Monday, August 08, 2011

Wk.31- Have Pole, Will Travel

Hmmm, this week's star was a young twentysomething women with Polish heritage who often uses her low-error game to get a leg up on her usually more powerful, but also more error-prone, opponents while generally being reticent to try to impose herself into a match in any sort of forceful, grab-the-contest-by-the-throat sort of way.

No, it wasn't Caroline Wozniacki who won in Carlsbad. It was Aggie Radwanska.

It IS true that Radwanska, like the Dane, has on occasion shown some pop in her groundstrokes in the middle of rallies, one doesn't have quite the level of frustration with A-Rad as C-Woz. That's because, as of now, there's still some hope that Wozniacki might not always rely quite as heavily on her low-wattage approach. With Radwanska, that dream ship sailed off long ago. The Pole is what she is... a player who is a dangerous foe for any woman whose game slips on a particular day, is lackadaisical, or chooses to hang back during rallies and not try to take control of a point (or if she does, misses far more often than she succeeds on attempts at winners). Once in a while, Radwanska has even chose to play "mind games" with an opponent -- such as when she upset Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open a while back. While Wozniacki has earned her #1 ranking over the course of a full season, though, Radwanska has always seemed to be "renting" her Top 10 space until other players finally began to live up to their potential. In recent months and weeks, the latter occurred, and A-Rad finally dropped out of the Top 10 after spending all but four weeks there during the '10 season. While there's still a nagging belief that Wozniacki is doing herself a disservice by not giving herself the best chance to win big titles, with Radwanska, there's something of an undercurrent that maybe SHE has simply found a way to cover up her deficiencies and give herself a chance to win in circumstances where she might not otherwise have much of a chance to do so. It works for her, but only up to a point. She's never going to win a slam, or likely even contend for one, but she can have a long, nice career.

I've admitted in the past to having never really been a great fan of Radwanska's style of play. While it might not be called boring (though I probably did call it that at one point), it's certainly the antithesis of "flashy," and without any great track record of consistent Wozniacki-like success -- it'd been three years since she won a title -- that provides reason to overlook all the rest. But I have learned to appreciated A-Rad for the smart, clever player she is.

Unlike with Serena Williams' win in Stanford, or whatever happens during the loaded Toronto event this week (Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, and Kim Clijsters return, while Sharapova, Serena, Li Na, Carlsbad runner-up Vera Zvonareva and Victoria Azarenka are all there), it's hard to draw any conclusions about New York based on what happened last week in California. Radwanska made news recently when her father harshly -- and publicly -- criticized her after she blew several opportunities against Sharapova in a Round of 16 match at Roland Garros, so this is a nice follow-up to all that unfortunate dialogue. But her Carlsbad title, the biggest of her career, isn't likely to change the course of her career in any great way. Even if she does (temporarily?) lead the U.S. Open Series, she isn't an Open threat. She had a great week, but it likely be her '11 North American highlight.

Good for A-Rad... but, starting this week, the proverbial rubber begins to meet the road as the stretch run toward the season's final slam begins.

CARLSBAD, CALIFORNIA (Premier $721K/hard court outdoor)
S: Agnieszka Radwanska def. Vera Zvonareva 6-3/6-4
D: Peschke/Srebotnik d. Kops-Jones/Spears

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL's hard to imagine anyone expected Radwanska to actually improve upon her runner-up result in this tournament from a year ago, but that's just what she did, reaching her first singles since she did so in this event (in San Diego) last season. She knocked off Elena Baltacha early, nearly double-bageled Christina McHale, came back from losing the 1st set at love to defeat Daniela Hantuchova, won ten straight games in the middle of her match against Andrea Petkovic, and never really let Vera Zvonareva get much of a sniff at victory in the final. It's the Pole's fifth career tour singles title, but her first since winning on the grass at Eastbourne in '08.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva/RUS & Andrea Petkovic/GER
...Zvonareva has had a stealthily good season in '11. She's won two titles, is holding onto her #3 ranking and is moving forward without the same sort of slam-or-else pressure being heaped upon a certain Dane. The '10 U.S. Open runner-up reached her second straight '11 final in Carlsbad, following up her Baku title with wins over Jill Craybas, Vera Dushevina, Sabine Lisicki and Ana Ivanovic. She's 9-1 since Wimbledon, and if she'd played better against Radwanska in the final she might be the subject of "dark horse" chatter going into Flushing Meadows. But now she won't have to deal with all that. Meanwhile, Petkovic finally made her first appearance since her first week exit at Wimbledon, reaching the Carlsbad SF with wins over Alexa Glatch, Virginie Razzano and Sloane Stephens. It's her fourth SF-or-better result this season, and one has to think the German is just warming up for at least one opportunity to boogie once more under the lights of Ashe Stadium in a few weeks.
SURPRISES: Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears (USA/USA)
...the American pair reached the Carlsbad final, but failed to get their second title (w/ '09 Estoril) as a duo. They upset former #1's Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta in the SF, only to lose to current #1's Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in the final.
COMEBACK: Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...a few weeks under the tutelage of Nigel Sears seems to have helped AnaIvo, as she reached the SF in Carlsbad with wins over Ayumi Morita, Alberta Brianti and Peng Shuai. Sears' on-court visit seemed to work well against Peng in the QF, as Ivanovic turned a 1-4 1st set deficit into a 6-4/6-2 win as the Chinese woman's hip injury flared up a bit. But it was Sears' visit in the 3rd set of AnaIvo's SF match with Radwanska that gives me pause. Call me crazy, but I have to wonder about a player who has to have a coach come onto the court when she's down 0-3 in the final set and tell an ex-#1/slam winner to not lose hope, hold herself together and try hard on every point until the end of the match. Shouldn't that be a given? In any event, the Serb's talent continues to show up on occasion, but the frayed mental edge of her game that three years ago caused her inner circle to choose to not tell her that her Roland Garros semi against Jelena Jankovic had a win-and-you're-#1 component seems destined to always put a glass ceiling on the future results of a player who's never been quite the same since she rose to the top of the sport thirty-eight months ago in the wake of Justine Henin's first retirement.
VETERANS: Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)
...the Czech/Slovene pair has proven out to be the best women's doubles team in the world in 2011. The top-ranked Wimbledon champs notched their fifth title of the season in Carlsbad, their seventh overall as a duo. It's the 30-year old Srebotnik's 28th career tour doubles title, while Peschke (at 36, the oldest champion on tour this season) has now claimed 21.
FRESH FACE: Sloane Stephens/USA
...Stephens, 18, used her wild card into the Carlsbad draw to put together the best week of her young career, reaching her first tour quarterfinal with victories over Zhang Shuai, Julia Goerges and Tamira Paszek (the latter via a retirement). Stephens, a very active Twitter user herself (a recent entry: "I deserve this smile I carry."), joined fellow American Donald Young (a SF in Washington D.C.) with a career-best result this weekend. Of course, Stephens didn't have to do so as a great on-court response to a profanity-laced/anti-USTA Twittergate situation from a while back, as the so-long-a-seeming-underachiever Young did. Her progess has been slow and steady, and continues unabated.
DOWN: Melanie Oudin/USA & Christina McHale/USA
...while Stephens had a career week, other American "hopefuls" did not. McHale started well, double-bageling qualifier Zoe Gwen Scandalis (would it have been scandalous had she done otherwise?) and defeating Alla Kudryavtseva, but her week ended when she was able to put just a single game on the board against A-Rad. McHale had nothing on Oudin, though. Continuing her downward spiral this season, Little MO lost her fifth straight match when she was ousted in Carlsbad by Elena Baltacha (6-0/6-1), then her sixth consecutive in Toronto qualifying against Bojana Jovanovski. The former U.S. Open quarterfinalist is now 3-17 in her last twenty matches.
ITF PLAYER: Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN
...back in 2008, Wozniak was a shocking tour champion in Stanford. Since then, though, aside from a few spirited and fun outings against Caroline Wozniacki, the Canadian hasn't had nearly as much of a presence on the women's tour. Last year, she dropped out of the Top 100. Last week, though, the 23-year old experienced her most successful week since winning Stanford, taking the $100K challenger in Vancouver by getting a string of victories over the likes of Laura Robson, Urszula Radwanska, Irina Falconi and Jamie Hampton in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Anett Kontaveit/EST
...the 15-year old Estonian -- the #18-ranked junior, and a Girls quarterfinalist at Roland Garros in June -- won her second ITF challenger of the season in a $10K in Savitaipale, Finland, defeating Lisanne van Riet of the Netherlands in the final.

1. Carl Final - A.Radwanska d. Zvonareva
And, thus, Poland becomes the seventeenth different nation to produce a 2011 WTA singles champion.
2. Carl 1st Rd - Dushevina d. Rezai 4-6/6-3/6-4
Toronto Q - Baltacha d. Rezai 6-4/6-4
make it 25/26 outings in which Rezai has failed to win more than a single match, with the one exception coming when an in-match retirment gave her her only second victory in an event during the span.
3. Carl 1st Rd - Morita d. Dokic
In her last ten tournaments, Dokic has been a feast-or-famine sort. She's got seven 1st Round outs and one 2nd Rounder, along with appearances in the finals of Kuala Lumpur (W) and 's-Hertogenbosch (L).
4. Carl 1st Rd - Vinci d. Jovanovski 3-6/6-4/6-1
Toronto Q - Jovanovski d. Oudin 6-4/6-2
after losing last week in College Park, BoJo hopped a plane to Carlsbad, New Mexico for her next event. Problem is, the tournament was being held in Carlsbad, California... 983 miles away. She arrived on the CORRECT grounds just thirty minutes before her 1st Round loss to Vinci. She DID make it to Toronto for her qualifying match, though, showing up in Ontario rather than Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio or South Dakota, which also have cities named "Toronto." Whew!
5. $100K Vancouver Doubles Final - Ka.Pliskova/Kr.Pliskova d. Hampton/Lertcheewakarn
A slam is getting nearer, and Czechs (these sisters, along with Peschke in Carlsbad) are winning titles again. Hmmm.
HM- $25K Monteroni Final - Nastassja Burnett/ITA d. Anna-Giulia Remondina/ITA
The 19-year old Italian, ranked #349 in the world, grabs her second straight ITF crown (going 12-0 in the stretch), and third circuit title of the season.

**WTA FINALS - 2009-11**
23...Caroline Wozniacki (8/8/7, 14-9)
11...VERA ZVONAREVA (2/6/3, 5-6)
10...Victoria Azarenka (3/4/3, 7-3)
10...Maria Sharapova (2/5/3, 4-6)

3...Kim Clijsters, January-February
3...Caroline Wozniacki, February-March
2...Li Na, January
2...Victoria Azarenka, March-April
2...Caroline Wozniacki, April
2...Petra Kvitova, June-July (ACTIVE STREAK)
2...Polona Hercog, July

4...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3-1)
3...Kim Clijsters, BEL (1-2)
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE (2-0)
2...Li Na, CHN (1-1)
2...Marion Bartoli, FRA (0-2)
2...Lucie Safarova, CZE (0-2)

Auckland - Greta Arn, HUN (def. Sharapova in QF)
Paris - Petra Kvitova, CZE (def. Clijsters in Final)
Pattaya City - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (def. Zvonareva in SF)
Doha - Vera Zvonareva, RUS (def. Wozniacki in Final)
Kuala Lumpur - Jelena Dokic, AUS (def. Schiavone in 1st Rd.)
Monterrey - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (def. Jankovic in Final)
Stuttgart - Julia Goerges, GER (def. Wozniacki in Final)
Rome - Maria Sharapova, RUS (def. Wozniacki in SF)
Strasbourg - Andrea Petkovic, GER (def. Bartoli in Final)
College Park - Nadia Petrova, RUS (def. Peer in Final)
Carlsbad - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL (def. Zvonareva in Final)

8 years/8 months/2 weeks - Jelena Dokic, AUS ('02 Birmingham = "11 Kuala Lumpur)
5 years - Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP ('06 Bogota = '11 Bogota)
3 years/8 months - Greta Arn, HUN ('07 Estoril = '11 Auckland)
3 years/3 months/2 weeks - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK ('07 Linz = '11 Pattaya City)
3 years/2 months/3 weeks - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL ('08 Eastbourne = '11 Carlsbad)

[both players currently active]
29...Cara Black/Liezel Huber
20...Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
19...Serena Williams/Venus Williams
11...Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta (1 title in '11)
11...Yan Zi/Zheng Jie
9...Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
8...Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (3 titles in '11)
7...Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung
5...Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (3 titles in '11)
5...Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (1 title in '11)

[season of last title]
Eleni Daniilidou, GRE [2008]
Maria Kirilenko, RUS [2008]
Petra Kvitova, CZE [4 in 2011]
Li Na, CHN [2 in 2011]
Alicia Molik, AUS [2005]
Shahar Peer, ISR [2009]
Agnes Szavay, HUN [2010]

TORONTO, ONTARIO CAN (Premier $2.05m/hard outdoor)
10 Final: Wozniacki d. Zvonareva
11 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Clijsters
10 Doubles Champions: Dulko/Pennetta

#6 Li d. #1 Wozniacki
#7 Kvitova d. #3 Zvonareva
#4 Azarenka d. #5 Sharapova (I had Bartoli for Sharapova, but MB was upset by Voskoboeva on Monday)
S.Williams d. #12 Kuznetsova (Kuznetsova is already out, but I don't like any of the potential replacements, so I'm leaving this "as is")
#7 Kvitova d. #6 Li
S.Williams d. #4 Azarenka
S.Williams d. #7 Kvitova

...hmmm, Week 31 was "Polish Heritage Week" as Radwanska won in Carlsbad, and Wozniak won the biggest ITF challenger of the week. Now, Wozniacki is the #1 seed in Toronto, a tournament she won a year ago (in Montreal) en route to claiming the U.S. Open Series. Does it mean anything for the end of Week 32? Maybe, but probaby not. One thing, though, considering the loaded nature of this draw, if C-Woz were to return from her short layoff and defend her title, it will have to be looked at as being exceptionally impressive... well, assuming most of the seeds hold up and she knocked off multiple women who are legitimate Open contenders. Still, I'm hoping for a Serena/Kvitova final, just to see how the Czech might fair against maybe the only player in the world who might be able to beat her even if the Wimbledon champion's game is "on." Of note, Serena could face Clijsters early, in the 3rd Round, in a preview of just the sort of first week match-up that could happen at Flushing Meadows when Williams enters the draw as a low seed, or totally without a seed at all. In the end, I'll go with Serena (Big?) Appleseed here, with the possibility of penciling her in as a pick later this month, as well.

All for now.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if yoiu know that Aga has got a new coach - well she has and I think it showed in her game. I saw the game against Zvonareva and she played intelligently well and there were spectacular returns from her so I think she has found herself and is thinking tennis now. Inspiring to see what that will end up with. I think she'll be in the top 10 within the next month or so. Zvonareva is NOT playing intelligent tennis - it's like a robot to me.

I would like to see a final between Serena and Caroline and this time with Caroline as a winner. I still remember one of the best matches I've seen Serena and Caro in Sydney in 2009. Fantastic and Caro was so close. SO two good friends in the final - not bad I think.

By the way thanks for a good coloumn.

Tue Aug 09, 11:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, it was encouraging that A-Rad played well with a new coach. Of course, AnaIvo had a bit better result with a new coach, too... but I'm not sure it'll mean some huge charge up the rankings.

Speaking of the Top 10, I forgot to mention that Petkovic moved in for the first time on Monday (replacing Stosur, who finally fell out). She's the sixth German woman to get that high, but the first to make her debut as a Top 10er in nineteen years (sheesh!). Here are the others, with their Top 10 debut seasons:

Sylvia Hanika (1981)
Bettina Bunge (1981)
Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (1984)
Steffi Graf (1985) - of course
Anke Huber (1992)
Andrea Petkovic (2011)

Yeah, I'm very interested to see how Wozniacki does in Toronto. Setting aside the prospect of Serena (or Clijsters), I'd really like to see C-Woz face up with Kvitova in the semifinals. It'd be an interesting contrast in style and mental approach, especially considering how the Czech has seemingly done all the necessary things in order to become a slam champion, while the jury is still somewhat out on whether or not Wozniacki will be able to follow suit.

Tue Aug 09, 01:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

The main difference I saw in Radwanska's game (her serve was improving somewhat before the coaching change) was that she appeared more confident and relaxed. Not having someone yell at you and call you names is a good thing. This "new" coach, however, is just a try-out. I hate to say it, but I fear her father may talk himself back into the picture. I hope not.

I like Zvonareva, but Aga made my weekend.

Tue Aug 09, 01:33:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well DIane I hope you can live with Aga one more time - at least she's still in the game. The seeds are falling like flies in a thunderstorm in Toronto. Only Vika and Stosur are left of the top 10 - how about that - a rusty bunch all of them inclusive my babe Caro. But as the club song in Liverpool says - You'll never walk alone. It's a strange tournament where you can have a winner like Roberta Vinci in the end - strange. But Caroline played the worst tennis i've seen for a long time from her no doubt about that. She needs a supplement coachwise as Piotr has reached his level of incompetence. He should still be one of her coaches because he means a lot to her but she needs some new ideas from one who has played himself or herself - why not :)

Thu Aug 11, 05:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i love how na li's ranking always goes to a career high whenever she has a bad week on the court. #ironic

(yes, forgive me...i can't stand hashtags...but sometimes, they sum things up nicely. :D)

Sun Aug 14, 10:31:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

you know...victoria and na li should really try to play as best as they can this summer...they both might be able to challenge for no.1 ranking given the high number of points that the top 3 have to defend...and the low number of points they have to defend...

Sun Aug 14, 10:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

It's all Li Na Na Li's (hey, impromptu Brad Gilbert impression!) husband's fault. :D

Mon Aug 15, 09:22:00 PM EDT  

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