Monday, August 01, 2016

Wk.30- The Curious Case of Simona Halep and Crazy Times

Imagine what Simona Halep would be like if she was a Czech. No, check that. We don't have to.

As far as this space is concerned, this week's developments pose a problem. It means we've reached something of a point of no return. After talking so often during the last two slams about a certain Romanian's attraction to a certain set of Cliffs of Simona, such close scrutiny meant I was forced to recognize a series of signs that Ms. Halep may actually be gradually developing an aversion to said Cliffs. Well, at least a knack for peeking over the side in daredevil-like fashion but STILL finding a way to make her past the danger to higher, and safe, ground.

After she swept through to the title in Bucharest a few weeks ago, winning a 6-0/6-0 final, I actually let slip the notion that I'd realized that I was "all in" for Simona this hard court season. I knew I'd set myself up for a head-thumpin' summer as soon as the words came tumbling out, too. But, you know, I'd picked her to win in Bucharest, then did the same this past week in Montreal. And darned if the little Swarmette didn't do it, too. Both times. Now the reality of being "all in" for a player who casually teeters on the edge of oblivion is starting to set in. (Shiver.)

"I can't stop
the way I feel.
Things you do
don't seem real."

In the end, Montreal was a case of Simona trumping Madison Keys. But the ongoing storyline with the Romanian is whether or not -- or for how long -- she can manage to trump herself.

After longing for a teaming of Halep with former Justine Henin coach Carlos Rodriguez, over the course of 2016 I've come to realize that maybe Darren Cahill was indeed the right choice when it comes to wringing out the sometimes self-doubting, sometimes perfection-seeking, sometimes driving-HERSELF-crazy Simona, while also drawing back out the formerly proficient problem-solver who rose to the top of the game two seasons ago on guile and in-match intelligence, and allow Halep to have a little fun in the process, too, rounding off the more-substantial exposed nerves that became apparent only after she reached such a high level of success and suddenly had to live with a whole new set of expectations aside from those she already had for herself. Needless to say, the task is like juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope across shark-infected waters. But, somehow, Cahill has found a way to get (at least) half-way to earning his Masters degree in Simonativity. Bless him. They really do seem Stronger Together.

Winning titles. Plan B's. Pulling back from the Cliffs' edge and whistling as she walks past danger... but never -- ever -- TRULY feeling safe along the path. It's the sort of thing that will drive a fan base, support system and even player herself crazy in the worst of times (see Bad Petra), let alone a Backspinner who impulsively went "all in" on a player for a summer run that could very well form the foundation of the rest of her career. Seriously, what was I thinking?

"Won't you ever
set me free?
This waiting 'round's
killing me.

At various points in Montreal, it was easy to see the lure of The Cliffs... and, you know, just jump to get it over with. If not Simona, then my pledge. Vs. Kuznetsova. Vs. Kerber. Vs. Keys. But Halep held firm, and...

Something was proved, and maybe even a glass ceiling shattered. But there's still work to do. Even for a non-Czech. So, when it comes down to it, I can't waver. Not now. Nope. Not I.

I'm all in... and I'm with Halep.

"She drives me crazy
like no one else.
She drives me crazy,
and I can't help myself."

S: Simona Halep/ROU def. Madison Keys/USA 7-6(2)/6-3
D: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS) d. Simona Halep/Monica Niculescu (ROU/ROU)

...I suppose the way to say it is that Simona weathered the storm in Montreal. As usual, much of it was of her own making, as her lingering questions of confidence and perfectionist notions threatened on multiple times to sandbag her own attempts to advance one additional step and win the same Rogers Cup title that eluded her in last year's Toronto final vs. Belinda Bencic. With the help of coach/sports psychologist/Simona whisperer Darren Cahill, who somehow found a way to walk the delicate line that allowed Halep to be able to find her way through her worst stretches before TOTALLY giving away the match, spread the possible "blame" around in order to prevent Halep from getting lost in her own head, as well as still feel loose enough to have the sense of humor to laugh at her potentially devastating competitive idiosyncrasies. Well, after the fact (and everything had turned out all right), at least.

Bravo, to both of them.

What it will mean come U.S. Open time, one year after Halep reached the semifinals while fighting herself every step of the way until finally being unable to keep her worst sense of self at bay vs. Flavia Pennetta, will surely be the most hard-to-gauge variable heading into the final slam of the year. But Halep's Montreal wins over Daria Gavrilova, Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova (after losing the first set), Angelique Kerber (after almost melting down following a near-perfect love 1st set win) and Madison Keys (even after twice failing to serve out the 1st) should -- should, mind you -- add another thin layer of confidence around the outer shell of the (newly) #3-ranked player in the world. Sheesh... these "Czechs." Whatta ya gonna do with 'em, huh?

One thing that Halep won't likely have to contend with in New York is an extra-loaded schedule that also includes doubles, as she did in Montreal. Although, one could make a case that her teaming with firebrand countrywoman Monica Niculescu, while it tired her out, may have provided an almost-daily experience in which Halep could have fun on the court, giving up total control to her acknowledged doubles expert partner and playing without the sort of pressure she puts on herself in singles. At any rate, the teaming worked pretty well. I mean, if you count Halep reaching her first career doubles final (it was Niculescu's second in a week, as she won in D.C. with Yanina Wickmayer, who also took the singles title) after defeating doubles duo #2 Garcia/Mladenovic in the QF "working pretty well." If Halep had swept both titles she'd been the first to do it at the Rogers Cup in sixteen years, but the all-Hordette duo of Makarova (Halep's old singles nemesis, natch) & Vesnina proved to be too good just a few hours after the completion of the singles final.
RISERS: Madison Keys/USA and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...Keys' steady two-steps-forward, one-step-back progression up the WTA ranks continued in Montreal, as she reached her first career hard court final (she's reached finals on three different surfaces in '16, tied for the most on tour) with sterling, sometimes dominant, performances against the likes of Elena Vesnina, Madison Brengle, Venus Williams, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Kristina Kucova. But in the final vs. Simona Halep, Keys could never harness her game in a match in which both players engaged in a pitched battle to seemingly determine whose nerves (at least on serve) would give out often enough to open the door to victory for her opponent. After losing a three-setter to Halep this summer at Wimbledon, a match in which Keys won the 1st set TB after Halep twice failed to serve out the set, Keys failed to secure the opening set TB this time around and then dropped the 2nd.

Pavlyuchenkova's improved fitness regime seems to now be paying ever-improving dividends in the dead of summer. The Russian got off to a 10-14 start in 2016, but finally saw her extra work benefits kick in at the All-England Club as she put together her first slam QF run since 2011. After climbing back from 5-2 down in the 3rd set vs. Yulia Putintseva in Montreal, Pavlyuchenkova notched two more wins over Christina McHale and Aga Radwanska (her first Top 10 win since last October) to reach another QF. Positioned in the Top 20 (#19), Pavlyuchenkova has two big results to defend come fall, a title run in Linz and the Moscow final appearance that she posted a week later last October. But, maybe, just maybe, she can find some additional success in New York before then.

But, no, I am most definitely NOT going "all in" on that notion. I may be crazy, but I'm not insane.
SURPRISES: Kristina Kucova/SVK and Tamara Korpatsch/GER to say, Kucova had the week of her 26-year old life in Montreal. Ranked #121, she made her way through qualifying (def. Christina McHale), which would have been a fairly satisfactory result at such a big event. But she was hardly finished. Next came a win over #9 Carla Suarez-Navarro, the biggest of the Slovak's career. Victories over last week's Washington D.C. champ Yanina Wickmayer, former slam finalist Genie Bouchard (from a set and a break down, and admitting that she didn't feel nervous on the big court -- "I was really calm," she said. "I felt like I belong on this court."), and Stanford winner Johanna Konta (singlehandedly keeping the Brit out of the Top 10) to reach her biggest-ever tour-level semifinal (and her first since Bucharest '14).

The first qualifier to reach the semis of the event since 1996 (Kimberly Po), Kucova had never had a Top 30 win in her career before this week. The 2007 U.S. Open girls champ (she def. #1 seed and DC Pavlyuchenkova in the QF, and #2 Ula Radwanska in the final) will move into the Top 100 at a new career-high of #78 on Monday.

In the $25K challenger in Horb Am Neckar, Germany, 21-year old Korpatsch won her second ITF event in a row, running her winning streak to twelve matches as she claimed her third title this season. Korpatsch's week included wins over the event's #5 (Viktoriya Tomova), #4 (Ipek Soylu), #2 (Richel Hogenkamp) and #6 (Tereza Smitkova in the final) seeds. She'll jump from one career-high (#246) last week to another (#211) on Monday.
VETERAN: Angelique Kerber/GER Serena Williams bears down on Steffi Graf's streak of 186 straight weeks at #1 (she's a month and a half away from seizing another record), Kerber once again stands as a possible spoiler, just as she (temporarily) was when she delayed slam #22 for six months back in January. Kerber didn't win in Montreal, which would have greatly aided her chances to catch Williams, but since we won't be seeing much of Serena in points-earning situations (ridiculously, Rio is NOT that in 2016) before the U.S. Open, the German's semifinal run in Montreal (where Serena was the #1 seed before she withdrew) surely doesn't hurt. After pulling out of Bastad after one match with an elbow injury, Kerber experienced a rollercoaster week in Quebec. She took down Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, had to come back form a set and 6-5 down vs. Elina Svitolina, handled Daria Kasatkina with surprising ease, and then came up short in a wild SF vs. Simona Halep in which the Romanian began and ended the contest with 6-0 runs, while the German had one of her own in the middle of the match.
COMEBACK: Genie Bouchard/CAN
...from Fed Cup to tour events, Bouchard carried with her to Montreal a checkered history of absences from and poor performances on home soil. For the most part, she turned the tables on her past fortunes, gutting through a tough match over Lucie Safarova and then handling new Top 10er Dominika Cibulkova with 2014-level aplomb. But, once again, Bouchard's 2016 pattern of being unable to back up big wins with follow-up victories reared its head once more. While the win over Cibulkova after the Safarova match somewhat broke the pattern, the Czech came in ranked #28. After taking out #10 Cibulkova, though, Bouchard fell to #121-ranked qualifier Kristina Kucova (Bouchard's seventh lost to a player ranked #70+ this season) to fall to 0-3 in 2016 matches that followed wins over Top 20 players (0-2 after Top 10 wins). But even with that slip, Montreal is a hopeful sign for Bouchard, who'll climb back into the Top 40 (#39) on Monday.

Hmmm, I wonder how Genie will rate this selfie against that one with the Pope a few years ago?

FRESH FACES: Daria Kasatkina/RUS and Francoise Abanda/CAN Doha in February, Kasatkina failed to put away three MP vs. Roberta Vinci and lost in the 2nd Round in 3rd sets. The 19-year old Hordette put up Montreal wins over Misaki Doi and Samantha Stosur to get another shot at the veteran Italian. This time, she ruled the day, taking out the '15 U.S. Open finalist 7-5/6-3. The Russian had a disappointing end to her week vs. Angelique Kerber one round later in the QF, but she'll still move up to a career-best #27 on Monday, set for seeding at the U.S. Open as she makes her return visit to NYC one year after reaching the 3rd Round as a lucky loser. That result in her slam debut set off a string of four consecutive 3rd Round results in her debuts at each of the other three slams, as well. Come late August, we'll finally see what she can do for an encore.

Meanwhle, another teenager, 19-year old Canadian Abanda pulled off the biggest win of her career in front of a home crowd. Ranked #272, Abanda upset #66 Zheng Saisai in the 1st Round in Montreal. It was Abanda's first career main draw WTA match win. She lost to Elina Svitolina in a pair of TB sets in the 2nd Round. Abanda had already shown great promise in Fed Cup outings, upsetting Olga Govortsova (and pushing Aliaksandra Sasnovich to three sets) earlier this year vs. Belarus, as well as putting up a win over Irina-Camelia Begu (and taking Alexandra Dulgheru to three) last year against Romania.
DOWN: Sabine Lisicki/GER and Martina Hingis/SUI
...quite simply, Lisicki is having a woeful season. Not AKS-level woeful, mind you, but bad nonetheless. The German fell to Magda Linette in the second round of Montreal qualifying (after getting a Q1 walkover because her scheduled opponent, Jessica Pegula, was busy playing the Washington semifinals last weekend). Lisicki came into the week having fallen to #80 after having a season-ending ranking of #32 in 2015, making her the seventh-highest ranked woman from her country. After this week, she's still seventh as she'll come in at #79, but Mona Barthel (#80, after going six months into the season w/o a WTA MD win) and Carina Witthoeft (#87) will be bearing down on her even more as of Monday, with her latter countrywoman especially hitting her stride this summer.

While Lisicki continues to soldier on, the question remains how far she might fall. She's finished in the Top 40 every season since 2011, and had Top 54 finishes seven of the last eight years, saving for one injury-interrupted campaign. Lisicki has posted an 11-16 mark since reaching the Round of 16 at last year's U.S. Open, after which she missed the rest of the season with a knee injury. Things may have hit a low point in Miami during the spring, when the German squandered a 5-0 3rd set lead and couldn't convert a MP in a loss to Irina-Camelia Begu. Even the grass season failed to offer Lisicki her usual oasis, though she did have only her second two-win event of '16 at SW19, taking down #14-seed Sam Stosur and reaching the 3rd Round, where she lost to Yaroslava Shvedova. It was her second straight 3rd Round exit at Wimbledon after having had five straight QF+ results in her previous five appearances.

Meanwhile, Hingis has been taking hits from all angles of late. First, on the court, she and Sania Mirza fell in straight sets to Christina McHale & Asia Muhammad in the QF. It's the #1-ranked duo's fourth straight non-title winning result, and the ninth in their last ten events after winning their first four in 2016 (and nine straight dating back to last season during their 41-match unbeaten streak). Additionally, Hingis, whose Hall of Fame career does not include an Olympic medal, suffered TWO blows to her '16 chances, as expected Rio doubles partner Belinda Bencic pulled out of the Olympics with a wrist injury, then her scheduled MX pairing with Roger Federer fell through when he ended his season due to his knee injury. Thus, the Martina/Roger "discography," barring a future slam pairing to possibly close one or both of their careers, may forever be confined to that one Hopman Cup crown back in 2001, when the original "Baby Fed" had yet to advance beyond the Round of 16 at a slam.

It looks as if Hingis will now team with Timea Bacsinszky in Rio, but whether or not a Hingis/Stan Wawrinka mixed duo will become a reality looks to be a no-go, as Wawrinka said this past week that he'll likely skip the MX in favor of focusing on singles. Honesty, I hope he loses in the 1st Round and gets nothing because, you know, why would you want to be a part of what would likely be the favored duo to take Mixed Gold?

Anyway, next up for Hingis? The WTT, as she leads the Washington Kastles as they begin yet another title defense this week. The Kastles have won five straight World Team Tennis titles, and six in the last seven years.


ITF PLAYERS: Antonia Lottner/GER and Michaella Krajicek/NED
...19-year old German Lottner claimed the biggest title of her career at the $75K challenger in Prague, going through qualifying and then putting up wins over Sara Sorribes-Tormo, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, #1-seeded Mona Barthel (ret.), Rebecca Peterson and countrywoman Carina Witthoeft in a 7-6(6)/1-6/7-5 final in which she climbed out of a 0-4 3rd set hole, winning the final five games of the match to run her career ITF singles final record to 7-1. With her title a week ago in Versmold, Germany, Lottner has now put together a 13-match winning streak, and she jumps from #254 to #175 on Monday.

In Lexington, Kentucky, 27-year old Krajicek reached her second challenger final of the month and claimed her first '16 title with a three-set win in the final over Arina Rodionova. The Dutch woman put up additonal wins over Caroline Dolehide, Olivia Rogowska, Sabina Sharipova and Jovana Jaksic. The title run gives Krajicek a career 13-2 mark in ITF singles finals to go along with her 3-0 record in WTA finals compiled as a teenager in 2005-06.

Of note, Rodionova's semifinal win over Jamie Loeb eliminated the Bannerette from the race for the USTA's U.S. Open Wild Card Playoff title, clinching Sonya Kenin's berth in the Flushing Meadows MD at the end of August. She made her debut in NYC a year ago after earning a WC as the U.S. Girls 18s champion. She lost her 1st Round match to Mariana Duque Marino.

JUNIOR STARS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN and Anastasia Zarytska/UKR
...Bouchard and Abanda (as well as Wimbledon junior champ Denis Shapovalov, the 17-year old who upset Nick Kyrgios in Toronto) weren't the only Canadians to put up Rogers Cup results of note. On a smaller scale, 16-year old Andreescu had a huge week, as well. While rubbing some famous elbows was nice...

The bigger news for the #9-ranked girl happened ON the court. Andreescu only recently returned at Wimbledon (Girls 3rd Rd.) after missing six months due to injury, but just a month later she put up her first career singles win of any kind in a WTA event in the opening round of qualifying in Montreal (she was the only one of the eleven Canadians in women's qualifying to post a win). A year after falling to Olga Govortsova in the Q1 in Toronto in her only other WTA event, wild card Andreescu upset #16 Q-seed Samantha Crawford 7-6(3)/7-5 this year. Crawford won last year's USTA U.S. Open Wild Card Playoff Challenge title.

Andreescu lost in the final Q-round to Kateryna Bondarenko, but there's no denying that this was a week that marks the beginning of whatever comes next for the latest Canadian junior of note.

Look out for the NextGen coming out of Ukraine, as well, as two Ukrainian girls are currently ranked in the Top 10 (Wimbledon girls finalist Dayana Yastremska and RG quarterfinalist Katarina Zavatska). 18-year Zarytska, splitting time between the juniors and ITF challenger circuit this season, is the third-highest ranked girl from her country. This weekend, the Prague-born Zarytska grabbed her first pro title at the $10K event in Parnu, Estonia, by taking out the top three seeds in the event, including #1 Ganna Poznikhirenko (also from Ukraine), in the final. She didn't stop there, either, also claiming the doubles title with Brit Emily Arbuthnott (the #2 seed in singles, she lost to Zarytska in the semis).

DOUBLES: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS and Demi Schuurs/Renata Voracova, NED/CZE
...the Russians may not have garnered nearly as many titles together as one might expect, but when they do, well, they do it big.

Makarova & Vesnina's title run in Montreal is just their sixth together (Makarova has seven in her career, Vesnina thirteen), and their first since winning the 2014 U.S. Open. Even with what had been a 1-8 record in finals dating back to October '13, the all-Hordette team's latest Premier level crown is added to similar high Premier titles in Beijing and Indian Wells, as well as a lesser one (though special for them, for obvious reasons) in Moscow and two slam wins in Paris and New York. The didn't drop a set all week, and the 6-3/7-6(5) win in the final over Halep/Niculescu prevented Halep becoming the first woman to sweep the Rogers Cup titles since Martina Hingis in 2000.

Meanwhile, on the challenger level, Schuurs & Voracova teamed to win the $75K event in Prague, claiming their second 2016 title as a pair with a win in the final over Soler-Espinosa/Sorribes-Tormo in a 10-4 3rd set TB. For Schuurs, 23, it's her nineteenth career ITF win (she has two at the WTA level), while 32-year old Voracova now has fifty-seven (along with nine WTA and one WTA 125 Series) titles.

[Dance Intermission]

1. Montreal SF - Halep d. Kerber
All the colors of the Halep rainbow, for good and bad. In the end, the good won out.

After bursting out of the gates by completing a love 1st set in a near-perfect performance, as Kerber's game improved in the 2nd all the perfectionist blood within the Romanian began to boil white hot. After dropping a game to fall behind 4-3 in the 2nd, Halep beat the Montreal court with her racket over and over, called for a talk with coach Darren Cahill, then hurried through a service game that resulted in a break, as the lure of The Cliffs of Simona looked to simply be too strong for Halep to resist. Kerber served out the set and completed her own six-game run as she took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. But then Halep's better Swarmette angels prevailed, as she turned the momentum back in her favor down the stretch and ended the match just as she began it -- with a six-game winning streak. Converting on her fourth MP attempt, Halep advanced to her second straight Rogers Cup final.
2. Montreal Final - Halep d. Keys
While the Montreal semifinal between Halep and Kerber was characterized by both players taking turns orchestrating dominant stretches, the final was an example of neither player being able to truly gain control at any juncture. Halep broke Keys to start the match, setting off an outbreak of eight breaks of serve in the first twelve games (the two didn't see a break point through eight games in their 4th Round match at Wimbledon). Halep led 4-2, but had yet to hit a winner, as Keys' errors helped keep her afloat. Halep twice served for the set at 5-4 and 6-5, but failed to get the job done either time. In the closing moments of the opening set, the Romanian used the short-term nature of tie-break momentum to her advantage. She jumped out to a 4-1 lead and held on, taking it 7-2 and shifting the pressure back to Keys in the 2nd. Finally with a breeze behind her back, Halep took a break lead in the 2nd, leading 3-0. But her lead, which she was never able to push to two breaks, rarely felt totally safe. One break of Halep's serve could have sent the Romanian into a self-criticizing tailspin that pushed things to a deciding 3rd. Serving for the match at 5-3, both surely had Halep's double failure to close out the 1st set (both here and in their match at Wimbledon) on their minds, especially when she quickly fell into a love/30 hole. But Halep steadied herself and gave Keys the opportunity to lose the game. She obliged, ending the match with four straight errors to make it a two-title summer (so far?) for Halep.

3. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Kerber d. Svitolina
The German's time in Montreal was hardly a breeze. Even before her semifinal vs. Halep, Kerber had to stage a comeback from a set and 6-5 down to Svitolina, who was joined by a certain Hall of Famer last week.

Hey, Justine.
4. Montreal 1st Rd. - Niculescu d. Ostapenko
Ostapenko led 6-3/5-4 and served for the match, only to lose eight straight games. Niculescu won nine of the final ten games to take the match. Clear a path, everyone... Jelena's comin', and she's not happy.
5. Montreal 1st Rd. - Pavlyuchenkova d. Putintseva
The Hordette's QF run nearly stalled at the starting line, but she erased a 5-2 3rd set deficit to put away the Kazakh.
6. Montreal 1st Rd. - Giorgi d. Stephens 7-6(2)/7-6(4)
Montreal 1st Rd. - Strycova d. Garcia 2-6/6-3/6-3
both Stephens and Garcia have climbed quite a few personal mountains this season, but both are currently traversing the valleys of their 2016. With these 1st Round exits, they've both now lost three straight and are winless on hard court this summer.
7. Montreal 1st Rd. - Klepac/Srebotnik d. Errani/Vinci
...1-6/7-6(4) [12-10].
Paired for the first time since February of last year, the Italians' time in Montreal didn't last long (later, Errani withdrew from singles with a neck injury, too). Next stop: Rio.
8. Montreal 1st Rd. - Bouchard d. Safarova 6-3/3-6/7-6(3)
Montreal 2nd Rd. - Bouchard d. Cibulkova 6-2/6-0
for one brief shining moment (or two), Bouchard again looked like the player who reached a pair of slam semis and a Wimbledon final in the first seven months of 2014. Hey, at least playing in Canada -- especially back home in Quebec -- no longer appears to be her version of "Stosur-in-Australia"-style Kryptonite.

9. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Kvitova
Sure, it was vs. an in-form Sveta. But what does it say that another early loss by Petra barely caused a ripple in the WTA news cycle this week?

10. Montreal QF- McHale/Muhammad d. Hingis/Mirza
McHale & Muhammad did the heavy lifting in the doubles draw in Montreal, taking out Kerber/Petkovic 10-6 in the 3rd, then Stanford champs Atawo/Spears 11-9 before bringing down the world #1's in straights. Their loss to Makarova/Vesnina prevented a pair of Bannerette-vs.-Swarmette finals in both the singles and doubles.
11. Montreal QF - Halep d. Kuznetsova
Halep staged a comeback after dropping the 1st set. Maybe she was tired from having to keep pace with the little boy who led her into the stadium before the match? Sveta got a high-five, but Simona got put through a mini-workout.

It sort of made me think of the "Pulp Fiction" ketchup joke.

12. $50K Wuhan Final - Wang Qiang d. Luksika Kumkhum
The 24-year old Chinese (#76) wins her 13th career ITF challenger title, her third in 2016. Wang is the third-highest ranked player from China, behind Zhang Shuai and Zheng Saisai. Though she rarely plays outside Asia, she'll move to a new career-high of #66 on Monday. It'll be interesting to see what she can come up with results-wise during the 4Q WTA Asian swing.
HM- $10K Austin Final - Marcela Zacarias d. Ashley Kratzer
The 22-year old from Mexico wins her first 2016 ITF title, lifting her career record in singles finals to 11-3.


[Spa-'n'-Snack Break]

Io e te ???????? #passione#coccole

A video posted by Flavia Pennetta (@flaviapennetta82) on


[Serena Being All Serena-y]

1. Montreal 1st Rd. - Kristina Kucova d. Wickmayer 4-6/6-2/6-3
Montreal QF - Kristina Kucova d. Konta 6-4/6-3
Kucova simply lived to defeat previous tour singles champions this past week, including two of the three winners from Week 29. Her upset of Konta prevented the Crumpet from becoming the first Brit to reach the Top 10 in thirty-two years. Konta will likely still eventually get there... but just ask Shahar Peer about being one victory from reaching the Top 10, failing to get it when she had the chance, then never being in such a position again the rest of her career. Not that that'll happen with Konta, but still.

2. Montreal 2nd Rd. - Kristina Kucova d. Suarez-Navarro
After making it through qualifying, Kucova maintained her MD roll with the biggest win, ranking-wise, of her career, by taking out #9 CSN. Roll... get it? Yeah, I know... sorry.

3. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Kristina Kucova d. Bouchard
It seems like Kucova's entire week could be told in a series of post-match reaction videos.

4. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Keys d. Venus Williams
Maybe it was for the best that Venus -- who had "an issue" that caused her to arm in her serves, often at an alarmingly slow MPH, during both her matches in Montreal -- didn't have to play all week long. Now she'll (hopefully) have time to get fully ready for the Olympics.
5. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Pavlyuchenkova d. Aga Radwanska
After Aga saved match points in the 2nd to force a deciding set, the '14 Rogers Cup champ still ultimately became Pavlyuchenkova's first Top 10 victim of 2016.
6. Montreal 3rd Rd. - Halep d. Karolina Pliskova
With neither of these two having to deal with going to Rio, or any prolonged Olympic hangover between there and Flushing Meadows, the odds would seem good that Halep and Pliskova might face each other again before the U.S. Open. Pliskova, remember, won the 2015 U.S. Open Series "championship" because she played in so many events during what was actually a very mediocre summer run for her that she (ridiculously) had her Series points total doubled, allowing her to edge out both Serena Williams and Halep (they played just two events) with a total of 150 points to, respectively, 145 and 140. Of course, with the Rio sojourn and likely so few players playing three events again this year -- while Pliskova will likely play even more than that -- such a diservice couldn't happen again, could it? It's the USTA... so of course it could.
7. Montreal Q1 - Kurdyavtseva d. Naomi Osaka
Kudryavtseva saved MP here, qualified with a win over #1 Q-seed Varvara Lepchenko, and then upset Kiki Mladenovic in the 1st Round. But in a strange twist of fate, Lepchenko ultimately outlasted the Russian (2nd Rd.) in the draw after she entered the MD as a lucky loser for an ill Garbine Muguruza, received the Spaniard's 1st Round bye, and won a match over Naomi Broady (another tennis sister) to reach the 3rd Round. Still, it was good week for Kudryavtseva, no matter how it all "looked."

8. Montreal 1st Rd. - Francoise Abanda d. Sai.Zheng
Unlike Bouchard, Abanda has seemingly always played her best in front of a crowd filled with Canadians.
9. Florianopolis Q2 - Nadiia Kichenok d. Lyudmyla Kichenok
No harm, no foul. While Nadiia advanced cleanly into the MD, Lyudyla did the same as a lucky loser. She'll face defending champ Teliana Pereira in the 1st Round, while Nadiia gets Jelena Ostapenko.
10. $10K Palic QF - Kotelesova d. Kristina Schmiedlova
I guess a week can't go by around here without a mention of a Schmiedlova loss. But this time it's Kristina's, not Anna Karolina's. 18-year old Kristina, the #1 seed in $10K challenger this past week, is 16-12 on the season in lower level events such as the one in Palic, Serbia.

Summer love ??????

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

#citybiking this morning ???????? #streetsofmanhattan

A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

Gavstoslik is ready for Rio. Stripes, polkies, stripes ?? I'm the tallest ?

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Crashed another birthday party. Our specialty since we were 11 years old. #friends

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

**2016 WTA TITLES**
3...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3...Sloane Stephens, USA
2...Serena Williams, USA
2...Angelique Kerber, GER
2...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2...Caroline Garcia, FRA

3...MAY-JUL - Serena Williams (WLW) *
2...JAN-MAR - Serena Williams (LL)
2...MAR-APR - Victoria Azarenka (WW)
* - active streaks

**2016 WTA FINALS**
5 - Serena Williams (2-3)
4 - Angelique Kerber (2-2)
4 - Dominika Cibulkova (2-2)
3 - SIMONA HALEP (3-0)
3 - Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
3 - Sloane Stephens (3-0)
3 - MADISON KEYS (1-2)

[chronological order]
2 - Sloane Stephens (Hard,Green Clay)
2 - Angelique Kerber (Hard,Red Clay)
2 - Caroline Garcia (Red Clay,Grass)
2 - Dominika Cibulkova (Red Clay, Grass)
2 - Serena Williams (Red Clay,Grass)
2 - SIMONA HALEP (Red Clay,Hard)

3 - Serena Williams = Hard,Red Clay,Grass
3 - Angelique Kerber = Hard,Red Clay,Grass
3 - Dominika Cibulkova = Hard,Red Clay,Grass
3 - MADISON KEYS = Red Clay,Grass,Hard
2 - SIMONA HALEP = Red Clay,Hard
2 - Sloane Stephens = Hard,Green Clay
2 - Barbora Strycova = Hard,Grass
2 - Anastasija Sevastova = Grass,Red Clay
2 - Alison Riske = Hard,Grass

**WTA FINALS - 2014-16**
17 - Serena Williams (7/5/5 = 14-3)
13 - SIMONA HALEP (5/5/3 = 8-5)
13 - Angelique Kerber (4/5/4 = 6-7)
13 - Karolina Pliskova (5/6/2 = 4-9)

Doha: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Indian Wells: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Miami: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Madrid: Simona Halep, ROU
Rome: Serena Williams, USA
Montreal: Simona Halep, ROU
Cincinnati: xx
Wuhan: xx
Beijing: xx

Brisbane - Angelique Kerber, GER (0-2)
Doha - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (won WS)
Istanbul - Danka Kovinic, MNE (0-2)
Nurnberg - Kiki Bertens, NED (2-0)
Birmingham - Barbora Strycova, CZE (won WD)
Wimbledon - Serena Williams, USA (2-0)
Washington DC - Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (2-0)
Montreal - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (won WS)

Kaohsiung - Chan/Chan, TPE/TPE
Acapulco - Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
Madrid - Garcia/Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
Strasbourg - Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
Mallorca - Dabrowski/Martinez-Sanchez, CAN/ESP

2013 Shelby Rogers
2014 Nicole Gibbs
2015 Samantha Crawford
2016 Sonya Kenin


When you go to Stanford, you learn to do your research...

And then we come back around to Gibbsy, who had the audacity this week to tweet an admittedly "random" thought, which amazing caught the eye of one CoCo Vandeweghe. Even more amazingly (or maybe not), of all people, Vandeweghe -- the tour leader when it comes to "politically incorrect," "snotty" or "rude" comments that somehow never seem to dent the resolve of her followers -- took issue with Gibbs' original comment, calling it "rude". Black pot... meet black kettle (though, really, "black kettle" is really more of the "stainless steel" variety, and no matter how many times such a warped view of said kettle is stated with great confidence it doesn't gradually make it any more "true").

Here's what commenced...

What followed was a discussion on Gibbs' Twitter about whether or not she's "too political" for the oh-so-delicate sensabilities of the tennis fans who follow her on Twitter, which ultimately ended with a poll that overwhelmingly gave "approval" to her right to, you know, have a brain and an opinion.

So there.

15 Final: Pereira d. Beck
15 Doubles Final: Beck/Siegemund d. Irigoyen/Kania
16 Singles Top Seeds: Jankovic/Begu

#4 Ostapenko d. #1 Jankovic
#3 Puig d. Cepedge Royg
#3 Puig d. #4 Ostapenko

...#PicaPower vs. #PowerfullyPiqued?

15 Final (125 Series): Jankovic d. Chang Kai-Chen
15 Doubles Final (125 Series): Chang Kai-Chen/Zheng Saisai d. Chan Chin-Wei/Wang Yafan
16 Singles Top Seeds: #2 Nara/#3 Schiavone

#6 King d. #3 Schiavone
#2 Nara d. #9 Kostova
#6 King d. #2 Nara

...If King were to win, it'd be her first tour singles title since October 2006. That would settle her in about a year ahead of Jelena Dokic for the third-longest gap between WTA titles, behind only Mirjana Lucic (16 years!!) and Kimiko Date-Krumm ("just" 13).

And, finally, as next week is the lead up to the Rio Olympics tennis event, I'll be posting a "supersized" Olympic tennis quiz, as well as an updated version of my previous "Olympic Tennis Moments" list.

(P.S. - Whatever happened to Roland Gift's career, anyway?)

All for now.


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