Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wk.20- A Tale of Two

Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep's paths are crossing more and more, at ever more important times. After another face off between the two on a big clay court stage, the Ukrainian will head into Paris in high spirits.

But one gets the idea that if either is to finally experience a breakthrough that leads to a maiden slam title run in Paris in a few weeks time, it very well could come at the expense of the other.

Arguably (or not), Svitolina and Halep are the two most accomplished players on tour without a slam singles win. While Halep has won more titles (16 to 12), climbed higher in the rankings (#1 vs. #3) and shined brighter at the slams thus far (3 slam finals, 2 SF and 5 QF vs. 3 QF), she's also butted her head against the major title (and major moment) ceiling enough times over the course of her career to have scars from the experience. While she's done well to cover over many of them, they're still there, and will continue to linger in the background of her psyche until she finally lifts one of the four biggest trophies in the sport. If she ever does, that is.

Svitolina has yet to get as close to such a win as Halep has, though it would seem to be a logical development in her career in the near future. But can we be SURE of that?

Look around, there are even more Latvian Thunder-esque teenyboppers bouncing around the tour now than there were a year ago, each one of them looking to swipe the hoped-for glory of players who've been seeking it for many years and take it home as an early-career present to themselves on which to build their bright future.

Svitolina, for her part, has gradually worked her way up the latter, perfecting many of the attributes of a champion, while still striving to eradicate her sore spots. Once she gets into position to be one win away from a title, she's about as spot-on as any player on tour. Her 6-0/6-4 win over Halep in the Italian Open final in Rome on Sunday, which finished off her second successful title defense of the season (and third of her career), gives her a 12-2 record in WTA singles finals for her career, including an eight-match final winning streak that has remained spotless since she first reached the Top 10 early in the '17 season. In fact, she's 16-0 in SF/F matches during the span. Her win over Halep was her sixth over a world #1 since her upset of Serena Williams at the Rio Olympics in the summer of '16.

She knows how to win, but she's still stuck in the same "waiting room" next to Halep when it somes to the majors.

Over the past two seasons, it's been at this time of year that their paths have intersected. Over the stretch, Svitolina has gone 4-1 against the Romanian, including defeating her to claim both her Rome titles, last year coming back from a set down to defeat Halep after she'd slowed down after rolling her ankle, then this time around dominating her, though Halep again was treated for a medical issue (lower back) during the match. But when their slam dreams were on the line in Paris in last year's version of Roland Garros, it was Halep who hustled to win from behind, overcoming a 6-3/5-2 deficit, and Svitolina twice serving for her maiden slam semifinal berth and holding a MP, before the Ukrainian eventually collapsed in an ugly 3rd set lost at love. It would have been seen as THE stepping stone victory of Halep's career had SHE not gone on to also lose a set and 3-0 lead (then 3-1 advantage in the 3rd) vs. Alona Ostapenko in the final.

World #1 Halep hasn't beaten Svitolina since that win in Roland Garros, losing three straight to the world #4. Svitolina has won five titles over the past year, while Halep has just one. But the Romananian has also gone on to again roll her ankle at the Australian Open, yet survive being multiple MP down in two matches en route to the final, where she lost in three to Caroline Wozniacki. Svitolina, for all she's accomplished, has still yet to reach a slam semifinal.

While their paths have been different, their ultimate goals remain the same.

Will Halep's frustrating, hard-knock road get her into the slam winner's circle first, or will Svitolina's patient, mostly steady and lacking in many CRUSHINGLY emotional losses (with one exception) approach prevail? Could another near-miss in Paris become a whispering albatross on HER shoulder as time goes on?

Svitolina would certainly have to feel good heading into Paris with another Rome title under her belt, but Halep knows this is precisely where she found herself a year ago, only this time she'll be seeded #1 and with a handful of clutch moments upon which to draw and (with luck) drown out some of the noise between her ears left over from her less desirable "Cliffs of Simona" moments for which she's so known.

Their stories are just two of many heading into the season's second major, but they very well could turn out to be the most compelling... especially if one woman's dreams stand squarely in the way, on the other side of a single net, of that of the other.

It's happened before. It very well could happen again, and soon.

If so, may the best woman (on that particular day) win... or, you know, ultimately be the one to go on and fall to the latest member of Generation PDQ looking to hog the spotlight.

ROME, ITALY (Premier 5/Red Clay)
S: Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Simona Halep/ROU 6-0/6-4
D: Ash Barty/Demi Schuurs (AUS/NED) d. Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova/Barbora Strycova (CZE/CZE) 6-4/6-4

...Svitolina is SO close to taking her place as a full-fledged member of the tour's elite corps of slam contenders. She's got the brains, maturity, variety and improving on-court movement to threaten anyone. Hence all her #1 (6), Top 5 (15) and Top 10 (24) wins and sterling record in tournament finals. Not too many players successfully defend title these days, but she's already done it TWICE in 2018. Svitolina's run in Rome this time around included wins over Petra Martic, Dasha Kasatkina (after dropping a love 1st), Angelique Kerber (her sixth straight over the German since late '16, three when she was ranked #1), Anett Kontaveit and Simona Halep in a rematch of last year's Italian Open final.

2016 Serena Williams (Olympics 3rd Rd.)
2016 Angelique Kerber (Bejing 3rd Rd.)
2017 Angelique Kerber (Brisbane QF)
2017 Angelique Kerber (Fed Cup WG PO)
2017 Simona Halep (WTA Finals rr)
2018 Simona Halep (Rome Final)

Of course, before heading off to Paris, Elina had to first pose for photos with a bunch of naked guys...

RISERS: Alona Ostapenko/LAT and Dasha Gavrilova/AUS
...we'll soon see how Ostapenko will handle heading to Paris as the defending Roland Garros champion. Thus far, it's been an up-and-down season for Latvian Thunder, as a slow start was bolstered by a doubles title, some strong Fed Cup play and a singles final in Miami. She's had a similarly slow-building clay season, with a 2-0 Fed Cup record joined by a single win in Stuttgart and none in Madrid. Last week in Rome, Ostapenko defeated Zhang Shuai, came back from a set down against Johanna Konta and then battled Maria Sharapova for three sets in a 3:11 3rd Round match in which she had to battle against serving woes while still competing down to the wire in the top match of the week.

In all, it was both an encouraging and exasperating affair for AO. After squandering four 1st set SP, she denied Sharapova when she served for the set, committed two DF when twice up a mini-break in the TB, then saved a SP en route to taking the 1st, after all. In the 2nd, she broke the Russian to get back on serve at 4-3, only to give the break back a game later as Sharapova soon knotted the match. In the 3rd, Sharapova was two points away from the title before Ostapenko got back on serve, but she nearly blew a 40/15 lead when down 4-5 (forcing her to save two MP) before getting the hold, only to then drop the match by being broken in the 12th game of the 7-5 set. The loss dropped her to 5-3 on clay this season. After injuring her leg while doing an on-court leg split at the end of a point vs. Sharapova, Ostapenko still came back later and joined with Sorana Cirstea to defeat Babos/Mladenovic and reach the semis. Doubles seemed to spark Ostapenko's singles play earlier this year, and her good results have given her the chance to play with Elena Vesnina at this year's RG, as the Russian's "alternate" partner while whatever needs to be worked out with Ekaterina Makarova works itself out (or doesn't work itself out... who's to know?). Either way, Ostapenko's result here will lift to another new career high of #5.

Meanwhile, Gavrilova once again found success in Rome, picking up a Top 10 win at the Italian Open for a fourth straight year. Three years ago she defeated #7 Ana Ivanovic en route to the semifinals as a qualifier, then she followed up with a win over #5 Simona Halep a year later, then #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova (in a QF run) in '17. This time around, after a win over Natalia Vikhlyantseva (ending her 3-match clay court losing streak), Gavrilova downed #3 Garbine Muguruza in the 2nd Round, saving two MP in a 3:08 match that finished up after 2 a.m.. It was the Aussie's first Top 5 win since 2016 (Kerber/Hong Kong), and first over a Top 10 player since last summer in New Haven (Radwanska). Her run ended when she was forced back out onto the court the next afternoon, where she lost to Maria Sharapova in straight sets. The two-win week was Gavrilova's first since her Acapulco semifinal (her second in her first three events of '18) the first week of March. A year ago she reached the Strasbourg final (losing to Sam Stosur), and she's the #2 seed behind countrywoman Ash Barty this week.

SURPRISES: Danielle Collins/USA, Isabelle Wallace/AUS and Raveena Kingsley/USA just her second clay event of the season (after a 1st Round loss in Madrid last week following a successful Q-run), Collins reached the Rome MD after yet another trip through qualifying that included wins over Varvara Lepchenko and Prague semifinalist Camila Giorgi. Her MD win over Sorana Cirstea was the first of her career in a tour-level clay event. She lost a round later to Dasha Kasatkina, but she'll climb to yet another career high (#44) this week. The former NCAA champ is 25-8 overall in '18, after having ended '17 on a 20-5 run.

And after her tennis was over...

How do y’all do your off days!? ????????????????? #YOLO

A post shared by Danielle Collins (@danimalcollins) on

The last of eight wild card berths into the Roland Garros main draw was determined in Paris on Sunday with the eight-woman playoff put together by Tennis Australia. Winning the spot was the 21-year old, Scotland-born Wallace, who is now in her second stint representing Australia (AUS 2011-13, GBR 2013-15, AUS 2015-present) after originally moving Down Under at age 10. A one & love win over Destanee Aiava was followed by a three-set defeat of Lizette Cabrera to reach the playoff final, where she defeated Olivia Rogowska 6-1/5-7/6-3. After a breakout '17 campaign in which she went 5-0 in ITF finals, Wallace will make her slam debut at RG in about a week.

In Gothenburg, Sweden it was 19-year Kingsley picking up her maiden pro singles title in a $15K challenger. The Bannerette, an LSU signee a couple of years ago (though she never attended the university), reached the Top 300 in '16, but injuries have slowed her progress ever since. She entered the week ranked #761 after having played just one other match in '18. This week, though, she knocked of #5-seeded Karen Barritza, #3 Irina Ramialison before offing #4 Mirjam Bjorklund in the 6-2/6-4 final. Of some note, Kingsley's final match of last season came in a $25K event in Oklahoma last November, losing the then #179-ranked Danielle Collins in the 1st Round.

VETERAN: Simona Halep/ROU was both a good and disappointing week for Halep. Returning to the site of her Rome final loss to Elina Svitolina a year ago, she once again managed to do enough to hold onto her #1 ranking (and #1 seed for a second straight slam) with wins over Naomi Osaka (losing 1 game), Caroline Garcia and Maria Sharapova, prevailing in three sets for her second straight win over the Russian since losing to her in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open last summer. In a final rematch with Svitolina, though, she was curiously tentative in the 1st set, losing it at love in less than twenty minutes, was met with a "you figure it out" response from coach Darren Cahill as things were sliding away, was treated for a lower back injury in the 2nd set, and was ultimately outclassed by the Ukrainian in a love & 4 loss that still leaves her with just a single small title (Shenzhen in January) in her column over the course of the 12-month span for which she's ranked #1. She's 1-6 since her last big title run in Madrid last spring though, granted, the stretch includes two slam finals, as well as big event runner-up results in Rome (2), Cincinnati and Beijing. But, as usual, Halep's season will be determined by how things go in her quest for an elusive maiden slam crown. She was the "performer of the event" in Melbourne, but ultimately came up short in the final vs. Caroline Wozniacki. "Part Deux" debuts in about a week.

COMEBACK: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...things are looking up for Sharapova. After an encouraging QF run in Madrid that included a win over Kristina Mladenovic and a three-set loss to Kiki Bertens, the Russian doubled down on her success in Rome, reaching the semifinals of the event she won in 2011, '12 and '15.

But maybe more important than her end result was how she got there. After months of stop-and-start periods interrupted by injury, as well as a not-unrelated string of three-set defeats (0-4 in '18), Sharapova was finally healthy enough to reel off four wins in a week for the first time since her only post-suspension title run in Tianjin in October. She also notched her first three-set win since Beijing last fall with a 1st Round victory over Ash Barty, then got another (def. Dominika Cibulkova) one round later and, after a straight sets shutdown of Dasha Gavrilova, still *another* three-set victory in the QF over Alona Ostapenko, the defeat of whom in an ultra-exciting 3:11 contest gave Sharapova her first Top 10 of the season. That win qualified her for a seed at Roland Garros one year after the French Federation denied her a wild card entry into the event. She finally fell against Simona Halep, dropping her second in a row to the world #1 since defeating her in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open last year, but only after pushing her to three sets at the end of a week that saw her rack up more than a dozen hours on the court.

If she's finally healthy, the past two weeks could prove to be a turning point for Sharapova as she tries to climb back up the WTA ladder. Naturally, the possible moment comes just as Serena Williams is edging her way back on tour. Some things just never seems to change, huh?

FRESH FACES: Anett Kontaveit/EST and Maria Sakkari/GRE
...a year ago, 22-year old Kontaveit qualified at the Italian Open and notched her first career #1 win over Angelique Kerber in the 2nd Round en route to the QF, then a few weeks later made her Top 50 debut. This week the Estonian finally completes a push into the Top 25 following a semifinal run in Rome that included straight sets wins over CoCo Vandeweghe and Svetlana Kuznetsova, then then back-to-back Top 10 victories in straights over Venus Williams (she also defeated her in Madrid) and Caroline Wozniacki, her third and fourth Top 10 wins of 2018. She ultimately fell in two in the SF against defending and eventual repeat champ Elina Svitolina, but heads to Paris with a 9-4 mark on clay this season, as well as a 7-3 overall '18 mark vs. Top 20 players.

Fresh off a Fed Cup starring role and Istanbul semifinal, with a brief appearance in Madrid (a loss to Kiki Bertens) acting as a palate cleanser, Sakkari (gravity-defying hair bun and all) was back at it in Rome. A week after losing to Bertens, she defeated the Dutch woman in three sets in the 1st Round, then followed up with her first career Top 5 victory over Karolina Pliskova, a win marred by a poor performance by the chair umpire late in a 7-5 3rd set and a destructive one from the Czech (literally, as in a jagged hole beaten in the umpire's chair by a racket after the match). The 22-year old Greek lost to Angelique Kerber in the 3rd Round, but will make her Top 40 debut this week.

She also was the winner of what could very well turn out to be the point of the month...

DOWN: Latisha Chan/TPE
...Chan will narrowly hold onto her #1 doubles ranking this week, but only because of the withdrawal of Makarova/Vesnina from the Rome doubles draw due to Makarova's illness. The surprise of the Russian duo appearing on the Roland Garros participants lists with *different* partners could prove to help the Taiwanese veteran hold on for a little longer, as well, but whether it be Makarova, Vesnina or another of the women ranked behind Chan in the doubles rankings, her exit from the top spot seems imminent. With titles in Mallorca, Eastbourne, Cincinnati, the U.S. Open, Wuhan and Beijing (all won with Martina Hingis in '17), as well as another in Hong Kong with her sister Angel, still to be defended, Chan could be looking at her worst season-ending doubles finish since 2014 (she was #36, followed by by #7, #12 and #1 finishes from 2015-17) unless she finds some consistent success, or at least a consistent partner.

2017 Rome champ Chan's 1st Round loss with Bethanie Mattek-Sands (the pair went out in the QF in Madrid), currently without regular parnter Lucie Safarova, is but the latest hit to her season, which began with a new (but ultimately short-lived) partnership with Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova. They went 9-5 (w/ one final appearance) before ending things, and Chan (also 3-2 with her sister) is just 14-9 on the season after posting a 53-7 mark with Hingis (w/ nine titles) alone last season.
ITF PLAYERS: Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK and Vera Lapko/BLR
...the now 20-year old Kuzmova continues to make a name for herself in 2018. After having already been a Fed Cup star, Budapest semifinalist and won her biggest pro singles title ($60K Shenzhen in March) this year, the Slovak added a few more lines to her career bio this week. As an unseeded member of the draw in the $100K challenger in Trnava, Kuzmova thrilled the Slovak crowd by storming to another biggest career crown, defeating Ons Jabeur then knocking off four straight seeds -- #5 Madison Brengle, #1 Johanna Larsson, #8 Ekaterina Alexandrova and #3 Veronica Cepedge Royg in a three-set final -- en route to the title. After hovering just outside the Top 100 in recent weeks, Kuzmova will finally make the official leap for the first time on Monday.

19-year old Lapko, too, has seen her career grow in leaps and bounds this season. A tour singles semifinal run (and doubles final) in Lugano was followed by a starring role in Belarus' Fed Cup win last month. She kept her roll going with a career-best $100K title run in Khimki, Russia and $100K doubles final in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France. This week, she claimed the title at the $60K Saint-Gauden event in France, her sixth career ITF win, with a 6-2/6-4 victory in the final over Quirine Lemoine, who has hit the ground running in '18 after being out since mid-September (the 26-year old Dutch woman, playing in her biggest career final, has gone 15-4 since returning to the court in March). Lapko will rise to a career-high #77 on Monday.

JUNIOR STARS: Zheng Qinwen/CHN, Liang En-shuo/TPE and Emma Raducanu/GBR Santa Croce, Zheng (jr. #18) picked up her second Grade 1 event win of the year, following up her Nonthaburi run (and Sarawak G1 semi) in March with a title in Italy. The 15-year old #2 seed, she defeated Malta's Helene Pellicano in the QF, then took down #16-seeded Pole Stefania Rogozinska Dzik in a 5-7/6-1/6-2 final. The 16-year old Pole, who'd posted a pair of G2 finals in '18, had never before won more than two matches in a G1 or larger event before upsetting #1-seed Lulu Sun and last week's G1 finalist Sada Nahimana this week.

A runner-up in her first pro singles final in Goyang a week ago, AO junior singles/doubles champ Liang reached a second straight final in the $25K challenger in Incheon, South Korea, picking up her first pro singles title and climbing 300 spots in the next rankings to reach #603 on the WTA computer. The 17-year old defeated Korea's Han Na-lae 6-2/0-6/7-5 in the final.

Meanwhile, 15-year old Toronto-born Brit Raducanu won her maiden pro singles title in just her third career event, taking the $15K Tiberias title in Israel without losing a set in her six matches, defeating Helene Scholsen 7-6(3)/6-4 in the final. She's 13-2 this season in pro events and 20-0 on the junior circuit, where she won four titles (G2/G3) and entered the week as the #52-ranked girl.

DOUBLES: Ash Barty/Demi Schuurs, AUS/NED
...with other doubles duo in decline, a period of interruption or kaput (who can ever know?), might we have the beginnings of a new "power twosome?"

With the retirement of Casey Dellacqua, 22-year old Barty is without the main partner she's had throughout her pro career. Unlike some players who've had singles success, which Barty has increasingly had over the past year, the Aussie has seemed to thrive and feed off playing BOTH disciplines, sweeping both titles last year in Kuala Lumpur and reaching dual finals in Birmingham. In March, she joined with CoCo Vandeweghe in Miami to win her first WTA title without Dellacqua by her side (they were 5-7 in career tour-level finals, going 0-4 in the slam championship matches, coming up one win short of winning all four majors in something that I suppose could be called a "Career Doubles Runner-Up Slam"), but Vandeweghe, while a good doubles player, may not be up to committing to regular doubles outings while her singles career takes precedent. 24-year old Schuurs, a doubles specialist who hasn't played a singles match since 2015, came into Rome having reached eight tour finals with five different partners, winning a pair of '18 titles with Kiki Bertens and Elise Mertens.

In their first event together this week, Barty & Schuurs claimed the Italian Open crown, defeating the likes of Prague champs/Stuttgart finalists Melichar & Peschke, winning a pair of 3rd set TB's over Kudryavtseva/Voracova and Gavrilova/Hsieh, then taking out Cirstea/Ostapenko (SF) and Hlavackova/Strycova (F) in straight sets to emerge as champs. Schuurs' three-title season now stands alone atop the 2018 WTA heap.

While they'd never played together before (and never even faced off in juniors, though they're only two years apart), Barty & Schuurs have been familiar opponents in the past. This year alone, Barty/Dellacqua faced off with Schuurs twice, losing to her (w/ Bertens) in Brisbane, then defeating her (w/ Mertens) in Melbourne. Last year, Schuurs (w/ Mertens at Wimbledon, and Flipkens in New Haven) went 0-2 vs. the pair, after having also lost (w/ Wacanno) to them in another match back in 2014.

With a series of one-off or first-time duos winning several big titles in '18, the usual series of break-ups (Hsieh/Peng, again), Latisha Chan set to lose her #1 ranking and having had a difficult time finding a consistently successful partnership after Martina Hingis' retirement, Mattek-Sands' injury and Safarova's illness issues having put Team Bucie sightings on the endangered tour species list over the past year, and now potential new #1's Makarova/Vesnina, a week after winning Madrid, signing up for Roland Garros with different partners (whether it's a true "split," or simply a temporary result of a combination Makarova's physical questions and Vesnina's desire to *definitely* be able to have a partner for Paris remains to be seen), there is a decided "power vacuum" in women's doubles at the moment.

Enter Ash & Demi?

Behind the eyes, you could see it even then. Vinci was *always* Vinci.

1. Rome QF - Maria Sharapova def. Alona Ostapenko
One of those situations where all the hype was worth it. In their first meeting, the two RG champions, one past and one reigning, battled for 3:11 (tied for the longest clay match this season with Mladenovic/Kontaveit in Stuttgart) in a back-and-forth battle that was in question until the final game. Ostapenko nearly blew a 5-2 1st set lead, failing to secure four SP on Sharapova's serve and ultimately seeing the Russian serve for the set at 6-5, then hold a SP at 6-5 in the TB before the Latvian (who'd twice DF'd when up 3-1 and 4-3) took the breaker 8-6. Ostapenko threatened to erase Sharapova's break lead in the 2nd, only to hand it back after getting things back on serve at 4-3. Sharapova maintained a similar break lead at 4-2 in the 3rd, and got within two points of the win at 5-3 while Ostapenko dealt with a leg injury that occurred when she did a rare (for her, at least) end-of-point split. The 20-year old saved two MP down 5-4 and managed to get things to 5-5, only to see Sharapova get the break to close the match two games later.

In the end, Sharapova won 128 points to Ostapenko's 126, while the Latvian led 34-32 in winners (and had 61 UE's to the Russian's 49). Needless to say, anyone who lists Sharapova as a potential RG "dark horse" will be using her performance in this one as their proverbial leg to stand on.

2. Rome 2nd Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova def. Garbine Muguruza
The Aussie saves two MP (Garbi DF'd on the first) and overcomes a 4-0 3rd set deficit to take out the world #3 in 3:08, closing out the match after two o'clock in the morning. "Challenge accepted... signed, the U.S. Open."
3. Rome SF - Simona Halep def. Maria Sharapova
Hopefully Halep got all the "mojo" she'll need for Paris from this one, because she didn't seem to have much more to give in the final. Her come-from-behind win over a surely-tiring Sharapova -- all three of their clay match-ups have gone three sets, with their '14 meetings in Madrid and Paris going to Maria -- featured a Halep break for a 3-1 lead in the 3rd, then a quickly dropped serve that allowed the Russian air to breathe once again. Sharapova held for 4-4 from a love/30 hole, but Halep's break two games later closed out the match and set off a truly epic Si-mo-na celebration.

It's Halep's second straight win over Sharapova, both since her 1st Round U.S. Open loss under the lights on Ashe. She's still just 2-7 in the h2h, though.

4. Rome Final - Elina Svitolina def. Simona Halep
The 19-minute 1st set was ugly, with Halep winning just eight total points and 15% of her 1st serve points, committing 11 UE's and having zero BP opportunities. She rebounded somewhat in the 2nd, but after falling down a break at 2-1 her only highlight was probably a hold in a game in which she staved off a Svitolina BP for a 5-2 lead.

5. Rome QF - Elina Svitolina def. Angelique Kerber
By now, Angie surely sees visions of Elina in her nightmares, right?
6. Rome 1st Rd. - Aleksandra Krunic def. Roberta Vinci 2-6/6-0/6-3
Rome 1st Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Francesca Schiavone 6-1/6-7(5)/6-2
Rome 1st Rd. - Timea Babos def. Sara Errani 6-3/7-6(6)
eight months after being sorry to be the player to end Kimiko Date's career in Tokyo, Krunic finds herself in the same positin with Vinci in Rome.

Call it the oddity of the sport, or maybe it's just Italian synchronicity, but it seems sort of fitting that the two remaining members of the Quartet also bowed out in Rome in the opening round. One last time, they were one for all, and all for one. In that way, they'll always live on as a multi-headed bundle of emotions, camaraderie and success (hint-hint, HoF).

7. Rome 1st Rd. - Maria Sharapova def. Ash Barty
She'd go on to get two more during the week, but this was Sharapova's first three-set win since October. She won 22 consecutive three-setters on clay from 2012-14.
8. Japan Open Final - Yui Kamiji d. Sabine Ellerbrock
Wheelchair #1 Kamiji takes another title without losing a set, running her springtime winning streak to twelve matches and three titles since her AO final loss to Diede de Groot, who briefly overtook her for #1 at the end of March and herself has won eleven straight singles matches. Kamiji is also riding a 13-win, three-title doubles streak having not lost since the U.S. Open semifinal last summer. With Kamiji the reigning '17 RG champ, the #1 ranking will be in play once again in Paris.

9. Rome 3rd Rd. - Alona Ostapenko def. Johanna Konta
Konta posted wins over Rybarikova and Hsieh before taking the 1st set from Ostapenko, making this the first two-win event for the Brit since Miami.
10. $100K Santa Croce G1 Final - Yasmine Mansouri/Diane Parry def. Viktoriya Kanapatskaya/Oksana Selekhmeteva
...6-2/2-6 [10-6].
A week after her $100K singles win in Morocco, Mansouri wins the doubles side of the equation with fellow Pastry Parry in Italy

Hmmm, how about, "If that's all you were going to get, I say you should have REALLY gotten your money's worth... but that's just me."

1. Rome 2nd Rd. - Maria Sakkari def. KAROLINA PLISKOVA
A great win for Sakkari, but one that will be remembered for umpire Marta Mrozinska wrongly failing to overturn a clear line call. Still, though she had a right to be frustrated and angry, Pliskova's act of attacking the umpire's chair with her racket following the match, smashing a hole in its side as Sakkari winced and did her best to avoid any shrapnel was a step too far.

As things turned out, Pliskova was issued a "four-digit" fine, which she doubled and is giving to charity, while the umipre has been barred from working Roland Garros or Wimbledon. How Pliskova, no matter the circumstances, managed to avoid even a brief suspension is a little baffling, as neither tour can condone such blatant disrespect, property destruction and potentially-dangerous actions from a player on a court. There's an indefinable "imaginary" line that is nonetheless very recognizable when it's crossed by a player (see Jared Donaldson, who also got off lucky), and if such behavior is normalized, well, to offer some form of comparison, we've been getting an almost daily, first-hand crash course in the exasperating brushing off of degenerating values here in the U.S. for over two years now, and no one wants to try to guess where things might go in THAT area when we look into the future on that front, either.

I'm just sayin'.

At least no one can continue to wrongly say that Karolina doesn't play with any noticeable emotion anymore, though. So there's that.
2. Rome 2nd Rd. - VENUS WILLIAMS def. Elena Vesnina
While Vesnina served for the match here, Venus notched her first win over her since 2015, after back-to-back losses to the Russian in Miami (2016) and Indian Wells (2017). Vesnina also defeated Williams at Wimbledon in 2012, and Cincinnati in 2013.
3. Rome 3rd Rd. - Anett Kontaveit def. VENUS WILLIAMS
Kontaveit's second win over Venus in TWO weeks. That can't be a club with TOO many members over the course of a two-decade career, can it?
4. Rome 1st Rd. - NAOMI OSAKA def. Victoria Azarenka
Ummm. Yeah. Off to RG.
...3-6/7-5 [13-11].
Kichenok on Kichenok crime, with a Rodionovan accomplice.

I can't prove it, but I'm almost certain that the auditory qualities related to listening to Simona Halep say her own name on a continual loop MUST have the ability to hypnotize an individual.

Question: Does Simona Halep have kids?
Answer (by Simona Halep): "As far as I know, no."

**2018 WTA TITLES**
4 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
3 - Elise Mertens, BEL

**2018 WTA FINALS**
4 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (4-0)
3 - Elise Mertens, BEL (3-0)

Elise Mertens, BEL - Hobart 2017-18
Elina Svitolina, UKR - Dubai 2017-18
Lesia Tsurenko, UKR - Acapulco 2017-18
[lost in final]
Shenzhen - Katerina Siniakova, CZE
Saint Petersburg- Kristina Mladenovic, FRA

2 - Elise Mertens = Hard,Red Clay
2 - Petra Kvitova = Hard,Red Clay
[finals on most surfaces]
2 - Julia Goerges = Hard,Green Clay
2 - Elise Mertens = Hard,Red Clay
2 - Petra Kvitova = Hard,Red Clay
2 - Mihaela Buzarnescu = Hard,Red Clay
2 - Kiki Bertens = Green Clay,Red Clay
2 - ELINA SVITOLINA = Hard,Red Clay
2 - SIMONA HALEP = Hard,Red Clay

**2015-18 WTA FINALS**
16 - 5/3/5/3 - SIMONA HALEP (8-8)
15 - 5/8/1/1 - Angelique Kerber (8-7)
15 - 3/2/8/2 - Caroline Wozniacki (6-9)
14 - 6/4/3/1 - Karolina Pliskova (7-7)
12 - 4/3/1/4 - Petra Kvitova (10-2)
12 - 1/3/5/3 - ELINA SVITOLINA (10-2)
11 - 5/5/1/0 - Serena Williams (8-3)
[2015-18 SF]
27 - SIMONA HALEP - 9/6/7/5
25 - Angelique Kerber - 8/11/3/3
25 - Karolina Pliskova - 8/6/8/3
22 - Caroline Wozniacki - 7/4/8/3
22 - ELINA SVITOLNA - 6/7/6/3

3...DEMI SCHUURS, NED [Brisbane,Hobart,ROME]
2...Gaby Dabrowski, CAN [Sydney,Doha]
2...Elise Mertens, BEL [Hobart,Lugano]

3...Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (1-2)
3...Elena Vesnina, RUS (1-2)
3...Andreja Klepac, SLO (0-3)
3...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (0-3)

Fiona Ferro/FRA (21)
Myrtille Georges/FRA (27)
Amandine Hesse/FRA (25)
Chloe Paquet/FRA (23)
Pauline Parmentier/FRA (32)
Jessika Ponchet/FRA (21)
Taylor Townsend/USA (22)
Isabelle Wallace/USA (21)

2016 Arina Rodionova
2017 Jamiee Fourlis
2018 Isabelle Wallace

Doha - Petra Kvitova, CZE
Indian Wells - Naomi Osaka, JPN
Miami - Sloane Stephens, USA
Madrid - Petra Kvitova, CZE
Rome - Elina Svitolina, UKR
Canada - x
Cincinnati - x
Wuhan - x
Beijing - x
Doha - Dabrowski/Ostapenko, CAN/LAT
Indian Wells - Hsieh/Strycova, TPE/CZE
Miami - Barty/Vandeweghe, AUS/USA
Madrid - Makarova/Vesnina, RUS/RUS
Rome - Barty/Schuurs, AUS/NED
Canada - x
Cincinnati - x
Wuhan - x
Beijing - x

**2018 WEEKS AT #1**
1/1: Simona Halep
1/8: Simona Halep
1/15: Simona Halep
1/22: Simona Halep
1/29: Caroline Wozniacki
2/5: Caroline Wozniacki
2/12: Caroline Wozniacki
2/19: Caroline Wozniacki
2/26: Simona Halep
3/5: Simona Halep
3/12: Simona Halep
3/19: Simona Halep
3/26: Simona Halep
4/2: Simona Halep
4/9: Simona Halep
4/16: Simona Halep
4/23: Simona Halep
4/30: Simona Halep
5/7: Simona Halep
5/14: Simona Halep
5/21: Simona Halep



And Alize Cornet prevails thanks to a reasonable, independent tribunal in the latest attempt by the sport's we'll-bend-over-backwards-to-try-to-punish-a-player-no-matter-to-what-lengths-we-must-go, self-aggrandizing "anti-doping" agencies, who proved once again in this case that they're more about overzealously dispensing punishment to justify their own existance than actually bothering to determine whether or not such justice might need be dispensed in the first place.

1987 Carling Bassett def. Sandra Cecchini 6–3,6–4
1988 Sandra Cecchini def. Judith Wiesner 6–3,6–0
1989 Jana Novotna def. Patricia Tarabini 6–1,6–2
1990 Mercedes Paz def. Ann Grossman 6–2,6–3
1991 Radka Zrubakova def. Rachel McQuillan 7–6(3),7–6(3)
1992 Judith Wiesner def. Naoko Sawamatsu 6–1,6–3
1993 Naoko Sawamatsu def. Judith Wiesner 4–6,6–1,6–3
1994 Mary Joe Fernandez def. Gabriela Sabatini 2–6,6–4,6–0
1995 Lindsay Davenport def. Kimiko Date 3–6,6–1,6–2
1996 Lindsay Davenport def. Barbara Paulus 6–3,7–6(6)
1997 Steffi Graf def. Mirjana Lucic 6–2,7–5
1998 Irina Spirlea def. Julie Halard-Decugis 7–6(5),6–3
1999 Jennifer Capriati def. Elena Likhovtseva 6–1,6–3
2000 Silvija Talaja def. Rita Kuti-Kis 7–5,4–6,6–3
2001 Silvia Farina Elia def. Anke Huber 7–5,0–6,6–4
2002 Silvia Farina Elia def. Jelena Dokic 6–4,3–6,6–3
2003 Silvia Farina Elia def. Karolina Sprem 6–3,4–6,6–4
2004 Claudine Schaul def. Lindsay Davenport 2–6,6–0,6–3
2005 Anabel Medina Garrigues def. Marta Domachowska 6–4,6–3
2006 Nicole Vaidisova def. Peng Shuai 7–6(7),6–3
2007 Anabel Medina Garrigues def. Amelie Mauresmo 6–4,4–6,6–4
2008 Anabel Medina Garrigues def. Katarina Srebotnik 4–6,7–6(4),6–0
2009 Aravane Rezai def. Lucie Hradecka 7–6(2),6–1
2010 Maria Sharapova def. Kristina Barrois 7–5,6–1
2011 Andrea Petkovic def. Marion Bartoli 6–4,1–0 ret.
2012 Francesca Schiavone def. Alize Cornet 6–4,6–4
2013 Alize Cornet def. Lucie Hradecka 7–6(4),6–0
2014 Monica Puig def. Sílvia Soler Espinosa 6–4,6–3
2015 Samantha Stosur def. Kristina Mladenovic 3–6,6–2,6–3
2016 Caroline Garcia def. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6–4,6–1
2017 Samantha Stosur def. Dasha Gavrilova 5–7,6–4,6–3
QF: Peng d. Rogers
QF: Stosur d. Suarez-Navarro
QF: Garcia d. Kr.Pliskova
QF: Gavrilova d. Barty
SF: Stosur d. Peng
SF: Gavrilova d. Garcia
F: Stosur d. Gavrilova
1987 Novotna/Suire d. Horvath/Mesker
1988 Bollegraf/Provis d. Byrne/Thompson
1989 Paz/Wiesner d. Gregory/Rush Magers
1990 Provis/Reinach d. Jordan/Smylie
1991 McNeil/Rehe d. Bollegraf/Paz
1992 Fendick/Strnadova d. McNeil/Paz
1993 Stafford/Temesvari d. Hetherington/Rinaldi
1994 Lori McNeil/Stubbs d. Tarabini/Vis
1995 Davenport/MJ.Fernandez d. Appelmans/Oremans
1996 Basuki/Bradtke d. Werdel Witmeyer/Whitlinger Jones
1997 Sukova/Zvereva d. Likhovtseva/Sugiyama
1998 Fusai/Tauziat d. Basuki/Vis
1999 Likhovtseva/Sugiyama d. Fusai/Tauziat
2000 Jeyaseelan/Labat d. Grant/Vento
2001 Farina Elia/Tulyaganova d. Coetzer/McNeil
2002 Hopkins/Kostanic d. Dhenin/Matevzic
2003 Jeyaseelan/Matevzic d. Granville/Kostanic
2004 McShea/Sequera d. Krizan/Srebotnik
2005 Andres Rodriguez/Ehritt-Vanc d. Domachowska/Weingartner
2006 L.Huber/Navratilova d. Muller/Vanc
2007 Yan Zi/Zheng Jie d. Molik/Sun Tiantian
2008 Perebiynis/Yan Zi d. L.Chan/Chuang
2009 Dechy/Santangelo d. Feuerstein/Foretz
2010 Cornet/King d. Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova
2011 Amanmuradova/Chuang d. Grandin/Uhlirova
2012 Govortsova/Jans-Ignacik d. Grandin/Uhlirova
2013 Date-Krumm/Scheepers d. Black/Erakovic
2014 Barty/Dellacqua d. Bua/Seguel
2015 Chuang/Liang d. N.Kichenok/Zheng Saisai
2016 Medina Garrigues/Parra Santonja d. Irigoyen/Liang
2017 Barty/Dellacqua d. Chan/Chan
SF: Chan/Chan d. Skamlova/Waccano
SF: Barty/Dellacqua d. Aoyama/Yang Zhaoxuan
F: Barty/Dellacqua d. Chan/Chan
WS: #1 Barty/#2 Gavrilova
WD: #1 A.Chan/Yang Zhaoxuan, #2 Aoyama/Voracova

2013 Simona Halep def. Andrea Petkovic 6–3,6–3
2014 Genie Bouchard def. Karolína Pliskova 6–2,4–6,6–3
2015 Karin Knapp def. Roberta Vinci 7–6(5),4–6,6–1
2016 Kiki Bertens def. Mariana Duque Marino 6–2,6–2
2017 Kiki Bertens def. Barbora Krejcikova 6–2,6–1
QF: Bertens d. Riske
QF: Doi d. Svhedova
QF: Krejcikova d. Witthoeft
QF: Cirstea d. Putintseva
SF: Bertens d. Doi
SF: Krejcikova d. Cirstea
F: Bertens d. Krejcikova
2013 Olaru/Solovyeva d. Groeefeld/Peschke
2014 Krajicek/Ka.Pliskova d. Olaru/Peer
2015 A.Chan/Medina Garrigues d. Arruabarrena/Olaru
2016 Bertens/Larsson d. Aoyama/Voracova
2017 Melichar/A.Smith d. Flipkens/Larsson
SF: Melichar/Peschke w/o Chuang/Doi
SF: Flipkens/Larsson d. Klepac/Martinez Sanchez
F: Melichar/A.Smith d. Flipkens/Larsson
WS: #1 Stephens, #2 Goerges
WD: #1 Melichar/Peschke, #2 Flipkens/Larsson


All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

What a pair Simona and Elina are. Though Elina’s pattern has been a strange one, I do expect her to break it. I can understand a Mauresmo or Stosur “I can’t play at my home major” bugaboo, but to freeze at all of them is new. Nevertheless, I believe the pattern will be broken.

I’m not quite as convinced about Simona, but I do hope for the best, and sooner would be better than later.

Sun May 20, 11:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Based on some of her reactions after a few big, emotional wins (over Sharapova this week, for example), I can't imagine what Halep would do if she actually won a slam. I guess she'd either have one of the wildest outbursts ever, or she'd go 180% the other way and be in complete and utter shock that the quest was finally over.

Mon May 21, 12:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Svitolina, or should I call her Fitolina, is the 4 seed.

Sharapova had a good week. The 3rd set will continue to be a problem because of her style. That arm and shoulder fatigue shows up, leading to some erratic shots.

Croatian fans are probably feeling sad. They had 2 seeds last year in Lucic-Baroni and Konjuh, and neither one may participate. First seed out? Petra Martic.

Pliskova confirms the need for Hawkeye on clay.

And i'm pandering here- Reka Luca Jani beat Vickery for her first WTA MD win since Istanbul 2016, and first Top 100 win since Zuzana Ondraskova (91) in 2011. Note: She did beat Flipkens in Fed Cup back in 2015 via ret.

Stat of the Week- 2- Career high ranking for both Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova.

So close and yet so far. This close to the #1 ranking, they inexplicably split up. But looking inside the numbers, there seems to be a pattern. Did the singles results force the doubles split?

To answer this, let's go back to 2015, the season in which they played together from the start of the year through Toronto, in which they lost via ret. Makarova played the USO in singles, then packed it in for the year.

26-10 Doubles- 0 titles
26-16 Makarova
15-20 Vesnina

Note that even though Makarova had the better record, her numbers in singles got worse during the partnership, with the best results of her career being 2014 USO SF(not reflected), and 2015 AO SF(reflected).

Injury break numbers- Vesnina
18-11 Doubles - 1 title
21-12 Singles
2-3 Doubles-Makarova

Note the uptick in Vesnina's singles performance.

Reteam started in Madrid 2016
47-12 Doubles - 4 titles
33-22 Vesnina
24-23 Makarova

This is when Vesnina reached Wimbledon SF. Her singles numbers were good, so they stayed together.

Ironically, I wanted to go back a year before the current split. As fate would have it, the 2016 stretch started with Madrid, which beans the 2017-18 stretch goes from Rome through Madrid.

42-12 Doubles - 4 titles
25-18 Makarova
19-24 Vesnina

Vesnina under .500 again, and they split again. I think it is more than a coincidence.

So what does the future hold? In doubles, it is a crapshoot. Unclear on who their fulltime partners will be, but they do have different paths at the French as Vesnina will be seeded, Makarova won't.

For singles, a healthy Makarova would be expected to improve her results, not to as high as #8, which she was a couple of years ago, but between 15-25. Vesnina might go the other way, out of the Top 100, into full time doubles.

Quiz Time!
Makarova/Vesnina were on track to become the most prolific doubles team in the 10's. Which team has won the most doubles slams this decade? Multiple answers accepted.


Interlude-Still on the no Halep train for the French Open. Note that she has beaten Serena on hard, but not on clay. This, combined with last year's first round loss in New York, leads me to believe that her redemption arc comes there. She's underrated on hard, plus she knows she's best on clay, which means she will put too much pressure on herself.

Doubles is a mess! And this trivia question confirms that, as Makarova/Vesnina won 3 slams(plus Olympic Gold), which ties them for last on this list with Hingis/Mirza, who won their titles consecutively.

Because of timing, it also isn't Team Williams, as they have only won 4 this decade, the first 2 coming as part of a 2009-2010 Wimbledon through French slam.

So that leaves two teams, and both (A)Mattek-Sands/Safarova and (C)Errani/Vinci have won 5.

Including Makarova/Vesnina, none of those 5 teams will be in this year's Open, so like my mouth in front of a chocolate cream pie, it is wide open.

Mon May 21, 07:25:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

QUIZ: Got it (or one, at least). I went with Errani/Vinci. Speaking of them, it's too bad they didn't play doubles together in Rome one last time -- while Vinci wasn't in the draw, Errani was as a WC w/ Chiesa, so there *was* an opportunity. Oh, well. :(

We usually say it about the singles, but this time it's seeped over to the doubles big time: This slam is WIDE open. :)

Mon May 21, 11:01:00 AM EDT  

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