Monday, September 20, 2010

Wk.37- New Faces, Different Quarter

The 4Q is already feeling like a more accomodating place than the 3Q ever was (well, except for that brief "Wozniacki Interlude" during the production, of course).

Of course, that might just be because the now-infamously-evil 3Q is dead and buried (though it will make a one-time-only zombie-like appearance tomorrow when the "so-called awards" for the sorry late summer section of the WTA season finally make their belated appearance in this space). How do I know it's dead and buried, you ask? Why, because the 4Q is now well underway.

Autumn is supposed to be where nature goes to die, but you can already feel a sense of WTA season "rebirth" in the air. This weekend, the tour's two tournaments produced two wild card entries and two qualifiers in the quarterfinals. Five of eight semifinalists were ranked #100-or-higher. Three first-time singles finalists reached deciding matches in Guangzhou and Quebec City (and the fourth participant was trying to win her first title in four years... at just age nineteen), and the week's sole first-time champion wasn't even an official citizen of the nation she now represents at this time last year. In other words, it was no U.S. Open final... so there was at least a smidgen of something interesting to chew on.

Ahhh. Take a deep breath. How sweet... fresh meat. The 3Q is over. Long live the 4Q, as the countdown of the season's final ten tour events begins this week in Seoul and Tashkent.


GUANGZHOU, CHINA (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
S: Jarmila Groth def. Alla Kudryavtseva 6-1/6-4
D: Gallovits/Mirza d. Han/Liu

QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC (Int'l $220K/hard indoor)
S: Tamira Paszek def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-6/2-6/7-5
D: Arvidsson/Larsson def. Mattek-Sands/Zahlavova-Strycova

the 23-year old Slovak-turned-Aussie has looked like a player to keep a close eye on all season. She's reached two slam Round of 16's, pushed Venus Williams (Wimbledon) and Maria Sharapova (U.S. Open) on big stages, and was named the MVP of the WTT finals. Last week in Guangzhou, it all came together to produce yet another career-best moment in a season that began with Groth finally earning her Australian citizenship. With wins over Nina Bratchikova, Tamarine Tanasugarn, Maria Elena Camerin and Edina Gallovits she reached her first WTA singles final, then her win there over Alla Kudryavtseva gave her her first tour singles crown. Next?
RISERS: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA & Zhang Shuai/CHN
at one point in her career, Mattek-Sands was known only for her, umm... "unfortunate" on-court fashion choices, which seemed designed only to draw attention to herself. One thing she seemed to have nothing to do with was her giving nearly as much thought to her tennis. Over the last few years, that's changed, along with a great many other things. She got married, injured, toned down her loud fashion sense (a bit) and decided to dedicate herself to improving her game. On the comeback trail after seeing her ranking fall to #152 at the end of last season (she'd been as high as #37 in '08), the American has made a move up the rankings this summer. She qualified at Wimbledon, pushed the Belgian Barbie to three sets in Montreal, and held three match points against Andrea Petkovic at the U.S. Open. Last week in Quebec City, Mattek-Sands proved to be a dual-threat. Wins over Irina Falconi, Julia Goerges, Rebecca Marino and Lucie Safarova put her in the final (the second in her career, and first since doing so at the same event two years ago) against Tamira Paszek. She and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova reached the doubles final, as well. Unfortunately, while the American was the thirteenth woman in '10 to reach both a touranment's singles AND doubles final, she turned out to be the the third (Bascinszky in Bad Gastein, Zvonareva at Wimbledon) to lose both finals. Oh, well. At least things are getting better all the time. Meanwhile, Zhang reached her first career SF in Guangzhou, getting wins over Sophie Ferguson, Chanelle Scheepers and Sania Mirza. A qualifier at Roland Garros earlier this season, Zhang has won two ITF titles in 2010 and been a runner-up three other times. Last year, she became the lowest-ranked player to ever defeat at WTA #1, when she upset the then-top ranked Dinara Safina in Beijing while ranked #226.
SURPRISES: Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS & Han Xinyun/CHN
Kudryavtseva has been in the WTA discussion before (nearly upsetting Venus Williams at Wimbledon in '07, then coming back a year later and taking out Maria Sharapova at SW19), but she's otherwise mostly played out her career well below the radar (hence her inability to crack jokes in post-match press conferences that the majority of the people listening actually "get"). Earlier this year, the Hordette again weaved a little slam magic by saving three match points in a Melbourne win over Melanie Oudin. Since then, though, she's maintained her usual low profile (except for maybe when she lost a grass court rematch with Sharapova in Birmingham). Last week in Guangzhou, though, the 22-year old managed to reach her first WTA singles final, where she lost to fellow first-time finalist Groth. In the same event, 20-year old wild card Han (who's made some waves in slam qualifying in '10, and managed to reach the main draw in Oz in January) found her way into the singles quarterfinals with victories over Hsieh Su-Wei and Chang Kai-Chen. She also reached the doubles final.
COMEBACKS: Tamira Paszek/AUT & Sania Mirza/IND
it's not often that a player is in position to make a "comeback" while still in her teens, but that's precisely "the situation" (not to be confused with the one on "Dancing with the Stars" tonight) 19-year old Paszek has found herself in this summer. The Austrian has already experienced a career's worth of highs and lows before she's even turned 20. Four years ago, she qualified for a September WTA event in Portoroz and ended up winning the title. She was just 15 at the time, and is still the seventh-youngest singles champion in tour history. At #259 when she won the title, she's the third-lowest ranked (not including unranked champions) tour titlist in history. In 2007, she reached a career-high rank of #35. Since then, the Austrian has received praise from the likes of Justine Henin, watched her results dip amidst a series of coaching changes, missed many months with a heel injury, avoided a doping suspension from the Austrian tennis federation for blood treatments to treat a back injury, and struggled as her ranking fell to #186 at the end of 2009. In Week 21 of this season, she won an ITF event, then a few months later made it through U.S. Open qualifying and upset Lucie Safarova in the main draw. Last week in Quebec City, ranked #151, Paszek once again was forced to make her way through qualifying to reach the main draw. She did, getting wins over Carly Gullickson and Julie Ditty. After that, she ran off victories over Marina Erakovic, Jill Craybas, Sofia Arvidsson and Christina McHale to reach her first final since 2008 (Bali). And with her win in the final over Mattek-Sands, Paszek not only finally gets career title #2 but also looks to be getting a "second chance" in her career. By the way, the latest WTA champion FINALLY gets to celebrate the "Big Two-0" (not to be confused "Hawaii Five-O," premiering tonight on CBS) in December. Elsewhere, Sania Mirza continued her own comeback. Also a U.S. Open qualifier last month, the Indian known for creating so many off-court headlines made some minor ones on the court. In Guangzhou, she notched wins over Katie O'Brian and Akgul Amanmuradova to reach the QF, then won the doubles title with Edina Gallovits.
VETERANS: Renata Voracova/CZE & Zuzana Ondraskova/CZE
the Czech vets were champions on the ITF circuit over the weekend. One week after claiming a $100K title, Voracova took at $25 event in Zagreb, defeating Magda Linette (a four-time challenger winner in '10) 6-1/4-6/6-4 in the final. In Mestre, Italy, Ondraskova won a $50K title with victories over Julia Schruff, Arantxa Rus, Katarzyna Piter and countrywoman Lucie Hradecka in the final.
FRESH FACES: Christina McHale/USA & Jamie Hampton/USA
18-year old McHale reached her first tour SF in Quebec City, notching wins over Lilia Osterloh, Valerine Tetreault and Alexa Glatch. Meanwhile, 20-year old Hampton reached her seventh 2010 challenger final in a $25K event in Redding, California. She won her fourth title, defeating Jelena Pandzic in the deciding match.
DOWN: Aravane Rezai/FRA
no big crash here, but she WAS the #2 seed (and my pick to win the title, grrrrr.... thankfully, Guangzhou pick Groth won, though, so things evened out) in Quebec City and lost in the 1st Round to Jill Craybas.
ITF PLAYER: Mathilde Johansson/FRA
the Pastry won her second $100K challenger title of '10 with a victory in the Sofia final when Carla Suarez-Navarro retired down 6-4/3-1. Johansson got earlier wins over Tathiana Garbin, Petra Martic and Sesil "The Ghost" Karatantcheva.
JUNIOR STAR: Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR
the 16-year old Minsk native won the Serbia Junior Open at Novi Sad when her opponent in the final, #1-seed Sofiya Kovalets (UKR), retired seven games into the match. The tournament was on clay, but Sasnovich says that grass is her favorite surface.

1. Guang Final - Groth d. Kudryavtseva
Groth joins Stosur as the only two Australian women to win tour singles titles this season. Meanwhile, no taken-out-of-context word yet on whether or not Kudryavtseva liked Jarmila's outfit. Ah, no one ever forgets.
2. Que Final - Paszek d. Mattek-Sands
And Austria becomes the twentieth different nation to produce a WTA singles champion in 2010, matching the tour's spread-the-wealth season total from last year.
3. Que 1st Rd - Oudin d. Riske
And thus Little MO begins the next phase. Not a bad start. She ended up reaching the QF.
HM- Que 2nd Rd - Marino d. Bartoli
Would it have hurt Bartoli as much had it been Venus who kicked her top-seeded butt?

February - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (age 20/Bogota)
February - Alisa Kleybanova, RUS (age 20/Kuala Lumpur)
March - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (age 18/Monterrey)
May - Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT (age 20/Estoril)
June - Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (age 22/Eastbourne)
July - Kaia Kanepi, EST (age 25/Palermo)
July - Julia Goerges, GER (age 21/Bad Gastein)

18y,8m - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (Monterrey)
19y,1m - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (Istanbul)
19y,9m - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (Ponte Vedra Beach)

[not including unranked players]
#143 - Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU (Bogota)
#103 - Anna Chakvetadze, RUS (Portoroz)
#100 - Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (Eastbourne)
#74 - Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT (Estoril)

Bogota (Feb.) - Mariana Duque-Marino/COL d. Angelique Kerber/GER
Estoril (Feb.) - Anastasiya Sevastova/LAT d. Arantxa Parra-Santonja/ESP

Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (Memphis) - lost to Sharapova
Simona Halep, ROU (Fes) - lost to Benesova
Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (Eastbourne) - def. Azarenka

Anna Chakvetadze, RUS - 1 ITF/1 WTA (Portoroz)
Kaia Kanepi, EST - 2 ITF/1 WTA (Palermo)

**2010 ITF LEADERS**
[total finals]
7...Romina Oprandi, ITA (3-4)
6...Madalina Gojnea, ROU (5-1)
6...Olivia Sanchez, FRA (4-2)
[undefeated in three-or-more finals]
4-0...Anna Lapushchenkova, RUS
4-0...Patricia Mayr, ITA
4-0...Chanel Simmonds, RSA
4-0...Liana-Gabriela Ungur, ROU
4-0...Zuzana Zlochova, SVK
3-0...Meilen Auroux, ARG
3-0...Jelena Dokic, AUS
3-0...Edina Gallovits, ROU
3-0...Sachie Ishizu, JPN

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
09 Final: Date-Krumm d. Medina-Garrigues
10 Top Seeds: Petrova/Pavlyuchenkova

#3 Kirilenko d. Groth
#2 Pavlyuchenkova d. #5 Kleybanova
#2 Pavlyuchenkova d. #3 Kirilenko

...a year ago, Date-Krumm completed her comeback by winning her first tour title in thirteen years at nearly 39 years old. One season later, she could get a shot at #2 Pavlyuchenkova in the 2nd Round. I'll go with the youngster, and stick with her to take her third title of the year (although Kirilenko has a very good history of results in Asia). Groth, by the way, is scheduled to play top-seeded Petrova in the 1st Round.

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN (Int'l $220K/hard outdoor)
09 Final: Peer d. Amanmuradova
10 Top Seeds: Dulgheru/Amanmuradova

#4 Vesnina d. #1 Dulgheru
#2 Amanmuradova d. #3 Chakvetadze
#4 Vesnina d. #2 Amanmuradova

...I'm not sure I really believe that Vesnina will win this, but since I've done so well with those mid-season regional "first title" predictions, I'll remain loyal to myself and go with her. So far, Groth, Kanepi & Camila Silva (ITF) have all come through with their first singles titles, leaving only Vesnina (WTA) and Sloane Stephens (ITF) as hold-outs.

All for now. The 3Q gets its belated send-off tomorrow (along with a look-in on the race for "Ms.Backspin '10.")


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