Friday, April 08, 2016

1Q BSA's: The Most Interesting Tour in the World, Pt.3

Whew! Sometimes the best part about a scenic tour is finally reaching the end.

Finally, the best of the best 1st Quarter performances...

"I love pressure. That's what makes me a great player."
- Victoria Azarenka

#1 - Victoria Azarenka's return to the eye of the WTA storm was given sturdy sea legs with a coast-to-coast North American run of dominance that included a rare sweep of the titles in Indian Wells and Miami that shot her directly back into the Top 5. After a post-injury 0-8 run vs. the Top 3, Azarenka's "Sunshine Double" (the first since 2005) notched wins over both #1 Serena Williams and #3 Angelique Kerber (who jumped to #2 a few days later), with a win over #4 Garbine Muguruza thrown in for a little spice. Her win over Williams in the Miami decider gives her mores wins in finals (4) over Serena than any other player, while her victory over Kerber ran her career head-to-head over the German to 7-1. Of course, Vika's comeback is not yet complete. There's only one sort of result that will make it "official." Hint: She's got three more opportunities to take care of it this season.

#2 - Angelique Kerber stuns Serena Williams to win the Australian Open, becoming the first woman to defeat her in a three-set slam final. The win makes her the first German to claim a slam crown since 1999 (Graf at RG), the first to win the AO since '94 and the first lefty champ in Melbourne since '96. After saving MP in her 1st Round match vs. Misaki Doi (yep, she's the first to win a slam after doing that so early in tournament, too), Kerber won thirteen of her next fourteen sets (dropping only the 2nd in the final vs. Serena) on her way to the title.
#3 - One can easily question Karolina Pliskova's slam results (and low total number of singles titles), but she has most definitely fully embraced her place on the Czech Fed Cup stage. In fact, the Czech Republic's 3-2 1st Round win over Romania turned out to be the second straight tie -- w/ last year's final -- in which Karolina arrived, cape around her neck, to erase a 2-1 Sunday deficit with back-to-back singles and doubles wins to clinch victory. She opened the weekend by coming back from a set down to defeat Simona Halep (she'd been 0-3 vs. the Romanian in her career) in Match #1, staved off elimination by defeating Monica Niculescu in Match #4, then teamed with Barbora Strycova (for the second straight tie) to win the deciding doubles.
#4 - Victoria Azarenka wins Brisbane, her first title in twenty-nine months, in true Vika style. She didn't drop a set all week and tied Serena Williams' tournament record by losing a total of seventeen games (including just four in the final vs. eventual AO champ Kerber).

#5 - Belinda Bencic is the The Swiss Rock of Fed Cup. "I really feel I belong in between the best players in the world. It makes me happy to be on the big stage," the 18-year old said after her Fed Cup 1st Round tie-opening win over Germany's Andrea Petkovic. All she did was back up that notion on Sunday, winning her third match in three career meetings with AO champ Angelique Kerber. After Timea Bacsinszky (0-2) failed to clinch the tie, the teenager returned with (part-time mentor/coach/inspiration/maybe Olympic doubles partner?) Martina Hingis to handily down the German duo of Groenefeld/Petkovic to win 3-2. The road victory sends the Swiss to their first FC semifinal since 1998... when a 17-year old Hingis led the way. Bencic, at the time, was all of eighteen months old. Soon afterward, she became the first teenager to crack the Top 10 since 2009.

#6 - All for one. It's always been that way for the WTA's greatest generation of Italian players. While Italy's Fed Cup fortunes were once again dealt defeat by the French in February in Week 5, the three remaining fabled Italian vets (w/ only Flavia Pennetta now in retirement) quickly made that story a footnote by staging a tour-level coup over the following two weeks. First, Roberta Vinci won her biggest career title in St.Petersburg (giving her a 9-1 record in finals since '07), setting the stage for her to become the oldest player (33) to ever make her Top 10 singles debut. In Dubai, Errani (who went 0-2 in back-to-back matches on FC weekend, after Camila Giorgi had put Italy up 1-0) won her biggest career singles crown, climbing back into the Top 20. But the pièce de résistance of the stretch had to be 35-year old Francesca Schiavone saving MP in the QF and going on to take the title in Rio, her first singles crown since '13, to become the fourth-oldest singles champ in tour history (and, at #132, the lowest-ranked since '12).
#7 - After a career year that nevertheless saw good results dry up over the back-half of a season in which she won no titles, Carla Suarez-Navarro finally wins her second tour singles title (she'd been 1-8 in finals) in Doha, and her first since 2014 in Oeiras. CSN's impressive week -- which also included a trip to the doubles final with Sara Errani -- included wins over Timea Bacsinszky, Elena Vesnina, Aga Radwanska (2 & love) and Jelena Ostapenko in a three-set final secured after she'd gotten off to a slow start while dropping the 1st set to the teenager by a 6-1 score. She jumped back into the Top 10 the following Monday at a career-best #6.
#8 - Aga Radwanska coasts through Week 1 without losing a single set in Shenzhen, her third consecutive title dating back to the 2015 season and her fourth since the close of the U.S. Open. The continuation of the Pole's remarkable run in Asia ended with a win in the final over Alison Riske. Three of those four title runs came without Aga dropping a set, more than any other player over the last two seasons combined.

#9 - Five months after she claimed her first tour title in Washington, D.C. without dropping a set, Sloane Stephens wins #2 in Auckland, once again after not losing a set all week in what was her first tournament with new coach Kamau Murray. Due to weather delays, Stephens had to finish off her semifinal with Caroline Wozniacki, then win the final over Julia Goerges, on the same day.

Two months later in Acapulco, Stephens ran her career record in tour finals to 3-0 with her third title since last summer. After being 0-6 in WTA semifinals before her D.C. title run, Stephens has gone 6-0 in SF/F matches since. She now has more career titles than fellow recent North American AO semifinalists Genie Bouchard and Madison Keys combined. And more than Belinda Bencic, too.
#10 - Quite simply, Caroline Garcia's play was glorious on Fed Cup weekend, as she led the French team to a second FC win over Italy in as many years. Clean, clutch and aggressive, she showed all her game in a pair of straight sets wins over Sara Errani (w/ 31 winners) and Camila Giorgi, the former after Kristina Mladenovic had lost Match #1, and the latter to clinch the tie for the Pastries. She even got on the court with Olympic year doubles partner Mladenovic to pick up a third win. In the 1st Round a year ago against Italy, after losing to Errani on Day 1, Garcia won singles (Giorgi in three sets) and doubles matches on Sunday to complete an historic road comeback from 2-0 down.
#11 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, 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 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. Kuznetsova sixteenth career title tied her with Elena Dementieva for second place on the all-time Russian list behind Maria Sharapova and she returned to the Top 20. But, as it turned out, this wasn't even her best performance of the quarter.

#12 - Venus Williams, who turns 36 in June, often had a rough go of things in the 1st Quarter of 2016. But after leading the U.S. Fed Cup team to a victory over Poland in Hawaii in World Group II (she 19-2 in FC singles in her career), Williams went straight to Taiwan and won a title at the inaugural event in Kaohsiung without dropping a set. Of the seven WTA singles titles won in the Open era by players age 35+, Williams now has claimed three, all having been won since last fall. Venus has won won forty-nine singles titles in her career.

"When you love the game it's easy to give everything, every time."
- Venus Williams
"My dreams come true when I step on the court."
- Venus


#13 - Samantha Stosur's put her veteran standing to good use while leading Australia past Slovakia in Fed Cup World Group II play. She was unassailable in Bratislava, downing both Jana Cepelova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in straight sets, then after junior Kimberly Birrell lost to Dominika Cibulkova to force things to the doubles, Stosur teamed with Casey Dellacqua to defeat Cepelova & Daniela Hantuchova in three sets to clinch the win.
#14 - With Victoria Azarenka sitting out the tite, it was expected that Olga Govortsova was going to play the role of team leader for Belarus vs. Canada in Fed Cup World Group II play in Quebec City. But it turned out to be 21-year old Aliaksandra Sasnovich. She opened the tie with what turned out to be a key three-set win over Francoise Abanda, then returned in Match #4 to help the team climb out of the 2-1 hole down which Govortsova's poor singles performance had thrown the Belarusians. In the end, Sasnovich teamed with Govortsova in doubles to defeat '15 Pan-Am Games Gold medalists Gabriela Dabrowski & Carol Zhao to drag Team Belarus into the World Group Playoffs this spring.

#15 - Alize 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, the Pastry claimed her first title since '14 when she defeated Genie Bouchard in the Hobart final to claim career title #5. Cornet hadn't reached even a semifinal in sixteen months.


#1 - Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza win back-to-back-to-back-to-back titles in Brisbane (where Hingis defended), Sydney (where Mirza defended), Melbourne (their third straight slam, but Mirza's first ever AO win, and Hingis' first since 2002) and St.Peterburg (an first-time event, so maybe they can defend next year) to run their consecutive title streak to eight tournaments. Their overall match winning streak, the longest on tour since 1990, was finally halted at forty-one in a row. Also in January, Hingis joined Mirza as the co-#1 in doubles, rising to the position that she last held in 2000.
#2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands sweeps the titles in Indian Wells and Miami, winning in the desert with CoCo Vandeweghe before reuniting on the other side of the continent with Lucie Safarova (the duo won two slams in '15), who finally returned in March from the illness that plagued her late last season, to win in Miami. While the Dream Team of Hingis & Mirza are still the solid #1 duo in the world, the Dynamic Duo of BMS & Safarova went 2-0 vs. them in '15 (never getting the chance to face off with them during their long winning streak).

#TeamBUCIE #miamiopen2016

A photo posted by MATTeK-SaNDS (@matteksands) on

#3 - While Aleksandra Krunic is Serbia's Fed Cup Good Luck Charm, Barbora Strycova is the Czech Fed Cup squad's Secret Weapon, hiding in the weeds all weekend until being called into action in the closing moments to play a part in putting a period at the end of another winning effort. For the fourth straight time (going back to the 2011 semis, and including the '14 QF and last year's final), Strycova was part of a deciding doubles win that secured a 3-2 victory during the Maidens' ongoing dynastic run. Just as she did last fall, Strycova teamed with Karolina Pliskova to clean up a messy weekend, defeating Romania's Andreea Mitu & Raluca Olaru 2 & 3 to clinch a trip back to the semis (with the chance to win a third straight title, and fifth in six years).
#4 - A week after winning the deciding doubles match in Taiwan's Promotional Playoff tie against Japan in Thailand (def. Shuko Aoyama & Erin Hozumi to clinch the 2-1 tie), the Chan sisters came back home to Taiwan and won the title in the inaugural WTA event in Kaohsiung without losing set, then followed up by winning in Doha, as well. Hao-Ching & Yung-Jan have won seven tour titles together (they're undefeated in three additional ITF finals, too), placing them behind only one other all-sister duo in WTA history. That 21-title winning pair of siblings have the names of "Venus" and "Serena." Maybe you've heard of them?

#5 - Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Arantxa Parra-Santonja sweep the Acapulco and Monterrey titles to earn the Queen(s) of Mexico crown for the next twelve months (one year after Timea Bacsinszky was the first honoree after winning both singles titles last spring). The 33-year old Spanish duo went through the the first tournament without dropping a set, then reached the Monterrey final in the same fashion. Once there, they dropped the opening set to Petra Martic & Maria Sanchez before staging a comeback that resulted in their third title as a duo in their sixth final together over the past year.

HM- Saying, "Tennis just makes sense to me," after a year and a half away, during which time her activities included a stint in a professional cricket league, the now 19-year old Ashleigh Barty returned to tennis in February. She picked up a title in her very first event, winning the $25K challenger in Perth with fellow Aussie Jessica Moore. The last time Barty played in a final was in Birmingham in 2014, just weeks before her most recent tour-level event at Wimbledon. "I'm starting from scratch and that's no worries at all," Barty said. Two months later, it's still going well. She reached finals in four of her first five events (w/ three different Aussie partners, including former partner Casey Dellacqua) and won three titles (two w/ Arina Rodionova).


#1 - Even with all their off-court controversy, the Hordettes seemed a safe bet to advance past the Dutch squad in the Fed Cup 1st Round. While the Netherlands had won seven straight ties, with Kiki Bertens and/or Arantxa Rus pulling the load, the nation entered the weekend without a Top 100 player for a road tie vs. Sharapova (Career Slam), Svetlana Kuznetsova (two slams wins), Ekaterina Makarova (slam semifinalist) and Daria Kasatkina (THE up-and-coming teen on tour in '16). Even Dutch Captain Paul Haarhuis said it'd take a "miracle" to emerge with the victory. Well, wish granted, and the "Miracle of Moscow" became a reality. With emphasis. Bertens kicked things off with a straight sets win over a frustrated Makarova, then Richel Hogenkamp (pictured) won the longest-ever FC match (4:00) over Russian all-time Fed Cup match leader Kuznetsova, saving MP and putting Netherlands up 2-0. Everyone wondered if the lineup would change and Sharapova would play singles match #3, or at least a fresh Kasatkina might be plucked from the bench to face Bertens on Sunday. Since, you know, surely Sveta wouldn't be called upon to play the first match after losing the marathon match #2 the night before. But she was and, understandably, was a shadow of her usual FC self (and more like her "off" self on her worst tour match days), losing in straights to Bertens. Afterward, Kuznetsova seemed confused that Bertens played better than she normally does in her tour events. Bertens' win pushed her career FC singles mark to 13-1, but really her win ONE DAY EARLIER should have been enough for Kuznetsova to realize she wasn't going to simply roll over and "play dead." The win clinched a stunning upset of epic proportions -- even with the Dutch's team's under-the-radar the-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-our-parts credo a living, breathing player in this tie from the start -- and quite possibly sends the Russian team back down the Fed Cup rabbit hole. As Women Who Serve's Diane Dees said, the entire Team Russia (had) a giant "Oh, Nadia" moment.
#2 - In a match-up of two teams coming in on dueling two-season winning streaks, the Czechs fended off a stiff challenge from their Romanian hosts in the season's opening Fed Cup weekend. Petra Kvitova's first-ever 0-2 FC weekend was overcome by (yet again the solid team leader) Karolina Pliskova, who had a hand in all three points in the 3-2 win. The two-time defending champion Maidens, who picked up their 100th win here, thus advance to an eighth straight semifinal, and continue the quest for a fifth FC title in six years. No team has won three straight crowns since Spain from 1993-95, the most dominant stretch since Czechoslovakia won three in a row between 1983-85. Meanwhile, the game Romanian squad next must win another tie in the spring, then hope for a slightly better 1st Round draw for 2017.
#3 - The Australian Green team -- Daria Gavrilova & Nick Kyrgios -- become the first Aussie duo to win the Hopman Cup since Mark Philippoussis and a 16-year old Jelena Dokic in 1999. The pair barely made it out of round robin play, having to save a MP (via a Gavrilova volley up the middle and then a crosscourt drop volley) vs. France in the final RR match in an 11-9 3rd set mixed double match tie-break. The Aussies never lost again, winning the match two points point later (Kyrgios covered the entire court, hitting all half a dozen shots on MP) and then shutting out Ukraine 2-0 in the final.

Omg! No words! So happy!!!!!!! Best week of my life!

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on


[Wheelchair Champions]
Jiske Griffioen defends her Australian Open singles crown, finally putting away doubles partner Aniek Van Koot on her fourth MP after twice failing to serve out a straight sets win. With three career slam wins, the Dutch woman now leads the pack (three other woman have won two each) when it comes to slam titles won since her countrywoman Esther Vergeer retired following the 2012 season after dominating the WC tennis world for over a decade, ending her career on an obscene 470-match winning streak.

Yui Kamiji, playing without regular partner Jordanne Whiley in Melbourne, nonetheless claims her third consecutive AO doubles crown with Marjolein Buis. The #2 seeds, they defeated #1 Griffioen/Van Koot in the final.

Vera Lapko's Australian Open junior singles final win over '15 champ Tereza Mihalikova, in which she closed out a straight sets win despite having trailed 4-1 in the 2nd set, makes the Belarusian the first girl from her nation to win a slam crown since Victoria Azarenka claimed the AO and U.S. Open titles in 2005.

[Best New Hall-of-Famer/New Pupil Combination]
Three events into having recently-elected Hall of Famer Justine Henin as an official member of her coaching team, and a week after reaching the Dubai semis, Elina Svitolina grabbed her fourth career tour singles title in Kuala Lumpur. The 21-year old Ukrainian didn't face a murderer's row of opponents (Miyu Kato, Risa Ozaki -- who went down in a love 3rd set, Kristina Kucova and Zhu Lin) en route to the final, but she rose above the fray and then staged a comeback in her last match of the week against Genie Bouchard. After failing to serve out the 1st set at 5-3 vs. the Canadian and dropping the opener in a tie-break, Svitolina found herself down 7-6/4-2 before doing a bit of problem-solving during a match interrupted more than once by rain. "During the match, I tried to change something in my game plan. I tried to adapt. When I'm not winning, why should I do the same thing?" Oh, amen to that. Still, despite forcing a 3rd set, Svitolina saw Bouchard emerge from a rain delay with a chance to serve out the match at 5-4 in the final set. She was broken at love, then Svitolina saved a BP on her own serve a game later before running off the final games of the match to win a 7-5 set.

[Best 2016 "Preseason" Performance]
Aussie teen Maddison Inglis pulled double duty in the December Australian Open Wild Card Playoff tournaments held by Tennis Australia. After losing to Priscilla Hon in the final of the first-ever junior wild card event for a MD women's berth, Ingliss also reached the final in the women's event. There the 17-year old defeated newlywed Arina Rodionova (who'd gotten married after her semifinal win) to earn a spot in her first career slam main draw.

[Best Non-Champion Peformances]
An energetic and entertaining Daria Gavrilova becomes an instant star Down Under, knocking off AO seeds Petra Kvitova and Kristina Mladenovic under the lights en route to her first career slam Round of 16
2006 Miami champ Svetlana Kuznetsova knocks off Serena Williams en route to the final, her first at the event since 2009, and moves within striking distance (#13) of returning to the Top 10 for the first time since 2010
Before Johanna Konta's semifinal run at the Australian Open, no British woman had reached an AO Round of 16 since 1987, a slam QF since 1984 or a major SF since 1977
Zhang Shuai puts on a quarterfinal run for the ages in Melbourne, going from a #133-ranked barely-a-qualifier who was contemplating retirement to the highest-ranked Chinese player in the world after an improbable AO run that included wins over #2 Simona Halep, Week 2 title-winner Alize Cornet and '15 Melbourne semifinalist Madison Keys
While Serena Williams' return trip to Indian Wells didn't end as well as she'd have hoped, she still reached her first final at the tournament in fifteen years. She returned to the event in '15 after a fourteen-year boycott, pulling out of the semifinals last season due to injury. This year, Venus returned to the tournament after her own 15-year absence.
Samantha Crawford uses a huge serve and big shots to go from qualifier to Brisbane semifinalist after upsetting Belinda Bencic and delivering a Breaking Bad-style "say my name" three & love demolition of Andrea Petkovic

[Close but...]
Monica Puig was living the good life in Bayamon all week during a week's worth of action in Fed Cup Americas II zone play. She went 4-0 in singles (winning 48 of 50 games) and 3-0 in doubles while carrying Puerto Rico into the Promotional Playoff vs. Chile. She won her singles match over Daniela Seguel to force the deciding doubles, teaming with Ana Sofia Cordero vs. Seguel & Andrea Koch-Benvenuto. But it wasn't meant to be, as all her work went for nothing as the Chileans battled back from MP down to win and be promoted to Americas I zone play.

[When a Loss is as Good as a Win]
Ranked 246 places below her opponent, Aussie Arina Rodionova was Captain Alicia Molik's unexpected booby trap, perfectly placed on Day 1 of Australia's Fed Cup World Group II tie with Slovakia. In her FC debut, Rodionova pushed #1 Slovak Anna Karolina Schmiedlova to the limit in the opening match, taking a 7-5/4-1 lead. AKS rallied, holding three SP before bloodying her knee trying to reach a shot before holding for 6-5 and then breaking serve to take the 2nd. A cramping and tired Rodionova finally hit the physical wall in the :32 3rd set that went to Schmiedlova, ending the 3:02 match. While the Aussie ultimately wasn't able to close out the big upset, she wore AKS down enough to soften her up a bit for Samantha Stosur, who defeated AKS in straight sets on Sunday to give Australia a 2-1 lead (the Aussies eventually won 3-2). As the Russians fell apart vs. the Netherlands on the same FC weekend, it's interesting to note that former Hordette Rodionova was such a bright light for the Aussies, while still another Russian-turned-Aussie (Dasha Gavrilova) stands ready to don Australia's colors for the first time in FC action later this month.

[Tennis Gods Save the New British Queens]
Suddenly, British women's tennis is booming. Three Brits are ranked in the Top 100 as the 2Q of 2016 begins. #21 Johanna Konta has been racking up "first British woman since..." honors all season long, while #78 Naomi Broady has also been steadily rising up the ranks. She reached her first career tour SF in Kuala Lumpur in February, the same month in which #55 Heather Watson won in Monterrey to become the first British woman with three tour singles titles in her career since Sue Barker, who won her last title (#11) more than a decade before Watson was born.

Meanwhile, Katie Swan is a 17-year old on the move. The #2-ranked girl in the world as recently as January, she ended the 1Q by notching her career-best win (over #102 Lauren Davis) in Miami women's qualifying. Oh, and there's Laura Robson, too. The former Wimbledon girls champ (at 14 in '08) and Olympic Silver medalist (MX) with two career slam Round of 16 results (2012-13) to her name, is currently attempting to make a comeback from her '14 wrist surgery. The going has been rather slow. At the moment, she's ranked inside the Top 500 after returning to the tour last grass season following a year and a half absence. When Robson, still just 22, first burst onto the scene, she was pretty much seen British women's tennis first legitimate hope for success after a drought that had lasted decades.

Just a few years later, the room is getting a bit crowded.

"Actually I am a tri-citizen. I've got a Hungarian passport, as well. I'm pretty much the female version of Jason Bourne." - Australian-born Brit Johanna Konta

[A Feat... or not a Feat?]
Kristyna Pliskova, whose twin sister Karolina led the tour in aces in '15, set a tour record for aces in a match with 31 vs. Monica Puig in the 2nd Round in Melbourne, breaking the mark of 27 set a year ago by Sabine Lisicki in a two-set match in Birmingham. Pliskova set the mark in an extended three-setter in which she held five match points... but lost.

[Best Set]
In the Australian Open semis, Serena Williams throttled Aga Radwanska in a near-perfect love opening set that lasted just 21 minutes. In all, Williams, moving forward with gusto, led 18-1 in winners in the stanza... even without hitting a single ace. As it turned out, she didn't need them.

[Best Around-the-Post Winner]

That was fun ?? ????

A video posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

[Most Predictable Voting Results]

"Pain is my second name." - Aga Radwanska

[Best Game/Coaching Tool While Having No Hope]
Maria Sharapova's game #7 performance in the 2nd set of a 6-4/6-1 loss to Serena Williams in the Australian Open QF. Maybe the cheers she received after she finally got on the board in the 2nd after falling down 5-0 ("Don't give me your pity!") particularly irked her. But in what would be the final game of the match -- and her last in quite some time, it may turn out -- Sharapova seemed to make a point of showing her competitiveness. Serving with new balls, Williams hit her thirteenth ace on the second point of the game. But Sharapova didn't fold, not by a long shot. Clenching her fist, slapping her thigh and urging herself on, she fired a return winner to reach BP, then reached BP again soon afterward, still seeking an opportunity to get a foothold from which she might be able to climb back into the match. It was a characteristic stretch of points for the Russian, though it was ultimately an unsuccessful one.

Really, coaches of young tennis players -- or young athletes, period -- should show this game to their charges, obscuring the score. The kids should be told to focus on Sharapova, playing "in a bubble" with her all-so-familiar look of intensity, pumping herself up to give her all on every point. When the kids are asked what they think the score of the match was in that game, they'd likely to stunned that it wasn't something close to 5-5 in the 3rd.

Hopefully it won't be... but if it turns out to literally be our last image of Sharapova as a player, well, she -- and we -- could do worse than to be left with that memory, I suppose.

[Best/Oddest Coincidence]
2015 AO 3rd Rd. (MCA) - #10 Makarova def. #22 Ka.Pliskova 6-4/6-4
2016 AO 3rd Rd. (MCA) - #21 Makarova def. #9 Ka.Pliskova 6-3/6-2 the second of back-to-back years at the Australian Open, in the same round (3rd), on the same day (January 23), on the same court (Margaret Court Arena), with nearly identical (just traded) seeds, Ekaterina Makarova AGAIN defeated Karolina Pliskova

[Best Act-Like-Nobody's-Watching Post-Match Celebration]

[Best Act-Like-Nobody's-Watching Performance in the Stands]
Belinda Bencic... who now knows that someone is ALWAYS watching. Or she will soon.

[Best "non-Federeresque" Big Point Reaction From...Roger Federer]

[Best Post-Match Emotion]

[Best Post-Match Celebration]

[Best Post-Match Slip of the Tongue]

[Best Post-Match "Co-winner"/Mini Me/Shadow]
Steph, in Brisbane

[Best Answer]

[Best Most Telling Answer?]

[Best Sports Illustrated Model Stint, 2016 edition]

[Best Storm Before the Storm]
Maria Sharapova fires 16 and 21 aces in consecutive matches before losing in Australian Open QF to Serena Williams

"I know...that I face consequences. I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."
"I take great responsibility... in my job, and I made a huge mistake."

- Maria Sharapova, announcing that she'd tested positive for the recently-banned drug Meldonium at the Australian Open

[Worst Mess...]

[Until You Consider...]
That WADA can place substances on the banned list simply because athletes are found to be using them, without any actual evidence of so-called "performance enhancement." Meanwhile, those same athletes cannot challenge the appearance of any substance on that banned list.

[Or, of course, you include this...]

[And this...]


[Worst Call]

[Best Post-Match Preparation]

[Best Post-Match Hug]

Hmmm, a flashforward to the conclusion of a future slam final? Say, about 1918-19? Speaking of the future...

[Future Fed Cup Champs?]
If not in 2016, then soon? By the power of Mauresmo...

[Best Photobomb]

And, finally...

[Best Instagrammer]

Weightlifting career? ??

A video posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

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

A video posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

stephens, finally coming out to be a great player? she looked calm on court. good to see.

Sun Apr 10, 10:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And if she does indeed rise now, while it also has it's obvious drawbacks such as how the commentators sway their match calls (see Shriver's "memory" of that Sloane/Vika match), it also would likely mean ESPN -- with a NextGen U.S. player now in the mix -- latches onto the women's game and promotes it more. Never a bad thing.

Mon Apr 11, 12:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

oh, but ESPN would find anything to slash at vika. it's part of their DNA somehow. i was watch the highlights of serena/vika's match. and they were so stunned and had long silence when vika went to finish line.

stephens though, a bit to my surprise she kind of resurrected herself this year, just like vika. maybe meant to spice things up? esp now that serena is going through a rough patch, madison key is not rising high faster, stephens coming back is just at the perfect time for them to rave about US tennis again. so any prediction? possible top 10 by end of the year?

btw , this player's box from vika is pretty good to discover her learning after AO. i am still impressed that she beat kerber in miami, when someone own the slam, it usually reverses the trend before. good that she seeks revenge immediately, otherwise i can see a very different 2016 ahead of her.

Mon Apr 11, 11:32:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

She might need to put up a good slam result or two to reach the Top 10, but on her current path she'll surely contend and/or win a few more titles, which should get her Top 15, at least.

By the way, and I know it sounds odd, but isn't she great in her trophy poses? All four of her titles have produced some really nice shots of her with the hardware. She's becoming an old pro at it now. ;)

Tue Apr 12, 04:30:00 AM EDT  

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