Monday, March 20, 2023

Wk.11- Button-Down Brilliance in Paradise

One of these days, Elena Rybakina will "unbutton the top button" during a post-title celebra-... well, maybe not.

But who cares? Tennis Paradise doesn't have to be loud to be brilliant.


INDIAN WELLS (CAL), USA (WTA 1000 M/Hard Court Outdoor)
S: Elena Rybakina/KAZ def. Aryna Sabalenka/BLR 7-6(11)/6-4
D: Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova (CZE/CZE) def. Beatriz Haddad Maia/Laura Siegemund (BRA/GER) 6-1/6-7(3) [10-7]


[IW 3rd Round+]

...while Iga Swiatek was dispensing bagels and tattling on fellow players to the principal, Petra Kvitova was drawn like a moth to a flame when it came to "crazy," and Aryna Sabalenka very nearly continued to refuse to lose all the way to the first AO/IW sweep in more than a decade, Rybakina was (as usual) the preternatural calm amid the proverbial storm.

Guess who was the last woman standing in the end?

While Rybakina had never won a singles title in the U.S. before Indian Wells, nor even reached a final there, she *had* posted QF results in the last two 1000 events held in the nation, last summer in Cincinnati and a year ago in "Tennis Paradise." Since that final 8 run in the desert, though, Rybakina has lifted her game to a whole other level, not just *looking* like a future slam champion, but also playing and putting up results like one. And, oh yeah, becoming one.

The reigning Wimbledon champ only further gilded her growing reputation in the desert, reeling off consecutive wins over a former slam champ (Sofia Kenin), former I.W. winner (Paula Badosa), Varvara Gracheva and Karolina Muchova to reach the SF. From there she proceeded to defeat both the world #1 (Iga, her second win over the world #1 in '23) and #2 (Sabalenka in an AO final "do-over") without dropping a set, becoming the first woman to pull off the feat in the event's history while also winning her *fourth* straight match vs. players ranked in the Top 2.

Even without her Wimbledon points, Rybakina will climb to another new high of #7 (she'd be #3 with full credit for SW19), but to think of her as the *seventh*-best woman on tour at the moment is, quite frankly, laughable.

Might Rybakina get a shot at a *third* last laugh vs. Swiatek in Miami? Already with another straight sets loss to Rybakina on her ledger from the Australian Open, after her SF loss Swiatek suddenly claimed that a rib injury (oh, and her "own mistakes") was largely the cause for her latest loss to the Kazakh (insert raised eyebrow emoji in your mind's eye here), not Rybakina's overwhelming power and (so far) the Pole's inability to find an answer for it in 2023.

Swiatek will likely play in Miami, injury or not, and play well. But, you know, if she *were* to lose to Rybakina again -- and they could meet in a QF -- at least she'll have an excuse already prepared for the occasion. Good for her.

So, if Rybakina has Iga making excuses, and just wiped away (for now, at least) Aryna as an impenetrable wall blocking her path (she'd been 4-0 in their head-to-head), is the '23 season there for *her* to take? At the very least, it's going to be fun to watch it play out.

RISERS: Aryna Sabalenka/BLR and Maria Sakkari/GRE
...even with all the walls that Sabalenka has busted through and mental hurdles she's conquered regarding her serve, the struggle never truly ends. At least not when Elena Rybakina is blocking the room's only exit.

Sabalenka emerges from Indian Wells in great shape. She's the world #2, has two '23 titles to her name, her maiden slam and a 17-2 record. But even after finding her way through the likes of Evgeniya Rodina, Lesia Tsurenko, Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff and Maria Sakkari, dropping just one set in total, to reach her third final in the last three biggest tournaments on the schedule (WTAF-AO-IW), she's got to be worrying *a little.* Right?

Sabalenka had chances in the final vs. Rybakina, leading the 1st set 4-2 and holding two SP in the ensuing TB, but that she DF'd on both (losing 13-11 on the Kazakh's 6th SP) and couldn't recover in the 2nd set until she was double-break down only proved that her "problem" isn't as permanently licked as she'd hoped. Even with 10 DF in the opening set, Sabalenka nearly stole it. That's encouraging. Against most players she'd likely have won it anyway, then sailed into the 2nd with (at worst) a shaky confidence.

Sabalenka's current goals aren't to beat "most players," though, and such a situation just isn't going to cut it against the likes of Rybakina (who she may very well soon face again under similar circumstances), Swiatek or a few others.

That's where that AO title in her back pocket is worth its weight in gold, reminding her even after a loss like this week's that redemption is just right around the corner. All she has to do is believe, and remember. And that is *always* more than half the battle between the lines on a tennis court.

Meanwhile, Sakkari is still looking for that elusive second WTA title (her one win came back in '19), but the Greek continues to put herself within striking distance of the proverbial hump she continues to try to carry herself over.

Sakkari had to fight her way through the draw in the desert, going three sets (and winning) in four straight matches vs. Shelby Rogers (love 3rd), Anhelina Kalinina (from a set down), Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova (she trailed 6-4/3-1) before finally falling to Aryna Sabalenka in two.

Sakkari's SF run in Indian Wells, a year after reaching the final, gives her three Final Four results in her last four individual events, and five in seven dating back to last season. Of course, with Sakkari's loss here, the Greek has advanced to just one final (Guadalajara 1000) out of those five semifinals, including going 0-3 this season. She's 7-20 in career WTA semis.

Even as Sakkari enters what will be her 88th consecutive week ranked inside the Top 10 (second amongst active streaks behind only Sabalenka's 122), the "hump" still looms large with a big smirk on its face and a "come-and-get-me" attitude.

SURPRISE: Sorana Cirstea/ROU
...Cirstea reached her career high nearly a decade ago (just missing the Top 20 at #21 in '13), and her lone slam QF appearance came in Paris in 2009. But count her as another player looking to continue to improve in the latter stages of her career, as she credits her work with coach Thomas Johansson (who came aboard after she ended her '22 season following the U.S. Open due to a shoulder injury) with making her a smarter player.

With her 33rd birthday just a few weeks off, Cirstea had already seen an uptick in her results since turning 30. 2021 saw her win her first tour singles title since 2008 (the third longest period between titles in tour history, and the longest drought ended since 1998), and post eight slam match wins (her high since '09). Last year the Romanian ended an eight-year absence from the Top 25, but came into the desert ranked at #83 after having failed to replace her points from a pair of tour final appearances the prior season.

After reaching the Indian Wells Round of 16 a year ago, Cirstea did that result one round better this time around, defeating Kimberly Birrell, Madison Keys (ret.), Bernarda Pera and Caroline Garcia (her first Top 5 win in six years) to reach her first 1000 QF since Beijing '17. She fell there to Iga Swiatek, but didn't "purchase" any bagels or breadsticks at the bakery, which is a notable accomplishment for all but a few players when the Pole in on the other side of the net.

Cirstea says that during her brief stint with Johansson she's already completely changed her approach to matches, as she's quickly learned to key on her opponent during the match rather than get wrapped up with her own internal thoughts.

VETERAN: Petra Kvitova/CZE
...Kvitova had one heck of a week and a half in the desert.

The Czech vet eliminated the daughter of a Hall of Famer (Elli Mandlik), survived a classic Tilt-a-Penko ride vs. a certain Latvian (they traded off 6-game, 10-game and 4-game streaks in a 0-6/6-0/6-4 match... because, *of course* they did), and saved 4 MP against Jessie Pegula before winning a 13-11 deciding TB in maybe the wildest finish of the season, reaching the QF to post her best Indian Wells result since her 2016 Elite Eight run.

Kvitova led '22 finalist Maria Sakkari 6-4/3-1 before she finally hit the physical wall and saw the Greek's Spartan heart (and fitness) carry her back into the semifinals.

She'll climb three spots to #12 on Monday, her highest ranking since October '21.
COMEBACKS: Karolina Muchova/CZE and Emma Raducanu/GBR one point following another win during Muchova's run to the Indian Wells QF in her tournament debut (as the world #76, she was in the MD using her protected ranking), Tennis Channel's Lindsay Davenport called the result "a fantastic sign of things to come for Muchova!"

But is it? One would hope so, yes. But we really don't know. We know what the Czech is *capable* of, as we were reminded once again over the past two weeks, but it remains to be seen if she can stay healthy enough for long enough for deep runs in big events to be seen as anything other than a hopeful flash, and not a definitive "sign" of anything in particular beyond what it might mean at that specific moment in time. Such is the existence of a player who alternates between eye-opening results and extended injury absences (the most recent one due to an ab injury)

Muchova's run almost didn't happen, as she had to rally from 4-1 down in the 3rd in her opening I.W. match vs. Yulia Putintseva. After downing the Kazakh, the race was on. The Czech fought off Victoria Azarenka's return game to win in straights, took out Martina Trevisan in 3 and then scored the "save" vs. countrywoman Marketa Vondrousova (also in the MD w/ a PR) after being forced to three sets despite having led 6-4/5-2. With seemingly every muscle between her waist and knees covered with tape or some sort of supportive assistance, Muchova gave Elena Rybakina all she could handle in the QF, too. Muchova saved a SP in the 1st and won a TB, and after falling behind in the 3rd saved 2 MP on serve and then broke Rybakina a game later before seeing *this* Hordette-turned-Kazakh get the victory that her similar 1st Round opponent could not.

Muchova will nearly jump back into the Top 50 this week, rising 21 spots to #55, her highest since last January (she was ranked in the #200's as recently as October). She has few points to defend the rest of 2023 (she was just 8-8 in tour/slam matches from Miami to the end of '22). Now, she just needs to stay on the court long enough to pick up ground in all that "open field."

While her road (on the court, at least) has rarely been anything but rocky since her shocking U.S. Open title run in '21, Raducanu continues to push forward. Indian Wells provided another hint of what could eventually become the Brit's norm if and when her health and match experience ever catch up with her potential on a consistent basis.

As it was, Raducanu's first career 1000 4th Round result (she had three 3rd Rd. runs in '22) included wins over Danka Kovinic and Magda Linette, her first consecutive victories since September. She added an additional win over Beatriz Haddad Maia before a Round of 16 loss to Iga Swiatek (6-3/6-1), besting her previous I.W. result for a third straight year (2r-3r-4r). She'll be in Miami this coming week, vs. Bianca Andreescu in the 1st Round in a battle of former Open champs, one year after losing in the 2nd Round.

Raducanu will be #72 on Monday, just a few spots back of a few other interesting names ranked in the same general vicinity as she at the moment (but due to very different reasons): #69 Naomi Osaka and #70 Anett Kontaveit.

...Gauff continues to thrive, but often with a negative asterisk to go along with a positive one.

Coco's Indian Wells QF run -- which included wins during her 19th birthday week over Cristina Bucsa, Linda Noskova and Rebecca Peterson, against whom she rallied from 4-2 back in the 3rd -- was her fourth QF+ results in her five '23 events and tied her with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the most career wins (33) by a teenager in 1000 events.

But her run was ended by Aryna Sabalenka, a defeat which was not discouraging on its own but *did* extend her current six-match, twelve-set losing streak vs. Top 10 competition. Gauff fell 6-4/6-0, marking the 14th time in her last 16 defeats where she failed to compete well enough in the match's final set to win more than just three games.
DOWN: Ons Jabeur/TUN
...hey, *someone* had to draw the short straw in this category in the second week of the "fifth major." In truth, not much was really expected from Jabeur in her her return from a sore knee Down Under in her first tournament since the Australian Open. And that's exacty how things played out.

Jabeur fell in just her second match, losing to Marketa Vondrousova in the 3rd Round (the Czech also defeated her in the AO 2r).

Of course, Jabeur started '22 slow(-ish)ly, as well, going 6-4 (w/ a one-and-done at I.W.) before going on to play in back-to-back finals in Madrid (W) and Rome (RU) and a pair of slam title matches (WI/US). So far in '23 she's 4-3, with two of those wins coming as part of her Week 1 Adelaide runner-up result.
ITF PLAYERS: Alina Korneeva/RUS and Arantxa Rus/NED Pretoria, South Africa, 15-year old Hordette Korneeva, the reigning AO junior champ, qualified at the $60K challenger and played herself all the way to her maiden pro title in her first career ITF final, defeating veteran Timea Babos 6-3/7-6(3) for the trophy, coming back from double-break down in the 2nd to win in straights.

She'll crack the Top 350 on Monday, climbing *220* spots. She's the youngest player ranked in the Top 700.

And, yes, that's Korneeva's "lucky" green outfit from her girls' final triumph in Melbourne earlier this year. And just two days after St.Patrick's Day, too.

Meanwhile, in Anapoima, Colombia, Rus claimed her 31st career challenger win with a 6-3/6-7(3)/6-2 win in the final over Austrian Sinja Kraus. The 32-year old Dutch vet, who handed Sara Errani a walkover in a challenger final two weekends ago, is now 17-4 in ITF finals the last four years (she was 0-2 in WTA 125 finals in the span, and has never reached a tour-level final).

I read a post that said that the 31st win makes Rus the Open era ITF singles title leader. I couldn't find anything that confirmed that, but it at least *sounds* as if it could be a fact.
JUNIOR STARS: Mara Gae/ROU and Clervie Ngounoue/USA
...while Simona Halep is still sidelined, there *has* recently been some movement and notable results for the first time in a while for the young Romanian juniors.

Though not the top-ranked Romanian girl (that be #49 Cara Maria Mester, who won a J1 title in '22), #75 Gae picked up her first career J300 (formerly J1) crown in Casablanca. The 17-year old, the #5 seed, upset top-seeded Czech Tereza Valentova en route to the final, where she knocked off #3 Anastasiia Gureva by a 6-4/6-3 score.

The two combined to win the doubles title.

In Indian Wells, the USTA's regional J300 event was held on the courts of Tennis Paradise, with Ngounoue emerging as the big winner, sweeping both the singles and doubles (w/ Qavia Lopez) titles.

In the singles, the #3-seeded (girls' #23) 16-year old Bannerette knocked out top seed Iva Jovic in the semis, then defeated #7 seed Theadora Rabman 6-1/6-2 to claim the crown. Junior #50 Rabman had upset #2 Kaitlin Quevedo (SF) and #4 Tatum Evans (QF) to reach the final.
DOUBLES: Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
...there isn't much that the Czechs haven't accomplished as a pair, but winning Indian Wells (or either end of the springtime Sunshine events, for that matter) was one of them. Not anymore.

Krejcikova & Siniakova took home their 15th title as a pair (Siniakova #22, Krejcikova #16), and third 1000th level win, by posting victories over V.Kudermetova/Samsonova, Fernandez/Townsend (via MTB), Mertens/Sanders and Aoyama/Shibahara to reach their 21st career final. There, vs. first-time duo Haddad Maia/Siegemund, the Czechs (mostly due to Siniakova's dramatic hits-and-misses) struggled to keep control of the match before ultimately taking the title in a MTB on MP #4 (after holding 2 MP in the final game before the breaker, then another at 9-6 during it).

The twosome have been a force since their junior days, and are the only women's team to win all four slams, Olympic Gold and the WTAF. What's next, a Sunshine Double? Before this win their best results in the Sunshine events had been one RU each in I.W. (2019) and Miami (2018).
WHEELCHAIR: Diede de Groot/NED
...the beat goes on. Or rolls on.

At the Cajun Classic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, de Groot continued her storm through the women's wheelchair competition, taking the singles title to run her winning streak to 88 matches and 23 consecutive titles. Wins over Katharina Kruger, Kgothatso Montjane, Jiske Griffioen and Momoko Ohtani in the final paved the way, as de Groot improved to 92-1 in 2021-23 action. Ohtani had been trying to win her first career Super Series crown.

World #2 Yui Kamiji wasn't in the draw.

De Groot's dominance didn't extend to the doubles, though, as she and Aniek Van Koot lost in the final to Griffioen/Ohtani in a 12-10 MTB.

Of course, it'd be nice if wheelchair tennis organizers could do the bare minimum on *free* social media when it comes to promoting these events, such as having the results quicky show up on the ITF website, or social media used to highlight the happenings (the Cajun Classic's Twitter hasn't had a post since 2017, and its Facebook and IG pages had photos of all sorts of winners many hours after the event was over... but not the women's champions).

The LTA does a tremendous job of keeping people abreast of wheelchair results, but solely focuses on British players (naturally), and outside of the majors (unless there's a live feed of matches on YouTube) it often takes quite a while for the winners to become known.

On Sunday, some 3-4 hours (I'm surmising) after the event had been completed the only place I could find the result of the women's singles final was from de Groot's own tweet, where she noted that she'd won the singles title (a result that still hadn't been updated on the ITF pages) and lost the doubles.



[IW 3rd Round+]

1. I.W. Final - Elena Rybakina def. Aryna Sabalenka
...7-6(11)/6-4. Less than two months after meeting in a pressure and power-packed AO final, the two did the dance again in a match that ended very differently than the previous four meetings (all won by Sabalenka) between the two.

Putting in 10 DF in the opening set, Sabalenka both squandered and nearly stole the 1st. She led 4-2, but Rybakina got the set back on serve and from 5-4 up forced Sabalenka to hold twice just to force a TB (she staved off a SP at 6-5 when Rybakina fired a backhand long).

The TB saw the momentum go back and forth like a teeter totter. Rybakina held a SP at 6-5, then Sabalenka at 7-6 (she DF'd). A long Sabalenka forehand gave Rybakina a SP at 8-7, then *she* DF'd. A big serve from the Kazakh have her a 4th SP at 9-8, saved by Sabelenka with a big serve of her own and an aggressive net rush. Another Sabalenka DF gave Rybakina a SP at 10-9, but she failed to convert, then the Belarusian's power groundstrokes gave *her* a second SP at 11-10. Sabalenka DF'd yet again (#10).

Finally, on her 6th SP, Rybakina grabbed the set with a Sabalenka forehand error, winning 13-11. Whew! Even if you're *not* Elena's sister.

Rybakina quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead in the 2nd, then a double-break edge at 5-2 before Sabalenka won back-to-back games to finally apply some pressure. Serving for the match for a second time, Rybakina finished off her *second* biggest title run with an ace, becoming the first Kazakh to win in the desert and the first woman to knock off both the top two players in the world in a single I.W. event. She's the 39th to do it in tour ranking history (since 1975), and the third to do it in the last five months.

During the post-match trophy ceremony, the pair teamed up to form a fairly adept comedy team (even if Rybakina was something of an "accidental tourist" in the act).

Clearly, Elena's sister has more than enough expression for both of them, right?

Meanwhile, Swiatek is still comfortably #1, but by a significantly smaller points total and with another big points defense on deck in Miami. Fact is, since the Pole's U.S. Open title run the best two players on tour over the past six months since then have been Sabalenka and (arguably) Rybakina, with Swiatek and Caroline Garcia at #3-#4 (pick your order). Clearly, the #1 and #1a for '23 with this result (weeks before the start of Iga's preferred clay season) are both the AO and I.W. finalists.

Sabalenka, for her part, has appeared in all three of the biggest finals played since Swiatek won in New York. Swiatek has faced her in none of them, but lost to her in the WTAF, and twice to Rybakina in Melbourne and this past week.

Neither has proven to be afraid of the world #1, which hasn't seemed to be the case with so many of her opponents over the past year as they've often come equipped with their own paper bags in hand, ready to collect bagels and breadsticks to snack on on their way home. Rybakina and Sabalenka, who can both out-hit and out-serve her, have gone 3-0 against Swiatek (while the also-fearless Barbora Krejcikova has gone 2-0 in the stretch). Hmm, it's almost like there's a *mental* aspect to winning tennis matches.

If she can't defend Miami and doesn't run roughshod once again over the field on the dirt, might Swiatek be feeling some ranking heat come Paris?

This is where Swiatek has to begin to plot her *next* chess move... namely to not once again give a general "pass" to the grass season. Remember, Nadal won Wimbledon. Swiatek needs to prove that she can (at least) challenge there.

2. I.W. 4th Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Jessie Pegula
...6-2/3-6/7-6(11). The 3rd set proved to be the most dramatic of the two weeks in the desert, as both saved multiple MP in the closing games before the match was decided in a 24-point TB.

Pegula led 5-3, and twice served for the match, holding a MP at 5-4. Both women's games turned quite sloppy down the stretch, which only heightened the tension as both lurched toward the finish line.

Pegula led the deciding TB 4-2, but Kvitova pulled even two points later. The Bannerette had MP #2 at 6-5, saved with a pair of overheads from Kvitova, who'd badly missed several just a few minutes earlier. MP #3 came and went (saved via multiple volleys from the Czech) at 8-7, as did #4 at 11-10.

Meanwhile, Kvitova got within a point of victory at 7-6, 9-8 and 10-9 before finally sealing the win on her 4th MP by completing a serve and volley combo with a shot off the line to improve to 4-1 vs. Pegula (including an AO win this year) with her fourth straight victory over a Top 5 opponent.

The two met afterward at the net in a fine display of respect, something noted (interestingly) by Tennis Channel match commentator Pam Shriver, who referenced the many less-than-admirable net moments that had already occurred during this year's event (including one spearheaded by her own charge, Donna Vekic, early in the tournament).

3. I.W. Final - Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova def. Beatriz Haddad Maia/Laura Siegemund
...6-1/6-7(3) [10-7]. Krejcikova was steady throughout, while partner Siniakova's up-and-down swings were accompanied by the usual demonstrative reactions to misses near or far.

After saving 3 SP in the 2nd, the Czechs held 2 MP at 6-5. Siniakova netted a backhand, then dumped a backhand volley that she'd seemed perfectly positioned to put away for the win. So, to a Match TB they went.

In the clutch, Siniakova came through, with a stab volley that gave the pair a 7-4 lead. At 9-6, Krejickova's backhand return winner down the line on MP #4 finally secured the Czechs' first I.W. title.

Krejcikova/Siniakova are 11-0 on the season, and 38-4 overall in 2022-23.

As usual, Krejcikova shined in the post-match ceremony, only this time not as an armchair tennis historian but as something of a wry comedian, noting how "stressful" (but fun) it was to play alongside the always dramatic Siniakova.


4. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Alona Ostapenko
...0-6/6-0/6-4. What else did you expect?

After Ostapenko won the 1st at love, Kvitova turned around and won 10 straight games, taking the 2nd at love and leading 4-0 in the 3rd. Ostapenko then took an MTO and returned to run off four straight games before Kvitova broke serve and held to finally close out the latest Tilt-a-Penko doozy.

5. I.W. QF - Maria Sakkari def. Petra Kvitova
...4-6/7-5/6-1. After having survived her matches with Ostapenko and Pegula, Kvitova really needed a nice two-setter. She *almost* got one, leading Sakkari 6-4/3-1. But once the Greek rallied to force a 3rd, you sort of knew how this was going to play out.

6. I.W. 4th Rd. - Coco Gauff def. Rebecca Peterson
...6-3/1-6/6-4. After dropping the 1st, Peterson won 9 of 11 games to lead 3-1 in the 3rd. She led 4-2, but Gauff closed strong by sweeping the final four games.

And cue the "Happy Birthyday" serenade.

7. I.W. 4th Rd. - Karolina Muchova def. Marketa Vondrousova
...6-4/6-7(2)/6-4. Vondrousova forced a deciding set after trailing 6-4/5-2, with Muchova serving for the match and holding 2 MP (at 5-3 on serve, and 6-5 on return).

Muchova lost break leads twice in the final set, but her third break advantage allowed her to serve out the win, which she closed on her third MP.

8. I.W. 4th Rd. - Sorana Cirstea def. Carolina Garcia
...6-4/4-6/7-5. Garcia forced a 3rd after rallying from 6-4/4-2 back, then led 5-4 on serve in the decider after having been down a double-break at 3-0.

But the veteran Romanian swept the final three games to reach her first 1000 QF since 2017, and record her first Top 5 win in six years.

9. I.W. SF - Elena Rybakina def. Iga Swiatek
...6-2/6-2. Rybakina out-hit, out-served and overpowered the world #1. Again. Oh, but she suddenly had a "rib injury" after the loss, so I guess this doesn't count.

After the loss, Swiatek revealed the (cough, cough) ailment, saying of the loss, "Honestly I feel like it’s still more me and kind of my mistakes. I’m also like not feeling 100 percent physically. I have a little like discomfort in my rib, and we’re going to consult with medical team. For sure I’m gonna use these days off before Miami... Actually, I have one more day."

Awful lot of sudden excuses there for a clear #1-ranked player.

So, she wins in San Diego despite changing conditions, jet lag and a cold. Then the U.S. Open despite not liking the balls or seemingly anything else. Then Doha despite braving (again) through a cold. Etc. So her wins count "double" sometimes, but opponents only get "half" credit when they beat her?

Don't mind me, I'm just trying to figure out how to fill out the charts and graphs.

10. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Varvara Gracheva def. Dasha Kasatkina
...6-4/6-4. Gracheva gets her second career Top 10 win. The other came over Kasatkina at the AO in January.

Kasatkina was *still* going to rise to a new career high of #7, but then Rybakina won the title and took that spot herself. Oh, well.

11. I.W. QF - Elena Rybakina def. Karolina Muchova
...7-6(4)/2-6/6-4. Overall, Rybakina's toughest match.

Muchova held a SP in the 1st, and after Rybakina led 5-3 in the 3rd, the Czech saved 2 MP on her own serve. With Rybakina serving at 5-4, Muchova took a love/30 lead before Rybakina ran off four straight points, ending with an emphatic ace.
12. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Marketa Vondrousova def. Ons Jabeur
...7-6(5)/6-4. Something in the air in Indian Wells seemed to have drifted there from Melbourne, as any number of big wins (Gracheva def. Kasatkina, Rybakina def. Swiatek, Kvitova def. Pegula) from the AO were repeated in the desert. This was another one.



I.W. 3rd Rd. - Jessie Pegula def. Anastasia Potapova
...3-6/6-4/7-5. Potapova led 3-1 in the 3rd, but the real "story" here was what happened before the match (on the court) and then what happened after it as the world #1 turned Thought Police, reporting suspicious activity from the Russian to representatives of Big Brother despite not truly knowing the intent of Potapova's potentially subversive act of wearing a Moscow Spartak Club soccer jersey onto the court before the match.

Yeah, not a Russian flag, but a soccer jersey of a team from Moscow that she's openly supported for years.

Here's Potapova in 2017, and last year afer the start of the war...

Personally, this whole "incident" seems overblown. I feel like Swiatek thought she was "doing good" and attempting to stand up for UKR players when she called out Potapova's actions, but it's also hard to not see her as acting as some sort of self-appointed arbiter of right and wrong, not to mention one who essentially makes a political statement of her own just by wearing the UKR flag on her cap.

In this case, it doesn't seem like a black-or-white situation, either. I *guess* Potapova might have figured that the jersey would cause a stir, but did she *really*, though? If it was simply a show of support for a sports team she roots for, one located in Moscow and not a national representative of Russia, why is simply the act of wearing it some sort of affront?

There's way too much talking *at* and *about* each other about this topic in the WTA, and not enough (if any) talking *to* one another about the issue, other than with those already in "their corner" (i.e. calling them out in a press conference, or "snitching" on them, or making a sweeping and judgmental declaration about wide swaths of people on social media, or acting as if the opponent you've just played for 2 hours isn't worthy of a simple handshake). Of course, that just makes the tour no different from everyone pretty much everywhere on almost every topic at the moment, right?

It seems from this space that a true leader might have personally gone to the "the player" and asked about her intent in wearing the jersey, and whether or not she realized that some might interpret the act in a negative way and not be happy with even a slight acknowledgement of *anything* Russian. I mean, other than the actual player, from Russia, that Swiatek would have to talk to to do this, I guess.

Instead, Swiatek seems to have "reported" her to the authorities, then called Potapova out publicly, with seemingly little regard to the repercussions and without any real first-hand knowledge about the situation, intent or the facts at hand. I guess that's *one* way to go about things.

Of course, I also feel like I need to say what I *don't* know, namely whether Potapova *didn't* actually mean wearing the jersey as a provocative act, and whether or not the Spartak team has any political ties to Putin and/or the Russian government that would even qualify the shirt as a *possible* statement of political support. Reports are varying on that front, but the truth (whatever it may be) doesn't *seem* to be fully against Potapova.

Thing is, even if it *was* a political statement -- and a largely benign one -- the tour cracking down makes it very easy for a Russian or any other player to publicly question their "second class status," or even ask why Naomi Osaka's masks emblazoned with names at the U.S. Open and the non-UKR players wearing UKR flags on their clothes during matches -- both clear political statements -- were allowed, but others are not (even to the point of wearing a sports jersey for a team within the player's country of origin). It seems to me that forbidding something that is not a *blatant* political statement, which at this point doesn't seem to have been Potapova's intent, is moving into some potentially messy territory when it comes to individual rights on a tour that was essentially created 50 years ago as a bridge to and for the protection of equality and the rights of individuals.

And with players claiming "panic attacks" and pulling out of matches after discussions with the tour CEO (see below) during which he didn't seem to fully grasp how to accomodate the needs of many of the Ukrainian players, we're surely in for another year of variations of either tap-dancing around or stomping all over this topic, with neither approach really doing anything other than poking the bear (no pun intended) and making matters worse.

Meanwhile, the Miami draw is out... and Potapova could face Marta Kostyuk in the 2nd Round. Oh, that's just stupendous.


[IW 3rd Round+]

1. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Veronika Kudermetova
...6-1/7-5. Starting with her love & 1 loss to Iga Swiatek in the Doha semis, Kudermetova has gone 1-3 in her last four matches.
2. $40K Ricany CZE Final - Tayisa Morderger/Yana Morderger def. Nigina Abduraimova/Alena Fomina-Klotz 6-1/4-6 [10-6]
$25K Palma Nova ESP Final - Francisca Jorge/Matilde Jorge def. Ekaterina Gorgodze/Iryna Shymanovic 6-1/3-6 [10-8]
$15K Jarkarta INA Final - Cho I-hsuan/Cho Yi-tsen def. Eliessa Vanlangendonck/Amelia Waligora 5-7/6-2 [10-4]
...Germany's Morderger twins win their 11th challenger together in their 25th final. Portugal's Jorges pick up their 10th (second in '23). And the Chos now have seven.


An interesting suggestion (and one that could be reversed, with players "returning" to their former flag, at some point down the line if things "improve"... if they so choose to return to that representation):


I complain a lot about the sort of artwork often associated with the tour/tennis, from posters to murals. But *this* is really nice work. Kudos to artist Camila Pinheiro.

And, of course, this offers up another good excuse to mention...






*DEFEATED #1 and #2-RANKED PLAYERS IN EVENT - since 2005*
2005 AO: #7 Serena Williams = #2 Mauresmo,#1 Davenport
2005 WI: #14 Venus Williams = #2 Sharapova, #1 Davenport
2005 WTA: #5 Mary Pierce (L) = #2 Clijsters, #1 Davenport
2006 US: #4 Maria Sharapova = #1 Mauresmo, #2 Henin-H.
2006 WTA: #3 Justine Henin-H. = #2 Sharapova, #1 Mauresmo
2007 MIA: #18 Serena Williams = #2 Sharapova, #1 Henin
2008 WTA: #8 Venus Williams = #2 Safina, #1 Jankovic
2009 RG: #7 Svetlana Kuznetsova = #2 S.Williams, #2 Safina
2010 SYD: #5 Elena Dementieva = #2 Safina, #1 S.Williams
2010 WTA: #4 Kim Clijsters = #2 Zvonareva, #1 Wozniacki
2012 MAD: #9 Serena Williams = #2 Sharapova, #1 Azarenka
2012 WTA: #3 Serena Williams = #1 Azarenka, #2 Sharapova
2017 CIN: #6 Garbine Muguruza = #1 Pliskova, #2 Halep
2018 CIN: #17 Kiki Bertens = #2 Wozniacki, #1 Halep
2022 WTA: #7 Aryna Sabalenka (L) = #2 Jabeur, #1 Swiatek
2023 DUB: #30 Barbora Krejcikova = #2 Sabalenka, #1 Swiatek
2023 IW: #10 Elena Rybakina = #1 Swiatek, #2 Sabalenka
NOTE: 39 times since 1975; only Seles (2001 San Diego), Pierce (2005 WTAC) and Sabalenka (2022 WTAF) didn't win title

2...Azarenka/Osaka (2020) = Osaka 1-0 (+L)
2...Barty/Sabalenka (2021) = tied 1-1
2...Bencic/Samsonova (2021/23) = tied 1-1
2...Jabeur/Swiatek (2022) = Swiatek 2-0
2...Kontaveit/Sakkari (2021/22) = Kontaveit 2-0
2...Krejcikova/Swiatek (2022/23) = Krejcikova 2-0
2...Kvitova/Muguruza (2020/21) = Kvitova 2-0
2...RYBAKINA/SABALENKA (2023) = tied 1-1

*MOST WTA FINALS in 2020's*
14 - 1/2/9/2 = Swiatek (12-2)
12 - 3/3/3/3 = SABALENKA (7-5)
12 - 1/7/4/0 = Kontaveit (5-6-1)
10 - 5/0/3/2 = RYBAKINA (3-7)
9 - 1/6/2/ret...Barty (8-1)
9 - 0/3/6/0 = Jabeur (3-6)
8 - 0/4/3/1 = Krejcikova (6-2)

Wimbledon 3r - #37 Alize Cornet/FRA
Warsaw QF - #45 Caroline Garcia/FRA (W)
Toronto 3r - #24 Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA
Cincinnati 3r - #24 Madison Keys/USA
Ostrava!!! F - #23 Barbora Krejcikova/CZE (W)
WTA Finals SF - #7 Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
United Cup SF - #3 Jessie Pegula/USA (W-USA)
Australian Open 4r - #25 Elena Rybakina/KAZ
Dubai F - #30 Barbora Krejcikova/CZE (W)
Indian Wells SF - #10 Elena Rybakina/KAZ (W)
(W) - won title

6...Aoyama/Shibahara (1/5/0/0)
4...Gauff/Pegula (0/0/3/1)
4...Hsieh/Strycova (4/0 ret.)
7 - Elise Mertens (1/4/2/0)
6 - Shuko Aoyama (1/5/0/0)
6 - Hsieh Su-wei (4/2/0/0)
6 - Nicole Melichar-M. (2/2/2/0)
6 - Kristina Mladenovic (2/0/4/0)
6 - Jessie Pegula (0/0/5/1)
6 - Ena Shibahara (1/5/0/0)
6 - Luisa Stefani (1/1/2/2)
[career WD - active]
33 - Latisha Chan
30 - Hsieh Su-Wei
28 - Kristina Mladenovic
27 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands
27 - Sara Errani
24 - Timea Babos
22 - Venus Williams
NOTE: Strycova (31)

1991 Monica Seles (W-L-W)
1994 Steffi Graf (W-W-W)
2000 Lindsay Davenport (W-W-L)
2000 Martina Hingis (L-L-W)
2012 Maria Sharapova (L-L-L)
NOTE: Rybakina & Sabalenka have reached AO/IW finals
[reached IW/MIA finals in season]
1991 Monica Seles (L-W)
1994 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1996 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1999 Serena Williams (W-L)
2000 Lindsay Davenport (W-L)
2000 Martina Hingis (L-W)
2005 Kim Clijsters (W-W)
2006 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
2012 Maria Sharapova (L-L)
2013 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
2016 Victoria Azarenka (W-W)
2022 Iga Swiatek (W-W)

Victoria Azarenka (AO)
Kim Clijsters (AO/US)
Steffi Graf (AO/US)
Martina Hingis (AO/US)
Martina Navratiova (AO/US)
Monica Seles (AO/US)
Iga Swiatek (US)
Serena Williams (AO/US)

*MIAMI FACTS 1985-present*
[Most Singles Titles]
8 - Serena Williams, USA
5 - Steffi Graf, GER
3 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2 - Ash Barty, AUS
2 - Kim Clijsters, BEL
2 - Martina Hingis, SUI
2 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP
2 - Monica Seles, YUG
2 - Venus Williams, USA
[Consecutive Titles]
3 - Steffi Graf (1994-96)
3 - Serena Williams (2002-04)
3 - Serena Williams (2013-15)
2 - Steffi Graf (1987-88)
2 - Monica Seles (1990-91)
2 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1992-93)
2 - Venus Williams (1998-99)
2 - Serena Williams (2007-08)
2 - Ash Barty (2019/21)
[Most Finals]
10 - Serena Williams (8-2)
7 - Steffi Graf (5-2)
5 - Chris Evert (1-4)
5 - Maria Sharapova (0-5)
4 - Venus Williams (3-1)
3 - Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
3 - Monica Seles (2-1)
3 - Gabriela Sabatini (1-2)
3 - Jennifer Capriati (0-3)
2 - Ash Barty (2-0)
2 - Kim Clijsters (2-0)
2 - Martina Hingis (2-0)
2 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2-0)
2 - Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
[Consecutive Finals]
5 - Chris Evert (1985-89)
4 - Steffi Graf (1993-96)
3 - Steffi Graf (1986-88)
3 - Jennifer Capriati (2001-03)
3 - Serena Williams (2002-04)
3 - Serena Williams (2007-09)
3 - Maria Sharapova (2011-13)
3 - Serena Williams (2013-15)
2 - Monica Seles (1990-91)
2 - Gabriela Sabatini (1991-92)
2 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1992-93)
2 - Venus Williams (1998-99)
2 - Maria Sharapova (2005-06)
2 - Ash Barty (2019/21)
[Consecutive Match Wins]
21 - Steffi Graf (1994-96,99)
21 - Serena Willians (2002-05)
20 - Serena Williams (2013-16)
[1 Unseeded Champion]
2005 Kim Clijsters
[Youngest Singles Champion]
16y,111d - Monica Seles (1990)
[Oldest Singles Champion]
33y,190d - Serena Williams (2015)
[6 Finalists Have Not a Reached Slam Final]
1990 Judith Weisner
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2015 Carla Suarez Navarro
2017 Johanna Konta (W)
[9 Finalists Have Never Won a Slam]
1990 Judith Weisner
1994 Natasha Zvereva
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2008 Jelena Jankovic
2012 Aga Radwanska (W)
2015 Carla Suarez Navarro
2017 Johanna Konta (W)
[Most Titles]
7 - Jana Novotna, CZE
5 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP
4 - Martina Hingis, SUI
3 - Nadia Petrova, RUS
3 - Lisa Raymond, USA
3 - Helena Sukova, CZE
2 - Gigi Fernandez, USA
2 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2 - Martina Navratilova, USA
2 - Larisa Savchenko Neiland, LAT
2 - Pam Shriver, USA
2 - Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
2 - Samantha Stosur, AUS
2 - Ai Sugiyama, JPN
2 - Natasha Zvereva, BLR
[Most Titles - duos]
2 - Hingis/Novotna, SUI/CZE
2 - Novotna/Sanchez Vicario, CZE/ESP
2 - Novotna/Sukova, CZE/CZE
2 - Raymond/Stosur, USA/AUS
[Consecutive Titles]
1986-87 Pam Shriver, USA
1989-90 Novotna/Sukova, CZE/CZE
1992-93 Larisa Savchenko Neiland, LAT
1995-96 Novotna/Sanchez Vicario, CZE/ESP
1996-97 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP
1998-99 Hingis/Novotna, SUI/CZE
2006-07 Raymond/Stosur, USA/AUS
2012-13 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2014-15 Martina Hingis, SUI






Yep, he's going to use this to his advantage, all right. Use the hell out of it. 100%.


Talk about a "how it started/how it's going" moment. Last weekend was one for the entertainment history books. I didn't even realize at the time that Ke Huy Quan, the Supporting Actor Oscar winner for "Everything Everywhere All at Once," was Short Round from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" when he was a little kid. Over the years, I'd occasionally wondered whatever happened to that kid.

In the end, another "Temple of Doom" co-star Kate Capshaw (now the wife of the movie's director Steven Spielberg, sitting next to him in the audience) was on hand for the moment, and Harrison Ford was the presenter for Best Picture when "Everything..." won that, too.

And then, of course, there was also this...
















All for now.