Monday, October 03, 2011

Wk.39- Award 4 Sale?

Maybe it's just that no one wants to be "Ms. Backspin" this year.

I'd consider putting this space's annual award up for bids on eBay or something, but I fear there'd be no credible bids made during the time remaining in the 2011 season. I mean, let's be honest, it was a pretty scary week in Tokyo (and, so far, nearly just as so in Beijing) when it comes to players with Player of the Year "credentials" showing why they're supposedly worthy of being honored.

No one exemplified the whole horrible story better than Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova. Through the opening rounds in Japan, she looked great. Mowing through opponents like she was playing on the lawns of the All-England Club again, it seemed that her post-slam title slump was over. She was whipping up on Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals, too. Blowing the Russian off the court, she led 4-0, then 5-1. She held three set points. Then a few loose shots arrived on the scene, and Petra the Champ was gone, replaced by Petra Claus, dispensing gifts to her opponent at every turn as long as she simply didn't do anything to stop the endless flow of generosity. With that, a scary-looking win turned suddenly into a scary-looking loss, 7-6/6-0 (yikes!), with Kvitova's errant forehands sailing so long that even Jana Novotna, had she been in the stands as she was for Kvitova's SW19 triumph, might have thought to herself, "Wow, Petra's REALLY spraying her shots today."

In other matches in Tokyo, Caroline Wozniacki was run off the court again by a player ranked outside the Top 40, Maria Sharapova was injured, Victoria Azarenka came up small just when she needed to be big and Vera Zvonareva once again played as if she was worried she might miss her post-final plane if the championship match went on too long (so she fixed that potential problem). So much for anyone -- and they all came to Japan with varying degrees of chances to still finish 2011 at #1 with a great result -- wishing to pump up their POY resume. Meanwhile, Li Na wasn't in Tokyo. She was scheduled to play this week in Beijing. She couldn't even last long enough to see Monday, losing in an early-round match this weekend.

As if often the case in such instances, the player with the least number of errors ended up winning the title. Congrats to Agnieszka Radwanska, and apologies once again to her for taking the opportunity in her moment of glory to talk about the decided lack of it elsewhere. Still, the Pole has surely at least secured a place in the "Ms. Backspin" Top 10 for '11. It's a nice result, but one that's really a long way off from the hoped-for conclusion to an event that signals the beginning of the true "stretch run" to the season's finish line.

At the moment, it decidedly looks like a race that no one will win. Or even wants to. Or even really deserves to claim. In a season in which the best players are also the most maddeningly inconsistent ones, it's getting to a point where the winner of the "Miss Congeniality" prize will be just as legitimate as the winner of the entire "beauty pageant." It ain't right, I tell ya.

In the end, the Tour Championships in Istanbul could be the final, deciding battle in this slipshod race. So, hmmm, maybe Serena's not out of the running, after all. There might be something to be said for "Ms. Backspin" being the BEST player in the world again, regardless of the various results of the previous "official" stages of the competition.

TOKYO, JAPAN (Premier $2.05m/hard court outdoor)
S: Agnieszka Radwanska def. Vera Zvonareva 6-3/6-2
D: Huber/Raymond d. Dulko/Pennetta

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL

...for years, A-Rad's game has never seemed to be built for great things. Like Wozniacki, she'd managed to build a career on good defense and the ability to wait out opponents' errors. But while she was able to maintain a Top 10 ranking, unlike her Danish counterpart, Radwanska hardly ever seemed to actually win anything on the regular tour. As 2011 began, she'd won four titles, but none since 2008. Ever since a very public incident with her father and some coaching tweaks (which have at least coaxed her into trying to WIN a few more points per match, rather than wait for her opponent to LOSE them), though, she's won the two biggest crowns of her career over the past few months. Even with her Carlsbad and (now) Tokyo titles in hand, she still often resembles the almost-incidental last woman standing in many of her matches against more lethal, but usually more scattershot and streaky, opponents, but there's no mistaking the progress she's made in a very short time just by being smart enough to realize something needed to change if she was going to keep her head above water (imagine a player doing such a thing... amazing). In Japan, her trail of discarded foes included the likes of U.S. Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber, former #1 Jelena Jankovic, Kaia Kanepi, Wimbledon semifinalist Victoria Azarenka and two-time slam runner-up Vera Zvonareva. While the Pole's serve still leaves a good (no, make that great) bit to be desired, her recent success is a good example of what just a few attempts to be more proactive during a match can produce for a player who is able to maintain overall in-point consistency otherwise. Just when it seemed that Radwanska's borrowed time in the Top 10 was finally over, she's found a way to up her game just enough to remain relevant. Up to #12, she makes one wonder what she might be able to pull within her reach next season if she could just improve her serve a little (well, maybe a lot).
RISER: Vera Zvonareva/RUS
...once again, we were privy to the two sides of Vera in Tokyo. The good (wins over Pironkova, Benesova, Kirilenko, and the last set and a half against Kvitova) and the bad (the first six games against Kvitova, and pretty much the entire match against A-Rad) got her to her fourth 2011 final, but once again she wasn't able to end her week on a high note. By the way, at the end this week, we'll be privy to another side of Vera -- possibly her backside (tastefully so, of course), or maybe her bare back? -- as she's been announced as one of the models in ESPN the Magazine's "Body Issue."
...the 22-year old Bannerette continued her late summer/early fall assault in both singles and doubles. After going on a 1-6 slump in singles earlier this summer, she's put together a 6-3 run since the start of the U.S. Open. She recently notched her first Top 10 win (Bartoli), and got another nice victory in Tokyo over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Also, she reached the doubles SF with Yaroslava Shvedova, their sixth such result (or better) in their last seven tournaments as a duo. 23-7 on the year, they're 11-2 since the start of Wimbledon.
COMEBACKS: Kaia Kanepi/EST & Maria Kirilenko/RUS
...after beginning her year nursing a fractured ulna in her left forearm, Kanepi has had a hard time repeating her '10 success. But she had her best extended string of results of the season in Tokyo, opening up with wins over Coco Vandeweghe and Flavia Pennetta, victories which only served as appetizers for the main course of her trip to Japan -- an upset of world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in the 3rd Round. Meanwhile, after winning the record 32-point tie-break over Samantha Stosur at the U.S. Open, only to see the Aussie go on to take the title/glory, Kirilenko got another shot at Sammy last week. She made good on it, too, winning their three-setter this time around. And don't look now, as they're scheduled to play out the third part of their late-season trilogy this week.
VETERANS: Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond (USA/USA)
...Huber & Raymond are putting on a late-season push for Doubles Team of the Year. They claimed their third title of the season in Tokyo, and all three have been BIG ones, too. They previously reached the winners' circle in Toronto and Flushing Meadows. World doubles #1 Huber, who also won Dubai with MJMS back in February, now has three top-level Premier titles in '11. With the win, the 73rd of her career (good for 7th-best all-time), Raymond moved up to #4 in the doubles ranking. Of note, Huber's third title with Raymond means that the only woman Huber has won more titles with than her fellow American is... yep, Cara Black (29).
FRESH FACES: Alexandra Kiick/USA & Tamaryn Hendler/BEL
...Kiick, 16, won her first career ITF title by defeating Chalena Scholl in three sets in the final of the $10K challenger in Amelia Island, Florida. She also got an early win over Taylor Townsend, who made some noise in the juniors at Flushing Meadows. Meanwhile, 19-year old Hendler, born in South Africa, residing in Florida, but representing Belgium, won her second challenger of the past month by taking the $25K in Jakarta, defeating Chanel Simmonds (also South African-born) in the three-set final.
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN, Li Na/CHN & Petra Kvitova/CZE
...the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Last week, Wozniacki fell to #43 Kanepi in the 3rd Round, her third loss to a player ranked outside the Top 40 since Wimbledon. As the defending Tokyo champ, she put herself into a potentially precarious ranking position with her early exit, as she has so many points to defend down the stretch (she also won in Beijing, and reached the WTA Championship final in '10). But then the players (Sharapova, Kvitova, Zvonareva, Azarenka) who have some small opportunity to nip her at the season's finish line failed to grab their chance by winning in Tokyo, followed by C-Woz escaping another early-round loss in China today. So, maybe the tide has turned back in her favor? Of course, the Dane wasn't the only top player to flame out in Asia over the past week. Roland Garros champ Li Na, in her first action since being dumped out of the Open 1st Round by a young Romanian, played this weekend in Beijing... and was dumped out in the 1st Round by a young Romanian (Monica Niculescu, in straight sets, with a love 2nd). Meanwhile, the aforementioned Kvitova looked great in Tokyo, then looked positively horrendous, going out in the SF (in another straight sets loss, with a love 2nd set) with a string of forehand errors that were so wild they reminded me of a tight Jana Novotna in full choke. I don't think I've ever seen her look quite so bad. Then, today, she was shooed out of Beijing in straight sets by Sofia Arvidsson, too. Oh, Petra.
ITF PLAYER: Romina Oprandi/ITA
...the Italian won the $50K challenger in Las Vegas, Nevada by taking out Alexa Glatch 6-7/6-3/7-6 in the final. She also notched wins over Kurumi Nara and Allie Will. Glatch, for her part, had nearly as good a week. In addition to her wins over Alison Riske and Timea Babos, she won the doubles title with Mashona Washington, defeating Varvara Lepchenko and Melanie Oudin in the final.
JUNIOR STARS: Australian Junior Fed Cup Team
...the Shielas strike again, as Aussie junior girls make this week's headlines for taking the Junior Fed Cup title in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Ashleigh Barty (this year's Jr. Wimbledon champ and U.S. Open semifinalist) and Belinda Woolcock both won straight sets matches in the final over Canada's Carol Zhao and Francoise Abanda.

1. Tokyo SF - Zvonareva d. Kvitova
Considering how well she'd been playing in Tokyo through her first three matches and six games in Tokyo, Kvitova quite possibly has never been as bad as she was down the stretch in this SF.
2. Beijing 2nd Rd - Arvidsson d. Kvitova
And then she followed it up by failing to rebound today in China.
3. Tokyo 2nd Rd - Kirilenko d. Stosur
Not quite the drama of their record-breaking U.S. Open match, but they'll get another shot when they meet in the 2nd Round in Beijing this week.
4. Tokyo 3rd Rd - Kanepi d. Wozniacki 7-5/1-6/6-4
Beijing 2nd Rd - Wozniacki d. Hradecka 3-6/6-0/7-5
the Dane couldn't escape the Estonian, but managed to slip past the Czech today in Beijing. It's possible she could face Kanepi again in the 3rd Round.
5. Tokyo QF - Kvitova d. Sharapova
...4-3 ret.
What might have been? World #2 Sharapova entered the week with a shot to pick up enough points to put herself in position to challenge to take away Wozniacki's #1 ranking by the end of the year. The ankle injury that took her out here, as well as this week in Beijing, might put a sizable crimp in that potential plan, though.
6. Tokyo SF - A.Radwanska d. Azarenka 6-3/4-6/6-2
Tokyo Final - A.Radwanska d. Zvonareva 6-3/6-2
A-Rad served at 6-3/4-3, but couldn't close out Azarenka, who charged back to take the set, only to fail to continue to bring "the goods" in the 3rd set. In the final, after a quick break early in the 1st, Vera didn't even bother to string out the contest the way Vika had a day earlier. Sheesh, as much as I want to give A-Rad full credit when she wins matches like these, it seems like it's too ridiculously tempting to avoid harping on the lacking play of her opponents. Keeping up the with-ARad-I-look-for-info-on-her-opponents theme, here's where I'll note that Azarenka's doubles SF result with Kirilenko last week jumped her ranking into the Top 10, making her only the third woman in '11 (Venus and Serena, for two weeks back in January) to simultaneously be ranked in the Top 10 in both singles and doubles. A-Rad, by the way, is now in the Top 20 in both singles and doubles. So there... finally, equal time prevails.
7. Beijing Q2 - Daniilidou d. Kerber
After losing in the 2nd Round in Tokyo (to A-Rad), the U.S. Open semifinalist failed to make it through qualifying this weekend in Beijing.
8. Beijing 1st Rd - Niculescu d. Li
Not exactly the homecoming Li would have liked. As has been the case for quite a while, though, China is probably the last place Li really wants to be at the moment.
9. Beijing 2nd Rd - Ivanovic d. Kuznetsova
After being knocked out of the latest Top 20 rankings due to AnaIvo's jump back up the ladder (to #18), Kuznetsova lost out to the Serb ON the court, as well.
10. $10K Antalya Doub Final - Esen/Esen d. Kazimova/Stephenson
Sisters strike again, as Turkish siblings Hulya and Lutfiye won the doubles in another of the seemingly endless string of challengers held in Antalya, Turkey.

6...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4...Petra Kvitova, CZE
3...Roberta Vinci, ITA
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Li Na, CHN
2...Sabine Lisicki, GER
2...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
2...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Serena Williams, USA
2...Vera Zvonareva, RUS

4...Caroline Wozniacki
2...Petra Kvitova
2...Serena Williams
2...Vera Zvonareva

**WTA FINALS - last 3 years**
24...Caroline Wozniacki (15-9)
11...Maria Sharapova (5-6)
10...Serena Williams (7-3)
10...Victoria Azarenka (7-3)
9...Kim Clijsters (7-2)
9...Venus Williams (4-5)

**2011 WTA SF**
11...Caroline Wozniacki (8-3)
7...Marion Bartoli (3-3 +W)
6...Maria Sharapova (4-2)
6...Li Na (3-3)

Bogota - Han Xu, CHN (def. Goerges 2r, Duque-Marino 1r; to QF)
Bad Gastein - Laura Pous-Tio, ESP (def. Goerges 1r; to QF)
Stanford - Marina Erakovic, NZL (def. Azarenka 2r; to QF)
Toronto - Roberta Vinci, ITA (def. Wozniacki 2r; to QF)
Quebec City - Marina Erakovic, NZL (def. Hantuchova QF, Paszek SF; to F)
TOKYO - KAIA KANEPI, EST (def. Wozniacki 3r; to QF)

177...Martina Navratilova
112...Rosie Casals
106...Pam Shriver
101...Billie Jean King
80...Natasha Zvereva
76...Jana Novotna
69...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
68...Gigi Fernandez
68...Helena Sukova
66...Larisa Savchenko
60...Rennae Stubbs
55...Wendy Turnbull
54...Cara Black
ALSO: Liezel Huber (47)

5...Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
3...Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE/CZE
3...Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2...Victoria Azarenka/Maria Kirilenko, BLR/RUS
2...Sania Mirza/Elena Vesnina, IND/RUS
2...Olga Govortsova/Alla Kudryavtseva, BLR/RUS

29...Cara Black
3...Sania Mirza
3...Lisa Raymond
2...Maggie Maleeva
2...Martina Navratilova
33...Rennae Stubbs
20...Samantha Stosur
9...Lindsay Davenport
3...Chanda Rubin
3...Liezel Huber
3...Martina Navratilova

Marion Bartoli, FRA (1 in '11)
Jelena Dokic, AUS (1 in '11)
Meghann Shaughnessy, USA (active in doubles only)
Roberta Vinci, ITA (3 in '11)

BEIJING, CHINA (Premier $4.5m/hard indoor)
10 Final: Wozniacki d. Zvonareva
11 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Azarenka
10 Doubles Champions: Chuang/Govortsova

#14 Lisicki d. #3 Zvonareva
#2 Azarenka d. Kirilenko
#2 Azarenka d. #14 Lisicki

...well, I was looking to go with Kvitova on the she-played-great-then-choked-away-a-match-before-Wimbledon-before-winning-there theory, but so much for that, I guess. With that being the case, it's almost a flip-a-coin situation. I'll go with Azarenka, for no good reason. I don't trust Wozniacki in the top half, so I'll take a flier on Lisicki (since the German actually had one of her OPPONENTS retire from her match the other day, further showing how things have changed for the Baroness in 2011) for runner-up. Of course, this all likely means that Radwanska will probably win again.

All for now.

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Blogger Zidane said...

Wow, Dokic is back with her father... I think there's a psychology doctoral thesis to make on this relationship. How long until it bursts?

Mon Oct 03, 10:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

I share your frustration with the top players last week, but on the other hand there was also some fine tennis on show in Tokyo, let's not forget: Kirilenko-Stosur, Sharapova-Görges, Kanepi-Wozniacki, Azarenka-Bartoli and Radwanska-Azarenka were all very good matches. I'm dissapointed you don't 'get' Radwanska - I think she's a fascinating player.

Lisicki was hospitalized with food-poisoning in Beijing, so she won't make the final, and I think Azarenka is nursing an Achilles or ankle injury, which makes a retirement seem likely (and it has been a while, hasn't it?), so it really is a toss-up. Maybe Petkovic?

Tue Oct 04, 03:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

She's like a moth to a flame sometimes. She's always been like that. That said, I suppose she has a need to not to continue to carry all the old emotional weight. It seems as if her brother is trying to mend the family, so I guess she's doing this with his help. I hope it works out for her, but it's hard to not see it all as a potential disaster.

Yeah, once Kvitova lost I didn't really have a pick. That was pretty much a flip-a-coin pick anyway, so I didn't have any expectations. :)

Tue Oct 04, 05:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Abused kids almost always--and I mean just about always--go back to abusive parents from whom they've separated. Most never even separate in the first place. There are a lot of factors that play into this--societally induced guilt, fear of abandonment, pressure from family members, etc. It just about always leads to something bad.

Wed Oct 05, 10:27:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Todd - still not convinced - A-Rad rules. Won in Beijing in one of the best finals this summer between two of the best players this summer. Congratulations to A-Rad.

Sun Oct 09, 10:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, I think we'll have to see what she does in 2012, but if THIS A-Rad shows up next year, I might be talking about her whole lot more. :)

Mon Oct 10, 08:45:00 PM EDT  

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