Monday, August 15, 2011

Wk.32- Serena's Super Adventures in Housekeeping

Serena Williams has always fashioned herself something of an actress (what, you didn't see her "Law & Order: SVU" tour-de-force?), and she certainly played a "role" last week in Toronto -- as the WTA's housekeeper, cleaning up a somewhat messy tournament and making her own handywork the talk of the grounds rather than it being the health/lack of success of the other high-end players in the draw.

As it turns out, Serena's itemized cleaning bill might go something like this, give or take a few accomplishments:

1) diverted attention from the (as usual) over-hyped aspects of U.S. Open Series. No, it most surely is NOT love... but between-slam beggars can't be choosers, I guess.

2) got a little attention for the women's game in this so-far-oh-so-sleepy pre-Open month during which most of the other top players/legit slam contenders have most been getting ready exclusively on the practice courts

3) not that help was particularly needed for this to happen, but also kept the general sporting public from (over)analyzing the lack of big-name, big-time success in Toronto at the so-far-biggest (joined arm-and-arm this week by Cincinnati) of the Open tune-up events. Just last week alone, Kim Clijsters retired from a match, Caroline Wozniacki failed to win one, Maria Sharapova lost to the the world's #135th-ranked player, Li Na was again a non-slam afterthought and Vera Zvonareva STILL couldn't beat Agnieszka Radwanska. Even Petra Kvitova had one of "those days" and was rocked in the early-going, but one tends to wish to give her something of a mulligan since last week was her first event in the month-plus since she won Wimbledon.

No matter how you look at it, Serena saved the tournament's -- and the tour's -- bacon last week. Essentially, Williams once again worked overtime to make the WTA relevant in the dog days of summer when it is very easy to ignore the sport... and maybe laid the groundwork for what might be a very big two weeks in Queens at the end of the month. In Toronto, Serena's list of vanquished foes might not have had quite the "star power" of her lineup of victims in Stanford -- including Maria Sharapova, Marion Bartoli and Wimbledon semifinalist Sabine Lisicki -- but it was longer (she played six matches in six days) and consisted of women who put up more of a fight. Williams lost the 1st set against both Zheng Jie and Lucie Safarova, handed heavy beatings to Alona Bondarenko and Julia Goerges (losing just four games in the first three sets against them in Rounds 1 and 2), and put straight sets ends to what had previously been very good weeks for Victoria Azarenka and final opponent Samantha Stosur. Even as she likely grew more tired, Serena's game (and, more importantly, will and exuberance) seemed to grow stronger as the week progressed.

She's in Cincinnati this week, where she could effectively wrap up her first U.S. Open Series overall championship. With so much recent tennis after nearly a year out of the game, a third North American hard court title on the summer would seem to likely be too much to ask. But we're talking about Serena, so it's just as crazy to think she WON'T do it.

Williams not only rose to the very top of the Open contender list last week, but she also made an interesting apperance off it, as well. The last two years, Wilson's tennis psychiatrist's couch ads have featured both Venus Williams and Roger Federer. Well, last week it was Serena's turn to assume yet another role in the latest Wilson spot. There she was, on cue, dragging out the familiar tennis ball yellow-colored piece of furniture onto the court to help out the latest actor/player work out the kinks in his game. As usual, her advice about playing within one's self and with control worked, and her patient returned to the couch and happily put his feet up, only to receive a quick scolding from Serena. Ordering him to take his feet down from her couch, she turned "angry" about the matter, saying "I know a foot-fault when I see-" before stopping herself in mid-sentence, taking a deep breath, and pointing out, "Now, THAT's control." With Serena's return to the U.S. Open for the first time since her foot-fault inspired f-bomb shower in '09 just a few weeks away, maybe this ad is a sign that she won't even be thinking of shrinking from the story of her last appearance at the Open (even if it HAS sort of been trumped by the multiple health crises she's experienced since then), and will likely even attempt to take the edge off the (overblown, IMHO) situation. One thing is sure, she'll be at the center of attention come August 29.

Ah, just another week's work for the (still) greatest of her generation. That said, it's probably no coincidence that Serena has been sporting a tight green outfit on the hard courts this summer. One might even say it's the sort of wardrobe one could see on those superhero types we see so often on the silver screen at this time of year. Personally, I was always a Spider-Man kid when it came to comic book exploits (I see that Marvel Comics just killed Peter Parker in print -- WTF?), but I'm still reminded of the Green Lantern when pondering Serena's re-appearance at the top of the list of slam contenders. The green tights-clad DC Comics icon is known for wearing a ring called "the most powerful weapon in the universe." With Williams, the "powerful weapon" in question is her racket, of course... or maybe it's Serena herself.

Apparently, the story goes that the strength of will of the ring's wearer makes the ring's powers that much more lethal. Yep, I'd say Serena has that more than covered, too.

TORONTO, ONTARIO CAN (Premier $2.05K/hard court outdoor)
S: Serena Williams def. Samantha Stosur 6-4/6-2
D: Huber/Raymond walkover Azarenka/Kirilenko


...Serena's second title of '11 -- the 39th of her career -- jumped her ranking from #80 to #31, within range of getting seeded at the Open.
RISERS: Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
...with her Wimbledon SF still fresh in her mind, Azarenka finally began to prepare to return to the U.S. Open (one year after her on-court collapse) in Toronto, opening things with a double-bagel win over Stephanie Dubois and ending it with a barely-in-it loss in the SF to Serena Williams. She and Maria Kirilenko reached the doubles final, but the pair lost in a walkover due to a hand injury incurred by Azarenka. Needless to say, it was an up-and-down week for the Belarusian. Meanwhile, after a great week in Carlsbad, A-Rad looked none the worse for wear most of last week in Canada. She matched her Carlsbad wins over Vera Zvonareva and Andrea Petkovic with two more wins over the same women last week, reaching the SF before losing to Sam Stosur in three sets. Radwanska then pulled out of Cincinnati, citing the shoulder injury she was nursing while winning her title in California.
SURPRISE: Galina Voskoboeva/KAZ
...the Russian-born Kazakh is overstaying her welcome a bit in the "Surprise" category, as her '11 singles success (including a recent win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and a SF in Baku) is becoming more and more commonplace. In Toronto, after qualifying (wins over Anastasija Sevastaova and Kateryna Bondarenko) she pulled off an impressive trifecta of wins over Marion Bartoli, Flavia Pennetta and Maria Sharapova to reach the QF. After being ranked #162 when she reached the Final Four in Baku, and #135 as Toronto began, Voskoboeva is now at #87 (no longer too far below her career-best of #64).
COMEBACK: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...2011 has not been a great season for Stosur, but her run to the final in Toronto (her first non-clay final since Osaka '09) gives her two consecutive (with Rome) appearances in the deciding match at "Premier Plus" (the top nine Premier level events, $2.05m or better events which are roughly the equivalent of the old "Tier I" tournaments) events. Wins over Ayumi Morita, Aleksandra Wozniak, Li Na, Roberta Vinci and Radwanska made the Aussie's exile from the Top 10, which began last Monday, a short one, as she jumped back to #10 today.
VETERANS: Roberta Vinci/ITA & Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond (USA/USA)
...from February to April, 28-year old Vinci had a string of eight consecutive losses. Since then, though, she's won three titles. Last week in Toronto she got a win over Yanina Wickmayer, followed it up with the upset of '10 Rogers Cup champ #1 Caroline Wozniacki and another over Ana Ivanovic to reach the QF. Her ranking is now in the Top 20 for the first time in her career. Hmmm, maybe Vinci should write a blog for the WTA's website, as she did last week, more often. In doubles, Huber (a week away from her 35th birthday) and Raymond got a win over Gisela Dulko & Flavia Pennetta in the semis, then picked up the title with a walkover in the final over Azarenka and Kirilenko. It's their first title as a duo, as Raymond is Huber's thirteenth different partner while gathering 45 career titles, while Raymond has picked up her 71 crowns with nine different women. The Toronto championship is Huber's second of '11, but it's Raymond first since picking up back-to-back grass win in Birmingham and Eastbourne in 2009. Raymond celebrated her 38th birthday in Toronto, and her ultimate win makes her the oldest champion on the WTA tour so far in 2011, bettering Kveta Peschke's achievement in Week 31 in Carlsbad.
FRESH FACES: Yulia Putintseva/RUS & Caroline Garcia/FRA
...these two faced off in the final of the $50K challenger in Kazan, Russia which was won by 16-year old Hordette Putintseva. Ranked #336 in world (and #13 in the junior rankings), Putintseva also knocked off Vitalia Diatchenko, Mihaela Buzarnescu and Vesna Dolonts (who retired) along the way to to her third ITF title of the season. Roland Garros Pastry starlet Garcia, 17, ranked #153, notched wins over Anastasiya Yakimova, Evgeniya Rodina and Kristina Kucova, but is still in search of her first career ITF singles title (she's 0-2 in finals in '11).
DOWN: Kim Clijsters/BEL & Maria Sharapova/RUS
...I've said it before, but maybe Clijsters should decide to avoid the Rogers Cup event like it's a post-earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown Asia. In 2006, she injured her wrist in the tournament and didn't get to defend her '05 U.S. Open title. She soon retired, and didn't play in NYC again she returned to the sport in '09. Of course, she won the Open again that year. Last season, she hurt her hip in Montreal, putting her '10 Open defense in jeopardy. She ended up successfully pulling off the title less than a month later, though. But there she was playing in Toronto last week, after missing most of the clay court season and Wimbledon due to injuries that included ankle, toe, shoulder, wrist and foot ailments. Naturally, she once again failed to escape the event without hurting herself, retiring in her first match against Zheng Jie with a partially torn stomach muscle. Once again, her Open defense might be in jeopardy. Her ranking fell to #3 today, but the bigger question has to be when this mash-up of injuries is finally going to cause KC to throw up her hands (and hang up her tennis bag) all over again? As of now, I'm still standing by the notion that she won't be playing in any Opens beyond 2011... so I'm guessing she'll at least make an appearance in NY later this month to give it a go one more (final?) time in her best slam. Meanwhile, fresh off her disappointing QF performance against Serena in Stanford, Sharapova went out in the 3rd Round in Toronto to #135 Voskoboeva. The loss dropped her out of the Top 5, down to #7 behind 2011 slam winners Li Na (#5) and Petra Kvitova (#6). It's still a long way off, but Sharapova could get a second chance against Williams in the QF in Cincinnati this week.
ITF PLAYER: Andrea Hlavackova/CZE
...Hlavackova is a Top 20 doubles player, and winner of three WTA doubles titles (including Roland Garros) this season, but she's been having some good moments in singles play this year, as well. The latest example arrives in the form of her crown at the $50K challenger in the Bronx, New York. There, the current world #111 singles player defeated the likes of Madalina Gojnea, Tamryn Hendler, Julia Cohen and Mona Barthel in the final to take the title.
...the 16-year old Hordette (the #31 junior, and #943 on the WTA computer), off her recent first-ever pro title in a challenger in Bad Waltersdorf, reached the SF in a $10K in Innsbruck. Kan is 14-1 in ITF acton this summer, and 22-4 overall (qualifying and main draw) on the circuit in this the first season in which she's played any pro events.

1. Tor Final - S.Williams d. Stosur
From the tight spot of 4-4 in the 1st set, Serena took over. It's Williams' fifth consecutive season with two or more titles, the longest streak by any woman on tour (Wozniacki's four straight years is the next longest).
2. Tor 2nd Rd. - Zheng d. Clijsters
...3-6/2-1 ret.
Zheng went on to take Serena to three sets, then qualified in Cincinnati and got a 1st Round win over Julia Goerges today.
3. Tor 2nd Rd. - Vinci d. Wozniacki
The wind played havoc with Woziacki's service toss in the 1st set, and she lost a 5-1 2nd set lead.
4. Tor SF - S.Williams d. Azarenka
Hey, at least Vika didn't blow a lead and/or have to retire this time around against Serena. Of course, she DID have to skip out on the doubles final with that injured hand after this loss.
5. Tor 3rd Rd. - Petkovic d. Kvitova
Kvitova's overly-generous forehand helped in her demise in this one, but Petkovic seems to be getting close to peaking for the Open. We could get an interesting "Take Two" this week in Cincinnati if these two meet again in the 3rd Round.
6. Tor 1st Rd. - Jovanovski d. Dokic
...2-0 ret..
Dokic's next project? Writing a quickie tourist book called "How to See Toronto in Nine Minutes & Twenty Seconds." That's how long this one lasted.
7. Tor 1st Rd. - Voskoboeva d. Bartoli 6-3/6-3
Tor 2r - Voskoboeva d. Pennetta 2-6/6-3/6-2
Tor 3r - Voskoboeva d. Sharapova 6-3/7-5
nice week, huh?
8. Cin Q1 - K.Bondarenko d. Oudin
Oudin has now dropped seven straight, and eighteen of her last twenty-one.
9. Bronx $50K QF - Mona Barthel/GER d. Kristyna Pliskova/CZE 6-4/6-1
Bronx $50K SF - Mona Barthel/GER d. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-1/6-1
I'm guessing Mona won't be getting any holiday greetings from the Pliskova family.
10. Cin 1st Rd. - Peer d. Lisicki
The Baroness' first real stumble since her dramatic exit in Paris.

**2011 WTA TITLES**
5...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4...Petra Kvitova, CZE
3...Roberta Vinci, ITA
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Li Na, CHN
2...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
2...Vera Zvonareva, RUS

31...Martina Navratilova
30...Steffi Graf
17...Martina Hingis
11...Lindsay Davenport
11...Chris Evert
11...Gabriela Sabatini
10...Justine Henin
9...Conchita Martinez
9...Monica Seles
8...Maria Sharapova *
8...Venus Williams *
7...Kim Clijsters *
* - active

12...Victoria Azarenka, March-April
12...Kim Clijsters, January-February
11...SERENA WILLIAMS, July-August (active streak)
11...Li Na, January
11...Petra Kvitova, May
11...Sabine Lisicki, June
10...Julia Goerges, April-May
10...Maria Sharapova, May-June

2...Victoria Azarenka - Miami/Marbella
2...SERENA WILLIAMS - Stanford/Toronto (active streak)

Bogota - Han Xu, CHN (def. Goerges/2nd Rd. & Duque-Marino/1st Rd., reached QF)
Bad Gastein - Laura Pous Tio, ESP (def. Goerges/1st Rd., reached QF)
Stanford - Marina Erakovic, NZL (def. Azarenka/2nd Rd., reached QF)
Toronto - ROBERTA VINCI, ITA (def. Wozniacki/2nd Rd., reached QF)

**2011 PREMIER $2m+ FINALS**
Dubai (HC) - #2 Wozniacki/DEN d. #23 Kuznetsova/RUS
Indian Wells (HC) - #1 Wozniacki/DEN d. #17 Bartoli/FRA
MIami (HC) - #8 Azarenka/BLR d. #13 Sharapova/RUS
Madrid (RC) - #18 Kvitova/CZE d. #5 Azarenka/BLR
Rome (RC) - #8 Sharapova/RUS d. #7 Stosur/AUS
Toronto (HC) - #80 S.Williams/USA d. #11 Stosur/AUS

177...Martina Navratilova
112...Rosie Casals
106...Pam Shriver
101...Billie Jean King
80...Natasha Zvereva
76...Jana Novotna
[players active in 2011]
60...Rennae Stubbs
54...Cara Black

**2011 ATP FINALS**
9...Novak Djokovic, SRB (9-0)
8...Rafael Nadal, ESP (3-5)
5...Nicolas Almagro, ESP (3-2)
5...David Ferrer, ESP (2-3)
4...Robin Soderling, SWE (4-0)
3...Roger Federer, SUI (1-2)
3...Mardy Fish, USA (1-2)
3...Fernando Verdasco, ESP (0-3)

Tthe star-studded lineup for the 16th annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented by Hess has been announced. Reigning US Open Champions Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters, world #1 ranked Novak Djokovic and former US Open Champion Andy Roddick will take the court this year with actor Bradley Cooper, New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony and pop star Cody Simpson. The full day tennis and music festival, hosted by TV personalities/actors La La Anthony and Quddus, will take place on Saturday, August 27th and will kick-off the 2011 US Open, which runs from August 29th-September 11th in Flushing, NY. Additional information can be found at the U.S. Open's official website.

CINCINNATI, OHIO USA (Premier $2.05m/hard outdoor)
10 Final: Clijsters d. Sharapova
11 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Zvonareva
10 Doubles Champions: Azarenka/Kirilenko

#6 Kvitova d. #3 Azarenka
S.Williams d. #2 Zvonareva
S.Williams d. #6 Kvitova

...some early rematches of meetings from last week could pop up in Cincy, from Serena/Stosur in the 2nd Round to Vinci/Wozniacki, Petkovic/Kvitova and Serena/Safarova in the 3rd Round. As I said, it's probably a bridge too far to go with Serena yet again, but I feel like I'd be crazy not to.

All for now.

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Blogger Will said...

That Serena ad is at least a few months old by now

Mon Aug 15, 09:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i love your superhero reference!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(oh, and they already chose the new spiderman...some half latino/half african american kid...i think...)

Tue Aug 16, 03:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Really? Well, last week was the first time I've seen it. During Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the only ones that aired during TC/ESPN slam coverage were the Venus and Federer ones. Anyway, it's more newsworthy now since the incident she's referencing took place at the event she'll be returning to for the first time since the foot-fault imbroglio.

Yeah, I read that story about the "new" Spider-Man. Interesting, I suppose, but not the same.

To Whom it May Concern--
Whew! Another bad match from Wozniacki against McHale. Now she's getting out-aggressioned by players who aren't known for being particularly aggressive. And all the unforced errors. Yikes.

Wed Aug 17, 02:05:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Todd

Yeah times are hard for C-WOz but changes are coming. Her father is officially not her coach anymore and it's a situation - according to people near her - that has been developing since Wimbledon. There is a new coach but perhaps not until after US open but that doesn't really matter - just have a look:

"After yesterday's favorable results in Cincinnati, there is now no competitor who can - not even in theory - prevent Caroline in keeping the No.1 position in the world, regardless of the results in U.S. Open. That said , it must be a comfortable feeling to go to tournaments in New Haven and the mighty Grand Slam with 10 days to the start. Huge congratulations to Caro - in the middle of the frustrations:)) - with the unique situation. A good signal to send to fans around the world right now. And the breeding ground of the situation is of course the crazy and beautiful and unforgettable performance last fall and this spring."

from the Danish Wozniacki blog. It tells me that she might be a bit relaxed now and perhaps start playing again, now that she has a guy who can comfort her ;-)

Fri Aug 19, 11:37:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Coffee Lover said...

Yep it's true Woz has split with her Pietr. Still, I'm 95% certain she doesn't have what it takes to win a grand slam.

Am I the only ones who think her and Rory Mc are a weird couple? The thought of it creeps me out!

Sun Aug 21, 09:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I always like to look at the Race to the Championships rankings to get a better feel for who's doing better in the current year...

and I was surprised to see a few things:

- Sharapova is number 1 for the season on 11 tournaments (vs. Woz's 17)...I guess a slam SF, F and two tournament victories gets you far these days. This also goes along with what I felt when i saw Sharapova in 2005...I felt that she'd have a career more like Davenport's -- really consistent in the season and able to get the no.1 ranking bc she's so dang tough...but will have a hard time winning majors. At the time I felt it was due to her lack of plan B, but now it's definitely due to her serving woes (akin to Davenport's big weakness - mobility)

- When did Peng Shuai make it up to 14?!?!! I knew she was doing well...but I didn't think she was doing *this* well! i mean when i think of her, i definitely think top 30...but when i watch her play...i don't think top 15...has she had a big win (i.e. top 10...besides a slumping Li Na)? i don't follow her results so i have no idea...

- the top 20 is interchangeable...with the 10 girls in the top 30 not far behind (minus Serena)

- Hercog (32), Pervak (39), Morita (42), Paszek (43), Halep (44) are coming!!!

- Venus is 91...after the US Open, that girl is going to need wild cards...retirement coming soon?...i guess not before the Olys...but she needs to do better to get into the Olys...and then what? just play the slams till Serena vote Fed Cup and the Slams...i mean if you're only playing like 7 times a least make sure America is in World Group.

- Dinara is 101...i didn't realize she'd even played in 2011. but good for her to still be almost top100. I hope she comes back really strong and wins a major. I mean even if you don't like her, everyone knows girl has skills. (minus the awk serve...altho it's powerful)

Todd, wasn't it really surprising to see Sharapova call her coach out multiple times? I just thought she was tougher than that...(this is not a knock)...i just always consider Sharapova like super tough...also, i wish Hogstedt has a nicer mug...and why stand in front of her...there's a chair right next to her...and he speaks so loudly...i mean he tells her to "vera just keeps going cross court with shot xxx" what happens in the next game, vera goes down the line...then in the final, he's like jankovic isn't going to hit winners off your service so don't feel so much game, sharapova drops serve because jankovic is returning superbly...i mean if I'm Sharapova's opponent, I'll be like WOOHOO, free coaching lesson!

Sharapova did not look like she was having fun today...not that she's gleeful per ce. but i think she loves pounding on other girls. lol. but i think next major injury after '12 Olys and she retires. She definitely doesn't play bc she loves it. She plays to pay bills... And when that happens, I don't think being on the pro tour is sustainable if you don't keep winning the big ones. Especially when you have her career.

At least that's my assessment.

looking forward to your post tomorrow :)

Mon Aug 22, 02:21:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Yeah, Peng has had a very under-the-radar good year, but her lingering hip injury always seems to stop her progress. She's one of the leaders in SF this year (5), but has only reached one final. She's never won a tour singles title in her careeer as of yet, either.

I questioned Sharapova's long-term future a while back, but I think Paris made her believe that she can win a slam again. I think she likes to compete, and win in the biggest events. Much like with Serena (though that might have changed a little after all her health scares, as she did say how much she wanted to win Toronto), it's the majors that she's playing for now, and everything else is just preparation for them. As long as she doesn't have additional shoulder difficulties I think she'll be around for a while trying to accomplish that goal. That said, I still don't think she's ready yet to win the seven matches necessary to do it.

Mon Aug 22, 08:44:00 PM EDT  

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