Monday, November 13, 2017

Wk.45- Making Bannerette Fed Cup Tennis Great Again

In Rinaldi (and CoCo) they trusted.

Back in January, you'd have been hard-pressed to foresee a Fed Cup final in Minsk pitting a largely untested U.S. squad with a rookie Captain against a Cinderella team from Belarus *without* the nation's most heralded tennis star. But while Vika Azarenka was watching from California (due to custody issues involving her son) this weekend, her un-heralded countrywomen were forced to face off with half of the most recent U.S. Open's singles semifinalist field on a quick indoor hard court that favored the Bannerette team leader, CoCo Vandeweghe, the one player who had to stumble (at least once) for Belarus to claim a maiden FC title. Even with nearly 9000 supporters in the stands, it looked to be tall order. But then 19-year old Aryna Sabalenka lit a fire that ultimately burned down Sloane Stephens, and Aliaksandra Sasnovich once again shined in her role as this season's most unassuming and unlikely Fed Cup heroine, the Sisters of Minsk -- both women were born in the host city -- very nearly added a third upset to the Belarus squad's season resume.

But then there was CoCo. As always, at least in 2017, it was CoCo to the rescue for the United States.

=Match #1=
Vandeweghe d. Sasnovich 6-4/6-4
...the two leading contenders for Fed Cup Player of the Year faced off right out of the gate. Overpowered on the fast surface by the Top 10 U.S. player, Sasnovich managed to hold serve for much of the match and extend it even after falling behind a break of serve in the opening game of both sets. But CoCo held her ground and made things look routine, though not exactly an open-and-shut case. USA 1-0

=Match #2=
Sabalenka d. Stephens 6-3/3-6/6-4
...the U.S. could have put a headlock on the tie, but U.S. Open champ Stephens was ultimately unable to subdue the teenager, or allow the Belarussian's increasing propensity to string together wild errors to work for her benefit. Stirring up the crowd and roaring as often as she'd smack winners, Sabalenka took advantage of Stephens' inability to back up any of the three break advantages she held in the 3rd set. Sloane's increasing tentativeness down the stretch evened what should have been a playing field tilted in her favor, as Sabalenka put on an inspiring, exciting Ostapenko-like show, and even found some additional luck (like a framed volley off the net cord winner) along the way to knot things after Day 1. 1-1

=Match #3=
Vandeweghe d. Sabalenka 7-6(5)/6-1
...if Belarus was going to steal away it's first FC title from this tie, this match-up was circled as the match that needed to go the nation's way. In a match-up of big hitters, the servers ruled the court in the 1st set in the early going. Down 4-5, Vandeweghe served out of a 30/40 hole, saving a SP to tie the score. A Sabalenka DF in game #11 put her down 15/40, and CoCo broke for 6-5. But the teenager forced a TB, and led it 4-1 after a second serve ace. But, as Vandeweghe noted after the match, her gameplan was to hold steady and, unlike Sloane a day before (my words), allow Sabalenka's one-plan attack to eventually succumb to her increasing error total and not give anything away to her for free. Vandeweghe charged back to take the TB 7-5, then didn't overcook the moment as she watched Sabalenka's Minsk balloon finally pop in the 2nd set. CoCo ran away with it, taking a 5-0 lead and closing out the match to bring the U.S. a win away from ending the 17-year FC title drought. USA 2-1

=Match #4=
Sasnovich d. Stephens 4-6/6-1/8-6
...once again, Stephens was asked by Rinaldi, who held to her original lineup despite Stephens' Saturday loss (and Elite Trophy knee injury, and winless post-U.S. Open stretch), to follow up Vandeweghe's steady performance with one of her own. Once again Stephens put herself in position to win. Once again Stephens lost. She did take the 1st set, denying Sasnovich on all five of her BP opportunities. After the Belarussian dominated the 2nd, Stephens again found herself up a break at 4-2 in the 3rd. Unlike against Sabalenka, she backed up the break with a hold for 5-2. But then it happened again. After failing to serve out the match (and title) at 5-3, Stephens squandered her big lead, flying forehand errors left, right and in-between, letting a lob go only to see it drop in over her head and generally look like the Current Sloane that we used to see before she began to turn the corner to the Future a while back. While Stephens berated her own play in the changeover area afer falling behind 5-6, Rinaldi seemed to jump inside her being with a face-to-face captain-to-player discussion that, briefly, seemed to work. She broke Sasnovich to keep the match alive, only to not realize that there wouldn't be a deciding TB played. The moment seemed to break her rediscovered concentration as she was broken at love, then Sasnovich held to get another bet-you-didn't-see-that-coming sort of FC win that has made her the Belarussian MVP this season, forcing things to a deciding doubles contest. 2-2

=Match #5=
Rogers/Vandeweghe d. Sabalenka/Sasnovich 6-3/7-6(3)
...with the title on the line, Rinaldi's roster choices -- to elect CoCo to lead, and "bench player" Shelby Rogers to feel comfortable enough to rise to the occasion on foreign soil in front of a very loud crowd -- proved to be golden. They won the 1st without facing a BP, but had to stage a 2nd set rally against the Sisters of Minsk, with a bit less doubles experience and having never played together before, after falling behind a double-break at 5-2. Three times Belarus tried to serve out the set, but three times the Bannerettes broke to keep the Fed Cup title within sight. Two SP were saved. In the 2nd set TB, Rogers & Vandeweghe broke out to a 4-2 lead, and settled into a 7-3 win, simultaneously sparing Stephens a bad offseason fate and giving the U.S. it's first FC crown since 2000. USA 3-2

Of course, I'm contractually obligated to make note that this result more than vindicates those of us who for years called for the start of the Rinaldi era of U.S. Fed Cup tennis, and for the wrongheaded Mary Joe Fernandez phase to mercifully end.

Who's that, you say? You know, Mary Joe. MJF. Yeah, her. Though, if you were listening to coverage on Tennis Channel, you might have thought that the "lost era" of U.S. Fed cup tennis during which the squad was run into a ditch (my words, but unequivocal fact) had taken place when the effort was in effect a rudderless, Captain-less ship adrift at sea (it *was* the former, but there was also supposedly someone in charge). Lindsay Davenport and Mary Carillo, MJF friends and colleagues, never seemed to ever mention (at least I never heard it) the name of the proverbial, now-departed, non-mustached pink elephant in the Team USA room that was Fernandez, even while discussing the long absence of a title run and brief slip from World Group play under her watch. So I will.

I won't once more run down the long list of MJF calamity as I have for so long in this space, but I will note how perfect it is that this FC title has come in the very first post-MJF year. Oh, those sneaky Tennis Gods... they knew, and they've gone and made it crystal clear to everyone else, too.

Yes, the route for this particular U.S. team was peppered with good fortune, as it faced no Top 25 players in ties vs. Germany (no Angie, but then again...), the Czech Republic (vs. a Maiden "C" team, though Marketa Vondrousova will be leading it before long) and Belarus (sadly, no Vika), and was stretched to the limit on more than one occasion, forcing Vandeweghe to twice win three matches to advance. But, really, no matter the "breaks" and "absences" concerning any opposing rosters along the way, does anyone honestly question whether, given the same circumstances, an MJF-led squad would have found a way to run the effort off the rails at some point? I don't. The Fernandez squads struggled even when overwhelming favorites, largely because there was never a sense that the roster a cohesive unit put together with forethought and attention to detail, or tailored to the personalities of the players involved.

Some questioned Rinaldi heading into the weekend about players who were NOT there. No Williams, Keys or Mattek-Sands. It was as if it was offering her an excuse (often employed during the Fernandez years when success was effectively contingent, but not always assured, on how many Williams Sisters were on any given tie roster) should the team lose. But Rinaldi was having none of it. She called Vandeweghe, Stephens, Rogers and Riske (w/ Jen Brady in the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency role) her "dream team."

Rinaldi rosters this season were the first truly team-oriented Bannerette squads in years and, unlike in the MJF era, the players seemed willing to run through walls for her (think French whisperer Amelie Mauresmo and her Pastry teams). Maybe it was because she seemed to know what she was doing. Even Rinaldi's mildly "hmmm"-inducing roster decisions -- Sloane in Minsk, and on Day 2, and no "doubles specialist" in the #4 slot -- don't hold a dim candle to some of the glaring roster mismanagement and tone-deaf gameday "hunches" that became commonplace under Fernandez. Rinaldi's "dream team" comment may have been overstating things a bit, but that brings up the whole-vs.-the-sum-of-its-part discussion, and the team spirit evident with this bunch, at least this time around, far outweighed the weightier (sometimes top-heavy) resumes of many past squads, whose members sometimes were virtual strangers to one another until it came time to play. Rinaldi's sincerity when it's come to her belief in her rosters has been a welcome breath of fresh air, to say the least. MJF was never able to pull off that trick, and her decisions both before and during ties often felt faithless and made out of desperation most of the time. Rinaldi's confidence, and the camaraderie developed by this (mostly consistent) group of players all season long, felt real. And it likely was, too. That's probably how she planned it. MJF was never able to look into the soul of a team and instill anything other than exasperation and regret, but Rinaldi made it work. All the way to the title.

Needless to day, the faith that *this* U.S. Captain showed in her players came back to her ten fold. After they won the title in her rookie year as Captain, she called these Bannerettes "tough as nails." She might be right. At least it's easy to believe that *she* believes it. And that's more than half the battle, isn't it? Whether or not she'll ever have a team work as perfectly together as her first, she surely won the lottery with this one.

In Rinaldi we trust.

United States def. Belarus 3-2
HUA HIN, THAILAND (WTA 125/Hard Outdoor)
S: Belinda Bencic/SUI def. Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE 6-3/6-4
D: Duan Yingying/Wang Yafan (CHN/CHN) d. Dalila Jakupovic/Irina Khromacheva (SLO/RUS) 6-3/6-3
LIMOGES, FRANCE (WTA 125/Hard Indoor)
S: Monica Niculescu/ROU def. Antonia Lottner/GER 6-4/6-2
D: Valeria Savinykh/Maryna Zanevska (RUS/BEL) d. Chloe Paquet/Pauline Parmentier (FRA/FRA) 6-0/6-2

...make no mistake about it, Vandeweghe wears this U.S. Fed Cup title banner on her back like a cape. While Kathy Rinaldi put this squad together and expertly guided it, it was the 25-year old's perfect fit and total buying into the team concept that pushed the effort along at every point along the way in 2017. As she has throughout the season, Vandeweghe put the U.S. squad's fortunes on her shoulders in Minsk and carried it over the finish, for the second time this season having a hand in three live points, something no other Bannerette had done at all in twenty-one years. Her 3-point effort in the final is just the third time it's happened since the current FC format began in 1995, after Anastasia Myskina (2004) and Elena Dementieva (2005). No player has ever put together the undefeated, 8-point season that Vandeweghe did this year, a season in which she won sixteen of the seventeen singles/doubles sets she played for Team USA.

It was the perfect ending to a season in which CoCo thrived on the big stages, reaching the semifinals of both the Australian and U.S. Opens en route to a Top 10 finish, while sometimes searching to find true consistency in smaller events. Perhaps no U.S. player, and maybe any on the entire WTA tour, has had to evolve in quite as many ways as Vandeweghe has the last couple of years, from attempts to right her on-court strategy and disposition, to her training and focus when it came to taking her place in the game, and her career potential, seriously. We've especially seen the changes in her Fed Cup standing, as she grown from a somewhat directionless talent thrown to the wolves with little regard by the previous Captain to becoming the definitive team leader of a championship team, channeling Rinaldi's concepts and drive as if their brains were connected. You get the feelng that they both respect and have gratitude for one another in the sort of way that we only really see in tennis in these sort of team situations (think Mauresmo and Garcia). Rinaldi for Vandeweghe accepting the challenge of being this team's leader in her own first year at the helm, and CoCo for her Captain trusting her with such a responsibility.

I said earlier this year that, should she desire it, Vandeweghe should have a reserved spot on every roster Rinaldi puts together for as long she's the U.S. Captain. Scheduling may play a part in whether or not that becomes a reality, as might the expected format changes for Fed Cup/Davis Cup in the near future. But it's easier seeing Vandeweghe filling that sort of role for years than most, and surely she'd be the first and foremost candidate amongst the Bannerette contingent to do.

Vandeweghe and Fed Cup are the perfect meeting of the minds. CoCo was made for this.

RISER: Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR and Shelby Rogers/USA took a second day, but Sasnovich finally showed why she was leading the unofficial race for Fed Cup Player of the Year heading into this weekend's final in Minsk. Overmatched against Vandeweghe on Saturday, she still fought, holding on successive occasions to push both 6-4 sets as far as possible, and enough to make CoCo put her away. She later found her footing on Sunday vs. Sloane Stephens, battling back from 5-2 down in the 3rd to notch the biggest win of her career and give Belarus a fighting chance to win the nation's first ever FC title in the deciding doubles. She and Aryna Sabalenka nearly pushed the fifth match to a 3rd set, leading 5-2 themselves and serving for the set three times (w/ two SP) before ultimately falling in a tie-break. Vika Azarenka may be the best player from Belarus on the WTA tour, and 19-year old Sabalenka may embody the future both of that mythical crown as well as Team BLR, as she developed into the giant-killing squad's fiery soul over the course of the season's three ties. But Sasnovich has been it's overachieving heart, never giving up while utilizing all she has to offer to its fullest. But what else would you expect from a player who readily admits that she owes her tennis career to her mother selling her jewelry in order to fund her tennis when she was a junior. Sasnovich isn't going to take anything for granted, or give up. And, no matter how things ended, that's why Belarus was in this FC final in the first place. This team wouldn't have gotten this far if not for Sasnovich, and she -- and all -- should be proud of the accomplishment.

Rogers was a spectator for much of the weekend, but she ultimately proved Kathy Rinaldi right to include her on her Bannerette FC rosters throughout 2017, bringing her along slowly as if anticipating her eventual role in Minsk when, tasked with joining with Vandeweghe to win the deciding doubles match that would claim the team's first title since 2000, the South Caroline native held her own and now holds a piece of red-white-and-blue history. 2017 began for Rogers with her Australian Open win over Simona Halep and ends with her lifting a Fed Cup championship trophy that she had a true hand in winning. She may not have had quite the year in '17 that she may have hoped for, as she failed to back up the QF result she had at RG in '16, and didn't reach a singles semi (0-3 QF) after playing in her second career WTA singles final last season. Last week, her grandfather died. This moment won't soothe over her sadness, but it'll always bring a smile to her face and stir in her heart. And that's pretty good.
SURPRISES: Viktorija Golubic/SUI and Carol Zhao/CAN
...a season ago, Golubic was more rightly included in this category. The Swiss had her breakthrough season in 2016, reaching her first slam MD at the AO and later posting her first win at RG, starring in the Fed Cup semis (def. Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova in "The Golubic Zone"), reaching the Top 100, playing in her first two WTA finals and claiming her maiden title in Gstaad en route to a #57 finish. 2017 wasn't as kind to Golubic, as she fell to #128. She was just 7-22 until late September, going 6-13 in three-setters (including losing two vs. Sabalenka and Sasnovich in FC play in April). Since then, though, she's cobbled together a 12-4 mark (2-1 in three-setters), including semifinals at a $60K in September, WTA-level Linz in October and, this week, another at the Hua Hin 125 Series event in which the 25-year old posted wins over #2-seeded Evgeniya Rodina and Luksika Kumkhum.

In Shenzhen, China the recent Canadian tennis surge added yet another noteworthy accomplishment to the growing pile as former Stanford star Zhao, 22, picked up by far her biggest career title, taking the $100K crown (her only other title was a $25K in September) as an unseeded entry with a 7-5/6-2 victory in the final over Liu Fangzhou. Zhao, who's won four ITF doubles titles in '17, jumps from what had already been a career-high of #221 all the way up to #150 in the new rankings.

VETERAN: Monica Niculescu/ROU
...Niculescu, 30, saw her season-ending ranking fall to #100 over the last year. It was her eighth consecutive Top 100 (barely) finish, but it was still some sixty-one spots below where she was at the close of her 2016 campaign. She had gone just 12-22 since the calendar flipped over heading into last week, with just two combined MD wins in the majors, loaded down with a seven-match losing streak from the spring. Still, give her credit for her greetings, both "hello" and "goodbye." The Swarmette began her season with a final run in Hobart in her second '17 tournament, and she closed it out in Limoges, France by winning the title at the WTA 125 Series event there, defeating countrywomen Alexandra Dulgheru and Gabriela Ruse, Russian Anna Blinkova and French Pastry Pauline Parmentier in the final.

COMEBACKS: Belinda Bencic/SUI and Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER
...a week ago Bencic, after wrist surgery in the spring, finished a season outside the Top 100 (#165) for the first time in three years. But since the 20-year old returned in September she's been putting up the sort of results that will make her a leading preseason contender for Comeback Player of the Year heading into 2018. She won a $100K challenger in September, and last week in Hua Hin she picked up a WTA 125 Series crown, her biggest singles title since her brilliant Rogers Cup run in 2015, and her biggest final since the WTA-level Saint Petersburg in February '16. Late draw wins over Vitalia Diatchenko, Ana Bogdan and Hsieh Su-Wei might not necessarily be the sort that she'll be expected to post if she's to return to the Top 10, where she was just twenty-one months ago before a back injury, then the surgery, but it's a start. Bencic is 18-3 since her return.

In Shrewsbury, England it was Friedsam, who found her way back into the winner's circle. Out since last year's U.S. Open until earlier this fall due to shoulder surgery, the 23-year old's ranking had fallen all the way from #67 to #1025 over the course of the past year. But the German, known best most recently for having Aga Radwanska in her sights for a huge upset at last year's Australian Open before being brought down by severe (and heartbreaking) cramping, has now officially begun her climb back up the rankings. Her seven-match win week (2 Q/5 MD) included victories over the $15K challenger's #3 seed, Kathinka Von Deichmann (SF), and #1 Lesley Kerkhove (in a 6-4/6-2 final). Friedsam is now 12-4 in her return.

FRESH FACES: Aryna Sabalenka/BLR and Antonia Lottner/GER
...ultimately, 19-year old Sabalenka would up on the losing end of the deciding doubles in the FC final, but she was surely the star of the weekend in Minsk. After a season in which we saw the likes of an everthing-but-the-kitchen-sink-no-wait-go-ahead-and-throw-that-in-too Alona Ostapenko leave Paris with a slam championship, one can't help but be on the look-out for the next player with the sort of game that could lead to her blindsiding the tour with the sort of fits of brilliance we saw from Latvian Thunder on more than one occasion in 2017. After the FC final, and previous Team BLR weekends (remember, she nearly ended Kiki Bertens' long FC winning streak back at the start of this season, and even though she lost to her left the Dutch player a shell of her FC self for a bit), as well as a fall final run in Tianjin that ended with a 7-5/7-6 loss to Maria Sharapova, Sabalenka is surely on that "watch list." Just as others like her, Sabalenka has to sure up some aspects of her game (her net play and, especially, her consistency on her sometimes suddenly-haywire forehand side), but a huge backhand, a serve that can be a reliable weapon, and an inner fire and willing audaciousness to not allow a string of bad shots to deter her from continuing to blast away in the hope of catching a strong wind behind her back that could make anything possible.

It didn't take much effort to see a little of Ostapenko in her performance, along with some Vandeweghe (of a year or two ago, maybe, not the more stabilized version we've seen on big stages in '17), a little Jelena Dokic (her autiobiography "Unbreakable" is out this week, by the way, and will surely turn a few heads... though I'm not sure any of us who remember the string of incidents with her father in the early 2000's will be shocked by anything, no matter how difficult it may be to read/hear) and, as Tracy Austin noted during FC coverage, the game of Mary Pierce. Best moment of many, I think: when Sabalenka fired a wide ace on GP at 3-3 in the 3rd set vs. Stephens, only have it overturned... then she proceeded to fire a second serve ace up the "T" and give a "yeah, I did that" shrug as she walked to the changeover area while Stephens applauded. Great stuff.

Whether the Belarussian will be able to corral her game's wilder aspects into an Alona-esque package that allow her to reach her potential will be decided later, but after this weekend no one who saw her embrace and thrive in the moment will be surprised if she does.

In Limoges, 21-year old German Lottner reached the biggest final of her career at the WTA 125 Series event contested there this past week. In the summer, Lottner made her first career WTA MD match win a memorable one, upsetting #6 Dominika Cibulkova in the 1st Round at Rosmalen. Last week, the world #201 got the assistance of two oft-injured opponents -- Jana Cepelova and Sabine Lisicki, both of whom retired from their matches against her -- and combined the stroke of luck with a victory over tournament defending champ Ekaterina Alexandrova as she made her way to the final while losing just one set (of those that were actually completed, I mean). She lost 4 & 2 to Monica Niculescu and will break back into the Top 200 after having climbed as high as #139 earlier this year. Lottner was runner-up to Week 44 WTA 125 Series event winner Belinda Bencic in the 2013 Roland Garros girls final, but has so far only made one appearance in the MD of a slam ('16 U.S.). She lost in qualifying at three majors in 2017.
DOWN: Sloane Stephens/USA
...maybe Stephens shouldn't have been on the U.S. roster for this Fed Cup final. The U.S. Open champ hasn't exactly been focused on tennis lately, and did tweak her knee last week in Zhuhai. But she proved to be a worthy pick by Kathy Rinaldi simply because of the fact that even while she hadn't recorded a match win since Flushing Meadows, Stephens managed to put herself in position to win *both* of her outings in Minsk vs. Sabalenka and Sasnovich. Problem is, she didn't win either, even after holding a break lead on three occasions in the 3rd set vs. Sabalenka on Saturday then another vs. Sasnovich on Sunday, but failed to hold onto any of them. Only once -- easily turning a 4-2 lead into 5-2 -- did she even hold serve after taking the break lead in the 3rd set in those matches. While she was in the process of choking away the Day 2 contest, and maybe the U.S. grasp on the FC trophy, you could see Rinaldi's courtside eagle eye looking for any hint of something that told her that Stephens was going to get out of her own way and notch the clinching victory in match #4 and avoid a deciding doubles rubber. Down 5-6, she even tried to look into her soul to find *something* to pull out of her...

Remarkably, that little "talk" seemed to work, as Stephens got off her chair and again looked like her Open-winning self. She rediscovered her consistency, fired a big crosscourt forehand winner and broke Sasnovich to extend the match. But then when she forgot that there isn't a 3rd set TB in FC play, and had to embarrassingly continue to serve after tossing away a spare ball after serving the first point of game #13, she lost it all again. She was broken at love, then saw Sasnovich serve out the match. Stephens was bailed out by the Rogers/Vandeweghe doubles win, so at least she won't have to live with *some* awful thoughts this offseason. But, still, the 0-6 post-New York record and unsteady performance in the clutch in Minsk leave reason to wonder whether Sloane's summer run to glory might not be a prelude to the greatness she's capable of, but rather a repeat of the drop-off she saw in her results after her original brush with great success a few years ago.

Hopefully not. But now the notion is out there... it'll be up to Stephens herself whether it has legs enough to survive too far into 2018.
ITF PLAYER: Zhang Shuai/CHN and Taylor Townsend/USA
...#36-ranked Zhang became the highest-ranked champion of the season's eighteen $100K ITF challenger events, winning in Tokyo as the #1 seed, dropping just one set (SF-Kurumi Nara) all week and defeating #72 Mihaela Buzarnescu, looking for a circuit-leading seventh ITF title on the season and her second $100K, in a 6-4/6-0 final. The 28-year old, who posted a pair of slam 3rd Round results in Paris and New York this season, picked up another $100K crown in Kazakhstan in July, as well as a tour-level singles title in Guangzhou in September, her first in four years.

In Waco, Texas, Townsend continued her great fall run. In the third of the USTA's three-challenger event playoff for a wild card into the 2018 Australian Open MD, Townsend dropped just seven games in four matches (including a 1 & love win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova) en route to the final, which she won 6-3/2-6/6-2 over Ajla Tomljanovic. It's the 21-year old's third challenger win since mid-October (she also reached the WD final with Jessica Pegula). Townsend 20-3 fall run, capped off by her biggest career title this weekend, will lift her ranking into the Top 100. It also means she wins the USTA's WC Challenge, though now she won't even need the assistance to get into the MD in Melbourne in January.
JUNIOR STAR: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL
...for Osorio Serrano, the #13-ranked junior, there's just something about November. A year ago, she posted her best junior result during the month, defeating Carson Branstine at the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup before falling to Amanda Anisimova in the semifinals. This past week, just off her participation in the eight-player Junior Masters event in China, she was back in Colombia in a $15K challenger in Cucuta. The 15-year year old put up her best result in a pro event by reaching the semifinals, where she lost to eventual champion (and countrywoman) Maria Fernanda Herazo Gonzalez, 5-7/7-5/6-0. Earlier this season, Osorio Serrano had wins over junior #1 Whitney Osuigwe (RG champ) and U.S. Open girls semifinalist Maria Carle (#10).

DOUBLES: Duan Yingying/Wang Yafan (CHN/CHN)
...Duan followed up her win in the Elite Trophy doubles with a WTA 125 Series title in Hua Hin with Wang. The unseeded pair took out three of the top four seeds in the event, defeating Krawczyk/Olmos in a 12-10 3rd set TB in the QF, #1 Kudermetova/Soylu in another (10-5) in the semis, and then #3 Jakupovic/Khromacheva in a straights victory in the final. It's Wang's biggest doubles title since claiming a pair of tour-level crowns in 2015.

1. WTA 125 Limoges SF - Antonia Lottner def. Sabine Lisicki
...3-6/5-2 ret.
A #268-ranked wild card, Lisicki put up her best result of her six 2017 events after missing time with a shoulder injury, effectively ending any chance she had of putting up a seventh consecutive Top 100 finish. She previously reached QF in Mallorca and Washington, but this was her first three-win event of '17. After posting a pair of three-set victories (vs. Hogenkamp and Perrin), she took the 1st from fellow German Lottner, only to retire (again) with a knee. Hopefully, it won't be something that causes Lisicki's 2018 season to start off from behind the proverbial 8-ball, too.
2. $60K Bendigo Final - Tamara Zidansek def. Olivia Rogowska
Zidansek wins her biggest career title, stopping the Aussie from claiming her fourth challenger title since the end of the U.S. Open. Still, Rogowska's performance is expected to comfortably place her in position to claim a Tennis Australia wild card berth into the 2018 AO main draw.

3. $25K Pune Final - Jaqueline Cristian def. Karman Thandi
The Romanian prevents the 19-year old from claiming her first pro singles title. Ranked #310 last week, behind #283 Ankita Raina, how long before the teenager is the new Indian #1?

4. $15K Beni Mellal Final - Victoria Kan def. Federica Arcidiacono
22-year old Hordette Kan lifts her career challenger final record to 18-5, 3-1 since September after missing five months with injury earlier this year.
5. WTA 125 Hua Hin 1st Rd. - Yanina Wickmayer def. Vera Zvonareva
Zvonareva is still apparently scheduled to play another WTA 125 event this fall, in Mumbai a week from now. She's gone a combined 21-9 on all levels in 2017, and has almost (#203, a little head of Vika Azarenka) broken back into the Top 200.


Reading between the lines, I guess this might answer the question of whether Schiavone will be seen on a court in 2018, as being "back in a month" would seem to indicate we will, at least for a little while longer, see her with racket in hand. At the very least, unfortunately, we know that Ana Konjuh has a "spare-ball soul mate"...

1. WTA 125 Final - Belinda Bencic def. HSIEH SU-WEI
31-year old Hsieh didn't drop a set en route to the final, where she had a rare loss. The Taiwanese vet has a somewhat remarkable career record in singles finals. She's 2-0 in tour-level events, and 27-4 in ITF challengers, including final winning streaks of six, five, seven and eight. She jumps twelve spots to #84 this week.


1963 United States def. Australia 2-1
1964 Australia def. United States 2-1
1965 Australia def. United States 2-1
1966 United States def. West Germany 3-0
1967 United States def. Great Britain 2-0
1968 Australia def. Netherlands 3-0
1969 United States def. Australia 2-1
1970 Australia def. West Germany 3-0
1971 Australia def. Great Britain 3-0
1972 South Africa def. Great Britain 2-1
1973 Australia def. South Africa 3-0
1974 Australia def. United States 2-1
1975 Czechoslovakia def. Australia 3-0
1976 United States def. Australia 2-1
1977 United States def. Australia 2-1
1978 United States def. Australia 2-1
1979 United States def. Australia 3-0
1980 United States def. Australia 3-0
1981 United States def. Great Britain 3-0
1982 United States def. West Germany 3-0
1983 Czechoslovakia def. West Germany 2-1
1984 Czechoslovakia def. Australia 2-1
1985 Czechoslovakia def. United States 2-1
1986 United States def. Czechoslovakia 3-0
1987 West Germany def. United States 2-1
1988 Czechoslovakia def. USSR 2-1
1989 United States def. Spain 3-0
1990 United States def. USSR 2-1
1991 Spain def. United States 2-1
1992 Germany def. Spain 2-1
1993 Spain def. Australia 3-0
1994 Spain def. United States 3-0
1995 Spain def. United States 3-2
1996 United States def. Spain 5-0
1997 France def. Netherlands 4-1
1998 Spain def. Switzerland 3-2
1999 United States def. Russia 4-1
2000 United States def. Spain 5-0
2001 Belgium def. Russia 2-1
2002 Slovak Republic def. Spain 3-1
2003 France def. United States 4-1
2004 Russia def. France 3-2
2005 Russia def. France 3-2
2006 Italy def. Belgium 3-2
2007 Russia def. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia def. Spain 4-0
2009 Italy def. United States 4-0
2010 Italy def. United States 3-1
2011 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2012 Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-1
2013 Italy def. Russia 4-0
2014 Czech Republic def. Germany 3-1
2015 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2016 Czech Republic def. France 3-2
2017 United States def. Belarus 3-2

18 - United States
7 - Australia
7 - Czech Republic
5 - Czechoslovakia
5 - Spain
4 - Italy
4 - Russia
2 - France
2 - West Germany/Germany
1 - Belgium
1 - Slovakia
1 - South Africa

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2016 Caroline Garcia, FRA*
2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
*-non-championship team member

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2016 Barbora Strycova, CZE
2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA

Zhenghou: Wang Qiang, CHN (#68/25) (W)
Bol: Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (#124/24) (W)
Dalian: Kateryna Kozlova, UKR (#118/23) (W)
NOTE: none had reached WTA tour-level or WTA 125 finals

#623 Vera Zvonareva/RUS (Dalian)
#235 Alexandra Cadantu/ROU (Bol)
#124 Aleksandra Krunic/SRB (Bol) (W)
#118 Kateryna Kozlova/UKR (Dalian) (W)

14 yrs - Muguruza (23) d. V.Williams (37) - Wimbledon
11 yrs - Sharapova (30) d. Sabalenka (19) - Tianjin
11 yrs - Schiavone (36) d. Arruabarrena (25) - Biel
11 yrs - Pavlyuchenkova (25) d. Schiavone (36) - Rabat
10 yrs - Stosur (33) d. Gavrilova (23) - Strasbourg
10 yrs - Wozniacki (27) d. V.Williams (37) - WTA Finals
[WTA 125]
11 yrs - BENCIC (20) d. HSIEH (31) - HUA HIN

Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
Timea Babos, HUN
Miskai Doi, JPN
Caroline Garcia, FRA
Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
Shahar Peer, ISR
Peng Shuai, CHN
Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
Elina Svitolina, UKR
Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Zhang Shuai, CHN

**2017 ITF $100K CHAMPIONS**
FEB: Midland, USA (hci) - Tatjana Maria/GER
APR: Anning, CHN (rco) - Zheng Saisai/CHN
MAY: Cagnes-sur-Mer, FRA (rco) - Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
MAY: Trnava, SVK (rco) - Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
JUN: Marseilles, FRA (rco) - Jasmine Paolini/ITA
JUN: Surbiton, ENG (grass) - Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
JUN: Manchester, ENG (grass) - Zarina Diyas/KAZ
JUN: Ilkley, ENG (grass) - Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK (2)
JUL: Southsea, ENG (grass) - Tatjana Maria/GER (2)
JUL: Contrexville, FRA (rco) - Johanna Larsson/SWE
JUL: Bucharest, HUN (rco) - Jana Cepelova/SVK
JUL: Astana, KAZ (hco) - Zhang Shuai/CHN
AUG: Vancouver, CAN (hco) - Maryna Zanevska/BEL
SEP: Tampico, MEX (hco) - Irina Falconi/USA
SEP: Saint Petersburg, RUS (hci) - Belinda Bencic/SUI
OCT: Poitiers, FRA (hci) - Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU
NOV: Shenzhen, CHN (hco) - Carol Zhao/CAN
NOV: Tokyo, JPN (hco) - Zhang Shuai/CHN (2)
[2017 ITF $100K FINALS]
4...Tatjana Maria, GER (2-2)
2...Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (2-0)
2...Zhang Shuai, CHN (2-0)
2...Mihaela Buzarescu, ROU (1-1)
2...Zarina Diyas, KAZ (1-1)
2...Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL (0-2)

2007 Madison Brengle
2008 Madison Brengle
2009 Christina McHale
2010 CoCo Vandeweghe
2011 Lauren Davis
2012 Madison Keys
2013 Madison Keys
2014 Sachia Vickery
2015 Irina Falconi
2016 Samantha Crawford
2017 Kayla Day
2018 Taylor Townsend
NOTE: Playoff Tournament 2007-14; combined multi-event results 2015-present

Hmmm. I'm sensing a trend...


It seems like half of Lauren Davis' social media existence is spent in a handstand...

German tennis player's best friend...

"What's this 2017 season you're talking about? Never heard of it."

TAIPEI, CHINA (International/Hard)
16 Singles Final: Rodina d. Chang
16 Doubles Final: Dzalamidze/Kudermetova d. Chang/Chuang
17 Top Seeds: Sabalenka/Rodina

Sabalenka is "scheduled" to play this event, but I guess we'll if that really happens. Maybe of more note is that Bencic is in this draw, as well, and could even face the Belarussian in the semis if things worked out.

Week 45 Vesnina dance-out...

Backspin Awards season wrap-up coming soon...

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Stephens and Mladenovic both have played better their last couple of matches with nothing to show for it. Not too worried, as six weeks off should do both of them good.

Sometimes forget that Townsend is just 21.


Interesting that you mention Golubic and Bencic. Those two, along with Teichmann, Voegele, Perrin and Schnyder, would all be in AO qualies if the cutoff were today. Post Hingis Swiss getting ready to break out.

Stat of the Week-4- The number of Fed Cup finals losses for Great Britain, the most of any team without a victory.

If you are an NFL fan, you know the stories of the early 90's Buffalo Bills, who led by Jim Kelly, reached 4 consecutive Super Bowls without winning, or the 1970's Minnesota Vikings, who lost 4 of the first 11 Super Bowls, and haven't been back sense.

Great Britain's story is a mix of both, as they haven't been in the final since 1981. So they reached 4 times in the first 19 years, now have a 36 year drought. They also had one player that was on all four teams in Virginia Wade. Now I am one that realizes that sometimes it is better to have reached the final and lost than to have never made it. But there is the year that got away. And that was 1972.

South Africa won it's only title that year, and since it is the before the computer ranking system it doesn't fit the criteria, but had they won, the Belarus team on paper may have been the least pedigreed team in history, topping this 72 squad. This wasn't the late 70's squad with a Top 10 player in Greer Stevens, or a #1 doubles player in Ilana Kloss. This was a ragtag bunch with Margrethe(Greta) Delport, Patricia Walkden and Brenda Kirk.

In fact, none of those three ever made it past the 4th rd of major. But didn't Walkden reach the finals of a slam in doubles? Yes, but due to the political climate at the time, did so in 1967 for Rhodesia.

Wade, Barker and Durie should have won, but that was the 1981 team. What about Ann Jones? Ah, the curious case. You see, Jones was a 6 time Fed Cup participant, which seems small, until you realize that her first slam win(French Open 1961), not only predates the Open Era, but Fed Cup, which started in 1963.

Jones then played 63-67, stopping after their first final-67. The Brit famously won Wimbledon in 1969, and though she did not retire, she never played another grand slam. So after not playing Fed Cup since 67, she played for the 1971(Dec 70) team which lost to the US. It is unclear is she would have played in 72, but became pregnant midway through the 71 season, and with the final being played in March, as opposed to November, she was unavailable.

Quiz Time!
1.There is only one Fed Cup squad that has never lost when reaching a final. Who are they?

No multiple choice, as the US and Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic have 28 titles. Not too many to choose from.

Slovak Republic-the 2002 winners led by Daniela Hantuchova and Husarova.

Mon Nov 13, 10:41:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I hadn’t realized that CoCo had the only full, undefeated season in Fed Cup history. That’s quite a stat. It will be interesting to see how this latest Fed Cup glory affects her tour performance. And maybe even more interesting to see whether she can tone down her personality—or whether fans just learn to accept her the way she is (that’s a bit of a hard sell). She reminds me a bit of pre-charm school Serena (about whom fans have developed collective amnesia), but without the titles to “back it up.”

I laughed out loud at your description of Alona :)

Mon Nov 13, 10:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I think Kiki will be fine (I have well-expressed "issues" with her personality, but I still enjoy her game), though I wonder if it might take a slight slip before Stephens regains her summer momentum (just because we've seen this "year after" look from her before).

It's been a long road for Townsend. Maybe she'll be one of THOSE GREAT STORIES next year that resemble some of those we saw this season.

Yeah, I was going to mention (but didn't) that after 2016 it looked as if 2017 would be a year where the Swiss really grabbed a piece of the storyline. But Bencic and Bacsinszky were injured, Golubic slipped, the FC team lost earlier than expected, and Hingis played great but retired again. But with some of those other Swiss players (including junior Simona Waltert, for example) making moves, and those who fell a bit finally getting their footing as '17 ends, maybe '18 will be the year that this season was supposed to be (minus Martina, of course... though maybe she's a future SUI FC Captain?).

Ah, thanks for the South Africa info. It does sort of stand out as an oddball in the list of FC champions, but I hadn't known much about that team.

QUIZ: Grrr, I considered Slovakia, but I went with Germany and now regret it (a comment made by many throughout history, I'm sure).

I was going to mention the "CoCo conundrum" here but didn't get to it after taking one final swing at the MJF pinata.

I guess I just find it funny -- and very much in the Backspin tradition -- that I was all over Vandeweghe and her occasionally disrespectful behavior in a negative way as recently as the early stages of her run at this year's AO, when she was getting lavish praise from not-the-usual tennis media (pretty much all of "regular" ESPN, for example) for being a "breath of fresh air," etc. But I experienced an evolution at the tail end of Melbourne, picked through a few remaining weeds in the CoCo swamp, and came out on the other end of it all, enjoying the like-it-or-not-and-to-each-their-own dynamic she brings, and truly respecting her Fed Cup work and ability to lift her game in the biggest events. I don't find her nearly as repellent and, while I don't agree with her on everything she says, I realize now that she sort of fits the description of the sort of player whose individualism I've always chosen to defend against attacks. (Hmmm, could Kiki be redeemed at some point, too? It'll take a lot.)

So, of course, now everywhere I look I see people bashing Vandeweghe for some of the things I used to (though, really, I don't think she's nearly as bad in those areas as she used to be -- I think she has toned down some of her histrionics over time, and anything she did when playing for Team USA sort of "fits the nationalistic format"). Go figure... but not really, as sometimes I apparently naturally take the opposite view of the prevailing mob mentality.

Alona = Latvian Thunder = The Kitchen Sink = The Renovator? :)

Mon Nov 13, 01:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

The Renovater 😂😂

Someone I follow on Twitter, who is articulate and wise, summed up CoCo pretty well when she said that what irks her most is that CoCo is a “sore winner.” I agree, but again, we’re back to pre-charm school Serena, who never met an opponent who did anything well (and now we have Venus saying “I lost, even though I won”). I’m more tolerant of CoCo than many are—I think she’s just a jock in jock’s clothing (and I was glad when I saw some people on Twitter confess that her behavior wouldn’t bother them if she were a man), but the digs at Sabalenka were inexcusable. Fans are uncomfortable with jocky women—that’s pure sexism. The Azarenkas and Schiavones and Vandeweghes will always have a hard time of it.

She has a smart mouth—she was messing with me on the elevator in Cincinnati—and is very annoying, but she adds to the overall color of the tour. I don’t mind the racket-breaking and crowd-stoking, but she needs to ease up on trashing players she beats.

Mon Nov 13, 07:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Serena to get married Thursday in New Orleans. Here is a good article about it from Daily Mail:

Wed Nov 15, 02:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

According to rumors Sacha is stopping with Caroline by the end of this year, a decision I'm so disappointed about (and many with me). But maybe it's because she's not playing so many tournaments in 2018.

Wed Nov 15, 02:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

No rumors here is his tweet:

Wed Nov 15, 02:34:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, well, with that news and the engagement (since she sort of seemed to lose interest in improving on the court during the go-round w/ McIlroy) it surely puts something of an imprint of pessimism on 2018. Maybe it won't be the case, but the red flags are now planted.

I wonder if Sascha might find his way back to Vika? He left because of the pregnancy and her long layoff. She'll be ready to go at some point in '18, and he's free. Maybe.

Hmmm, but then again, as things have turned out, so is Ostapenko/Latvian Thunder/The Renovator...*that* would be in an interesting combination.

(All right, I've already talked myself into wishing for that now.) ;)

Wed Nov 15, 03:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

FWIW, I think Latvian Thunder is one of your very best :)

Wed Nov 15, 08:26:00 PM EST  

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