Thursday, February 02, 2012

2012 Dorothy Tour Awards: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to Perfection

Thank you... Francesca?

All right, so the Italian vet isn't the literal bell-ringer for the current "good spot" that the WTA tour suddenly seems to find itself in in these early stages of the 2012 season. Or is she? Schiavone, in winning her 2010 Roland Garros title, DID sort of kick off the recent if-you-believe-it-you-can-do-it era of women's tennis. Once Francesca won in Paris, it was obvious that aggressively pursuing a title leading up to and in the final match at a slam was the way into the winner's circle. She's been followed by a whole host of hungry would-be champions. After "old hat" Serena Williams powered her way to another Wimbledon title that summer, Kim Clijsters, the 2.0 version, who'd come out of retirement a year earlier and won the U.S. Open, came back without all the adrenaline-fueled fanfare and defended it. It wasn't her first slam championship, but she felt something like a "new" champion after she bounded into Melbourne and won there the next season, too. The "old" Kim would never have pulled all that off. Since then, arriving on the scene and DEMANDING attention at slam time has become a common occurrence on tour. Li Na won in Paris, Petra Kvitova in London, Samantha Stosur in New York, and then Victoria Azarenka this past weekend in Melbourne, giving us a fourth straight first-time slam champ, and the fifth in the last eight majors.

Francesca showed everyone else how to do it, and those players who were truly serious about their grand slam desires have followed in her footsteps.

Going over all the old Backspin Time Capsule slam final recaps in recent years, I've been reminded of how things USED to be. A generation (or two) of players ago, slam titles were ripped away from opponents and cherished. Not, as has been the case with some recent finalists, expected to be given to them by their opponents mistakes, or too heavy a burden for a player to accept, either before they played their ultimate match in a slam (Dinara, Vera), or after they'd actually managed to win it (AnaIvo). Maybe, as more players have tasted the grand slam win as the Wiliams/La Petit Taureau major title monopoly first began to erode, things have finally begun to turn. After wondering whether players REALLY wanted to win for a few years, we're left with no doubt which ones truly do now. And it's not just the NextGen players like Kvitova and Azarenka, either. Schiavone and Li aren't newcomers. Stosur's been a bit of a late bloomer. Throw in the still post-surgery slam-less Maria Sharapova, and the notion that the slams of 2012 (and beyond) might be pre-tournament toss-ups won't be because so many players have been unimpressive and/or untested in the spotlight, but because so many of them are or have been. Six players came into Melbourne with the chance to leave Australia as the #1 ranked player. Such a thing might not happen again, but the list of potential legit, they-want-to-and-CAN-lift-the-trophy threats at the next handful of slams might be that long, or even longer.

As the now former #1 can see, nothing is for sure... especially year-long new coaching commitments that last, umm, two months, apparently. Time ticks down for everyone (not just Ricardo Sanchez), even barely-into-their-twenties tennis stars who think that they'll win the big prize just because they've always done so since they were a kid. It doesn't work that way. Azarenka's path to becoming a slam champion, for sure, began with natural talent. But it only became a reality when she identified the aspects of her game and herself that were preventing her from being the best she could be. Control emotions and anger. Check. Build up body. Check. Build up game. Check. Build up confidence. Check. Become a real champion. Check. It's a systematic process where everything (eventually) works together, no matter in what order the items on the list are checked off. Things rarely go perfectly, but when they finally do, it's all worth it.

"It's a dream come true. I have been dreaming and working so hard to win a grand slam, and being #1 is a pretty good bonus. Just the perfect ending and the perfect position to be in." - Victoria Azarenka

Now, just who will Azarenka's triumph motivate and inspire to something even better? Petra? Maria? Serena? Someone else?

2012 could be pretty fun as we look to find out.

*"Dorothy Tour" Awards - Wk.1-4*
1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR: handling off-season preparation for greater success better than Wozniacki, and in-match swings with more steadiness than Kvitova, Azarenka shot through the open door and climbed over BOTH into the #1 ranking

2. Maria Sharapova, RUS: she came up a match short (again) of being Supernovic, but she's back in the slam/#1 ranking mix
3. Petra Kvitova, CZE: Petra is still a work in progress with a few things to work on... just like she's been telling everyone since last summer
4. Li Na, CHN: the circus having finally left town, Li got back to tennis business Down Under
5. Zheng Jie, CHN: usually "forgotten," and oft-injured, Zheng won her first tour singles title in almost six years in Auckland, then reached the AO Round of 16
6. Kim Clijsters, BEL: if this AO was her last, it came and went with less fanfare than expected (well, except for the 4 MP saved against Li)
7. Kaia Kanepi, EST: the Estonian finished '11 at #34, then won Brisbane in Week 1... just like Kvitova did a year ago
8. Mona Barthel, GER: the hottest young prospect on tour in the opening weeks, she won a title as a qualifier and was able to string together nine straight wins

1. Kaia Kanepi, EST
2. Sabine Lisicki, GER
3. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
4. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
5. Julia Goerges, GER
6. Marion Bartoli, FRA
7. Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
8. Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
9. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
10. Sania Mirza & Elena Vesnina, IND/RUS
HM- Vania King, USA

"Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper 'I love you'
Birds singing in the sycamore trees
Dream a little dream of me."

- Vania King, honoring Pam Shriver's courtside request to sing after her upset win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Australin Open 2nd Round

1. Mona Barthel, GER
2. Christina McHale, USA
3. Monica Niculescu, ROU
4. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
5. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
6. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
7. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
8. Alison Riske, USA
9. Jamie Hampton, USA
10. Laura Robson, GBR
HM- Simona Halep, ROU

1. Taylor Townsend, USA
2. Krista Hardebeck, USA
3. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
4. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
5. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
6. Sachia Vickery, USA
7. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
8. Daria Salnikova, RUS
9. Sabina Sharipova, UZB
10. Anna Danilina, KAZ
HM- Elena-Theodora Cadar, ROU & Risa Ozaki, JPN

1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Angelique Kerber, GER
3. Nina Bratchikova, RUS
4. Rachael Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears, USA/USA
5. Romina Oprandi, ITA
6. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
7. Valeria Savinykh, RUS
8. Maria Joao Koehler, POR
9. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
10. Irena Pavlovic, FRA
HM- Varvara Lepchenko, USA

1. Li Na, CHN
2. Zheng Jie, CHN
3. Kim Clijsters, BEL
4. Roberta Vinci, ITA
5. Kveta Peschke & Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
6. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
7. Iveta Benesova, CZE
8. Greta Arn, HUN
9. Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
10. Nuria Llagostera-Vives & Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
HM- Flavia Pennetta, ITA

"I'm 24 years old, almost 25. I love this sport as much as I loved it, you know, when I was at that age (when she won Wimbledon at 17). I've also been through a lot of tough times. I've also said that the success that I can achieve, the fact that I got myself back to being Top 5 in the world, playing tennis again, playing at a high level, competing at this level is pretty remarkable from where I was on a surgery table, not knowing if I'd ever be able to hit a serve again." - Maria Sharapova

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
3. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
4. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
5. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
HM- Svetlana Kuznetsova & Vera Zvonareva, RUS/RUS

"I'm probably close to crying." - Samantha Stosur, after her 1st Round Australian Open loss to Sorana Cirstea

1. Samantha Stosur, AUS
2. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3. Andrea Petkovic, GER
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Gisela Dulko & Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
HM- Serena Williams, USA

1. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
3. Alison van Uytvanck, BEL
4. Sofia Kvatsabaia, GEO
5. Grace Min, USA
HM- Lauren Davis, USA

"She did everything better than I did today. I had a good first couple games, and that was about it. Then she was the one that was taking the first ball and hitting it deep and aggressive. I was always the one running around like a rabbit, you know, trying to play catch-up all the time." - Maria Sharapova, on Azarenka's performance in the AO final

Victoria Azarenka goes 12-0 in Australia, winning her first slam at the Australian Open to become the new #1-ranked player... and doing so in the face of all the "Whack-a-Vika" sentiment that carried through the we-must-have-silence, but-we're-not-really-sure-why-we're-suddenly-so-adamant-about-it two weeks in Melbourne
With whispers of "you'll inherit Serena's American tennis throne some day" being sounded in her ear, Taylor Townsend simply went to the Australian Open and swept the Girls singles and doubles titles. Maybe SHE has all the earplugs that no one was wearing in Melbourne?
Germany's Mona Barthel qualifies in Hobart, then defeats the defending champion and #1 seed en route to taking her first tour singles title
[By a Tennis Family]
In the latest Backspin Sister Update, on the same weekend that Azarenka staged her WTA coup, the Pliskova sisters took over a challenger event in Andrezieux-Boutheon, France. After Kristyna met and defeated (higher-ranked) Karolina in the QF, then went on to claim the title, the Czech siblings joined together to win the doubles crown.

["The New WTA"]
Australian Open SF - Sharapova d. Kvitova
For once, the hype lived up to the reality, as the Wimbledon '11 final rematch showed just what it might take to win slams in '12. In the end, Sharapova was the best on the big points, going 5-for-5 on break point attempts and surging past the Czech in the final games after an important replay reversal helped her avoid diaster when down 4-3 in the 3rd.
[Francesca's "Slam Drama" Comes Early]
Brisbane QF - Schiavone d. Jankovic
The Italian didn't give us her usual slam memory-making match, but she did prevail a couple of weeks earlier, saving two match points against JJ in this 2:56 thriller.
[I Bet Berdych Would Have Wimped Out]
AO Doubles QF - Mirza/Vesnina d. Huber/Raymond
...6-3/5-7 (10-6).
One team celebrates a thought-converted match point after an unseen-by-the-umpire double-bounce that the "losing" team wouldn't admit to happening, leading to a few in-your-face shouting matches, one oops-did-I-almost-bean-you-with-the-ball? moment, and a converted MP on attempt #8. Just your typical high-stakes doubles match on the WTA tour.

"We won the match, like, twice!" - an angry Elena Vesnina, after she and Mirza defeated Huber/Raymond

Australian Open 4th Rd. - Makarova d. S.Williams
The #56-ranked 23-year old has shown game in the past, but Williams had surely shown more game on even a bad day than she did on this one. The loss tied her career-low mark for fewest games won in a slam match.

"I don't love tennis... but I can't live without it yet." - Serena Williams

Australian Open 4th Rd. - Clijsters d. Li
For a bit, it seemed like Clijsters might be destined to defend her AO title. After coming back to win after falling behind Li 6-4/3-1, then being down quadruple match point (at 6-2) in the 2nd set tie-break, it was an easy assumption. Of course, had Li gone down the line with a drop shot retrieval up 6-5 in the TB rather than right to Clijsters, who promptly lobbed over the Chinese vet to save her fourth straight MP, the storyline -- for BOTH players -- in Melbourne might have played out very differently.
Sydney SF - Li d. Kvitova
Dredging up memories of her blown lead to Li at Roland Garros (a loss that essentially prevented the Czech from finishing '11 at #1), Kvitova goes off the rails after taking a 6-1/3-1 lead, then sees Li take control again. If Kvitova had won the title in Sydney, she'd moved into the #1 spot. After coming up short of grabbing #1 again in the AO, Kvitova's wait continues.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Lisicki d. Voegele 6-2/4-6/6-4
Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Lisicki d. Kuznetsova 2-6/6-4/6-2

...Lisicki creates some slam drama without having to be wheeled off the court afterward. Against Voegele, the German, battling heat-related headaches, came back from a 4-2 deficit in the 3rd. Then, against Kuznetsova, she prevailed after the Russian had one of her does-she-know-she-should-be-better-than-this? meltdowns after going up 6-2/3-1.

"Today you just can't let yourself get pushed back. She (Wozniacki) has to try to move in, step forward, otherwise there is always going to be somebody coming on top of her at a grand slam. She's a great player. I wish I would see her come in a little bit more." - Martina Hingis, on Caroline Wozniacki

**By the Numbers...**
3... number of times Alexandra Dulgheru and Sofia Arvidsson met on the court in Sydney. Arvidsson defeated Dulgheru in qualifying, then met the Lucky Loser Romanian again in the 1st Round. Dulgheru got her revenge there. They also met in the doubles, with Arvidsson & Jelena Dokic triumphing over Dulgheru & Michaella Krajicek.
4... number of consecutive tour singles finals Victoria Azarrenka has reached dating back to the end of the '11 season
6... Agnieszka Radwanska's new singles ranking, a career-high
8... the number of years (2004) it's been since a WTA player who won a singles title the week before the start of a slam also went on to become that slam's singles champion, as Azarenka did by sweeping both Sydney and the AO in January
9 & 12... the 2012 season's longest winning streaks so far. Mona Barthel's nine-match run through qualifying and the main draw in Hobart, as well as at the AO, was ultimately ended by Azarenka, who went on to extend her still-alive streak to twelve straight victories
20... years it's been since Bannerettes claimed back-to-back Girls slam titles. Grace Min ('11 U.S.) and Taylor Townsend's ('12 AO) wins are the first combo of their kind since Chanda Rubin ('92 Wimbledon) and Lindsay Davenport ('92 U.S.) won consecutive Girls crowns twenty years ago.
21... number of women, counting 22-year old Azarenka, who have now spent time in the WTA's #1 singles ranking. 21-year old Petra Kvitova, meanwhile, dreams of becoming #22.
25... counting her "unofficial" 4-0 mark at the Hopman Cup, Petra Kvitova's current indoor winning streak. In official WTA & Fed Cup matches, the Czech's run is a still-eye-popping 21.
25... number of slams it took for Azarenka to win her first, the 8th-longest all-time WTA lead-up to a major title. It's one fewer than seventh-most Lindsay Davenport's 26, and three more than Kim Clijsters' ninth-most 22.
30... Kim Clijsters' new singles ranking, after replacing her '11 AO championship points with those for reaching the SF
67... Caroline Wozniacki's weeks spent at #1 (over a 68-week stretch) before being unceremoniously pushed down to #4 following the Australian Open
125... number of women's main draw AO matches played between Azarenka becoming the first woman to win a 1st Round match in Melbourne, and then the last one to do so two weeks later
500... the career match-win milestone Serena Williams surpassed in an otherwise forgettable trip Down Under

"I gave it (a baby kangaroo) some milk, and it just spit it all over me. I was like, is this a thank you for just being nice and petting the kangaroo? I got milk all over myself. I guess I deserved that from the story last year." - Caroline Wozniacki, with a real-life kangaroo story following her press conference tall tale about being scratched by one last year

**MOST 12+ MATCH WIN STREAKS, since 2006**
4 - Justine Henin, BEL (retired)
3 - Dinara Safina, RUS
3 - Serena Williams, USA
3 - Venus Williams, USA
2 - Maria Sharapova, RUS

"I think it's just too loud. I don't think it's very necessary to scream that loud. So if they (WTA) want to do something, why not?" - Agnieszka Radwanska, on the on-court grunting/shrieking issue
"About Maria, I mean, what can I say? For sure that is pretty annoying and just too loud." - Radwanska, on Sharapova
"Isn't she back in Poland already?" - Maria Sharapova, before the women's final, on quarterfinalist Radwanska's comments

FED CUP 1st Round & WG II

=1st Round=
RUS(H) def. ESP 5-0... Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Petrova & Makarova should be enough
SRB def. BEL(H) 3-2... #29 Wickmayer might now be ranked higher than #3- KC, but she's not her
ITA(H) def. UKR 4-1... the old gang -- Flavia, Francesca, Sara & Roberta -- gets back together
CZE def. GER(H) 3-2... Kvitova indoors, but it might come down to the doubles again for CZE other wonders, I wonder if the JJ and Ricardo Sanchez relationship can be patched up... yet again. One jilted soul deserves another, right? And, in this case, they're probably best suited to each other. What was Ricardo thinking, anyway? He never seemed fated to mix well with Caro & Piotr. Maybe if he gets down on one knee and offers JJ his loyalty?

=World Group II=
USA(H) def. BLR 3-2... even if Azarenka goes 2-0
JPN def. SLO(H) 3-2... once again, Date-Krumm is (literally) worth about two players from the other side
SVK(H) def. FRA 4-1... no Marion, and probably little chance to win
AUS def. SUI(H) 5-0... Sam, Jarmila, Casey & Jelena try to put AUS's recent FC woes to bed

...yep, the '12 season continues to pay off. A week after the Aussie Open, new #1 Azarenka faces off with Serena in Massacusetts. Maybe Venus, too. The Australians had BETTER win this one. It's on the road, so Sammy probably won't tie herself into knots... making good things likely.

All for now.


Blogger Will said...

Clijsters came out of retirement in 09, no?

Thu Feb 02, 07:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Whoops! Of course, I meant to say she defended her U.S. Open title in the summer of '10. I'll fix that.

Fri Feb 03, 01:23:00 AM EST  

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