Sunday, May 08, 2016

Wk.18- Pastries in the Sky with Diamonds on the Soles of Their Shoes

Caro & Kiki. Kiki & Caro. With Day 1 in Paris just two weeks away, the French Pastries are the co-leaders in the ongoing search for the "Queen of Clay" for 2016.

It's a pity that when the WTA tour hands over the reigns to the fans each month when it comes to voting for the "Player of the Month" that the doubles duos are pretty much left out in the cold in the process. This past week, with April finally in the books, the tour named three nominees for the most recent honor: Stuttgart champ Angelique Kerber (who ultimately won), Charleston winner Sloane Stephens and Laura Siegemund, who while she had a great month didn't actually WIN any title at all. Meanwhile, Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic had swept both Charleston and Stuttgart, clinched France's spot in the Fed Cup final, defeated #1-ranked Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza and went undefeated for the month. In my eyes, THEY were the Players of the Month. And it really wasn't all that close, either.

Well, it's now May... and they're at it again.

In Madrid, the Pastries continued their clay court dominance. Again, they won the title. It's their third straight, with a now thirteen-match winning streak (all on clay). Again, they defeated Hingis/Mirza, handing the co-#1's their second defeat in a final in a matter of weeks, dropping the veteran duo to 13-3 in overall finals since they began their partnership last March. This time, though, Garcia & Mladenovic swept through the tournament without dropping a set, becoming just the third doubles pair to do so this season.

Now 2-1 on the year vs. the Dreamers, with a hard court loss in the Sydney final, the Pastries trail only them in 2016 titles (4 to 3) and finals (6 to 5), and may be their biggest obstacle at Roland Garros. In Paris, the #1's will seek to win their fourth straight slam title. Hingis & Mirza's only loss as a duo in slam competition came in the QF in Paris on the clay, the pair's worst surface.

Sounds like a showdown may be on the horizon.

The last French woman to win a slam title in Paris was Nathalie Dechy, in Mixed Doubles. The last to win in women's singles or doubles was Mary Pierce in 2000, when she swept both titles. But an ALL-Pastry RG women's doubles championship duo is even more rare. It's been forty-five years since Gail Chanfreau & Francoise Durr lifted their second of back-to-back titles in 1971, and since Chanfreau was Aussie-born and played under the Australian flag early in her career you have to be back to the 1940's to find the last time two French-born women were crowned co-champions. Garcia & Mladenovic lifting the Coupe Simone Mathieu in early June would end that drought.

Caro & Kiki, for all their talent, flair and athleticism, often disappoint on the singles court. But their powers are activated when they're on the stage together, and they increase exponentially while playing for France in Fed Cup, especially in front of a partisan French crowd. As they head back home for the second slam of 2016, the pair are staring at some fairly daunting history if they are to truly seek to live up to the expanded expectations given birth by their springtime clay court run.

But they could do it.

With Garcia and Mladenovic set to spearhead France's quest for a first FC title since 2003 later this fall, the time and the place may be right for a Parisian prelude to the completion of such a championship run. And if French FC Captain Amelie Mauresmo could somehow find a way to be as close as possible to the court early next month, masterfully mentally connecting with them as she does on those other two weekends of the year, Roland Garros might just serve as a "dry run" for something even greater not too far down the road.

And, hey, who needs a WTA Player(s) of the Month award if you can get that?

MADRID, SPAIN (Premeir $4.8m; RCO)
S: Simona Halep/ROU def. Dominika Cibulkova/SVK 6-2/6-4
D: Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) d. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) 6-4/6-4

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic (FRA/FRA)
...with all apologies to a certain Swarmette, the run of Garcia & Mladenovic in Madrid was just a little bit more... well, MORE. Wins over Groenefeld/Vandeweghe, Zheng Saisai/Xu Yifan, Babos/Shvedova (the Kazakh won the title w/ Dellacqua last year), Makarova/Vesnina and Hingis/Mirza (again) without dropping a set immediately raises the stakes for the Pastry pair in Paris. The duo's third title together (in five finals) in their eight '16 events gives Garcia five career WD crowns, while Mladenovic has fifteen. Garcia is even with Timea Babos for the most tour titles won by Mladenovic with a single partner.

Both Garcia/Mladenovic and Hingis/Mirza should be at it again this week in Rome. A year ago, Mladenovic teamed with Babos to defeat the #1's in the final, meaning Kiki (not surprisingly) has had a hand in ALL THREE of Hingis/Mirza's trio of losses in their sixteen career finals together. All have been played on clay.
RISERS: Simona Halep/ROU & the Swarmettes, and Daria Gavrilova/AUS
...while the combination didn't rule the weekend in Fed Cup play a short while ago, the Romanians definitely seized control of the action in Madrid, with four Swarmettes reaching the quarterfinals and Halep gaining a much-needed, confidence-boosting title just two weeks before the start of play in Paris.

In her best and most consistent form in over a year, Halep put up six dominating wins (losing just one set, a love anomaly vs. Begu in the QF) to claim career title #12 to tie Virginia Ruzici (her current manager) for the most all-time tour titles won by a Romanian, closing out the final with an ace on match point. After so many struggles over the past two years since she staked her claim as a slam title contender, the run that included wins over the likes of Misaki Doi, Karin Knapp, Timea Bacsinszky, Sam Stosur and Dominika Cibulkova allows quite a few "first time since" notes to be attached to Halep's name today. She hadn't reached a final since her Toronto/Cincinnati two-fer last summer, and hadn't won a title since Indian Wells in March of last year. This was her first clay court title since 2014 in Bucharest, and her six wins in Madrid are the most she's had in a single event since she reached the Roland Garros final two springs ago.

For much of the week, Halep looked much like the Simona of old. But was it a brief reminder, or the dawning of a new day for the Swarmette? It should be noted that Halep's path to the title wasn't quite as obstacle-laden as a potential slam run would likely be, as her draw produced one of the "least contentious" roads to a Premier Mandatory crown. Seeded #6 herself, she faced no higher seeds and only one seed at all (#10 Timea Bacsinszky, the only Top 20 player who was ultimately placed in her path -- though both Stosur and Cibulkova will enter this coming week ranked between #22-26), and closed things out with a win over the lowest-ranked (#38 Cibulkova) player to ever reach a P.M. final since the start of the current schedule format in 2009.

But, still, Halep can't be bothered by such details. She judged her week to be exceptional, but not perfect. "This week I give to myself 9.5, so not yet 10," she said after having received the Madrid trophy from countrywoman (and "perfect 10 creator") Nadia Comaneci, so at least she knows she'll have to step it up yet another level in Paris... where this result will assure that she once again won't be able to hide from the pressure that has hounded her for so long.

The former world #2 will leapfrog Victoria Azarenka in the rankings on Monday and return to the Top 5.

Halep's domination of the field was backed up by her countrywomen, three of whom reached the final eight. Begu put up huge wins over Genie Bouchard and Garbine Muguruza, as well as taking out Christina McHale to reach the QF, where she claimed (at love) the only set Halep lost all week.

Cirstea's comeback campaign picked up more steam with victories over Jelena Jankovic, Danka Kovinic and Laura Siegemund as she climbed back into the top 100 (jumping from #127 to #98 this week alone) after having been barely holding onto a Top 250 ranking last November. Tig qualified by taking out Nicole Gibbs and Maria Sakkari, then put up big-time wins over Daria Kasatkina, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys (in a match that saw the competitors arrive at their assigned court, only to be kicked off so that a sideshow, err, I mean match with Gael Monfils could be moved and finished up there... sigh) in her maiden Premier Mandatory MD appearance.

Still, Tig will climb from #134 to #100 (a career first) on Monday. Oh, and Cirstea can be counted on to always have her back.

Meanwhile, Gavrilova notched her best result since her excitable run to the Australian Open Round of 16 in January, reaching the QF in Madrid with victories over Heather Watson, Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova, the latter win being the Aussie's fifth career Top 10 victory (and her second in three career match-ups vs. the Czech).


SURPRISE: Laura Siegemund/GER
...the German's grand clay court campaign continued in Madrid. After QF (Charleston) and final (Stuttgart, as a qualifier) results that somewhat surprising got her a Top 3 Player of the Month nomination for April from the WTA, Siegemund again made it through qualifying (def. Kr.Pliskova and Brengle) before putting up two more victories over veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to run her clay circuit record to 14-3. She'll be up to a new career high of #38 on Monday, but unfortunately won't be in Rome this coming week to attempt to put up another result that might have earned her a just-under-the-wire Top 32 seed in Paris.
VETERANS: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK and Samantha Stosur/AUS
...Cibulkova's post-Achilles surgery renaissance in '16 continued in Madrid with the Slovak advancing to her third final of the season (in a four-way tour lead with Kerber, Azarenka and Stephens) after winning four consecutive three-set matches over Aga Radwanska (from a break down in the 3rd), Caroline Garcia (from 6-0/3-0), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sorana Cirstea (after dropping the 1st vs. both) before dominating an overwhelmed Louisa Chirico in the semis (on her 27th birthday) to reach her biggest final since the '14 Australian Open. 24-10 on the season, Cibulkova was ranked outside the Top 50 before she won in Katowice a month ago. With her Madrid final run, she'll jump from #38 to #26 on Monday, in line for a seed in Paris and another good result away from a return to the Top 20.

A week after a run to the Prague final during which she was helped by a walkover from Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinals, Stosur followed up in Madrid with her first back-to-back semifinal-or-better result since last summer in Bad Gastein and Washington. Again, the Aussie was helped along a bit by the lacking health of her opponents. After an opening round win over Sara Sorribes Tormo, Stosur got a walkover from Lucie Safarova (food poisoning), defeated an ill Carla Suarez-Navarro in three and took out (mini-)giant killer Irina-Camelia Begu in the QF.

Stosur's Fed Cup debacle hasn't been forgotten, but it's definitely beginning to disappear in her rear-view mirror with Paris just around the bend.
COMEBACKS: Peng Shuai/CHN and Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
...a former slam singles semifinalist and world doubles #1, 30-year old Peng's return from the back injury that cost her more than half of last season has been slow and steady. After having not played since Roland Garros last year, the Chinese vet returned in January, but only in limited doubles action. She didn't play her first '16 singles match until March, and she soon posted a good win in Miami over Alison Van Uytvanck. Still, she was only 2-4 heading into the $100K challenger in Anning, China last week. So her four wins there (including over #3 seed Wang Yafan) and trip to her first singles final in nearly two years is quite a leap. Not surprisingly, all that match play ultimately resulted in her retiring due to exhaustion in the 3rd set of the final vs. Zhang Kai-lin with her countrywoman leading 6-1/0-6/4-2. While her physical circumstances led to a loss this weekend, Peng has always had a difficult time winning singles titles (as opposed to doubles, where she's won 17 tour-level crowns alone). She's 0-6 in WTA singles finals, and has only won two solo crowns of any kind (the WTA 125 Nanchang event in July '14, and an ITF event in 2010) since 2004. Her big week gives Peng a huge ranking bump, as she'll rise over 150 spots on Monday up the around #280.

There have been questions for almost a year now whether Makarova & Vesnina had had some sort of falling out, or whether Makarova's injury problems since last summer and her inability to commit to a doubles schedule were the sole cause for the Hordettes' lack of playing time together. The two-time slam winning duo (U.S. & RG, with additional finals at the other two majors), who've put together a nice collection of other big event titles (I.W., Beijing) and runner-up results (WTA Finals, Miami, Madrid, Rome) in recent years hadn't played a completed match together since reaching last year's Wimbledon final (they retired from a 1st Rounder in Toronto in their only outing). Whatever the unabridged story has been, the Russians were a team once again in Madrid when the draw was released, and they quickly proved that doubles sometimes really is just like riding a bike. The pair opened with a win over Atawo/Spears and followed up with another over Klepac/Srebotnik, both via deciding tie-breaks. A walkover from countrywoman Kuznetsova & Pavlyuchenkova put Makarova/Vesnina into the semis in their first return tournament together. They fell to eventual champions Garcia & Mladenovic, but likely Russia's best chance for an Olympic medal (although, Vesnina & Daria Kasatkina HAVE been quite successful in limited time together) looks like it very well could be a go for Rio.

FRESH FACE: Louisa Chirico/USA
...19-year old world #130 Chirico had the week of her career in Madrid. First, she had to make it through qualifying just to reach the main draw. Wins over Bogota champ Irina Falconi and Mariana Duque did the trick. She then went to work on something much bigger. Wins over Monica Niculescu and Ana Ivanovic (wearing pretty much the same get-up, at times it looked as if they where hitting balls against a mirror) set up a match-up with Vika Azarenka. That one never happened, as the Belarusian pulled out with a lower back injury to send the Bannerette into her second career tour-level QF. There, she offed Daria Gavrilova to reach her maiden WTA semi and become the first U.S. teen to reach a Premier SF since 2003. She was overwhelmed and overmatched in the resulting 1 & 1 loss to Dominika Cibulkova, but the week officially adds Chirico's name to the growing list of worthy players that Mary Joe Fernandez might ignore at Fed Cup time. Or, as recent evidence may suggest, adds it to the list of calls MJF might make in '17, especially if the U.S. is about to play a tie on clay. Chirico makes a huge leap from #130 to #76 on Monday, bettering her previous career-high ranking by thirty-three spots.

DOWN: Ana Ivanovic/SRB and Garbine Muguruza/ESP some point will we finally reach the "point of no return" when it comes to AnaIvo, when the first line of her career bio will OFFICIALLY be declared to be, "is that all there is?" Or could it be that we're already there? Ivanovic has managed to put up Top 20 season-ending rankings for all but two years since 2005 (and she was #22 in both those seasons), and came into Madrid at #17, but the "stench of mediocrity" is all over the Serb at this point in her career. Most of the time, Ivanovic just seems to show up on a weekly basis, but little more than that. While she hasn't been out for stretches due to injury, she's essentially just "making an appearance" at the events in which she's entered. And she really doesn't seem all too bothered by it, either. Her 2nd Round loss to qualifier Louisa Chirico (#130), which naturally ended with back-to-back AnaIvo double-faults, is her worst rankings loss since she fell to Bethanie Mattek-Sands (#158) at last year's Wimbledon, as well as her first legitimate "upset" loss since she opened '16 by falling to Naomi Broady in Auckland, but since when is ANY loss by Ivanovic met with surprise these days, or even anything more than a shrug of the shoulders? Shouldn't a little more be expected from a former #1 and slam champion who is still relatively young (in tennis' current era) at 28, about the same age when so many of her generational peers are either still achieving or even playing better than ever? 9-9 on the season, and with just one event (a Beijing SF in October) over the past year in which she's won as many as three matches, it seems as if Ivanovic's final four run in Paris last spring (her first at a slam since she won RG in '08 -- a 27-event stretch which saw her reach just two QF) has once again ignited that part of the Serb's inner fire (or lack of one) that experiences a great result and then realizes that any of the good (and, more importantly, the newly-added pressure) that comes with it isn't worth repeating anytime soon. It's difficult to escape the notion that anything Ivanovic does at this point is, for lack of a better word, "irrelevant."

Of course, no matter what happens or where she stands, at least one thing isn't likely to change anytime soon, if ever.

But is that all there is?

Well, at least there's that.

Meanwhile, Muguruza's results continue to twist in the proverbial 2016 wind, as well. Still blowing hot or cold at any given moment, either on court or in one of her many petulant changeover "coaching sessions" with Sam Sumyk, the Spaniard may just be the most difficult to grasp player on tour when it comes to what to expect from her, now or in the future. And, yes, that's while counting Petra -- who we at least KNOW is capable of winning a major. In Madrid, Muguruza recovered from 4-1 deficits in both the 1st and 2nd sets of her 2nd Round match with Irina-Camelia Begu. She won the 1st, and looked to be on her way to finishing off the Romanian in straights, but was forced into a tie-break, lost it, and then just went away in the 3rd as she failed to take advantage of the early losses of so many top players in the event and ride a wave of Spanish faith into a deep run. While she's a dominant 4-0 in Fed Cup play in '16, the Spaniard is a "perfectly-as-it-should-be" 8-8 in tour-level action this season. So, is Muguruza still a "future slam winner," or does she lack the consistent game day heart to pull off a seven-match, two-week run? The game is there, but what about the rest? And if it is, just what exactly does she have to do to access it even on a semi-regular basis? Her Wimbledon final run and late-season surge in '15 doesn't appear to have opened any doors of perception. Thus, has Simona Halep passed Muguruza to re-assume the lead in the current race for "next (young) first-time major champ" with her Madrid title, or are they BOTH simply performing placeholder duties until another player (a Kasatkina, or Bencic or who knows who else?) surges past them with a breakthrough performance sometime over the next eighteen months?

Wait, did someone say her name? All right, then this is required...

ITF PLAYERS: Zhang Kai-lin/CHN and Magda Linette/POL
...Zhang and Linette won the pair of $100K challenger events on the ITF circuit in Week 18.

Zhang, 26, swept the singles and doubles titles at the tournament in Anning, China after winning four consecutive three-set matches (including over #2-seeded Han Xinyun). In the final she nearly made it five, but she instead was able to claim the title when an exhausted Peng Shuai retired down 4-2 in the 3rd. The win gives Zhang five career ITF titles (three since October). Her run with Wang Yafan resulted in her thirteenth career ITF doubles crown.

In Cagnes-sur-mer, France it was Linette who grabbed her first career $100K title. The 24-year old Pole notched wins over Aleksandra Krunic, Stefanie Voegele, Maryna Zanevska and defending champ/#1 seed Catarina Witthoeft in the final. It's not Linette's biggest career title or final, though. She won a WTA 125 Series title in Ningbo in 2014, and reached her maiden regular tour-level singles final in Tokyo last fall.

JUNIOR STARS: Jodie Anna Burrage/GBR and Wiktoria Kulik/POL the Mediterranee Avenir junior event in Casablanca, 16-year old Brit Burrage reached her first Grade 1 final and picked up the biggest title of her career with a 6-3/6-4 win over Kulik. The #65-ranked girl, #5-seeded Burrage defeated two seeds en route to the final, where she took out the #6-seeded Pole to add the G1 title to the Grade 2 event she won a week ago. Burrage got some attention two summers ago when, at 15, she defeated Marion Bartoli in an exhibition match less than a year after the Pastry had won the title at SW19.

#113-ranked junior Kulik had quite the week herself, defeating #1-seeded Czech Lucie Kankova in the QF, as well as two more seeds on her way to the final in her very first appearance in a Grade 1 draw.
DOUBLES: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) and Eri Hozumi/Miyu Kato (JPN/JPN) clay courts (well, and Kiki) are still the Dream Team's Kryptonite, but they're still putting themselves in position for success at Roland Garros with a great deal of match play on the surface heading into Paris, where they'll attempt to win their fourth straight slam title. A year ago, before they lost the only slam match of their partnership (in the QF in Paris vs. Mattek-Sands/Safarova), Hingis/Mirza didn't get nearly as much time on the surface as they have this spring. In 2015, Hingis was coming off the Fed Cup injury (and wear-and-tear) she incurred while trying to play BOTH Radwanska sisters in singles on the same weekend vs. Poland for the short-handed Swiss squad. The duo went 1-2 on the surface in Stuttgart and Madrid before a final run in Rome in their last RG tune-up. This year, they've already reached back-to-back finals in Stuttgart and Madrid, losing on both occasions to Garcia/Mladenovic, before they've even played their opening match in Rome in Week 19. Last week included wins over Hlavackova/Hradecka and King/Kudryavtseva, and this coming week's Italian Open draw gives them a "clear" path to a third straight final, where they could meet another nemesis: whether it be in the form of Garcia/Mladenovic for a third straight time, BMS/Safarova once more, or maybe even Venus & Serena, who are scheduled to play their first event together since the '14 U.S. Open.

Meanwhile, quite a ways down the rankings from the world #1',s #62 doubles player Hozumi and her #79-ranked partner Kato have been achieving nice things on all levels of competition this season. Finalists at the tour-level Kaohsiung event in February, then runners-up at the $25K Canberra challenger in March, they raised their games with title runs in WTA Katowice and, this weekend, in the $75K tournament in Gifu, Japan. The Japanese pair are a combined 17-6 this season.

In the Land of Sharapova, the world never stops turning...

Lazy Sunday's #JustBecause

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. Madrid Final - Halep d. Cibulkova
Now the hard(er) part comes in Paris for Halep.

2. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Gavrilova d. Kvitova
Petra said she's rusty from lack of recent match play. But don't losses like this happen ALL the time?

3. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Chirico d. Ivanovic
Chirico gets the biggest win of her career as AnaIvo ends things with back-to-back DF. Doesn't that happen ALL the time, too?

4. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Chirico walkover Azarenka
Azarenka was limping around in her opening match in Madrid vs. Cornet, then ultimately withdrew over what she said was a tweaking of her back early in the day before this match. Hmmm. If you say so, V. Either way, Azarenka has won the last seventeen matches she's played, but the streak has now been broken twice by injuries that forced walkovers in Acapulco and here.

With her injury history, caution is always prudent.
5. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Begu d. Muguruza
Muguruza recovered from 4-1 down in the 1st to win it, then nearly did the same in the 2nd. But once Begu forced the TB and won to force a 3rd set, the discouraged Spaniard went away far more quickly than someone of her standing should. For the Romanian, it was her first career Top 5 win.

6. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Cibulkova d. Garcia
Where's Kiki and Amelie when Caroline needs them? The Pastry blew a 6-0/3-0 lead against eventual finalist Cibulkova, who'd come back from a break down in the 3rd in her previous match vs. Radwanska. Garcia double-faulted on MP. Still, in the end, only the Frenchwoman left Madrid with a title in hand.
7. Madrid 1st Rd. - Strycova d. Kerber
The Czech was 0-5 with no sets won vs. Kerber before taking out the German last weekend to get her second Top 3 win of 2016. Kerber has never particularly cottoned to the Madrid event -- she's been ousted in the 1st Round three straight years.

8. Madrid 1st Rd. - Bacsinszky d. Petkovic
Petko's knee is still bothering her. Those are words you never like to hear.
9. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Halep d. Bacsinszky
We've seen many recent examples of bad net etiquette. Here's the polar opposite:

And, of course, this...

10. $50K Tunis Final - Ons Jabeur d. Romina Oprandi
The 21-year old Tunisian wins her tenth career title (3rd of '16), and does it in her home event. It still only counts as one, though.

#weightlifting ?? @demischuurs ????????

A video posted by Mitu Andreea (@andreea_mitu) on

11. $100K Cagnes-sur-mer Final - Andreea Mitu/Demi Schuurs d. Xenia Knoll/Aleksandra Krunic
Another Romanian champ in Mitu, while 22-year old Dutch Schuurs, one of the most underrated doubles specialists out there, picked up her overall 19th pro doubles title (2 WTA, 17 ITF). But almost as big a story here are Knoll/Krunic, who reached another final after winning last week in the WTA-level Rabat event. Knoll has reached three straight finals, having also been runner-up in the WTA-level event in Istanbul (when Kovinic pulled out of the doubles final after losing in singles).
12. $10K Sharm El Sheikh Final - Samantha Murray/Despina Papamichail d. Nidhi Chilumula/Rishika Sunkara
...3-6/6-2 [10-1].
The comeback Brit wins her second straight doubles title with Papamichail. A week after reaching a singles final, Murray reached the semis this time around.
13. $10K Sharm El Sheikh Final - Noppawan Lertcheewakarn d. Prerna Bhambri
The 24-year old Thai, the '09 Wimbledon junior champ, wins her first ITF title since 2011 (she def. Mladenovic in that final). She was ranked in the Top 150 that year, but Lertcheewakarn ended '15 at #412 and was #512 heading into this event.
14. $10K Pula Final - Priscilla Hon d. Jessica Crivelletto
The 17-year old Aussie improves to 3-0 in career pro finals with a win over her fellow 17-year old Swiss.
15. $10K Antalya Final - Ayla Aksu d. Julia Stramatova
Another champion from Turkey, as 19-year old Aksu claims her fourth career title. She and Stramatova teamed to reach the doubles final.

HM- $75K Indian Harbour Beach 1st Rd. - Jennifer Brady/Katerina Stewart d. Asia Muhammad/Taylor Townsend 6-0/7-6(4)
$75K Indian Harbour Beach SF - Taylor Townsend d. Asia Muhammad 4-6/6-3/6-3
$75K Indian Harbour Beach Final - Jennifer Brady d. Taylor Townsend 6-3/7-5
Six Degrees of Taylor Townsend. Brady & Stewart stopped the 15-match, four-event title streak of Muhammad/Townsend in the opening round of doubles. But Townsend rebounded in singles to defeat her doubles partner in the semis to reach her third straight final and wrap up the USTA's wild card berth into the Roland Garros MD. In the final, Brady ended Townsend's week just as she'd started it -- by defeating her. It's former UCLA Bruin Brady's third career challenger title, and her biggest yet.

The only bad thing about Kiki's outfit for Paris is that once you've seen twenty others wearing the same thing by this time next month you'll be sick of it.

Ummm, as I was saying...

1. Madrid 1st Rd. - Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska
Aga stormed back from 6-4/5-3 to force a 3rd set, where she took a break lead before Cibulkova wrestled back control of the match. Cibulkova's eventual run to the final makes her the third player this year (w/ Kerber and Stephens) to reach '16 finals on multiple surfaces.
2. $10K Bol Final - Magdalena Pantuckova d. Gabriela Pantuckova
The Czech sisters meet up in a final for the very first time. 17-year old Magdalena (#707, in her second final) took out 21-year old Gabriela (#392, w/ five ITF titles) to win her maiden pro singles title. In their only previous meeting, Gabriela won 6-3/6-3 in a 1st Round meeting at a $10K challenger in Albena last October.

4. Madrid 2nd Rd. - McHale d. Karolina Pliskova
McHale sensed something good was coming for her in Madrid pretty early on.

5. Madrid 1st Rd. - Kudryavtseva/King d. Goerges/Karolina Pliskova
These duos have already met four times in 2016. Alla & Vania's win evens the score at 2-2.
6. $50K Tunis Final - Arina Rodionova/Strakhova d. Khromacheva/Soylu
Rodionova wins her 27th career ITF doubles title, and her third in '16.
7. $100K Final - Zhang Kai-lin/Wang Yafan d. Varatchaya Wongteanchai/Yang Zhaoxuan
...6-7(3)/7-6(2) [10-1].
Wongteanchai reaches her third '16 final with a third different partner, but doesn't pick up career title #32.
8. $10K Gyor Final - Negranu/Stolmar d. Maryna Kolb/Nadiya Kolb
The Kolb sisters finally won their first ITF title together last September, but this loss drops them to 1-12 in career finals as a duo.
HM- $10K Gyor 2nd Rd. - Nadiya Kolb d. Vaidisova
...6-0 ret.
Vaidisova has only played two events since February, and she's ultimately retired in her final match at both. Ranked #420 heading into this past week, she's 5-5 on the season.

Looking for gelato?? #wheninrome

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Thank you @prabalgurung for making this dress fit like a glove!! #slits #ladyinred #metgala

A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

5th top 10 win ??

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

See you next year Madrid ?

A video posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Buongiorno Roma ?

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

12...Virginia Ruzici (1975-85)
12...SIMONA HALEP (2013-16)
4...Irina Spirlea (1994-98)
4...Ruxandra Dragomir (1996-97)

**MOST WTA FINALS in 2016**
3 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (3-0)
3 - Sloane Stephens, USA (3-0)
3 - Angelique Kerber, GER (2-1)
2 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (1-1)
2 - Genie Bouchard, CAN (0-2)
2 - Serena Williams, USA (0-2)

**MOST WTA SF in 2016**
5 - Angelique Kerber, GER (3-2)
5 - Aga Radwanska, POL (1-4)
3 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (3-0)
3 - Sloane Stephens, USA (3-0)
3 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (2-0+L)

**WTA FINALS - 2014-2016**
14...Serena Williams (12-2)
12...Angelique Kerber (6-6)
11...SIMONA HALEP (6-5)
11...Karolina Pliskova (3-8)
8...Petra Kvitova (6-2)
8...Maria Sharapova (6-2)
8...Venus Williams (5-3)

Indian Wells (HC) - #15 Azarenka/BLR d. #1 S.Williams/USA
Miami (HC) - #8 Azarenka/BLR d. #19 Kuznetsova/RUS
Madrid (RC) - #7 Halep/ROU d. #38 Cibulkova/SVK

6 - Serena Williams, USA
6 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
2 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
2 - Aga Radwanska, POL
2 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
1 - Kim Clijsters, BEL (ret.)
1 - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
1 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
1 - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
1 - Flavia Pennetta, ITA (ret.)
1 - Aravane Rezai, FRA
1 - Dinara Safina, RUS (ret.)
1 - Vera Zvonareva, RUS

[w/ titles in '16]
12...Serena Williams
11...Maria Sharapova
10...Anabel Medina-Garrigues
7...Sara Errani
7...Martina Hingis
7...Venus Williams
6...Jelena Jankovic
6...Francesca Schiavone (1)
5...Roberta Vinci
4...Andrea Petkovic
4...Caroline Wozniacki

6...HINGIS/MIRZA (4-2)
2...Chan/Chan (2-0)
2...Hozumi/Kato (1-1)
2...Mattek-Sands/Safarova (1-1)
2...Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja (2-0)

20...Martina Hingis (Jan/Feb)
19...Hingis/Mirza (Jan/Feb)
13...Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Mar/Apr)
#-active streak

4 - Hingis/Mirza (Jan/Feb)
2 - Chan/Chan (Feb)
2 - Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja (Feb/Mar)
2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Mar/Apr)
#-active streak

Kaohsiung - Chan Hao-Ching & Chan Yung-Jan
Acapulco - Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Arantxa Parra-Santonja
Madrid - Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic

2013 Shelby Rogers
2014 Taylor Townsend
2015 Louisa Chirico
2016 Taylor Townsend

Further proof that Wimbledon (and Rio) will be here before you know it.

I spy.... That amazing doubles team.... Hummmm ??wonder what that means... Pick your detergent.....

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

Answering the question, "What has Zheng Jie been up to lately?"

Cagla gets her due...

As the tour winds it's way to Italy...

While an unfortunate anniversary at least allows us to remember... even in unexpected corners.

ROME, ITALY (Premier 5/RCO)
15 Final: Sharapova d. Suarez-Navarro
15 Doubles Final: Babos/Mladenovic d. Hingis/Mirza
16 Singles Top Seeds: S.Williams/Kerber

#9 Kuznetsova d. #1 S.Williams
#10 Safarova d. #4 Azarenka
#8 Suarez-Navarro d. #3 Muguruza
#2 Kerber d. #5 Kvitova
#10 Safarova d. #9 Kuznetsova
#2 Kerber d. #8 Suarez-Navarro
#2 Kerber d. #10 Safarova

...Serena is back, but in what form? Might that she's playing doubles with Venus be a good sign?

The 3rd Round could see a Kerber/Strycova rematch, as well as Azarenka/Kasatkina II. If things fall the right way, Serena could get another shot at Kuznetsova (who defeated her in Miami) in the QF. Halep has a tough road, with possibly Gavrilova (a quarterfinalist in '15), Kuznetsova/Stosur and Serena being in her path before the semifinals.

As usual, it's a crap shoot -- so I'll hold off on Serena and go with (hopefully) a more rested and in-form Kerber than the one we saw in Madrid.

And, finally, Heather Watson...

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Well Todd, you are right about the French Open doubles being amazing. Garcia/Mladenovic, Hingis/Mirza, Possibly BMS/Safarova and the Williams sisters, which I expected later on as Rio(surprisingly) isn't clay for the Olympics, but hardcourt/turf.

I was planning to save this for when I do the Top 10 favorites for the French-and explain why Ivanovic isn't one. She is the proverbial wild card this year. The retirement rumors are swirling, and if you haven't noticed-FO final June 4th, Ivanovic wedding June 5th. Either she is going to be extremely relaxed or extremely nervous, and with her, there is no telling.

Wimbledon entry lists get locked next week. Chirico and Tig are now in, and bad timing for grass court specialist Pironkova(out of top 100) and Kr. Pliskova(down to 113).

Mon May 09, 11:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

RG final June 4th, former RG champ (and still Top 20 player) Ivanovic wedding scheduled for June 5th.

I think that says pretty much everything about Ivanovic as a player, and how little she expects from herself on the court, don't you?

Hmmm, Wimbledon is a bit more open with it's wild card selections than the other slams (since there aren't as many Brits to choose from -- though that IS changing a bit now). Pliskova might be able to get a WC. She's a former Wimbledon junior champ, and has improved quite a bit over the last year. If she can just put up a good grass result in one of the tune-ups the AELTC might give her a nod and she might avoid qualifying. I guess, considering her history at SW19, Pironkova is likely in the exact same situation.

Of course, last year the tournament didn't even use all the WC slots usually allotted for a slam. So I guess you can never put anything past them.

Mon May 09, 11:37:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I expect them to ignore both Pliskova and Pironkova, which is their right. Though if I were handing out wild cards, l'd put Pironkova high on my list.

Mon May 09, 08:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Pliskova WAS given a main draw WC in 2014, so at least she's been in the mix recently.

It'll be interesting to see, especially with three Brits in the Top 100 not needing WC to get into the draw this time around.

Mon May 09, 09:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Wawrinka is looking tubby.

Or maybe the screen i'm watching is smushed...??

Ivanovic having her wedding the day after the FO final might just be her commemorating her past achievement. In the grand scheme of things, the first weekend in June has been good to her.

Wed May 11, 09:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I think you're giving AnaIvo way too much credit there. ;)

Wed May 11, 11:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Wozniacki is on the bubble for a French Open seed. It is 50/50 that she will actually play, but one of the longer streaks on tour will stop if she doesn't. She has been in the last 36 slams, and seeded for the last 34. Due to injury, Serena, Maria and Vika don't have streaks that long. But who does have the longest seeded streak? Radwanska was been in the last 40, and has a seeded streak slightly longer than Wozniacki, as she has been seeded for every slam since Wimbledon in 2007. But it isn't her. It is not Ivanovic, who due to low ranking had a streak snapped, but has still been in the main draw of the last 45 slams. And it isn't Stosur, who you may not have noticed because she missed the 08 AO due to Lyme disease, but she has been in the singles draw for 47 of the last 48 slams. It is the other Serbian Sister Jankovic, who has been in the main draw of the last 50 slams, and hasn't been unseeded since the French in 2006.

Thu May 12, 05:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And, of course, Schiavone... who's been in 61 of the last 62 MD's, and is Top 100 heading into Paris. ;)

Thu May 12, 11:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Yes, I should have given Schiavone a shout out, even though I was only talking about currently seeded players. 61 of 62 is amazing. Sadly, for comparison, Del Potro pulled out of the French, and has only played in 27 of the last 41 slams-missing the last 9.

Fri May 13, 01:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

JMDP's is just going to go down as one of the biggest "what if" careers of the past decade-plus, isn't he? Probably THE biggest.

Fri May 13, 02:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I think Dinara Safina has a big what if career too.

The Russians are leading the Czechs in Rome... Doubles is like game of thrones right now. Who's turn is it on the iron chair?

Sat May 14, 11:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Last post before your next one, I promise.

This was a question posted on a board about the Keys/Williams final. When is the last time two american women met for a title on clay? The answer turned out to be the 2002 French Open with Venus and Serena. This brought up some strange statistics. First, not only do the american women not meet on clay, they really don't meet anywhere. The last one was Serena vs Vandeweghe-Stanford 2012. Before that- Serena/Venus-Wimbledon 2009. If you see a trend, good, cause I see it too. Either Serena or Venus(counting the Keys match)have been in 12 of the last 13 all american finals, and 16 of 19 going back to the French in 2002. Ironically, the last clay court matchup before the 2002 French? Seles and Rubin in Madrid the same month.

Sat May 14, 03:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, it's fine. You always come armed with great info. :)

The carnage of what was essentially the perfect storm of a "lost generation" of players and the general lack lack of clay courts in the U.S., I guess. Hmmm, I wonder what the same #'s would look like on the ATP tour?

With so many younger players emerging now, it'll be interesting to see if at least the number all-Bannerette finals aren't as rare over the next couple of years, at least on the grass and hard court circuits. Charleston's green clay might offer a chance for something there (Keys and Stephens have been finalist the last two years), but other than Chirico most of the young U.S. players still seem much more suited to hard and grass courts.

Sat May 14, 06:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

True. And you could probably throw in Dementieva, too. Though with those two it was more "head" issues that were the problem.

Del Potro's wrist injury was beyond his control, and unlike those two he'd proven he could beat the big guys (Nadal and Federer en route to the U.S. title in '09) on the big stage when it really mattered.

Sat May 14, 06:45:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

OK, one more comment, because of an ESPN tweet. First all american final in Rome since 1970-BJK vs Julie Heidman. What they didn't mention, is that was THE TOURNAMENT which helped make the WTA. Mainly because Billie Jean got 17 pct of what the man(Nastase) got for winning.

Sat May 14, 06:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i know Dinara had some mental issues, but I really felt like it was more a matter of time for her to break through... but her back injury prevented her from doing so. She was playing some really great tennis when she was number 1. She didn't have the prettiest game, but she really had some impressive spins and grips.


is bencic injured? I feel like i haven't heard much about her recently.


I would also like to point out that serena stopped baring her midriff and won a tournament. I'm just saying...

Sun May 15, 03:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Last I heard, Bencic was still dealing with a back injury (seems to be an injury hitting a lot of players lately). Hopefully, she'll be all right for RG, or at least Wimbledon.

Mon May 16, 12:38:00 AM EDT  

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