Monday, February 22, 2016

Wk.7- Viva l'Italia!

They'll always have pasta...and Week 7. And February. And the last six months. And the past decade. And, of course, each other.

The story of the now-legendary Italian Quartet did not end in New York City last September, after all. It's just been marinating, waiting for the moment(s) to prove that victory continues to taste oh so sweet. The fine dining won't last forever, of course. But never, ever, tell an Italian that it's time to leave the table. Only they can decide that.

As for now? Well, it's time to celebrate... like an Italian.

While the headline-grabbing tennis generations of Russians, Belgians and Williams Sisters have formed the tri-axis on which the backbone of the WTA has revolved for the last fifteen years, one should never overlook or underestimate the HEART of the women's game over that same period of time. And make no mistake, no group of players have embodied that important element better than the Italians, most notably the barrier-breaking quartet of Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

Even with Pennetta having announced her plans to retire after defeating Vinci in last fall's U.S. Open final, the four women are still pulling each other up, and inspiring each other to greater heights. Going into the season, I figured one of the Italians (I went with Errani) would have a resurgent season in '16 based on the large spray of celebratory champagne doused on their legacy by Pennetta's victory. Considering their collective history, it only seemed logical.

Hey, did somebody just mention champagne?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. I figured Errani, the youngest of the four, would have the best chance to rise the highest this year. But, well, I obviously somewhat undersold the ties that still bind these four women together. As it turns out, maybe all THREE remaining Quartet members have their own additional well-chosen memorable moments to add to the group's still-growing list of glories. At least that's been the case in February.

While Schiavone failed to put up a great Week 1 result or qualify to reach the Australian Open draw and tie Ai Sugiyama for the most consecutive slam main draw appearances (her run ended at 61, one short of the former Japanese star's mark), and then Errani performed poorly in Italy's Fed Cup 1st Round tie against France (a 4-1 loss), things have surely changed the last two weeks.

First, Vinci won the biggest title of her career at the inaugural Premier event in St.Petersburg, Russia in Week 6. This week, at 33, she becomes the oldest WTA player to make her Top 10 debut. On Saturday, Errani stepped into the spotlight to win her biggest-ever title at the Premier level tournament in Dubai, and will return to the Top 20 this week.

Then on Sunday, in her own special joyful way, Schiavone totally stole the spotlight from both of them. Ranked #132, she completed a title run in Rio to capture her first event crown in nearly three years to become the lowest-ranked player to claim a tour singles title since 2012 and, at 35 years and eight months, the oldest champion (beating Venus Williams' title run of a week ago by, I believe, a single day on this earth) to win a WTA title since 2009 and the fourth-oldest EVER in the Open era.

Her latest moment of glory caught the eye of a certain countrywoman.

Viva, Flavia. Viva, Francesca. Viva, L'Italia. Viva, the Quartet.

"Anything you can do..."
or "All for one and one for all!"

[Top 10 debuts]
2009 Flavia Pennetta
2010 Francesca Schiavone
2012 Sara Errani
2016 Roberta Vinci
[WTA singles titles]
11 - Pennetta
10 - Vinci
9 - Errani
7 - Schiavone
[slam singles finals]
2 - Schiavone - 2010 RG (W), 2011 RG
1 - Pennetta - 2015 U.S. (W)
1 - Errani - 2012 RG
1 - Vinci - 2015 U.S.
[Fed Cup titles]
2006, 2009, 2010, 2013 (w/ 2007 runner-up)

Why, it all makes you wonder if ANOTHER shoe could eventually drop before the end of the '16 season. Come on, you know...

Never, ever, assume anything is over. Not forever. Not with an Italian.

I've suggested this before, and the events of the past few weeks have only served to strengthen the notion. This group of four women cannot be separated when it comes to their place in tennis history. And they shouldn't be. The acknowledgement of ALL their careers -- together -- is really a must. The success of one (or two) has traditionally allowed another (or more) to build upon those accomplishments with still more feats of her own. And, obviously, the process has not yet played itself out, even with Pennetta retired, Vinci talking about her eventual exit and many bemoaning the fact that Schiavone's days are surely numbered. As it stands, they are all accomplished in their own right, for sure, but when combined to form a single-minded entity, as the Quartet, they are a unique force rivaled by few others in the history of the sport.

The only tennis competition where all four women were allowed to officially join forces during their careers was in Fed Cup, and I say that they should one day be honored for that in one fell swoop, keeping them joined forever, arm-in-arm and waving the Italian flag, in our memories as well as in the mind's eye of tennis history. If anyone has any sense, the four-time FC champion Team Italia -- to which all four women equally contributed, with each having at one time or another taken their turn as a star -- should one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Newport. En masse. Unlike with the deep and changing lineups of the currently dominant Czech team, the success of the Italian squad was essentially built upon the backs of just four players. As they went, so did the fortunes of the team.

Could you imagine that weekend in Newport? Whew! Hold on tight -- it would surely be a celebration that would extend deep into the night, and maybe even the next morning.

In truth, individually, none of the four woman may actually qualify for enshrinement, except when also factoring in their Fed Cup heroics which they each pulled off while simultaneously -- and inextricably -- linked with the other three. The doubles duo of Errani/Vinci may be worthy of inclusion with their Career Slam accomplishment, but their major wins all came over a relatively short span of time (barely two years, from June '12 to July '14), and their partnership ended soon afterward. Is that enough? So, conceivably, it's not out of the question that none -- or maybe only one, or two -- of the group of Pennetta, Schiavone, Errani and Vinci may get their post-career day in the Rhode Island sun. The fact is that one simply does not feel complete without the presence of the other three. And, seriously, how disappointingly empty would the Hall feel five, ten, fifteen years from now if none of the Italian Quartet ultimately end up there or, maybe even worse, if only a few do?

Why, it'd be as if the (still-beating) heart of the sport had been removed simply because a single beat wasn't strong enough. THEY are ONE and, in our hearts and minds, WE are THEM. That has to count for something, right?

Maybe, just maybe, one day it will.

DUBAI, UAE (Premier $1.734m; HCO)
S: Sara Errani/ITA def. Barbora Strycova/CZE 6-0/6-2
D: Chuang Chia-jung/Darija Jurak (TPE/CRO) d. Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) 6-4/6-4

S: Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. Shelby Rogers/USA 2-6/6-2/6-2
D: Veronica Cepede Royg/Maria Irigoyen (PAR/ARG) d. Tara Moore/Conny Perrin (GBR/SUI) 6-1/7-6(5)

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: The Italians a game of one-upswomanship that went on all week long, Roberta Vinci followed up her St.Petersburg victory with a 1st Round loss in Dubai to Yaroslava Shvedova, but still assured herself of making her Top 10 debut on Monday when Carla Suarez-Navarro lost later in the week. Oh, and she also celebrated her 33rd birthday.

From there, Errani -- who reached the doubles semis in the event with Vinci conqueror CSN, failing to reach the final after squandering five MP vs. the eventual champions -- stepped in for her turn. The 28-year old, while she often wasn't exactly at her best, gave it every last ounce of effort while dropping just one set in dispatching the likes of Zheng Saisai, Shvedova (she & CSN also defeated the Kazakh in doubles with fellow #1-seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands), Madison Brengle, Elina Svitolina and Barbora Strycova in a blowout final that handed her career title #9, her biggest ever. After having just two wins on the season a week ago, and coming off a bad FC weekend, Errani is now back in the Top 20 and openly talking once more about the fight that has helped her carve out a nice career despite her size and lack of true weaponry.

Once Errani was squared away, Schiavone completed what had already turned out to be a resurgent week in Rio in the shadow of a disappointing start to the '16 season of her own. Wins over Tatjana Maria and Mariana Duque were followed by the Italian being forced to save a match point in the QF vs. Dutch player Cindy Burger (who twice served for the match) to reach her first semi since 2014. A win over Petra Martic put her in career final #18, her first since winning in Marrakech in 2013. Career title #7 came with a come-from-behind three-set win over Bannerette Shelby Rogers in the final. At #132, Schiavone is the lowest-ranked tour champ since #208 Melanie Oudin won in Birmingham in 2012, and the 35-year old (she turns 36 this June) is now the fourth-oldest singles title winner in the Open era, behind only Billie Jean King, Kimiko Date-Krumm and Martina Navratilova. A few weeks later than when the standing would have allowed her to add another record to her career resume in Melbourne, Schiavone returns to the Top 100 on Monday. And with the clay court season just around the bend, suddenly the optimistic prospects of the spring allowing her an opportunity for (at least) one more moment to shine doesn't seem so far-fetched, either.

RISERS: Caroline Garcia/FRA, Elina Svitolina/UKR and CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
...before the Italians stole the spotlight, the week had actually developed a entirely DIFFERENT, but just as encouraging, series of storylines. Garcia flew the Dubai friendly skies for almost the entire week, following up her Fed Cup heroics (unlike most of the other FC MVPs in the Dubai draw) with heady wins over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, CSN (after holding serve to put away the Spaniard following a three-hour rain delay that had arrived with the Pastry up 5-3, 15/15 in the 3rd set after having battled out of a 6-4/4-2 hole) and Andrea Petkovic to put up her best result (SF) of the season before finally falling to Barbora Strycova. In doubles, Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic reached their second final of the season (though they're now 0-2) after putting up wins over Atawo/Spears and Groenefeld/Vandeweghe.

Meanwhile, Svitolina's first event with Justine Henin in tow proved to be a rousing success in Dubai, even if her SF run admittedly wasn't always a work of art. She opened with a victory over Jana Cepelova, then notched her fifth career Top 5 win over a still-not-right Garbine Mugururza despite the 8 W/28 UE stats put up by the Ukrainian ("a win is a win") and a three-set triumph over Vandeweghe despite a bad 2nd set and a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd. After having a difficult time getting the most out of her ability in the opening weeks of '16, with Henin's hands at least somewhat at the reigns, that climb into the Top 10 that I predicted before the season is looking much better than it did a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I'm counting on that...

Also in Dubai, Vandeweghe finally stoked her singles game after being far more successful so far in '16 in doubles. The Bannerette arrived in Qatar with no singles wins on the season, but immediately opened with a big one over '15 finalist Karolina Pliskova, then followed up with another victory over Mladenovic (from 4-2 down in the 3rd) en route to the quarterfinals.


SURPRISES: Paula Cristina Goncalves/BRA, Cindy Burger/NED and Veronica Cepede Royg/Maria Irigoyen (PAR/ARG)
...of all the Brazilians in the draw in Rio, Goncalves was by far the best. In fact, she was the only one who managed to get a win. Any win at all. The #285-ranked, 25-year old won four singles matches (Q-rounders over Shahar Peer and Alize Lim, then MD contests over Julia Glushko and #2-seed Johanna Larsson) to reach the QF, and also notched a win in doubles. Combined, the other Brazilians in the draw (singles Q/MD and doubles) lost all ten matches with which they were associated. So, if you were a Brazilian named something other than Paula you had as many wins a Maria Bueno did last week. Or, for that matter, Flavia.

World #187 Burger, 23, reached her first tour level QF in Rio after making it through qualifying and putting up MD wins over Christina McHale and Kateryna Kozlova. She came THIS CLOSE to even more, holding MP vs. Schiavone and serving for the match twice (she led 6-3/5-3) before finally going out in three sets to the eventual tournament champion.

Also in Rio, the all-South American duo of Cepede Royg and Irigoyen joined together to take the title with a straight sets win over first-time finalists Tara Moore & Conny Perrin. For 24-year old VCR, it was her first tour title in her maiden final appearance. 28-year old Irigoyen has now won two titles in five WTA final appearances.

VETERANS: Barbora Strycova/CZE, Ana Ivanovic/SRB and Andrea Petkovic/GER
...slowly but surely (well, let's not get ahead of ourselves... we are talking about AnaIvo, after all), Ivanovic is finding her form. Dubai featured a demolition of Daria Gavrilova and a no-real-drama victory over #1 seed and defending champion Simona Halep. Of course, then the Serb proceeded to lose in straight sets to Strycova in the QF. Nothing against the Czech, but I guess that counts as two steps forward, one step back... or, for Ivanovic, about par for the course. At least she (hopefully) didn't partake in any sushi dinners with her coach.

Speaking of Strycova, while she didn't lift her first tour singles trophy since her sole title in Quebec City in 2011, the 29-year old Czech had quite a nice time in Dubai a week before she celebrates the big 3-oh. Fairing far better than her FC teammates Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova did last week, she reached her sixth career final (her first since '14) with wins over Tsvetana Pironkova, Julia Goerges, Ivanovic and Garcia. Rather than be angry with herself for her virtual no-show in the final (a 6-0/6-2 loss, with 43 UE in the 14 games) vs. Errani, Strycova reveled afterward in her fine week of play and said that it wasn't "nerves" that got the best of her in her final outing, but a sleepless night that had hampered her game. Well, whatever it was... the fact is that Strycova is so far the ONLY Czech to reach a singles final in '16. Of course, considering how things have gone so far this year, once March 28 (Strycova's 30th birthday) gets here, maybe she'll finally be seasoned enough to pick up that second career title, too. Don't worry, Barbora... even better things await in the thirtysomething promised land. Just ask Venus, and Roberta, and Svetlana, and Francesca...

Meanwhile, Petkovic really needed a good week in Dubai, and she got it. Wins over Camila Giorgi and good friend Jelena Jankovic got her into the QF, and she's already come back with an opening round win in Doha over Ekaterina Makarova, too. Hey, the Volvo Cars Open (formerly the Family Circle Cup) is coming soon... Petko needs to get into form if she's finally going to DO the Charleston ON court in Charleston.
COMEBACKS: Sorana Cirstea/ROU, Petra Martic/CRO and Varvara Flink/RUS
...the Swarmette cause could really use a little more Sorana, and Cirstea is happily obliging. Once a promising young star, Cirstea has had a rough go of things the last couple of years with injuries (shoulder) and a terrible slump. Last season she slipped out of the Top 100 for the first time since 2008, ultimately ending the season at #244. In recent weeks, Cirstea has traveled to Brazil, where she's put together a three-week run during which she's gone 12-2, reaching two ITF finals (winning one) and then getting a wild card into last week's WTA event in Rio in which she reached another semifinal, her best tour result since '13. Entering the week at #199, the Romanian notched wins over Beatriz Haddad, Polona Hercog and Danka Kovinic, good enough to lift her ranking to #153 heading into this week.

On the other side of the draw in Rio, 25-year old Croat Martic was busy tearing up the field before she finally ran into Schiavone in her fifth career tour semifinal. Her week began with an upset of top-seeded and local favorite Teliana Pereira, her first Top 50 win since 2013, and also included victories over Marina Erakovic and Lara Arruabarrena.

Finally, in the $10K challenger in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt the big story was ex-junior #2 Varvara Flink. The 19-year old Hordette, the '13 Orange Bowl champ and '14 AO girls #1 seed, was out of action due to injury from July '14 until September of last year, and has just recently begun to put up some nice results. After back-to-back semifinal losses in other $10K events to fellow Russian Sofya Zhuk, Flink reached her first pro final as the #1037th-ranked player in the world last week, working her way through qualifying before finally dropping the final to Bulgarian Julia Terziyska.
FRESH FACES: Shelby Rogers/USA, Elena Ruse/ROU and Jamie Loeb/USA
...lost in the Schiavone Story in Rio was a nice final run -- the second of her career, with Bad Gastein '14 -- from 23-year old Rogers. Ranked one spot above the Italian at #131 last week, Rogers got wins over Andreea Mitu, Veronica Cepede Royg, Paula Cristina Goncalves and Sorana Cirstea. While Schiavone's ranking jumps thirty-eight spots this week, Rogers' rises twenty-three as she'll be at #108 on Monday.

In Antalya, Turkey, 18-year old Swarmette Ruse swept the singles and doubles titles at a $10K challenger, defeating veteran Eleni Daniilidou, youngster Berfu Cengiz, #1-seed Julia Grabher and Pastry Josephine Boualem in a 7-6(3)/0-6/6-1 final. Ruse took the doubles title with Petia Arshinkova, once again defeating Daniilidou in the final (w/ Arina Foults). In the $25K challenger in Surprise, Arizona the all-Bannerette final between 20-year old NCAA champ Jamie Loeb, in her first full year on the pro tour, and 16-year old CiCi Bellis was claimed by a 3-6/6-0/6-3 score by the North Carolina Tar Heel. Loeb's fifth career ITF title run, which dropped Bellis to 3-1 in career pro finals, also included a win over Aleksandra Wozniak.

DOWN: Karolina Pliskova/CZE, Petra Kvitova/CZE and Garbine Muguruza/ESP, this category is getting a workout so far this season, isn't it? I can't remember any season in recent memory where SO MANY top players have been in such poor form for so many weeks into a new season. And, really, what can you say about the eight seeded players last week in Dubai going a combined 0-8? Not only was that tournament without a seeded player in the QF, but even the smaller event in Rio had four unseeded semifinalists. But I'll focus on the usual suspects here:

Pliskova, still unable to use her Fed Cup strength to bolster her tour results, not only dropped the final six games of the match to fall in her opening Dubai match to CoCo Vandeweghe one year after having reached the final there, but she's also already been ousted in Doha, too, losing 1 & 1 -- yikes! -- to Margarita Gasparyan on Sunday as she went down in a hail of UE's (24) and double-faulted on MP. Pliskova is down to #19 (but only barely even that) this week, and looks to be assured of falling back outside the Top 20 before having returned to the Top 10 (she was at #7 last August) after ending 2015 at #11. Meanwhile, fellow Maiden Kvitova can't seem to get out of her own way, either. Less than a year after losing to Madison Brengle in Stuttgart, Kvitova lost to the American once again Dubai. Naturally, the loss came after the Czech had won the 1st set at love in just 19 minutes, and led 3-1 in the 2nd. Oh, and she led 3-1 in the 3rd set, as well. She's now 1-5 on the season. Oh, Petra.

Last but not least, Fed Cup dominance aside, Muguruza has been just short of atrocious this season after finishing '15 at #3. Her 2nd Round loss in Dubai to Svitolina is nothing to get too depressed about, but the 68 UE's she put up in the match sure are. Same with the lingering pain in her foot, which I know I was immediately worried about back in Week 1 when it was revealed she was dealing with a plantar fascia injury, something which tends to linger for quite a while with professional athletes unless they take a very long break from action. The hope then was that it wasn't really serious. The hope dwindles with every passing week, and every bad result, though.

ITF PLAYERS: Arina Rodionova/AUS and Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL
...two of Week 5's Fed Cup stars -- Bonaventure went 4-0 in Belgium's promotion from EUR/AFR I, while Rodionova stretched out Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in Match #1 of Australia's win over Slovakia -- carried over their team success to individual titles on the ITF circuit last week. In Perth, Rodionova won the Arina vs. Aryna battle with Belarusian Sabalenko by a 6-1/6-1 score to win her first challenger title since she won (again) in Perth three years ago. The Aussie's run included additional wins over Freya Christie, Barbara Haas and Tian Ran, as well as another that doubled as something of a "payback/belated-thank-you-note-for-an-unwanted-wedding-gift" directed toward Maddison Inglis, the teenage Sheila who defeated Rodionova in the final of Tennis Australia's AO Wild Card Playoff in December one day after Rodionova got married.

In Alterkirchen, Germany, 21-year old Waffle Bonaventure won a $25K challenger with victories over #8-seed Ivana Jorovic, #1 Tamira Paszek and Arantxa Rus in a 6-3/6-3 final to claim her eighth career ITF title. She also won the doubles with Xenia Knoll, defeating Paszek and Cristina Dinu in the final.
JUNIOR STARS: Emily Appleton/GBR and Sonya Kenin/USA the Copa FTch Grade 2 event in Chile, 16-year old Brit Appleton, the #8-seed, claimed title honors with wins over the #12, #1 (Dominique Schaefer), #3 and #7 (Viktoria Morvayova in the final) seeds. Meanwhile, in the $25K challenger in Surprise, Arizona, current girls #7 Kenin -- who won the USTA National Championship and reached the U.S. Open junior final last season -- defeated top-seeded Mayo Hibi and fellow junior Bannerette Kayla Day en route to the semifinals, where she fell to eventual champ Jamie Loeb.
DOUBLES: Chuang Chia-Jung/Dariya Jurak (TPE/CRO)
...the 31-year old pair grabbed the title in Dubai in their very first tournament together, saving five MP in the semis vs. Errani/Suarez-Navarro before defeating Garcia/Mladenovic in straight sets in the final. For Chuang, it's her 23rd tour title (w/ 12 partners, including seven with Chan Yung-Jan) in 35 WTA finals, while Jurak has now won two in eight final appearances.


Maria, mastering the art of looking good and a little scary at the same time...

Oh hello grudge, you crazy thing! #fashion #instapic

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Ivanovic d. Halep 7-6(2)/6-2
Dubai 2nd Rd. - Svitolina d. Muguruza 7-6(3)/6-3
At least Halep is trying to be positive, saying, "I'm disappointed that I lost but it's okay. I feel good. Physically I'm okay. I have no pain anywhere. It's good, and the most important thing is that I'm healthy." As for Muguruza: "I'm not really finding my game, so I think I have to rest a little bit and concentrate again and work hard and eventually come back to the tournament to play again. I think I'm not really ready to compete. I need to work a little bit more. My shots, my fitness. So we'll see."

At least La Petit Taureau is happy.

2. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Brengle d. Kvitova
From 6-0/3-1 down, and 3-1 behind in the 3rd, Brengle notches her second victory over the Czech in less than a year. Kvitova was the last of the eight seeds to fall in Dubai without winning a single match. She, Halep and Muguruza are a combined 5-11 in WTA action this season, and 3-3 in FC play (with one win coming when Halep def. Kvitova).
3. Rio QF - Schiavone d. Burger 3-6/7-6(6)/6-3
Rio Final - Schiavone d. Rogers 2-6/6-2/6-2
Burger led 6-3/5-3, served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 and held a MP in the TB. Schiavone went on to win the title, joining AO champ Angelique Kerber as '16 champs who had to save MP before reaching the winner's circle.

4. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Vandeweghe d. Mladenovic
Kiki may have blown a 4-2 lead in the 3rd set here, but she and Garcia made the Dubai court their personal "women's cave" -- complete with servants at their beck and call -- all week. Well, at least until the final.

But, hey, no worries...

5. Dubai 1st Rd. - Ivanovic d. Gavrilova

When your gym sesh is longer than your tournament.... ??

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

6. Dubai Final - Errani d. Strycova
Strycova only had one BP chance vs. the far-from-spectacular Errani serve. She's now 1-6 vs. the Italian.
7. Dubai 1st Rd. - Goerges d. Kuznetsova 6-0/6-1
Dubai 1st Rd. - Brengle d. Makarova 6-4/7-5
Doha 1st Rd. - Petkovic d. Makarova 6-3/6-2
the Hordettes still haven't recovered from Fed Cup weekend. Kuznetsova had four winners and nine UE vs. Goerges, who had 28 & 15. Meanwhile, Makarova led 2-0 in the 1st vs. Brengle, and 4-0 in the 2nd. Goerges and Kuznetsova are set to meet again in Doha, while Makarova is already out.
8. Dubai 1st Rd. - Jankovic d. Bencic 4-6/7-5/6-4
Dubai 2nd Rd. - Petkovic d. Jankovic 6-3/6-2
when good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to equally good people. Bencic led JJ 6-4/4-3 before the Serb finally took the 3rd set by converting on her sixth set point. The Swiss teen, playing for a seventh straight week, finally wore down in the 3rd in the 2:30+ match. Naturally, she's set to play for an eighth straight week in Doha.

9. Dubai 1st Rd. - Svitolina d. Cepelova
Win #1.

10. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Garcia d. Suarez-Navarro
After Garcia had battled back from a 6-4/4-2 hole, the rains came when Garcia was serving for the match up 5-3, 15/15. Three hours later, she returned to win three of the final four points and close out the match.

Maybe she finally spoke to her Fed Cup coach about handling such things?

11. Dubai SF - Chuang/Jurak d. Errani/Suarez-Navarro
...5-7/7-6(5) [10-7].
Chuang & Jurak battled back from 4-0 and 5-2 down in the 2nd set, saving five MP.
12. $25K Surprise 1st Rd. - Claire Liu d. Michelle Larcher de Brito
Larcher de Brito led 4-0 in the 2nd set, but couldn't hold off the 15-year old 2015 Easter Bowl champ, currently ranked #555 after last season becoming the first player born in the 2000's to earn a WTA ranking.
HM- Doha 1st Rd. - Bouchard d. Sevastova
Could it be that THAT Genie is back? It was surely a good sign on Sunday when the Canadian won a rollercoaster battle with Sevastova. Sevastova led 4-1 in the 1st, then fell behind 5-4 before winning three straight games to take the set. In the 3rd, Bouchard trailed 4-0 and 5-2 and saved two MP before staging a comeback that resulted in a deciding TB win.


1. Dubai 1st Rd. - Vandeweghe d. Karolina Pliskova
Vandeweghe threw in thirteen aces to notch her first singles win of the season, but the biggest news here was that this wasn't even Pliskova's worst performance of the week.
2. Doha 1st Rd. - Gasparyan d. Karolina Pliskova

Not to slight Donna Vekic's Sunday bagel of Fatma Al Nabhani, but Pliskova's bagels look to be burnt to a charcoal crisp right about now.
3. $25K Perth Final - Arina Rodionova d. Sabalenka
Meanwhile, in Anastasia's world...

HM- Dubai 1st Rd. - Garcia d. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-4/6-1
Doha 1st Rd. - Putintseva d. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-2/6-4
it says something about the other "downtrodden" WTA stars of '16 that AKS somehow managed to avoid the "Down" category this week despite a set of straight sets losses that drop her to 1-5 in tour-level matches this year, and 2-6 with her 1-1 FC record factored in. All six of Schmiedlova's losses have come in straight sets, and she had to come back from a set down to escape the two matches (vs. Bacsinszky and Ar.Rodionova) she DID manage to win.

One of my very favorite person @keinishikori friends since juniors #everyonelovesKei

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Not that Caro needs any help promoting her latest Sports Illustrated appearance...

Don't worry, though -- she more than caught up on the task within 24 hours.

Now the real trick: finding a way to get back to actual tennis this week in Doha.

Be careful, Dasha... from what I remember, this is how the whole Broady vs. Ostapenko thing got started.

Warming up with bae ?? @daria_gav #missedher #shelookslikemychild #shorty #minime #wta #doha

A photo posted by Naomi Broady (@naomibroady) on

[Open era]
39y,7m,3w - Billie Jean King (1983 Birmingham)
38y,11m,30d - Kimiko Date-Krumm (2009 Seoul)
37y,4m - Martina Navratilova (1994 Paris Indoors)
35y,8m - FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE (2016 Rio)
35y,8m - Venus Williams (2016 Kaohsiung)
35y,8m - Venus Williams (Kaohsiung)
32y,362d - Roberta Vinci, ITA (St.Petersburg)
30y,6m,3w - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (Sydney)

#208 Melanie Oudin [2012/JUNE- Birmingham]
#174 Lara Arruabarrena [2012/FEB - Bogota]
#149 Kiki Bertens [2012/APR - Fes]
#130 Teliana Pereira [2015/APR - Bogota]
#127 Karolina Pliskova [2013/MAR - K.Lumpur]
#124 Hsieh Su-Wei [2012/MAR - K.Lumpur]

3 - ITA (Errani,Schiavone,Vinci)
2 - USA (Stephens,V.Williams)
1 - BLR (Azarenka)
1 - FRA (Cornet)
1 - GER (Kerber)
1 - POL (A.Radwanska)
1 - RUS (Kuznetsova)

14 yrs - Vinci (32) d. Bencic (18) - St.Petersburg
12 yrs - Schiavone (35) d. Rogers (23) - Rio
11 yrs - V.Williams (35) d. Doi (24) - Kaohsiung

12 - Serena Williams
11 - Maria Sharapova
10 - Anabel Medina-Garrigues
7 - Sara Errani
7 - Venus Williams
6 - Jelena Jankovic
5 - Roberta Vinci
NOTE: Pennetta(7)

Han Xinyun, CHN (Hobart)
Christina McHale, USA (Hobart)
Elise Mertens, BEL (Auckland)
An-Sophie Mestach, BEL (Auckland)
Elena Vesnina, RUS (AO)

7...Chan Yung-Jan, TPE (2005-08)
3...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE (2007-08)
2...Olga Govortsova, BLR (2011-12)
2...Liang Chen, CHN (2014-15)
1...Akgul Amanmuradova, UZB (2011)
1...Chang Kai-Chen, TPE (2012)
1...Dariya Jurak, CRO (2016)
1...Sania Mirza, IND (2009)
1...Kveta Peschke, CZE (2010)
1...Lisa Raymond, USA (2009)
1...Yan Zi, CHN (2009)
1...Zhang Shuai, CHN (2012)
[WTA 125]
1...Chan Chin-Wei, TPE (2014)
1...Junri Namigata, JPN (2014)

Australian Open - Serena Williams (lost to Kerber)
Brisbane - Martina Hingis (def. Kerber/Petkovic)
Sydney - Sania Mirza (def. Garcia/Mladenovic)
Dubai - Kristina Mladenovic (lost to Chuang/Jurak)

#172 Tamira Paszek/AUT (Auckland)
#142 Samantha Crawford/USA (Brisbane)

DOHA, QATAR (Premier $2.517m/HCO)
15 Final: Safarova d. Azarenka
15 Doubles Final: Atawo/Spears d. SW.Hsieh/Mirza
16 Singles Top Seeds: Kerber/Halep

#1 Kerber d. Mladenovic
#6 Bencic d. #4 Muguruza
#3 A.Radwanska d. Kasatkina
Garcia d. #8 Suarez-Navarro
#6 Bencic d. #1 Kerber
#3 A.Radwanska d. Garcia
#3 A.Radwanska d. #6 Bencic

...Halep is back, but with another bad #2 draw that could include Garcia first up, then maybe Gavrilova. Kerber could get another shot at Bencic -- and vice versa -- after the Fed Cup clash won by the Swiss teenager. While the Tennis Gods only know what versions of Kvitova, Muguruza, Bacsinszky, Wozniacki and the (finally) returning defending champ Safarova we'll get this coming week. Meanwhile, in doubles, the Dream Team looks to extend their 40-match, nine-title winning streak, as Mirza (who reached the final of this event in '15 with Hsieh Su-Wei) looks to defend RU points from the last good result put up by either her or Hingis from the time BEFORE they joined forces for good. They've already come together to defend 2015 titles won by Hingis in Brisbane (w/ Lisicki) and Mirza's in Sydney (w/ Mattek-Sands) earlier this season. They could face Week 7 champ Chuang Chia-jung (this time w/ Oksana Kalashnikova) in the 2nd Round, and the Chan sisters in the semis.

15 Final: Bacsinszky d. Garcia
15 Doubles Final: Arruabarrena/Torro-Flor d. Hlavackova/Hradecka
16 Singles Top Seeds: Azarenka/Stephens

#1 Azarenka d. #4 Konta
#2 Stephens d. Puig
#1 Azarenka d. #2 Stephens

...a year ago, Bacsinszky and Garcia met up for the first of back-to-back finals to determine the "Queen of Mexico." Well, both are in Qatar this week, so the crown could very well be transferred and the first nominee for the '16 honor will be known before the end of the week. Vika has never won a tour singles or doubles title in Mexico, and will be looking to make it nation #10 on her personal championship checklist.

And, finally... because it only seems right

All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

Hmmm, Mirza didn't win this title last year, they lost in the final. You have it right in your own listing of last year's finals.

(Discovering that Mirza still had an unshared result of such stature as runner-up in Doha drove me on a long quest to understand the doubles rankings mechanics, and how it is possible for Hingis and her to have been sharing #1 for many weeks now. It shows a lot about their results over the last year that this result by Mirza in quite a big tournament isn't important enough to qualify among her best results, that are tallied to produce her rankings points.)

Mon Feb 22, 04:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

You really think the team of Errani/Vinci might not get into the HOF? That would be an outrage.

I was exhausted last night and didn't complete my blog post, but--not surprisingly--it turns out to be somewhat of a companion piece to this one. Going up later today :)

Mon Feb 22, 10:53:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Diane, I definately will be going to you blog, as it is always an interesting read in a week in which Kvitova has flamed out.

First the negative-Muguruza is scaring me to the point that I think she is going to have a Bouchard type year-for Wimbledon finalist to ? She seems stressed out.

The positive-I think Gasparyan and Kasatkina will win titles this year. Gasparyan has a massive forehand, and her backhand isn't weak, but weaker than her forhead, so I think it will be tested enough that she will improve quickly.

Italy's Fab Four- The combo of skill and passion has made them a joy to watch, and it would be nice to see them go in as a team. But the final chapters haven't been written, even for Pennetta, as those 2000 points probably gets her the 4th Olympic spot behind Vinci, Errani and Giorgi. Schiavone is a longshot because she would also have to jump over the wildcard in terms of health in Knapp.

Mon Feb 22, 11:33:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, I realized that error (as well as absentmindedly saying that Newport was in Connecticut rather than Rhode Island -- oops -- I didn't think that sounded quite right when I wrote it). I actually made that correction about Mirza (which I'd written up on Saturday, then forget to proof read after I finished all the rest) an hour or so after I put the post up -- I always need to wait an hour or so and then read it on the site to catch some of those things (there's too much clutter in my draft text to catch them all sometimes). But you may have already clicked onto the original version, or were looking at an RSS feed (which doesn't show any edits after the original post) when you saw the more "uncut" copy.

I would think they'd get in, but it IS interesting to note that they did it in such a short period of time, then the partnership was no more.

Which makes you wonder, while it won't really apply since Hingis is already in the HOF and Mirza stands a shot herself eventually, if "unnamed Team X" were to win a fourth straight slam to achieve a Career Slam as a duo in a span of just 15 months (as would be the case with Hingis/Mirza in Paris) but then didn't play together again, would that make the DUO Hall of Fame worthy, or would the individuals have to get in in their own right? Hmmm.

I think G.Fernandez/Zvereva going in as a duo probably opens the door for more specific doubles teams to get in when the individuals wouldn't get in their own as singles players, though. E/V might apply there.

But I still don't see why a specific generation of one nation's Fed Cup team (and Italy would be THE prime candidate) can't break down a barrier of their own.

Errani/Vinci are probably in, and Pennetta and Schiavone could get in on their own with a slam title each and huge FC contributions. So all four would be there. Still, I sort of wish they could all get in as a group.

Always especially look forward to reading WWS when Schiavone wins! :)

I wholeheartedly agree on the Russians, especially Kasatkina. I picked her in December to win her maiden title this season. But I think she may be a great deal better this year than even I was anticipating.

Hmmm, you bring up a good point. That may be why Pennetta hasn't taken her name out of the rankings, too. I wonder if she'd play singles in Rio, though, or just doubles and/or mixed? I sort of figured she'd maybe play mixed (possibly w/ Fognini), but with the other Italians doing so well this season she might just get the itch for a little more.

Mon Feb 22, 12:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, I should have mentioned that when Jana Novotna went in, some questioned it, though she's a slam winner, multiple major finalist and with an even more accomplished overall doubles career than either Errani or Vinci.

But since the USTA isn't running Newport, I suspect sanity will ultimately win out. ;)

Mon Feb 22, 12:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm in total agreement. If ever a Fed Cup team should be inducted into the HOF, it's Team Italy--and I'd include Captain Barazzutti, whose low-key inspiration took Schiavone all the way to the French Open title (one of her best decisions).

Mon Feb 22, 05:38:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, good point. ;)

Mon Feb 22, 10:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

the way Sloane has played this season...the poise and fight...make her australian open result really strange. her new coach seems to be working out well.

however, i still think she should try to play more aggressively at times. her high looping shots work for smaller events...but if she wants to beat the top 10, she's got to go for it more frequently to put her in an advantageous position. everyone in the top 10 is an expert at the first strike. even ppl like aga and bencic...despite not being power players...they definitely control the point.

Sun Feb 28, 12:26:00 PM EST  

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