Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wk.2- Sveta Slips Through in Sydney

Play is about the start in Melbourne, but there's still some Week 2 housekeeping to take care of.

S: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS def. Monica Puig/PUR 6-0/6-2
D: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) d. Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) 1-6/7-5 [10-5]

S: Alize Cornet/FRA def. Genie Bouchard/CAN 6-1/6-2
D: Han Xinyun/Christina McHale (CHN/USA) d. Kimberly Birrell/Jarmila Wolfe (AUS/AUS) 6-3/6-0

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
...the 30-year old Original Hordette was in good form at the end of 2015, winning her first-ever title in Russia at the Kremlin Cup, and it's carried over into the new season. Her Week 2 title run this past week in Sydney is the earliest in a season she's lifted a singles trophy in her pro career. Kuznetsova got better as the week moved forward -- and the quality of her opponents improved -- as she put up wins over Tammi Patterson, Sabine Lisicki, Sara Errani and Simona Halep before easily taking out Monica Puig in the final. It's Kuznetsova's sixteenth career title, tying her with Elena Dementieva for second place on the all-time Russian list behind Maria Sharapova. She returns to the Top 20 with the added ranking points.


RISERS: Alize Cornet/FRA & Monica Puig/PUR
...Cornet's '15 season, while not a lost cause, left a bit to be desired after her headline-making '14 campaign. Having dropped outside the Top 40 after being Top 20 two seasons ago, Cornet claimed her first title since taking Katowice in April '14, defeating the likes of Denisa Allertova, Veronica Cepede Royg, Johanna Larsson and Genie Bouchard along the way. The Pastry hadn't reached even a semifinal since her Guangzhou final sixteen months ago. She could face Simona Halep in the 2nd Round in Melbourne. In Sydney, Puig won seven straight matches, making her way through qualifying (def. Mitu, Putintseva and Hercog) and the main draw (def. Rybarikova, AK.Schmiedlova, Stosur and getting a retirement from an ill Bencic) to reach her second career tour singles final, her first since winning in Strasbourg in 2014. She lost there to Kuznetsova, but her ranking jumps all way from #94 to #52 with the result.


SURPRISES: Han Xinyun & Christina McHale (CHN/USA)
...the Hall of Fame (both now and in the future) doubles champs in Sydney didn't cause anyone to blink an eye, but Hobart's survivors at the end of the week were a pair of first-time slam winners. 25-year old Han (who'd been 0-6 in WTA and WTA 125 doubles finals) and 23-year old McHale (playing in her first) picked up their maiden tour titles by finally stopping the unexpected run of Aussies Kimberly Birrell & Jarmila Wolfe in the final. Before the start of the season, Han won the Asia/Pacific Wild Card Playoff event for a singles berth in this week's Australian Open women's draw.

VETERANS: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Sara Errani/ITA
...neither Stosur nor Errani won anything of note in Sydney in Week 2, but both played well enough to hold their heads up high as they kick off their slam seasons in Melbourne following QF runs. Stosur, rarely ever at her best in her native Australia, put up back-to-back wins in the event -- over Roberta Vinci and Daniela Hantuchova -- for the first time since 2005; while Errani took out fellow vets Carla Suarez-Navarro and Jelena Jankovic before losing to eventual champ Kuznetsova.

COMEBACKS: Genie Bouchard/CAN & Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
...over her concussion (USTA, taking note, I'm sure), Bouchard has burst into '16 looking like anything but the player whose play caused her to tumble down the rankings last year. In Week 1, she reached her first QF since last year's AO. In Week 2, she reached her first SF and final since Wuhan '14, stringing together victories over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Alison Van Uytvanck, Camila Giorgi and Dominika Cibulkova. She put up a disappointing effort in the final against Cornet, but had a reason... even if she probably should have just taken the loss and moved forward without a word (see below).

Wins over Johanna Konta, Kimberly Birrell and Kiki Bertens produced Cibulkova's second semifinal run (w/ Tokyo) since her return from Achilles surgery. She failed to reach her first final since April '14 (Kuala Lumpur), but she'll arrive in Melbourne looking to be in a good place to put together a third straight AO good run after finalist and QF results the last two years.

FRESH FACES: Kimberly Birrell/AUS & Naomi Osaka/JPN
...17-year old Birrell likely wrapped up her Australian Open singles wild card birth (it was handed out early in the week) with a 1st Round upset of Danka Kovinic in Hobart. While the Aussie lost her 2nd Round match to Dominika Cibulkova, she stuck around all week while she and Jarmila Wolfe teamed to put together a surprising run to the doubles final. The pair upset #1-seeded Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Arantxa Parra-Santonja in the semis, then lost to the equally surprising duo of Han/McHale in the title match.

In Hobart, 2015 Rising Stars competition champ Osaka found herself caught between a rock and an Australian Open hard place. Entering the week ranked at #145, the Japanese would-be Risen Star wasn't assured of a spot in the AO main draw, meaning she'd have to make her way through qualifying in Melbourne to get there. But she was first entered in the Q-rounds in Hobart, which she found her way through with wins over #1-seeded Tatjana Maria, Ysaline Bonaventure and Oceane Dodin. After saving two MP against '11 Hobart champ Jarmila Wolfe in the 1st Round, though, Osaka was in danger of playing SO well that she'd miss out on the AO qualifying rounds in Melbourne. THIS CLOSE to having to choose between her desire to attempt to reach her first career slam and having a shot at winning her first career tour title, Osaka... ummm, well, she suddenly went out in straight sets against '12 Hobart champ Mona Barthel, who ended up pulling out of her own QF match against Alize Cornet in the next round. So Osaka (conveniently) made it to Melbourne, after all, and won three straight matches there (upping her mark for the week to 7-1) to reach her first career slam MD (she was Backspin's "Q-Player of the Week," too, by the way). So everything ended up working out all right.
DOWN: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK
...the Slovak comes into '16 with a great deal more expectation on her back after winning two titles and climbing into the Top 30 last season. So far, though, it's difficult to think of a player who has started off in worse form. She's 1-2, having difficulty with her serve, and after losing 2 & 1 to Varvara Lepchenko in Week 1 Schmiedlova went out 1 & love to Monica Puig in Hobart. Ouch.
ITF PLAYER: Tadeja Majeric/SLO
...the 25-year old Slovene finally corrected the course that she failed to successfully traverse last season, and at all since 2013. Majeric picked up her eighth career ITF crown with a win in the $25K challenger final in Aurangabad, India with a win in the final over Ukrainian Valeriya Shrakhova. While the 20-year old Shrakhova was 5-1 in ITF finals last season, and 9-1 in her last ten, Majeric came in having lost four straight finals (0-3 in '15) and without a title since 2013. Hey, it really IS a new season.
JUNIOR STAR: Anna Blinkova/RUS
...the 17-year old junior #5, the girls Wimbledon runner-up last year, Blinkova reached her first career ITF singles final and picked up her first title in the $10K challenger in Stuttgart, defeating 18-year old Greek Valentini Grammatikopoulou in the final. Blinkova also picked up her second career ITF doubles title, winning with Maria Marfutina, one of her singles victims during her path to victory in the other draw.

DOUBLES: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND)
...another week, another title. A seventh straight, in fact, as Hingis/Mirza's Sydney title run allowed them to surpass the '94 doubles match winning streak of Gigi Fernandez/Natasha Zvereva (28 matches) and extend their run own to thirty -- the all-time mark is still more than seventy wins away, though. It wasn't as easy as has sometimes been the case in the past for the Dream Team. They lost a set in the semis to Olaru/Shvedova, and were forced to battle back from 6-1/5-2 down in th final against Garcia/Mladenovic before finally salting away their eleventh title as a duo. Ah, but that STILL isn't all that Hingis and Mirza accomplished here. Mirza is now tied with Anna Kournikova as the player the Swiss Miss hass teamed with to win the most doubles titles, and the Indian vet actually defended the Sydney title she won with Bethanie Mattek-Sands last year. Ummm, there's still more. Hingis now moves into a co-#1 ranking position with Mirza, returning to the spot she's already held for nearly forty weeks in her career, but not since the 2000 season. The duo now head to Melbourne looking for a third straight slam title.


Experimental Sharapova Instagramming...

Shadows of #Melbourne at The Edge #instapic #instagram

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. Sydney Final - Hingis/Mirza d. Garcia/Mladenovic
...1-6/7-5 [10-5].
The Pastries led 6-1/5-2, but still couldn't keep the Dream Team from a 30th straight win. These teams could meet again in the semis in Melbourne.
2. Sydney 2nd Rd - Halep d. Garcia
Halep's first match of '16 wasn't simple, and she had the usual medical timeouts and continued to play through pain in her Achilles. We'll see how that works out in Melbourne. This was Garcia's first loss of the year after a 3-0 mark in Perth and a 1st Round win in Sydney.

3. Sydney 2nd Rd. - Errani d. Jankovic
JJ led 5-1 in the 2nd and had seven set points. Errani won on her third MP. Would we expect anything else from Queen Chaos and one of the remaining fightin' Italians?

4. Sydney Final - Kuznetsova d. Puig
Last year in Week 2, Madison Brengle put on a qualifier-to-finalist run in Hobart. She went on to reach the Round of 16 in Melbourne. Puig opens vs. Magda Linette, with the Stosur/Kr.Pliskova winner up next.

5. Hobart Final - Cornet d. Bouchard
Truthfully, she probably should have just said nothing. Why open yourself up to questions about whether or not you gave your opponent the proper credit?
6. Hobart 2nd Rd. - Watson d. Niculescu
Played out over two days, Watson had led 3-1 in the 3rd when play was stopped, then 4-1. She eventually had to save three MP in the 3:14 match, then go out and play a QF match, too. The Hobart champ this week a year ago, she lost to Johanna Larsson.
7. Sydney 1st Rd. - Stosur d. Vinci
In 2:32, Stosur came back from a set and a break down, then had to hold off Vinci after leading 5-2 in the 3rd. Stosur only had three wins in Sydney since reaching the '05 final, but she notched two this year alone.
8. Hobart 1st Rd. - Bertens d. Brengle
...6-0/1-1 ret.
Speaking of '15 Hobart RU Brengle (see #4), things didn't go so well there for her this year.
HM- Sydney 1st Rd. - Pironkova d. Tsurenko
The past two years, Pironkova put together title and semifinal runs after emerging from the qualifying rounds in Sydney. She finally got a wild card into the MD this time around. She notched this win, ending her seven-match losing streak, but then lost in straights in the 2nd Round to Belinda Bencic.

Everyone's a critic, and everyone is curious. Everyone.

1. Sydney 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Ivanovic
Hmmm, which one of these two will be the first to disappoint/disintegrate in Melbourne? It might be real horse race. Pliskova threatened to double-fault away a 5-4, 40/love lead in the 1st set here, but righted herself and ended the opening stanza with an ace. She had 14 on the day. She eventually lost 6-4/7-5 to Simona Halep in the QF, failing to match her finalist result of a year ago.
2. Sydney 1st Rd. - Anna Karolina Schmiedlova d. Bacsinszky
While it'd be hard to find a player off to a more disappointing start than AKS in '16, Bacsinszky might beg to differ.
3. Sydney 2nd Rd. - Puig d. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Well, then again.
4. Hobart 1st Rd. - Naomi Osaka d. Wolfe
Osaka saved two match points in the 2nd set TB, at 6-5 and 8-7. This was the last win she had in Hobart. She picked things up again in Melbourne, though.
5. Sydney 1st Rd. - Hingis/Mirza d. Arina Rodionova/Anastasia Rodionova 6-2/6-3
Sydney SF - Garcia/Mladenovic d. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan 6-2/6-4
Hobart 1st Rd. - Birrell/Wolfe d. Kateryna Bondarenko/Maria 6-4/6-4
Hobart QF - Birrell/Wolfe d. #3 Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok 6-3/6-3
the roads to the doubles finals were paved with sisters.


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Hello Melbourne! ???????? @australianopen

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The things I do for my favourite channel @nickelodeon_au #AusOpenFestival

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**CAREER WTA FINALS - active**
86...Serena Williams, USA
78...Venus Williams, USA
58...Maria Sharapova, RUS
40...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
34...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
34...Jelena Jankovic, SRB

**2015-16 WTA SEMIFINALS**
10...SIMONA HALEP (9/1)
9...Serena Williams (9/0)
9...Angelique Kerber (8/1)
9...Aga Radwanska (8/1)
8...Karolina Pliskova (8/0)
8...Caroline Wozniacki (7/1)
7...Maria Sharapova (7/0)
6...Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (6/0)
6...Sara Errani (6/0)
6...Elina Svitolina (6/0)

35 - Maria Sharapova (2003-15)
16 - Elena Dementieva (2003-10)
13 - Nadia Petrova (2005-12)
12 - Vera Zvonareva (2003-11)
12 - Dinara Safina (2002-09)
10 - Anastasia Myskina (1099-05)

(Briefly) reunited and it feels so good...

And, of course...

Carpe diem

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We shall see. Soon.

All for now.


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