Sunday, February 28, 2021

Wk.5- Iga Down Under

It took a few weeks to make it "official," but Iga Swiatek has now fully arrived on the shores of the 2021 season.


ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (WTA 500/Hardcourt Outdoor)
S: Iga Swiatek/POL def. Belinda Bencic/SUI 6-2/6-2
D: Alexa Guarachi/Desirae Krawczyk (CHI/USA) def. Hayley Carter/Luisa Stefani (USA/BRA) 6-7(4)/6-4 [10-3]

...after a period of adjustment -- new season, new scrutiny, new racket -- at the start of her '21 campaign, which included 3r/4r Gippsland & AO exits (the latter at the hands of Simona Halep, who got a bit of revenge for RG last fall), Swiatek returned in full force in Adelaide. Over the course of nine sets (and one half of another, due to her opponent's retirement), Swiatek allowed as many as four games in just one stanza, handling the likes of Madison Brengle (who got the lone 4) and Maddison Inglis, as well as non-Madisons Danielle Collins (ret. 2nd set), Jil Teichmann and Belinda Bencic in the final en route to her first title since her slam-winning turn last October.

While she's already a lethal force, that we're (still) in the early stages of Swiatek's career is clear when one considers this was not only just her second career tour title, but only her third semifinal and third final appearance ('19 Lugano), as well.

Swiatek's no-sets-loss tournament performance is just the third by a singles champion since the start of last season. One was Jennifer Brady's post-shutdown title run in Lexington. The other was authored by Iga herself in Paris.

RISER: Jil Teichmann/SUI
...while Teichmann didn't have her career-best week in Adelaide, she showed her competitiveness and fight all over the place (which was nice, since it'd popped its head up *last* week when she brought Mihaela Buzarnescu to tears by accusing her of faking an injury late in their Phillip Island match).

After a win over Kristina Mladenovic, the Swiss came back from a set down to take out Wang Qiang, then engaged in a mini-classic against Anastasija Sevastova in the QF, saving two MP before finally winning on her own seventh MP (spread out over two sets) to reach her fourth career WTA semifinal. For the first time she didn't reach the final... but Iga Swiatek was her opponent. So... you know.

Teichmann will be up to #55 this week, just off her career high of #52.

SURPRISE: Storm Sanders/AUS always seems to happen every year, but 2021 has seen an *unusual* number of Aussies post career-best results in the opening weeks of the season. From Olivia Gadecki and Gabriella Da Silva Fick to Maddison Inglis and Kimberly Birrell, headline-worthy moments have been consistently produced by the home favorites. In Adelaide, the biggest run came from Storm Sanders.

26-year old Western Australia native Sanders made her way through qualifying, notching good wins over Bernarda Pera and Caty McNally, then recorded her first career 500 level (or equivalent) victory with a win over countrywoman Ajla Tomljanovic. Next up came a career-best win over #28 Yulia Putintseva, her first in consecutive WTA tournament MD rounds in her career, to reach her maiden WTA quarterfinal. Sanders' run ended there at the hands of Belinda Bencic, but she'll jump 92 spots in the new rankings and make her Top 200 debut.

VETERAN: Shelby Rogers/USA
...while Rogers has sort of been lost in the eary '21 Bannerette shuffle, as her countrywomen have tended to do *just* a bit more than her (her Round of 16 AO run was topped by Brady and Pegula -- and Serena, of course -- while Gauff staged a comeback against her this week), the 28-year old -- healthy and fully back from her '18 knee surgery, and with the look of a player ready for something big soon (perhaps in her native South Carolina in Charleston?) -- seems on schedule to have *her* day before the seasons change.

Adelaide saw Rogers record impressive wins over Veronika Kudermetova and Johanna Konta (the latter her fifth Top 20 win since the start of '20), then lead Gauff 6-2/4-2 (then 4-2 again in the 3rd) before the teenager (as she had all week) managed to stage *two* rallies en route to victory. Still, Rogers, a two-time slam quarterfinalist ('16 RG/'20 US), will inch back into the Top 50 this week at #49 (just one off her career high from January '17) as she carries her 8-3 season record into what could be an even more successful spring.

COMEBACK: Belinda Bencic/SUI
...Bencic won the tour's Comeback Player award in 2019 (though I disputed it at the time, and gave the BSA honor to Jo Konta) after climbing back up the rankings after dealing with a series of injuries in 2017-18, she played in just one major in '20 (AO 3r) as the pandemic schedule never allowed her to find her footing. She'd been busy during the pre-shutdown stretch, playing in six events (reaching three QF) and Fed Cup (going 8-7), but only took the court once in the Restart (a loss to Kovinic in Rome).

After a hard quarantine in Melbourne (then a 3rd Round AO exit to Mertens, after three-set wins over Davis and Kuznetsova), Bencic showed good form this week in Adelaide, reaching her first tour-level semi since late '19 with wins over Misaki Doi, Storm Sanders and Coco Gauff in a wild, back-and-fourth affair in which she was forced to three after having had a MP in the 2nd set. Bencic fell 2 & 2 to Swiatek in the final, but the Swiss' week showed that, if she can stay healthy, she'll soon be a consistent factor on tour once again.

She's reached at least the 3rd Round in her last six slam MD appearances, including a U.S. Open semi in '19.


FRESH FACES: Coco Gauff/USA and Maddison Inglis/AUS
...rarely has a week so perfectly mirrored the current state of a player as Gauff's. The 16-year old (for about 13 more days) has seen her performances take gigantic swings of momentum for most of the past year, and in Adelaide she seemed intent on repeating that scenario on a match-by-match (sometimes more than once) basis virtually every time she took the court.

In the end, Gauff battled her way to her third career tour semifinal, picking up enough points to make her Top 40 breakthrough this coming week. But, my, what a journey it was.

It all began in the qualifying rounds, where she followed up a straight sets win over Francesca Jones by falling behind Kaja Juvan 6-3/3-0, with the Slovenian serving for the match at 5-4. Gauff then won nine of twelve games to reach the MD. In the 1st Round, Gauff led Jasmine Paolini 6-4/5-2 and had a MP for a straight sets win, only to see the Italian force a 3rd set, which the teenager won 6-2. A round later, Gauff stormed back from a set down to defeat veteran Petra Martic, then *twice* staged a comeback against Shelby Rogers in the QF after falling behind 6-2/4-2, then 4-2 *again* in the 3rd set. Facing Belinda Bencic in the semis, Gauff took a 4-1 lead in the 1st set, but lost it in a tie-break. After saving a Bencic MP in the 2nd set and winning TB to force a 3rd, Gauff's road finally came to an end in her *fifth* straight three-setter (after about the twelfth major momentum swing) of her week.

How do Gauff's parents deal with all the daughter-imposed stress? Well...

Meanwhile, 23-year old Inglis gave the Aussie fans something to cheer about in her own way, even if a few of her countrywoman had to take it on the chin along the way. Inglis, fresh off her first AO MD appearance in five years, as well her maiden tour-level MD in the Phillip Island event (Kamilla Rakhimova), posted win #2 in the 1st Round in Adelaide over her tennis idol, Samantha Stosur. After that, as occurred with so many this past week, her time in the draw ended when Iga Swiatek showed up. Still, it was a nice time while it lasted.

DOWN: Yulia Putintseva/KAZ
...the Kazakh has had a crazy (i.e. oh-so-Putintseva like) start to 2021. From quarantine to the Mice Wars to The Battle of Stubbs, from blown MP in *two* losses (vs. Kenin in Abu Dhabi, Azarenka at Grampians) to her 3rd Round AO loss (love & 4) to Elina Svitolina, Putintseva had already authored enough footnotes for (at least) half a season's worth of action. Then came Adelaide.

Her opening match this week against Laura Siegemund (subtitled "The Traveling Grievance Circus," maybe?) included gripes about shoelace tying and Putintseva being given an arched eybrow warning from the umpire after calling the linespeople "unprofessional." Ultimately, Putintseva won that match, only to lose (once more proving that there is no storm that Putintseva won't barrel head-first into) to Storm Sanders, giving the Aussie her biggest tour victory, her first career tour-level MD back-to-back victories, and maiden WTA QF result.

If you ever want to pass some time, just enter the words "Putintseva" and "umpire" into the Twitter search bar and have at it (and look at all the different dates spanning most of the last decade).
ITF PLAYER: Daria Snigur/UKR a match-up of former junior stars, 18-year old Snigur ('19 Wimbledon girls champ) outlasted 19-year old Clara Burel (former junior #1, and two-time '18 girls AO/US finalist) in the 6-3/2-6/7-5 final of the $25K Poitiers, France challenger. With the win, Snigur improves to 5-1 in pro finals, while Burel drops to 1-3.

JUNIOR STAR: Natalia Szabanin/HUN
...a few weeks after taking home her maiden Grade 1 title (below), 17-year old Szabanin now has two.

At the Porto Alegre, Brazil J1 event this week, the top-seeded Hungarian (girls #14) completed her three-week 11-1 run with a 6-4/6-4 victory in the final over #2-seed Diana Shnaider (#15) of Russia. Shnaider had been seeking her second career J1 crown, but first since 2019, while Szabanin had also posted an earlier win over another recent J1 winner (Petra Marcinko, who retired in the QF).

It's likely that Szabanin will now make her Top 10 debut in the junior rankings.

DOUBLES: Alexa Guarachi & Desirae Krawczyk, CHI/USA a four-way match-up of former NCAA players, Guarachi & Krawczyk (2020 RG finalists) grabbed their third tour title as a duo in their fourth final, defeating Carter/Stefani (Abu Dhabi runners-ups), who dropped to 2-4 in their six WTA final appearances.

Before taking the final in a 10-3 match tie-break, Guarachi/Krawczyk had also outlasted Aussies Abbie Myers & Ivana Popovic in a 10-7 MTB in the QF. While all of 30-year old Guarachi's career titles (3-6 in finals) have come alongside Krawczyk, the 27-year Bannerette has claimed five. She's gone 2-2 in four additional WTA finals while partnering Giuliana Olmos.

Stefani, though a combined 1-4, is tied with Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova for the most WTA doubles finals in 2020-21.


1. Adelaide QF - Jil Teichmann def. Anastasija Sevastova
...6-4/6-7(8)/7-5. Match points for you! And match points for you! And match points for you!

Teichmann saves two MP in the 2nd, then Sevastova saves five in the 2nd set TB. Finally, Teichmann converts on her second MP in the 3rd (7th overall) to get the win.
2.Adelaide Q2 - Coco Gauff def. Kaja Juvan 3-6/7-5/6-3
Adelaide 1st Rd. - Coco Gauff def. Jasmine Paolini 6-4/6-7(4)/6-2
Adelaide 2nd Rd. - Coco Gauff def. Petra Martic 5-7/6-3/6-4
Adelaide QF - Coco Gauff def. Shelby Rogers 2-6/6-4/6-4
Adelaide SF - Belinda Bencic def. Coco Gauff 7-6(2)/6-7(4)/6-2
...if Gauff had won her second career tour title in Adelaide her epic path of comeback magic would have been worthy of tales passed down through generations. Even so, her run to her third career semifinal will likely go down as one of the most twisty, momentum shifting walks through a dense WTA forest we'll see all season.

Gauff rallied from 6-3/3-0 (w/ Juvan serving at 5-4) to reach the MD, winning 9 of 12 games. After fumbling away a 6-4/5-2 (w/ a MP) lead vs. Paolini, the teengaer took the 3rd set at two. After a comeback from a set down against Martic, Gauff twice surged after falling a break down at 4-2 vs. Rogers (at 6-2/4-2, then 4-2 in the 3rd) to get the win. She nearly did it all over again versus Bencic, too. Gauff lost a 4-1 lead (and the set) in the 1st, but pushed the Swiss into a 3rd set after saving a MP in the 2nd. Finally, Bencic took control and ousted Gauff in her fifth straight three-setter of the week. Whew!

Kind of wish we'd gotten Iga-Coco, though.

3. Adelaide Final - Iga Swiatek def. Belinda Bencic
...6-2/6-2. 19-year old Swiatek becomes the first multiple title teen since Andreescu in 2019. Bencic won a pair of tournaments at age 18 in '15 as she became the only player to reach the Top 10 (in February '16) before her 19th birthday.

4. Adelaide 2nd Rd. - Danielle Collins def. Ash Barty
...6-3/6-4. Collins sweeps the final five games in *both* sets to record her first career #1 win, and get some revenge on Barty for having knocked her off in last year's Adelaide semis via a 3rd set tie-break.

Collins in the seventh different Bannerette to notch a #1 win over the last five seasons. And that list doesn't include at least two players that you might *think* it would.

5. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Storm Sanders d. Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1/6-2
Adelaide 2nd Rd. - Storm Sanders d. Yulia Putintseva 6-4/5-7/6-1
...first 500/Premier level MD win, third Top 100 win, then her first over a Top 30 player. Sanders lived up to her name in Adelaide.

6. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Maddison Inglis def. Samantha Stosur
...7-5/5-7/6-4. Winning six of the final seven games, Inglis downs her idol (who wasn't 100%) in 2:47 to get her second career MD tour-level victory.

7. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Laura Siegemund
...6-4/6-4. You'd expect a heightened level of intensity (and, umm, other things, many surely eye roll worthy) in a match-up between these two, and that's just how things played out.

8. $15K Boca Raton FLA Final - Varvara Lepchenko def. Claire Liu
...3-6/6-4/6-0. In an all-Bannerette match-up with a 14-year age different that *didn't* include a Williams sisters, 34-year old Lepchenko downs 20-year old Liu to claim her 13th career challenger crown. It's just her second singles title of any kind (Oct.'18 $80K) since 2011.


9. $15K Monastir TUN Final - Weronika Falkowska def. Francesca Curmi
...6-2/6-0. Falkowska, 20, wins her second straight challenger title, improving to 30-7 with four final appearances (2-2) in her current run.

Meanwhile, after fellow Maltese teen Helene Pellicano has made headlines in recent years on the junior circuit, it's 18-year old Curmi who is the first of the two to reach a pro singles final.

Malta's Elaine Genovese, now 30, won an ITF doubles title in 2018.
10. $15K Sharm El Sheikh Final - Sabine Rutlauka def. Svenja Ochsner
...6-7(4)/7-5/7-5. The 18-year old Latvian wins her maiden pro singles crown.

11. Lyon Q1 - Kamilla Rakhimova def. You Xiaodi 1-6/7-6(4)/6-3
Lyon Q2 - Margarita Gasparyan def. Kamilla Rakhimova 3-6/7-6(7)/6-3
...Rakhimova saved two MP to advance past You, only to see countrywoman Gasparyan save SIX and defeat her in the final round of qualifying one day later.
12. Doha Q2 - Jessica Pegula def. Anastasia Potapova
...6-2/6-7(3)/7-6(6). The Hordette rallies from 3-0 and GP down in the 3rd to lead 5-3, but Pegula pulls through.

HM- Lyon Q2 - Clara Tauson def. Amandine Hesse
...6-4/6-2. The Dane reaches her first tour-level MD since her Roland Garros debut last fall, when she upset Jennifer Brady in the 1st Round in one of the best first career slam matches in memory.


1. $25K Moscow Final - Urszula Radwanska def. Yuliya Hatouka
...4-6/6-3/6-4. Radwanska, 30, grabs her seventh career ITF crown (her first came in 2006, and she was 0-2 in a pair of WTA finals in 2012 and '15), downing the 20-year old Belarusian who was seeking her second title of the season and fifth since the start of 2020.


Great! Okay, now do Esther Vergeer.




With Marion Bartoli cameo appearance (and comment)...



19 - Iga Swiatek (Adelaide)
22 - Aryna Sabalenka (Abu Dhabi)
23 - Dasha Kasatkina (Phillip Island Melb.)
23 - Naomi Osaka (Australian Open)
24 - Ash Barty (Yarra Valley Melb.)
25 - Elise Mertens (Gippsland Melb.)
vacant - Kontaveit (25) vs. Li (20) [Grampians Melb. not played]

17 - Ana Konjuh, CRO (Nottingham)
18 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (Eastbourne)
18 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (Toronto)
19 - Oceane Dodin, FRA (Quebec City)
17 - Marketa Vondrousova, CZE (Biel)
19 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS (Charleston)
17 - Olga Danilovic SRB (Moscow RC)
18 - Dayana Yastremska, UKR (Hong Kong)
15 - Coco Gauff, USA (Linz)
17 - Amanda Anisimova, USA (Bogota)
18 - Bianca Andreescu, CAN (Indian Wells)
18 - Dayana Yastremska, UKR (Hua Hin)
19 - Dayana Yastremska, UKR (Strasbourg)
19 - Bianca Andreescu, CAN (Toronto)
19 - Bianca Andreescu, CAN (US Open)
19 - Iga Swiatek, POL (Roland Garros)
19 - Iga Swiatek, POL (Adelaide)

*WTA FINALS - since 2018, active*
12 - Arya Sabalenka, BLR (9-3)
12 - Simona Halep, ROU (7-5)
11 - Ash Barty, AUS (8-3)
10 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (7-3)
10 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (7-3)
10 - Kiki Bertens, NED (6-4)
9 - Naomi Osaka, JPN (6-2+L)
7 - Sofia Kenin, USA (5-2)
7 - Elise Mertens, BEL (5-2)
7 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (6-1)
7 - Elena Rybakina, KAS (2-5)
6 - Serena Williams, USA (1-5)
5 - Garbine Muguruza, ESP (2-3)

5 - 5/0...Hsieh/Strycova, TPE/CZE (4-1)
4 - 2/2...CARTER/STEFANI, USA/BRA (1-3)
3 - 1/2...Aoyama/Shibahara, JPN/JPN (3-0)
3 - 1/2...Krejcikova/Siniakova, CZE/CZE (2-1)
3 - 3/0...Melichar/Xu, USA/CHN (1-2)
2 - 2/0...Babos/Mladenovic, HUN/FRA (2-0)
2 - 1/1...Mertens/Sabalenka, BEL/BLR (2-0)
2 - 2/0...Rus/Zidansek, NED/SLO (2-0)
2 - 2/0...K.Bondarenko/Fichman, UKR/CAN (1-1)

5 - 5/0 (4-1) = Hsieh Su-wei, TPE
5 - 5/0 (4-1) = Barbora Strycova, CZE
5 - 3/2 (1-4) = LUISA STEFANI, BRA
4 - 3/1 (3-1) = DESIRAE KRAWCZYK, USA
4 - 2/2 (2-2) = Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
4 - 4/0 (2-2) = Nicole Melichar, USA
4 - 2/2 (2-2) = Katerina Siniakova, CZE
4 - 2/2 (1-3) = HAYLEY CARTER, USA

*2020-21 WINS OVER #1*
2020 Brisbane 2nd Rd. - #53 Jennifer Brady/USA def. #1 Barty
2020 Aust. Open SF - #15 Sofia Kenin/USA def. #1 Barty
2020 Doha SF - #11 Petra Kvitova/CZE def. #1 Barty
2021 Aust. Open QF - #27 Karolina Muchova/CZE def. #1 Barty
2021 Adelaide 2nd Rd. - #37 Danielle Collins/USA def. #1 Barty

17 - Serena Williams
15 - Venus Williams
3 - Sofia Kenin
3 - CoCo Vandeweghe
1 - Jennifer Brady
1 - Danielle Collins
1 - Christina McHale
1 - Alison Riske

*#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)
3 - Kenin
3 - Vandeweghe
2 - V.Williams
1 - Brady
1 - Collins
1 - Riske
1 - S.Williams

SALINAS ECU G1: Natalia Szabanin/HUN
PORTO ALEGRE BRA G1: Natalia Szabanin/HUN

















Stay the course.
All for now.