Monday, November 05, 2012

Wk.44- Lucie in the Sky with Diamonds (and a Fed Cup title)

So they held a Fed Cup final in Prague and the star was... Lucie Safarova? Who knew?

A few spare thoughts on the FC final and the Czech Republic's successful defense of last year's title at the expense of Team Serbia:

NO SURPRISE: that Petra Kvitova came to Prague ready to give it everything she had on Saturday
ALSO NO SURPRISE: that Kvitova, barely back from battling bronchitis, didn't have enough left in her tank to do it all over again on Sunday... no matter how hard she tried

BIG SURPRISES: With Team Serbia down 0-2, Ana Ivanovic actually showed up on Sunday... while Jelena Jankovic didn't
BIGGER SURPRISE: that Lucie Safarova was the most put-together, consistent and playing-up-to-her-talent-level woman on the court all weekend. Whew! Didn't see that one coming.

THING MOST GRATEFUL FOR (Czech version): that Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka didn't have to take the court for a deciding doubles match. The duo have had a great season, but their FC history is checkered... err, or should I say "Czechered?"
THING MOST GRATEFUL FOR (Serb version)?: that Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic didn't have to take the court for a deciding doubles match. Sure, I know, that sounds ridiculous. But, consider this, if they had played, and lost, the post-match "blame games" between the JJ and AnaIvo camps might have gotten ugly (they've got a history of such things, after all), and that's not even touching on the subject of the coaching decision to leave both Bojana Jovanovski and Alexandra Krunic off the court. Although young, both had shown FC deciding doubles match mettle in the past as Serbia worked its way into this final, and teaming one of those two youngsters with either JJ or AnaIvo might have been a good call had it come down to that.

WEIRD: the stadium speakers in Prague often roaring with "When the Saints Come Marching In" during attempts to stoke the fans.
ODDLY ADDICTIVE (or maybe not so "oddly"): Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova going all Petkorazzi-ish on us and jamming out to "Call Me Maybe" during the post-match celebrations

In a year where some clarity finally came to the WTA tour -- well, at least the top of it... or MOST of the top -- I suppose we were due to have someone upset the proverbial apple cart like Safarova did in Prague this weekend. Not only did her near-brilliant play somewhat push Kvitova's springing-from-her-sick-bed performance on Saturday out of the spotlight but, at least in these parts, her dumping of barrels full of ketchup into JJ's possible flowing river of apple sauce almost came off as a "downer." I mean, I expected the Czech Maidens to win, but after AnaIvo pulled that upset of Petra in the opening match on Sunday, I'll admit to seeing visions in my head of a drunk-on-joy Queen Chaos prancing around the Prague court on Sunday afternoon. That. Would. Have. Been. Wild.

But it wasn't meant to be.

Still, for a brief moment -- no matter how flickering -- such a thing seemed realistically possible. It makes one crave for the 2013 season to get here as quickly as possible. No, not because it might be a harbinger of crazy, JJ-related things to come. But because it just HAS to mean that The Radwanska is still out there, somewhere, fine-tuning Its attack plans, trying to catch us all with our guard down. And any period of intellectual inactivity might make us all susceptible to a lethal strike.

Stay safe, my friends. Stay safe.

S: Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-1
S: Nadia Petrova/RUS def. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN 6-2/6-1
S: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA def. Chang Kai-Chen/TPE 6-4/6-3
D: H.Chan/Mladenovic (TPE/FRA) d. Chang/Govortsova (TPE/BLR)

...well, that was about the best performance EVER by a player with a sub-.500 career Fed Cup record and a history of, no matter how talented she is, often coming up very short in big matches. A year after going 0-2 in singles during last year's triumphant (for everyone but her) FC final, Safarova went 2-0 this time and squashed all of Team Serbia's hopes shortly after AnaIvo's upset of Kvitova had instilled new life into their Fed Cup dreams. Safarova, who was just 7-10 in FC matches before this weekend, left little doubt against Jelena Jankovic en route to clinching the title for the Maiden. She won a $100K event in Prague, as well, earlier this year... so maybe that was her secret weapon?
RISERS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Monica Niculescu/ROU
...Wozniacki wasn't able to run her season-ending winning streak to ten matches with a win in the TOC final over Nadia Petrova in Sofia, losing instead in two easy sets in a match in which she took a medical timeout in the 2nd. But wins over Hsieh Su-Wei, Daniela Hantuchova and Roberta Vinci to sweep her Round Robin group, then a semifinal win over home fave Tsvetana Pironkova, was enough to put a good (enough) ending note on an encouraging final chapter of what turned out to be a disappointing season for Midge. In the 4Q, she went 18-3, reached three finals, won two titles and picked up enough points in Sofia to slip past Marion Bartoli (by 25 pts.) to finished '12 in the Top 10 after back-to-back year-end #1 seasons. In Nantes, France, just a few weeks after losing to Venus Williams in the Luxembourg final, Niculescu grabbed a $50K challenger crown, getting wins over Julie Coin, Karolina Pliskova and Virginie Razzano before defeating young Russian-turned-Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 6-2/6-3 in the final.
SURPRISES: Ana Ivanovic/SRB & Chang Kai-Chen/TPE
...truthfully, I expected AnaIvo to be an abject disaster in this weekend's FC final. I had good reason. She'd never been as good (or frequent) a FC participant as teammate Jelena Jankovic and, ever since winning Roland Garros in '08, pressure-packed-matches have not been her forte. On Saturday, they still weren't, as she went 1-for-7 in break point attempts in a losing effort against Lucie Safarova in the opening match of the tie. With the Serbs seemingly hopelessly down 2-0 after Day 1 (hmmm, maybe that took the pressure off?), though, Ivanovic upped her game and caught Petra Kvitova, not really prepared for back-to-back match days after her illness, on a day in which she could be beaten (though, it should be noted, not with the hail of mindless errors that normally accompany a Petra loss). In good spirits and flashing the sort of on-court smile not seen from her in years, Ivanovic resuscitated the Serbian dream of a FC championship. She won the big points and defeated Kvitova in two competitive sets, handing over the keys to JJ (who promptly dropped them down a drainage sewer... but I'll get to that later). Still, even after her poor weekend start and Team Serbia's eventual loss, AnaIvo (nearly a Top 10 player again) CAN exit '12 with her head held high... sort of how she did by winning the TOC in 2010 and '11. In Taipei, after reaching her first WTA singles final in Osaka a few weeks ago, Chang did it again in the very first "WTA 125" event ever held. Wins over Caroline Garcia, Olga Govortsova and Misaki Doi got her there, but Kristina Mladenovic prevented her from lifting the trophy (and then did it again in the doubles final, too).
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Roberta Vinci/ITA

...hmmm, might the back-half of her '12 season just be a feel-good blip on the radar of Nadia Petrova, or the start of something... ummm, very interesting (hey, I'm not poking THAT curse-laden bear!). She IS now a 30-year old tennis player, after all, and that's been something of a "magic" age for both early and late bloomers the last few seasons. Surely Nadia, after teaming up with coach Ricardo Sanchez, has certainly pulled close once again some of the old excitement so many of us saw in her powerful, yet surprisingly varied game in years past before injuries slowly eroded her effectiveness. Since hitting the big 3-oh, Nadia (Haha -- see how I did that there? A stealthy "Oh, Nadia." Sweet.) has won a grass court title in the Netherlands, picked up Olympic doubles Bronze, won another singles title in Tokyo, took the YEC doubles crown and now the TOC title in Sofia. In fact, Nadia went 5-0 en route, putting up victories over doubles partner Maria Kirilenko, Zheng Jie, Tsvetana Pironkova and Roberta Vinci (SF) before easily taking down Caroline Wozniacki in the final. It's Petrova's thirteenth (eek! I don't like that!) career title, and her three titles this season are the most she's had in a calendar year since winning five back in '06. Once again, that potential Nadia "What If?" edition of Backspin gets put on the backburner. I'd say that it's becoming like a long-rumored-but-never-filmed third "Star Wars" trilogy, but, well, you know, that line sort of doesn't work anymore. Vinci (she'll turn 30 in February, so look out 2013, here she comes!) reached the semifinals in Sofia with wins over Daniela Hantuchova and Hsieh Su-Wei. She ends her season, often overshadowed by the exploits of doubles partner Sara Errani, as a Top 20 player in singles for the first time in her career (her year-end ranking has now risen four straight years), and as the #1-ranked doubles player in the world.
COMEBACKS: Petra Kvitova/CZE & Melanie Oudin/USA
...after two weeks of bed rest, and no practice sessions that lasted more than an hour, what version of Kvitova we'd see in Prague was anyone's guess. A bout with bronchitis, especially for an asthma sufferer, isn't exactly the sort of prep usually desired before putting on the colors and playing for your country in the Fed Cup final. But that's what Petra did -- and she was great at it. Well, at least on Saturday. Coming back from a break down at 4-2 in the 1st against Jelena Jankovic in the second match of the tie, Kvitova won eight straight games and displayed the sort of focused, controlled power game that often eluded her through her up-and-down-and-out-and-in season that saw her reach two slam SF and win a pair of singles titles, but be seen as having had a truly "disappointing" campaign. If she'd swept past Ana Ivanovic on Day 2 to clinch the FC title for the Czech Maidens, she'd gone down in Cup lore for putting up one of the gutsiest performances in the history of women's tennis (think LPT in the SF and Final of the '03 U.S. Open). But a spry AnaIvo got the best of her there, and she got to watch from the sidelines as Safarova brought home the title against JJ in Match #4. Seeing Petra run around the court like a flag-waving little girl and "mugging" Safarova during her on-court interview and shoving a celebratory cap on her head (with a big smile on her face), though, I don't think it really mattered much to Kvitova which Czech put the final period on this sentence. Elsewhere, Melanie Oudin's singles surge continues, though far more off the grid than her tour title on the grass in Birmingham (where she defeated Jankovic in the final, oddly enough) was this summer. In New Braunfels, Texas, Oudin took a $50K title -- her second ITF crown this season -- with wins over Victoria Duval, Madison Keys and Mariana Duque-Marino (6-1/6-1) in the final.
FRESH FACES: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA & Anna Schmiedlova/SVK

...Mladenovic, 19, initiated the "WTA 125" challenger series by playing in the inaugural event in Taipei and taking both the singles and doubles titles (and the crowns have been added to the "WTA Tour Titles" stats section on her tour site bio, so these tournaments, positioned between the $100K ITF challengers and the $220K WTA International events, apparently DO count as "official" WTA titles, which was something I think wasn't clearly conveyed by the tour beforehand). The Pastry notched wins over Kimiko Date-Krumm, Kurumi Nara and Chang Kai-Chen in the final (she also bested Chang in the doubles final), continuing Mladenovic's improved results since this summer. Of late, she's now won three doubles (Montreal, Quebec City and here) titles, and reached her first tour singles SF (also in Quebec) before becoming 2012's 12th first-time singles champ in Taipei. Today her ranking jumped from #98 to #76, giving the WTA's statement that these small events are designed to give lower-ranked players more opportunities to pick up ranking points at least a tiny bit of legitimacy. Meanwhile, Schmiedlova, the RG Girls runner-up this season, won her fifth ITF title of the season at a $25K event in Netanya, Israel. The 18-year old Slovak defeated Lyudmyla Kichenok early on, then won out over Stephanie Vogt in the final.
DOWN: Jelena Jankovic/SRB
...well, JJ came into this weekend with a potential career-defining moment dangling just above her lap. As things turned out, though, it might have been the most disappointing performance of her entire career. Against a still-recovering-from-bronchitis Kvitova on Saturday, she was outhit by the focused Czech and lost in straight sets. Not that much of a shocker, really, even with Kvitova's condition. While played under trying circumstances (for Kvitova), it was still a bit of a shot in the dark for Jankovic to pull off an upset over Petra in front of the partisan Prague crowd in what was expected to be the one match in which she might be physically up to snuff. It was Sunday, though, was when the hammer came down on Queen Chaos' weekend. Her head, really. After AnaIvo got the surprise upset over Kvitova to keep the Serbian hopes alive in the opening match on Sunday, suddenly, all things were still possible. JJ, looking to force things to a deciding doubles match, came in with all the numbers seemingly in her favor against Lucie Safarova: a 5-1 career mark against her, a 34-13 FC mark vs. Safarova's 7-10, twelve career singles titles to the Czech's four, a $13 million to $3 million edge in career earnings and a #1 ranking and grand slam final appearance in her past. Safarova even came into the weekend having lost four of five matches, while JJ's mediocre season had ticked up a bit with a 10-5 record since late August. But none of that mattered as Jankovic was strung out by Safarova's aggressive play and string of crowd-pleasing winners. As things turned out, rather than turning rivers into apple sauce with a win that would have put her a single doubles match win (and JJ and AnaIvo were set to team up) from becoming a Serbian tennis legend, JJ got to watch the Czechs celebrate their second straight FC crown, while she was left with the memory of being blitzed 6-1 in the last three of the four sets she played this weekend. Poor, QC... not many things are worse than when a player who loves to smile can't wipe the devastation off her face.
ITF PLAYERS: Annika Beck/GER & Eugenie Bouchard/CAN
...both Beck (RG) and Bouchard (SW19) lifted junior slam crowns this season, and both were back finding success on the ITF circuit last week, too. In the $75K event in Barnstaple, GBR, 18-year old German Beck picked up her second consecutive challenger crown with a win in the final over vet Eleni Daniilidou. In fact, going back to August -- with a few WTA tour stops mixed in between -- Beck has actually won the last four challengers she's entered, one each in Belgium and Germany, and now two in the U.K.. Overall, Beck had reached eight circuit finals this season, winning six. Meanwhile, 18-year old Canadian Bouchard picked her fourth ITF crown of the season, winning the $50K in Toronto with a quick 6-1/6-2 win over countrywoman Sharon Fichman in the final.
...a week ago, 17-year old Dunne lost in the semifinals of the Osaka Mayor's Cup to eventual champ Katerina Siniakova. This past week, she jumped over to Korea and won the Grade 2 Lee Duk Hee Cup, defeating fellow Brit Harriet Dart in the final.

1. FC Match #2: Kvitova d. Jankovic 6-4/6-1
FC Match #4: Safarova d. Jankovic 6-1/6-1
Kvitova's eleventh consecutive FC match win kept alive the hopes and dreams of every "Petra-natic" out there holding onto the hope that '13 will be the year that we all sort of thought '12 was going to be. As for JJ, who lost that 4-2 1st lead and dropped 18 of her last 21 games on the weekend, well... maybe she can try to put the pieces of her puzzle together later. But one fears that this might weekend may have been her last best shot at true tennis glory.
2. FC Match #3: Ivanovic d. Kvitova
. Kvitova didn't just hand this too AnaIvo, either. Ivanovic had a converted set point in the 1st overturned when the chair umpire ruled that her foot had touched the net during a put-away shot, and Kvitova ended up saving six SP before finally dropping the set. In the 2nd, AnaIvo was broken while serving for the match at 5-3. Also, after winning seven consecutive points, it took Ivanovic three match points to finally take the match. The win was all that mattered... and it MIGHT mean something for Ana come '13. Don't put any large sums of money on it, though.
3. TOC Final - Petrova d. Wozniacki
Nadia raised her career record vs. C-Woz to 1-4, and prevented Midge from tying some guys named Roger and Rafa as the only players in all of professional tennis with active streaks of five seasons in which they've won three or more tour-level singles titles.
4. TOC RR - Petrova d. Kirilenko
Kirilenko out-pointed her doubles partner 101-100, but lost. I wonder if she'll whisper that to Nadia at some point during one those quick, in-game doubles "conferences" in the backcourt where you know that they're not really saying anything important?
5. TOC RR - Pironkova d. Zheng
The "unofficial host" of this event in its new Bulgarian home, Pironkova used this single victory (and group member Kirilenko's withdrawal with a respiratory illness) to reach the semifinals with a 1-2 record. She ended up 1-3 for the week, but made money... although she was already in the Tournament of "Champions" without having ever actually won a tour level title. Tell me again why they play this event?
6. Taipei 1st Rd - Diyas d. Peng
. Somehow, after all these years, Peng is still without a tour singles title. You'd have thought, as the #1 seed in this new low-level WTA series, she might have had a good shot to rectify that situation last week. You'd have been wrong.
7. $50K Toronto Doubles Final - Bovina/Lucic d. Duque-Marino/Perez
. Bovina and Lucic? I think someone took a Time Capsule ride to the past... landing, say, somewhere between 1999-02?
8. $10K Antalya Final - Jovana Jaksic/SRB d. Ganna Poznikhirenko/UKR
. Well, at least one Serb lifted a trophy this weekend. In fact, it was the fourth one the 19-year old Jaksic has won this season.
9. FC Match #1: Safarova d. Ivanovic
. 1-of-7 on BP attempts? AnaIvo's already forgotten about that. Well, until it's ALL she can remember the next time she finds herself in a similar situation.
10. Taipei Final - Mladenovic d. Chang
. A sign of the times: Mladenovic is just the third teenager to win a tour singles title this season.

1. Lagos, NGR Exhibition - V.Williams d. S.Williams
After this one, Venus said, "For me to win against Serena it means 2013 is going to be a great year."
2. Johannesburg, RSA Exhibition - S.Williams d. V.Williams
Do you realize that the last time Venus & Serena met in an official match it was at the 2009 YEC? Here's to hoping that changes in '13... that WOULD make it a great(er) year.
3. $25K Bendigo, AUS Final - Arina Rodionova/RUS d. Olivia Rogowska/AUS
So, the Rodionova still representing Russia wins a title in her sister's (now) native Australia, and defeats an Aussie in the final. It's Arina's sixth career title, but first since 2010.
4. $25K Bendigo AUS Doubles Final - Barty/Peers d. Ar.Rodionova/Black
Yes, it's THAT Black, as Cara is testing the waters for a possible post-baby WTA return in 2013. She and Rodionova lost to Barty/Peers this week, but a week ago they defeated them in the Traralgon challenger final in Black's first action since last year's Wimbledon.
5. $25K Netanya, ISR Doubles Final - L.Kichenok/L.Kichenok d. Luknarova/Schmiedlova
. Schmiedlova had defeated Lyudmyla in the singles QF, so the Ukrainians once again got some measure of revenge against a player who'd earlier defeated one of them. Translation: don't mess with the Kichenoks... even The Radwanska knows better than to do that!

**FED CUP FINALS - since 2000**
2000 United States def. Spain 5-0
2001 Belgium def. Russia 2-1
2002 Slovak Republic def. Spain 3-1
2003 France def. Untied States 4-1
2004 Russia def. France 3-2
2005 Russia def. France 3-2
2006 Italy def. Belgium 3-2
2007 Russia def. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia def. Spain 4-0
2009 Italy def. United States 4-0
2010 Italy def. United States 3-1
2011 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2012 Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-1

**RECENT FC FINALS - clinched win in singles**
2002 Janette Husarova, SVK
2003 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2012 Lucie Safarova, CZE

2009 Aravane Rezai, FRA
2010 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2011 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2012 Nadia Petrova, RUS

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

**BEST 2012 WIN PCT. IN FINALS - 2+**
1.000 - Serena Williams (7-0)
1.000 - NADIA PETROVA (3-0)
1.000 - Petra Kvitova (2-0)
1.000 - Hsieh Su-Wei (2-0)
0.800 - Sara Errani (4-1)
0.667 - Kaia Kanepi (2-1)
0.667 - Victoria Azarenka (6-3)
0.600 - Agnieszka Radwanska (3-2)

18y,9m,2w - Timea Babos, HUN (Monterrey - Feb.)
19y,5m,3w - KRISTINA MLADENOVIC, FRA (Taipei - Nov.)
19y,11m - Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP (Bogota - Feb.)

Kiki Bertens/NED - 2 ITF / 1 WTA
Kirsten Flipkens/BEL - 1 ITF / 1 WTA
Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE - 3 ITF / 2 WTA
Melanie Oudin/USA - 2 ITF / 1 WTA
NOTE: Hsieh is only player with WTA s/d & ITF s/d titles in '12

PUNE, INDIA (WTA 125/hard indoor)
11 Final: new event
12 Top Seeds: Bratchikova/Doi

#6 Petkovic d. #4 Birnerova
#3 Vekic d. #2 Doi
#6 Petkovic d. #3 Vekic

...oh, Midge, Midge, Midge. If you'd beaten Nadia in the Sofia final I'd be able to stand here right now and say that I'd correctly predicted EIGHT straight champions in these last vestiges of the 2012 season. I mean, 7 of 8 is great, but... grrrr.

Anyway, this Indian event looks to be the last of 2013's inaugural "WTA 125" series of events (at least it's the last one listed on the tour's schedule at the moment), so I suppose THIS event will finally bring the OFFICIAL end to the WTA season, though I won't have a regular "Week 45" post next Monday. So I guess that means all those year-end ranking lists that I do will have to be pushed back an extra week, after the release of the "Ms. Backspin" rankings and Performance and Match awards this week, soon to be followed by the "WTA Yearbook." Oh, and speaking of that, while the 2013 preview series won't start until December (which will also feature a new "The Backspin Before Christmas" story starring "Citizen Anna" and all the gang), I WILL be adding a frequently-updated post to the top of the front page for the offseason where I'll talk about the things going on between seasons, as well as the ongoing ITF circuit action. And everyone will be able to put things in the comments section there, too.

Oh, anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah. I guess I'll go with Petko in India -- it'd be a great way to get her off on the right foot for her hoped-for comeback season in '13.

Now, onto to Election Day shenanigans tomorrow.

All for now.


Blogger Hoergren said...

Perhaps my comments are not what is expected from me, but I was a bit disappointed about the way Caroline played in TOC tournament. First she fought brilliantly four matches to return into top 10 again. Normally IF she's inspired for the match Petrova would never have won but she did and why I asked myself. Then I saw WTA's prizemoney list and suddenly I MAYBE understand the lack of interest because it must be because of the 10th spot she get's a $1 million bonus.Now it's suddenly more understandable, when you look at where Caro is on the moneylist:,,12781,00.html

So a 10th spot meant an extra $1 million not bad for moving from 11th to 10th spot and that's after my opinion the reason for that Caro didn't play wholeheartedly - well ok maybe she's injured too and that meant something too. But Todd what are actually the rules about these extra money?

Mon Nov 05, 05:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

There might be something in the 2012 Rulebook. There's a section in there about Bonus Pool money at the end of the year.

I've never quite understood how they calculate who gets what, and I think it just says in the rules something about the tour determining that at the end of the season.

Truthfully, I've never quite understood why they needed to have the bonus pool. If the player is in the Top 10, it's not as if they didn't earn oodles of prize money during the season anyway. I suspect maybe there's extra incentive for having shown up at certain tournaments, etc. maybe?

Mon Nov 05, 06:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

So that would be Charleston finalist Lucie Safarova, who took out Lucic, Wozniak, Zvonareva, and Hercog before finally getting defeated by The Serena. (She did win the doubles title.) Not a bad season, it turns out.

(Any way you can slip in "Oh, Nadia" is fine with me!)

Mon Nov 05, 10:58:00 PM EST  

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