Monday, October 18, 2021

Wk.38- In the Desert, Spanish Eyes Are Smiling

Look out, here comes Paula Badosa.








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*WEEK 38 CHAMPIONS*
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA USA (WTA 1000/Hard Court Outdoor)
S: Paula Badosa/ESP def. Victoria Azarenka/BLR 7-6(5)/2-6/7-6(2)
D: Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens (TPE/BEL) def. Veronika Kudermetova/Elena Rybakina (RUS/KAZ) 7-6(1)/6-3


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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Paula Badosa/ESP
...for Badosa, Sunday may have been the first day of the rest of her life.

The 23-year old Spaniard has spent most of the 2021 season building up to the crescendo of lifting the Indian Wells trophy high above her head, rising since finishing 2020 (a season in which she reached her first slam Round of 16 in Paris) fairly under the intense version of the tour's radar at #70. After suffering through an extended Covid quarantine in Australia, she notched her first Top 20 win (Belinda Bencic, soon after followed by an upset of #1 Ash Barty) in her breakout event in Charleston, reached her first big semifinal in Madrid (the maiden Spanish woman to ever do so), cracked the Top 50 in May, won her first title in Belgrade, then played in her first slam QF in Paris. Along the way, while she wavered in certain moments, Badosa always came back fighting in the aftermath. While her triumphs over the course have always seemed to hit her like a stunning wave (at least in the immediate shadow of big MPs she's converted), her path has seemingly been true for months.

Badosa's list of Indian Wells victims only grew in prestige throughout the one and a half weeks of play in the desert. An opening win (in three sets) over Dayana Yastremska, was backed up by four consecutive straight sets victories over Top 20 opponents. Wins over Coco Gauff and RG champ Barbora Krejcikova were joined by takedowns of the resurgent former #1 Angelique Kerber and new Top 10er Ons Jabeur, a run that made Badosa the first Spanish woman to reach the Indian Wells final since Conchita Martinez in 1996.

In the final against another former #1 and slam winner, two-time I.W. champ Victoria Azarenka, Badosa battled until the final moments, overcoming momentum-turning instances that may have broken her *before* 2021 but by now simply served to give her the opportunity to prove how far she's come in recent months. Playing her best in a pair of tie-breaks, Badosa pulled ahead of Azarenka at precisely the *right* moments to put herself in the spotlight that her junior success ('15 RG girls champ) once predicted for her, but which also served to produce a pressure cooker that caused her to stumble in her early years on tour.

When Badosa finished off a 7-2 3rd set TB to win her second (and by far the biggest) tour title of her career, flying past the Top 20 barrier (from #27) and onto the heels of the Top 10 (at #13 on Monday) while nearly matching her career prize money ($1.96m) in one fell swoop ($1.2m for I.W.). She now finds herself in the final qualifying spot in the "live" WTAF race standings for Guadalajara, and very well may have also sent her career on a familiar upward trajectory in the very near future.



The last two Indian Wells titlists -- Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu -- went on to claim slam titles soon afterward, and the tournament's history as a place where only the very best rise to the top is well known. Of the 31 previous tournaments, 23 were claimed by players who reached #1 and 24 have been won by major title winners. Four others were claimed by players who played in slam finals during their career. Just four previous titlists (two-timer Daniela Hantuchova, Elena Vesnina and Manuela Maleeva -- with the latter coming when the event wasn't yet a high-level tour stop) never reached such singles heights, though all still reached slam semis.

Badosa should be in the mix to join her bretheran as early as 2022.
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RISERS: Ons Jabeur/TUN and Jessie Pegula/USA
...Jabeur's march through tennis history continued (mostly) unabated in the desert.



Coming off an apperance in the Chicago 500 final, and having already reached at least the 3rd Round at all five 1000 level events (as well as at all four majors) she'd played this year, Jabeur posted her best career result yet at any high-end event with her semifinal run at Indian Wells (her fifth on the year). Her work included wins over Antastasija Sevastova, Danielle Collins, Anna Kalinskaya and Anett Kontaveit, enough to crash through another glass ceiling by becoming the first Arab player to ever reach the singles Top 10. Jabeur will be the fourth player this year to make her Top 10 debut. Jabeur leads the tour in '21 in both matches played (66) and match wins (48).



Meanwhile, perhaps Pegula is eyeballing Elina Svitolina as her "replacement" for Karolina Pliskova. The Czech finally broke Pegula's "spell" over her this summer after four straight losses on the year. In Indian Wells, after having lost to her at the Australian Open in February, Svitolina found herself in the Bannerette's path once again. It didn't go well.

Pegula played her first MD match in the desert in 2012, but not again until 2019. As she's climbed the rankings in '21, rising from #62 to now on the cusp of the Top 20, Pegula had already posted good 1000-level results, including a SF (Montreal), two QF (Rome/Dubai) and a Round of 16 (Miami). Over the past two weeks, she notched wins over Sloane Stephens and Jasmine Paolini to set up a 3rd Round match-up with Svitolina. She crushed the Ukrainian 1 & 1 to get her second straight win in their three-match series this season. The win gives Pegula seven Top 10 victories in '21, with Svitolina finally joining Pliskova (4) as a multi-loss offender (Osaka was the seventh victim).

Pegula finally lost in the QF to Victoria Azarenka, but will get a little closer to challenging for the WTAF field (she'll stand at #12 after I.W.) and be on the short list for 2021's Most Improved honors (though with players like Krejcikova, Badosa, Jabeur and Sakkari in the mix, she'll have little chance to win).

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SURPRISE: Shelby Rogers/USA
...Indian Wells saw Rogers reach her first QF since April, following up wins over Anhelina Kalinina, Kristina Kucova and Irina-Camelia Begu with a big three-set triumph over U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez. She ultimately fell in three to Alona Ostapenko, after having led 3-1, 40/love in the 3rd over the Latvian.

Rogers had never been past the 2nd Round in five previous MD appearances in the desert, and had come up short -- 3 1r, 3 2r exits -- in six other 1000-level events in 2021, and her QF is her best career 1000 result in 20 MD (+10 Q exits) since 2013. Her four wins in the event improved her record to 9-3 since the start of the U.S. Open (4r), a stretch which has included additional upsets of Ash Barty (U.S.) and Bianca Andreescu (Chicago). Having reached her career high of #40 this summer, Rogers will hold her position (one spot ahead of Serena Williams, as the U.S. #6) in the new rankings.

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VETERAN: Victoria Azarenka/BLR
...while Azarenka's Hall of Fame credentials will always hinge on her career apex when she reached #1 and won a pair of majors in the early 2010s, the now 32-year old's ability to find her way through a varied tangle of obstacles -- from injuries to pregnancy to a long custody battle that left her on the tour sidelines -- has proven her to be as resilient as she was unapologetically in-your-face early in her career.

Azarenka sparked anew during last year's Restart, winning the Cincy-at-NYC title, reaching her first slam final in seven years at the U.S. Open and returning to the Top 15 for the first time since 2017, but has once again often been slowed by injuries in 2021. With the season not yet over, though, Azarenka managed to find an oasis of great play in the desert. Wins over Petra Kvitova, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Jessie Pegula and Alona Ostapenko got her into her first final of the season, the 41st of her career and the 15th at the 1000 level. She served for the title in the 3rd set against Paula Badosa, coming within two points of becoming the first three-time winner of the women's singles title (2012/'16), but failed to pick up career win #22.

She'd have returned (once again) to the Top 20 with the win, but will settle for rising six spots to #26. Having won multiple matches at ten of her last twelve events, Azarenka has now posted a 28-9 mark on the season, a stat both sneakily impressive and somewhat surprising considering she hasn't *seemed* to have truly made a large dent in the WTA storyline over the course of '21 (she's recorded just one Top 10 victory and was just 6-4 in slam action) until these past two weeks.

As it has been for more than a decade, the WTA tour is a more interesting place when Azarenka is around. Hopefully, those obstacles that seem to follow her around, nipping at her heels at every turn, will at least see fit to stay away for a little while.

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COMEBACKS: Alona Ostapenko/LAT, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA and Tamira Paszek/AUT
...for Alona Ostapenko, triumph and disaster have long been involved in an ongoing conversation that has virtually defined her career. In Indian Wells, the Latvian soared to great heights with her take-no-prisoners game of chance, knocking off Hsieh Su-wei, Yulia Putintseva, Iga Swiatek (her first Top 10 win of '21) and Shelby Rogers (rallying from 1-3, love/40 down in the 3rd) to reach her third semifinal of the season, and her biggest since Wimbledon in 2018.

In the semis against Victoria Azarenka, Ostapenko led by a set and 2-0, then turned a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd into a 5-4 lead and got within two points of the win, only to see the same game that had produced a boatload of winners (45) *and* unforced errors (59) hand back a late break with a loose game and keep open the door of possibility for the Belarusian. She nearly forced a TB but failed to convert multiple BP, seeing Azarenka hold to get the win. As is often the case, results of Ostapenko matches tend to revolve around wherever her firepower-laced shots land. She knows it, too. Just ask her.



For years, one has hoped that a coach would come along (or be courted) who might lead to Ostapenko learning to better take a bit off of her shots, or aim for larger areas of the court rather than line after line after line. Occasionally, when just that happens, she seems rather pleased with her efforts. But, to date, it's never been a mindset that sticks for long. As it is, Ostapenko remains an exciting but thoroughly inconsistent force on tour, with her '17 RG title run the stand-out anomaly in which she was able to maintain her go-for-it-all-all-the-time style long enough to walk off with a huge title. Maybe such a thing will happen again, but one has to think it'd be like lightning striking the same place twice. Not impossible, but a result whose future reality is a highly suspect possibility.

Still, Ostapenko has at least managed to put herself back into the conversation a bit in '21. She ended '20 at #44 (the same as '19, and the exact finish she had in '16 the year *before* her slam-winning campaign), and fell outside the Top 50 in the spring, but has gotten her standing back into the Top 30 in recent weeks. After a 9-8 start in WTA events this year, from Rome forward she's gone 22-10 with a Rome QF, Eastbourne title run and Luxembourg final to go along with her SF in the desert.

As a bonus these past two weeks, Ostapenko joined with Lyudmyla Kichenok to reach the doubles SF, a run that included an upset of top-seeded Krejcikova/Siniakova.



Step by step, Haddad Maia is building back to the place she was a few years ago before being suspended (along w/ several other Brazilian players) following a positive test at Roland Garros after having ingested a contaminated supplement. In her final event in '19, Haddad had qualified and then upset Garbine Muguruza in the 1st Round at Wimbledon. Ultimately, the suspension was reduced to ten months, but due to the Covid shutdown she sat out fourteen, finally returning in September of last year.

Prior to being forced off tour, Haddad had reached a tour-level final (Seoul '17, falling to Ostapenko in 3) and won four slam MD matches between 2017-19. She climbed as high as #58 in '17.

Having to play on the lower level because she lacked the ranking needed to play in WTA events, Haddad reached five challenger finals last fall (going 4-1), and has gone undefeated (5-0) in ITF finals this season. After falling in Wimbledon and U.S. Open qualifying, then reaching a 125 QF, Haddad finally qualified in Chicago and played in her first tour-level MD (a 1r loss) since her return. She fell in Indian Wells qualifying, as well, but reached the MD (w/ a 1r bye) when Nadia Podoroska withdrew. As a lucky loser, the Brazilian posted wins (her first in a 1000 event since '18) over Mayar Sherif and #3 Karolina Pliskova -- for the biggest win of her career, and just her second career Top 10 victory (#4 Stephens, Acapulco '19) -- to top her previous 1000 best of a 3rd Round in Miami three years ago.

Haddad fell in the Round of 16 to Anett Kontaveit, but will jump from #115 back into the Top 100 for the first time in her comeback.



Paszek shined extremely brightly early on in her tennis career, winning a tour title at age 15 in 2006 and reaching four WTA finals (3-1) by the end of the 2012 season. She collected eleven Top 10 wins between 2007-12 (two over #1), reached a pair of back-to-back Wimbledon QF (2011-12) and reached a career high of #26 at age 22. Injuries ultimately led to a sorta-retirement in recent years, but the Austrian persevered and never gave up on her career even while appearing in just nine total events (all ITF, +FC) between 2017-20. This year, though, the (still just) 30-year old has been a consistent presence on the challenger circuit since February, playing her sixteenth event of the season this week in the $15K in Monastir, Tunisia.

It turned out to be a watershed moment in her comeback, as Paszek (ranked #983) swept the singles and doubles (w/ Yasmine Mansouri) titles, wrapping up her weekend with a 6-2/6-3 win over Natsumi Kawaguchi in the final to pick up her first singles crown since 2014. She hadn't won a doubles title since 2013.

With a five-win week in her back pocket, Paszek now stands at 24-15 on the year.
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FRESH FACE: Darja Semenistaja/LAT
...the 19-year old Latvian (#661) has been a force all season on the lower levels of the ITF circuit. Her title run this week in $15K Cancun was her third straight and seventh in '21, breaking her tie with Cristina Dinu for the season circuit lead. Her fifteenth straight match win came over Bannerette Rachel Gailis in a 7-5/7-5 final, wrapping up a no-sets-lost week for the teenager.

All of the Latvian's titles this year (she'd claimed none coming into this season) have come in $15K challengers. Semenistaja also picked up the doubles crown this week.

On another note, in some photos, Semenistaja bears a slight resemblance to a certain retired Pole (right? or maybe it's just me.)...

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DOWN: Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
...it's been a pretty blessed year for the all-Czech duo, and not just in doubles, where the pair have walked off with four titles, including at a major (RG), a 1000-level event (Madrid) and the Olympics, as well as reaching another slam final (AO). Over the past year, Krejcickova has risen from outside the Top 100 into the Top 10 in singles and become a maiden slam champ in Paris, while Siniakova's back-half surge has seen her crack the Top 50 for the first time in two years.

They weren't able to pull of a big doubles run in Indian Wells, though. After losing a 10-8 match TB vs. L.Kichenok/Ostapenko in the QF, Krejcikova/Siniakova have lost three of their last five matches (including a 1r U.S. Open exit) since winning the Gold medal and then reaching the Cincinnati semis. Prior to their recent "stubbed toe" stretch, they'd gone 32-6 this season. With Hsieh/Mertens' title run in the desert, Krejcikova falls out of the #1 doubles ranking to behind both women at #3 on Monday.



Krejcikova and Siniakova were a mixed bad in singles in the event. Siniakova opened with a resume-filling win over Kim Clijsters, then lost a dramatic three-setter to Angelique Kerber. Krejcikova reached the Round of 16, wrapping up (w/ the WTAF still to play on her big event schedule, as she'll skip the BJK Cup finals in Prague, where Siniakova *will* participate) her first full season of singles play at the tour level. Before the '21 campaign, Krejcikova had played just *one* MD singles match in a 1000 event and just seven at slam level. This season she went 13-6 and 15-3, respectively, in such tournaments. Few players will have earned the upcoming offseason rest more thoroughly than her. She'll climb to yet another new career singles high of #4 on Monday.
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ITF PLAYER: Rebecca Peterson/SWE
...the 26-year old Swede has taken a step back in '21. She came into this week's $60K Rancho Sante Fe (California) challenger ranked #76, having not cracked the Top 50 all year after ending '20 at #55, and was barely keeping her nose above .500 (20-19) on the season, staring at the possibility of her worst year-end finish since 2017.

She's finally started to find her groove of late, though. Peterson reached a tour-level SF at Cluj-Napoca a few weeks ago, and this past week she took the $60K title (her 12th on the ITF circuit, where she's 12-3 in finals to go along with her 2-0 mark in tour-level championship matches) without dropping a set while posting wins over the likes of Mayo Hibi, Lizette Cabrera, Madison Brengle and Elvina Kalieva (the 18-year old qualifier playing in her first pro singles final) in a 6-4/6-0 final.

Even with the win, Peterson will nearly drop out of the Top 100 in the new rankings as we're finally nearing the end (or at least one would hope...barring, well, you know what) of the wild ranking swings associated with the shutdown/Covid rankings and the rearranged schedules of the past two seasons.

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JUNIOR STARS: Mirra Andreeva/RUS and Elizaveta Gavrilova/RUS
...another week, and more big results from the teenage end of the Russian Tennis Renaissance, as a pair of junior Hordettes picked up the junior circuit's biggest titles of the week.

In Vigo, Spain it was 14-year old Andreeva (jr. #46) grabbing her biggest career title in a J2 event. Having sported a 6-0 mark in singles in Russia's title run at the ITF World Junior team event in August, Andreeva has been nipping at the heels of several big individual results throughout this season. She reached the semifinals of J1 Kazan in April and JA Milan in July (losing to Alex Eala in the latter), and was runner-up to Brenda Fruhvirtova in the pre-U.S. Open J1 College Park event in Maryland.

This week, as the #2 seed, Andreeva reached both the singles and doubles finals, defeating #3-seeded Russian Anastasiia Gureva 3 & 2 in the singles championship, while falling (w/ Waffle Hanne Vandewinkel) in the doubles decider to Gureva and yet another Hordette, Alevtina Ibragimova.

From the team event...



Meanwhile, in the week's Istanbul J2, 18-year old Gavrilova (#140) swept the competition, winning all ten sets over five matches in singles (def. Russia's Anna Zyryanova 6-1/7-6 in the final) to claim her biggest career crown, while also teaming with fellow Hordette Iuliia Iudenko to win the doubles (winning 8 of 9 sets).

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DOUBLES: Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens, TPE/BEL
...Hsieh & Mertens got off to a slow start in their new partnership this season, losing a series of matches early on after having held big leads or MP. But when they've been on, their skills as two of the best doubles players on tour have made them a lethal combination. Their title run in Indian Wells was just their second, but both (the other was Wimbledon) have been big ones and their friendship -- and Hsieh's, well, let's just say "Hsieh being Hsieh"... which included wearing a dragon mask after a QF win over Fernandez/Gauff because, of course she did -- have quickly made them one of the tour's signature duos in a very short time.

In the desert, the pair prevailed in an early-round match TB over Mattek-Sands/Swiatek and followed up with straight sets wins over Fernandez/Gauff, Aoyama/Shibahara and V.Kudermetova/Rybakina in a 7-6/6-3 final to close out their run and improve to 21-6 together on the year.

The win lifts Hsieh back to the #2 doubles ranking, gives her 30 career WTA titles and improves her mark in 1000 level finals to a remarkable 12-1 (she's also 4-1 in slam finals). Mertens, who also picked up the AO title this year with Aryna Sabalenka, will return to #1 and has now claimed 14 titles with her successful defense of the 2019 I.W. crown (won w/ Sabalenka). The Belgian is 4-0 in '21 finals, having also won a title this year with fellow I.W. finalist Kudermetova.

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WHEELCHAIR: Viktoriia Lvova/RUS
...23-year old Llova, one of those WC players we don't see as often as others since she's ranked #11 and misses out on slam draws (though she was able to make her Paralympic debut in Tokyo this summer with the larger field, see below), has proven to be one of the up-and-coming players in the sport in '21. In the Futures event in Ikar, Russia, she picked up her fifth singles title of the year (one of which was a Series 2, along with a pair of Series 3 events), and first this season on hard court (the other four were on clay), with a 6-1/4-6/6-2 victory in the final over countrywoman Liudmila Bubnova. Lvova had dropped just one game in her previous two matches during the week.

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1. Indian Wells Final - Paula Badosa def. Victoria Azarenka
...7-6(5)/2-6/7-6(2). In a final befitting the last big regular tour event of the season, Badosa and Azarenka engaged in a three-hour push and pull match that put both women to the test as they found inner reserves to fight back after the momentum of the match had turned against them. In the end, Badosa held her nerve and rode a final surge to the biggest moment of her career so far.

The Spaniard had claimed the 1st set despite having taken a break lead (at 4-3 and 6-5) only to see Azarenka break back immediately. Taking a 4-0 lead in the TB with the sun shining into her face, and leading 4-2 when the players switched sides, Badosa stood by as Azarenka knotted the score at 5-5 before an error gave Badosa a chance to serve out the set. She won a 28-shot rally on SP, taking advantage of her first opening to whack a backhand winner and win 7-5.



Azarenka rebounded quickly, going up a double-break at 3-0 in the 2nd. Badosa cut her break lead in half, only to see the Belarusian immediately take it back to lead 4-1. She served out the set to send things to a deciding 3rd.



The 3rd set consisted of a continually moving back-and-forth wave as control traded off (often in the middle of games) between the two women, often with both simultaneously showing fine form. Badosa led 2-0, 40/15 but threw in two DF and was broken. Azarenka, as she had throughout, forced the action, approaching the net with great success. After Badosa held from 40/15 despite then facing (and saving) a BP, Azarenka held at love for 3-3. After Badosa held from love/30 down, Vika did the same from 15/30 to tie things again at 4-4. Up 40/15 in game 9, Badosa DF'ed and saw her forehand briefly go off to drop serve and give Azarenka a chance to serve out the match.

Up 30/love, Azarenka came within two points of becoming the first three-time champ in the desert, but a few ill-timed errors wasted the opportunity. A long backhand gave Badosa the break. In the deciding TB, Badosa again grabbed an early lead, this time a double mini-break edge at 3-0. This time, she didn't waver one bit. She extended her lead to 5-1, then served out a 7-2 win in 3:04 to become the first Spanish woman to win the event title.



While Azarenka led in points (133-124), winners (48-44) and breaks of serve (7-5), Badosa's ability to raise her game in the tie-breaks proved to be the difference. The experience -- and success -- should serve her well in the future, too... perhaps even on the relatively few stages that are even *bigger* than that found at Indian Wells. Her 2022 season may have actually started this Sunday.
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2. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Leylah Fernandez def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
...5-7/6-3/6-4. Picking up where she left off at Flushing Meadows, Fernandez rallies from a set and break down to notch her fifth straigth win (all in three sets) over a Top 20 opponent. The Canadian had been 0-4 in career 1000 level MD matches prior to her Round of 16 run.

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3. I.W. SF - Victoria Azarenka def. Alona Ostapenko
...3-6/6-3/7-5. In only their second meeting ('19 RG), Ostapenko's 45/59 winners/unforced errors numbers told a large portion of the tale of the match, as did a patient Azarenka's perseverence as she waited for (and took advantage of) the chances given to her by her always-aggressive opponent. The Latvian led 6-3/2-0, but was forced to a 3rd. Azarenka led 2-0, but Ostapenko turned around the momentum and led 5-4, only to hand the Belarusian a break advantage in game #11. Serving for the match, Azarenka staved off break points and held to reach the final.

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4. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Sorana Cirstea
...4-6/6-4/7-6(3). Cirstea fires 45 winners on the day, but squanders a 4-2 lead in the 3rd as '19 I.W. semifinalist Svitolina advances. Holding to form (and maybe thinking this was a major?), Svitolina then lost in the next round to Jessie Pegula, winning just two games.

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5. I.W. 4th Rd. - Shelby Rogers def. Leylah Fernandez
...2-6/6-1/7-6(4). Rogers failed to put away a MP at 6-5, and led 4-2 in the TB before Fernandez got things back on serve. But Indian Wells didn't morph into New York, and Rogers prevailed with a late surge.
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6. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Aliaksandra Sasnovich def. Simona Halep
...7-5/6-4. Sasnovich follows up her first week win over Raducanu with an upset of Halep.

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7. I.W. QF - Paula Badosa def. Angelique Kerber 6-4/7-5
I.W. SF - Paula Badosa def. Onsa Jabeur 6-3/6-3
...going all the way back to her big wins in the spring, Badosa has proven to have, pound for pound, quite possibly the best post-victory celebrations on tour. No matter the big moment, and by now there have been quite a few, if appears as if she's been virtually run over by a truck on an emotiona level. Imagine if she'd win a major... and, you know, she just might.

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8. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka def. Petra Kvitova
...7-5/6-4. In their second meeting since 2015 (and third since '11), Azarenka tightens her career head-to-head with Kvitova to 5-4 with just her second win over the Czech since defeating her in Melbourne back in 2009. This match closed out Petra's season, as she'll take the rest of the year (including the BJK Cup finals) off before returning in '22.

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9. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Anett Kontaveit def. Bianca Andreescu
...7-6(5)/6-3. Kontaveit takes out defending '19 champ Andreescu, who falls to 1-3 this season vs. Top 20 opponents. She was 7-3 vs. the Top 10 in 2019.



And, by the way, *stop* with this. This was *not* a case of Kontaveit extending an "eight-match win streak," as she exited Chicago via a walkover, which officially *ended* her previous winning streak.
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10. I.W. 4th Round - Alona Ostapenko def. Iga Swiatek
...6-4/6-3. As weird as it sounds, this event was Swiatek's Indian Wells MD debut. At the time of her exit at the hands of a fellow champ in Paris, the Pole was just ten days past the one-year anniversary of her Roland Garros triumph last fall. Yep, it's *only* been one year.

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11. I.W. QF - Alona Ostapenko def. Shelby Rogers
...6-4/4-6/6-3. The Latvian rallies from 1-3, love/40 down in the 3rd to reach her biggest semifinal in three and a half years.

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12. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Ajla Tomljanovic def. Tamara Zidansek
...6-4/6-3. The Aussie reaches just her second Round of 16 at a 1000 event (w/ 2013 Miami) in her 33rd career MD. It's sort of a trend for Tomljanovic this year, as reached her second slam 4th Round (+1 to the QF) in her 27th career major MD at Wimbledon this summer.
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HM- Moscow Q1 - Diana Shnaider def. Kamilla Rakhimova 6-4/6-2
Moscow Q2 - Oksana Selekmeteva def. Diana Shnaider 6-4/7-6(2) ...the Russian Tennis Renaissance was in plain view in Moscow qualifiying, as one Russian junior wild card took out the #2-seeded Hordette up-and-comer, only to then be felled by another Russian junior wild card a round later.
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1. I.W. 3rd Rd. - Beatriz Haddad Maia def. Karolina Pliskova
...6-3/7-5. In windy conditions, Pliskova dropped serve eight times as Hadded picked up her second career Top 10 win.

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2. I.W. QF - Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens def. Leylah Fernandez/Coco Gauff
...7-5/6-4. There are doubles partners, and then there's Hsieh Su-wei.












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So, AnaIvo very well might be inducted just five years after retirement, in the first available opportunity, yet Esther Vergeer -- the most dominant player in tennis history on any level -- is *still* on the sidelines nearly a decade after she played her final match in 2012?

Ivanovic may very well *be* a Hall of Famer (with her numbers, a few decades ago she maybe wouldn't have been, but in the current era she probably should be), but on the *first* ballot? Really?

The last WC athlete inducted was in 2017 (Monique Kalkman). That same year, the HoF's new policy (starting in '18) made WC athletes eligible *only* on an every-four-years cycle, starting with the 2019 class. So, Vergeer was eligible in '19, but somehow wasn't inducted on her first ballot year (nor were any other WC athletes in the first "WC year" under the new policy). She won't be eligible to be included again until the '23 class. And she'd better be then, because the next WC eligible year won't be until '27. That'd be *fifteen* years after her final match.

But, yeah, put the borderline Ivanovic in after just five years. Please.

In no way is all this not an overwhelming insult to the Dutch legend, not to mention highly discriminatory toward the wheelchair athletes and game.

The latest Hall rules were recently amended (far later than should have been the case, really) to allow for the Original 9 to be inducted as a group in the Contributer class. Something should be done to amend the WC policy, as well. Every four years? Why not two, at least? But, really, why is there a limit at all? It's not like you'd likely see a WC inductee *every* year anyway.


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Last year, during the shutdown, I updated my "To Hall of Fame, or not to Hall of Fame" series. Here are the (even more updated, in some cases) things I said about this year's six nominees for the Fan Vote:

Cara Black (retired 2015) - the most successful member of a tennis family (her father and two brothers were all pros, with siblings Wayne winning two doubles majors and Byron one, and Wayne & Cara combining for a pair of MX crowns). Black was doubles #1 for 163 weeks (3rd all-time), winning 60 titles. A former junior champ (2 girls singles/3 girls doubles slams), she won a tour-level singles title early in her career, and went on to win five slam doubles (4 w/ Liezel Huber, 1 w/ Rennae Stubbs) and five mixed slams (she's one of four women with a Career Mixed Slam in the Open era). With Huber, Black won two WTAF titles, and then added another with Sania Mirza.

Lisa Raymond (retired 2015; played in '21) - a former NCAA champion, Raymond reached #1 in doubles (winning 79 titles, six slams, four WTAF and five mixed majors) and #15 in singles, too, reaching two slam QF before eventually becoming a doubles specialist. Her 137 weeks as WD #1 are fourth all time behind Navratilova, Huber and Black. Having retired in 2015, Raymond has played doubles matches at the challenger level in recent years (as recently as in May) with the player she's been coaching (Allie Kiick), but the activity (ala w/ Lleyton Hewitt's post-retirement participation) didn't serve to "reset" her eligibility period.

Flavia Pennetta (retired 2015) - as the previous decade ended, a fuller appreciation of all that Pennetta accomplished during her *entire* career was gained in this corner. It included far more than *just* her '15 U.S. Open win and Fed Cup heroism. During the recent "Decade's Best" series, I concluded that "the Italian put together what has arguably become the most underappreciated great career in the sport since the turn of the century."

One of the grittiest competitors in the game, Pennetta won a little bit of pretty much everything, and a lot of some things, as she gradually built toward what would be a career crescendo at the 2015 U.S. Open, when she became the oldest first-time slam winner in the Open era (33) and the one who needed the most slam MD appearances (50) to finally get it done. A member of four Italian FC (now BJK Cup) championship squads, in both 2009 and '10 when she finished off her nation's title runs with a clinching singles victory (in all, she was 25-5 in her FC career). She reached #1 in doubles, won a WD slam ('11 AO) and Tour Championships ('10), as well as four high Premier crowns. After overcoming 2012 wrist surgery, she hit her full stride in singles in her early thirties. Pennetta won the singles at Indian Wells in '14, and become one of the best U.S. Open players of the era (and a crowd favorite), participating in a number of hard-fought battles (see vs. Zvonareva '09 and Peng '11) while posting six QF+ runs over a seven-Open stretch, winning it all (vs. countrywoman Vinci in the first all-ITA major final) in '15 and then retired soon afterward.

I combined Ivanovic and Jankovic in my last Hall of Fame prospects series, and I still think it's instruction to do so now even though JJ isn't up for nomination...

Ana Ivanovic (retired 2016) - personally, AnaIvo never felt like a Hall of Famer to me, even with a #1 ranking and slam win. Others would say the same for her singles slam-less countrywoman Jelena Jankovic. If Ivanovic gets in anytime soon, it'll likely be a case of popularity winning out over sensibility; but if JJ does it would be a time to rejoice, for the oddball and glorious will have quite apparently inherited the earth. Still, the #1/slam winner combination for AnaIvo, though Jankovic arguably had the better *overall* career, is a hard and rare combination to overlook forever.

Ivanovic reached more slam finals (3) and won Roland Garros in '08 (def. JJ in the semis), but Jankovic's numbers are better in virtually every other category. JJ reached just one slam final, but posted six SF+ results at majors to Ivanovic's five (it took Ana seven years to reach such a stage again after her win in Paris). They both took Serbia to the '12 Fed Cup final, and their tour singles titles were equal, though Ivanovic's win percentage (15-8 vs. 15-21) was far better, but Jankovic won more high Premier crowns (6 to 3, with Ivanovic winning none after taking RG), had slightly more Top 10 wins (50 to 48), was #1 for more weeks (18 vs. 12), had five Top 10 seasons (four in a row from 2007-10) to three (with a five-year drought between them), and maybe most damningly, completed a season-ending #1 campaign in the very year AnaIvo (who never did it) reached #1 and won her lone major. Jankovic also added a slam MX title (Wimbledon '07), and two WD wins on tour, vs. none for Ivanovic. And, let's be honest, the absence of the unique Jankovic from the tour in recent seasons has been felt quite a bit more than that of Ivanovic, who simply slipped away without anyone *really* recognizing she was gone.

Nonetheless, you get the feeling that Ivanovic has the better odds to reach Newport. One wonders, if *she* gets in, does that mean that JJ will follow?

Juan Carlos Ferrero (retired 2012, 2017) - the 2003 Roland Garros champ, JCF (aka "The Mosquito" due to his speed and thin build) reached two other slams finals ('02 RG/03 US), was ranked #1 in '03, and won three Davis Cups titles with the rest of the Spanish team. In all, Ferrero won sixteen tour singles titles. After retiring in 2012, he made a brief doubles comeback in '17. Ferrero runs a successful tennis academy that bears his name, and is currently coaching "the next big-time Spanish men's star" Carlos Alcaraz.

Carlos Moya (retired 2010) - Fittingly (I think), I listed Moya under the "Hall of the Very Good." I just don't think he's a Hall of Famer. A former #1-ranked player (for two weeks in 1999), the Spaniard won Roland Garros in '98 and reached the '97 Australian Open final. A member of Spain's Davis Cup title team in '04, Moya retired in '10 and succeeded Toni Nadal as Rafael Nadal's coach in recent years, acting as his primary coach since 2016.

Personally, I'd say yes to the versatile Pennetta, but no to Ivanovic (for now). Though I sort of expect the opposite might happen when it comes to who gets in, especially if the Fan Vote plays a part. Black and Raymond are a toss-up, and both are deserving, but I think Raymond's numbers say she *should* enter first. No to Moya. Yes to JCF, I guess... because you *know* at least one is probably going to make it.

The worst case scenario? For me, especially in a year in which contributors and WC athletes are barred, it'd be Moya, Ferrero and Ivanovic being the trio of announced inductees. Pfft.

Meanwhile, Vergeer had *better* be a member of the 2023 class. If not, what credibility does this process even have?









=INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA USA=






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*2021 WTA SINGLES TITLES*
5 - Ash Barty, AUS
3 - Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
2 - PAULA BADOSA, ESP
2 - Danielle Collins, USA
2 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS
2 - Anett Kontaveit, EST
2 - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2 - Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
2 - Iga Swiatek, POL
2 - Clara Tauson, DEN

*2021 OLDEST WTA FINALISTS*
35 - Kaia Kanepi, EST (Gippsland-L)
33 - Angelique Kerber, GER (Bad Homburg-W)
33 - Andrea Petkovic, GER (Cluj Napova-W)
33 - Andrea Petkovic, GER (Hamburg-L)
32 - Zhang Shuai, CHN (Nottingham-L)
32 - VICTORIA AZARENKA, BLR (Indian Wells-L)
31 - Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU (Cleveland-L)
31 - Sorana Cirstea, ROU (Strasbourg-L)
31 - Sorana Cirstea, ROU (Istanbul-W)
31 - Alize Cornet, FRA (Chicago 250-L)
31 - Kristina Kucova, SVK (Gdynia-L)

*WTA DOUBLES TITLES - active*
43 - Sania Mirza, IND
39 - Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
36 - Kveta Peschke, CZE
33 - Latisha Chan, TPE
30 - HSIEH SU-WEI, TPE
28 - Samantha Stosur, AUS
27 - Sara Errani, ITA
27 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA

*2021 WTA DOUBLES FINALS*
6 (1-5) = Luisa Stefani, BRA
5 (5-0) = Shuko Aoyama, JPN
5 (5-0) = Ena Shibahara, JPN
5 (4-1) = Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
5 (4-1) = Katerina Siniakova, CZE
5 (3-2) = Darija Jurak, CRO
5 (2-3) = Demi Schuurs, NED
4 (4-0) = ELISE MERTENS, BEL
4 (2-2) = Andreja KlepacC, SLO
4 (2-2) = Desirae Krawczyk, USA
4 (2-2) = Nicole Melichar Martinez, USA
4 (1-3) = Gaby Dabrowski, CAN

*MOST WTA SF in 2021*
6...Ash Barty, AUS (5-0+W)
6...Aryna Sabalenka, BLR (3-3)
6...Maria Sakkari, GRE (1-5)
5...ONS JABEUR, TUN (3-2)
5...PAULA BADOSA, ESP (2-3)

*2021 BEST WIN % IN WTA FINALS - 2+*
1.000 - Iga Swiatek, POL (2-0)
1.000 - PAULA BADOSA, ESP (2-0)
1.000 - Danielle Collins, USA (2-0)
1.000 - Clara Tauson, DEN (2-0)
0.833 - Ash Barty, AUS (5-1)
0.750 - Barbora Krejcikova, CZE (3-1)

*RECENT WTA TOP 10 SINGLES DEBUTS*
2019 [3] Sabalenka/BLR, Barty/AUS, Andreescu/CAN
2020 [1] Kenin/USA
2021 [4] Swiatek/POL, Krejcikova/CZE, Sakkari/GRE, Jabeur/TUN

*2021 SLAM-WTAF/1000/OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS*
Australian Open - Naomi Osaka, JPN
Dubai - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
Miami - Ash Barty, AUS
Madrid - Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
Rome - Iga Swiatek, POL
Roland Garros - Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
Wimbledon - Ash Barty, AUS
Olympics - Belinda Bencic, SUI
Canada - Camila Giorgi, ITA
Cincinnati - Ash Barty, AUS
US Open - Emma Raducanu, GBR
Indian Wells - Paula Badosa, ESP
[doubles]
Australian Open - Elise Mertens/Aryna Sabalenka, BEL/BLR
Dubai - Alexa Guarachi/Darija Jurak, CHI/CRO
Miami - Shuko Aoyama/Ena Shibahara, JPN/JPN
Madrid - Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
Rome - Sharon Fichman/Giuliana Olmos, CAN/MEX
Roland Garros - Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE/CZE
Wimbledon - Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens, TPE/BEL
Olympics - Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova, CZE
Canada - Gaby Dabrowski/Luisa Stefani, CAN/BRA
Cincinnati - Samantha Stosur/Zhang Shuai, AUS/CHN
US Open - Samantha Stosur/Zhang Shuai, AUS/CHN
Indian Wells - Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens, TPE/BEL

*2021 ITF TITLES*
7 - Darja Semenistaja, LAT
6 - Cristina Dinu, ROU
5 - Nuria Parrizas Diaz, ESP
5 - Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA




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But this'll do...




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All for now.

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