Thursday, October 24, 2013

Istanbul Day 3- All Roads Point to Another "Serenativity Now" Moment

In the land of the Turks, Serena is the Queen. Still... and for as far and long as the eye can see.

As she puts the finishing touches on what might just be the best season of her career (75+ wins, two slams, 10 titles, the #1 ranking, etc.), Serena Williams shows no signs of slowing down. At 32, she's already the oldest top-ranked WTA player ever, and with her eye on history and the idea of sticking around on tour for as long as she can, we and all the women currently on tour (and quite a few who aren't even there yet) might just be now settling in for a bit of late-career style domination that this sport has never before witnessed. For a decade, people have often wondered just how much the already 17-time slam champ Williams could win if she was healthy and fully focused for multiple consecutive seasons. Well, we might just find out over the next year or two. Or three? Or maybe even four?

And the likes of Steffi Graf (22 slams in the Open era), and maybe even Margaret Court (24 overall major titles), might be wise to do some stretching exercises for their necks... for they might be looking over their shoulders very, very soon.

Here's a recap of Day 3's matches:

(4) Li/CHN d. (7) Jankovic/SRB 6-3/2-6/6-3
...going in, considering the rollercoaster nature of both these players, the thought was that a very up-and-down contest with shifting momentum could very well be possible. And that's what happened, as this tournament finally saw it's first three-setter. Early on, though, Li looked to to be in command, getting a quick break and taking a 3-0 lead. She even led 40/love on Jankovic's serve, with three chances for 4-0. Naturally, it wasn't meant to be. JJ held and ran off eleven of twelve points while getting back on serve. Still, Li got another break and then, avoiding the same sort of strung out set that she had against Sara Errani, served out the 1st at 6-3. In the 2nd, after Li had failed to convert break points in the first game, Jankovic converted hers in the second, only to give back the break a game later. After falling behind 15/40, Li held for 2-2, but after going up 40/love on serve two games later she was broken by the Serb for 4-2. JJ broke her again in Game #8 to win 6-2 and take things to the 3rd. There, Jankovic went up 40/love on serve, but frittered away the lead. Li held two break points, but didn't win either. She got a break for 2-1, though, and at 3-1 took a 30/love lead on JJ's serve. Jankovic held, as Li fell to just 4-of-17 on break point chances, then saw JJ break her to get things evened-up at 3-3. They weren't on serve for long, though. Li broke Jankovic on her second attempt in Game #7 to get to 4-3, held for 5-3, then got to 30/love on the Serb's serve a game later. On her second match point, Li was given a final error by Jankovic to close out the match. After having never advanced out of the round robin in her previous two appearances (2011-12) in the Championships, at 2-0, Li would normally seem a good bet to do so this time. But with her final match against a who-knows-if-she'll-show-up-but-if-she-does-she'll-be-tough Azarenka (1-1), and with Jankovic (1-1) facing Errani (0-2... but having managed to keep Caro's racket silent all week), it could come down to sets won/lost, or even games won/lost tie-breakers to decide who ends up facing Serena in the Final Four (the #2 placing woman in the the White Group), or who gets a breather and faces someone else there as a nice little prize for winning the group.

(8) Kerber/GER d. (3) A.Radwanska/POL 6-2/6-2 this tournament goes forward, you eventually get some matches where one or both players have no realistic chance to advance beyond the round robin, either because of earlier losses or the wins of other players in their respective group. In matches like those, there's a chance that at least one of the players will already be enjoying her offseason in her mind even while still having a match or two to play. That was sort of the case with this match as A-Rad, already 0-2 and "playing out the string" in her final match of '13, looked to be going through the motions while Kerber was sharp and looking to put up her first career Championships win in her fifth attempt, hoping to even still slip into the semis at the last minute just like she did into the field of this tournament. Of course, on some level, Radwanska has had some hint of "sigh, is it 2014 yet?" to her in ALL her matches in Istanbul, save for some good at-least-it-wasn't-a-total-loss moments yesterday against Serena, as the usual mental computations and artistic shot-making that are her hallmark have only made a few cameo appearances this week. The 1st set went by in the blink of an eye, with Kerber winning 6-2 without facing a single break point. In the 2nd, the German opened with a break of Aga's serve in the very first game and blitzed the Pole until the very end. Radwanska never got to break point in the match, as Kerber served things out at love, firing an ace up the "t" on match point and then waving her finger at the Player's Box in celebration. See ya next year, Aga. Go take a nap on the beath... you've looked like you've needed one all week.

(1) S.Williams/USA d. (5) Kvitova/CZE 6-2/6-3
...while Kvitova looked pretty good against Radwanska the other (although, considering A-Rad's Istanbul form and focus, or lack thereof, maybe that should be re-assessed?), and her fitness seems to have improved after working with Radek Stepanek's trainer in recent months, we know what happens when Serena isn't being weighed down by some physical malady, or (on occasion) Vika is on the other side of the net in a hard court match. Aside from a few slow starts in this event, another of which occurred today, Williams has looked untouchable so far. After facing break points in Game #1 vs. Aga in her last match, Serena faced the same situation vs. Kvitova. She was down 15/40 to the Czech this time out. Of course, Serena being Serena, she just pulled out her weapon... err, I mean racket... and fired in two aces to save those break points. She escaped another a few moments later and went on to hold. In the next game, she quickly broke Kvitova and then held at love to go up 3-0 and had break point for a 4-0 lead, as well. But Kvitova held and got her footing, on some level, later in the set. But it was TOO late. After Kvitova held at love for 4-2, Serena did the same for the third time in three games since being pushed in Game #1. Williams might have done so for a fourth straight game in the 1st, if she'd had to. Instead, she broke Kvitova -- on a double-fault -- to take the set 6-2. When Serena finally had that next service game, she was a bit charitable, allowing Kvitova one point before holding for 1-0. Through the 2nd, Kvitova played Williams closer, but it didn't matter. The Czech joined the crowd and fell to 0-5 in her career head-to-head vs. Serena, failing to win a set for the fourth match in the series. At 3-0 in round robin play, Serena has now won thirteen consecutive matches at the WTA Championships. Her last loss in the event game was in 2008, when she was injured (stomach muscle) and withdrew from the tournament after her second match, in which she'd lost the 3rd set at love to her sister Venus. Venus ultimately won that title in Doha, a result that was recently voted by fans on the WTA website as their favorite WTA Championships moment.

Afterward, Serena said she might go to the mall tomorrow when she has a day off. Considering the record-breaking amount of prize money she's won this year, I'm sure the merchants are crossing their fingers and toes.

...SEEN IN THE STANDS: Carlos Rodriguez. During the Li/Jankovic match. Without his advertising hat! Hey! What gives!?! Oh, check that, a few minutes later, there was Rodriguez again... now with his hat in place. Hmmm, did someone see him on TV and quickly send off a text to remind him of something he was forgetting? Just a guess.

...and, finally, with the WTA Championships moving to Singapore for three years beginning in 2014, there are some very intriguing changes coming to the tournament beginning next season, as it grows and expands and, almost, begins to resemble a "mini (all-female) slam" event.

While the field of eight in singles remains, the competing doubles teams will be doubled from four to eight (as is the case in the ATP Finals). Also, a competition amongst younger players (ala Bouchard , Keys and others) is being added, and another with a small field of juniors could be created, as well. I'm liking this. While there's always been a cozy nature to the Championships over the years, with each match being given center stage throughout the event, increasing the activity makes the entire tournament seem like more of a "happening." Maybe it will make it a bigger event on the overall sports landscape, too. As of now, it's an important TENNIS event, though one covered and publicized far, far less than the other big tournaments of the season. Putting forth an "everyone comes to Singapore" vibe seems like a good idea, and maybe even one that helps the women's game take a bit of a step forward.

8...Martina Navratilova
5...Steffi Graf
4...Chris Evert
3...Kim Clijsters
3...Monica Seles
3...Serena Williams*
2...Evonne Goolagong
2...Justine Henin
2...Martina Hingis
2...Gabreila Sabatini
1...Retired: Austin, Davenport, Hanika, Mauresmo, Novotna
1...Active: Kvitova*, Sharapova*, V.Williams*
* - active

14...Martina Navratilova (8-6)
8...Chris Evert (4-4)
6...Steffi Graf (5-1)
5...Serena Williams (3-2)*
4...Monica Seles (3-1)
4...Martina Hingis (2-2)
4...Gabriela Sabatini (2-2)
4...Lindsay Davenport (1-3)
3...Kim Clijsters (3-0)
3...Evonne Goolagong (2-1)
3...Amelie Mauresmo (1-2)
3...Maria Sharapova (1-2)*
2...Justine Henin (2-0)
2...Tracy Austin (1-1)
2...Venus Williams (1-1)*
2...Mary Pierce (0-2)

11...Martina Navratilova
10...Pam Shriver
4...Lisa Raymond*
3...Lindsay Davenport
3...Liezel Huber*
3...Natasha Zvereva
2...Cara Black*
2...Margaret Court
2...Gigi Fernandez
2...Martina Hingis*
2...Anna Kournikova
2...Jana Novotka
2...Nadia Petrova
2...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
2...Samantha Stosur*

All for now.


Blogger Eric said...

14...Martina Navratilova (14-6)

Freudian slip :)

Fri Oct 25, 12:16:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Or Martina was just that good! :D

Fri Oct 25, 04:09:00 PM EDT  

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