Monday, October 29, 2012

Wk.43- Awesome Punctuation.

We learned a few things in Istanbul. Some were a bit surprising, while others we sort of expected, even if some of us weren't quite 100% sure about them. But at least one was as dead-on a certainly as anything that's come around the WTA bend since about, oh, sometime before September 1999.

That the Istanbul fans are awesome! Really, who knew?
Speaking of awesome. Her name is Serena. So many years later, it's now laughable that we were all a bit taken aback when a 17-year old Williams beat her sister Venus to a slam title by winning the U.S. Open in 1999. Oh, if we only knew what was to come. Over, and over, again. At this point, we know Serena is awesome. But, at one point, it WAS a bit of a surprise... well, to everyone but Richard W., at least.
That Serena can win another high-level event without losing a set -- even with the head-shaking serving and overall performance she had against Li Na in the Round Robin -- in a tournament with a draw consisting of ONLY the Top 8 (or 9) players in the world... and no one really bats an eye. Of course, Serena seemed genuinely surprised after the final that she'd done it. But, of course, with her, it's sometimes hard to tell if she's just putting on an act when she's told of little facts like that.
That the Round Robin play at these YEC might just have been the best ever in the history of the event. Multiple three-hours matches and two head-to-head battles on the final day of RR play for berths in the semis were just a few highlights of the action. Unfortunately, the semifinals and final weren't nearly as competitive as what came before them. Still, the #1 and #2 players met, the #3 beat them both, every 2012 grand slam final was "re-played" in Istanbul, and the championship match allowed the Olympic Gold Medal finalists to meet once again, as well.
That Vika is not the same player she was a year and a half ago. And that's a brilliantly funky and good thing... for her and the WTA tour.
That the intrigue of a Li Na/Carlos Rodriguez combination is still fine like cool jazz.
That Petra Kvitova needs some time off, and a super-productive offseason, to right this ship. Even as late as last Monday there was still some hope floating around Backspin HQ that she could turns things on in Istanbul and contend again. Nope. And now you have to wonder about what she'll do in the FC final, too. Flashforward to the opening months of 2013: Is the next "minor major" shift (well, at least in this neighborhood) in the WTA when the Dane and the Czech pass each other like ships in the computer rankings night yet again, only with the former #1 surging ahead this time?
That Sara Errani can't possibly have come close to retaining all those ranking points at this point next year. Right? Right? "Vizzini" (Wallace Shawn) once said that you should never bet again a Sicilian when death is on the line... well, what about a diminutive Bolognian and her supersized Top 10 ranking?
That, on the other hand, it's hard to exit Istanbul without thinking that Maria Sharapova COULD improve upon what she did in '12 in 2013. (Clears throat.) 0-5 in hard court finals. (Clears throat again.)
That it's possible to be supremely impressed with a player who went 0-3 in Round Robin play, maybe even as impressed (at times) as with any of the other players in the field. Well, save one.

Oh, and speaking of HER... did I mention that Serena Williams is awesome?

S: Serena Williams/USA def. Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-3
D: Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) d. Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)


...Serena is about so much more than numbers. But, really, some of them are so impressive that they deserve a spotlight. Her third career WTA Championships crown gives her seven tour titles in '12, making her the outright season leader in that category for the first time since she won eight in her brilliant "SerenaSlam"-tinged '02 campaign. She ends her season with a 58-4 record -- 46-2 in her final 48, and 72-6 since July of last year -- and on a 12-match winning streak. Which sounds great, until you realize that she also has runs of 17 and 19 matches earlier this season, as well. She's also 14-0 in matches vs. Top 5 players this season, and has won eighteen straight overall. Serena, who ends '12 ranked #3, was 8-0 vs. #1 Azarenka and #2 Sharapova this year alone, and is (gulp) 20-1 against then since 2005 (she's also 4-0 against #4 Radwanska). Williams' win over Azarenka in Istanbul gives her sixteen career victories over reigning world #1's, moving her just two behind Martina Navratilova's record of eighteen; while her wins over both the #1 and #2 players in Istanbul (she also did it in Madrid in the spring) means she's pulled off that trick in the same event eight times in her career, double the total of the player (Venus) who's second on that all-time WTA list. Oh, and at 31, Williams is now the oldest YEC winner ever, yet doesn't look to be going anywhere any time soon. WTA field... good luck with that.
RISERS: Maria Kirilenko & Nadia Petrova (RUS/RUS) & Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
...with all the Hordette accomplishments over the last eight years, there aren't many "first ever Russian" feats left to collect. But Kirilenko & Petrova managed to find one and take it down, as they became the first all-Russian duo to win the WTA Championships doubles title. The pair, the Olympics Bronze Medalists, actually only won one other title (in Miami) this season, but this is their fourth overall as a duo. It's Petrova's second YEC title, as she also won the doubles with Meghann Shaughnessy back in 2004. Meanwhile, although A-Rad couldn't put up much resistance against Serena in the semifinals, the Pole's semifinal run following a pair of 3-hour matches over the span of three days allowed her to end her season on a high-ish note befitting such a "career year." What's next on The Radwanska's agenda? We'll have to wait and see... but maybe not as long as you might think. After all, even The Rad enjoys the holidays... well, at least the period right BEFORE the holidays. (Hint, hint.)
...Errani was the only player in Istanbul who qualified for both the singles and doubles competition. While her and partner Roberta Vinci's stay in doubles was short, Errani's surprising '12 climb up the singles rankings ladder very nearly led to another stunner in the YEC. Considered by many to be something of a "step below" the rest of the field, Errani very nearly put together another deep big event run (following her RG final and U.S. Open SF results) after she outlasted Sam Stosur in Round Robin play and faced off with A-Rad for a berth in the Final Four. The Italian didn't make it, but she made Radwanska toil for three and a half hours (the longest three-set match in YEC history) before finally putting her away, pretty much giving the surviving Pole no chance at all to compete against Serena in the SF. Hmmm, so does that mean that Errani sort of "pulled a Radwanska" on Aga?
VETERAN: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...Sharapova didn't claim the year-end #1 ranking. She didn't win the YEC for the first time since 2004, or finally defeat Serena after a full eight-year span of dominance (9-0) over her by Williams, either. With her loss to Serena in the Istanbul final, Sharapova even fell to 0-5 in hard court finals in 2012. But this past week still feels like it was a good one for the Russian candy seller. As it turned out, Sharapova won't get that November wedding in Istanbul that she'd been planning for back at the start of the season, but a win over Vika, her best season-ending ranking (#2) since 2006 and one more reminder that she's fully back from career-threatening shoulder surgery should be enough to not forever sour her impression of the Turkish city.
COMEBACK: Alexa Glatch/USA
...after winning zero challenger event crowns in three years, 23-year old Glatch has now won two on back-to-back weekends. After taking the $25K event in Makinohara, Japan a week ago, the Bannerette moved over to the $25K event in Hamamatsu this week and won it, too. In fact, she even defeated the same player -- Australia's Monique Adamczak -- in the finals of both tournaments.
FRESH FACES: Annika Beck/GER & Madison Keys/USA
...Beck, 18, continues her pro success after winning the Roland Garros Girls title this spring. In Ismaning, Germany, she won a $75K challenger this weekend following a string of victories over Ksenia Pervak, Kristyna Pliskova, Eleni Daniilidou and Eva Birnerova in the final. She's won five ITF crowns in 2012. Elsewhere, 17-year old Keys won her first (and biggest) ITF singles title since '10 in the $50K event in Saguenay, Canada. She had wins over Victoria Duval, Alla Kudryavtseva and, then, superachiever (and, like Beck, a '12 junior slam champ, at Wimbledon) Eugenie Bouchard in the final.
DOWN: Petra Kvitova/CZE, Samantha Stosur/AUS & Liezel Huber/USA
...geez, who had the WORSE week? Kvitova, the defending YEC champ who hadn't lost an indoor hard court match since 2010, played one woeful Round Robin match in Istanbul, getting crushed by Aga Radwanska, and then pulling out of the event with a viral illess (and apparently, some question about her availability next weekend in Prague... though we KNOW she'll be there). Petra, in a season in which she seemed fated back in January to rise to #1, thus ends her year as the #8-ranked player in the world, having lost three straight indoor matches (counting a closed roof match at Wimbledon) after having sported an intact 27-match (unofficially 31) winning streak inside earlier in '12. Kvitova's Round Robin replacement was Stosur, who picked up some extra prize money in Istanbul, but it probably wasn't enough to make up for the damage done to her confidence by her performances there. The Aussie went 0-2, including back-to-back sets lost at love over two days in matches against Sara Errani and Maria Sharapova. And then there's Huber, who won the YEC doubles crown with Lisa Raymond last year. After a season filled with on-court arguments with opponents, off-court sniping and a six-month title drought that finally ended days before the start of the U.S. Open, Huber's season ended with just as loud a thud. She and Raymond lost in straight sets in the SF to Hlavackova/Hradecka despite having held four set points in the 1st, as Huber double-faulted twice in the opening set tie-break to set the course for the American duo.
...last season, Puig was the Girls runner-up at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros. A season later, the 17-year old has claimed a $100K challenger in Poitiers, France. She notched nice wins last week over Magdalena Rybarikova, Stefanie Voegele, Johanna Larson, Virginie Razzano and Elena Vesnina in the final, 7-5/1-6/7-5. It's the Puerto Rican's sixth career ITF title, and easily her biggest. Meanwhile, Vesnina now has a 0-8 record in singles finals (WTA & ITF) since she last won a small Tbilisi challenger event in September 2003. Overall, the Russian is 2-10 in all pro singles finals.
JUNIOR STAR: Katerina Siniakova/CZE
...the 16-year old Maiden, the #9-ranked junior in the world, won the Osaka Mayor's Cup Super Jr. event in Japan. The #1-seed, Siniakova got a walkover in the QF from Indy De Vroome (viral illness), then a win over yet another of the young Brits (Katy Dunne) before defeating Switzerland's Karin Kennel in the final.

1. WTA RR - Azarenka d. Kerber
Quite simply, a legit contender for "Match of the Year" consideration (see below for a more detailed rundown of this one), as Azarenka overcame two match points, channeled her anger and showed just how much she's changed (for the better) over the last eighteen months. Oh, and, really, didn't Kerber deserve better than the 0-3 record she ended up putting up at these YEC?
2. WTA RR - S.Williams d. Azarenka 6-4/6-4
WTA Final - S.Williams d. Sharapova 6-4/6-2
Azarenka never really seemed in it. Sharapova never had a break point. Again, it's worth mentioning YET AGAIN that Williams is 20-1 against the current world's #1 and #2 since 2005.
3. WTA Doubles Final - Kirilenko/Petrova d. Hlavackova/Hradecka
Oh, Nadia!! And... oh, Petra (in a bad way) if the FC final comes down to the all-Czech doubles team needing to win? After all, they've crumbled under big FC pressure before.
4. WTA RR - S.Williams d. Li
Proof that Serena is still human. (Again, see below for details.)
5. WTA RR - Azarenka d. Li
. The match that secured Vika's place as the eleventh different woman to end a WTA season at #1.
6. WTA SF - Sharapova d. Azarenka
With the #1 ranking hers for the offseason, the regular Vika -- or "Vichka," as her shoes said -- intensity wasn't quite in evidence here.
7. $25K Florence SC 1st Rd - (Q) Townsend d. #1 Larcher de Brito
Remember when Larcher de Brito was all the (future) rage? Still only 19, she was taken down early by the 16-year old junior qualifier here.
8. $10K Monastir TUR Final - Basek Eraydin d. Marina Shamayko
The 18-year old Turk is 6-0 in ITF finals this season.
9. $10K Victoria MEX Final - Nika Kukharchuk d. Victoria Rodriguez
If the 17-year old from Mexico can't win an event with the same name as her own, should she worry? Part of the Mexican mini-boomlet, he's 0-3 in challenger finals in 2012.
10. $25K Traralgon AUS Final - Ashleigh Barty d. Arina Rodionova
Barty wins her fourth title of the season and climbs into the Top 200.

1. WTA RR - A.Radwanska d. Kvitova
Kvitova had 41 errors to A-Rad's 5, as the Czech lost her first indoor HC match since 2010, withdrew with an illness and now heads to Prague sick AND carrying the weight of the entire Czech team on her back in the FC final. Hmmm... has JJ made some sort of secret alliance with The Radwanska? It WOULD explain why those recent A-Rad/Jankovic matches didn't really supply any of the chaos that had been hoped for when those draws were released.
2. WTA RR - Sharapova d. A.Radwanska
. Yuri and Yelena -- wherever, and whenever, they are -- can sleep tight again (and this one DID end after 2 a.m.). For now.
3. WTA RR - A.Radwanska d. Errani 6-7/7-5/6-4
WTA SF - S.Williams d. A.Radwanska
after winning in 3:29, even The Radwanska wasn't able to help Aga against The Serena.
4. $75K Ismaning SF - Birnerova d. Ka.Pliskova 6-4/6-4
$75K Ismaning 2nd Rd - Beck d. Kr.Pliskova 6-4/6-4
apparently, defeating Kristyna carried more weight with the Tennis Gods than triumphing over Karolina, as Beck eventually defeated Birnerova in the final.
5. $10K Antalya SF - Buzean d. E.Ianchuk 4-6/6-1/6-2
$10K Antalya Final - O.Ianchuk d. Buzean 3-6/6-4/6-4
it's really odd how often this happens, but again one sister (Olga) got revenge for the loss by the other (Elizaveta) and walked away with a title for her/their troubles. In this case, it was the Ukrainian's second ITF crown in two weeks.
HM- $25K Seoul Final - E.Sema d. Minokoshi
. Finally, Erika gets a 2012 singles title for the Sema sisters.

6...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4...Sara Errani, ITA
3...Maria Sharapova, RUS
3...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

**2012 WTA FINALS**
9...Victoria Azarenka (6-3)
5...Sara Errani (4-1)
5...Agnieszka Radwanska (3-2)
4...Angelique Kerber (2-2)
4...Li Na (1-3)

4...Azarenka vs. Sharapova = AO/I.W./Stuttgart/Beijing (Vika 3-1)
2...S.Williams vs. Azarenka = Madrid/U.S. (Serena 2-0)
2...S.WILLIAMS vs. SHARAPOVA = Olympics/WTA (Serena 2-0)

2001 def. Lindsay Davenport (walkover)
2002 lost to Kim Clijsters 5-7/3-6
2004 lost to Maria Sharapova 6-4/2-6/4-6
2009 def. Venus Williams 6-2/7-6
2012 def. Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-3

2004 Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams 4-6/6-2/6-4
2007 Justine Henin def. Maria Sharapova 5-7/7-5/6-3
2008 Venus Williams def. Vera Zvonareva 6-7/6-0/6-2
2012 Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova 4-6/3-6

2004 Miami 4th - Serena def. Sharapova 6-4/6-3
2004 Wimbledon Final - Sharapova def. Serena 6-1/6-4
2004 WTA Chsp. Final - Sharapova def. Serena 4-6/6-2/6-4
2005 Australian Open SF - Serena def. Sharapova 2-6/7-5/8-6
2007 Australian Open Final - Serena def. Sharapova 6-1/6-2
2007 Miami 4th - Serena def. Sharapova 6-1/6-1
2008 Charleston QF - Serena def. Sharapova 7-5/4-6/6-1
2010 Wimbledon 4th - Serena def. Sharapova 7-6(9)/6-4
2011 Stanford QF - Serena def. Sharapova 6-1/6-3
2012 Madrid QF - Serena def. Sharapova 6-1/6-3
2012 Olympics Final - Serena def. Sharapova 6-0/6-1
2012 WTA Chsp. Final - Serena def. Sharapova 6-4/6-3

[Singles Finals]
2001 Serena Williams def. Lindsay Davenport (w/o)
2002 Kim Clijsters def. Serena Williams
2003 Kim Clijsters def. Amelie Mauresmo
2004 Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams
2005 Amelie Mauresmo def. Mary Pierce
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne def. Amelie Mauresmo
2007 Justine Henin def. Maria Sharapova
2008 Venus Williams def. Vera Zvonareva
2009 Serena Williams def. Venus Williams
2010 Kim Clijsters def. Caroline Wozniacki
2011 Petra Kvitova def. Victoria Azarenka
2012 Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova
[Doubles Champs]
2004 Nadia Petrova / Meghann Shaughnessy
2005 Lisa Raymond / Samantha Stosur
2006 Lisa Raymond / Samantha Stosur
2007 Cara Black / Liezel Huber
2008 Cara Black / Liezel Huber
2009 Nuria Llagostera-Vives / Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
2010 Gisela Dulko / Flavia Pennetta
2011 Liezel Huber / Lisa Raymond
2012 Maria Kirilenko / Nadia Petrova

**SERENA def. World #1 & #2 in SAME EVENT**
1999 U.S. Open - def. Hingis & Davenport
2000 L.A. - def. Hingis & Davenport
2002 Miami - def. Capriati & V.Williams
2002 Roland Garros - def. V.Williams & Capriati
2005 Australian Open - def. Davenport & Mauresmo
2007 Miami - def. Henin & Sharapova
2012 Madrid - def. Azarenka & Sharapova
2012 WTA Chsp - def. Azarenka & Sharapova
[Recent Players def. world #1 & #2 in Event]
2006 U.S. Open - #4 Maria Sharapova (#1 Mauresmo,#2 Henin-H.)
2006 WTA Chsp. - #3 Justine Henin-H. (#2 Sharapova, #1 Mauresmo)
2007 Miami - #18 Serena Williams (#2 Sharapova, #1 Henin)
2008 WTA Chsp. - #8 Venus Williams (#2 Safina, #1 Jankovic)
2009 Roland Garros - #7 Svetlana Kuznetsova (#2 S.Williams, #1 Safina)
2010 Sydney - #5 Elena Dementieva (#2 Safina, #1 S.Williams)
2010 WTA Chsp. - #4 Kim Clijsters (#2 Zvonareva, #1 Wozniacki)
2012 Madrid - #9 Serena Williams (#2 Sharapova, #1 Azarenka)
2012 WTA Chsp. - #3 Serena Williams (#1 Azarenka, #2 Sharapova)
[Most Events def. world #1 & #2]
4...Venus Williams
3...Tracy Austin
2...Kim Clijsters
2...Steffi Graf
2...Justine Henin
2...Martina Navratilova

FED CUP FINAL at Prague, CZE (hard indoor)
11 Final: CZE d. RUS

Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-2

...sure, Kvitova had to pull out of Istanbul with a viral illness, and later in the week was bedridden and hoping to be ready in time to play in the FC final for the defending champion Czech Maidens. With the bulk of responsibility falling on the shoulders of one Lucie Safarova if Kvitova isn't fully up to snuff, it's not out of the question that JJ could finally have her day and lead the Serbs (with "good friend" -- haha -- AnaIvo) to a surprise FC title. Still, I'll go with Petra rising to the occasion and getting two wins... and then hoping Safarova and/or Hlavackova/Hradecka can win one of the three other matches. But, if this thing goes down to the deciding doubles match, it would be wise to remember how many ties the Serbs have won over the two seasons that actually DID come down to doubles. If Kvitova slips up just once, something which has happened on more than a few occasions in '12, this thing could get real crazy.

Chaotic, even.

11 Final: Ivanovic d. Medina-Garrigues (Ivanovic 2010-11 champion)
12 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Petrova

Caroline Wozniacki (2-1)*
Hsieh Su-Wei (2-1)*
Roberta Vinci (2-1)
Daniela Hantuchova (0-3)
Maria Kirilenko (3-0)*
Nadia Petrova (2-1)*
Tsvetana Pironkova (1-2)
Zheng Jie (0-3)

Arvidsson, Cornet

Wozniacki d. Petrova
Hsieh d. Kirilenko
Wozniacki d. Hsieh

...back to the Round Robin format this year, and with a move from Bali to Sofia, things are even a bit more different. The TOC winner the last two years -- Ana Ivanovic -- isn't here, either, though she'd be heading up a group if not for the FC final also being played this weekend. I'll go with Caro to end '12 on another good note, though in this format, especially with this group of players, just about anything could happen.

TAIPEI, TAIWAN (WTA 125 $125K/hard indoor)
11 Final: new event
12 Top Seeds: Peng/Govortsova

#4 Mladenovic d. #1 Peng
#5 Chang d. #7 Doi
#4 Mladenovic d. #5 Chang

...the smallest event on the WTA schedule. I don't know how an event could seem like more of an afterthought than this one. Hey, at least it makes the TOC seem "big" and "event-worthy" by comparison.

Later this week, the march of the 2012 Backspin Awards continues with the first half of the year-ending player lists.

All for now.

Here are all the day-by-day match notes for the Round Robin and semifinal matches that I posted in the Comments section last week:

=Day 1=
Radwanska def. Kvitova 6-3/6-2, what can you say? Radwanska was fine. Steady. Mostly consistent (but with a few service yips). Not that it really mattered. Kvitova was so bad that The Rad didn't even bother threatening to show up in Istanbul today. Aga led 3-0, 40/0 on Kvitova's serve in the 1st, but, after a coaching visit, the Czech DID bounce back, getting to 3-3. But that was about all she had in her.

Radwanska broke and held for 5-3, then pretty much gift-wrapped a get-back-in-the-match present for Petra, but she just wouldn't accept it. After pouncing on three second serves in the game, Kvitova erased A-Rad's 40/15 lead to get to deuce. But then a "mindless error" (Lindsay Davenport's perfect characterization on TC) gave Aga another chance, and she took it with an up-the-T service winner to secure the set.

You'd think Kvitova might have come back strong in the 2nd set of the event she was undefeated in last year. But, no. Instead, she was broken at love in Game #1 of the 2nd. She got a break back, but then back-to-back Kvitova DF's gave A-Rad BP in Game #3, and another loose error gave her another, then another bad error broke herself. Two games later, another Kvitova DF lead to a break of serve to give Aga a 4-1 lead. Again, she broke back, but couldn't carry over any momentum. Another loose error. Another break. 5-2. Finally, Radwanska put away the match with her first ace of the day.

All in all, a pretty pathetic display from Kvitova. This was the Czech's first loss on indoor hardcourt since 2010.

S.Williams d. Kerber 6-4/6-1
...Kerber stayed with her for a while in the 1st, but at 4-4 Williams took control. She held at love for a second straight service game to go up 5-4. One game later, Kerber had a point to hold, but committed an error. She was frustrated with herself, but didn't go as overboard with it as she sometimes does. Still, it was her last chance. Serena broke to take the set, played better and better, and put the German away quite handily down the stretch. Eventually, ever Kerber started to help, including double-faulting to break herself for 5-1 in the 2nd.

Sharapova d. Errani 6-3/6-2
...Errani stuck with Sharapova early, mostly because of the Russian's slow start. As it turned out, it was the same final scoreline as their meeting in the RG final. A good start for Sharapova, who had an injured ankle at last year's YEC and only played two matches before pulling out.

One note on Kvit/A-Rad: Kvitova ended with 40+ UEs to, I believe, Radwanska's total of 5. Even Kvitova can't compete with numbers like that.

=Day 2=
S.Williams d. Li 7-6/6-3
...a freaky weird match. There were still a few questions about whether or not Serena has a lower body injury (she denied it's an issue), but the story here was both players' difficulty holding serve. Serena got a break for 5-4 in the 1st and it was easy to think she'd simply grab the set and go on. But no. Instead, she was broken at love in back-to-back serve games as Li forced a tie-break. Eight of the twelve serve games in the set ended with breaks of serve. Williams won the TB 7-2, but the two were tied 39-39 in points for the set. So, Serena won the set in spite of a 51% 1st serve percentage, 1 ace vs. 5 DF and just 7 winners to 22 errors (Li was 6-vs.-16).

The 2nd set started the same way, as there were three breaks in the first four games. Williams led 3-1, but was sporting a 9% 1st serve percentage in the 2nd at the time. She went up 40/15 in Game #5, but had to endure a 9:00, 6-deuce marathon to hold for 4-1. Then she wasn't able to convert 2 MP on Li's serve at 5-2, and was visibly distraught when Li held on a net cord dribbler. Williams held easily for 6-3 in 2nd, but this wasn't anything near a masterpiece.

Two wins and no lost sets probably puts Serena in the SF, so her next match vs. Vika might be for pride (and Vika's attempt to lock away of the #1 spot) only... in the Round Robin, at least, as they could meet again in a potential final.

NOTES: Kvitova has pulled out with a viral illness, and says she hopes to be ready to play in the FC final next week. Hmmmm, the Czech #1 is sick AND the Serbian #1 or #2 (she really should be in the #1 singles position, considering her FC history, ranking be damned vs. AnaIvo) JJ was sick last week. Is The Radwanska working overtime behind the scenes?

Next up: Vika, who needs two wins in Istanbul to lock away the year-end #1 ranking.

Azarenka d. Kerber 6-7(11),7-6(2),6-4
...holy baloney! What a match that was! In one of the best matches of the entire season, Azarenka overcame a never-give-up Kerber, saving two match points in a 3+ hour match to move within one win of securing the year-end #1 ranking and, maybe more impressively, once again showing that the fits of anger that used to bedevil the Belarusian no longer foreshadow a crash-and-burn meltdown. In fact, one could say that Vika used her anger and frustration at various points in this match (oh, her poor innocent racket!) to get herself untracked and back into the match.

There was, quite frankly, nothing won easily in this high-quality contest. Kerber used her incredible defensive skills to full advantage today, keeping many long rallies alive and forcing Azarenka into going for too much -- often producing an error, and allowing the German to battle from behind throughout the first half of the match. Maybe Kerber's most surprising weapon, though, was the big serve up the "T" that she pulled out more than once to push aside break points and grab an advantage in crucial points in the match.

Up 6-5, 30/love on Kerber's serve in the 1st, because of Kerber's constant scrambling retrievals, Azarenka made a poor decision. Camped near the net on the left hand side of the court, she went for an angled shot at the line to try to keep the ball away from the racing-across-the-baseline German (she likely should have just waited a tick longer and hit behind Kerber in the backcourt). She missed it, failing to get to set point, and then saw Kerber hold for a tie-break. There, again, Azarenka grabbed a lead. Many, in fact. 4-1, then 6-2. Serving at 6-5, Vika needlessly went for a mid-point drop shot in a rally in which she seemed to be in control (for the moment, anyway), but left it short. She banged her racket on the court as her fourth SP went by the wayside. From there, the TB went on and on. Azarenka saved two SP, then Kerber saved a 5th SP with an ace to take a 10-9 lead. Azarenka saved two more SP, then saw Kerber convert on her own 5th SP to win the breaker 13-11 in the 1:02 opening set.

In the first game of the 2nd, Azarenka again failed to put away two BP. She attempted to smash her racket again, but her arm motion was so violent that the grip slipped out of her hand and her racket flew half-way across the court. Immediately after that, she saved a GP with a less-powerful, angled forehand (showing that she hadn't let her frustration take over her mind) and got the break of serve. Kerber got the break back for 4-4, then saved four Azarenka BP (twice with aces) to hold in a nine-deuce, 13:26 game. Two points into the next game, Vika went down love/30 (two points from a loss), then dropped her racket, grabbed it out of the air and smashed it harder than ever. But then she squatted down and rested her face against her racket until she'd collected herself. She then went on to save two match points and hold for 5-5. The two went to another tie-break, and Vika again grabbed the lead. She led 6-1, but couldn't get the next point. So, once more, she found herself at 6-2 in the tie-break. The smile on her face at the moment seemed proof that she was saying to herself, "Of course I couldn't win 7-1, and now it's 6-2 AGAIN." She handled it better this time, getting the next point to win 7-2 and knot the match.

Azarenka held at love to open the 3rd, then got a break for 2-0. But, of course, Kerber battled back with a break in Game #3. Up 4-3, Vika went up 40/15 on Kerber's serve, but it took her three chances to finally get the break. Serving for the match at 5-3, she fell behind love/30, as Kerber was pumping her fist and seemed ready to peel back the world #1 yet again. Facing a BP, Azarenka's serve was called out, then overruled and declared (and an ace) in by the chair umpire, only to be reversed via replay. Kerber went on and got the break for 5-4. As TC's Brett Haber said, "Here we go again."

Except we didn't this time.

Azarenka quickly went up 40/15 on Kerber's serve in the next game, then buried a forehand down the line on her first MP of the day. She reacted like she'd just reached a slam final (well, maybe semifinal). She had every right -- this match was better than the previous four played in Istanbul. COMBINED. She's now won 14 straight matches, and is 46-3 on hard court in '12. After pulling through this, despite a few hiccups on big points brought on by Kerber's tenacity, her confidence should be soaring.

It'll need to be, as Serena -- in whatever form -- shows up on the other side of the net tomorrow.

Sharapova d. Radwanska 5-7/7-5/7-5
...and, after a long day, it still wasn't over in Istanbul. Sharapova and Radwanska didn't take the court until after 11 p.m. local time, and then didn't finish until after 2 a.m. The Russian came in with a 7-2 mark against A-Rad, but the Pole has flummoxed and foiled her before, and for much of today did so again.

After sticking close all through the 1st set, Radwanska broke Sharapova in the 12th game of the set to win 7-5. Tennis Channel had technical difficulties during the airing of that game. Obviously, the work of The Radwanska! In the 2nd, it looked as if Aga was going to pull her second Istanbul upset in two days, as she got a break to take a 4-2 lead (again, TC had difficulties and missed all but the final point of the game... grrr, Rad). Sharapova broke back at love for 4-3, then came back from love/40 down to break again two games later for 5-4. But, serving for the set, Sharapova played a truly bad service game and was broken back at love. The Russian had a very Stosur-like look on her face, putting her hand to her forehand in disbelief after dropping the game.

But Maria wasn't finished. That's why she is who she is, after all.

Radwanska held a GP in Game #11, but Sharapova got the break, then held in her second attempt to serve out the set, winning 7-5. In the 3rd, the two exchanged breaks in the middle of the set, then it was -- shocking! -- Radwanska who cracked. At 5-5, she committed an uncharacteristic error, sending a backhand approach shot long and giving Sharapova break points. She broke Aga with a big return to the baseline that Radwanska could barely get her racket on, taking a 6-5 lead and getting the chance to serve out the match. She did, too, ending things with an ace to win 7-5, ending the 3:12 match.

If Sharapova had lost, Azarenka would have wrapped up the #1 ranking. But Maria's win means the Russian still has a shot at overtaking Vika for year-end #1.

=Day 3=
Li d. Kerber 6-4/6-3
...after playing great, but being 0-2, Kerber was probably due for a bit of a letdown today in a match that she knew likely meant very little to her Istanbul chances. She didn't play badly, but her serve was nowhere near the weapon it was yesterday against Azarenka. After having nearly 10 aces then, she had none today. In the 1st set alone, she had 6 DF's, including one on BP/SP for Li that handed the set to the Chinese vet. Li broke the German for the sixth time in the match to take a 5-1 lead in the 2nd, and after failing to serve things out in her first attempt, finally did so in Game #9.

Two moments of note in the match:

1) Kerber's "frying pan lob" (two hands on the held-flat racket and hitting the lob directly over her head).

2) the great, calm coaching break between Li and Carlos Rodriguez. So often, those moments feel like either lectures or arguments (especially the latter with Li in the past, when she was being coached by her husband), but this one felt like a mentor/mentee, wise professor to student situation. It's going to be really interesting to see just how much Li benefits from having Rodriguez's calming presence around in '13. It could be substantial.

Li still has a shot to reach the SF if she can beat Vika (if Azarenka loses to Serena) in her final RR match. Speaking of... Whew! Williams sure had an "all-business" look on her face when she walked out onto the court for her match with Azarenka.

S.Williams d. Azarenka 6-4/6-4
...Serena LOOKED like she was all-business before the match, and she was during it, too, answering everything that Vika gave her, and then some.

Not that Azarenka, just like in the U.S. Open final, didn't have her chances. At 2-2 in the 1st, she was up 40/love on Serena's serve, but Williams strung together a series of big serves to hold. In contrast, a few games later, Vika double-faulted on BP to give Serena a 5-3 lead. She managed to break back when Williams served for the set, but then another DF on BP handed Serena the set. Vika tossed her racket.

In the 2nd, bouncing back from an outburst again, Azarenka opened with a break of serve, then used a good return to get a second break and a 3-0 lead. But then Williams stormed back, getting one break back, and then another after Vika's 7th DF had put the Belarusian down 15/40. With the second break gone at 3-3, Azarenka smacked her forehead (three times) with the strings of her racket. As she did against Kerber, Vika seemed to bounced back once more from her frustration, going up 30/love on Serena's serve in the next game.

But Williams didn't waver. She held for 4-3, hit her 11th ace to hold for 5-4, then got to MP on Azarenka's serve one game later. Vika hit another DF.

Thus, Azarenka is still a win away from locking up the year-end #1. She'll face Li Na tomorrow, and will need to win to advance to the SF, as well. A loss ends her season, and she'll have to wait to see if Sharapova can go undefeated in Istanbul and pull off an 11th Hour swiping away of the #1 ranking.

Serena is now 11-1 vs. Azarenka, including a 5-0 mark this season. As the #3-ranked player in the world, Williams is now 19-1 against #1 Azarenka and #2 Sharapova since 2005 (plus 3-0 vs. #4 Radwanska), and has won sixteen straight matches against Top 5 players.

NOTE: Oh, and we had a Tatiana Golovin (sitting next to Mats Wilander) sighting in the stands in Istanbul! She lives!

Errani d. Stosur 6-3/2-6/6-0've got to hand it to Errani. She's constantly disregarded on any surface other than clay. Her participation in singles in Istanbul was looked upon as her "reward," since she wasn't generally seen as being in the class of the other seven (or maybe even the two alternates).

But, here she is, going into tomorrow's final day of Round Robin play with a shot to reach the semis. Sure, it helped that Kvitova pulled out of her group, but how much steadier and mentally put together she was today against added-to-the-group Stosur was just another example of why she's risen from #45 to the Top 8 over the past year.

Stosur double-faulted on Errani's 5th SP to break herself and hand the 1st set to the Italian. The Aussie got an early break in the 2nd and raced to a 6-2 win, and then had a shot to get the lead to start the 3rd, as well. But Errani saved a break point and held in Game #1, and Stosur was finished.

In the next game, Stosur dumped an overhead into the net and was broken for 2-0. Two games later, she framed a serve so badly that it landed in the stands on the fly. She mishit two more shots on the same point, fell down love/40 and then committed an error on Errani's third BP to fall down 4-0. Serving to avoid being bageled, Stosur double-faulted on Errani's second MP.

So, in a rare occasion, all three matches on the final day of RR play have meaning. First up, Sharapova faces Stosur, as the Russian needs a win to keep her hopes for year-end #1 alive. After that, two head-to-head matches will decide the final two semifinalists, as Errani faces Radwanska, and Azarenka (who could also wrap up #1) and Li go against each other for the last Final 4 slot.

Also, the doubles match-ups are set, as it'll be Errani/Vinci vs. Kirilenko/Petrova, and Huber/Raymond vs. Hlavackova/Hradecka.

=Day 4=
Sharapova d. Stosur 6-0/6-3
...maybe Sam should have just gone home to Australia rather than stop off in Istanbul. Sure, she picked up some extra money, but one wonders if what happened on the court did her more harm than good. After her confidence-damaging play in the final in Moscow last weekend, she went 0-2 in RR matches as a fill-in for Kvitova. After being bageled in the 3rd set by Errani yesterday, she lost 6-0 again in the 1st against Sharapova today. She had a 47% 1st serve percentage, 5 DF, 1 winner and no break point opportunities in the twenty-one minute set. She played better in the 2nd, getting a BP look in Game #4, but it was no way to end her season. Sharapova, on the other hand, got some good practice in before tomorrow's SF.

Radwanska d. Errani 6-7/7-5/6-4 just kind of knew, what with the styles of these two, that this one would last a long time. It did, too. 3:29, in fact -- the longest three-set match in YEC history.

A-Rad had a 5-1 record, and 10-2 leads in sets, vs. Errani coming in, but the little Italian was more than up for her today. In fact, with Aga employing a more aggressive gameplan, the Pole was more uncomfortable-looking than usual all match against another player who wished to extend points and force errors (just like her!).

In the 1st set TB, A-Rad came back from 3-1 down to knot things at 6-6, but back-to-back errors (the last at the end of a 34-stroke rally) gave Errani the lead in the match. The stats for the set were very un-Aga like, as well. She had 19 winners and 13 errors (Errani was at 23/16), and was 16-of-21 in net approaches (E: 10/14). Radwanska won the close 2nd set, again with stats that showed a very different gameplan than her norm: she had 17 winners and 21 errors.

In the 3rd, Aga settled in a bit as Errani flagged early, taking a 3-0 lead. But Errani surged back after getting to A-Rad's serve in Game #4 as the two combined for six straight breaks. Serving at 5-4, Radwanska got to MP after putting away a shot at the net, then won on an Errani error. This was A-Rad's second 3+ hour match in the RR... and her reward for getting to the SF is to face Serena tomorrow.

Azarenka d. Li 7-6/6-3
...needing a win to reach the SF and secure the year-end #1 ranking, Vika got off to a slow start vs. Li, against whom she was tied 4-4, and 10-10 in sets, in their previous match-ups.

Li got an early break and led 3-1, and nearly extended her lead even more. But Azarenka saved 2 BP to hold for 3-2. They then put together a run of three straight breaks of serve before both held to force a TB. Azarenka took an early 3-1 lead there, then put the set away at 7-4.

In the 2nd, as the cracks in Li's new serve (which looks very much like Henin's old motion, before she changed things -- and got inconsistent results -- to take pressure off her shoulder) began to show more and more. The set began with three straight breaks, but then Vika took over. She led 5-1, but again had some hiccups trying to close things out. She was broken for 5-3, and then went down 30/love on Li's serve in the next game. Naturally, her racket took the brunt of her frustration. But, as she so often has this week, she seemed to get everything out of her system with her burst of anger and settled herself. She won the next four points to secure the match and year-end #1.

So, Li goes to get some rest, and try to perfect things with Carlos Rodriguez in the offseason in time for a run in Oz; while Vika heads off to face Sharapova (again) tomorrow. Azarenka is 4-1 vs. Sharapova this season, and 6-0 against her on hard court over the last three seasons.

=Day 5=
Well, after such a great week of action (maybe the best YEC RR play ever?), Saturday was a disappointment (in singles, at least). Both semifinal matches took decided turns in one direction and, save for one long game, never threatened to turn back.

S.Williams d. Radwanska 6-2/6-1
...Aga came in saying she just wanted to "live through" the semifinal after two 3+ hour matches this week, and one was tempted to think is was some sort of mind trick being played by The Radwanska, especially after A-Rad had a BP in the first game of the match (SW held). After falling behind 2-0, too, Radwanska got back to 2-2 after Serena contributed her 3rd DF of the set in Game #4. But from that point on, Williams was 10 of the final 11 games. In the 1st set alone, she outpaced the Pole 19-1 in winners. In the 2nd set, Serena had three aces in one game to take a 2-0 lead, while A-Rad was laboring (unsuccessfully) to just get above 50% in 1st serve points won in her own service games.

In the end, no big surprise.

Sharapova d. Azarenka 6-4/6-2
...Vika came in with a 7-4 career mark against Sharapova, and a 6-0 record against her on hard courts over the past three seasons. But Maria was "on" in this one from the start, while Azarenka struggled one day after winning a do-or-die match vs. Li and securing the year-end #1 ranking.

In the 1st, the two traded breaks in the middle of the set before Sharapova finally served things out in the 5-4 game. In the 2nd, Sharapova broke in the opening game with a couple of great defensive gets, then an aggressive approach and winner. She raced to a 4-0 lead as Azarenka seemed to be struggling with her legs (pausing to grasp at her thighs on more than one occasion, and noticeably going for early winners to cut some rallies short). Serving for a 5-1 lead, Sharapova seemed to be on her way to an easy out. But then Azarenka gave her one final, one-game battle.

The game lasted 15 minutes, and nine deuces. After Sharapova dumped an easy, into-an-open-court shot from right on top of the net, one wondered if the miss might come back to haunt her, as Azarenka consistently took advantage of Maria's habit of always serving up the middle in the AD court. On GP #4, Sharapova doubled faulted, just as she would do on GP #8. In between, Vika had one BP opportunity, but couldn't cash in when she went for a quick down-the-line forehand winner and missed it. Finally, on her ninth GP, Sharapova held serve for 5-1.

As the two broke from the final changeover, Azarenka was laughing about something (A video played on the stadium big screen? Or something someone said or did?), and had a hard time wiping the grin off her face even as Sharapova was beginning to serve for the match. Obviously, this wasn't the intense Vika that is 2012's #1. Sharapova held and advanced to her first YEC final since 2007 (her only win came in '04, when she defeated Serena in the championship match -- the LAST time she's defeated Williams, in fact... eight years ago now).

See you Down Under, Vika. Or should I spell it "Vichka," as the back of Azarenka's shoes read today? ;)

So, with the Serena/Sharapova final, every '12 grand slam singles final -- Azarenka/Sharapova(AO), Sharapova/Errani(RG), Serena/Radwanska(WI) and Serena/Azarenka(US) -- and the Olympic Gold Medal match (Serena/Sharapova) will have been "re-played" at these championships. I don't know when the last time something like that happened, especially in a year in which five different women reached GS finals, but this has to be a SUPER rare occasion.

In doubles, Hlavackova/Hradecka advanced past Huber/Raymond in straight sets, after the Americans had held 4 SP in the 1st (and Huber double-faulted twice in the TB). In the other semi, Kirilenko/Petrova came back from a set down to defeat Errani/Vinci in the deciding 10-pt tie-break.


Blogger Eric said...

I don't think my confidence would feel too bad with a 6 figure cash grab...

Mon Oct 29, 05:24:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Haha. I guess we'll see next year. :)

Mon Oct 29, 07:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I've been thinking. Is it possible that Yuri and Yelena do not really exist? That they are a product of Future Sharapova's imagination? That the "house" in which she will live is actually an institution? And all this because of what The Radwanska is patiently refraining to unleash against her (for now)?

Mon Oct 29, 08:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Whoa, Zidane... things just got freaky. All of a sudden, I've got numerous scenes from "The Shining" racing through my head.

Stay tuned... ;)

Mon Oct 29, 09:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Zidane has been sampling too much Sugarpova :)

Mon Oct 29, 11:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

More like injection by central line...


I'm late to the Su Wei Hsieh trend. Her game is so funky. It's nice to see some variation.

Mon Oct 29, 11:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

trend = phenomenon. I couldn't think of the word.

Mon Oct 29, 11:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Colette Lewis said...

In regards to your Fresh Faces, Keys won a $10K back in 2010. Also, I don't understand your reference to "fellow 12 junior slam champ" re: Bouchard. Keys has never won a jr slam.

Tue Oct 30, 11:06:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric, you made me laugh--and I needed to.

Tue Oct 30, 11:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks Colette. That was a combination of bad placement and a poor job of updating my files.

The Bouchard reference was supposed to refer back to Beck, who was the one who was also a junior slam champ this season. I put it in a weird spot, so it slipped by. (I fixed that one).

As for the Keys thing, for some reason I hadn't updated the info I keep handy about players looking for their first titles. I'd still had Keys on the list as being title-less, so I thought that was the case. Obviously, I should have double-checked that by going down half a page more on her ITF site bio (which I did take a peek at to check her age), huh? Sorry about the error there (I've gotten better at catching them, but some still get by). I updated that one.

Words to live by: Trust, but verify. ;)

Tue Oct 30, 01:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger J said...

Now just imagine how awesome the semifinals could have been if both Aga and Vika got a day of rest after their ridiculously long matches and awful scheduling.

Aga had less than 24 hours to recover before playing Serena.

(also, can Vika please gracefully lose to Maria sometime soon? I love her, but it's kind of ridiculous)

Wed Oct 31, 12:05:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, but Vika's less-than-bothered-by-the-loss reaction to Sharapova's win DOES just add another chapter to their ongoing rivaly (though "rivalry" seems too mellow a term for their, ummm, "relationship").

Silver linings. ;)

Wed Oct 31, 01:37:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Can you imagine, if JJ were still in the top 5?!

Wed Oct 31, 10:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

a top 5 with JJ, Aga, Sharapova, and Azarenka would be so catty. a good reality show, actually...

apparently vika's boyfriend fell out of the window of a 3rd story apartment...the whole story is strange and lacking details...wonder if we'll ever find out what happened...

and finally someone besides the big 4 will win a master's title. they're all out of Paris before the third round. That must be some kind of record (or the end of some kind of record). (A sign of what tennis looks like without roger and rafa?)

querrey's gaining some momentum...but i think i'll wait until i see more solid results at the start of 2013 before reevaluating him. He always builds momentum and then loses it so quickly...kind of like isner.

Thu Nov 01, 04:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

wow. murray's last three losses all from match point up.

Thu Nov 01, 04:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Hmmm, I'd almost feel greedy wishing for that ingredient to be added to the smelling-sweeter-all-the-time brew, too. ;)


That Bubka story is like a scene from a movie.

Thu Nov 01, 10:35:00 PM EDT  

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