Monday, February 25, 2013

Wk.8- Reintroducing the Hardline According to Petra Kvitova

Hey, I know you. You're good, you. Again. Finally. Whew!

The current season, not yet two months old, has already had a handful of commanding stories. First it was the quick start of A-Rad, then the re-emergence of Li Na, the triumph of Vika, and then the long-delayed (and expected) ascension of Serena. But Petra Kvitova's work over the past month might just be the most exciting, for no other reason than what it might mean come this summer, especially in London and New York, and beyond.

Just for a second, think of it... it's early July, and the Ladies semifinal weekend at the All-England Club is the talk of the sport, as two-time slam champ Vika Azarenka stares down four-time winner Maria Sharapova in one match-up, while the other sees world #1 and fifteen-time major winner Serena Williams facing off with '11 Wimbledon champ Kvitova in quite possibly the best, most talented final four any major has seen in years, and maybe even a full tennis generation, or two. The Big 4: a contender for the "best ever" moniker, quite possibly the biggest "star" the game has ever seen, maybe the most "disliked" women's champ ever, and a soft-spoken yet pulverizing hitter who stolen the heart of many of the sport's positively smitten all-time greats just two summers earlier. Something for everyone, and something everyone would want to see... even those persistent loudmouths who still try to describe the women's game as less worthy of attention -- and prize money -- than the men's, where a similar Big 4 have dominated the slams for a decade. While the drama off the court surrounding the very large personalities of three of the semifinalists would fill the conversation beforehand, the powerful games of all four would create more long-lasting memories on Centre Court once the first ball was struck -- hard -- in athletic "anger."

That's the dream scenario for the tour. Not just in London, but all over the schedule, and not just at the slams, either.

But as Kvitova, once viewed as the inheritor of the Dane's wobbly throne just eighteen short months ago, has stalled in her pursuit of the game's biggest prizes since the start of last season, it's been a (frail) WTA reality that just wasn't so. Oh, Azarenka rose to #1. So did Sharapova, as well as Williams. And it's all been great for the tour, too. The trio have shared the last five slam titles, swept the Olympic Medal stand last summer, and at least one has appeared in the final of the last seven majors, beginning with Kvitova's win over Sharapova at Wimbledon in '11. Women's tennis is no longer the object of skeptical, raised eyebrows that it was during the reign of many other recent world #1's. Mission accomplished. There's no reason to believe that the hegemony displayed by the current Big 3 should dissolve over the next two (at least) seasons, either, so the immediate future of the top of the game looks good. But it can still be even BETTER. The question is just whether or not Kvitova can join in on the fun. Right now, though, the chances are looking better than they have in quite a while. If she can... look out.

Maybe it was just a dream DELAYED.

Cross your fingers. Who knows what brilliance might await us a few months (and longer) down the road if this all works out.

DUBAI, U.A.E. (Premier $2m/HCO)
S: Petra Kvitova/CZE def. Sara Errani/ITA 6-2/1-6/6-1
D: Mattek-Sands/Mirza (USA/IND) d. Petrova/Srebotnik (RUS/SLO)

S: Jelena Jankovic/SRB def. Paula Ormaechea/ARG 6-1/6-2
D: Babos/Minella (HUN/LUX) d. Birnerova/Panova (CZE/RUS)

S: Marina Erakovic/NZL def. Sabine Lisicki/GER 6-1 ret.
D: Mladenovic/Voskoboeva (FRA/KAZ) d. Arvidsson/Larsson (SWE/SWE)

...little by little, we're starting to get the Kvitova of 2011 back. You remember her, right? She was simply Petra. Period. An overwhelming force that struck fear in opponents and looked to be the next big thing on the WTA tour. Since then, while Kvitova has been a bit stuck in the proverbial mud, we've seen Victoria Azarenka become that Next Big Thing (not to mention class favorite and "face of Backspin"), no matter whether some people have liked it or not. But career title #10 this weekend in Dubai (she's an impressive 10-2 in finals) might be a prelude to Kvitova turning the "Big 4" of the women's game into a REAL "Big 4," shoving Agnieszka Radwanska aside and taking her rightful place in the regular slam mix. Crossing fingers. Of course, the same "mysterious" Czech whose play can drift from brilliant to shoddy and back again over the course of one match, or set, or game, is still there (see the 2nd set in the final against Errani). But ever since her pair of comeback wins against the Aussies on Fed Cup weekend -- matches after which Kvitova practically gushed confidence -- she's given a good accounting of herself against "The Serena" in Doha, and last week took down three Top 10 players (#4 Radwanska, #10 Wozniacki and #7 Errani, as well as #13 Ivanovic) and proved once more less likely to simply give in to her lesser Petra when things start to go wrong. After Errani pressured her into mistakes in the 2nd set of the final, Kvitova weathered the storm and went right back to whacking in the 3rd. The fortitude she's shown in '13 has rarely been in evidence since the start of last season, when Kvitova's fitness and confidence sagged more than bit (pun intended), and she either won easily or went out painfully. After the Dubai final, she thanked her fitness coach (the Czech's movement and footwork have improved of late, helping her get to more balls along the baseline, and set up properly to hit her groundstrokes), and proved that the notion of moving forward without coach David Kotyza (absent while "on vacation" last week) should immediately be placed on the table. Unlike at least one top player in recent years, the Czech need not feel tied to one coach forever when a new set of eyes are often necessary for a player to reach a new level in her career. Where Kvitova might look should she send out coaching "feelers" isn't known, but, you know, there is a certain Czech-born slam champ with an affinity for the grass courts who has made no secret of her admiration for Kvitova's game in the past. In fact, there are TWO who might fit that bill. After her Wimbledon run in '11, Kvitova surely earned the phone/text numbers of both Ms. Navratilova and Novotna. Maybe she should think about taking advantage of the access while she's (once again) operating from a position of strength. After all, there is no rest for the wicked... nor should there be for the winners on the women's tour. Just a thought.
RISERS: Marina Erakovic/NZL & Sara Errani/ITA

...and the best player from Oceania in 2013 is... Marina Erakovic? Umm, maybe. With Sam Stosur playing at a sub-.500 level, the 24-year old Kiwi (10-4) might be able to make the case. Especially since one year after being the runner-up there, Erakovic returned to Memphis last week and went a step further, grabbing her first career title to become the first WTA event winner since Belinda Cordwell (Singapore) in 1989. She even took out '12 champ Sofia Arvidsson in the 2nd Round, surrounding it with victories over Annika Beck, Jamie Hampton, Stefanie Voegele and Sabine Lisicki (who retired after one set) in the final. Errani didn't win any titles in Dubai, but the tenacious Italian solidified her standing as Top 10 player. Opening her week with a 1st Round win over '12 runner-up Julia Goerges, Errani followed up with victories over Sorana Cirstea, Nadia Petrova and doubles partner/best friend Roberta Vinci to reach her second '13 singles final (w/ Paris, not to mention her four straight doubles finals with Vinci), where she pushed Kvitova to three sets after changing her tactics mid-match. "I tried to go to the net more and be more aggressive," she said, adding "From the baseline, she (Kvitova) was playing unbelievable and it was very tough, so I just tried to put some more pressure on her somehow, and it was working." Well, for a while, at least.
SURPRISES: Paula Ormaechea/ARG & Teliana Pereira/BRA
...all hail, South American tennis. ITF success has been followed up by Fed Cup promise in 2013, and now the resurgence is spilling over onto the regular tour. Two players from the continent were remaining in the Bogota final four. Ormaechea, 20, after reaching her first career SF last week in Cali, got to her first final this weekend after notching wins over Nina Bratchikova, Francesca Schiavone, Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and Teliana Pereira. Brazil's Pereira, 24, was the other Bogota semifinalist, becoming the first woman from her country to get so far in a WTA event since 1990 (Luciana Corsato), after having one day earlier become the first Brazilian to reach a QF since 1999 (Vanessa Menga). Pereira made her way through qualifying, then got main draw wins over Yvonne Meusburger, Alize Cornet and Mandy Minella. Right on cue, the tour heads to Florianopolis this week for the first WTA event held in Brazil in eleven years.
VETERANS: Roberta Vinci/ITA & Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Sania Mirza (USA/IND)
...with Azarenka out of the mix along w/ Serena (their late withdrawals drew fines and locked-in 0-point totals for their "troubles," both of which really amount to gnat-like penalties to the world's top two players), world doubles #1 Roberta Vinci seized an opportunity to put up a very good singles result in a Premier level event in Dubai. After turning 30 on Monday, the Italian reached the SF with wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber and Samantha Stosur before going out there to doubles partner Errani. In the doubles, Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Sania Mirza continued to flex their muscles as a duo -- well, to be fair, BMS might take glee in doing that all on her own, too -- by claiming their second crown of '13, and their fourth overall as a pair. The fourth-ranked team on tour this season, they knocked off Hsieh Su-Wei & Liezel Huber earlier in the week, then handed the team of Petrova & Srebotnik their second loss in a final in the past two weeks. Speaking of Huber, see below.
COMEBACKS: Jelena Jankovic/SRB & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN's been nearly three years (Indian Wells '10) since Queen Chaos lifted a tour singles title, but Jankovic's long drought finally ended this weekend on the clay in Bogota. Sure, the former #1 and slam finalist's wins didn't come against a succession of all-time greats -- Julia Cohen, Mariana Duque-Marino, Alexandra Cadantu, Karin Knapp and Paula Ormaechea. And the Knapp match was a 2:30 affair in which JJ nearly lost a 5-3 3rd set lead, winning a deciding tie-break. Hey, it's QC -- she had to go out on a ledge a SOME point! But beggars should hardly be choosers on the WTA tour, and JJ's drought was edging close to putting on a sidewalk with tin cup in her hand until this weekend. So, good for her, as Jankovic is nearly back in the Top 20 (#21). In Dubai, Wozniacki stated after being "shocked" by receiving a code violation warning for illegal coaching for "getting advice" from father/coach Piotr in the stands (really, WTA -- how could he be there after his actions in Doha?) that she "didn't understand" the coaching rules. Really, Caroline? Aren't you a member of the WTA Players Council, which, umm, helps to make the rules?

Anyway, while Caro was annoyingly brushing up on her Colonel Klink-isms -- "I know nothing. I see nothing" -- she DID still manage to have a pretty good week in the U.A.E.. Wins over Lucie Safarova, Zheng Jie and Marion Bartoli were impressive (even if she had no answers when Kvitova came calling in the SF), and she's now got a (mostly) "firm" grip on her Top 10 ranking and should even be looking to move up in standing soon, possibly with a big step about to come in Kuala Lumpur. She even finally admitted to losing motivation when she was #1, so I guess it wasn't ALL in the heads of her detractors, as she was so fond of telling everyone at the time. Small steps.
FRESH FACE: Louisa Chirico/USA
...16-year old Chirico, who went 5-0 while playing #2 singles behind Taylor Townsend in the Bannerette Girls' Junior Fed Cup title run last year, was at it again in the $25K challenger in Surprise, Arizona. She didn't win the title, losing in the final to Tara Moore (see below), but she got there after having made it through qualifying and upsetting top-seeded Jarmila Gajdosova along the way.
DOWN: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL, Sofia Arvidsson/SWE & Liezel Huber/USA
...there were a few defending champions who didn't have a particularly good time of things in Week 8. A-Rad won Dubai in '12, but was hit off the court by eventual champ Kvitova in the QF, proving once more that an in-form power player can easily thwart Radwanska's cleverness. Kvitova held the outcome of the match entirely on her racket, outdistancing the Pole 37-6 in winners, as well as 38-5 in unforced errors. Arvidsson has four career tour singles finals to her credit, with three of them coming in Memphis, including her only two titles in 2006 and '12 (she was RU in '10). Back in town as defending champion, though, she was ousted in the 2nd Round by the same player -- Marina Erakovic -- she'd defeated in the final a year ago. Then, after teaming with countrywoman Johanna Larsson (who was ousted in the 1st Round by Victoria Duval, by the way) in doubles to clinch a big Fed Cup victory a few weeks ago, Arvidsson reached the final with her this weekend, so she DID have a chance to get SOME Memphis title, which would have been just her second career tour doubles crown (the first was also with Larsson in Quebec City in 2010), but the pair lost to Kristina Mladenovic & Galina Voskoboeva. On Huber, an opening match loser (w/ Hsieh) in Dubai one year after winning the title there with Lisa Raymond... whew -- talk about a player having a hard time finding a regular partner. The former doubles #1 has played with six different women in her last eight WTA/FC events, and just dropped out of the Top 10. She's 7-8 in her last fifteen matches. Hmmm... might karma finally be becoming a you-know-what when it comes to Huber?
ITF PLAYER: Tara Moore/GBR the $25K challenger in Surprise, Arizona, Brit Tara Moore, 20, made her way through a string of opponents that included Christina Makarova, Julie Coin, Madison Brengle and Louisa Chirico en route to her circuit-best (tied w/ Julia Kimmelmann) third ITF singles crown of 2013. She's 18-2 this season.
JUNIOR STARS: Antonia Lottner/GER & Jelena Ostapenko/LAT
...last month, both these teenagers reached the Girls quarterfinals at the Australian Open. This weekend, they claimed challenger titles. #4-ranked junior Lottner, 16, won her second career challenger title at the $10K in Macon, France, defeating Italy's Anna Giulia Remondina in the final. She also won the doubles crown. 15-year old Ostapenko also swept both the singles and doubles at a $10K event in Helsingborg, Sweden, defeating 18-year old Swede Ellen Allgurin in the final. It's the Latvian's second challenger win in the nation, as she won an event in Stockholm last season.

1. Dubai Final - Kvitova d. Errani
The no-quit nature that made Errani a slam finalist in '12 is still there this season, and if she'd been able to get to 2-2 in the 3rd Kvitova, who knows where the pressure of the moment might have taken this one. Said the Italian, "I had many chances in the 3rd, many game points, and I lost them. If I got to 2-all there would be more pressure on her to close the match, but it was 4-1, 5-1, and then it was very easy for her."
2. Bogota Final - Jankovic d. Ormaechea
Suddenly over the past month, South American women's tennis is showing signs of life all over the place. Gisela who? (Just kidding.)
3. Memphis 2nd Rd - Erakovic d. Arvidsson
One year later, Arvidsson get a letter marked "return to sender" as Erakovic got some Memphis Mafia style revenge on the Swede, who checked in for a stay at the Heartbreak Hotel. Enough Elvis references there?
4. Dubai QF - Vinci d. Stosur
After notching wins over Makarova and Hsieh, and with Azarenka out of her half of the draw, Stosur flamed out yet again anyway. Still a Top 10er (but maybe not for long), she's 5-7 on the season and 5-10 in her last fifteen. Thus, introducing... "oh, Sam."
5. Memphis Final - Erakovic d. Lisicki
...6-1 ret.
Good or bad. New coach or old. Lisicki is still Lisicki... a German-style mash-up of the long-time Stosur and old-time Vika, a talented player with a frustrating mix of contradictions, capable of great things as easily as imploding or retiring mid-match at the drop of a hat. In this case, it was a gastrointestinal illness that gets the blame. But, then again, isn't it always SOMETHING?
HM- Florianopolis 1st Rd - Czink d. Shvedova 2-6/6-4/6-2
Florianopolis 1st Rd - Niculescu d. Medina-Garrigues 5-7/7-6(7)/6-1
the upsets have already started in Brazil (AMG had 3 MP!). Should Venus worry?

1. Dubai 1st Rd - Zheng d. U.Radwanska 6-2/2-6/7-5
Dubai QF - Kvitova d. A.Radwanska 6-2/6-4
a year ago, a Radwanska was the champion in Dubai. Not in 2013, though. Is the foundation of The Rad's power structure starting to crumble? Is the time machine up and running yet?
2. Kuala Lumpur Q - Diyas d. L.Kichenok 6-3/6-2
Kuala Lumpur Q - Kumkhum d. Ar.Rodionova 6-2/6-3
many of the victors in the KL qualifying rounds weren't very sisterly. And Diyas was also leading Erika Sema 6-3/5-1 when the match was interrupted by rain, and has yet to resume.

Maria Sharapova looking SuperGlam at the Vanity Fair Oscar party:

47...Serena Williams (2013: 1)
44...Venus Williams
27...Maria Sharapova
20...Caroline Wozniacki
16...Victoria Azarenka (2)
13...Svetlana Kuznetsova
13...Nadia Petrova

**WTA TITLES (active), 2011-13**
11...Victoria Azarenka (3/6/2)
10...Serena Williams (2/7/1)
9...PETRA KVITOVA (6/2/1)
8...Agnieszka Radwanska (3/3/2)
8...Caroline Wozniacki (6/2/0)

2...January - Agnieszka Radwanska (Auckland-W, Sydney-W)
2...Jan/Feb - Victoria Azarenka (Australian-W, Doha-W)
4...Jan/Feb - Errani/Vinci (Sydney-L, AO-W, Paris-W, Doha-W) *
2...February - PETROVA/SREBOTNIK (Doha-L, Dubai-L) *
* - active streak

#228 Catalina Castano, COL (Cali RU)
#81 Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP (Cali W)
#68 Elena Vesnina, RUS (Hobart W)

Hobart - Mona Barthel, GER (lost to Vesnina)
Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (def. Li)
Doha - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (def. S.Williams)
Sydney - Katarina Srebotnik, SLO (def. Errani/Vinci)
Paris - Liezel Huber, USA (lost to Errani/Vinci)
Bogota - BIRNEROVA/PANOVA, CZE/RUS (lost to Babos/Minella)

3-1...Andrea Hlavackova (1 event)
3-2...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (2)
1-1...Sania Mirza (1)
0-1...Varvara Lepchenko (FC)
0-1...Lisa Raymond (1)
0-2...Hsieh Su-Wei (2)

ACAPULCO, MEXICO (Int'l $235K/red clay outdoor)
12 Final: Errani d. Pennetta
12 Doubles Champions: Errani/Vinci
13 Top Seeds: Errani/Suarez-Navarro

#1 Errani d. Pennetta
#2 Suarez-Navarro d. #4 Begu
#1 Errani d. #2 Suarez-Navarro far, Errani hasn't been anywhere near the "look out below" Top 10er many thought she'd be after her career year in '12. Now, she gets back to her best surface -- the red clay.

KUALA LUMPUR, INDONESIA (Int'l $235K/hard court outdoor)
12 Final: Hsieh d. Martic
12 Doubles Champions: Chang/Chuang
13 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Hsieh

#1 Wozniacki d. #4 Morita
#6 Vekic d. #3 Pavlyuchenkova
#1 Wozniacki d. #6 Vekic

...the Wozniacki Reclamation Project -- tall tales or no tall tales -- continues on its merry way down the road, showing progress sometimes in spite of itself.

FLORIANOPOLIS, BRAZIL (Int'l $235K/hard court outdoor)
12 Final: -new event-
12 Doubles Champions: -new event-
13 Top Seeds: V.Williams/Shvedova

#1 V.Williams d. Cepelova
Niculescu d. #7 Mladenovic
#1 V.Williams d. Niculescu

...hmmm, a new event and it gets (back-in-the-Top 20) Venus in the draw? Not a bad pull. And, yes, I'm aware that picking three #1 seeds to win titles this week is surely a sign of the coming zombie apocalypse.

Speaking of... why can't there be SOMEONE on the tennis tour with a cool, evil eye patch like The Governor's on "The Walking Dead?" Seriously, how great would that be?

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

Petra....Dubai....thank goodness.

Speaking of--should PK get any coaching help from JN, she'd also be getting some of Hana M. in the "bloodline" :)

Woz as Col. Klink! That's hilarious. What in heaven's name is wrong with those people?

So I started thinking....who would be the best candidate to wear the eyepatch? I think Vika. However, an argument can be made for Sharapova, whose challenges indicate that she may be somewhat "vision-impaired" :)

Mon Feb 25, 11:36:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

So many Czechs to choose from, so much talent -- on and off court -- to take advantage of! Just ask Andy Murray how much difference a little Czech-tinged instruction can make.

Of course, Diane, we're both leaving out the most obvious choice to sport the evil eyepatch... when you figure it out, just don't whisper It's name too loudly. ;)

Tue Feb 26, 12:42:00 AM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

Todd How do you manage to jot so much down and its always new, different from the previous week. It is amazing. Really great work.

As for the dream Wimbledon scenario, I would love to see Li Na in the mix of 4, in place of either Azarenka or Sharapova. Plus, with Kvitova you never know, I would wait for IW and Miami (though I know she does not fare well in America, she did fare well last year during the U.S Open series, though she lost early at U.S Open)to get onto Kvitova's band-wagon. That said, I would love to see her doing well consistently.

As for the evil eye-patch, I would agree with Diane for Azarenka, but I guess you want to see A-Rad wearing the evil eye-patch, if I am right ;)

Tue Feb 26, 01:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks, Omair.

Yeah, Li would be a good substitute for Wimbledon, or any slam. Giving things a more "global" feel, as well as adding a natural comedienne to the mix, too!

Bingo on The Rad, though it's a little too on the nose... err, eye. Next time Vika gets a load of flack, she should post an eye patch photo on her Instagram. If people want to treat her like a pillaging pirate, why not play along? :D

Tue Feb 26, 02:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, it would not only give things a more global feel, it would also be more competitive in my opinion if Li replaces Sharapova, or may be I am expecting too much from Li, too soon ;)

Vika posting that pic on her instagram will definitely add more to the negative criticism she faced on that MTO in Melbourne. But it would be great to see that.

Keeping fingers crossed to see some good battles between Li, Azarenka, Serena, Kvitova and Masha. Hope A Rad can step her game up too.

Tue Feb 26, 05:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

Even though errani will never seriously threaten the top 3. I am still amazed at her resilience. And how many week in week out tournaments can she play? Plus sometimes in doubles too?

Well nice to see kvitova stepping up, as surely we are seeing stosur and Kerber flaming out....

Wed Feb 27, 07:19:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

Anyone knows what happened to caro in Malaysia? Losing first round in low tier tourney.....

Wed Feb 27, 10:10:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm... maybe because I picked her to win the title? :D

I told you -- zombie apocalypse. Be prepared. (And hope The Rad doesn't team up with them.)

Wed Feb 27, 12:57:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

An Oh Nadia moment

Wed Feb 27, 09:02:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Even if I don't want to agree w/ everything Nadia says, it's never a bad thing when a player has opinions and expresses them. ;)

Fri Mar 01, 05:23:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, what with the odd weeks both Wozniacki and McIlroy had, you knew these sort of raised eyebrows were bound to happen.

Sat Mar 02, 06:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

"...they're great"? Tony Manfred really needs to get out more. They're way worse than even Brangelina.

Mental collapses aren't pretty, amd you really have to wonder, don't you? It's so not like Woz to have that kind of experience. RM's history makes me wonder, though I'm sympathetic to those who. ite his youth as a cause.

Sun Mar 03, 07:58:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Meant "cite"

Sun Mar 03, 07:59:00 PM EST  

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