Monday, November 08, 2010

Wk.44- Hope Springs Eternal... finally

As the WTA's 2010 season came to a close, some good news finally managed to slip through the cracks.

This year has often been throttled, both in this space and elsewhere, for all that it DIDN'T turn out to be. For all the matches that DIDN'T happen. And for all the would-be champions who DIDN'T rise to the occasion. But on the final weekend of top level women's tennis for this calendar year, quite the opposite occurred.

In Bali, Ana Ivanovic provided us with hope. Not just for her own ability to reclaim a career that has hit hard times over the two years since the Serb rose to new career heights, but for the proof that no player's career need be defined by their failures. The former #1 and '08 Roland Garros champion closed out her year by displaying the sort of tennis that made everyone pay attention to her talents in the first place. THAT AnaIvo has been in hibernation, seemingly afraid to come out into the light on most occasions since June '08. But as this season has gone along, she's displayed a spine again, along with a noticable desire to reclaim what she's lost and once again re-write the story of her career. Two 4th Quarter titles are enough to elicit hope for a great future (again), and that's something that was in short supply when it came to her immediate future one year ago.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, the Italians once again showed how things SHOULD be done. Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone & Co. were, as expected, professional and upright in their successful attempt to defend their Fed Cup title. Age usually provides wisdom (well, unless your name is Charlie Sheen, I guess), and Team Italia is filled to the brim with it. The Italians arrived in California as the odds-on favorites to emerge once again as champions, and they ultimately proved more than up to the challenge. It sort of gives one hope that all those supposedly-great champions who were supposed to dominate the WTA landscape in 2010, but usually didn't, WILL find a way to claw their way back into the limelight next season.

All in all, it was an uplifting way to close down one season, and the perfect teaser for the next. The Italians aren't the only ones who should be celebrating.



BALI, INDONESIA (TOC/$600K/hard indoor)
S: Ana Ivanovic def. Alisa Kleybanova 7-6/6-2

FC FINAL (San Diego/hard indoor)
S: Italy def. United States 3-1

Francesca Schiavone has more Fed Cup wins (24) than any other Italian woman in tennis history, but make no mistake about it that it was Pennetta who was Team Italia's star performer in 2010. As Italy wrapped up its third FC crown in the last five years, Pennetta was the player who put away the championship-clinching point for the second straight season on Sunday in San Diego. The "MVP" of her nations three FC victories in '10, Pennetta is without question the Fed Cup Player of the Year. This weekend, she put down a game Bethanie Mattek-Sands on Saturday to give Italy a huge 2-0 lead, then quickly squashed Coco Vandeweghe's hopes on Sunday after Schiavone had failed in her attempt to secure the title in the day's previous match. It seems that so many of the WTA's veterans are getting better with age, and surely the 28-year old Pennetta is right in there with the best of them when it comes to that conversation.
RISERS: Alisa Kleybanova/RUS & Urszula Radwanska/POL
Kleybanova had the chance to win a third title on the season and place herself behind only Caroline Wozniacki and Barbie on the WTA's 2010 title list if she'd been able to end her tour season by winning the Tournament of Champions final over Ana Ivanovic. But after having knocked out defending champ Aravane Rezai, then Daniela Hantuchova, losing a combined seven games in the two matches, she lost 7-6/6-2 to the Serb. Nevertheless, she still had a career year in '10, and should be included on the short list of of players who could make a huge leap in '11. Meanwhile, U-Rad never really was able to get herself fully back on track after being injured in January. But as the season ends with her sister Agnieszka the one on the injured list, the young sibling in the Radwanska family is starting to get her game back in gear. In a $50K in Ismaning, Germany over the weekend, she picked up a singles titles with a 7-5/6-4 victory in the final over Andrea Hlavackova.
SURPRISE: Yuliana Lizarazo/COL
yet another young South American grabbed a challenger title over the weekend, as 17-year old Colombian Lizarazo won the Bogota $10K with a win in the final over American Nataly Yoo. She also won the doubles.
COMEBACKS: Ana Ivanovic/SRB & Julia Glushko/ISR
after announcing that Heinz Gunthardt's inability to travel with her will prevent him from being her full-time coach in '10, the progress that AnaIvo has made since joining forces with Steffi Graf's former coach once again was on full display. After following up her Linz title with a quick exit in her next event, the Serb won all three of her matches in Bali to take the title at the second Tournament of Champions event. She lost just one set in total, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daniela Hantuchova and Alisa Kleybanova while grabbing career title #10 on the same weekend in which she celebrated her 23rd birthday. Without Gunthardt's total support, questions will linger about whether Ivanovic can carry over her 4th Quarter momentum into 2011, but she HAS made it clear that if she can just maintain her recent steady progress she might just get back to the '08 form yet. If she can, a return to the Top 10 next season might just be in the cards. After having looked promising in '08, Glushko made more headlines in '09 when her coach/father popped off about whether or not Sarah Gronert should be allowed to play women's tennis than she did with her own on-court success. As this season has progressed, though, the Israeli has started to pick up where she left off. In the $25K in Kalgoorlie, Australia, she won her third challenger title of the season, defeating the likes of Jessica Moore, Melanie South, Gail Brodsky and, in the final, Aussie Isabella Holland along the way.
VETERAN: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN
although she was ranked just #53, Date-Krumm was given a wild card into the Tournament of Champions field in Bali (only she, '09 champ Aravane Rezai and Yanina Wickmayer have played in the event in both of its two seasons). A year ago, she reached the semifinals after making it through group play. This year, with the round robin scrapped, she won her QF match over #1-seed Li Na, then was the only player to take a set off eventual champ AnaIvo in the SF. After that, she won the 3rd Place match over Daniela Hantuchova.
FRESH FACE: Melanie Oudin/USA
people in tennis have notoriously short memories, but I didn't expect that Mary Joe Fernandez would be one of them on the final Fed Cup weekend of 2010. Even after Oudin cut her proverbial tennis teeth in Fed Cup action the last two seasons, led the American team through the 1st Round in February (going 2-0 vs. France) and was sporting a 3-1 FC season record (losing only a three-set contest to Elena Dementieva in the SF vs. Russia) as everyone arrived in San Diego, Oudin was passed over by MJF in favor of Cup neophyte Coco Vandeweghe in the first singles match on Saturday. In her debut, Vandeweghe lost in straight sets to Francesca Schiavone. Oudin would have sat out Day 2, as well, were it not for Bethanie Mattek-Sands' injury. Pressed into action, Oudin defeated Schiavone in Match #3 to prevent the Roland Garros champ from clinching the title for Italy. One can make the case that being passed over served to inspire Oudin on Sunday, but the teenager has a history of rising to the occasion on big stages such as those provided by grand slams and the Fed Cup. Fernandez has made many good decisions in guiding the Bannerettes to back-to-back unexpected FC final berths, but overlooking Oudin's big match history -- no matter how lackluster her overall season has been, or how promising a talent Vandeweghe is -- wasn't one of them. It seems to me that it was one "cute/unconventional" maneuver too many in a Final which pitted a very experienced Italian team against an American one that was a mix of upstarts, a just-coming-into-her-own veteran and doubles specialist Liezel Huber. As far as singles FC competition goes, the 18-year old Oudin was the most experienced of the lot, and deciding to leave her out of the equation was MJF's first real misstep as the American coach. Still, her win on Sunday it was a nice reminder of the guts and guile that Oudin showed while becoming such an instant star over the course of the '09 season.
DOWN: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
the Russian has shown no Zenyatta-like drive down the stretch of the 2010 WTA season. Both lost in their only attempt at victory last week. The horse came close, but Pavlyuchenkova didn't. She lost love & one to Ivanovic in Bali.
Peng won the $100K challenger event in Taipei, notching wins over Yan Zi, Bojana Jovanovski, Tamarine Tanasugarn and Ayumi Morita in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Gabriela Dabrowski/CAN
the 18-year old from Ottawa, the #9-ranked junior in the world, won her biggest pro title in the $50K challenger in Toronto. Teaming with Sharon Fichman, she won the doubles with a victory in the final over Americans Alexandra Mueller and Brittany Augustine. It's Dabrowski's second ITF doubles title, but first since she and Fichman won a doubles crown in a $25K in Toronto (Dabrowski was just 15 at the time) in 2007. In singles, Dabrowski also notched a nice straight sets 1st Round win over #2-seeded Christina McHale by a 6-3/6-4 score.

1. FC Match #4 - Pennetta d. Vandeweghe
Vandeweghe broke Pennetta to open the match and take a 1-0 lead, then was up 40/love on serve in Game #2. But with her nerves settled, Pennetta went about her business and took control of the proceedings, winning the next six games to take the 1st set, and twelve of the final fourteen games in the match.
2. TOC Final - Ivanovic d. Kleybanova
AnaIvo's second indoor title run gives her more than any other woman on tour in 2010 under the roof.
3. FC Match #2 - Pennetta d. Mattek-Sands
Pennetta raced to a quick 5-1 lead in the 1st, but Mattek-Sands battled back to hold a set point. She failed to get it, littered the opening set tie-break with errors, then cramped up in the 2nd set (apparently, for the first time in her career) as Italy took a commanding 2-0 lead in the tie.
4. FC Match #3 - Oudin d. Schiavone
Showing why she should have been playing on Day 1, but only playing then because of Mattek-Sands' physical condition, Oudin put her foot down and prevented Schiavone from closing out her banner year by clinching the Fed Cup crown for Team Italia.
5. $50K Grapevine TX Final - Varvara Lepchenko d. Jamie Hampton
While those other Americans were losing in San Diego, these two were battling it out for a challenger title in Texas.
HM- $50K Toronto ONT Final - Heather Watson d. Alize Lim
After taking out another American not present in San Diego, Sloane Stephens, in the semis, Watson claimed her second challenger title of the season with a win over Pastry Lim.

[2000-10 Finals]
2000 United States d. Spain 5-0
2001 Belgium d. Russia 2-1
2002 Slovak Republic d. Spain 3-1
2003 France d. United States 4-1
2004 Russia d. France 3-2
2005 Russia d. France 3-2
2006 Italy d. Belgium 3-2
2007 Russia d. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia d. Spain 4-0
2009 Italy d. United States 4-0
2010 Italy d. United States 3-1
[All-Time Titles]
17...United States
2...West Germany/Germany
1...Slovak Republic
1...South Africa

[1st Rd.]
ITA: Flavia Pennetta
CZE: Lucie Hradecka
RUS: Svetlana Kuznetsova
USA: Melanie Oudin
ITA: Flavia Pennetta
USA: Bethanie Mattek-Sands
ITA: Flavia Pennetta

43...Venus Williams, USA
43...Justine Henin, BEL
40...Belgian Barbie, BEL
37...Serena Williams, USA
22...Maria Sharapova, RUS
16...Elena Dementieva, RUS (retired)
13...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
12...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
12...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
12...Dinara Safina, RUS
11...Patty Schnyder, SUI
10...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
[last three seasons]
12...Caroline Wozniacki [3-3-6]
9...Serena Williams [4-3-2]
8...Elena Dementieva [3-3-2]
7...Jelena Jankovic [4-2-1]
7...Dinara Safina [4-3-0]
6...Belgian Barbie [x-1-5]
6...Maria Sharapova [3-1-2]
5...Victoria Azarenka [0-3-2]
5...ANA IVANOVIC [3-0-2]
5...Flavia Pennetta [2-2-1]
5...Vera Zvonareva [2-2-1]

**BEST 2010 WTA FINAL WIN PCT. - 2+**
1.000...Belgian Barbie (5-0)
1.000...ANA IVANOVIC (2-0)
1.000...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2-0)
1.000...Aravave Rezai (2-0)
1.000...Francesca Schiavone (2-0)
1.000...Agnes Szavay (2-0)
0.750...Caroline Wozniacki (6-2)
0.667...ALISA KLEYBANOVA (2-1)

**2010 4Q WTA FINALS**
3...Caroline Wozniacki (2-1)
2...ANA IVANOVIC (2-0)
2...Alla Kudryavtseva (1-1)

**2010 WEEKS AT #1**
40...Serena Williams, USA
5...CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, DEN (+7 weeks to end '10)
20...Liezel Huber, USA
15...Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA (co-#1's)
8...Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA (co-#1's)
2...GISELA DULKO, ARG (+7 weeks to end '10)

[last ten seasons]
2001 Lindsay Davenport (62-9)
2002 Serena Williams (56-5)
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne (75-11)
2004 Lindsay Davenport (63-9)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (60-10)
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne (60-8)
2007 Justine Henin (63-4)
2008 Jelena Jankovic (65-19)
2009 Serena Williams (50-12)
2010 Caroline Wozniacki (63-16)

Part 2 of the 2010 Backspin Awards arrives later this week, as the latest "Ms. Backspin" will finally be crowned. All for now.

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Blogger Diane said...

Though I never like to see Francesca or Flavia lose, I was quite excited to see Oudin suddenly find her entire game, in one fell swoop, and have such a terrific win in San Diego. What a way to end the season! (And I do think there may have been a touch of "Okay, Mary Joe, want to see how it's done?" involved.)

Mon Nov 08, 10:50:00 PM EST  
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Tue Nov 09, 01:16:00 AM EST  
Blogger NC said...

Great piece as always, Todd. I just recently discovered your blog and am interested in your opinion on the likely Ms. Backspin 2010, Caroline Wozniacki.

I've always thought that Caro is quite similar to Clijsters: Both are widely recognized as kind competitors, are media darlings (Woz's "Sunshine" moniker, Clisjters' Barbie),excellent movers and defensive to offensive players. Their statistic are also fairly similar to this stage. They both reached the zenith of the WTA rankings at the same age, Clisjters with 16 career titles, Woz with 12. But Clijsters had reached 3 in becoming number one, won the year end championships and was also number one in doubles. Clijsters was the initial recipient of the "How can you be #1 without a Slam? and I'm wondering how you feel Wozniacki will fair next year with heightened expectation.

I think Caro has the definite mental edge, she seems to revel in her new ranking status and truly believes that she's the number one player, but her Slam results have been relatively disappointing thus far. If I continue with the Clijsters comparison, Kim had advanced past the 4th round of a major 8 times by Caro's current age. Wozniacki has done it 3 times. The manner in which she loses the slam is disconcerting to me, though. Kim tended to under perform towards the later stages of major, The 2003 AO Serena defeat and the 3 final losses to Henin most notably, but a lot of that was due to poor play in the big moments from Clijsters. By comparison, Caroline rarely beats herself but tends to be outplayed in defeat (Li Na, Schiavone, Kvitova, Zvonareva all in straight sets).

Do you think it's more promising to have a player capable of winning major events but failing mentally, or possessing a fighting, positive attitude but be outclassed in defeat? Also, do you think that Caro's lackluster performances in majors is a result of the lack of on-court coaching?

I think these next few years are critical for Wozniacki. Her game is obviously improving, so I look forward to seeing if the past major events have just been a gradual progression to performing as consistently well at Slams as she has during the regular season.

Tue Nov 09, 08:21:00 AM EST  
Blogger NC said...

Sorry, proof reading is obviously not my strong suit. The second paragraph should read:

I've always thought that Caro is quite similar to Clijsters: Both are media darlings (Woz has the "Sunshine" moniker, Clisjters a Barbie), excellent movers, and defensive to offensive players. Their statistic are also fairly similar to this stage. They both reached the zenith of the WTA rankings at the same age, Clisjters with 16 career titles, Woz with 12. But Clijsters had reached 3 Slam finals in becoming number one, won the year-end championships and was also number one in doubles. Clijsters was the initial recipient of the "How can you be #1 without a Slam?" onslaught and I'm wondering how you feel Wozniacki will fair next year with heightened expectation.

Tue Nov 09, 08:31:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Sorry for not getting on top of these comments last week (I guess I took a brief end-of-season break myself).


Yeah, although it would have been good timing for my purposes (hint hint) had Schiavone been the one to close out the season by clinching the FC title with a victory, I was happy to see Oudin get a win, too. Of course, that was largely because I didn't expect it to mean much, since I figured Pennetta would just win the next one, which she did. Though I'm still not sure where MJF's head was in that Day 1 decision.


Nice to hear from you! Don't think my late response to this is S.O.P., though. I REALLY DO usually get on these things fairly quickly. :)

I've noticed a lot of the things-other-than-the-power-level-of-their-games similarities between Wozniacki and Clijsters, too. Of course, it's not something I harp on too much, since I've always sort of jabbed at KC for many of her perceived qualities, while taking a shine to many when it's been Wozniacki sporting them. Actually, calling Clijsters "Barbie" this season (oh, this means absolutely nothing, but the other day I read on the back of a Snapple Ice Tea bottle top that Barbie's "full name" is Barbara Millicent Roberts -- which I'd NEVER head before, though I'm still trying to figure out a way to use it "against" Kim... haha) was something of a not-kind way to refer to her. Although, with the season over, I'm now back to calling her by her actual given name, I figure she'll never escape that particular moniker in these parts. Thank you, Mattel.


Mon Nov 15, 10:47:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


"I think Caro has the definite mental edge, she seems to revel in her new ranking status and truly believes that she's the number one player..."

You make a really good point there. As opposed to a few of the "failed" #1's of recent vintage, C-Woz does indeed seem more comfortable in her top-seeded skin. Considering how they played after assuming the top spot, I'd say that might be a good omen. Though she's not a finished product, she's been steadily improving and adding things to her game over the last two seasons as she's gone from year-end #12 to #4 to #1. Her youth gives her an "out" for not yet having a slam, but that'll need to change next season if she's to stay ahead of the #1 debate.

Thing is, with (possibly) Henin back in better form, and (maybe) full seasons from the Williamses, things might be more difficult at the slams in '11. Sharapova might get back in form, too. And then there's Ivanovic, who looked better as the season ended than she has in two years. Nothing is a given (just look at the '10 season), but Wozniacki might be a much better player in '11 than she was this year but see her ranking fall and end another season without a slam. She needs to get more aggressive and improve her volley if she's going to take down big hitters in big matches. Just look at her SEC match against Clijsters -- it's just the sort of match she would have won if she was just a bit better in those areas of her game.

The lack of coaching during the slams probably does hurt her, but she's shown a willingness to learn and take direction, and wants to attend classes at Yale at some point. She's smart, and should be able to learn to function on the court without her dad's reminders. It's that "belief" in herself that you mentioned that gives me hope on that front. Personally, I'd rather have a fighter with the ability to win a slam than a player with ability but a propensity to collapse on the big stages. Of course, you'd rather have someone like Serena, who has loads of talent AND heart. THEN, it's just a matter of how many slams are won, not whether one is ever won at all.

As far as "Ms. Backspin," which will be posted later today, you might be surprised by not only who ends up winning it, but also where Wozniacki ranks in the final tally. Actually, I sort of surprised myself.

Oh, and trust me, I've learned over time that initial proofreading is most definitely not an exact science. :)

Mon Nov 15, 10:50:00 AM EST  
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