Sunday, March 05, 2017

Wk.9- Breakthroughs, Breakouts and Barty

Between Melbourne and Indian Wells, the WTA tour annually begins to get its collective footing as season-long storylines develop beyond the initial flashes of the schedule's opening weeks, and the up-and-coming stars start to successfully build the foundation for breakthrough seasons. 2017 has been no different.

Which players have been the stars of Week 5 through 9? Well...

1. Elina Svitolina, UKR
...the Ukrainian hasn't lost since the Australian Open, winning thirteen of thirteen matches, claiming titles in Taipei City and Dubai (the latter her first Premier crown), leading Ukraine to a Fed Cup victory and becoming the first player from her country to attain Top 10 status. Next stop: a true slam breakout performance?
2. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
...Pliskova once again led the Czechs to the Fed Cup semis, then returned the following week (while all the other exhausted -- physically and/or emotionally -- FCers were falling by the wayside) to dominantly sweep through the field in Doha, grabbing her second title of the season. More smartly managing her schedule these days, she seems prepared to be a season-long force (even if her results experience an expected leveling-off period during the clay season).
3. CZE Fed Cup Team
...the march toward a four-peat is officially on, with a workwomanlike win over Spain in the 1st Round last month in which Pliskova set up the tie on a tee and Barbora Strycova whacked it with all her Czech-y might. The semifinal match-up on the road vs. Kathy Rinaldi's U.S. squad might not be as much of a "given," though.

Dinner in Ostrava???? @ceskasportovni ?? @lebik

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4. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
...try as she might, Kiki couldn't put the ENTIRE French Fed Cup team on her back. But she picked up her maiden tour singles title in Saint Petersburg, and reached another final in Acapulco. She's nearly caught Caroline Garcia in the race for top-ranked Pastry, too.
5. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...the only thing preventing Wozniacki from climbing higher on this list is the absence of a single title. Nevertheless, the Dane reached the finals of BOTH Doha and Dubai, becoming just the fifth woman to play for titles in both cities since the first appearance of both on the WTA schedule in 2001. She's the only woman to do it twice.

2001 Martina Hingis - Doha W, Dubai W *+
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova - Dubai RU, Doha RU
2007 Justine Henin - Dubai W, Doha W +
2009 Venus Williams - Dubai W, Doha Chsp RU #
2011 Caroline Wozniacki - Dubai W, Doha RU
2017 Caroline Wozniacki - Doha RU, Dubai RU $
#-2009-10 only Doha appearance on schedule was as site of WTA Chsp. in October
$-Wozniacki only to do it twice
+-Henin & Hingis only to sweep both Doha/Dubai
*-Hingis only to also appear in AO F in season (3-0)

6. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
...the Russians added yet another big title to their partnership, winning in Dubai
7. SUI Fed Cup Team
...led by a gutsy Timea Bacsinszky, in a tie clinched by a clutch Belinda Bencic (who got her only win of the season), the Swiss advanced to the FC semis with a win over '16 finalist France (minus Amelie Mauresmo and Caroline Garcia). Quite possibly the biggest threat to the continued Czech dominance in Fed Cup in 2017, Switzerland will next hit the road vs. the upstart squad from Belarus.

8. BLR Fed Cup Team
...just as the Dutch stunned the Russians in last year's 1st Round, Belarus did the same to the Dutch this time around, whipping the Netherlands in Minsk in a 4-1 tie that saw Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka star, while previous FC Queen Kiki Bertens struggled.
9. Kathy Rinaldi's USA Fed Cup Team
...while everything else went haywire (or close to it) surrounding the tie vs. Germany in Hawaii, Kathy Rinaldi's stewardship of Team USA in her first tie as Captain proved to be a calming, unifying force. Assuming she can get the likes of Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe (the star, for good and sometimes bad, of this tie, along with a nice assist from Alison Riske) on board for April, without or without a Williams, the host (and finally in tune) Bannerettes will get the chance to play spoilers in the Czechs' inevitable (or is it?) march to another FC title.
10. Ash Barty, AUS
...proving that things CAN be better the second time around, the 20-year old Aussie swept through the Kuala Lumpur event, taking both the singles (as a qualifier, for her maiden title) and doubles (her first win since '14) to slip in just under the wire into the post-Melbourne Top 10.


RISERS: Timea Babos/HUN, Lesia Tsurenko/UKR & Lauren Davis/USA
SURPRISES: Rebecca Sramkova/SVK, Wang Qiang/CHN & SRB Fed Cup Team
VETERANS: Barbora Strycova/CZE, Lucie Safarova/CZE & Mandy Minella/LUX
COMEBACKS: Ash Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS/AUS)
FRESH FACES: CiCi Bellis/USA, Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS & Ons Jabeur/TUN

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JUNIOR STARS: Iga Swiatek/POL, Anastasia Potapova/RUS & Whitney Osuigwe/USA
DOUBLES: Abigail Spears/Katarina Srebotnik (USA/SLO)
ITF: Tatjana Maria/GER, Bianca Andreescu/CAN & Destanee Aiava/AUS

Love playing for my country. World group here we come????????

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DOWN: NED Fed Cup Team, Aga Radwanska/POL & Martina Hingis/SUI

Next up: Indian Wells and Miami. Last year, Vika swept both to complete a rare "Sunshine Double" (which Bethanie Mattek-Sands matched in doubles).

At least one won't be repeating the feat in 2017. But that doesn't mean someone else can't.

S: Ash Barty/AUS def. Nao Hibino/JPN 6-3/6-2
D: Ash Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) def. Nicole Melichar/Makoto Ninomiya (USA/JPN) 7-6(5)/6-3
S: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR def. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 6-1/7-5
D: Darija Jurak/Anastasia Rodionova (CRO/AUS) d. Veronica Cepede Royg/Mariana Duque (PAR/COL) 6-3/6-2

...2017 is quickly becoming the year of the first-timers. Barty's maiden singles title run in Kuala Lumpur makes her the fifth first-time champ through the season's opening nine weeks. Of course, Barty's route to such acclaim is a little different from her peers. A junior star ('11 Wimbledon girls champ) and tour-level doubles force while still in her teens (three WD slam finals), the Aussie stepped away from the pressures of the sport mid-way through the 2014 season. A year and a half into her self-imposed sabbatical, which included a brief stint as a professional cricket player, Barty returned early last year. As expected, she's taken things slowly in her comeback. After keeping things light by starting with doubles on the challenger circuit (going 3-1 in ITF finals in the opening months of her return), she's gradually made her way back to the WTA tour. She showed her old grass court prowess last summer, going 12-3 in Q/MD matches, including a tight, two tie-break clash with Karolina Pliskova. After playing in just one '16 event after Wimbledon (a 125 Series in November), Barty had really picked up her singles racket with more intent in 2017's opening weeks. So far, it's been a smashing success. She pushed #1 Angelique Kerber to three sets in Week 1, then was a nighttime star in Melbourne at the Australian Open, leading a Barty Party on Laver under the lights while reaching the singles 3rd Round (and doubles QF).

Last week in Kuala Lumpur, an event at which she'd reached the QF (2013) in her first go around on tour, the 20-year old qualified (emphatically downing Ula Radwanska love & 1 in the final round) and proceeded to put a load of hurt on nearly every player she faced while stringing together seven consecutive wins to become the second qualifier (Mertens in Hobart) to win a tour singles title this season. Barty went three sets in the 1st Round vs. Irina Falconi, but bageled the Bannerette in the decider. She downed Miyu Kato love and three, then Zhang Kailin love & six, her fourth straight match with a love set victory. Han Xinyun got eight games off her in the semi, but Nao Hibino could only manage five in the final. After having never advanced past a QF in her tour career, Barty experienced the whole shebang in Malaysia, not only winning her first singles title (the long way), but also taking her first tour doubles title since 2014 with Casey Dellacqua. Having entered the week at #158, with a career high of #129 back in '13, Barty will leap into the Top 100 for the first time in the new rankings, coming in at #92 and re-igniting the Australian hope that had accompanied her sparkling junior career. Now back in the mix with more perspective and appreciation of her position than she maybe had before, Barty looks to have successfully "reset" her career, this time setting a more comfortable pace.

Good on ya, Ash.

RISERS: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA and Nao Hibino/JPN
...Mladenovic came oh-so-close to wrestling away the title not only in Acapulco, but as the highest-ranked Pastry on tour. After working her way through the likes of Varvara Lepchenko, Heather Watson (in 3:32, despite 20 DF), Kirsten Filpkens and Christina McHale, Kiki could never quite get out of her own way in the final against Lesia Tsurenko. A win over the Ukrainian would have given her a second '17 title, and moved her past doubles partner (though not as often as in '16) Caroline Garcia in the singles rankings. She'll end up at #27 on Monday. It's a new career high, but she's still situated one spot behind #26 Garcia.

Hibino, under the radar as the fifth-highest ranked Japanese player at #106, actually has as many career tour-level singles titles (2) as all the active (non-Date) players from her nation combined. The 22-year won consecutive titles in Tashkent the last two seasons, and made it three straight years with an appearance in a WTA final with her run in Kuala Lumpuer. Wins over Marina Zanevska, Lesley Kerkhove and Magda Linette (along with a 2nd Round walkover from Elina Svitolina) gave Hibino her best result outside of Uzbekistan. She turned out to be the last victim of the Barty Party, but she'll lift her ranking from #106 to #81 this week, which will make her the third highest-ranked Japanese woman behind Misaki Doi and Naomi Osaka.

SURPRISES: Han Xinyun/CHN, Magda Linette/POL and Lesley Kerkhove/NED a week in which Kuala Lumpur saw four Chinese woman reach the QF, Han Xinyun (over Duan Yingying, Wang Qiang & Zhang Kailin) was the one woman from her country to find her way into the semifinals, her first such result in singles at a tour-level event. The 26-year old, who has ranked as high as #105 (#139 last week), put up wins over Aleksandra Krunic, Anna Kalinskaya and Wang. She got eight games off Barty in two sets in their semi, more than all but one (Falconi, who won ten in the 1st Round) of the Aussie's six other victims during the week. Han, who has been around long enough to have a tour-level WD final to her credit from back in 2007 (when she was 17) will jump twenty spots in the rankings to #119 on Monday.

Linette, 25, reached her first WTA semi since 2015 (Tokyo). In Kuala Lumpur, the #93-ranked Pole (as it turned out, the highest-ranked of the four semifinalists in KL this week, with the others coming in at #106, #139 and #158) defeated Katarina Zavatska, got a retirement from Peng Shuai (up 5-2 in the 1st) and outlasted Duan Yingying in three sets before falling in three to Nao Hibino. Having reached a career high of #64 two years ago, Linette will be at #80 on Monday.

And she did this. Hmmm, maybe it's a Polish thing...

In a season in which Dutch players haven't exactly been burning up the courts -- coming into the week with as many '17 tour singles quarterfinalists as Paraguay, Luxembourg and Tunisia, and with the formerly high-flying Fed Cup team being upset in the 1st Round last month -- Kerkhove's time in Kuala Lumpur might very well be considered the high point for the nation so far this season. The 25-year old, who has mostly spent her career on the ITF circuit (going 3-10 in singles finals, 8-10 in doubles), fought her way through qualifying with wins over Liu Fangzhou and Barbara Haas, then put up MD victories over Elise Mertens (a tour champ in Week 2) and Sabina Sharipova to reach her first career tour-level QF. She'll jump from #195 to a new career high of #163 on Monday.

VETERANS: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
...not only is Tsurenko the most overlooked player on the WTA tour, now, with the rise of Elina Svitolina, she's even overshadowed in Ukraine. But the 27-year old, who has been a Top 100 player the last four years and posted her best career slam result (4th Rd.) at last season's U.S. Open, is now one of the few players who have won singles crowns in each of the last three seasons after her trophy winning (and sombrero wearing) run this week in Acapulco. Granted, it wasn't your "normal" week. After a 1st Round win over qualifier Chloe Paquet, Tsurenko saw Julia Goerges retire due to heat illness, got stung by a bee during warm-up before her defeat of Jelena Ostapenko, was the beneficiary of another retirement (virus) when Mirjana Lucic-Baroni had to stop just five games into their semifinal, and then used the strength of a quickly-won 1st set in the final vs. Kristina Mladenovic to get an early lead that she only briefly lost (at 5-4 in the break-strewn 2nd) the rest of the match. Tsurenko, now 3-0 in career finals, came into this past week without a win since Hobart, where she withdrew from her semifinal vs. Monica Niculescu without picking up a racket. Her win over Mladenovic gives Tsurenko a 4-1 head-to-head record over the Pastry, though Kiki had won their most recent meeting in Dubai last year. Ranked #50 heading into the week, Tsurenko will rise to #41 this week, off her career high of #33 from 2015, but within sight of seed status at one or both of the upcoming slams in Europe.

Also in Acapulco, Lucic-Baroni, a #1 seed for the first time in her career, returned to action for the first time since her dream semifinal run in Melbourne. The big-hitting 34-year old once again found her mark, getting wins over Belinda Bencic, Shelby Rogers and Pauline Parmentier to reach back-to-back semifinals for the first time since 1998 (Bol/Rome). She also did it in 1997 in Bol/Strasbourg. Lucic ultimately retired in her semi vs. Tsurenko with gastrointestinal illness after dropping the first five games, but her week in Malaysia surely proved that the Croat vet might yet having something left in her bag of surprises following her AO run, starting with maybe her Top 20 debut this spring She'll be ranked #30 heading into Indian Wells, one off the career-high of #29 she set back in... (wait for it) January. See, you're so used to "the last time" references involving Lucic being followed by a 1990's reference you probably thought I was going to say 1998 again, didn't you?

COMEBACKS: Ash Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) and Ajla Tomljanovic/CRO-AUS
...not only did Barty ascend to her greatest singles heights in Malaysia, she rekindled her tour-level doubles success (which included three slam final appearances in 2013) with Dellacqua. The Aussie duo claimed their third title together in their seventh WTA final appearance (they're 1-1 in ITF finals, including a loss in Port Pirie last February, early in Barty's comeback), taking Kuala Lumpur without dropping a set, defeating #3 seeded Irigoyen/Kania in the 1st Round, as well as #4 Melichar/Ninomiya in the final. The win is the fifth of Dellacqua's career, having won in 2013 with Kimiko Date, as well as taking her biggest WD title (Madrid) with Yaroslava Shvedova while Barty was away from the game in 2015.

Another Aussie, though she's still "officially" just a Croat in regular tour-level events, Tomljanovic made her return from February '16 shoulder surgery, utilizing her protected ranking standing to get a wild card into the Acapulco main draw. It was a good experience, though it ended with a big question mark hanging over the 23-year old's head. In her first match in thirteen months, Tomjlanovic notched her first win since 2015 with a 1st Round victory over Genie Bouchard. Unfortunately, she retired in her next match after experiencing pain in her repaired shoulder. Having entered the event with very few expectations, and happy to just be back on the court at all, hopefully this is just a temporary (and precautionary) pause in Tomljanovic's comeback story.


FRESH FACES: Anna Kalinskaya/RUS and Miyu Kato/JPN
...18-year old Kalinskaya, a former junior #3 and '15 Roland Garros girls finalist, had the week of her pro career in Kuala Lumpur. After making her way through qualifying, the #173-ranked Hordette knocked off #3-seeded Caroline Garcia to record her very first tour-level MD victory. She fell a round later to Han Xinyun, but will rise to a career-best #159 on Monday. Kalinskaya went about earning her stripes on the ITF circuit a season ago, reaching eight finals and winning four singles titles in 2016.

Also in KL, 22-year old Kato also reached the MD via the qualifying route, eliminating recent Fed Cup star Iryna Sabalenka and Ipek Soylu, then upsetting #2 Carla Suarez-Navarro in the 1st Round. She lost to fellow qualifier Ash Barty a round later, but will slip back into the Top 200 in the new rankings (#182). A two-time tour-level doubles finalist in '16 (and a WTA 125 Series winner), all with Eri Hozumi, Kato reached the WD Top 30 in January. Her career singles high rank is #145.


DOWN: Caroline Garcia/FRA
...Garcia came into 2017 carrying some significant expectations on her shoulders. Not just from the outside, but (it would seem) from within, as well. After all, the Pastry, coming off a career year in '16 and ending the season on a hardly-gassed 7-2 run, decided to skip her participation in Fed Cup in '17 (after leading the squad to last November's final) to focus on her singles. She's also played less doubles, where she seemed to gain such confidence over the course of last season, teaming up with Kristina Mladenovic at just two events so far this year. So, absent the (at least) two-weeks-a-year voice of Amelie Mauresmo in her ear, and (largely) the camaraderie of Kiki, Garcia has gotten off to a very slow start. She didn't start her season until the Australian Open, where, as the #21 seed, she barely escaped with a 2nd Round win over countrywoman Oceane Dodin before losing a round later. In her four events since, she's failed to string together back-to-back victories, and put up her first one-and-out result last week in Kuala Lumpur when she lost to Russian Anna Kalinskaya in straight sets as the teen earned her first career tour-level MD win. The defeat puts her at 5-5 on the season, 3-5 in her last eight. Meanwhile, with her absence, the French Fed Cup team lost a 1st Round tie to Switzerland because it has no reliable singles #2 behind (or #1 ahead of) Mladenovic, a role that Garcia assumed in '16, and Kiki recently claimed her maiden WTA singles title in Saint Petersburg and reached the final this week in Acapulco.

Oh, well. Maybe a new look will help. Worth a shot.

Hey, it worked, for one week... Mladenovic coming up one win short in Acapulco at least keeps Garcia as the top-ranked Pastry, by a mere five rankings points.
ITF PLAYER: Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
...with Teliana Pereira (now in the #180's) continuing to slide down the rankings, Haddad is probably Brazil's best hope for a relevant tour-level player into the next decade. In the $25K challenger in Clare, Australia, the 20-year picked up career title #7 with wins over Freya Christie, Sara Tomic, Destanee Aiava and Marketa Vondrousova in a 6-2/6-2 final, adding that win to the WD she picked up at the event with Aussie Genevieve Lorbergs (the ambidextrous, double-handed on both sides, 26-year picked up her first career title here). Haddad won back-to-back $50K titles in Scottsdale and Waco last November, and is a combined 22-6 in singles since October. Haddad is the first South American woman to win an ITF singles titles so far in 2017.

JUNIOR STARS: Anastasia Potapova/RUS, Amanda Anisimova/USA and Zeel Desai/IND the $25K challenger in Curitiba, Brazil, 15-year olds Potapova and Anisimova both advanced to their first pro singles finals. Hordette Potapova, the '16 Wimbledon girls champ, defeated her Bannerette counterpart, and'16 Roland Garros girls runner-up, 6-7(7)/7-5/6-2 in a NextGen title match-up that could be a preview of a similar tour-level event a few years down the road.

First pro title!!?????????#25k

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The week of the reigning junior #1 Potapova, who reached both the singles and doubles finals at the Osaka Cup and Orange Bowl events in the closing months of '16, included a straight sets 2nd Round win over Brazilian Teliana Pereira en route to becoming the second-youngest (behind Iga Swiatek) ITF title winner this season. Anisimova, the junior #4 who claimed the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup in November and the Grade A Porto Alegre title in Brazil two weeks ago, got her first career Top 100 victory in Curitiba with a semifinal win over Irina Khromacheva.

18-year old Desai, in her final season of junior eligibility, took the lead role in the Sania Generation of Indian tennis stars moving up the ranks. Facing off with 15-year old Mahek Jain (in her first final in career pro event #4) in the $15K in Gwailios, India, she claimed her first title with a 6-3/7-5 victory. Desai reached the girls QF at this year's Australian Open, while Jain lost in the 1st Round to eventual champ Marta Kostyuk. But these two aren't the only young Indian players to watch...

DOUBLES: Darija Jurak & Anastasia Rodionova (CRO/AUS)
...the veteran Croat/Aussie duo combined in Acapulco to win their second title as a pair, adding another to the crown they claimed last summer in Eastbourne. For 32-year old Jurak, who lost last month in the Saint Petersburg final with Xenia Knoll, it's career title #4, while 34-year old Rodionova now has eleven. The duo also reached the hard court Stanford final last summer, and Jurak previously won another title in Mexico, taking Monterrey with Megan Moulton-Levy in 2012. For Rodionova, this was her 23rd tour-level WD final.


Paula Ormaechea is working her way back to the court, and giving appropriate hand gestures to cameras too "in her face."

Me quema lucasss ????????@lucasmascan

A post shared by Paula Ormaechea (@paulaormaechea) on

Meanwhile, Karolina is enjoying the sugary secret to success.

1. Acapulco 2nd Rd. - Kristina Mladenovic def. Heather Watson
In humid conditions, Mladenovic battles back from 4-1 down to take the opening set, then survives the 3:32 affair (just four mintues off the longest match on tour in '17 -- the Sveta/JJ clash in Melbourne) despite having 20 DF on the day and Watson holding a 59-22 edge in winners. Mladenovic ultimately reached the final and climbed to a new career high, while Watson will fall thirty-five places to #108 on Monday one year after winning the Monterrey title in Week 9 of 2016.

2. Acapulco 1st Rd. - Ajla Tomljanovic def. Genie Bouchard
Not the result that Tomljanovic was expecting, nor Bouchard, either. But it was the Canadian's first action since the AO, and the loss still leaves last season's Acapulco finalist at 5-4 on the season (after ending '16 on a 1-5 slide), with previous (hardly unmentionable) losses coming at the hands of Konta, Vandeweghe and Rogers.

3. Acapulco Final - Lesia Tsurenko def. Kristina Mladenovic
Mladenovic struggled to find any sort of consistency in the final, never being able to string together moments of success to gain an advantage. After Tsurenko stormed to a 1st set win, the first eight games of the 2nd featured breaks of serve. Finally, Mladenovic got the hold to go ahead 5-4. Then she never won another game. Tsurenko converted seven of eight BP chances on the night, while Mladenovic fell to 1-4 in career WTA singles finals.

4. Kuala Lumpur Final - Ash Barty def. Nao Hibino
Barty is the first Aussie-born WTA singles champ not named Sam since Alicia Molik in 2005.
5. Acapulco 1st Rd. - Daniela Hantuchova def. Yanina Wickmayer
After having played an unexpectedly important role for Slovakia a few weeks ago in Fed Cup, Hantuchova had fallen in the 2nd Round of a $25K challenger to Kayla Day before utilizing her wild card into the Acapulco draw to deliver Wickmayer an surprise defeat one season after the Waffle had reached the semifinals in the same event.
6. Kuala Lumpur 1st Rd. - Miyu Kato def. Carla Suarez-Navarro
Injuries had already limited to CSN to just two matches in '17 heading into this event, and she'd fallen outside the Top 20. On the bright side, the Spaniard has seemed to run out of the gas in the closing months of the last two seasons. Her slow-to-start opening months of '17 could very well play a part in allowing her to be strong down the stretch come the fall this time around.

7. Kuala Lumpur 1st Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Jang Su-Jeong
Svitolina extended her season-best winning streak to thirteen matches with career win #250, then followed through with that "convenient (body preserving) injury" to her lower leg that I talked about last week, allowing eventual finalist Nao Hibino to advance via a walkover.

8. Acapulco 1st Rd. - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni def. Belinda Bencic
Bencic's horrid draw luck continued in Acapulco. In her first match since her big Fed Cup singles win (her only win this season outside of the Hopman Cup exo -- she's won one WTA match, back in October, since the U.S. Open!, she fell behind 5-0 to Lucic in the 1st set. She battled back to 5-5, but went on to fall in straights. Bencic is down to #128 (yikes) in the rankings on Monday.
9. Acapulco 2nd Rd. - Lesia Tsurenko def. Julia Goerges
...6-1/2-0 ret.
Goerges' flight arrived in Acapulco just six hours before her 1st Round match. She defeated Kateryna Bondarenko, but then retired a day later vs. Tsurenko due to heat illness. What a week.

10. I.W. Pre-Qualifying Challenge Final - Maria Sanchez def. Claire Liu
Modesto def. Thousand Oaks in a battle of Californians for a fifth pre-Q win and a berth in the regular Indian Wells qualifying event over the next few days. 27-year old Sanchez (#399) took out 16-year old Liu, the #10-ranked junior, to give herself yet another go at success in her home state's biggest tennis event. Sanchez has thus far made one MD appearance in the desert (2013), losing in the 2nd Round to Aga Radwanska, and lost in qualifying in 2011, '15 and '16.
11. $15K Sharm El Sheikh Final - Katie Swan def. Pemra Ozgen
The 17-year old Brit wins her third career ITF title, and does so "unscathed."

This is what 5 matches and no injuries looks like ???? also got the W ?? #15k

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12. $15K Nanjing WD Final - Sun Xu Liu/Sun Ziyue def. Angelina Gabueva/Olga Puchkova
Puchkova, the once up-and-coming Russian, is now 29 and ranked #691. This week in China she reached her first final of any kind since playing in the tour-level Florianopolis singles final in 2013 (the best week of her career, which included a SF win over Venus Williams before a loss to Monica Niculescu). It's only the second doubles final of her career (after ITF Minsk in 2002). As is so often the case, injuries have devasted the Hordette's career. She was a Top 100 player in 2006-07, and has played in three WTA singles finals (going 0-3). It's been five years since her last title run, at an ITF event in 2012.


Hmmm, does this mean that Tennis magazine will eventually go back to being more about entertaining opinions, the personalities in the sport and trends in the game, rather than (mostly) being an equipment showplace that barely features much insight into what's happening on the two tours? I know I used to look forward to its arrival in the mail after growing up with the magazine, but these days picking up an issue usually leads to realizing how quickly I can go from cover to cover without finding anything worth inspecting beyond one or two columns (by Bodo, etc.) in the first 5-8 pages.

1. Acapulco WD Final - Darija Jurak/ANASTASIA RODIONOVA def. Veronica Cepede Royg/Mariana Duque
Two weeks, two Rodionova sisters in tour doubles finals. Only Anastasia walked away with a title, but Arina is dealing with it.


2. $15K Antalya QF - Georgia Andreea Craciun def. ALONA BONDARENKO
The 17-year old Swarmette swept the s/d titles for her first career wins, but Bondarenko's two MD victories here are noteworthy, as well. Out since August, they're her first in '17 after racking up a 7-1 qualifying record in recent challenger events this season. The 32-year old is a combined 9-4 on the season, after going 2-2 in fall '16 in low level ITF events in her first action since 2011.

Meanwhile, this past week the best player is Israel's history, Shahar Peer, announced her retirement after being unable to successfully return from a chronic shoulder injury.

Peer, 29 (just two months short of her 30th), was a former girls slam champ ('04 AO) and won five tour-level singles titles in her career. Over a little over a two-year stretch between 2006-08, Peer put up five of her six best career slam results, including two QF ('07 AO & US) and three 4th Rounds ('06/'07 RG & '08 WI), with another Round of 16 coming in Paris in '10. She (semi-) famously came as close as any player maybe ever has to reaching the Top 10, only to ultimately fail to do so. After finishing 2010 at #13, Peer rose to a career-high #11 after the '11 Australian Open. A few months later, in Charleston, she came within one match win (losing to Julia Goerges in the 3rd Round) of becoming the first Israeli to reach the Top 10, coming within just five rankings points of then-#10 Serena Williams in the April 11, 2011 singles rankings. She would never get closer, slipping down the rankings as the year progressed and ending the season at #37, never to challenge for the Top 10 again.

In 2008, Peer became the first Israeli to compete in a WTA event in the Gulf region, reaching the 3rd Round in Doha. A year later, she encountered controversy regarding her participation in the tour event in Dubai. Here's a brief rundown of the situation from Wikipedia:

"In February 2009, Peer (ranked # 45 in the world at the time) was prevented from playing at the Dubai Tennis Championships by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which denied her a visa. The UAE does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.[

A number of players, among them Venus Williams, condemned the visa rejection. The 2008 winner of the men's singles, Andy Roddick, withdrew from the tournament and chose not to defend his title (with prize money of over $2 million) to protest the UAE's refusal to grant Peer a visa. "I really didn't agree with what went on over there", Roddick said. In protest, the Tennis Channel decided not to televise the event and The Wall Street Journal dropped its sponsorship. WTA chief Larry Scott said that he had considered cancelling the tournament, but chose not to after consulting Peer.

Tournament director Salah Tahlak said that Peer was refused on the grounds that her appearance could incite anger in the Arab country after she had already faced protests at the ASB Classic over the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict. The WTA said that it would review future tournaments in Dubai.

Following the protests over the UAE's decision to refuse her visa in 2009, Peer was granted a visa in 2010 but was placed under very strict restrictions. She was not allowed to mix with other players off the court, was required to exercise in a separate gym, and was under strict guard on her way from the hotel to the court. To add to the pressure, the tournament took place at the time when Dubai authorities were investigating the killing of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, which the UAE blamed on Israeli agents, some posing as European tennis fans. Peer was widely praised by her fellow competitors for her composure under pressure during the tournament. In particular, Venus Williams remarked: "I can't imagine playing so well with these kinds of circumstances. I just have to give her congratulations and props. She's courageous. I don't think anyone else on the WTA Tour could do what she's doing".

Peer's last tournament appearance was in Monterrey last spring, where she lost in qualifying. Her last MD win in a tour-level event was in Bucharest in July '15.

Elsewhere, Jelena Jankovic celebated her 32nd birthday. The Serbian vet is just 5-6 in '17 (going 3-1 in Doha qualifying), after having ended the '16 season on an optimistic 10-5 run.

JJ was 2-1 in her career head-to-head vs. Peer, with their last two meetings both coming at about this time of the season. Jankovic won in 2010 in Indian Wells, while Peer claimed their final match in Doha in 2012.

Sunday is scooter day for Will and I! Even on my bday ?? #23

A post shared by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

A year ago this coming week...

This past week...

Auckland - Lauren Davis, USA (23/#61)
Shenzhen - Katerina Siniakova, CZE (20/#52)
Hobart - Elise Mertens, BEL (21/#127)
Saint Petersburg - Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (23/#51)
[first-time finalists]
Hobart - Elise Mertens, BEL (#127/21) [W]
Saint Petersburg - Yulia Putintseva, KAZ (#34/22)

**2017 WTA FINALS**
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (2-0)
2...Elina Svitolina, UKR (2-0)
2...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (0-2)

2...CZE - Ka.Pliskova,Siniakova
2...UKR - Svitolina, TSURENKO
2...USA - Davis,S.Williams

**2017 WTA - BY NATION**
4 - Czech Republic (2 wins)
3 - UKRAINE (3)
3 - United States (2)
3 - FRANCE (1)
2 - Denmark (0)
6 - Czech Republic
4 - CROATIA, Germany

Kiki Bertens, NED (2016)
Margarita Gasparyan, RUS (2015)
Johanna Larsson, SWE (2015)
Peng Shuai, CHN (2016)
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (2016)
Serena Williams, USA (2016)

#208 - Melanie Oudin, USA (2012 Birmingham)
#182 - Peng Shuai, CHN (2016 Tianjin)
#174 - Lara Arruabarrena, ESP (2012 Bogota)

#163 - Duan Yingying, CHN (2016 Nanchang)
#149 - Kiki Bertens, NED (2012 Fes)

#132 - Francesca Schiavone, ITA (2016 Rio)
#132 - Oceane Dodin, FRA (2016 Quebec City)
#130 - Teliana Pereira, BRA (2015 Bogota)

Saint Petersburg - Mladenovic def. Putintseva

#340 Jana Fett/CRO (Hobart)
#127 Elise Mertens/BEL (Hobart) - W
#115 Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS (St.Petersburg)

3:36 - Kuznetsova d. Jankovic (AO 3rd Rd.)
3:32 - MLADENOVIC d. WATSON (Acap 2nd Rd.)
[3:25 - Wickmayer d. Cirstea - BEL/ROU WG II]
3:21 - Strycova d. Wozniacki (Sydney QF)

**2017 WTA...**
[youngest singles finalists]
19,2w - Ana Konjuh, CRO (Auckland-L)
20,8m - Katerina Siniakova, CZE (Shenzen-W)
20,10m,2w - ASH BARTY, AUS (K.LUMPUR-W)
[youngest doubles finalists]
19 - Jelena Ostapenko, LAT (Saint P.-W)
20 - Katerina Siniakova, CZE (Taipei City-L)
[oldest singles final match-up]
71 years - Aust. Open - S.Williams(35) d. V.Williams(36)
[youngest singles final match-up]
42 years - Auckland - Davis(23) d. Konjuh(19)
42 years - KUALA LUMPUR - BARTY(20) d. HIBINO(22)
[oldest doubles champions]
35,49w - Katarina Srebotnik, SLO (Doha)
35,7m,1w - Abigail Spears, USA (Doha)
35,6m,2w - Abigail Spears, USA (AO MX)
[oldest doubles champions combo]
70 - Spears/Srebotnik = Doha
61 - Mattek-Sands/Mirza = Brisbane
61 - Hlavackova/Peng = Shenzhen
[oldest doubles champions combo - 2014-17]
71 - Peschke/Srebotnik = 2014 Rome
70 - S.Williams/V.Williams = 2016 Wimbledon
70 - Spears/Srebotnik = 2017 Doha
66 - Kops-Jones/Spears = 2015 Linz

**2017 WTA QF - CHINA**
3...WANG QIANG (0-3)
1...HAN XINYUN (1-0)
1...Peng Shuai (1-0)
1...ZHANG KAILIN (0-1)
1...Zhang Shuai (0-1)
1...Zhu Lin (0-1)

92...Margaret Court, 1968-76
68...Evonne Goolagong, 1970-80
17...Kerry Melville, 1968-79
15...Dianne Fromholtz, 1973-79
9...Wendy Turnbull, 1976-83
8..*Samantha Stosur, 2009-15
6...Jelena Dokic, 2001-11
5...Alicia Molik, 2003-05
4...Anne Minter, 1987-89
3...Nicole Provis, 1992-95
3...Elizabeth Smylie, 1982-87
2...Jarmila Gajdosova (Wolfe), 2010-11
2...Judy Dalton, 1969
2...JoAnne Russell, 1984
2...Karen Krantzcke, 1968-74
1..*ASH BARTY, 2017
1...Chris O'Neil, 1978
1...Nicole Pratt, 2004
1...Lesley Turner, 1968

With Indian Wells starting later in the week, I'll come back in a few days with some pre-tournament predictions. Whatever happens in the desert, this is at least a very good start...

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Last week Svitolina, this week Tsurenko. Guess you should ride Vesnina, as she was born in the Ukraine.

Stat of the Week-42- Number of wins for Shahar Peer in 2007, arguably her best year. Statistically, Peer has one of the more unique careers, leaving her both at times underrated, and overrated.

Possibly overrated at times because of the expectations after being the Junior AO champ in 2004, her best years were her 42 win campaign of 2007, in which she made the QF or better in 9 events, including 2 slams. Some might feel that her 2010 season, with 47 wins and another 9 QF spots was better.

But as the numbers don't make sense, she actually did not win a title in either of those seasons, yet won 3 in 2006 in a 38 win season, and managed to hit her career high in 2011(11) in a year in which she was barely over .500(23-21).

I obviously can't do justice to the other third of her career, unique due to both her military service and her struggle to play overseas. But I can spotlight some of it.

Fed Cup: Peer played 43 Fed Cup ties, leaving her third in Israel's history behind Anna Smashnova and Tzipora Obziler-tied at 61. Fittingly enough, Peer's 28 singles wins only trail Smashnova's 38, while her 17 doubles wins only trails Obziler at 28.

Mon Mar 06, 10:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, I'd forgotten that about Vesnina. I wonder if she ever gave any consideration back in the late 2000's, what with the Russian FC team filled up and the system crowded, to doing what so many other Russians did and play under the flag of another tennis federation? Unlike some of the others (the Kazakh crew, several new Aussies), she would have had some roots in Ukraine since she was born there.

There have actually been quite a few of them in recent years as the political world has changed, but Peer takes her place in the field of players one could say were very IMPORTANT individuals, not only in the sport, but out of it, simply because of their presence on the tennis tour and the greater culture of their home nations. The list is long (and growing), and also includes the likes of Peer, Mirza, Li and maybe, now, Buyukakcay and (soon) others.

Mon Mar 06, 11:55:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And, of course, Serena & Venus should be on that list, as well. ;)

(I probably should have thought within U.S. borders before, considering I just put Serena's silhouette into the front page logo for a little while, huh?) :)

Mon Mar 06, 12:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, and the Garcia/Mladenovic partnership is over -- -- so that's another of those WTA Finals duos no longer together.

Garcia said she wants to focus on her singles (the reason for her FC absence, as well), but you wonder if she's being a little shortsighted since her singles improvement sure seemed to coincide with her FC success and, incidentally, her doubles work w/ Mladenovic.

And, ironically, so far, it's Kiki who has had far more singles success than Garcia two+ months into the new season, too. Hmmmm... I'm just sayin'.

Mon Mar 06, 02:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger Galileo Sutherland-west said...

That's sad. I had fun covering the
pastries last year. My favorite Peer moment? Losing by a whisker to Williams in 2007. I liked how she handled the Dubai contro. Did she and Smashnova have much crossover?

Mon Mar 06, 05:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, they were both ranked around the Top 50 for a short time (around 2005-06), as Smashnova was winding down her career (her final season was 2007), just as Peer was making her first inroads on tour. By 2010, Peer broke the record held by Smashnova (who, of course, was born in the USSR... in Minsk, in what would become Belarus) as the highest-ranked Israeli woman.

Tue Mar 07, 12:44:00 AM EST  

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