Thursday, June 09, 2016

2Q Clay Court Awards: Player Lists & Top Matches

The clay court season had many memorable players and matches...


Here are but a few. Well, it's actually quite a lot. But, you know, not that many in the grand scheme of things. So...

ALSO: Top 2Q Clay Court Performers & Performances

*RISERS*
1. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2. FRA Fed Cup Team
3. Kiki Bertens, NED
4. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
5. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
6. Angelique Kerber, GER
7. Sloane Stephens, USA
8. Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
9. ESP Fed Cup Team
10. Madison Keys, USA
11. USA Fed Cup Team
12. Shelby Rogers, USA
13. Simona Halep, ROU
14. Elina Svitolina, UKR
15. Christina McHale, USA
16. BLR Fed Cup Team
17. Camila Giorgi, ITA
18. Marjolein Buis, NED (WC)
19. Daria Gavrilova, AUS
20. Caroline Garcia, FRA

21. Timea Babos, HUN
22. Irina Falconi, USA
23. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
24. CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
25. Alize Cornet, FRA
26. TPE Fed Cup Team
27. Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
28. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
29. Danka Kovinic, MNE
30. Stanford Cardinal Women's Tennis Team
HM- Lara Arruabarrena, ESP & Alexandra Panova, RUS

*FRESH FACES*
1. Louisa Chirico, USA
2. Daria Kasatkina, RUS
3. Yulia Putintseva, KAZ
4. Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
5. Naomi Osaka, JPN
6. Ipek Soylu, TUR
7. Annika Beck, GER
8. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
9. Carina Witthoeft, GER
10. Maria Sakkari, GRE
11. Sachia Vickery, USA
12. Ana Konjuh, CRO
13. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
14. Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP
15. Ysaline Bonaventure, BEL
16. Danielle Collins, USA (Univ. of Virginia)

17. Marie Bouzkova, CZE
18. Mayo Hibi, JPN
19. Dalma Galfi, HUN
20. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK
21. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
22. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
23. Oceane Dodin, FRA
24. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
25. Lauren Davis, USA
26. Jil Belen Teichmann, SUI
27. Olga Fridman, UKR
28. Julieta Estable, ARG
29. Caroline Dolehide, USA
30. Katie Boulter, GBR
HM- Ravenna Kingsley, USA

*SURPRISES*
1. Laura Siegemund, GER
2. Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
3. Shelby Rogers, USA
4. TPE Fed Cup Team
5. Christina McHale, USA
6. Viktoriya Golubic, SUI
7. Paula Cristian Goncalves, BRA
8. Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
9. Stephanie Vogt, LIE
10. Kristina Kucova, SVK
11. BIH Fed Cup Team
12. NOR Fed Cup Team
13. Cindy Burger, NED
14. Kateryna Kozlova, UKR
15. Mariana Duque, COL
16. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
17. Myrtille Georges, FRA
18. Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR
19. Marina Melnikova, RUS
20. Xu Yifan, CHN
20. Ekaterina Alexandrova, RUS

21. Catalina Pella, ARG
22. Conny Perrin, SUI
23. Elitsa Kostova, BUL
24. Sherazed Reix, FRA
25. Ankita Raina, IND
HM- Lesley Kerkhove, NED

*VETERANS*
1. Martina Hingis, SUI
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Samantha Stosur, AUS

4. Angelique Kerber, GER
5. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
6. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
7. Lucie Safarova, CZE
8. Elena Vesnina, RUS
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
10. Venus Williams, USA
11. Aga Radwanska, POL
12. Barbora Strycova, CZE
13. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
14. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
15. Mandy Minella, LUX
16. Julia Goerges, GER
17. Virginie Razzano, FRA
18. Marina Erakovic, NZL
19. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
20. Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS
21. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
22. Tatjana Maria, GER
23. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
24. Renata Voracova, CZE
25. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
HM- Maria Irigoyen, ARG & Lourdes Dominquez-Lino, ESP

*COMEBACKS*
1. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2. Elena Vesnina, RUS
3. USA Fed Cup Team
4. Samantha Stosur, AUS
5. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS

6. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
7. GER Fed Cup Team
8. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
9. Genie Bouchard, CAN
10. Irina Falconi, USA
11. Amra Sadikovic, SUI
12. Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
13. Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
14. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
15. Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
16. Patty Schnyder, SUI
17. Peng Shuai, CHN
18. Samantha Murray, GBR
19. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA
20. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
HM- Laura Robson, GBR

*DOWN*

1. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
2. AUS Fed Cup Team
3. ITA Fed Cup Team
4. Sara Errani, ITA
5. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
6. RUS Fed Cup Team
7. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
8. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
9. Petra Kvitova, CZE
10. Roberta Vinci, ITA
11. Klara Koukalova, CZE
12. Johanna Konta, GBR
13. Andrea Petkovic, GER
14. POL Fed Cup Team
15. Teliana Pereira, BRA
HM- Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE

*JUNIOR STARS*
1. Rebeka Masarova, SUI
2. Amanda Anisimova, USA

3. Anna Blinkova, RUS
4. Olesya Pervushina, RUS
5. Anastasia Potapova, RUS
6. Amina Anshba, RUS
7. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
8. Georgia Andreea Craciun, ROU
9. Kaja Juvan, SLO
10. Alexandra Sanford, USA
11. Katarina Zavatska, UKR
12. Katie Swan, GBR
13. Jaimee Fourlis, AUS
14. Jodie Anna Burrage, GBR
15. Kayla Day, USA
16. Eva Guerrero, ESP
17. Ellie Douglas, USA
18. Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, FRA
19. Natasha Subhash, USA
20. Paula Arias Manjon/Olga Danilovic, ESP/SRB
21. Iga Swiatek, POL
22. Pranjala Yadlapalli, IND
23. Sara Tomic, AUS
24. Morgon Coppoc, USA
25. Monika Kilnarova, CZE
26. Caty McNally, USA
27. Priscilla Hon, AUS
28. Ines Ibbou, ALG
29. Wiktoria Kulik, POL
30. Hanna Chang, USA
31. Seone Mendez, AUS
32. Ioana Minca, ROU
33. Emily Appleton, GBR
34. Maryna Chernyshova, UKR
35. Elysia Bolton, USA
HM- Emmanuelle Salas, FRA

*DOUBLES*
1. Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
2. Martina Hingis, SUI
3. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
4. Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR (WC)
5. Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
6. Xenia Knoll, SUI
7. Kiki Bertens/Johanna Larsson, NED/SWE
8. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
9. Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
10. Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
11. Xenia Knoll/Aleksandra Krunic, SUI/SRB

12. Margarita Gasparyan/Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS/RUS
13. Andreea Mitu/Ipek Soylu, ROU/TUR
14. Asia Muhammad/Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
15. Vania King/Alla Kudryavtseva, USA/RUS
16. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
17. Eri Hozumi/Miyu Kato, JPN/JPN
18. Xenia Knoll/Danka Kovinic, SUI/MNE
19. Margarita Gasparyan/Andrea Hlavackova, RUS/CZE
20. Demi Schuurs, NED
21. Raluca Olaru, ROU
22. Lara Arruabarrena/Tatjana Maria, ESP/GER
23. Demi Schuurs/Renata Voracova, NED/CZE
24. Xenia Knoll/Petra Martic, SUI/CRO
25. Irina-Camelia Begu/Monica Niculescu, ROU/ROU
26. Valentyna Ivakhnenko/Marina Melnikova, UKR/RUS
27. Gabriela Ce/Andrea Gamiz, BRA/VEN
28. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
29. Emma Laine, FIN
30. Shuko Aoyama/Renata Voracova, JPN/CZE
HM- Brooke Austin/Kourtney Keegan, USA/USA (Univ. of Florida)

*ITF PLAYERS*
1. Asia Muhammad/Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
2. Isabella Shinikova, BUL
3. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
4. Danka Kovinic, MNE

5. Magda Linette, POL
6. Zhang Kailin, CHN
7. Taylor Townsend, USA
8. Grace Min, USA
9. Barbora Stefkova, CZE
10. Tamara Zidansek,
11. Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
12. Susanne Celik, SWE
13. Sandra Zaniewska, POL
14. Victoria Kan, RUS
15. Wang Qiang, CHN
16. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
17. Karin Knapp, ITA
18. Viktoriya Tomova, BUL
19. Melis Sezer, TUR
20. Renata Zarazua, MEX
21. Jennifer Brady, USA
22. Ons Jabeur, TUN
23. Ayla Aksu, TUR
24. Anastasia Pivovarova, RUS
25. Sabina Sharipova, UZB
26. Tereza Mrdeza, CRO
27. Hiroko Kuwata, JPN
28. Magdalena Pantuckova, CZE
29. Gabriela Pantuckova, CZE
30. Valeria Solovyeva, RUS
31. Alexandra Perper, MDA
32. Kathinka von Deichmann, LIE
33. Iryna Shymanovich, BLR
34. Jang Su-jeon, KOR
35. Rebecca Peterson, SWE
36. Patty Schnyder, SUI
37. Julia Wachaczyk, GER
38. Sabrina Santamaria, USA
39. Fernanda Brito, CHI
40. Vesna Dolonc, SRB
HM- Ksenia Lykina, RUS & Irina Maria Bara, ROU

*FED CUP*
1. Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2. Viktoriya Golubic, SUI
3. Angelique Kerber, GER
4. Kiki Bertens, NED
5. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
6. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
7. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
8. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK

9. Lucie Hradecka & Karolina Pliskova, CZE
10. Aliaksanda Sasnovich, BLR
11. Christina McHale, USA

12. Hsu Ching-wen, TPE
13. Madison Keys, USA
14. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
15. Andrea Petkovic, GER
16. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
17. CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
18. Lee Ya-Hsuan, TPE
19. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
20. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
21. Daria Kasatkina, RUS
22. Mandy Minella, LUX
23. Melanie Stokke, NOR
24. Barbara Haas, AUT
25. Francoise Abanda, CAN
HM- Dea Herdzelas, BIH & Katharine Lehnert, PHI




*MEMORABLE MATCHES*
[Most Competitive Match]
Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Irina-Camelia Begu def. CoCo Vandeweghe
...6-7(4)/7-6(4)/10-8.
Begu adds another big moment to her high-flying spring clay campaign, taking out a surprisingly-good-on-the-red-stuff Vandeweghe in the longest WTA match so far this season (behind only the 4:00 Hogenkamp/Kuznetsova marathon match in Fed Cup play for overall length). A 3:38 duel, it featured the (sometimes irritatingly) expressive Bannerette consistency putting herself into bad situations with her tendency for wild groundstroke errors (especially when put on the run behind the baseline) only to dig her way out with big serves and monster forehands. Vandeweghe did have a chance to close out the match when she served at 5-4 but was unable to do so, breaking herself with an error on BP. It'd be the last time in the match in which she'd have an advantage. In four consecutive service games she was faced with holding to stay in the match -- at 5-6, 6-7, 7-8 and 8-9. In the first attempt, Begu, as she would often in the late going, three times got within two points of victory, only to see Vandeweghe hold on her own sixth GP of the game for 6-6. Two games later, Begu reached MP, but Vandeweghe saved it with a big serve and mishit return. Back-to-back aces got another hold for 7-7. Begu then held at love, hitting just her third ace of the day. A game later, Vandeweghe fired another ace to hold for 8-8. Another love hold from the Romanian (who had another ace) pushed Vandeweghe's back to the wall for the final time as the clock read 8:46 p.m. local time. This time, she wasn't able to hold the Romanian back. Begu's brilliant backhand passing shot got her a second MP, and another backhand pass attempt that forced a Vandeweghe backhand volley error finally ended it.



===============================================
[Most Enjoyable Match]
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Barbora Strycova
...6-2/6-7(6)/6-2.
In a duel between two of the most entertaining players on tour, Radwanska led Barbora Strycova 6-2/3-0 and seemed on her way to a straight sets win in the 2nd set tie-break (she led 5-3), only to be forced to a deciding 3rd. There, Radwanska broke the Czech to open the set on her fourth BP of the game, took another 3-0 lead and finally secured a 6-2/6-7(6)/6-2 win. But, of course, the story here was the series of great points constructed by the two (check out the combination of Strycova's quick hands at the net and Radwanska's high backhand volley that bounces out of reach of the Czech, who slides disconsolately into the changeover area, at 1:01 of the highlights package above), including the frontrunner for the oddest/craziest/most awkward-looking single point of the season:


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[Most NextGen Futures Match]

Charleston F - Sloane Stephens def. Daria Kasatkina
...6-1/5-7/7-5.
In a true NextGen showcase played in windy conditions, Stephens holds on and takes down the teenager, who'd dominated her opponents in the early rounds in South Carolina. After dropping the 1st set, Kasatkina leveled the match as Stephens went 0-for-7 on BP in the 2nd. The Russian actually held a match point at 5-4, but it was promptly extinguished by Stephens' inside out forehand winner. With an uncharacteristically tentative Kasatkina not playing with her normal killer instinct down the stretch, Stephens grabbed the final eleven points of the match and finally ended it after 2:24. Ultimately, she became the third player this season to save MP and go on to take the title.


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[Most Emotional Match]
Fed Cup SF Match #5 - Garcia/Mladenovic (FRA) def. Bertens/Hogenkamp (NED)
...4-6/6-3/6-3.
The Pastries began to seize control of this match early in the 3rd set. At 1-1, when a Bertens shot went wide and produced a service break, Garcia did a sideways frog hop as the ball hit the dirt. Bertens fired a ball into the stands in frustration. One game later, Mladenovic battled to hold after saving six break points, overcoming colliding with Garcia at mid-court while they simultaneously reached for a high volley on GP #1, before finally backing up the break on GP #2 for a 3-1 lead. Two games later, Hogenkamp's missed overhead at 30/30 caused her to slam her racket to the crowd. Garcia's hold gave France a 4-2 lead, and the Pastries never looked back. Brilliant shots and overflowing emotion ruled the final games of the tie, as the French duo finally put a stake through the heart of the remarkably resilient Dutch team. Finally out on a limb too far, the Dutch pair were broken at love to end the match, with Mladenovic adding the final touch with a crushing forehand put-away at the net... and then the celebration began.
===============================================
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Kiki Bertens def. Daria Kasatkina
...6-2/3-6/10-8.
In a singles match-up that never occurred during the Netherlands' Fed Cup upset of Russia in February, we got a glimpse of what we may have missed. On Court 16 in Paris, Bertens continued her magical spring run vs. #29-seeded NextGen Hordette Kasatkina. Playing with a leg injury, the Russian had a hard time moving to her backhand, but she still battled down to her last breath. In fact, after falling behind 5-2 in the 3rd set and saving five MP in a single game as Bertens served for the match, the 19-year old probably should have won. After breaking for 4-5, she twice served for the match herself at 7-6 and 8-7, only to see the Dutch player break back both times. Serving down 8-9, Kasatkina reached game point to extend the match, but Bertens turned the tables once more and soon had her sixth MP. The Hordette saved it, too, but Bertens finally converted on her seventh try as Dutch tennis dealt yet another blow to Russia in 2016.
===============================================

Roland Garros Q3: Lucie Hradecka def. Grace Min
...6-7(4)/6-1/11-9.
In a crazy duel to join the main draw, Min saved a dozen BP in the 3rd set and held four MP. Hradecka, who failed to serve out the match at 8-7, saved four BP at 10-9. Min stopped play during the match's final point, calling for the umpire to check a mark of a ball that she felt had gone long. But when the umpire ruled the ball in, the veteran Maiden had "converted" MP and survived to play another day in Paris.
===============================================
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #2 - Simona Halep/ROU def. Andrea Petkovic/GER
...6-4/6-7(5)/6-4.
After a near miss vs. the Czechs in the 1st Round, the Swarmettes were looking to hold onto their position in the '17 World Group, while the Germans were trying to do the same after consecutive disappointments after reaching the semifinals last year. Halep's February come-from-ahead loss to Karolina Pliskova ultimately was the key moment in a 3-2 loss that went to deciding doubles, and she avoided a repeat on Day 1 vs. Andrea Petkovic this time out. After leading 6-4/3-1, Halep served for the match in the 2nd set and fired back-to-back DF and was broken. She battled back to lead 5-3 in the 3rd, as well, but squandered a 30/15 lead and was broken again. But her immediate break back saved the day, as she won in 2:49 to knot the tie
===============================================
Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Teliana Pereira def. Kristyna Pliskova
...7-5/3-6/9-7.
Once again, Pliskova found herself on the losing end of a slam marathon match which ended late in the day in a 9-7 3rd set. In Melbourne, the Czech lost to Monica Puig in a match in which she fired 31 aces and held five MP. In Paris, on a cold day with the darkness of evening approaching, she fired 15 aces as she and Pereira traded momentum in the final moments. The Brazilian broke for 6-5, then Pliskova broke back. The Czech barely held for 7-6, but Pereira finally notched the final break for 8-7 and served out the match.



Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Monica Puig def. Julia Goerges
...7-5/6-7(4)/7-5.
Like her AO victim Kr.Pliskova, Puig once again found herself in the middle of a dramatic match played late in the day. THE final match of the day, in fact, completed after 9:30 pm. Late in the match, Goerges saved three MP and held with an ace for 5-5. Puig tossed her racket in frustration. With enough light to play just one final game, with Puig up 6-5, the Puerto Rican held two more MP in game #12. Finally, she got the break to put away the 3:00 match just in the nick of time.
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Charleston 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Madison Keys
...6-7(3)/6-4/6-4.
Any hope for a rematch of last year's epic Kerber/Keys final in Charleston were dashed early on when Keys dropped a 2:48 match to Siegemund, though it took the German five MP (after #4 was overruled by the umpire) to finally put her away. Siegemund's QF run fed the confidence that soon produced an appearance in the Stuttgart final, while Keys made her own unexpected run to a clay court final in Rome.
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Rome 2nd Rd. - Timea Babos def. Venus Williams
...6-7(5)/7-5/6-4.
While deep runs in big red clay events might be a bit much to ask of Venus at this point, she'd never allow that likely reality to lead her to not try, or fight for nearly three hours in an ultimately losing effort that proves once again just how much the 35-year really does love to play tennis. That's what happened here.
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Rome 2nd Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Angelique Kerber
...6-1/5-7/7-5.
Bouchard led 6-1/3-0, but Kerber forced a 3rd set and lost a close 3rd. It was a prelude to a poor end to her clay court season, as Kerber joined the short list of reigning Australian Open champions to lose in the 1st Round at Roland Garros.
===============================================
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #3 - Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Daria Kasatkina/RUS
...6-2/5-7/6-3.
After pulling out a tight 2nd set, Azarenka's experience won out as she quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the 3rd, taking out the Russian in 2:14 in their first-ever meeting. So, when do we get Azarenka/Kasatkina II?
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Strasbourg 2nd Rd. - Kristina Mladenovic def. Alison Riske
...4-6/6-4/7-6(5).
Mladenovic led 5-1 in the 3rd set, only to see it nearly all slip away. Riske saved four MP and knotted the set at 5-5. With heavy crowd support, Kiki continued to push, but Riske saved a 5th and 6th MP in the deciding tie-break. Finally, Mladenovic corralled her serve and finished off the Bannerette with a match-ending ace.
===============================================
Charleston 2nd Rd. - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni def. Kristina Mladenovic
...4-6/6-4/7-6(13).
In the deciding tie-break, both players held MPs as they traded multiple DFs (Lucic had 15 for the match) before the Croat finally won the 28-point tussle. Lucic edged Mladenovic 118-115 in total points on the day.
===============================================

[The Promise of More to Come]
Roland Garros Final - Garbine Muguruza def. Serena Williams
...7-5/6-4.
The match was of high quality, with the young Spaniard, while not playing the perfect game, made up for any slips with huge big point productivity and, quite simply, out-played Williams, who wasn't having "one of those days." Muguruza powered her way through with aggression and big groundstrokes, but ultimately secured the match with a perfectly placed lob over Williams' head on her fifth MP that left even Serena unable to avoid smiling and applauding the audacity of it all. These two have already combined for two memorable matches in Paris, and a decent final at Wimbledon. Earlier this year, Muguruza and Vika Azarenka faced off in maybe the best two-set match of the year. And the new RG champ has been a truly dominant figure the last two years as Spain has climbed the Fed Cup ladder. If you have a young player who rises to great heights on big stages while playing fearlessness tennis vs. big-time players, well, you might just have SOMETHING really great on your hands. Muguruza now has one slam title in her pocket. What comes next is only speculation, but the promise or more is surely there without having to look very hard for it.

[Best Final Games + Tie-Break]

Stuttgart QF - Aga Radwanska def. Karolina Pliskova
...6-2/7-6(8).
Aga won in two, winning her eleventh and twelfth consecutive sets vs. the Czech. But game #11 of the 2nd set, and the eventual tie-break, made this match something more than a "routine" victory. Serving at 5-5, Radwanska survived a 15-minute, twelve-deuce game in which she saved seven break points (Pliskova missed on second serve returns more than once) before finally holding on her own seventh game point on, naturally, a net cord dribbler. In the TB, Pliskova's fight was admirable, if too late. On Radwanska's first MP at 6-5, the Czech shot a forehand winner up the line, then she fired a saving ace on MP #2. After Radwanska's return winner on a Pliskova second serve gave the Pole MP #3 at 8-7. Pliskova blasted a backhand winner. Aga's volley winner brought MP #4 at 9-8, and Pliskova finally brought things to a close with a forehand into the net.


[Dramatic Competition on the Court, Appreciation in the Lockerroom]
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Serena Williams def. Kristina Mladenovic
...6-4/7-6(10).
Serena was forced to dig deep into her champion's heart to finally put down Mladenovic on a stormy, rainy day in a match that went on a little longer than it likely had to. Partly because of long weather delay, but also party because of Williams herself. The world #1 wasn't in her very best form, and it caused her to nearly be dragged to a 3rd set before ultimately grinding out a victory. But her inability to convert a bushel of BP chances in the 2nd set did cost her a couple of hours of annoyance en route to the final as the two women were forced to wait out a violent storm that hit Paris just as they were about to start a 2nd set tie-break. Mladenovic gave a good accounting of herself on the day, even if the result didn't ultimately go as well as she might have dreamed. Employing a series of drops shots and lobs (probably TOO often, actually, though they were generally quite effective), staged comebacks from several deep break point holes and forced Williams to raise the level of her game on more than one occasion to prevent things from getting "sticky."



At 4-4 in the 1st, Mladenovic fired back-to-back return winners to start game #9. A volley hit to Williams' feet gave her a BP, then she got another with a drop shot and forehand pass combination. But Serena's unreturnable serves saved both chances. On BP #3, the Pastry hit a forehand return into the net after running around a backhand and attempting to fire the ball crosscourt. It was the opening that Williams needed. She blasted an ace up the middle to reach game point, then finished off the hold for 5-4. She let out a loud yell before heading to the changeover area. A Mladenovic double-fault put her down love/30 a game later, then Serena put away an easy winner after reaching yet another drop shot from the Frenchwoman. "Come on!," Williams screamed. At love/40, Mladenovic saved her first BP/SP with serve-and-volley tactics, then another with an ace. On her third chance, Williams' big return of serve produced a forehand error from Mladenovic as Serena grabbed a 6-4 set in fifty-two minutes. "Come on!"

In the 2nd, Serena had many chances to put a stranglehold on the match, but couldn't quite do it. Mladenovic twice held after falling down love/40. She saved BP again in game #8 and held for 4-4 as Serena stood at 0-for-9 on break point chances in the set. With dark clouds looming, Mladenovic held twice to force a tie-break. But then the thunder claps and pelting rain knocked everyone off the court -- as well as most of the power on the tournament grounds. When play resumed the world viewing audience received only one high camera angle of the court, and just faint audio (if that).



Mladenovic hadn't gotten tight during the two-hour break. She came out ready to play, going up a mini-break on the first point and taking a 3-0 lead. She held two serves for 5-2, but was still only up a single mini-break. Williams cut the lead to 5-4, then leveled things after reaching a Mladenovic drop shot and hitting a winner down the line. She completed her sweep of the Pastry's two serves with a smash to reach MP at 6-5. A Mladenovic lob seemed to give Williams a chance to knock off the final needed point, but her smash went long and things went back on serve. Mladenovic attempted to act as a conductor, waving her arms to fire up the crowd even more.



The Frenchwoman hit a winner on Williams' second MP, but a DF handed her a third. Serena reached another Mladenovic drop shot, but sent it long to make the score 8-8. Another drop (!!) went off the net and Williams failed to get the ball back, giving the Pastry a set point at 9-8. Williams put away a Mladenovic lob for 9-9. Mladenovic saved MP #4 with a winner, but on MP #5 sent a forehand wide to give Williams a 6-4/7-6(10) win to reach an eleventh Round of 16 in Paris (and 52nd overall in her slam career). Naturally, Serena had to let out another long yell to celebrate.

Afterwards in the lockerroom, both players showed appreciation for the competition.




["The Match of the Century, Pt.II & III" give or take 90 years]
$25K Pelham Q1 - Gail Falkenberg def. Rosalyn Small 6-0/6-1
$25K Pelham Q2 - Taylor Townsend def. Gail Falkenberg 6-0/6-0
...
69-year old Falkenberg, known on the ITF circuit as "The Legend," defeats 22-year old Small, ending her own 32-match losing streak at the expense of a player who'd already lost twenty-two straight, setting up a match with 19-year old old Townsend that lasted just thirty-six minutes as Falkenberg won twelve points.


A walk-on player at UCLA in the 1960's, Falkenberg, a college coach at Central Florida in the 1990's who turned pro at age 38, last won a match in 1998. She won a qualifying match at the Australian Open in 1988, and once lost to a 13-year old Jennifer Capriati. "And my game gives the kids more trouble than the older players, believe it or not," she said. Retirement isn't on the immediate horizon, either. "I'd love to be playing -- and win -- at 70," she told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm six months away from that."


[Sisterly Bonds]
$10K Bol Final - Magdalena Pantuckova def. Gabriela Pantuckova
...6-1/4-6/6-2.
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. A week later, Gabriela won a $10K title in another Bol challenger, defeating Kathinka von Deichmann, who'd defeated Magdalena in the semis, in the final.


[Payback in Sweet]
Rome 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Kristina Mladenovic
...6-3/6-1.
Before she was taking jabs at a certain Russian while her back was turned, Mladenovic was doing it with Ostapenko in Week 1 after the Latvian's on-court near-throwdown with Naomi Broady.


The teenager finally had her say in Rome, and ended things with emphasis.





[Cornet. Drama. Controversy. 'Nuff Said.]
Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Alize Cornet def. Tatjana Maria
...6-3/6-7(5)/6-4.
Naturally, with Cornet there comes drama, controversy, over-celebration and charges of "bending" or breaking the rules. In this case, it all revolved around cramping, questions about said cramping, medical timeouts, questions about said medical timeouts, and the scene of the Pastry not looking like she was cramping during points but then complaining of severe pain between them. Needless to say, Maria wasn't pleased, and their respective teams of both players apparently nearly rumbled in the lockerroom.







Afterwards, playing the role of poor loser to a "T" (for "Tatjana?"), Maria wouldn't move on, even after everyone else had, and openly threatened lawsuits and everything else that goes along with not giving up any particular ghost. Meanwhile, since the WTA tour IS The Most Interesting Tour in the World, Cornet and Maria met again in doubles a day later. Maria (w/ Madison Brengle) defeated Cornet (w/ Linette) in three sets, for what it's worth. Which, frankly, isn't very much.


[With the Rain Comes the Pain]
Roland Garros 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur def. Simona Halep
...7-6(0)/6-3.
On Sunday, Simona Halep was doing what she'd done the first three rounds of play in Paris. Look slightly shaky at times, be given a reprieve before panic set in because her opponent wasn't quite (yet) good enough to take full advantage of said moments, and then seem to be getting a handle on how to manuever her way out of tough spots without getting frustrated, or expecting herself to be TOO perfect. It had been working in her Round of 16 match vs. Sam Stosur, as well. She'd saved three BP in game #6 of the 1st set alone, then another in the final game of action before the match was suspended due to rain with Halep leading 5-3. All at least SEEMED well, but the more than a day and a half delay was always going to test Halep's ability to stay focused, especially against a veteran with an appearance in a Roland Garros final under her belt (no matter that it was six long years ago).





When play resumed on Tuesday, Halep and Stosur had to deal with a whole other element besides the break and all the difficulties associated with simply getting back to "the place" they once were. The heavy conditions played to Stosur's (literal) strengths, as her serve was effective and she was able to muscle big forehand shots in ways that the other players in action on the day could not. Of course, that's no overwhelming excuse. If a player is going to ever win a slam they're likely going to have to find a way at some point during such a run to emerge the victor in a situation when the deck is seemingly overwhelmingly stacked against them. While Radwanska was failing to do so on Lenglen, Halep was following suit on Court 1. Stosur opened with a love hold, then went up love/40 on the Romanian's serve as Halep tried to close out the set. The seven-point, and eight of nine, run ultimately led to the Aussie's forehand winner breaking Halep to knot the score at 5-5. Stosur went up 30/love a game later (10 of 11 points) before three consecutive forehand errors gave Halep a break point. Here was where the course of this match might have remained in Halep's favor, but Stosur held for 6-5. In the resulting tie-break, Stosur took the moment and beat Halep over the head with it. Halep's back-to-back errors handed both her service points to the Aussie, who led 3-0. Stosur's ace put her up 5-0, then she swiped two more points on Halep's serve to finish off a 7-0 shutout, winning her fourth of five games on the day.
In the 2nd set, Halep went up 30/15 on serve, but was broken in the opening game. She reached double BP on Stosur's serve a game later, only to offer up two more errors to bring things back to deuce. The Aussie held for 2-0 as Halep strung together four straight errors. A Stosur love hold put her up 3-1. But there was still a chance for Halep to find her footing. With the weather as it was, just surviving as long as possible, eventually going into a 3rd set, could be all that it would take to alter the course of not only this match, but so much more. She held for 2-3 with an ace, and did indeed see the rains arrive again. It wasn't enough to wipe out the day, though. The two returned, but so did Halep's frustration with her lot.

Stosur went up 40/15 on serve off her opponent's three errors, but Halep managed to level things at deuce. But Stosur held for 4-2, then jumped up 40/15 on Halep's serve, as well. But Halep saved four BP and held for 4-3. Just like she'd done on several occasions earlier in the tournament. Was THIS the moment she'd do what she had to do, then hope for another chance a day later (or the day after)? Ummm, no. Serving down 3-5, Halep fell down 0/30, then double match point. A swing volley attempt that sailed long ended the 7-6(0)/6-3 match, giving Stosur her first slam QF result since 2012 (she reach the semis), and Halep her fifth exit before the QF stage at the last seven majors.



No player likes having to play under conditions that aren't favorable to them, and could even be dangerous if they don't alter their approach. But decisions are made, and you either abide by them or, you know, as we learned at this same RG, threaten lawsuits. Halep has too long and varied a history (with similar results) of losing her focus to ONLY hang another disappointingly early slam exit on the weather and/or the decision to play. We've seen her blitzed down the stretch of winnable matches (or those she simply wanted to end as quickly as possible) that were played under good and fair conditions to say that the Madrid champ bears no responsibility for failing to be able to adapt to the task she was assigned. While she'd been wise to simply accept full responsibility (albeit with a sarcastic wink to hint at her true feelings, allowing the sure-to-follow chorus of complaints to well up behind her words), she still went there.




Roland Garros 4th Round - Tsvetana Pironkova def. Aga Radwanska
...2-6/6-3/6-3.
Meanwhile, When we'd last seen Radwanska and Pironkova over the weekend, Aga had held serve to take a 6-2/3-0 lead. If the rain had held off for another fifteen minutes you got the impression that Radwanska would have breezed through to her second career QF in Paris. Even after missing the next day's scheduled re-start, the Pole's 11-2 head-to-head mark against the Bulgarian seemed to signal a quick wrap-up. Another 15-20 minutes was probably going to suffice. But, well, then the conditions changed the entire ball game.

With the wet, super-slow and heavy conditions, Pironkova came out on fire, while Radwanska was out of sorts and way off her game. Radwanska had a break point in the opening game, but the Bulgarian held and, ummm, then it just got ugly. She broke the Pole on her third BP attempt of game #5, getting back on serve with a Radwanska error. The roll continued: a break in game #7 as Pironkova won her fourth straight game, a love hold for 5-3, and then a comeback from 15/40 down to break Radwanska again and win her sixth straight game to claim the set at 6-3.

More rain seemed to possibly offer Radwanska a chance to regroup, but it just wasn't happening. Having recently injured her wrist, Radwanska argued later that she was risking injury being forced to play in conditions with such heavy balls. Pironkova grabbed a break lead early in the 3rd, and led 3-0 as the Pole was treated by a trainer for her wrist. The Bulgarian ran her streak to ten games (at 4-0) before Aga finally staged a brief rally. But it was too little, too late. She broke Pironkova in game #5, held for 4-2 and twice got to within getting back on serve in the 3rd set in game #7. But Pironkova held, then served out the match two games later for an improbable 2-6/6-3/6-3 victory, winning twelve of fifteen games after the resumption of play to reach her first final eight in Paris.




Of course, while the circumstances are different this time, #102 Pironkova has been here, done this before. She's pretty much a grand slam serial killer when it comes to taking out big seeds on major stages, even if she's only reached the QF stage three times (and not since 2011, and then at her favorite stomping grounds in London). #2 Radwanska is just another victim for her memory box.




*THEIR COMEBACKS ARE OUR COMEBACKS...no, really, they ARE*
[Even The Bracelet Can Have a Bad Fed Cup Day]

Fed Cup World Group II Playoff Match #3 - Yanina Wickmayer/BEL def. Aleksandra Krunic/SRB
...1-6/7-5/8-6.
The good luck powers of the Serbian Good Luck Charm were already going to be tested vs. the deep Belgian team, and that was before an injured Jelena Jankovic joined the "Fed Cup retired" (rolling eyes and shaking head, in case you can't tell) Ana Ivanovic on the sidelines. Still, Krunic's dogged ability to give her all on the court still gave the Serbs a decent chance vs. the Waffles. And, boy, did The Bracelet give it a go. It looked like she was going to singlehandedly carry the Serbian squad (at least) into the deciding doubles. But then it all went horribly wrong. In the opening match of the tie, Krunic defeated Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets, coming back from 4-1 down in the 2nd and saving two SP before winning 6-4/7-6(6) to run her FC singles winning streak to six matches, and her overall FC mark in singles and doubles to 8-1 in her last nine outings. After Jovana Jaksic fell to Wickmayer in straights, Krunic returned in fine form. She jumped out to a 6-1/3-0, two-break lead on Wickmayer. She led 5-3 and served for the match at 5-4, with the chance to give Serbia a 2-1 lead and force Flipkens, with a horrible career FC mark, to win to keep Belgium alive. But then it all came tumbling down. Wickmayer changed her tactics and forced Krunic out of her game by forcing her to hit high-bouncing balls, and the comeback began. Krunic got to BP at 5-5 in the 3rd, but failed to get the break. Ultimately, the Waffle wore her down and claimed the 2:32 match. "I played very well for a long time in this match but when Yanina upped the tempo, I started to struggle,” said Krunic. “Obviously, I have to be more consistent. There is no use firing on all cylinders for a set and a half and then running on empty when it’s time to wrap up the match. It will be a very useful experience as I have rarely played several matches in a row at this level. At 6-1/3-0 down, she started playing as if she had nothing to lose, and she didn’t. She was stronger and braver at crunch points and won the match deservedly.”
===============================================
[Good Petra Wins Out]
Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Danka Kovniic
...6-2/4-6/7-5.
Like the weather, the Czech was good in the early going. She jumped on Montenegrin Kovinic from the start on Chatrier Court, winning the 1st set with ease and going up an early break in the 2nd. She led 6-2/3-0 and seemed on her way to becoming the first woman to post a main draw match victory at this year's RG. But this is Petra. So, ummm, no. Resembling a passing dark cloud, Kvitova once more brought doom and gloom to the court for all the Petra Pals. Kovinic secured a break to take a 5-4 lead in the 2nd, only to see Kvitova take a love/40 lead on her opponent's serve a game later. But the three break points were squandered as four straight Kvitova errors brought Kovinic to set point. A forehand lob winner grabbed a 6-4 set and knotted the match. At 2-2 in the 3rd, Kvitova double-faulted and went down break point. She managed to hold for 3-2... but she wasn't finished. In game #9, at 4-4, the Czech double-faulted three times and helped Kovinic gain the break and have the opportunity to serve out the match vs. the #10 seed, a two-time slam winner, former RG semifinalist, all-around good egg... and the most frustrating player on the Most Interesting Tour in the World. But Kovinic is still feeling her way through big moments like these (see April's Istanbul final), and after fighting off a BP and getting to within two points of victory, the 21-year old found herself with a short ball at the net at deuce. But rather than put away what should have been a clean angled winner, she pushed a weak shot down the middle of the court right into Kvitova's strike zone. The Czech fired a winner to get another BP chance, which she converted to get back on serve at 5-5. Just as the weather cleared up late in the day, so did Kvitova's funk. After holding at love, Kvitova shifted the pressure to survive back to her less experienced foe. After being two points from the 2nd Round, Kovinic had to hold serve to avoid having her '16 Roland Garros ended before the first Monday. Kvitova's running forehand winner down the line gave her a match point, and Kovinic's errors handed her a 6-2/4-6/7-5 victory escape rite of Petra grand slam passage.



Her reprieve didn't last long, as Kvitova went out in the 3rd Round.
===============================================
Bogota 1st Rd. - Alexandra Panova def. Elina Svitolina
...7-5/1-6/7-6(6).
This 2:40 match was actually stretched out over two days, with stoppages for both rain and darkness on Day 1, lessening a bit of the impact of the #1-seeded Ukrainian being knocked off by the an-upset-is-always-possible Russian. Still, after returning for Day 2 leading Svitolina 7-5/1-5, Panova saw her battle back to hold two MP at 6-5, 40/15 on the Hordette's serve, then three more up 6-3 in the deciding tie-break. But Panova swept the final five points to take the match, putting an end to Svitolina's comeback and making the victory a comeback of her own.
===============================================
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #4 - Andrea Petkovic/GER def. Monica Niculescu/ROU
...0-6/7-6(1)/6-3.
Like the tide, Petko sometimes recedes, but she soon returns to shore, often more powerful than ever.



Petkovic needed to avoid going 0-2 for the weekend in her attempt to clinch the tie vs. Niculescu. Heading into Sunday having lost four of her last five FC matches in singles/doubles, things didn't look good for Petko. The tricky Niculescu was on fire early, taking the 1st at love, then held two MP at 6-5 in the 2nd set. But the German pushed things to a tie-break, won it 7-1 and took an early break lead in the 3rd en route to a win that erased at least a few lingering bad FC memories.
===============================================
Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Monica Niculescu
...2-6/7-6(5)/6-2.
Niculescu, who upset Kvitova in Fed Cup play in February, very nearly took down the Czech once again. The Romanian held three total MP at 5-2 and 6-5 in the 2nd set before Petra's rollercoaster finally swung back around and left Niculescu stranded at the top while Kvitova hopped off at ground level and beat a path to what would be her first (and, so far, only) SF result of '16,
===============================================
Katowice 1st Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Carina Witthoeft
...6-7(6)/6-4/7-6(3).
Witthoeft led 7-6/2-0 but failed to convert on two BP attempts in game #4 of the 2nd to take a two-break lead. Cibulkova sent things to a 3rd set, where the German again jumped out to a 3-0, 40/love lead before Cibulkova held to keep things from getting out of hand. Witthoeft got to 4-1 before the Slovak battled back to force a deciding tie-break in which she jumped out to a 5-1 lead and didn't look back. Witthoeft converted just six of nineteen break points attempts, as Cibulkova advanced and didn't lose another set en route to the title.
===============================================

Madrid 2nd Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Caroline Garcia
...0-6/6-3/6-4.
Where were Kiki and Amelie when Caroline needed them here? 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 (in doubles), and then followed up by winning a singles crown in Strasbourg and her first slam title in WD at Roland Garros.
===============================================


Junior Masters Final - Anna Blinkova def. Katie Swan
...6-4/6-7(1)/7-6(4).
In the second annual Junior Masters event in Chengdo, China, an eight-player event featuring an elite group of the world's best girls and boys, 17-year old Blinkova knocks off Swan despite the Brit serving for the match at 6-5. Afterward, she got to meet Li Na. Winner times 2.


===============================================
Madrid 1st Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Aga Radwanska
...6-4/6-7(3)/6-3.
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 made her the third player this year (w/ Kerber and Stephens) to reach '16 finals on multiple surfaces.
===============================================
Roland Garros Girls QF - Olesya Pervushina def. Marketa Vondrousova
...5-7/6-1/7-5.
The RG #1 seed, vs. the former girls #1, takes a 7-5 3rd set in a contest in which she saved MP to extend her winning streak to twenty matches in a row. The Russian would lose her next match to eventual champ Rebeka Masarova.

Roland Garros Girls 3rd Rd. - Amanda Anisimova def. Michaela Gordon
...6-0/1-6/6-4.
The #2 seed defeats fellow Bannerette Gordon by sweeping the final four games of the 3rd set after having fallen behind 4-2. She'd reach the final, where she'd also lose to Masarova.
===============================================
Prague QF - Samantha Stosur def. Barbora Strycova
...6-3/6-7(3)/7-6(4).
In a 2:58 match, Stosur exorcised a few of her still-fresh Fed Cup demons by winning after saving two MP -- with an ace and serve/volley winner -- to take out Strycova on the Czech's home soil.
===============================================
Charleston Q1 - Cagla Buyukakcay def. Julia Boserup
...7-6(1)/1-6/7-6(7).
Buyukakcay saved three MP, then won on MP #3 of her own. The Turk would go on to become her nation's first singles champion in her next event two weeks later in her Istanbul hometown.
===============================================
Charleston Q1 - Michelle Larcher de Brito def. Anna Tatishvili
...2-6/6-0/7-5.
Tatishvili held a MP, and very nearly led 5-1 in the 3rd set.
===============================================
Rome 1st Rd. - Samantha Stosur def. Alison Riske
...4-6/7-6(5)/6-1.
Stosur didn't have the week in Rome that she had in Madrid (SF), but she saved a MP on her way to a comeback win over Riske.
===============================================
Rome 1st Rd. - Lesia Tsurenko def. Julia Goerges
...1-6/7-6(5)/6-3.
Goerges served for the match in the 2nd set, and one could make a case that maybe Tsurenko's last-second backpedal might have helped to induce the German's DF on match point in the 3rd. Or maybe not. Hmmm.

===============================================




*NOW, NOW...don't Choke on that loss*
[Oh, Sam]
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - United Stated def. Australia 4-0
...
for once, Captain Mary Joe Fernandez hadn't sabotaged the U.S. roster before the tie had even started, so the Bannerettes were in a good position to put up a fight. But the 4-0 sweep fell mostly on the performance -- umm, it wasn't good -- of Aussie team leader Samantha Stosur, the "anti-MVP" of the tie.

Match #2 featured MJF's first hunch, going with Christina McHale (playing well, under-the-radar, since January, she'd been left off several rosters by Fernandez in the past and didn't have a Fed Cup win since since '12) vs. Stosur, rather than the higher-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe. In her first match vs. Christina McHale (0-4 vs. the Aussie), Stosur was in command in the 1st set, and was in position late in the 3rd to knot the tie. But McHale remained steady, while the Aussie collapsed in a hail of errors. At 3-3 in the 3rd, Stosur held in an eight-deuce game in which she saved six BP (McHale was 0-for-8 in the set at that point), only to eventually give away the break that she'd avoided a few games later with a slew of errors that put the Bannerette up 6-5. McHale herself has often had a difficult time closing out big matches, but she easily held her nerve and served things out in a 3-6/6-1/7-5 win. On Sunday, Stosur faced off with CoCo Vandeweghe, 0-3 in FC singles in her career. Again, Stosur looked to be in control, only to gradually cede it to her opponent, leading 6-2/2-0, then 5-4 in the 2nd. At 5-5, she went from game point to being broken and her second collapse in a 24-hour period was a "go." Vandeweghe began to fight back (even while missing 1st serves, which Stosur didn't make her pay for), mostly just by keeping balls in the court and allowing Stosur to self-destruct yet again. She more than obliged. Vandeweghe's 2-6/7-5/6-4 win clinched the tie without the Aussies putting a single point on the board, then she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (I.W. champs) combined to finish off the sweep.

===============================================
[La Fine]
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Spain def. Italy 4-0
...
the end of an era. And this time the Tennis Gods mean it. Maybe. What might have been optimistically viewed as a case of Italy getting the old gang back together for one final celebratory weekend eventually turned into a case of "you can't go home again." Camila Giorgi's hot war with the Italian tennis federation left her out of this tie (and many, many more for quite a while), but the offshoot was that the roster's Quartet number was three strong, with Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani and Francesca Schiavone appearing together for the first time since the 2012 semifinals. But then Errani was pulled from Day 1 with a leg injury. Schiavone replaced her and took Garbine Muguruza to a 1st set tie-break, but was then stung in the face by an insect, dropped the TB and never won another game. Charged with righting the Italian course, Vinci was then crushed 1 & 1 in sixty-three minutes by Carla Suarez-Navarro, then opened Day 2 by losing 2 & 2 to Muguruza. Just like that, the party was over. Things didn't get any better in the "dead rubber" doubles, as that match (w/ Karin Knapp & Schiavone) ended via retirement after just two games. Italy thus drops to World Group II for the first time since 1998. It'd be easy to say that this truly IS the end of Italy's competitive FC era, with Vinci and Schiavone both near retirement, Errani within sight of 30, Giorgi's future unclear and seemingly little in the way of young up-and-comers in the pipeline. The ranking drop-off behind Schiavone is steep, with the next Italian registering in the #260's and only one Italian ranking in the girls Top 100 at the time of this tie.

Although, one never knows. Ludmilla Samsonova won back-to-back Grade 2 junior titles this season, and at Roland Garros two qualifiers reached the 3rd Round with Federica Bilardo upsetting Top 10 juinor Elena Rybakina, and Lucrezia Stefanini taking out #14 seed Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, while Stefanini and Tatiana Pieri advanced to the girls doubles semis. So, maybe respectable results could persist for the few more years if Giorgi eventually returns to the fold.
===============================================
[Forget the Past, Beware the Future]
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Belarus def. Russia 3-2
...
the end of an era, part II? Or the beginning of a new one? Russia lost its third straight FC tie and, less than a year after playing in the Fed Cup final, falls out of World Group I for the first time since 1997. But...


18-year old Daria Kasatkina took her maiden turn in the #1 singles spot for Team Russia, getting a win in her solo debut vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, pushing Vika Azarenka to three sets in a loss, and then picking up a "dead rubber" doubles victory to close out the weekend. 2016 has been a devastating FC year for the Hordette squad, but Kasatkina has masterfully staked her claim to the #1 singles spot for the next decade. And that's a good foundation upon which to build the next generation of Russian tennis. In this season's two ties, Russia has picked up a total of three points. Kasatkina had a hand in all of them.
===============================================
Rabat SF - Marina Erakovic def. Kiki Bertens
...2-6/7-6(7)/7-5.
The Dutch woman wasn't PERFECT this clay court season. Bertens led 6-2/5-3 and held a MP in the 2nd set of this one, but Kiki ultimately fell to the Kiwi, who reached her first since 2013.
===============================================




*TO WIN IS LOVELY, BUT TO UPSET IN DIVINE*
[Bad Petra, Good Petra, Extreme Bad Petra]
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Shelby Rogers def. Petra Kvitova
...6-0/6-7(3)/6-0.
Unseeded Bannerette Rogers (#108) continued her unexpected Paris run by delivering a "bagel sandwich" to Kvitova. The 1st set lasted just twenty-one minutes, with Kvitova's winner/unforced errors numbers (2/14) about as ugly as they can get. The Czech was down a break in the 2nd set, but managed to push things to a tie-break, which she won 7-3. But then it was right back on the hamster wheel. Kvitova fell apart even further, while Rogers soared. She got a break to start the set and never looked back. She notched an additional win over Irina-Camelia Begu to become the first non-Williams in the RG QF since 2005.


Of course, this sort of scoreline isn't exactly a unique thing for Rogers.


For the match, Kvitova had 35 errors (lower than they may have been since she won so few points in the two sets) to Rogers' 18, while she had zero aces and six DF (Rogers, in contrast, had six aces and one DF). Rogers was 6-of-10 on BP chances, while Kvitova was 1-for-5. The 1st and 3rd set stats, separated from the competitive 2nd, only further belabor the point: Rogers won 50 of 73 points, and had 17/6 winner/UE numbers vs. Kvitova's 6/19. #PetrainParis wasn't supposed to look like this. But, really, who can REALLY be surprised that it did?
===============================================
[The Unfortunate MVP]

Fed Cup SF Match #2 - Viktoriya Golubic/SUI def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 3-6/6-4/6-4
Match #4 - Viktoriya Golubic/SUI def. Barbora Strycova/CZE 3-6/7-6(6)/6-1
...
Golubic's glorious, if ultimately unsuccessful, Fed Cup weekend. What a way to make an entrance, as the world #129 went from "anonymous" to MVP-worthy, even in a losing effort. Pliskova's own unsteadiness -- 57 UE's, including a dumped overhead that handed the Swiss a MP -- helped in the comeback from 6-3/4-2 down in Golubic's first match. But the gutsy 8-6 tie-break win to prevent Strycova from clinching the tie stands on its own. Pity she couldn't have had a bit more to give in the doubles, where she and Martina Hingis lost to Pliskova & Lucie Hradecka as the Czech advanced to another FC final. But that loss doesn't dim the memory of her overall weekend performance one bit.
===============================================
Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Krejcikova/Siniakova def. Hingis/Mirza
...6-3/6-2.
The quest for a fourth straight slam win -- and the only major title they've yet to claim in their brief partnership -- ended for world #1's earlier than anyone, includes themselves, likely ever expected. Red clay is the pair's worst surface, but they came into their 3rd Round match vs. the young Czech duo sporting a 12-2 clay record this spring, with a title in Rome and finals in Stuttgart and Madrid (they lost both to Garcia/Mladenovic). But the Maidens -- winners of three junior girls doubles slams in '13 -- dominated them and threw them out the back door and into the yard to be history's play toys via a scoreline similar to the 6-1/6-3 one they were on the other side of vs. the Dream Team in Stuttgart a few weeks earlier.

===============================================
Charleston 3rd Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Venus Williams
...7-6(5)/2-6/6-4.
Earlier in the year, against Venus in the Kaohsiung SF (7-5) and Serena in the 3rd Round in Indian Wells (7-6), Putintseva put up a good fight in the opening set against a Sister but failed to lock it away in what turned out to be a straight sets loss. She turned the tables vs. Venus in Charleston, though, and her early lead ultimately provided the foundation for a three-set win.



Putintseva met up with Serena once again in the QF at Roland Garros, this time winning a 7-5 1st set. It didn't make a difference, though, as Williams won 5-7/6-4/6-1.
===============================================
Madrid 2nd Rd. - Louisa Chirico def. Ana Ivanovic
...5-7/6-1/6-3.
#130 Chirico, who'd go from qualifier to semifinalist, gets the biggest win of her career as AnaIvo ends things with back-to-back DF. Doesn't that happen ALL the time?

===============================================
Bogota 1st Rd. - Catalina Pella def. Teliana Pereira
...3-6/6-3/7-6(3).
In her tour MD debut, #274-ranked qualifier Pella -- sister of ATP player Guido, a finalist in Rio earlier this year -- knocks out the defending champ in 2:20. This is why Brazilian women's tennis just can't have nice things.
===============================================
Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Simona Halep
...6-1/6-2.
While this match signaled Siegemund's oncoming legitimacy (she reach the Stuttgart final) during the brightest week of her revelatory clay court spring run, it threw up red flags concerning Halep. The Swarmette ultimately won a big title on the fast clay in Madrid, but lost early in Rome then went down in a rain-delay disaster in the Round of 16 in Paris.

===============================================
Stuttgart SF - Laura Siegemund def. Aga Radwanska
...6-4/6-2.
By the time Siegemund had locked away her third straight Top 10 win, and her seventh consecutive straight sets victory of the week, her run was hardly a surprise. Showing no hint of nerves, the German played as if she'd been in these sort of situations her entire tennis life. Of course, even while the continuation of her tennis career wasn't a sure thing not that long ago, such a reaction isn't super shocking from a player working on a psych degree and writing a bachelor thesis about "choking under pressure." Unlike Dinara Safina, who once noted, "The more you know, the less you sleep," Siegemund seems to fall on the, "The more the know, the less you fear" side of the psychological divide.

===============================================
Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Kiki Bertens def. Angelique Kerber
...6-2/3-6/6-3.
Kerber, dealing with a shoulder injury, became the first reigning AO champ in the Open era to lose in her opening match in Paris. The second in sixteen years, she's actually the second to fall in such a fashion in the last three years (Li '14). But that's the only way this was a "true upset," though. Bertens was in the middle of a wildly successful run (this was consecutive win #8) that included a Nurnberg title run just a few days earlier and ended with a berth in the RG semifinals a week and a half later.
===============================================
Strasbourg 1st Rd. - Jil Belen Teichmann def. Kurumi Nara
...2-6/7-5/6-1.
The 18-year old Swiss, ranked #369 and making it into qualifying after having been an alternate, made her way through the Q-rounds notched her first career MD draw WTA win over former tour titlist (Rio '14) Nara.
===============================================
Rome 2nd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova def. Simona Halep
...6-3/4-6/6-3.
In a match that saw a rain delay after Halep had knotted things by taking the 2nd set, Gavrilova got the best of the Romanian when play resumed. Days later, I still hadn't decided whether Halep's post-match comments were an example of good common sense, or a sign that she's was far from ready to put up a fight in Paris.



After she exited Paris excuse-making about rain and conditions -- while her opponent in the 4th Round, Sam Stosur, said it was fine to play -- makes it easy to fall on the latter side of that equation.
===============================================
Madrid 1st Rd. - Barbora Strycova def. Angelique Kerber
...6-4/6-2.
The Czech was 0-5 with no sets won vs. Kerber before taking out the German to get her second Top 3 win of 2016. Of course, Kerber has never particularly cottoned to the Madrid event -- she's been ousted in the 1st Round three straight years... and then she lost in the 1st Round at Roland Garros, too.

===============================================
Madrid 2nd Rd. - Irina-Camelia Begu def. Garbine Muguruza
...5-7/7-6(4)/6-3.
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. Muguruza rebounded with a semifinal run in Rome, then surged all the way to her maiden slam title at Roland Garros.
===============================================


And, finally...

Maria Sharapova's tennis future is now in doubt due to an overcooked two-year ban (lazily considered "lenient" by some because of the attempt to institute what would have been a ludicrous four-year suspension) for taking a "performance-enhancing" (though that description remains in question, and isn't EVERYTHING athletes take/ingest to help their performance, hence, "performance-enhancing" -- otherwise, why would they take it?) substance announced late in '15 as being newly-banned (a declaration based on simple suspicion after it had shown up in the systems of a number of athletes from Russia, and notice of which was arguably buried in an email -- though that's not an excuse for overlooking it), a drug which had been detected in Sharapova samples previous to the test in Melbourne (with no earlier questions asked or individual alerts given, since it would ruin the successful "sting" operation that was to come) and the use of which beyond the banned time period was officially judged to be "not intentional" on Sharapova's part in a ruling that also judged the failure to list the drug on player-submitted forms (though every item ingested is not required to be listed) or to inform members of her team -- well, other than her father and agent -- of the use as being at the heart of the conclusion that she was trying to "hide" it (although the drug was initially doctor-prescribed, taken for a decade, able to be bought over the counter in Eastern Europe and was perfectly legal even under WADA rules until January 1 -- so, surely, it was something to "keep under wraps"). Naturally, the ruling, in what can only be viewed as a "waving-middle-finger moment," also declared the Russian to be "the sole author of her own misfortune" and at "moral fault."

So apparently we're suspending people for that now, too. Methinks many should henceforth watch their backs then.

Anyway, I'll break the "2Q" limits of this BSA recap by bringing back a note posted here about the last game Sharapova played on tour back in January.


Here's what I said four months ago:

[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 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, covering up 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 be stunned that it wasn't something close to 5-5 in the 3rd.

The moment begins 1:11:30 into the match...




In retrospect, the worst reaction Sharapova had to this case was to hold that peremptory press conference, which obviously riled the Powers That be, stealing the thunder of their announcement and, under further scrutiny, making then look foolish and/or predatory (who watches the watchers?) as the story set off a series of reports from various sources about the flimsy, inconclusive reasoning behind the Meldonium ban and the lack of evidence that it does anything to "enhance" any athlete's performance, other than possibly giving them some sort of psychological edge while believing that it might. And attempting to tarnish a player for legal use of an non-banned drug, which it was until a few months ago, because of the discovery of a possibly beneficial side effect is truly dangerous ground to tread, considering the unexpected benefits of many common "wonder drugs" would also place their use in direct opposition to competition rules, as well. While other athletes caught in the web -- those who didn't speak up to defend themselves -- have mostly returned to action, Sharapova (who did) is left to suffer the consequences. Some length of suspension was always a given in this case, as it was indeed Sharapova's negligence is knowing the finite details of the new rules that caused this whole fiasco, but ruling panels such as this throw around lengthy suspensions as if they're tokens rather than the manhole covers they can be in the competitive life of an athlete, and disregard the lingering tarnish that remains since most casual observers never bother to sift through the how and why of any particular case and view this sort of ruling as concrete evidence of "cheating" rather than the reaction to an acknowledged violation of very strict rules that it is.

Of note, after backing off from the partnership a few months ago, Nike offered support for Sharapova on Wednesday. As has racket manufacturer Head, which was one of the few (maybe only?) sponsor who openly supported her when the failed test was made public. Other former/current sponsors will likely be heard from soon.

At any rate, Sharapova will appeal the ruling. Who knows, maybe she'll have enough knees to bend down on, and enough kisses to deliver to various feet and other body parts necessary to alter the length of the suspension. Maybe the ban (retroactive to January) can be cut by a few months (most are reduced in these cases by at least a bit) and she could potentially be back in action close to this time next season if, say, six months were spliced from the ban (of which Sharapova has already served nearly a quarter). Maybe. But her assigned role in the story seems to be fated to be that of "the example" to be made.

If the original sentence stands, Sharapova would be 30 by the time she could return in early 2018. It's difficult to believe that she wouldn't at least attempt to return to form, not wishing for her final act in the sport to be cast as the poster child in a doping witch trial ("if you drown in the water, you're exonerated... but if you survive, you're guilty and we'll drown you anyway"). Such an absence is not a tennis death sentence -- not in today's game -- but still a difficult mountain to climb for a player with such high expectations of her play after being so long away from actual competition (though maybe she could take a page out of the old barnstorming playbook and stage exhibitions vs. recently retired players and/or non-judgmental/backbiting current pros in order to keep a foot in "match play").

The WTA tour will survive, with or without Sharapova. Of course, The Most Interesting Tour would be still more interesting with her around. But, really, so-called legacies and reputations aside, this whole story is such a shame because all it's really done is show how willing the sport is -- from within and without -- to devour its very own.

Meanwhile, the stance in this space will remain what it was been from the start...



Now, back to tennis.

All for now.

4 Comments:

Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Isn't it a little spooky. Caroline lost her second match in Nottingham and they had nice weather in - UNTILL she left. Fridays matches are ALL cancelled becauae of rain. You saw what happened in FO - she was not there too. superstitious? - well well

Fri Jun 10, 02:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, maybe we know where a certain entity took up residence when It took on a less obvious presence a while back. ;)

Fri Jun 10, 03:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

"(with no earlier questions asked or individual alerts given, since it would ruin the successful "sting" operation that was to come)"

-- The ITF could not given any sort of "individual alert" since 1)they did not know the identities of the positive meldonium test results until March 2016 and 2)Maria never disclosed her use of it on the doping control forms, so how could they have warned her if no one knew she was using it? As an aside, a system of "individual alerts" is impossible as there are literally thousands of tennis players.

"the use of which beyond the banned time period was officially judged to be "not intentional" on Sharapova's part"

-- That is incorrect. There are three notions of intention in this case, as @fogmount explained:

1. Didn't mean to take it
2. Didn't mean to enhance performance
3. Didn't mean to break the rules

ITF's tribunal found that Sharapova's offense was unintentional ONLY in the third sense.

Fri Jun 10, 07:03:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, looking back on that I may have been a little unclear in my sentence on the "not intentional" part of the ruling, as I WAS referring to the fact that the panel bought Sharapova's story about not knowing of the ban and accepted that she would not have continued to take the drug and "intentionally" broken the rule had she been more informed (as she should have been). Hence, the "Didn't mean to break the rules" aspect of that list.

And on the individual alerts, I was more referring to the ITF highlighting the individual drugs and/or warning athletes of the substances that were to be banned, as was mentioned in the latest article in the New York Times on the story.

A sample from that:

" (Sports lawyer Paul) Greene also cited the I.T.F.’s communication strategy for changes to the WADA prohibited list.

“The wallet cards and website posts aside, which honestly no one reads or looks at on tour, the I.T.F. never did an in-person training or warned athletes about the addition to the prohibited list,” Greene said.

The I.T.F. panel ruled there had been sufficient notice, and in an interview during the French Open, the I.T.F. President, David Haggerty, said the same while acknowledging that “I’m sure we can do more” in the future. "

Fri Jun 10, 11:24:00 PM EDT  

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