Monday, March 21, 2016

Wk.11- The Adventures of Vika, Queen of the Desert

Vika to the rescue!

With the perfect timing of a superhero, Victoria Azarenka arrived in Indian Wells with the WTA in danger of being sidetracked by nonsense and petty backbiting. Two weeks later, before the sun had set on the tour's final day in the desert, the Belarusian had managed to almost single-handedly wrestle away the headlines and redirect the previous narrative back in the direction of something worthwhile and pertinent.

Thank the Tennis Gods for small -- and large -- favors. It's good to know they're still looking out for us.

Facing off with Serena Williams -- at least when she's not in don't-even-think-about-beating-me-today mode -- has always been about taking advantage of the relatively few opportunities she gives an opponent to make a match of things, and not giving the world #1 anything for "free" before she attempts to take it and all the rest by force (usually successfully, I might add). Precious few have been able to adequately traverse such terrain over the past two decades, but Azarenka has often been of the few with the ability to do so. Largely, it's been because she's been one of only a handful of players who don't essentially lose a match against Williams BEFORE it even starts. It's something that no less than Hall of Fame electee Justine Henin noted last year is one of the key ingredients to giving oneself a chance to realistically compete against the 21-time slam champ.

Still, while Azarenka has pulled off some big wins over Williams through the years -- defeating her in three finals, tied with Venus Williams for the most all-time, heading in Sunday's I.W. finale -- she's managed to "give away" some matches that very well could have been hers. In the first twenty matches of their head-to-head series, Azarenka won just those three finals, but the history between the two is littered with squandered leads and what-could-have-moments for the former #1. In 2009 in the Australian Open Round of 16, the Melbourne heat took out Azarenka after she'd won the 1st set vs. Williams. A year later Down Under, she squandered a 6-4/4-0 lead in the QF. Azarenka served for the match in the 2012 U.S. Open final. Last season alone, she went 0-3 vs. Serena, but had chances in all three match-ups. She won the 1st set against Williams in Paris (she led 6-3/4-2) and Wimbledon after she'd earlier lost twelve of the final thirteen points in Madrid after hitting back-to-back-to-back double faults after holding triple match point against Serena.

The 21st meeting -- and ninth final -- in the series revolved around Williams' struggles with her forehand, return of serve and not-as-overwhelming-a-weapon-as-usual serve against Azarenka's top-notch return abilities. Meanwhile, while Serena quested to find her game, the Belarusian relied on a good 1st and 2nd serve, kept her errors to a minimum, flashed signs of her old defensive skills with her renewed fitness and rediscovered quickness and showed her ability to remain focused on the biggest points.

Yet, still, it almost wasn't enough to allow Azarenka to prevail without her '15 failures vs. Serena flashing before her eyes.

While Azarenka (until the nearly bitter end) deflected the pressure throughout the day, it turned out to be the stress that rested on the shoulders of Williams, seeking her first Indian Wells title since the controversial and hurtful win in the final over Kim Clijsters in 2001 that precipitated a 14-year boycott of the event, that lingered above and all around the stadium court from the first ball to the last. Always one to wear her emotions on her sleeve on the court, it was clear that even with Williams' knowledge of the danger in facing Azarenka with less than full focus, she was going to have a difficult time brushing her memories and emotions totally aside and just play her best tennis.

Some players may not have been able to take advantage of that fact, but Azarenka has not been -- and still isn't -- one of those players.

While Williams got off to a slow start, Azarenka was immediately in tune. After breaking Serena to open the match, Vika served well and managed to fight off a slew of chances that Williams had to turn the momentum in her favor. Showing no fear while firing big 1st and 2nd serves, Azarenka saved two break points in game #6, then three more two games later. After playing brilliant defense that allowed her to get to successive balls in both corners of the court, Azarenka induced a long Williams backhand to hold for 5-3. Playing a nearly error-free game, Vika served out the set at love to take the 1st by a 6-4 score, as Williams failed to convert on all five of her BP chances.

The start of the 2nd set saw the story continue. Williams' DF on BP once again put her in a 1-0 hole. A game later, Azarenka saved four more BP (making Serena 0-for-9) with a combination of an ace, a Williams error, a big first shot after a Serena return and one of Williams' many bad returns on the day. After Azarenka's hold, another wild Williams error broke her own serve again as Vika took a 3-0 lead. Williams crushed her racket on the court on the way to the changeover area, then destroyed another without even removing it from the wrapper once she reached her seat. She tossed it aimlessly over her shoulder, perhaps providing the breaking point that caused chair umpire Marija Cicak to issue her a point penalty.

Azarenka didn't need the 15/love advantage heading into game #4, but she took full advantage of it, holding at love to take a 6-4/4-0 lead... the same score as the AO QF she managed to lose to Williams in 2010. While ESPN's Pam Shriver led the commentating charge in a tiresome call for the Indian Wells crowd to begin to attempt to pull Serena through (please -- since when is being essentially shamed into cheering louder for a particular player a prerequisite for attending a tennis match, no matter what some unrelated crowd did fifteen years ago?), it was nonetheless quite clear that this match wasn't going to be decided or impacted by anyone watching from the sidelines. The result rested on the shoulders of the two talented, but also very human (we've seen enough to know their faults, and still cherish them not in spite of them, but often because of them) competitors. One was going to overcome the pressure of the moment, while the other was going to walk away, waiting for her next chance against the other... possibly with even more at stake on an even bigger stage.

As it turned out, the more successful person in the endeavor would be Azarenka. But -- whoosh -- it ended up being a close call, with the match seemingly a few points from going either way at any given moment down the final stretch of the 2nd set.

Williams finally got on the board at 4-1, but Azarenka's 1st serve continued to remain strong as she held at love for a 5-1 lead, having won 29 of 34 1st serve points. Serving for the match at 5-2, Vika had the cushion of a two-break lead, though she surely didn't want to have to depend on that fact. As it turned out, she needed it.

As happened in Madrid, untimely DF's threatened to become Azarenka's undoing. Back-to-back giveaways handed Serena a double BP situation, and when Williams' deep return manufactured a long error from Azarenka the world #1 finally had her first BP conversion in ten attempts on the day. Down 5-3, suddenly Serena's serve caught fire. Two aces and a service winner easily held for 5-4 and things were getting tighter and tighter by the second.

Serving for the match once again, Azarenka fell behind love/30 after Williams won a "Point of the Match" rally and then fired a big return. But Vika was still looking for a good "pinish" -- the "finish + punish" mantra she broke out at last year's U.S. Open. When Serena's huge return got her to double BP at 40/15, it looked like things were going to get far stickier before everything was settled, but it was at that moment that Azarenka managed to turn the momentum back in her favor long enough to pull out the win. She fired an ace to save the first BP, then Williams' long backhand secured the other. It made Serena 1-for-12 on BP chances on the day, and she wouldn't get another. With a sudden return of the errors that plagued her earlier, Williams ended the match with back-to-back forehand errors that finally pushed Azarenka over the always-elusive "pinish line" for a 6-4/6-4 win, her first straight sets win over Serena in nearly seven years ('09 Miami).

In notching her fourth career victory over Williams, Azarenka becomes the only player to ever defeat Serena four times in finals (all have come on hard court), handing her her first back-to-back losses in finals (w/ her AO loss to Angelique Kerber) since the 2004 stretch that began with one Maria Sharapova's historic win in the Wimbledon final (so, I guess the narrative sort of comes full circle with that, huh?). Vika, a loser of eight straight vs. the Top 3 before this win, returns to the Top 10 for the first time since August 2014 in the new rankings, rising from #14 to #8 and knocking a certain Russian OUT of the Top 10 (see previous sentence).

More importantly, for everyone, the WTA leaves Indian Wells with Azarenka truly standing tall for the first time in quite a while, with the hope for that Serena/Vika "rivalry" showing the signs of stirring once more.

Of course, as soon as match was over it was time to once again deal with nonsense and petty backbiting. No, not THAT bit of nonsense of petty backbiting -- THIS bit of nonsense and petty backbiting:

Sigh. After all these years, some things never seem to change. One day they will. Just not today.

But at least we have Vika back... and that's more than enough to deem Indian Wells a success in its own right.

Ah, bless her.

S: Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Serena Williams/USA 6-4/6-4
D: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/CoCo Vandweghe (USA/USA) d. Julia Goerges/Karolina Pliskova (GER/CZE) 4-6/6-4 [10-6]

S: Misaki Doi/JPN def. Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER 6-4/6-2
D: Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Nicole Melichar (GER/USA) d. Klaudia Jans-Ignacik/Anastasia Rodionova (POL/AUS) 6-1/6-3

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
...after a few two steps forward and one step back (due to injury or lost opportunity) false starts, Vika may have finally found her way back into the land of the few living and breathing players who can be counted on to consistently bring their best games on the biggest stages when the pressure is the greatest. During the past two weeks in Indian Wells, Azarenka lived up to the, "I love pressure. That's what makes me a great player" comments she made while in the desert. Wins over Zarina Diyas, Zhang Shuai, Sam Stosur and an injured Magdalena Rybarikova were one thing, but the hard-nosed and stubborn performance that got her out of a tight spot in the semis vs. Karolina Pliskova and her (about 95% of the time) sound outing vs. Serena in the final are wonderful signs that, finally, Vika may REALLY be back. Her second career I.W. title (w/ 2012) not only lifts her back into the Top 10, but it puts her at #8 and on target for the sort of seed in Paris and Wimbledon that will assure her of a draw that will allow her to gradually build her level of performances throughout those slams before facing someone like Williams, possibly putting her in an even better position at the major at which she likely has the best chance to contend for the title -- the U.S. Open. Oh, and lets not forget to mention that the Rio Olympic event will be played on hard courts, meaning the odds of her improving on the singles Bronze she won at the All-England Club in '12 would seem to be in her favor, as well.

RISERS: Karolina Pliskova/CZE, Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK and Misaki Doi/JPN
...until she ultimately wasted what looked like it might turn out to be a good things vs. Azarenka in the semifinals (the Czech held two SP and served for the 1st set, only to lose it and eventually fall in three), Pliskova had finally started to look like the player who seemed destined for the Top 10 at the start of the season. Wins over Shelby Rogers, Ana Ivanovic, Johanna Konta and Daria Kasatkina got Pliskova into her first 2016 semifinal, a result with will sure up her previously precarious Top 20 ranking. She'll climb from #19 to #14 this week.

27-year old Rybarikova is perpetually one of the more overlooked and undervalued players on tour, despite being a Top 100 player for most of the last decade and sporting a 4-2 record in WTA singles finals. In Indian Wells, the Slovak once again showed why she's never a player to look past with victories over Laura Robson, Daria Gavrilova, Belinda Bencic and Roberta Vinci (via ret.) to reach the QF. Unfortunately, a lower back injury derailed any chance she had there against Azarenka, who spared her any euthanasia efforts but still put her down by a 6-0/6-0 score. Rybarikova has never managed a second week slam run (which may explain why she's overlooked), but this result was the best of her career at a Premier Mandatory event.

In the inaugural WTA 125 Series event in San Antonio, 24-year old Japanese fireballer Doi locked away the second biggest title of her career with wins over Evgeniya Rodina, Han Xinyun, Samantha Crawford, Tsvetana Pironkova and Anna-Lena Friedsam in the final. Already a winner of a WTA tour-level title in 2015 in Luxembourg, Doi thus becomes the eleventh woman to win both WTA and WTA 125 singles titles. Already with a '16 WTA singles final in St.Petersburg in the bank, which at least took some of the sting out of her Australian Open nightmare (she held MP vs. eventual champ Kerber, remember), Doi has done enough to rise into the Top 50 (#44) for the first time in the new rankings, extending her lead over Nao Hibino (#63) and Kurumi Nara (#78) as the highest-ranked woman from Japan.
SURPRISES: Christina McHale/USA, Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER and Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Nicole Melichar (GER/USA)
...with the two-week nature of the Indian Wells and Miami events, it's easy to let slip the memories of the players who streak brightly like a comet across the early rounds of the draw, only to disappear before the sunrise. In the desert, that comet was McHale. Still trying to reclaim the promise she showed back in 2012 (when she completed a string of four consecutive slam 3rd Round results, reached the Top 25 and finished the season at #33), the 23-year old Bannerette made legitimate headway toward a larger goal with wins over Caroline Garcia and Garbine Muguruza, the latter the third Top 5 victory in her career. 11-4 since the Australian Open, McHale will edge up nearer the Top 50 (#55) in the updated pre-Miami rankings.

Friedsam had quite the opposite experience from McHale in Indian Wells, losing in qualifying but getting into the draw as a lucky loser (with a 1st Round bye, as she replaced an injured Carla Suarez-Navarro) and then still failing to notch a MD win in the 2nd Round. On the bright side, her early exit freed her up to head off to San Antonio to take part in the first WTA 125 Series event of the season. There, the 22-year old #61-ranked German (who very nearly handed Aga Radwanska a loss in the Round of 16 at the AO) ran off a string of good wins over Naomi Broady, CiCi Bellis, Ana Konjuh and Alison Riske en route the final, where she finally lost to Misaki Doi.

Also in San Antonio, Groenefeld winning a doubles title is hardly a "surprise." After all, the 30-year old German's first 125 title is added to the fourteen tour-level doubles crowns she's already claimed. But doing so with 22-year old Czech Republic-born Melichar is a new experience, as ALG's Bannerette partner (she moved to Florida as an infant) picked up the biggest title of her career. Melichar, a doubles runner-up at the tour-level Tianjin event last year, previously had claimed only five ITF circuit doubles crowns. The #4-seeded duo knocked off the #2 (Chuang/Liang) and #3 (Jans-Ignacik/An.Rodionova) seeds en route to the title.

VETERANS: Serena Williams/USA, Aga Radwanska/POL and Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR
...while Serena didn't get her first Indian Wells title since 2001, she followed up her '15 semifinal run (ended by injury) with a final appearance after straight sets victories over Laura Siegemund, Yulia Putintseva, Kateryna Bondarenko, Simona Halep and Aga Radwanksa. The latter two victories upped her '16 record vs. the Top 10 to 4-1. She's 61-7 since 2012. Even with the loss in the final to Vika, giving her back-to-back defeats in finals for the first time in twelve years, Williams (hopefully) has finally put to rest the whole "she's back in Indian Wells" story, and her post-match comments regarding I.W. tournament director's Raymond Moore's comments about women's tennis were at once measured, strong and unflinching, proving in a matter of seconds the worth/importance to the sport of someone NOT named either Roger or Rafa. As if there was any doubt.

While she put up a good effort vs. Serena in the semis, Radwanska once again failed to get her first win over Williams in ten career attempts. Still, what started out with an escape (saving MP vs. Dominika Cibulkova and climbing out of a 5-2 3rd set hole in the 2nd Round) was followed by wins over Monica Niculescu, Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova to give Aga SF-or-better results in seven of her eight events since the U.S. Open. She returns to the #2 ranking this week.

Another victim of Serena in the desert, Bondarenko still managed to have quite a nice run before finally being ousted in the Round of 16. Qualifying wins over Paula Kania and Lourdes Dominguez-Lino got the 29-year old Ukrainian into the MD, where she knocked off Alison Van Uytvanck, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lesia Tsurenko. She rises into the Top 60 this week. In doubles, she and Olga Savchuk -- injected into the field as alternates after Caroline Garcia's injury knocked her and Kristina Mladenovic from the draw -- notched a win over Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Arantxa Parra-Santonja, who'd arrived in I.W. on fire after winning back-to-back titles in Acapulco and Monterrey to earn Queens of Mexico honors.
COMEBACKS: Nicole Gibbs/USA and Simona Halep/ROU
...Gibbsy's redemption campaign continued to surge forward in Indian Wells, as she first qualified for the MD, then got down to work there, too. Wins over Alexandra Dulgheru (dropping just 1 game), Madison Keys and Yaroslava Shvedova got her into the 4th Round, where she battled back from an early deficit vs. Petra Kvitova to take the 1st set before ultimately falling in three. She also proved quite adept as expressing herself in writing (I'd hope so -- she did go to Stanford, after all) in her "The Gibbs of Gab" blogging efforts for the WTA's website. She had quite an interesting take on Genie Bouchard's big words in the wake of her slam semifinal run in 2014 here. Gibbs jumps from #95 to #74 this week.

On a small scale, Halep's I.W. results one year after taking the title might not look like much of a "comeback," but her big picture outlook seemed to brighten in the desert. She put up a win over Vania King, finally found a way past Ekaterina Makarova (after two high profile, bad-looking previous losses to the Hordette) and advanced to the QF when Barbora Strycova retired from their 4th Round match. One year after advancing to the final when Serena Williams withdrew from their semi due to injury, Halep finally faced the world #1 in the QF... and lost in straight sets, not playing poorly but never really finding a crack through which to legitimately enter the match, either. Still, she survived the experience without crashing out in disheartening fashion, seems in good health, at times during the event flashed very good form and, even while getting rocked by Williams, was able to crack a smile when coach Darren Cahill came down to the court for a "coaching session" that really mostly served as a commiseration about just how good Serena is and that Simona can't always blame herself if things don't go 100% her way. For a player who has found ways to stack an overwhelming amount of pressure onto her own shoulders over the last eighteen months, any hint that she's beginning to see some lightness (literally and figuratively) at the end of the tunnel is a good sign. After all, she's still holding onto a Top 5 ranking heading into Miami... even with no remaining title-winning point totals to defend for the rest of the season. Sure, there are those finals in Cincy and Toronto -- but the prospects of those attempts aren't something for the Romanian to lose sleep over.

Of course, I guess I could have gone a little more "outside the box" with a COMEBACK pick such as...

Will this cure all the USTA's ills? Of course not... but things can't help but at least be a LITTLE bit better in one area, right? We shall see.

(Pssssst, Stacey... fix that wild card "playoff" format when you get the chance.)
FRESH FACES: Denisa Allertova/CZE, Yulia Putintseva/KAZ and Daria Kasatkina/RUS
...Indian Wells began with the likes of Allertova and Putintseva pulling off big upsets, or pushing big names to the brink (temporarily). 23-year old Czech Allertova, a finalist in Guangzhou last fall and with a 3rd Round result in Melbourne in January, racked up back-to-back early-round upsets over Petra Cetkovska and Angelique Kerber, while 21-year old Kazakh Putintseva made Peng Shuai's singles comeback a short-lived one and then relieved us all of having to see Kiki Mladenovic advance any deeper into the draw than absolutely necessary. But that wasn't the biggest highlight of the world #56's trip to California. No, that would be her pushing of Serena Williams in the 3rd Round, taking 5-3 and 6-5 leads in the 1st and serving for the set before suffering the same fate that most players (Vika excluded, this weekend) do when the world #1 is on the other side of the net.

The becoming-more-and-more-familiar fresh face in the latter stages of I.W. was Kasatkina, whose upward mobility on the WTA tour continues at a steady -- and sometimes rapid -- pace. Ranked in the mid-#340's a season ago, the 18-year old Hordette rises from #48 to a career-best #36 on Monday after a QF run in the desert that included wins over Daniela Hantuchova, Anna-Lena Friedsam, Monica Puig (saving a MP) and Timea Bacsinszky. And after voicing her preference for men's tennis, she might even have earned an I.W. wild card for life... or at least as long as Raymond Moore is in charge of things (which may or may not be a short-term reality).

DOWN: Martina Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) and Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan (TPE/TPE)
...while it was rocky road to the latter stages of the singles tournament in Indian Wells, most of the heavy hitters reached the end, or close to it. That wasn't the case in doubles. There, the world's top two duos were both sent packing in their opening matches. #1-seeded defending champs Hingis & Mirza, celebrating the one-year anniversary of their first event together, were taken out in straight sets by King/Kudryavtseva, their worst loss since Cincinnati last summer. The duo who took advantage of that Cincy loss and won their biggest-ever title were the Chan sisters, but that didn't happen this time around. The #2-seeded Chans, too, lost their own 2nd Round match to Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe, the Bannerette pair who proved to be the ultimate beneficiaries of their own upset when they went on to claim the I.W. title.
ITF PLAYERS: Isabella Shinikova/BUL and Katerina Stewart/USA
...24-year old Bulgarian Shinikova notched her third 2016 challenger win with a championship run in the $10K Hammamet, Tunisia event, her second consecutive title and third in the past month. Her 6-1/4-6/7-6(2) victory over Romania's Irina Maria Bara in the final gives Shinikova a career mark of 14-11 in ITF singles finals, with thirteen of those coming in the last two seasons alone (she's now gone 11-2).

In Orlando, Stewart won the all-Bannerette final vs. Grace Min in a $10K challenger to grab her second consecutive singles title. The 18-year old has now won eight career titles, as the world #164 edges ever closer to surpassing the career-high ranking (#158) she attained last July.
JUNIOR STARS: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE and Usue Arconada/USA
...16-year old Vondrousova, the current girls #4 (and former #1) won her third career ITF singles title at the $10K challenger in Antalya, Turkey with a dominating 6-2/6-0 win in the final over Swiss Lisa Sabino. Ranked #374 on the WTA computer, the Czech -- a two-time junior slam doubles champ and two-time singles semifinalist -- also reached the doubles final with fellow Maiden Natalie Novotna.

In the Grade A Porto Alegre junior event in Brazil, top-seeded 17-year old South American-born (ARG) Bannerette Arconada defended her '15 singles title with a 0-6/6-4/6-2 (after trailing 6-0/4-2) victory over #3 seed Amanda Anisimova. The pair made up two-thirds of the three-strong U.S. contingent in the girls singles semis (they were joined by unseeded Natasha Subhash). Both Arconada and Coffee Bowl champ Anisimova are ranked in the Top 21 (heading into Week 11), where the U.S.'s total of four junior girls are second only to Russia's six.
DOUBLES: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/CoCo Vandeweghe (USA/USA) and Julia Goerges/Karolina Pliskova (GER/CZE)
...hmmm, is there anyone that Mattek-Sands CAN'T play winning doubles with? Add first-time tour doubles champ Vandeweghe as the tenth name on the list of women that BMS has partnered with to claim her now eighteen career WTA titles. In Indian Wells, the all-Bannerette duo took out the Chan sisters, Atawo/Spears (BMS has won titles with both of those two, by the way), Babos/Shvedova and Goerges/Ka.Pliskova in the final as Mattek-Sands moved to 9-1 in her last ten WD finals.

The I.W. runners-up are worth noting, as well, as Goerges & Pliskova have proven to be a very adept duo in the four events in which they've teamed since last fall. QF-QF-SF and RU finishes have resulted, along with an 11-4 mark that has included wins over the likes of Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, Atawo/Spears, Garcia/Mladenovic, King/Kudryavtseva and (in I.W.) Muguruza/CSN, Kasatkina/Vesnina, King/Kudryavtseva (again) and Errani/Kalashnikova before losing in the three-set final to BMS/Vandeweghe. Three of the duo's four losses have come to the very best WD teams on tour -- Hingis/Mirza (2) and the Chans (1). Goerges seems to specialize in teaming (and reaching finals) with Czechs, with Pliskova now added to a list that already included Hlavackova, Hradecka, Strycova and Uhlirova.



1. San Antonio 125 2nd Rd. - Gavrilova d. Sakkari
Finally, a bit of Gavrilova's Melbourne spark showed up again, as the Aussie staged a comeback from 6-4/4-2 down vs. the 20-year old Greek, surging back from 5-3 down in the 2nd set tie-break with four consecutive points to set the stage for a victorious 3rd.
2. IW 3rd Rd. - Halep d. Makarova
Well, at least Simona exorcised ONE of her recent demons in Indian Wells.

3. IW 2nd Rd. - King/Kudryavtseva d. Hingis/Mirza
Hmmm, the one-year anniversary gift is supposed to be paper, right? Well, I guess whatever Martina & Sania got wasn't worth the paper their I.W. draw was printed on.


4. IW 3rd Rd. - Bacsinszky d. Bouchard
Hmmm, maybe Timea will manage to put together a season yet. (And she's a founding member of the #ZKYnameEnding Club, too.)

5. IW 4th Rd. - Kvitova d. Gibbs
Before she was finally shipped off by Radwanska in the Czech's first QF of '16, Kvitova survived a trio of three-setters against Danka Kovinic (who led 6-5, 30/love in the 3rd), Johanna Larrson (the Swede served for the match) and Gibbs. Against the Bannerette, Petra squandered a 3-1 lead and dropped the 1st set before taking the final two.


6. San Antonio 125 Final - Doi d. Friedsam
Doi is the first Japanese woman to win one of the nineteen WTA 125 Series events held since 2012. Friedsam ('14 Suzhou champ) was playing for the chance to become the first player to win two 125 singles titles.
7. IW SF - Azarenka d. Rybarikova
Vika's ninth career double bagel, but her second of 2016 (Van Uytvanck AO).
8. IW 3rd Rd. - Kasatkina d. Puig
Puig saved five MP vs. Kr.Pliskova in Melbourne, but she was on the other side of things here by losing after holding one of her own vs. the Russian.
9. $25K Irapuato MEX Final - Francoise Abanda d. Lesley Kerkhove
The 19-year old Canadian wins career ITF title #2 in her first final since going 1-1 during the 2014 season.

10. $25K Canberra AUS Final - Eri Hozumi d. Destanee Aiava
The 22-year old Japanese woman wins her third career ITF title, besting the 15-year old Aussie (born May '00) who rose from qualifying to reach her first professional singles final.


A new tennis birthday tradition is born?

1. IW Final - Azarenka d. Serena Williams
Once the pressure was off (and a few tears were nearly shed in her heartfelt post-match comments, which were followed up by Azarenka's own little gem of an acceptance speech/thank you to Serena), Williams was up to some fun no-good.

Also, maybe they should hold off on the confetti cannons until the trophy is lifted next time -- just to make sure it doesn't end up shattered into a million pieces on the court. I'm just sayin'.

2. IW QF - Aga Radwanska d. Kvitova
Radwanska backs up her Singapore win over the Czech, while Petra once again finds a way to squander a big lead as she limps across the finish line in a straight sets loss after three straight three-setters in Indian Wells. Aga saved four BP to hold for 3-1 in the 1st, then Kvitova's DF on BP handed her an insurmountable double-break lead one game later. In the 2nd, the Czech finally got a service hold and broke for 3-1. Radwanska broke back for 3-2, but Kvitova held to go up 5-2 and served for the set at 5-3. A Radwanska drop shot and lob combo broke Petra for 5-4, then the Czech's errors carried her the rest of the way. In the tie-break, Kvitova opened with a DF, saw Radwanska take a 4-0 lead, then after reaching a drop shot the Czech pushed a too-fine-an-angle forehand crosscourt volley off the net cord and out to give Aga a 5-2 advantage. One point later, Radwanska reached MP when -- naturally -- HER return hit the net cord and dribbled over onto Kvitova's side of the court. On her second MP, Radwanska advanced and solidified her return to the #2 ranking.

3. IW SF - Serena Williams d. Aga Radwanska
Try as she might, Radwanska couldn't quite take full advantage of Serena's early struggles. Still, the Pole's eschewing of the use of her trusty bag of trick shots for a bit more forward aggression (though she was still sometimes tentative) allowed her to stay close and nearly take her second career set off Williams. Radwanska had three BP in game #5, then another in game #7, but failed to take a double-break lead. Seizing her own chance, Williams began to tee off on Radwanska's second serve in game #8, earning the break to knot things at 4-4. Williams simply out-hit her opponent while taking the final four games of the set. Serena led 3-0 in the 3rd after winning the first eleven points of the set, only to see Aga run off three straight games of her own, saving two BP in game #6 to hold for 3-3. Williams' wide backhand volley handed Radwanska a 6-5 lead with a break, but Serena's crosscourt forehand got the break back and things went to a TB that was dominated by Williams. After dropping the first point, Serena won the final seven points of the match with big returns and serves to secure her tenth win in ten meetings with the Pold and advance to her first I.W. final in fifteen years.

4. IW QF - Serena Williams d. Halep
This match-up didn't happen in Indian Wells last year, as Serena pulled out with an injury on the day of their scheduled semifinal meeting. Halep went on to win the title. She wasn't as lucky this year, though, as Williams lifted her career mark vs. the Swarmette to 7-1.

5. IW 3rd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Ivanovic
In typical AnaIvo fashion, the Serb followed up her escape vs. Camila Giorgi by losing in forty-nine minutes while battling a sore knee. She dropped the final eleven games of the match to Pliskova.
6. IW 2nd Rd. - Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe d. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan 7-6(3)/6-3
IW Final - Mattek-Sands-Vandeweghe d. Goerges/Karolina Pliskova 4-6/6-4 [10-6]
on the heels of the loss by Hingis/Mirza, the Chans failed to fill the sudden vacuum in the doubles draw. The all-Bannerette duo of BMS/CoCo had no problem doing so, though, winning here and going on to claim the title.

7. San Antonio 125 1st Rd. - Konjuh d. Ostapenko
San Antonio 1st Rd. - Friedsam d. Naomi Broady 6-2/6-3
Ostapenko lost early, wiping away the possibility of a QF rematch of a contentious Auckland encounter with Broady. Then Broady followed her out the door soon after. One day...
8. San Antonio 125 Final - Groenefeld/Melichar d. Jans/Anastasia Rodionova 6-1/6-3
$25K Canberra Final - Barty/Arina Rodionova d. Hisami/Varatchaya Wongteanchai 6-4/6-2
one Rodionova sister was on the wrong end of a weekend doubles final, while the other joined with Barty in the Aussie's third ITF final (w/ three different fellow Australian partners) since her return to tennis. Barty has now won two 2016 titles.
9. IW SF - Azarenka d. Karolina Pliskova
In a match of swinging momentum, Pliskova out-hit Azarenka early and held two SP on Vika's serve at 5-3. After failing there, the Czech still had the chance to serve for the set. But after losing just three points on serve prior to game #9, Pliskova quickly fell down 15/40 and was broken. Azarenka then held at love and raced to a 5-0 lead in the tie-break, winning 7-1 to officially rip the set from her Czech opponent's grasp. Pliskova rebounded in the 2nd, saving four BP in the opening game then breaking for 2-0 before coasting to the set win. But it wasn't enough to hold off Azarenka down the stretch in the decider.
10. $25K Irapuato MEX Final - Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok d. Omae/Thombare
The 23-year old Ukrainian twins combined for their 21st ITF title as a duo (they're 21-19 in ITF finals, and 1-2 in WTA title matches).

Almost ??

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2008 AO 3rd - Serena 6-3/6-4
2009 AO 4th - Serena 3-6/4-2 ret. (VA heat illness)
2009 Miami F - Vika 6-3/6-1
2009 Wimb QF - Serena 6-2/6-3
2010 AO QF - Serena 4-6/7-6(4)/6-2 (VA 6-4/4-0, for match twice)
2011 Toronto SF - Serena 6-3/6-3
2011 US Open 3rd - Serena 6-1/7-6(5)
2012 Madrid F - Serena 6-1/6-3
2012 Wimb SF - Serena 6-3/7-6(6)
2012 Olympics SF - Serena 6-1/6-2
2012 US Open F - Serena 6-2/2-6/7-5 (Aza for match 5-4 3rd)
2012 WTA Chsp rr - Serena 6-4/6-4
2013 Brisbane SF - S.Williams w/o
2013 Doha F - Vika 7-6/2-6/6-3 (SW SP 1st)
2013 Rome F - Serena 6-1/6-3
2013 Cin F - Vika 2-5/6-2/7-6(6) (second to def. in 2 F's in season)
2013 US Open F - Serena 7-5/6-7(6)/6-1 (2:45; back from 2-bk down in 2nd)
2014 Brisbane F - Serena 6-4/7-5
2015 Madrid 3rd - Serena 7-6(5)/3-6/7-6(1) (VA trip.MP 3rd; 3 con DF to bk; lost 12/13 pts)
2015 RG 3rd - Serena 3-6/6-4/6-2 (VA up 6-3/4-2; replay pt. on late call - VA hand wave)
2015 Wimb QF - Serena 3-6/6-3/6-2
2016 IW F - Vika 6-4/6-4 (SW 1/12 BP)

**2016 WTA FINALS**
2...Sloane Stephens, USA (2-0)
2...Angelique Kerber, GER (1-1)
2...Genie Bouchard, CAN (0-2)
NOTE: Misaki Doi is 0-1 in WTA finals, 1-0 in WTA 125 finals in 2016

**SERENA vs. TOP 10 since 2012**
2012 18-2 (lost to Wozniacki & Kerber)
2013 21-2 (lost twice to Azarenka)
2014 12-1 (lost ot Halep)
2015 6-1 (lost to Kvitova)
2016 4-1 (lost to Kerber)

**MOST WTA FINAL MATCH-UPS - since 2012**
6...S.Williams vs. Sharapova (SW 6-0)
4...Azarenka vs. Sharapova (VA 3-1)
2...16 combinations

1999: Venus Williams (hc)
2000: Martina Hingis (hc), Nathalie Tauziat (hc)
2001: Venus Williams (hc)
2002: Kim Clijsters(hc), Justine Henin (rc)
2003: Justine Henin (green clay)
2004: Maria Sharapova (2-grass/hc), Lindsay Davenport(hc)
2005: -
2006: -
2007: Elena Dementieva (hc)
2008: Venus Williams (grass)
2009: Victoria Azarenka (hc)
2010: Elena Dementieva (hc)
2011: Samantha Stosur (hc)
2012: -
2013: Victoria Azarenka (2-hc/hc)
2014: -
2015: -
2016: Angelique Kerber (hc), Victoria Azarenka (hc)
[most wins in finals]
4...Victoria Azarenka
3...Venus Williams
2...Elena Dementieva
2...Justine Henin
2...Maria Sharapova

Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
Timea Babos, HUN
Caroline Garcia, FRA
Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
Shahar Peer, ISR
Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
Elina Svitolina, UKR
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Zhang Shuai, CHN

2 - Genie Bouchard, CAN (0-2)
2 - Sloane Stephens (2-0)
2 - Serena Williams (0-2)
1 - Venus Williams (1-0)
1 - Monica Puig, PUR (0-1)
1 - Alison Riske (0-1)
1 - Shelby Rogers (0-1)
2 - Genie Bouchard, CAN (2-0)
2 - Sloane Stephens (2-0)
2 - Serena Williams (2-0)
1+1 - Alison Riske (1-0, 0-1 125)
1 - Venus Williams (1-0)
1 - Monica Puig, PUR (1-0)
1 - Shelby Rogers (1-0)
1 - Samantha Crawford (0-1)
1 - Christina McHale (0-1)
3 - Genie Bouchard, CAN (2-1)
2 - Sloane Stephens (2-0)
2 - Serena Williams (2-0)
1+1 - Alison Riske (1-0, 1-0 125)
1+1 - Samantha Crawford (1-0, 0-1 125)
1 - Christina McHale (1-0)
1 - Monica Puig, PUR (1-0)
1 - Shelby Rogers (1-0)
1 - Venus Williams (1-0)
1 - Madison Brengle (0-1)
1 - Nicole Gibbs (0-1)
1 - Varvara Lepchenko (0-1)
1 - CoCo Vandeweghe (0-1)

**GIRLS TOP 21 - at start of Week 11**
1. Vera Lapko, BLR
2. Dalma Galfi, HUN
3. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
4. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
5. Bianca Andreescu, CAN
6. Sonya Kenin, USA
7. Anna Blinkova, RUS
8. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK
9. Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN
10. Kayla Day, USA
11. Katie Swan, GBR
12. Rebeka Masarova, SUI
13. Anastasia Potapova, RUS
14. Usue Arconada, USA
15. Olesya Pervushina, RUS
16. Zheng Wushuang, CHN
17. Elena Rybakina, RUS
18. Sofya Zhuk, RUS
19. Dayana Yastremska, UKR
20. Fanni Stollar, HUN
21. Amanda Anisimova, USA

Meanwhile, I think Indian Wells needs a new mural artist. Either that, or tell the current one to not make every other women's great look like a member of the Agassi/Graf clan. One of this year's "victims" was Martina Navratilova:

Remember the unveiling of the Steffi Graf, err... Chris Evert (???) mural last year?

Come on, now. Really?

Elsewhere, we learned that Katie Swan chose the correct sport...

And that, when in doubt, a good move might be to return to Emerald City...

I'll be back later with a Miami preview. Meanwhile, back in the real world...

While some misunderstandings are natural and light-hearted.

Others are not.

Isn't it an interesting thing to watch someone try to stuff the toothpaste back into the tube?

Hmmm, which begs the question, what does it take to be removed as a tournament director these days. Maybe we'll soon find out.

And, just like that, Serena forcefully grabs back the narrative. On that note...

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

pretty good comments on moore by vika in the video :)

I think it's really nice to see vika/serena is good relationship. what WTA needs.

I also think vika's match against pliskova was like the sliding door again. last year, because of the lost opportunities of match point, vika continues to struggle mentally on big points through rest of the year. this year, the SF match where she won by fight and heart (really, should have lost by any stats review - 10 dfs vs 17 aces, and both error/winner columns below pliskova) pushed her through her mental block. I truly believe, without the SF stretching her, she would not have won the final. or in hindsight even if she got to AO final back in Jan, she still would have lost. and finally just happy that she FINALLY is back to top 10. I almost gave up on her.

I like pliskova's game. there is not much not to like. easy power, great serve, defends relatively well. her front court game is poor though. mental toughness? not sure yet.

Mon Mar 21, 05:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Jo, I like everything about Pliskova! I think the mental part is coming along. I mean, she's Czech--it isn't that easy :) Plisko and Muguruza both have that kind of easy poise on court that's a pleasure to see. Mugu, though--I don't know, at this point.

Vika's job now is to stay injury-free. I believe that her chronic injury state is psychologically related; I've thought this for a long time. If she can make a few needed adjustments, this could be a great season for her. It's great to see her back!

Mon Mar 21, 01:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

hi diane,
i like pliskova's chances of being the force better, because she climbs gradually, with jumps and setbacks, that's how sports work. you can have breakthroughs but there comes challenges.

for mugu, she has talents and a nice aggressive game. bonus as many find, is probably liking her looks and attitude. but like so many stars, her rise was too quick, too smooth. the flip from 'nothing to lose' to now 'expecting to win' has brought many down to earth. it's much more an emotional and mental barrier. it got sloane 2 years to climb up a bit. bouchard is still in the midst of it. mugu probably is just at the start of going through it.

Mon Mar 21, 10:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Well put, Jo. Of course, Garbi did miss practically a year because of injury, so she's most likely has some understsndable frustration.

Mon Mar 21, 11:28:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home