaching the Yucatan Cup final and winning Eddie Herr. She ended '14 with a 13-match ITF level winning streak, as well, and has gone 26-7 in ITF and Fed Cup play in '15. In you were adding all that up, that's a combined 75-14 singles record on all levels over an eleven-month stretch. Not bad.
DOUBLES: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) & Margarita Gasparyan/Alexandra Panova (RUS/RUS)'s the Dream Team's world, and everyone else is just living in it. Or at least it seems that way. Hingis & Mirza teamed up in Wuhan for their seventh title since joining forces this past spring, putting together the third leg of a back-to-back-to-back title haul for the second time this season. Wins over Kops-Jones/Spears, the Chan sisters and Begu/Niculescu extended their current winning streak to thirteen matches (all won in straight sets), while Hingis also defended the title she won a year ago in China with Flavia Pennetta. So far, Hingis & Mirza have compiled a 46-7 overall record as a team.

In Tashkent, Gasparyan & Panova returned to the tournament in which they finished as the runners-up in '14 and took the title a year later, defeating the team of Vera Dushevina & Katerina Siniakova (the Czech had won the title a season ago while partnering Aleksandra Krunic) in the final. This is the second title claimed by the all-Hordette duo, as they also won in Baku on the same weekend in which Gasparyan swept the singles and doubles at that event in the first week of August. While this is just the second career doubles crown won by the younger Russian, Panova has actually now grabbed eight in her career. Of course, this was a nice reaffirming ending for the pair to a week that began with Gasparyan defeating Panova 7-6(2)/6-1 in the 1st Round of singles.


When living legends cross paths...

And Serena's 1st Round U.S. Open victim FINALLY moves on...

1. Wuhan 3rd Rd. - Konta d. Halep
Halep led 5-1 in the 3rd, then was broken three straight times while never even reaching break point on any of the Brit's final three service games. She had no answers.

2. Wuhan 3rd Rd. - Vinci d. Kvitova 7-6(3)/6-2
Beijing 1st Rd. - Errani d. Kvitova 7-5/6-4
'14 Wuhan champ Kvitova played three close sets against the Italians (leading 4-0 in the 1st vs. Vinci and getting within two points of taking the set at 5-4 and 6-5) but both got the best of her in straights.

3. Wuhan SF - Muguruza d. Kerber
Without Muguruza's injury and call for the trainer at 3-3 in the TB, might this one have been the latest to be added to Kerber's long list of "Best Match" nominees for 2015?

4. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Vandeweghe d. Garcia
No weekly list would be complete, it would seem, without a match that includes a blown lead by the Pastry. This time, Garcia led 5-2 in the 3rd, served at 5-3 and held two MP at 6-4 in the TB before dropping the final four points.
5. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Kvitova d. Gavrilova
It'd been far more entertaining had Gavrilova managed to pull off this win in the Wuhan humidity, but Kvitova survived (for one more round) despite the Russo-Aussie serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd set. It's close to getting time to having to make the decision for 2015's "Most Improved Player." Is it Gavrilova or Bacsinszky?
6. Beijing 1st Rd. - Bacsinszky d. Giorgi
Speaking of, is Timea finally back in form? At least the outfit looks good.

7. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Strycova d. Sharapova
...6-7(1)/7-6(4)/1-2 ret.
Maria's return didn't last long. Taking eight set points to finally win the 1st probably didn't help, since she placed the blame for her forearm injury on her lack of recent play. She got more than she asked for from the Czech.

8. Tashkent Final - Hibino d. Vekic
Since KDK won her sixth and seventh career titles in the first phase of her career in 1996, this is just the eleventh title won by a Japanese woman (and tenth by someone other than KDK herself):

1997 Jakarta - Naoko Sawamatsu
1997 Tokyo JO - Ai Sugiyama
1998 Gold Coast - Ai Sugiyama
1998 Tokyo JO - Ai Sugiyama
2003 Scottsdale - Ai Sugiyama
2003 Linz - Ai Sugiyama
2004 Gold Coast - Ai Sugiyama
2007 Prague - Akiko Morigami
2009 Seoul - Kimiko Date-Krumm
2014 Rio - Kurumi Nara
2015 Tashkent - Nao Hibino

9. Wuhan 1st Rd. - Goerges d. Cornet 6-3/6-3
Beijing 1st Rd. - Mattek-Sands d. Cornet 6-3/6-3
after a Top 20 season a year ago that included three wins over Serena, Cornet's fortunes have turned. With losses in Wuhan and Beijing, the Pastry has failed to put up multiple wins in five straight events, ten of eleven and in nineteen of her twenty-four tournaments in 2015. She hasn't put up multiple wins in back-to-back events all season and finds herself down at #44 in the rankings. Cornet hasn't finished a season ranked lower than that since 2011.
10. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Muguruza d. Stephens 6-2/6-0
Wuhan 3rd Rd. - Muguruza d. Ivanovic 4-6/6-1/6-0
“I’m really happy, I played such a great match. I don’t play at this level every day," said Garbi after her 2 & 2 win over Anna Schmiedlova in the QF. But you could make a case she did it THREE days last week.
11. Beijing 1st Rd. - Pennetta d. Han Xinyun
Look who's back for (a little bit) more.

12. Wuhan 1st Rd. - Dabrowski/Rosolska d. Babos/Mladenovic
...7-6(7)/4-6 [10-5].
Mladenovic has gone 3-3 with Babos since they lost in the Wimbledon semifinals, but 7-1 with other partners (Ka.Pliskova and Bencic).
13. Beijing Q1 - Arruabarrena d. Hantuchova
Remember when Hantuchova, in her opening weeks of being coached by Carlos Rodriguez, scored an early 2015 "moment" in Pattaya City by winning her first tour singles title since 2013? After finishing '14 at #64, the 32-year old Slovak went into Beijing qualifying ranked at #81 and was bounced by the Spaniard, dropping her fifth straight match in a season that has already seen her lose eight in row in the spring. She's gone 7-16 since winning in Pattaya (and three of those wins came on the grass in Birmingham, where she'd won that '13 crown). In an era of late-career rises by thirtysomething vets, Hantuchova is in line for her fourth consecutive year-end ranking fall since finishing at #24 in 2011. She hasn't finished a season outside the Top 65 since 2000.

14. Tashkent QF - Jovanovski d. Beck
The Serb was the runner-up in Tashkent last year (after winning the title in '13), and this year defeated the #1 seed at the event. Maybe she should try to play there EVERY week, since her most recent semi before this one came when she played in Tashkent LAST year.
15. $10K Port El Kantaoui Final - Valentini Grammatikipoulou d. Caroline Romeo
... 2–6, 6–2, 6–3.
The 18-year old Greek wins her second 2015 title in her fifth ITF final of the season.
HN- $50K Zhuhai Final - Xu Shilin/You Xiaodi d. Irina Khromacheva/Emily Webley-Smith
...3-6/6-2 [10-4].
A week after reaching the WTA Guangzhou final, the teenage Chinese pair win a $50K. Former girls #1 Xu also advanced to the singles semifinals.

The life of Maria.

A Sharapova makes due.

Paris fashion week is happening and all I've got is a scarf turned into headwear.

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

The Flying Nun Maria.

Fly with me.. #NikeXSacai

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. Wuhan SF - Venus Williams d. Vinci
Venus led 3-0 in the 1st, but dropped seven of the final nine games. Up 4-1 and serving at 5-3 in the 3rd, Venus again saw the Italian turn things around. Vinci served for the match at 6-5, holding a MP, but a string of backhand errors kept the list of players who have beaten both Williams Sisters in '15 from adding its first name. At least one player has managed the feat every season since 1997, but time is running out for that streak to continue. And with Serena out, only wins by one of three players (Kvitova, Bencic or Vinci) over Venus in the final month will qualify. Venus and either Bencic or Vinci (both are on other side of the draw) would have to reach the Beijing final for it to happen this week.
2. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Anna Schmiedlova d. Wozniacki
The Dane, ill and nursing an injury, led 6-1/4-1, but ended up having to play 3:08 before eventually losing. Schmiedlova served at 6-5 in the 3rd, only to be forced into a TB, where she led 5-2 but still had to use three MP attempts before finally putting Caroline away for the week.
3. Wuhan QF - Venus Williams d. Konta
Konta didn't get as close as Vinci to derailing Venus' title-winning week, but she served for the match at 5-3 and got within two points of victory.

4. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Venus Williams d. Goerges
Venus is the second Williams Sister to reach the 700 career wins milestone in 2015.

5. Wuhan Final - Venus Williams d. Muguruza
...6-3/3-0 ret.
With Venus and Hibino both unseeded champions, more unseeded woman (14) have won tour singles titles than #1-seeds (12) have in 2015.
6. Wuhan 1st Rd. - Venus Williams d. Aga Radwanska
Aga had to go to Wuhan after winning in Tokyo, but she didn't get trapped into playing herself out at the end of a long season.
7. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Lucic-Baroni
Lucic served at 5-4 in the 3rd, while Pliskova held two MP at 6-5. After falling behind 5-3 in the TB, Pliskova (who had 18 aces) won the final four points to advance.
8. Wuhan 2nd Rd. - Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan def. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok 6-4/6-2
Wuhan QF - Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan d. Goerges/Karolina Pliskova 6-2/6-2
Wuhan SF - Hingis/Mirza d. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan 6-2/6-1
against other teams that included tennis sisters, the Chans were able to run their Toronto-to-Wuhan record to 18-1 against everyone except Hingis/Mirza. Against the Dream Team over the same span, they're now 1-3.
9. Tashkent 1st Rd. - Witthoeft d. Kristyna Pliskova
Pliskova is now 1-9 since defeating Sveta Kuznetsova in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon.
10. $15K Bangkok Final - Buayam d. Varunya Wongteanchai
Varunya was no Venus in HER final.

Let's remember, Genie DID steal her coach this year.

Another offseason project?


A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Wuhan... let me introduce you to the Gavrilova Hop & Skip.

Dubai - #4 Halep/ROU d. #18 Ka.Pliskova/CZE
Indian Wells - #3 Halep/ROU d. #21 Jankovic/SRB
Miami - #1 S.Williams/USA d. #12 Suarez-Navarro/ESP
Madrid - #4 Kvitova/CZE d. #29 Kuznetsova/RUS
Rome - #3 Sharapova/RUS d. #10 Suarez-Navarro/ESP
Toronto - #20 Bencic/SUI d. #3 Halep/ROU
Cincinnati - #1 S.Williams/USA d. #3 Halep/ROU
Wuhan - #24 V.Williams/USA d. #8 Muguruza/ESP
Beijing - ?
[doubles champions]
Dubai - Babos/Mladenovic, HUN/FRA
Indian Wells - Hingis/Mirza, SUI/IND
Miami - Hingis/Mirza, SUI/IND
Madrid - Dellacqua/Shvedova, AUS/KAZ
Rome - Babos/Mladenovic, HUN/FRA
Toronto - Mattek-Sands/Safarova, USA/CZE
Cincinnati - Chan/Chan, TPE/TPE
Wuhan - Hingis/Mirza/ SUI/IND
Beijing - ?

39y,7m,23d - Billie Jean King (1983 Birmingham)
38y,11m,30d - Kimiko Date-Krumm (2009 Seoul)
37y,4m,2d - Martina Navratilova (1994 Paris Indoors)
35y,3m,16d - VENUS WILLIAMS (2015 WUHAN)
34y,6m,23d - Venus Williams (2015 Auckland)
34y,4m,26d - Margaret Court (1976 Melbourne)
33y,10m,28d - Serena Williams (2015 Cincinnati)

Antwerp - Andrea Petkovic, GER (8 MP - 2nd/Van Uytvanck)
Rio - Sara Errani, ITA (3 MP - QF/Haddad)
Pattaya - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (2 MP - SF/Erakovic)
's-Hertogenbosch - Camila Giorgi, ITA (3 MP - QF/Shvedova)
Toronto - Belinda Bencic, SUI (1 MP - 3rd/Lisicki)
Guangzhou - Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1 MP - SF/Wickmayer)
Wuhan - Venus Williams, USA (1 MP - SF/Vinci)

34 - Venus Williams, USA (Auckland)
33 - Serena Williams, USA (5 titles)
33 - Flavia Pennetta, ITA (U.S. Open)
31 - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (Pattaya City)
31 - Samantha Stosur, AUS (2 - Bad Gastein/Strasbourg)
30 - Jelena Jankovic, SRB (Guangzhou)

17 - Ana Konjuh, CRO (Nottingham)
18 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (2 - Eastbourne/Toronto)
20 - Margarita Gasparyan, RUS (Baku)
20 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (2 - Katowice/Bucharest)
20 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (Marrakech)
21 - Annika Beck, GER (Quebec City)

3...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Serena Williams, USA
2...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE

39 years - Tashkent = HIBINO (20) d. VEKIC (19)
39 years - Quebec City = Beck (21) d. Ostapenko(18)
41 years - Marrakech = Svitolina (20) d. Babos (21)
41 years - Baku = Gasparyan (20) d. Tig (21)
41 years - 's-Hertogenbosch = Giorgi (23) d. Bencic (18)
41 years - Toronto = Bencic (18) d. Halep (23)

2 - Angelique Kerber (Charleston/Petkovic, Stuttgart/Sharapova)
2 - Lucie Safarova (Roland Garros/Sharapova, Dubai/V.Williams)
2 - ROBERTA VINCI (U.S. Open/S.Williams, Wuhan/Kvitova)

Hobart - Watson d. (Q) Brengle
Pattaya - Hantuchova d. Tomljanovic
Doha - Safarova d. (WC) Azarenka
Nottingham - Konjuh d. Niculescu
Istanbul - Tsurenko d. U.Radwanska
Baku - Gasparyan d. (Q) Tig
Washington - Stephens d. Pavlyuchenkova
Tokyo JO - Wickmayer d. Linette
Tashkent - Hibino d. Vekic

**2015 WTA FINALS**
[best win pct. in multiple matches]
1.000 - Serena Williams (5-0)
1.000 - Angelique Kerber (4-0)
1.000 - Petra Kvitova (3-0)
1.000 - Teliana Pereira (2-0)
1.000 - Samantha Stosur (2-0)
1.000 - VENUS WILLIAMS (2-0)
0.667 - Timea Bacsinszky (2-1)
0.667 - Maria Sharapova (2-1)
0.667 - Anna Schmiedlova (2-1)
0.600 - Simona Halep (3-2)
[worst win pct. in multiple matches]
0.000 - Caroline Garcia (0-2)
0.000 - GARBINE MUGURUZA (0-2)
0.000 - Carla Suarez-Navarro (0-2+L)
0.000 - Roberta Vinci (0-2)
0.200 - Karolina Pliskova (1-4)
0.333 - Lucie Safarova (1-2)
0.333 - Caroline Wozniacki (1-2)

17 - Ana Konjuh, CRO (Nottingham)
18 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (Eastbourne)
20 - Margarita Gasparyan, RUS (Baku)
20 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (Katowice)
22 - Sloane Stephens, USA (Washington)
23 - Camila Giorgi, ITA ('s-Hertogenbosch)
26 - Johanna Larsson, SWE (Bastad)
26 - Teliana Pereira, BRA (Bogota)
26 - Lesia Tsurenko, UKR (Istanbul)

#154 Patricia Maria Tig, ROU (Baku - lost Gasparyan)
#137 DONNA VEKIC, CRO (TASHKENT - lost Hibino)
#136 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR (Seoul - lost Begu)
#130 Teliana Pereira, BRA (Bogota - def. Shvedova)
#112 Margarita Gasparyan, RUS (Baku - def. Tig)
#117 NAO HIBINO, JPN (TASHKENT - def. Vekic)
#101 Jelena Ostapenko, LAT (Quebec City - lost Beck)

3 - Mar/Apr - Hingis/Mirza (IW-Miami-Charleston)
3 - Sep/Oct - HINGIS/MIRZA (US-Guangzhou-Wuhan)
2 - Jan - Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Sydney-AO)
2 - May - Babos/Mladenovic (Marrakech-Rome)

239...Martina Navratilova (167-72)
226...Chris Evert (154-72)
138...Steffi Graf (107-31)
93...Lindsay Davenport (55-38)
86...Serena Williams (69-17)*
85...Monica Seles (53-32)
77...VENUS WILLIAMS (47-30)*
77...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (29-48)
68...Martina Hingis (43-25)
61...Justine Henin (43-18)
NOTE: 58-Sharapova (35-23)

377...Steffi Graf
331...Martina Navratilova
260...Chris Evert
209...Martina Hingis
178...Monica Seles
117...Justine Henin

[50+ wins, fewer than 10 losses]
0.951 - Serena Williams, 2013 (78-4)
0.946 - SERENA WILLIAMS, 2015 (53-3)
0.940 - Justine Henin, 2007 (63-4)
0.935 - Serena Williams, 2012 (58-4)

1442...Martina Navratilova
1309...Chris Evert
902...Steffi Graf
839...Virginia Wade
759...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
753...Lindsay Davenport
739...Conchita Martinez
737...Serena Williams*
NOTE: Evonne Goolagong w/ 704 wins (pre + Open era)

2000 Martina Hingis (77-10)
2001 Lindsay Davenport (62-9)
2002 Serena Williams (56-5)
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne (75-11)
2004 Lindsay Davenport (63-9)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (60-10)
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne (60-8)
2007 Justine Henin (63-4)
2008 Jelena Jankovic (65-19)
2009 Serena Williams (50-12)
2010 Caroline Wozniacki (62-17)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki (63-17)
2012 Victoria Azarenka (69-10)
2013 Serena Williams (78-4)
2014 Serena Williams (52-8)
2015 Serena Williams (53-3)

2003 NED def. CAN
2004 ARG def. CAN
2005 POL def. FRA
2006 BLR def. RUS
2007 AUS def. POL
2008 USA def. GBR
2009 RUS def. GER
2010 RUS def. CHN
2011 AUS def. CAN
2012 USA def. RUS
2013 RUS def. AUS
2014 USA def. SVK
2015 CZE def. USA

More numbers...

35 years

27 years

21 years

15 years

BEIJING, CHINA (Premier $4.72m/HCO)
14 Final: Sharapova d. Kvitova
14 Doubles Final: Hlavackova/Peng d. C.Black/Mirza
15 Top Seeds: Halep/Kvitova

#11 Bencic d. #10 Kerber
Bacsinszky d. #3 Pennetta
#11 Bencic d. Bacsinszky

...hey, it has to happen sometime, right?

And finally...

Why Monica Puig can't have nice things:

The current reigning Tennis Power Couple, no doubt:

Genie, you have no idea...

And, sure, this video is old... but the voiceover makes it priceless:

All for now.


Blogger Colette Lewis said...

Great post, Todd.
One tiny correction. The Czech girls were the No. 1 seeds in the Junior Fed Cup. Canada was No. 1 in the Junior DAVIS Cup.

Mon Oct 05, 09:53:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks, Colette. Got that mixed up trying to keep both results in my head. But pretty impressive that the Canadians got BOTH teams into the semis (w/ the boys winning the title). The final four in the girls were at least the top four seeded teams, so it was the best vs. the best.

Mon Oct 05, 12:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Hoergren said...

As usual a great post from you - keep up the good work it's always interesting to read. Glad you remembered Caro's big day 5 years ago - it's also a big moment for me as a fan. Today it's a little hard but I stick to "my girl" :)

Sun Oct 11, 03:30:00 AM EDT  

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