Sunday, May 16, 2021

Wk.16- Iga with an (Italian) I

We already knew that Iga Swiatek could run roughshod over the field on her way to a title. After Rome, we now know that the teenager can teeter on the edge of defeat, right herself, and then run roughshod over what remains of the field.

So, what's the *next* magic trick she's going to successfully perform in full view of a discerning audience? Stay tuned.





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*WEEK 16 CHAMPIONS*
ROME, ITALY (WTA 1000/Red Clay Outdoor)
S: Iga Swiatek/POL def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-0/6-0
D: Sharon Fichman/Giuliana Olmos (CAN/MEX) def. Kristina Mladenovic/Marketa Vondrousova (FRA/CZE) 4-6/7-5 [10-5]


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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Iga Swiatek/POL
...last fall in Paris, Swiatek showed that she could lord her game over a string of opponents en route to a major title. Earlier this year in Adelaide, she switched surfaces and did something similar on a smaller scale. In Rome, an event positioned somewhere between the other two in terms of importance, she showed that she can scrape and scramble, too.

Swiatek got off to a horrible start in her opening Italian Open match against Alison Riske, falling behind by a double-break. The Polish teenager (for a couple more weeks) rallied to take a 5-4 lead before the Bannerette was forced to retire. After a straights sets win over Madison Keys (who nonetheless had 3 SP in the 1st), Swiatek barely escaped Barbora Krejcikova. The Czech held two MP at 6-5 in the 2nd before Swiatek forced a TB, won it and went on to take a 7-5 3rd set.

That near-defeat didn't shake Swiatek. Instead, it seemed to embolden her. On Saturday, she was forced to double up due to Friday's rain postponements, dominating two-time Rome champ Elina Svitolina in the QF, then defeating Coco Gauff (in their first meeting) in straight sets in the semis. In her fourth career WTA final, against Karolina Pliskova, Swiatek recorded the tenth double-bagel in a championship singles match in tour history, holding the Czech (who just wasn't "right," though it might not have made a difference if she had been) to under double-digit total points until the twelfth and final game of the match. The 6-0/6-0 win means that in her last three tour finals, Swiatek has allowed an average of 1.5 games per set against her opponents.

The 19-year old, just the fourth teen to win a WTA 1000 level event (Azarenka, Bencic & Andreescu), will make her Top 10 debut on Monday.

OF NOTE: The last player not named Serena to successfully defend a slam title was Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open in 2013, where the Belarusian also became the most recent first-time slam champ (2012 AO) to return a year later and win that same event for a second straight year. I bring that up now, of course, because we might end up talking about those title runs a few weeks from now. I mean, I'm just sayin'.
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RISER: Jessica Pegula/USA
...Pegula's rise continues, but once again one of her '21 runs ended with a minor "pfft" rather than something more triumphant.

In Rome, the 27-year old Bannerette knocked off two '21 title winners (Kasatkina and Osaka) and another Top 40 player (Alexandrova). Her win over #2 Naomi Osaka was the biggest of her career, her fifth over a Top 10 player this season (where she's also recorded wins over three other former slam champs in Azarenka, Ostapenko and Stosur), and her run to the Italian Open QF was her first on clay, as well as her third at a WTA 1000 event (w/ Cincy/NYC and Dubai) in her last five appearances. She improved her season record to 21-8 and will make her Top 30 breakthrough (meaning she'll likely be a slam seed for the first time at RG) on Monday.

Pegula won a title in Washington in the summer of '19, but since she reached her third career final in January of last year (in Auckland), even with her significant rise up the tour ladder, she's reached just one additional semifinal. That came in Doha earlier this year. She's advanced multiple rounds in her last seven events (all but one, in Madrid due to a walkover from Azarenka, came with at least two victories), but hasn't been able to top out with anything better than a QF. Pegula has gone 1-6 in QF matches (in tour-level and 125 events) over the past year and a half.

While Pegula is surely in the running for Most Improved Player for the season, improving her rankings 50+ spots (from #82) since she reached that Auckland final and 30+ since she ended '20 at #62, she's so far left that image-making *huge* result on the table. But maybe that's what the summer hard court season will be for?

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SURPRISE: Petra Martic/CRO (w/ Francesca Schiavone)
...a week ago, 2021 was starting to look like a low-key "lost" season for Martic. She was 4-8 in 2021 (6-12 back to her U.S. Open Round of 16 loss last year) and was on a 1-6 slide, with five straight defeats. Then came Rome and Francesca Schiavone.

Whether or not the combination of the biggest tour event in Italy and the nation's first women's slam champ (working as Martic's coach for a trial period) will carry over into Martic's season from here forward, the Croat and her connection to the gritty, marathon match-loving, terre battue-kissing, Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen lifting, cancer-surviving, beloved member of the fabled Italian Quartet has suddenly rocketed up the list of the success stories you'd be hard-pressed to find someone *not* rooting for the remainder of this year.



In Rome, Martic ran off wins over Shelby Rogers, Kristina Mladenovic and Nadia Podoroska -- two former RG quarterfinalists and last year's semifinalist -- to reach her first career WTA 1000 semifinal. She'd had three 1000 QF and a final eight result at RG in '19. Martic took Karolina Pliskova to three sets before finally falling. She'll inch up two spots to #23 on Monday.

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VETERANS: Karolina Pliskova/CZE and Vera Zvonareva/RUS
...apparently, Pliskova will always be up for a Roman holiday.

Having already reached the Italian Open final the last two years (winning in '19), the Czech needed to recapture some of her previous glow in Rome to offset an initially disappointing, and recently (though better) uneven string of results. Enter Rome. Pliskova hit her way past Anastasija Sevastova, Vera Zvonareva, Alona Ostapenko (saving 3 MP) and Petra Martic (three sets) to reach her 30th career WTA singles final (w/ six at the 1000 level, along with that U.S. Open final in '16).

Hardly anything worked for Pliskova in the final against Iga Swiatek, so it'd be best left forgotten as far as she's concerned. It's better to note that she's now 15-4 in Rome since 2017 and maybe, just maybe, her Hail Mary hiring of Sascha Bajin is going to pay long-term dividends over the course of '21, after all. At the very least, this run (as well as that 21-ace match the other week) is likely enough to push the partnership deep into the summer hard court season, meaning it could even "pinish" out the year.

About a month or two ago *that* looked like a longshot.



Seventeen years after she made her Rome debut, reaching the first of back-to-back Italian Open semifinals, 36-year old Original Hordette Zvonareva was back this week. After making her way through qualifying with wins over Misaki Doi and Kristina Mladenovic, the Russian recorded her first MD wins in the touranment since 2008. After defeating Christina McHale, Zvonareva notched her second Top 10 win since returning from having a baby, upsetting #10 Petra Kvitova in three sets before falling to Pliskova (her *other* recent Top 10 win, in 2018) in the 3rd Round.

Zvonareva's week will lift her back into the Top 100, just the second time she's entered that ranking bracket (w/ January through September '19, when she topped out at #76) since early 2013, when she went out with a shoulder injury and missed a year and a half of action. She ranked as high as #2 in the early 2010's, reaching back-to-back slam finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2010.

In doubles, Zvonareva teamed with Elena Vesnina to reach the QF, posting a win over Melichar/Schuurs after having faced MP.

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COMEBACK: Alona Ostapenko/LAT
...Ostapenko always makes you shake your head. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not. In Rome, it was the former... mostly.

After posting straight sets wins over Johanna Konta and Ajla Tomljanovic, the Latvian rallied from 3-1 down in the 3rd to top Angelique Kerber, saving seven of eight BP in the final set and notching the victory with a very Ostapenkovian stat of 51 winners and 65 unforced errors in the match. The world #49's wins over Konta (#18) and Kerber (#26) gave her multiple Top 30 wins in the same event for the first time since she won the Luxembourg title in October '19, as she reached her first QF of 2021.

Ostapenko faced Karolina Pliskova next, seeking her biggest SF since Miami '18 and her first tournament with *three* Top 30 wins since, well, you had to know it... her career zenith moment at the 2017 Roland Garros. She held three MP against the Czech, who had more than a dozen DF in the match. But a few of Ostapenko's poorly-timed bad errors, and a *really* poorly-timed net cord (from the Latvian's POV) that forced a deciding 3rd set TB (Ostapenko would register just one point) where Pliskova raced ahead, finally ousted the Latvian from the event.

If Ostapenko could ever trap her lightning (and Thunder, of course) in a bottle, she'd be something to behold. Unfortunately, unless a future coaching change finally brings her wild swings under control, she's likely always going to be a touchy bomb just waiting to explode -- either in her opponent's face or (very often) her own.

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FRESH FACE: Coco Gauff/USA
...while 17-year old Gauff may not be *quite* ready to take the tour by storm -- or at least contend for a significant chunk of it -- as was so publicly talked about being her destiny two years ago, she's getting closer and closer all the time. Rome provided another signpost along the road to wherever she ends up going.

Rollercoaster three-setters have become the teenager's stock-and-trade, and she didn't disappoint on that front over the past week. She went the distance and triumphed over Yulia Putintseva and Maria Sakkari (impressively taking a 6-1 final set against the Greek), then subdued a less-than-ideal Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets for her third career Top 10 victory (at #4, Sabalenka tied Gauff's win over Naomi Osaka as a career best).



In the QF, Gauff was the beneficiary of Ash Barty's arm injury, as the Aussie went the cautious route and retired while leading the match 6-4/2-1 in the 2nd set of a match already interrupted multiple times due to rain and played in heavy conditions. Still, it *counts* as Gauff's first win over a world #1, though not likely one that will occupy a significant mind space for her during her career. Her advancement put Gauff into her biggest semifinal, and assured her of making her Top 30 debut in the new rankings.

Gauff's Rome adventure (in singles) ended at the hands of Iga Swiatek in straights, with her doubles run (w/ Veronika Kudermetova) ended a short time later in a match TB loss to Fichman/Olmos to top off a frustrating day that had held the promise of possibly being a *huge* one in the storyline of her career.

No matter, her time for a *big* result will come... maybe even right around the corner. Remember, she reached th Round of 16 in her Wimbledon debut at age 15. With two years of additional tour experience, what might be in store for her at SW 19 in the first Championships held at the AELTC since 2019?
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DOWN: Sloane Stephens/USA and Sofia Kenin/USA
...just when you think it's safe to go back into the water.

Stephens came into Rome sporting a resurgent 5-2 mark on clay this season, and was 6-3 in her last nine matches. But she left Rome with *two* defeats added to her ledger, leaving one to wonder if new coach Darian King (who in April replaced Kamau Murray, ousted by Sloane for the second time in less than three years) knows exactly what he signed up for.

Stephens, ranked #65, lost in Rome qualifying to Tamara Zidansek, but got into the MD as s lucky loser. For the second time this clay season (Charleston 2r) she drew Madison Keys, her good friend and '17 U.S. Open final opponent. She led Keys by a break twice late in the 3rd set, but was simply unable to hold serve (or unwilling to take chances with her 1st serve that might make it easier). Late in the final set, Stephens lost 40/love leads in back-to-back games, seeing Keys hold in the first and then having to save two Keys MP on her own serve a game later. In the end, Stephens was broken at love to close out the match.

All that said, Stephens is just 6-8 in the MD in Rome (never reaching the QF) in her career, so this result wasn't exactly a *step back* in her ongoing tournament history. But it also didn't exactly give one great home for Paris, either. Stephens is 25-9 in her Roland Garros career, her best at any major, but has seen diminishing returns in her last three appearances, going from finalist to quarterfinalist to a 2nd Round exit from 2018-20.

Meanwhile, after often being overlooked in '20 despite winning a major and reaching the final of another, Kenin (though still #5) has been largely forgotten as she's slipped back into the proverbial WTA pack through the opening months of '21. Her season of woe continued on and off the court in Rome.

After firing her father Alex as coach, Kenin dropped her opening match 1 & 4 to Barbora Krejcikova, falling to 7-8 on the year with her fourth straight loss after having started the year 5-2 with back-to-back QF (Abu Dhabi/Yarra Valley). The '20 AO champ had already seen her slam defense ended in the 2nd Round in Melbourne, and had an appendectomy following a loss to teenager Olivia Gadecki in the Philip Island event set up in Melbourne for all the players who'd lost in the opening week of slam play. Now her Roland Garros finalist run defense looms just around the corner, and it appears as if she'll arrive in Paris with absolutely *zero* wind behind her back.
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ITF PLAYER: Katie Volynets/USA
...the 19-year old wild card Bannerette made her first career challenger crown a big one, taking the title at the $100K Bonita Springs event in Florida.

Volynets advanced past the likes of Renata Zarazua and #1-seeded Madison Brengle in straight sets (she lost to her in the QF of another $100K a week ago, but this time around made the world #81 her biggest career victory), then downed qualifier Hanna Chang in three (7-5 3rd) to reach her second career pro final. There, she outlasted Romanian Irina Bara 6-7(4)/7-6(2)/6-1 in 3:14 to get the win.

Bara reached the RG 3rd Round last fall, and all 21 of her ITF singles finals (and 42/46 in WD) have come on clay.

A week after breaking into the Top 300 (to #299) after reaching the $100K Charleston final eight, Volynets should crack the Top 200 on Monday, jumping 99 spots to #200.

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JUNIOR STAR: Mara Guth/GER
...the 17-year old German (girls #37) matched her career best title grab with her win in the grade 2 International Spring Bowl in Tribuswinkel, Austria. The #1 seed, Guth entered the event having lost three straight matches on clay, but didn't lose a set all week, knocking off three seeds along the way, including fellow German Nicole Rivkin (#3) in a 7-6(7)/6-1 final.

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DOUBLES: Sharon Fichman/Giuliana Olmos, CAN/MEX
...it took four match tie-breaks in five matches in Rome, but Fichman & Olmos both picked up the biggest titles of their careers.

A 10-3 MTB win over Mattek-Sands/Pegula was followed by a 10-4 triumph over Hsieh/Mertens and 10-6 win over Gauff/V.Kudermetova to send Fichman/Olmos into the semis. Playing both the semi and final on Sunday, the duo took out Aoyama/Shibahara in straights, then defeated Mladenovic/Vondrousva 10-5 in the decider to take the crown.



For Fichman it's tour title #4, while Olmos adds yet another layer to what is becoming an historic career. Already the only Mexican player to win a tour-level s/d title in the Open era (one WD in each of the last two seasons), Olmos' third (of course) also raises the bar one more notch by being the biggest ever claimed by a woman from her nation. Both of Olmos' previous WTA crowns (just like Fichman's three) had come in International (now 250) level events.

Vondrousova, who won three junior doubles slams in 2014-15, was seeking her maiden WTA MD title, while this final run (w/ a first-time partner) came in Mladenovic's very first doubles action of 2021. The duo had defeated Krejcikova/Siniakova (Madrid champs) en route, as Mladenovic was playing in the final for her first doubles title since winning last year's Roland Garros w/ Timea Babos (w/ whom she also won Rome in '15).

Meanwhile, Mladenovic sniped the #1 doubles rankings with this result, knocking Elise Mertens back to #2 after the Waffle just moved to the top spot for the first time last week.
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1. Rome 1st Rd. - Sara Sorribes Tormo def. Camila Giorgi
...7-6(4)/6-7(7)/7-5. Sorribes made her belated first clay court win of the season a memorable one, as she surged back from 4-0 down in the 3rd, with Giorgi serving for the match at 5-3. Sure, it took 3:51 to get it done, but a win is a win, right?

Just ask Giorgi's dad.

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2. Rome 3rd Rd. - Iga Swiatek def. Barbora Krejcikova
...3-6/7-6(5)/7-5. Even while winning matches, Swiatek has had to engage in quite a few fights on the clay of late. This one was no different, as after the two combined for six breaks of serve in the nine games of the 1st set, Krejcikova held two MP at 6-5 on Swiatek's serve in the 2nd.

The Pole held to force a TB, won it 7-5, then saw the two combine for a run of twenty straight service holds over the 2nd and 3rd sets before Swiatek broke Krejcikova to take the match. It's the first time the teenager has ever come back from MP down to a win a WTA MD match in her career. In all, Swiatek faced 16 BP (saving 11) and held a slim (117-115) edge in total points on the day.

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3. Rome 1st Rd. - Coco Gauff def. Yulia Putintseva
...7-5/4-6/6-4. Considering Gauff's string of three-set rollercoaster wins this season, not to mention Putintseva's penchant for losing winnable matches (she's blown three matches in which she held MP), this one should have come as no surprise.

A dead-on lock to go three sets, this one did, with all the expected twists and turns. Gauff trailed 5-3 in the 1st, with Putintseva serving for the set, but the Bannerette ultimately ran off five straight games before the Kazakh strung together four in a row to take a 4-1 lead in the 2nd. Putintseva couldn't serve out the 2nd on her first try, and didn't convert on six SP chances on Gauff's serve in game #9. Finally, she knotted the match on SP #7 a game later. In the 3rd, Gauff held two MP at 5-2, then was broken when serving for the match at 5-3. Finally, she broke Putintseva to win in just under three hours.

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4. Rome 3rd Rd. - Coco Gauff def. Aryna Sabalenka
...7-5/6-3. Granted, world #4 Sabalenka contributed mightily to the straight sets aspect of this one, as the Belarusian looked more like the player from a couple of seasons ago that was searching for consistency rather than the one who has seemingly discovered how to produce it. But, still, a result such as this one -- until a day later, tied for the biggest of Gauff's career -- will be worth ten times the weight in gold in confidence-building points alone than a half dozen wins like the rollercoaster three-setter she got over (insert name of beatable opponent here...in the case of Rome, Putintseva) earlier in the season/week.



That said, Gauff's surprisingly easy handling of the not-easily-handled Maria Sakkari in a 6-1 3rd set a round earlier counts as a result that put the 17-year old's confidence rightfully on simmer heading into *this* one.
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5. Rome 2nd Rd. - Vera Zvonareva def. Petra Kvitova
...6-2/7-5. It'd been thirteen years since Zvonareva won a MD match in Rome, but the former semifinalist (2004-05) made waves in her third decade of play in the event. None was bigger than her takedown of Kvitova, who held an early break advantage in the 3rd set, in their first meeting since the 2011 WTA Championships. The win over the world #10 was just the second over a Top 10 player by Zvonareva since 2011 (w/ her win over Pliskova in '18).

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6. Rome 1st Rd. - Madison Keys def. Sloane Stephens
...4-6/6-2/7-5. The Future was then, but the Future was brief. Apparently.

In their earliest-ever meeting in six career match-ups (the round sequence of Keys and Stephens' last five meetings, starting with the '17 U.S. Open, speaks volumes about what's happened to both since, as it goes like this: F-SF-QF-2r-1r ), the two combined for a rather sloppy affair from pillar to post that saw Keys pick up just her second win of the season. It came at the expense of her good friend Sloane, in the MD as a lucky loser (she was forced into qualifying with her #65 ranking). Stephens led 3-1 in the 3rd, and held a break lead at 4-3.

Up love/40 on Keys' serve in game #9, Stephens wasn't able to get the break as Keys held to take a 5-4 lead, then Stephens nearly squandered a 40/love lead on her own serve a game later. She had to save two Keys MP before leveling the set at 5-all. Two games later, Stephens was broken at love to end the match as Keys recorded just her second win since last year's U.S. Open.



Stephens still leads the overall head-to-head 4-2. Meanwhile, Keys held three SP against Iga Swiatek a round later, but lost in straights.
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7. Rome 1st Rd. - Yaroslava Shvedova def. Martina Trevisan
...0-6/7-6(4)/7-6(5). The veteran Kazakh, fully back in '21 after having twins in '18, notches her first tour-level MD singles win since 2017 (Tatjana Maria/Nurnberg 2r) after seeing the Italian lead 5-3 in the 3rd and serve for the match a game later.



Shvedova, who captained and won Kazakhstan's deciding doubles match in the BJK Cup last month, earlier won a '21 singles match in Doha qualifying over Akgul Amanmuradova.
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8. Rome 1st Rd. - Kristina Mladenovic def. Belinda Bencic
...6-3/6-4. After losing to Bencic in the 1st Round in Madrid, Mladenovic returns the favor to the world #11. It's the Pastry's best win since defeating #1 Ash Barty in the '19 Fed Cup final to close out that season and lead France to the title.

Hmmm, Mladenovic *finally* played doubles for the first time in '21 in this event, and *this* is what she does in singles. Interesting.
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9. Rome 2nd Rd. - Garbine Muguruza def. Bernarda Pera
...2-6/6-0/7-5. Back from injury this week, but still playing with her leg strapped, Muguruza staged a comeback from 4-1 down in the 3rd to catch and pass Pera, winning six of the final seven games.

It's becoming clear that the path to the RG title is *already* a battle of attrition, as Muguruza and others are dragging injuries into their events leading to Paris, while others like Simona Halep are getting injured just trying to get there.



Rome 2nd Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Simona Halep
...1-6/3-3 ret. Usually, Simona is dealing with foot/ankle injuries. This time it's a calf.



Rome QF - Coco Gauff def. Ash Barty
...4-6/1-2 ret. Multiple stoppages for rain, then Barty retires with an arm injury while leading a match played in heavy condition. With Roland Garros just a few weeks away, it's hard to argue with the logic.

Gauff will likely record far more dramatic #1 wins in her career, but this one will officially go down as her *first.*



With her "unofficial" defense of her '19 RG title a few weeks away, Barty is still 18-2 in her last twenty clay court matches.
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10. Rome SF - Iga Swiatek def. Coco Gauff
...7-6(3)/6-3. The first of what will likely be many big stage -- and probably even bigger than a WTA 1000 event -- meetings between the teenagers.

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11. Parma Q2 - Paula Ormaechea def. Stefanie Voegele
...6-2/2-6/7-5. Voegele led 5-0 in the 3rd... and lost. Eek.

But for Ormaechea it was great news, as her seven-game winning streak puts her into her first WTA MD since Jurmala in July '19.

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12. $60K Saint-Gaudens FRA Final - Clara Burel def. Alexandra Dulgheru
...6-2/1-6/6-1. The 20-year old Pastry wins her second career ITF crown in her third final of the season (she'd been 1-3 in finals in her career, w/ another walkover loss). It's the former junior #1's biggest title to date.



Dulgheru, back in the mix against after returning from another of her many injuries, was seeking her first singles title since winning a $25K challenger in 2017. She hadn't lost a set en route to the final, and had posted wins over Gabriela Ruse, Kristina Kucova and Viktorija Golubic. This would have been the Romanian's biggest win since taking a $100K in '15.
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13. $60K La Bisbal d'Emporda ESP Final - Irina Khromacheva def. Arantxa Rus
...6–4/1–6/7–6(8). The Russian, who celebrated her 26th birthday during the week, takes her 17th career ITF title. Khromacheva, who'll now return to the Top 500, posted wins over Ane Mintegni del Olmo, Lara Arruabarrena (from a break down in the 2nd and 3rd sets), Greet Minnen and Olga Danilovic (love 3rd set) before her double-break rally in the 3rd against Rus.

Khromacheva was the junior runner-up to Ash Barty at Wimbledon in 2011, and won three girls doubles slams (teaming with the likes of Svitolina, Kovinic, Gavrilova, Schuurs and Zanevska in five junior slam finals) from 2010-12.

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14. Belgrade Q2 - Reka-Luca Jani def. Jaqueline Cristian
...5-7/6-2/6-1. Meanwhile, 29-year old ITF warrioress Jani (w/ 54 combined s/d titles in challenger events) reaches her first WTA MD since April '19 (Lugano), breaking her string of six consecutive failed tour-level qualifying attempts.

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1. Rome Final - Iga Swiatek def. Karolina Pliskova
...6-0/6-0. With her serve not firing, as well as (as she did in the SF) choosing to not sit during changeovers, Pliskova was clearly not 100% for her yearly appearance (well, third straight) in the Rome final, and it showed on the scoreline. She had 6 DF, and just 5 winners to 23 UE.

The Czech never held serve and had just thirteen total points (four of those in the final game) to Swiatek's 51 as she became the tenth victim in tour history to fall love & love in a WTA final. The title catapults Swiatek over the likes of Kvitova and Muguruza in the rankings to become the second Pole to reach the singles Top 10.

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2. Rome QF - Karolina Pliskova def. Alona Ostapenko
...4-6/7-5/7-6(1). Just your typical Ostapenko match, in which Pliskova fired off 13 DF, including three in a single game in which the Lativan held three MP at 5-4 in the 3rd. Still, Ostapenko didn't take the match right then and there, only to see the Czech force a deciding TB with a bloop net cord on GP two games later and then go on to win the breaker at 7-1 to advance to the semis for a third straight year in Rome.

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3. Rome 2nd Rd. - Nadia Podoroska def. Serena Williams
...7-6(6)/7-5. Back for the first time since the Australian Open, and playing in her 1000th career match, Williams brought the intensity to her match with '20 RG semifinalist Podoroska, but she also often left her "A" service game behind. And that's really why she's still won just one match in Rome ('19 1r) since 2016.

Williams nearly hit her way back into the 1st set TB, rallying from 5-1 down and saving three consecutive SP from 6-3. But Podoroska secured the set on SP #4 to win 8-6. Podoroska failed to serve out the 2nd set at 5-4, and the overwhelming thought was that if Williams could just knot the match she'd likely take the 3rd. But as she served to force another TB, Williams was broken by again Podoroska to end the match.

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4. Rome 2nd Rd. - Jessica Pegula def. Naomi Osaka
...7-6(2)/6-2. Osaka's stated goal of proving her clay court doubters wrong hasn't been an unmitigated disaster so far this spring, but it hasn't been a success, either. Her loss to Pegula drops the world #2 to 1-2 on the surface in '21, as the Bannerette recorded her fifth Top 10 win of the season.

Osaka is 6-4 in her RG career, with three 3rd Round results in four appearances. She didn't play in Paris last fall following her U.S. Open win.

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5. Rome 2nd Rd. - Sharon Fichman/Giuliana Olmos def. Hsieh Su-wei/Elise Mertens
...1-6/6-4 [10-4]. Two matches, two match TB defeats. You know, sometimes things that *seem* like bright ideas turn out to not be. Hsieh won Rome a season ago with the now retired Barbora Strycova.

It's still early, but...
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HM- Parma 1st Rd. - Dasha Kasatkina def. Hsieh Su-wei
...6-4/6-3. Hsieh drops to 1-5 since reaching the Australian Open QF.
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=ROME, ITALY=







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*LOVE/LOVE WTA FINALS*
1973 Cleveland - Chris Evert/USA def. Linda Tuero/USA
1974 Indianapolis - Chris Evert/USA def. Gail Chanfreau/FRA
1981 Amelia Island - Chris Evert-Lloyd/USA def. Martina Navratilova/USA
1984 Tokyo - Etsuko Inoue/JPN def. Beth Herr/USA
1988 Roland Garros - Steffi Graf/FRG def. Natasha Zvereva/URS
1993 Auckland - Elna Reinach/RSA def. Caroline Kuhlman/USA
2006 Quebec City - Marion Bartoli/FRA def. Olga Puchkova/RUS
2013 Sydney - Aga Radwanska/POL def. Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
2016 Bucharest - Simona Halep/ROU def. Anastasija Sevastova/LAT
2021 Rome - Iga Swiatek/POL def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE

*MULTIPLE 2021 WTA TITLES*
3 - Ash Barty, AUS [Yarra Valley,Miami,Stuttgart]
2 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS [Phillip Island,Saint Petersburg]
2 - Aryna Sabalenka, BLR [Abu Dhabi,Madrid]
2 - IGA SWIATEK, POL [Adelaide,Rome]
[clay titles - 2019-21]
2 - Ash Barty, AUS (1/0/1)
2 - Fiona Ferro, FRA (1/1/0)
2 - Simona Halep, ROU (0/2/0)
2 - IGA SWIATEK, POL (0/1/1)
2 - Jil Teichmann, SUI (2/0/0)

*2021 YOUNG WTA CHAMPIONS*
18y,2m - Clara Tauson, DEN (Lyon - d. Golubic)
18y,6m,2w - Leylah Fernandez, CAN (Monterrey- d. Golubic)
19y,3m - MC.Osorio Serrano, COL (Bogota - d. Zidansek)
19y,9m - Iga Swiatak, POL (Adelaide - d. Bencic)
19y,50w - IGA SWIATEK, POL (Rome - d. Ka.Pliskova)

*2018-21 WTA FINALS*
14 - 3/6/1/4 Ash Barty, AUS (10-4)
14 - 4/4/3/3 Aryna Sabalenka, BLR (10-4)
12 - 6/3/3/0 Simona Halep, ROU (7-5)
11 - 5/4/1/1 Petra Kvitova, CZE (8-3)
11 - 3/5/2/1 KAROLINA PLISKOVA, CZE (7-4)
10 - 4/5/1/0 Kiki Bertens, NED (6-4)
[career - active]
98...Serena Williams
83...Venus Williams
60...Kim Clijsters
42...Svetlana Kuznetsova
40...Victoria Azarenka
39...Simona Halep
38...Petra Kvitova
30...Vera Zvonareva
30...Angelique Kerber
30...KAROLINA PLISKOVA
25...Samantha Stosur

*RECENT WTA TOP 10 SINGLES DEBUTS*
2018 Julia Goerges, GER
2018 Sloane Stephens, USA
2018 Naomi Osaka, JPN
2018 Kiki Bertens, NED
2018 Dasha Kasatkina, RUS
2019 Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
2019 Ash Barty, AUS
2019 Bianca Andreescu, CAN
2020 Sofia Kenin, USA
2021 Iga Swiatek, POL

*2021 TITLES FROM MATCH POINT DOWN*
Australian Open - Naomi Osaka, JPN (2 MP vs. Muguruza, 4r)
Miami - Ash Barty, AUS (1 MP vs. Kucova, 2r)
Rome - Iga Swiatek, POL (2 MP vs. Krejcikova, 3r)

*MEXICO - WTA TITLES IN OPEN ERA*
2019 - Giuliana Olmos (Nottingham WD)
2020 - Giuliana Olmos (Acapulco WD)
2021 - Giuliana Olmos (Rome WD)
[RU]
2018 Monterrey WD - Giuliana Olmos
2019 Acapulco WD - Giuliana Olmos
2019 Guangzhou WD - Giuliana Olmos
2021 Guadalajara WD - Giuliana Olmos

*2020-21 WTA LONG MATCHES*
3:51 2021 Rome 1st Rd. - Sorribes d. Giorgi
3:33 2020 Hobart QF - Watson def. Mertens
3:33 2021 Melbourne (Gippsland) 3rd Rd. - Begu def. Konta
3:28 2020 Prague 2nd Rd. - Begu def. Kung

*BARTY LOSSES AS #1*
2019 Wimbledon 4th Rd. - #55 Alison Riske/USA
2019 Toronto 1st Rd. - #29 Sofia Kenin/USA
2019 Wuhan SF - #14 Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
2019 Beijing F - #4 Naomi Osaka/JPN
2019 WTA Finals rr - #10 Kiki Bertens/NED
2019 Fed Cup F - #40 Kiki Mladenovic/FRA
2020 Brisbane 2nd Rd. - #53 Jennifer Brady/USA
2020 Aust. Open SF - #15 Sofia Kenin/USA
2020 Doha SF - #11 Petra Kvitova/CZE
2021 Aust. Open QF - #27 Karolina Muchova/CZE
2021 Adelaide 2nd Rd. - #37 Danielle Collins/USA
2021 Charleston QF - #71 Paula Badosa/ESP
2021 Madrid Final - #7 Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
2021 Rome QF - #35 Coco Gauff/USA (ret.)

*#1 WINS BY U.S. WOMEN - since 2014*
2014 #26 Venus Williams def. #1 S.Williams (Montreal SF)
2017 #35 CoCo Vandeweghe def. #1 Kerber (AO 3rd)
2017 #12 Venus Williams def. #1 Kerber (Miami QF)
2017 #22 CoCo Vandeweghe def. #1 Ka.Pliskova (US Open QF)
2018 #16 CoCo Vandeweghe def. #1 Halep (Stuttgart QF)
2019 #16 Serena Williams def. #1 Halep (AO 4th)
2019 #55 Alison Riske def. #1 Barty (Wimbledon 4th)
2019 #29 Sofia Kenin def. #1 Barty (Toronto 1st)
2019 #22 Sofia Kenin def. #1 Osaka (Cincinnati QF)
2020 #53 Jennifer Brady def. #1 Barty (Brisbane 2nd)
2020 #15 Sofia Kenin def. #1 Barty (AO SF)
2021 #37 Danielle Collins def. #1 Barty (Adelaide 2nd)
2021 #35 Coco Gauff def. #1 Barty (Rome QF)
--
3 - Kenin
3 - Vandeweghe
2 - V.Williams
1 - Brady
1 - Collins
1 - GAUFF
1 - Riske
1 - S.Williams

*CAREER #1 WINS - ACTIVE U.S. WOMEN*
17 - Serena Williams
15 - Venus Williams
3 - Sofia Kenin
3 - CoCo Vandeweghe
1 - Jennifer Brady
1 - Danielle Collins
1 - COCO GAUFF
1 - Christina McHale
1 - Alison Riske





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This is what we've come to. Someone like Liz Cheney, who voted with you-know-who almost 100% of the time and whose political beliefs and ideals would otherwise be disagreed with by the other side of the aisle 99.9% of the time (and let's not even get into all the damage her father did), now *has* to be presented as a patriotic "defender of the truth" because the Republican party as a whole has gone *so far* off the rails that "up is down" and "in is out."

Thing is, there is very little choice *but* to hold up Cheney as a sane alternative under the circumstances because, you know, a two-party democracatic system doesn't really work if one half of that equation is a looney-tunes, truth-scuttling, insurrection-denying, conspiracy theory-hugging cult of personality with the biggest destructive force in modern U.S. political history serving as its beating heart, and who is just champing at the bit to destroy the few institutions that he didn't push to the edge of anarachy over the *last* four years simply because they didn't *totally* bend and break to serve his narcissistic will. All he needs is the chance, and group of willing, politically craven enablers, to engineer a total takedown. The latter is a given, the former is still in play.

But, you know, other that that, all of this is perfectly normal.



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Taylor Swift... Lorde... Billie Eilish... Olivia Rodrigo?

Every few years there's a new teen singing sensation, and she might be the next one. I remember her from a not-very-good show on Disney Channel show called "Bizaardvark" from a few years ago, so I was curious to see her appearance on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. The first song has already hit #1, but that appearance felt like the official start of something much bigger.



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Keep your head.
All for now.

Read more...

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