Monday, November 16, 2015

Wk.45- Serving Notice

This weekend, the Czechs once again certified their dominance over the Fed Cup field, winning a fourth title in five years. Really, though, that was no great surprise. Who ended up leading the Maidens to victory, though? Now that's another story.

If you'd been told one year ago that the 2015 Fed Cup final would feature a Czech team that got just one singles victory from its top two ranked players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, against a Russian team that was blessed with a 2-0 weekend from Maria Sharapova, you probably wouldn't have given the Maidens much of a chance to emerge with another championship. Heck, just a few weeks ago you'd probably have thought the same thing.

But Karolina Pliskova overturned such expectations in Prague. And with one brilliant day of play, she may have changed everything about her immediate future.

Blessed with a killer serve and big time groundstrokes, Pliskova has resembled a star-in-the-making for a while now. She's routinely led, or nearly so, the tour in all sorts of categories the last two seasons. From match wins to aces and finals, she's been one of the busiest, most successful and consistently lethal players on tour this side of Serena Williams (who's usually either right ahead or right behind Pliskova in most of those statistical categories). But her inability to "close" has grown hair over the course of 2015. The prime example of her "stunted" rise is her tour-leading six appearances in finals this season, but her lamentable 1-5 record in those matches. Grand slam success has also failed to materialize, as the Czech has yet to reach a Round of 16 at a major in fourteen tries. Even her sister Kristyna, ranked around 100 places behind her on the WTA computer, bettered Karolina's Wimbledon result this summer. Last week, Pliskova reached the final at the Elite Trophy event in Zhuhai and played Venus Williams for the title, as well as a spot in the year-end Top 10.

Needless to say, it was no surprise that the 35-year old brought just a bit more to the table than than the 23-year old, winning in two tight sets.

But, this weekend, Pliskova may very well have served notice that she's ready for all that to change.

Safarova came into the final injured, and never played. Kvitova, still just a few months past playing through mono (and, even with her superior Fed Cup history, always a question mark, be it for a health reasons or simple inconsistency), dropped the 1st set of Match #1 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before beating down the Russian in the final two sets to give the Czechs the early lead on Saturday, then lost in three to Sharapova to open Day 2. In between, Pliskova lost to Sharapova, as well.

On Sunday, though, Pliskova was called upon by Czech Captain Petr Pala to carry the load. And she did just that.

With the team down 2-1 and one loss from defeat, Pliskova served Pavlyuchenkova off the court to send things to the deciding doubles, then teamed with Maiden Secret Weapon Barbora Strycova to stage a come-from-behind win in the final match over Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina. With the lanky Pliskova providing the power with her serve and groundstrokes, and the often-ornery-and-excitable Strycova camping out at the net (putting her life on the line, it seemed, judging by the viciousness of some of the shots coming off the Hordettes' rackets that she blocked or ducked under), the Czech duo pulled away after dropping the 1st set.

Pliskova's ace backed up a break advantage at 2-0 in the 3rd, then her big serve helped pull the Czechs out of a love/30 hole after going up 3-2, preserving the lead down the stretch with a hold for 4-2. After breaking the Russians to go up 5-2, the Fed Cup crown was finally clinched when a Pliskova volley was netted by Pavlyuchenkova to hand the Czech Republic a 3-2 win in the tie. The four titles in five years feat, which began with a win in the final over Russia in 2011, matches the four-title run laid down by the Hordettes from 2004-08.

So, the Czech squad now take their place in the pantheon of Fed Cup legends. While this is the Czech Republic's fourth title as an independent nation, the overall number jumps to nine if you include the five titles won under the Czechoslovakian flag from 1975-88 (four in the final six years). The only nation with more in FC history is the U.S. (w/ 17), but it's been fifteen years since the Americans have lifted the trophy. This year's championship team was deep enough that it only needed one win from it's #1 player, and none from the #2 in the final. Meanwhile, the next generation is already being groomed, as the Czechs claimed the Fed Cup 16s title a few weeks ago, as well. There's no reason this run of titles can't continued. While individually the Czech woman are know to collapse under the weight of a moment on occasion, as a unit they fill in their collective cracks to form a solid whole. They've never lacked a bit of confidence during this great run. Even after Sharapova put the Russians up 2-1 this weekend, most of the worry on the sidelines was on the faces of the Russians. The Czechs were often seen enjoying themselves, or exchanging knowing glances.

It was like they, well, that they just KNEW.

Although, beware... dominant is not a permanent condition. Just ask Ronda Rousey.

The Czechs CAN be had in the early rounds of Fed Cup play. Their four-title run has now included four ties that went to the deciding doubles, and the last two years have seen less-than-complete Czech teams sent into 1st Round action in February after the Australian Open. Last year, Kvitova didn't play in the first round, and Safarova played just one match. This year, Pliskova was left to carry the load as both top-ranked Czechs sat out. Come 2016, the Maidens will travel in the opening round to face a deep Swarmette team in front of a surely-raucous Romanian crowd.

Might the current Czech-flavored dominance suffer a slight, one-year setback a few months from now? Maybe, if the conditions are right.

But if the newly battle-tested Pliskova is left to once again mind the store, maybe not. After this weekend, maybe the FC sun can't help but shine down on the Maidens.

Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
S: Caroline Garcia/FRA def. Louisa Chirico/USA 6-1/6-3
D: Barbora Krejcikova/Mandy Minella (CZE/LUX) d. Margarita Gasparyan/Oksana Kalashnikova (RUS/GEO)

S: Yaroslava Shvedova def. Naomi Osaka/JPN 6-4/6-7(8)/6-4
D: Liang Chen/Wang Yafan (CHN/CHN) d. Varatchaya Wongteanchai/Yang Zhaoxuan (THA/CHN) 6-3/6-4

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Karolina Pliskova/CZE
...could this weekend in Prague have changed Pliskova's career forever? After spending all season looking for her "moment of glory," she had two heaping servings of it in Prague on Sunday. A Fed Cup year that saw her put the Czech team on her back without Kvitova and Safarova in the 1st Round ended with her having a hand in both the tying and winning efforts in the final two FC matches of the year. Moments like these could provide that "certain something" that has been missing from the Pliskova mindset so far. An extra dose of confidence -- or, in this case, knowledge that she can come through in the clutch -- might be the difference between a first week exit at a slam and a deep run into the second week. Who knows? By this time next year Pliskova may no longer be the #3-ranked woman from her nation... she could be the Czech #1.
RISERS: Caroline Garcia/FRA & Wang Qiang/CHN
...days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, it seemed sort of fitting that a French woman would win the WTA $125K Series event in Limoges. Garcia, two weeks past her loss in the Rising Stars final in Singapore, made her way through the draw with victories over the likes of Richel Hogenkamp, Donna Vekic, Francesca Schiavone and Louisa Chirico in the final to claim the second biggest title (WTA-level Bogota in '14) of her career. Garcia lost a pair of WTA finals in Mexico to Timea Bacsinszky in back-to-back weeks earlier this season.

Wang, 23, is the second highest-ranked Chinese woman in the WTA behind Zheng Saisai, and she's THIS CLOSE to working her way into direct entry position for the Australian Open. Her semifinal run at the Hua Hin WTA $125K Series event last week, her second SF at such a tournament this season, lifts her to #110 in the new rankings. Her run included a QF win over veteran Hsieh Su-Wei. Wang achieved her career ranking high of #82 last February.
SURPRISE: Samantha Crawford/USA
...Crawford's out-of-nowhere sneak attack on the USTA Wild Card Playoff race is not yet complete, but the 20-year old world #172 has walked herself right up the the ticket window. "One for Melbourne, please." Technically, Anna Tatishvili has won the AO WC race, but her ranking (#100 last week) pretty much assures she'll get direct entry into the Aussie draw come January. Thus, Nicole Gibbs (who could have put away the berth by winning the Waco final last weekend or by advancing to the final this week, only to do neither) moves into the on-the-bubble position. Tied with Tatishvili in the race standings, she's next up for the WC. Well, that is, unless Crawford wins the Scottsdale $50K title. The 2012 U.S. Open girls champ put up wins over Kristie Ahn, Elitsa Kostova, Julia Glushko and Rebecca Peterson last week to reach the final, and led Viktoriya Golubic 6-3/2-3 in the final on Sunday night before rain finally pushed the conclusion of the match to Monday. Crawford, who has only played two MD slam matches in her career ('12 and '15 U.S. Open), was just 0-1 in the two previous events included in the USTA's three-event playoff (w/ the two best scores counting) format. Crawford also won the USTA's playoff for a wild card into the U.S. Open this summer.

UPDATE: The weather delay nearly cost Crawford. Golubic ended up winning the 2nd set, but Crawford still won the Scottsdale title to claim the WC with a 6-3/4-6/6-2 victory.


VETERANS: Maria Sharapova/RUS & Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
...partially because her desire to play for Team Russia was questioned for so long by so many, Sharapova has made great efforts to always talk about how much she loves playing Fed Cup, and her certainly seems totally sincere about her feelings, too. She surely put the Hordette team on her back this weekend, going 2-0 in singles (running her career record to 7-1) with a win over Karolina Pliskova to knot the tie on Saturday, and then coming back from a 6-3/4-4 40/15 down to end Petra Kvitova's FC winning streak and put Russia up 2-1 on Sunday. Not only that, but no one seemed more nervously on edge than Sharapova while watching Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina from the sidelines as they combined to drop Sunday's final two matches as the Czechs walked -- well, danced, really -- off with yet another Fed Cup crown to extend Russian's title drought to seven years (and 0-3 in finals over the last five). If Captain Anastasia Myskina's roster had been built with just a tad more flexibility, Russia might very well have won this tie thanks to Sharapova's takedown of the tallest Czech tree (Petra). But, in "defeat," Sharapova will have to be content with the great form she showed over the past few weeks. After not playing a full match since Wimbledon, she went 5-1 vs. Top 11 players in Shanghai and Prague, and is now 48-14 in three-setters since 2012. With her game in good form heading into 2016, another slam and/or Olympic Gold -- other than Fed cup, the only major title she's yet to claim -- could very well be within reach once again. Who knows... maybe the FC title will prove to be, too.

In Hua Hin, Shvedova won her biggest singles title in eight years at the WTA $125K Series event in Thailand. The 28-year old world #82 defeated the likes of Duan Yingying, Wang Qiang and Naomi Osaka in the final en route to the title. While the Russian-born Kazakh has shown great talent in both singles and doubles over the course of her career, actual singles titles have been few and far between. This is just her sixth on any pro level, and the biggest since she won her only tour-level title in Bangalore in 2007. Since that title run, her only other singles crowns before this week had come in 2008 ($100K) and 2012 ($25K). Early in her career, she also won a pair of $10K ITF events in 2003 and '06.
COMEBACKS: Alisa Kleybanova/RUS & Francesca Schiavone/ITA
...Kleybanova's comeback from Hodgkin's lymphoma won her the tour's Comeback Player of the Year award in 2013. Last year, she earned her first year-end Top 100 ranking since 2011 and even had a win in Stuttgart over Petra Kvitova. But the Russian hadn't played in any tournaments since last year's Wimbledon... until last week. Without a WTA ranking, Kleybanova was awarded a wild card into the $10K challenger in Antalya, Turkey last week and she took full advantage of the opportunity, winning the title with victories over #2 Sun Xu Liu and #1 Lina Gjorcheska in a 6-3/6-4 final. It's just the second singles title Kleybanova has won since her previous return to action, having earlier won the Landisville $10K event in 2013.

With her hopes for matching Ai Sugiyama's record sixty-two straight slam appearances becoming more and more complicated as her ranking fell into the #120's, Schiavone took the proverbial bull by the horns in the WTA $125K Series event in Limoges last week. While the 35-year old didn't win the title, she did notch victories over Kristyna Pliskova, Mandy Minella and Margarita Gasparyan to reach the QF, her best result since February (Antwerp QF). It's not enough to put her in position for direct entry into the 2016 Australian Open, but it has lifted her to around #113 and means a good Week 1 result in January might just allow her to slip under the velvet rope and get into Melbourne at the very last moment, without first having to go through the qualifying rounds. Generally, she'd need to get to #104 or higher for DE. Before last week, Schiavone had gone 4-13 since her epic 2nd Round Roland Garros victory -- 6-7(11)/7-5/10-8 -- over Svetlana Kuznetsova this spring.

FRESH FACES: Naomi Osaka/JPN & Louisa Chirico/USA
...18-year old Osaka is a teenager going places. Why, just based on her work this past week in the WTA $125K Series event in Hua Hin she jumped six other Japanese woman in the rankings to move into Japan's Top 5 as her run to the final has lifted her from #203 to #157. With matches that regularly included a bushel of aces (17 in one match... naturally, since Serena is her favorite player), Osaka knocked off Evgeniya Rodina, Patricia Maria Tig, Liu Fangzhou and Nao Hibino (briefly the top-ranked Japanese woman following her maiden WTA title run a few weeks ago) before falling in the final to Yaroslava Shvedova. Don't be surprised if Osaka is the top-ranked Japanese player by next summer. In the week's other 125 event in Limoges, 19-year old Chirico reached the bigget final of her career with wins over Annika Beck, Mathilde Johansson, Kateryna Kozlova and Francesca Schiavone. She lost there to Caroline Garcia, but her season-ending result lifted her ranking from #120 to a new career-best standing of #109.

DOWN: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Captain Anastasia Myskina (RUS) & Klara Koukalova/CZE
...the Tennis Gods giveth to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and the Tennis Gods Taketh away from Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. After a few weeks of the former for the Russian, there was a whole lot of the latter this weekend. In Prague, Pavlyuchenkova had a hand in all three lost posts in Russia's 3-2 defeat in the Fed Cup final. In the FC semifinals earlier this season, Pavlyuchenkova (barely) made Russian Captain Anastasia "Czarina" Myskina's decision to fasten her to a place of importance in the tie with Germany look smart. After squandering a big lead and having to save MP she posted a Day 1 singles win, then was nearly double-bageled on Day 2, only to team up with Elena Vesnina to win the deciding doubles and send the Hordettes back to their eighth FC final in fifteen years. Myskina again put her in the singles #2 role this weekend against the Czechs. After winning the opening set vs. Petra Kvitova on Saturday, she was run out of the match in the final two sets to put Russia in a 1-0 hole. On Day 2, with the title on her racket, she was served off the court by Karolina Pliskova, losing her third and fourth straight sets. Still, she was back with Vesnina in the doubles decider soon afterward rather tha Vesnina's regular partner Ekaterina Makarova. Vesnina's superb play helped to steal the 1st set from the Czechs, but again Pavlyuchenkova was part of a defeat after holding such an advantage in Prague. While Pavlyuchenkova was on the front lines in the Russian loss, one must wonder about Myskina's roster choices here. It's no MJF-style situation, but one has to question why Makarova was even on the Russian roster? It seemed that her only purpose, considering her long injury layoff, was to play if things went to the doubles... but then she apparently wasn't up to it when it did. If, say, FC legend Svetalana Kuznetsova (she was on the sidelines in Prague, so location wasn't an issue) had been on the roster instead, she could have played the last singles match rather than Pavlyuchenkova. One would think that Petr Pala felt "safe" going with the more inexperienced Pliskova in the match, rather than break-glass-in-case-of-emergency roster member Lucie Safarova vs. Pavlyuchenkova, but would he have felt the same under the win-or-it's-over circumstances had it been Kuznetsova on the other side of the net? Something to ponder. Myskina was looking to join Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert as the only players to win Fed Cup titles as both a player and a team Captain, but her roster choices for the final left a little less wiggle room for "feel in the moment" than would have been the case had Makarova not been simply taking up 25% of the roster for, essentially, show. Needless to say, at the very least, it wasn't a very Mauresmoistic performance for the Russian Captain. Ah, but Backspin still loves the Czarina... so no mustaches are going to be drawn on any pictures in these parts.

Meanwhile, it bears noting that while the Czechs were winning the FC title in Prague, Prague-born Koukalova wasn't in attendance. The 33-year old was in Dubai trying to secure a high enough ranking to gain direct entry into January's Australian Open. She lost in the final of a $75K challenger to Cagla Buyukakcay. The Czech officially finished the 2015 season ranked #106, her worst year-end rank since 2006 and just her second time outside the Top 100 since 2002. She and Maria Sharapova both made their grand slam debuts on the same day at the 2003 Australian Open, with the Czech defeating the Russian in the 1st Round (in the same slam in which Koukalova also pulled off her first huge upset, over Monica Seles in the 2nd Round). The win established her reputation as a wild card capable of overturning any draw on a given day. But it's a reputation that the Czech never really has moved beyond. While Sharapova has gone on to have a Hall of Fame career and just completed her tenth Top 10 season, Koukalova has gone 3-13 in WTA finals and posted just two Round of 16 results in slams. But at least on this weekend they both had something in common, I guess.

And, hey, there was at least one athlete who had a worse weekend. So...

ITF PLAYER: Cagla Buyukakcay/TUR
...the 26-year old Turk added yet another chapter to her most significant season, grabbing her eighth career ITF singles title (and the biggest by any Turk woman ever) at the $75K challenger in Dubai. Wins over Lyudmyla Kichenok, Amra Sadikovic, #1-seeded Alexandra Dulgheru and countrywoman Ipek Soylu preceded Buyukakcay's win in the final over #2-seed Klara Koukalova by a 6-7(4)/6-4/6-4 score. She even won the doubles (w/ Greek Maria Sakkari), completing her first sweep of a tournament's titles since she did it in a $10K in Gaziantep, Turkey in 2008.

JUNIOR STARS: Francesca Di Lorenzo/USA & Caty McNally/USA
...Ohio State Freshman Di Lorenzo, 18, won the NCAA Indoor Intercollegiate Championships held at Flushing Meadows as a wild card addition to the draw. A recent semifinalist in the U.S. Open girls competition, the lefty took out #3-seeded Hayley Carter (North Carolina), defending champ Julia Elbaba (Virginia), Stephanie Wagner (Miami) and Joana Eidukonyte (Clemson) in a 6-3/6-1 final.

Meanwhile, at the Evert American Grade 4 junior event in Boca Raton, #4-seeded Bannerette Caty McNally, 13, defeated #1 seed Hurricane Tyra Black in the semis, then took out 14-year old Kacie Harvey 6-1/6-0 in the final in a battle of players born in 2001.

McNally sort of like Roger Federer. Not only does she call herself "Caty Federer" on her Twitter page, but this is her profile pic:
DOUBLES: Liang Chen & Wang Yafan (CHN/CHN) & Barbora Strycova/CZE
...doubles "duo of the moment" (well, at least since the Dream Team called it a season), Liang & Wang followed up their Elite Trophy win in Zhuhai by taking the title at the WTA $125K Series event in Hua Hin, Thailand. It's their third overall title together in 2015, as they also won a tour-level event in Kuala Lumpur this season. Liang picked up an additional title in Strasbourg with Chuang Chia-Jung, as well.

Meanwhile, Strycova has quietly carved out a rather nice Fed Cup niche for herself during the Czech Republic's historic stretch of dominance over the past five years. In three of the four title-title winning seasons for the Maidens, Strycova was part of a duo that won the deciding doubles in a tie during the championship run. Before she teamed with Karolina Pliskova to take out the Russians and clinch the Cup today, in 2011, she teamed with Iveta Benesova (then Melzer) to defeat Belgium 3-2 in the semifinals, and in 2014 it was Andrea Hlavackova by her side in a deciding doubles victory over Spain. Strycova... Maiden Secret Weapon.

Meanwhile, even a Sharapova must give in to a craving once in a while...

Prague's pastry game is on point. #travel #food

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

Ah, but what does the bird think of all this?

1. Fed Cup Match #3 - Sharapova d. Kvitova
Sharapova avenges her WTA Finals semifinal loss to the Czech by hitting her where it hurts most -- in Fed Cup play, indoors, in Prague. Quite the opposite of what happened in Singapore, Sharapova played the (biggest) big points better. She saved four BP in a ten-minute game to hold for 1-1 in the 2nd, but after breaking for 3-2 she double-faulted and failed on two drop shot attempts to give the break back. Two games later, though, she saved BP again and kept things on serve at 4-4. After two Kvitova DF squandered the Czech's 40/15 lead in the next game, Sharapova cleaned up by winning nine of the final eleven games as she was the fresher player down the stretch. It's Kvitova's first FC loss in a year and a half, and her first at home since the 2012 final vs. Serbia. The win gave the Russians a Day 2 advantage, though they ultimately won only one of the final five sets played on the weekend.

2. Limoges Final - Garcia d. Chirico 6-1/6-3
Hua Hin Final - Shvedova d. Osaka 6-4/6-7(8)/6-4
two weeks ago, Osaka defeated Garcia in the final of the Rising Stars competition in Singapore. They had different experiences this weekend, but the trajectory of both is still pointing upward as 2015 breathes some of its last gasps.
3. Limoges 1st Rd. - Parmentier d. Svitolina
Yep. I didn't really think that the top-seeded Svitolina's 2015 season swan song event was going to be a long-lasting affair. And it wasn't. She said she woke up feeling like "a 90-year old man" en route to reaching the Elite Trophy semis last week. I'm guessing she reached the "virtual century mark" in the a.m. in Limoges.
4. Limoges 1st Rd. - Minella (LL) d. Voegele
Lucky losers have been winning 1st Round matches all season, so why not have it continue in one of the final tour-sponsored events of the year? Though she lost her 2nd Round match in singles, Minella went on to win the doubles with Margarita Gasparyan.

5. Limoges QF - Schiavone d. Gasparyan 7-6(5), ret.
Limoges SF - Chirico d. Schiavone 6-3/7-6(5)
but will it be enough to get her into the Australian Open (at least with a "result of consequence" in Week 1)?

Hopefully, considering that she's spoken openly about playing in a record 62nd slam, Francesca is just talking about being "in the mix" for something other than appearance records when she wonders about beings "in the game" in 2016.
6. Hua Hin SF - Osaka d. Hibino
And the Serena-idolizing teen wins the battle for the "Most Promising Japanese Player Under 21" title.

7. $10K Stellenbosch RSA Final - Valeria Bhunu d. Katharina Hering
. A week ago it was a player from Namibia who lifted her first ITF singles title trophy. This week the African nation of choice for "first-ever" success is Zimbabwe. 20-year old Bhunu, ranked #1007, defeated Germany's Hering to claim HER first career title this weekend.

8. $50K Scottsdale Final - Samantha Crawford leads Viktoriya Golubic 6-3/2-3 [Update: Crawford won 6-3/4-6/6-2]
to be continued on Monday, with the USTA Australian Open wild card at stake for Crawford (and Nicole Gibbs).

While Nicole Gibbs waits for the Scottdale final to be completed to see if Samantha Crawford is going to swipe the Australian Open WC from her grasp, if you see her, don't ask her...

1. Limoges 1st Rd. - Schiavone d. Kristyna Pliskova 6-4/6-3
Fed Cup Match #4 - Karolina Pliskova d. Pavlyuchenkova 6-3/6-4
Fed Cup Match #5 - Karolina Pliskova/Strycova d. Pavlyuchenkova/Vesnina 4-6/6-3/6-2
safe to say, the power base within the Pliskova clan officially shifted totally back in Karolina's favor this week.

2. Hua Hin 1st Rd. - Varatchaya Wongteanchai/Yang Zhaoxuan d. Kumkhum/Varunya Wongteanchai
And only one Wongteanchai sister would survive to live to fight another day in Hua Hin.
3. Hua Hin Final - Liang Chen/Wang Yafan d. Varatchaya Wongteanchai/Yang Zhaoxuan
But, still, the Wongteanchai family didn't go home with a title.

On a lighter note... the Gavrilovian one messes with the internet.

First day back at it! #solid #fit ????

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

And gilding the Dasha.

2004 Russia def. France 3-2
2005 Russia def. France 3-2
2006 Italy def. Belgium 3-2
2007 Russia def. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia def. Spain 4-0
2009 Italy def. United States 4-0
2010 Italy def. United States 3-1
2011 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2012 Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-1
2013 Italy def. Russia 4-0
2014 Czech Republic def. Germany 3-1
2015 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
[most titles]
17...United States
2...Germany/West Germany
1...Slovak Republic
1...South Africa


A photo posted by Barbora Strycova?? (@barborastrycova) on

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
[2015 World Group MVP winners]
==1st Round==
CZE: Karolina Pliskova
FRA: Garcia/Mladenovic
RUS: Maria Sharapova
GER: Andrea Petkovic (overall)
CZE: Petra Kvitova
RUS: Captain Anastasia Myskina
CZE: Karolina Pliskova

Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
Jelena Jankovic, SRB (*-won both in 2015)
Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
Shahar Peer, ISR
Elina Svitolina, UKR
Zhang Shuai, CHN

#203 NAOMI OSAKA, JPN (Hua Hin = lost to Shvedova)
#191 Chang Kai-Chen, TPE (Nanchang = lost to Jankovic)
#158 Julia Glushko, ISR (Dalian = lost to Sai.Zheng)
#120 LOUISA CHIRICO, USA (Limoges = lost to Garcia)
[low-ranked semifinalists]
#253 Lu Jiajing/CHN (Nanchang)
#183 Han Xinyun/CHN (Nanchang)
#139 Petra Martic/CRO (Dalian)
#114 WANG QIANG/CHN (Hua Hin)
#112 Wang Qiang/CHN (Dalian)

WTT - Washington Kastles (def. Austin Aces)
Fed Cup 14s - Russia (def. USA)
Fed Cup 16s - United States (lost to CZE)
Fed Cup - Czech Republic (def. RUS)

2007 Madison Brengle
2008 Madison Brengle
2009 Christina McHale
2010 Coco Vandeweghe
2011 Lauren Davis
2012 Madison Keys
2013 MadisoN Keys
2014 Sachia Vickery
2015 Irina Falconi *
2016 Samantha Crawford *
* - determined by three-event playoff

**USTA SLAM WC - awarded via three-event playoff**
RG: Shelby Rogers
US: Shelby Rogers
RG: Taylor Townsend
US: Nicole Gibbs
AO: Irina Falconi
RG: Louisa Chirico
US: Samantha Crawford
AO: Samantha Crawford


14 Final: Diatchenko d. Chan Yung-Jan
14 Doubles Final: Chan/Chan d. Chang/Chuang
15 Singles Top Seeds: Doi/Shvedova

#8 Wang Yafan d. #6 Tig
#7 Voegele d. #5 Flipkens
#7 Voegele d. #8 Wang Yafan

...who knows with these small 125 events (there's still one more in Carlsbad after this... hmmm, CARLsbad -- I wonder if an "old friend" might visit next week? Hint, hint), so I'll just go with the Swiss and expect holes to be punched in that cheesy theory early in the week. Heehee.

In other news. In the offseason (well, for some), you take a new partner...

But, when in doubt, simply hug a tree...

The Backspin Awards continue soon...

All for now.


Blogger Colette Lewis said...

Tatishvili has not technically won the Australian Open wild card. She will if Crawford loses, but if Crawford wins, Crawford's 81 points would exceed Tatishvilis (and Gibbs).
Also, Black was the No. 1 seed at the Evert ITF that McNally won.

Mon Nov 16, 09:40:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks, Colette. Maybe it was unclear, but that's pretty much what I thought I said... at the exact point in time of the post, Tatishvili would win the WC race tie-break with Gibbs, but won't need the WC because of her ranking. So Gibbs will get it, unless Crawford wins. I guess it's a case of, technically, what "technically" means when it's used as a temporary reference point. :)

Thanks for catching the Black seed. I had that down, but just typed it wrong. Grrr. :(

Mon Nov 16, 10:47:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

The weather delay nearly cost Crawford. Golubic ended up winning the 2nd set, but Crawford still won the Scottsdale title to claim the WC with a 6-3/4-6/6-2 victory.

Mon Nov 16, 01:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tennis Mate said...

Did you read Bill Simmons' latest where he name checks Federer?

Tue Nov 17, 02:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tennis Mate said...

Pliskova has some deadly weapons, so I am hoping that with better scheduling and some experience she will be a consistent top player.

Tue Nov 17, 02:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, so GQ gets a cover story interview with the President... and they have Bill Simmons do it?

(shakes head)

It WAS an interesting use of the personality/by-now-iconic image (and, ultimately, what will be the lingering memory that we'll have) of Federer, though. Oddly enough, I seriously doubt anyone would ever use Obama's name when describing Federer, though.

That probably says something about both men. Some good, some bad.

Tue Nov 17, 04:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tennis Mate said...

Bill Simmons is actually a good writer, and he is a good choice given both of their statuses, Simmons leaving Grantland and Obama entering the end of his administration. Moreover, Obama's staff seems to work particulary hard at diversifying the outlets to which he speaks from podcasts to talk shows.

The article is interesting because Federer is one of many athletes Simmons uses to explain Obama the man and president. I do think we could use Obama to describe Federer, especially since Simmons' comparison isn't focused on their images. Both are thoughtful speakers, have the respect of many and known for their mediation skills. So though they operate in different arenas and their childhoods were very different, their public images are actually very similar. I missing something?

Tue Nov 17, 10:05:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, I agree. Simmons is a good writer and, of course, GQ is also trying to broaden its audience and put together a piece that is going to get a few headlines, which putting the seemingly odd couple together serves to do. On some level, though, there is a bit of a connection anyway since Obama has always maintained a link to the sports world throughout his administration (w/ the NCAA bracket picks, the Chicago pro teams, basketball in general, etc.).

Hmmm, still not sure if anyone would ever naturally reference Obama when describing Federer. Maybe at the beginning of his administration, before all the typical events that take place during a long presidency that tend to wear down the edges of the reputation of any president. Amazingly, Federer has managed to maintain, for the most part, that level of "cool omnipotence" and an existence with few, if any, detractors, that has characterized his time in the spotlight. Quite a feat.

Truthfully, after Obama will have been out of office for a year or so, I suspect they'd be even easier to favorably compare.

As it is, at least on the tennis court, no one will mistake one for the other. Heehee.

Michelle, maybe?

Wed Nov 18, 11:36:00 AM EST  
Blogger Tennis Mate said...

I am by no means trying to belabor the point, I just think Simmons did a good job in the interview using his sports background to ground the piece with references that GQ's audience would appreciate which go beyond image.

Just curious, who would you reference when describing Federer?

Wed Nov 18, 12:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, that's a good one. Federer's abilities, sense of self and the way he's always carried himself puts him into a unique position that so few others can touch, really. Honestly, in the sports world of the last fifteen years, it's hard to think of him as anything other than THE epitome of "cool," so much so that it's hard to think he won't forever be an icon capable of crossing over the lines of sport and into the general "culture of cool."

Galileo West (of ATP Backspin, and here on occasion) could probably come up with some good names, since he's done a few "odes to Roger" the last season or so and might have some really nice comparisons handy. For me, off the top of my head, I'd have to have a mix of individuals.

The brilliant ease (and calm killer instinct) he displayed while dispatching foes at the height of his career bring to mind the likes of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods at their best (or an icy Chris Evert in her prime), while the smoothly masterful abilities he oozed makes one think of, say, a brilliant guitarist (Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana) doing a solo in the middle of a stage, or alone in a studio. Then there's the breezy above-it-all, almost regal, JFK-like persona...

(I'm sounding like Galileo! Haha.)

I found this -- list (from 2011) that listed the "Coolest Guys of All Time," and the only thing surprising about it is that Federer isn't on it. He should have been, really.

Actually, in going down that list the one that sort caught my eye as far as being able to be easily used to talk about Federer is George Clooney. As the list noted, he's a "master of cool elegance," and I think that's a phrase that could be used to describe Federer, too.

Outside of acting, Clooney's work for various causes has managed to elevate him to something more than just an artist, or a "famous guy." As an actor, he's shown an ability to push aside the glamour associated with his image and is able to often seem something close to "everyman," as well. That's the one area, maybe, where Federer might fall short in the comparison, though. Well, that is, until the last few years. As he's aged and been less dominant, Federer has been shown to be more "human" on the court, simultaneously making all the great things he did with such seeming ease in the past feel even "greater," as well as give himself such depth in the role of a more relatable "underdog," so that when he does something like he did yesterday (end Djokovic's 23-match win streak) you experience the conflicting thoughts that are along the "good for him" lines while also being reminded that it only shows that he probably IS the greatest player there's ever been. That's a difficult line to walk but, as usual, he's able to be all things to all people.

So, in "short," I guess I'd say Clooney if I had to pick one at the moment. ;)

Wed Nov 18, 02:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Tennis Mate said...

Definitely interesting and much food for thought. However, I am a little apprehensive about scooping so much onto one person. I like Federer's public persona, his game and approach to the ever-complicated tennis world, but I don't like the god-like pedestal on which we place him or any public figure. I would agree that his game and importance to the sport is at par with Jordan and Woods. However, I never really thought of Federer as cool, as in hip. I think he is very talented, charismatic and polished. He and Maria Sharapova share a detached, self-confidence that they use as they stick very closely to their narratives and brands to avoid upsetting the apple cart... But this the way now, unfortunately we have very few whole-complex people or personalities on tour or at least willing to be their true self in public.

I still think the comparison with Obama is fair as is the one you present to Clooney.

Thanks for your thoughtful responses.

Wed Nov 18, 03:54:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo Sutherland-west said...

Hi. I normally only appear here during slams but summon me and I will come. First off, how did Russia lose that Fed Cup? With the players they have? Crazy. Vesnina or Makarova. Even Kuznetsova.

Have you heard of Dusty Springfield? I think you probably have. Wonderfully talented and a voice that could do things you wouldn't believe. Also private and quite humble too. Federer used to have an annoying jokey arrogance but no more. Potentially some singer like that or perhaps Louis Armstrong for similar reasons. I also like comparing him to Bill Clinton. Not as well liked in his pomp as he is now. Plus a great guy. Then you have Jessica Tandy. There's a feasible comparison there. If you want a bit of a reach, try King Louis of France. Louis XIV of France. AKA the Sun King or Louis the Great. He reigned in France for 72 years and oversaw a golden age. He outlived everyone and was beloved. He also oversaw an age of peace where there were a lot of strong nations. He's a very very good match. I can give more if you wish but start with this.
I'm going to get started on today's play at the WTF. Federer and Nadal dominating everyone else. What is this, 2007?

Wed Nov 18, 05:18:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


I think the Jordan/Woods comparisons are mostly based on the cool confidence of all three on the athletic playing field (since neither of those two would really have met other typical "cool" qualifications). At their best, there was never any doubt in their mind who'd come out on top. (Nadal sort of punctured that balloon a bit at some point, though, with RF.)

There are a lot similarities with Sharapova. Though Sharapova has sort of lowered her public guard as time has gone by.


Ha! I wouldn't have pulled any of those out in a million years. See, that's why I sent up the Bat Signal just to see what you'd come up with! :)

Thu Nov 19, 12:05:00 AM EST  

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