Saturday, October 26, 2013

Istanbul Day 5- Serena is Infected by the Radwanska Virus

Hmmm, was the I-just-can't-get-myself-up-for-this "virus" that Agnieszka Radwanska brought with her to Istanbul contagious? First, Vika Azarenka began to suffer from the same malady. Then, today, Serena Williams did, as well.

Spooky, or just a coincidence?

(in a whisper: "ahhh... Radwanska!")

Here's a recap of today's semifinals:

(4) Li/CHN d. (5) Kvitova/CZE 6-4/6-2
...Kvitova owes Li a beat down. At some point. After all, many of the reasons that the Czech rose to only as high as #2 in the rankings after she won Wimbledon in 2011, rather than becoming #1, can be traced directly back to the Chinese vet. In the 2011 year-end rankings, Kvitova finished just 115 points behind #1 Victoria Azarenka, meaning she actually ended up one slam match win short of finishing in the top spot... and she'd led Li in their Round of 16 encounter at Roland Garros by a 3-0 score in the 3rd set, only to lose. The following January, Kvitova played Li in the Sydney semifinals, and that time she led by a 6-1/3-1 score. If she'd won she'd played for the #1 ranking in the final, but Li came back to snatch the victory -- and any shot the Czech ultimately had at #1 -- from Kvitova's grasp.

Considering both players' propensity to lose and regain focus, sometimes more than once, during their matches, the chances of this one turning into a rollercoaster affair were great. Those sort of momentum swings did occur in the match, often multiple times within a single game, but Li never let things get too far away from her.

The trend began right from the jump, as Li broke Kvitova in Game #1 (courtesy of an error), then managed to hold despite two double-faults of her own one game later. Game #3 was, in microcosm, a good example of how these two often go about their business:

Kvitova served and held game point, but committed an error and then a hit a double-fault to go down break point. After saving it, on her second game point, she double-faulted again. On #3, it was an error that held her back. Li's beautiful back-to-back volleys on another Kvitova game point kept the rally alive, and Kvitova made an error on her third passing attempt. Another double-fault gave Li her second break point, but she missed on her return. A forehand error from Kvitova gave Li BP #3, and when the Czech netted a forehand -- her thirteenth error in the first three games -- Li took a 3-0 lead.

Of course, back-to-back Li errors gave the break back a game later and, after the Chinese missed on four straight returns Kvitova easily held for 3-2. At 4-3, Li led 40/15 on serve, but Kvitova got back on serve when she converted on her third break attempt of the game. One game later, Kvitova held a game point, but ultimately double-faulted on break point. Li then served out the 1st at 6-4, as the two women combined for 32 unforced errors in the set.

The 2nd set began with three straight breaks of serve, but the most important turned out to be the fourth of the set, when Li broke Kvitova for 3-2, then saved a break point on her own serve to take a 4-2 advantage that she would never relinquish. After Kvitova double-faulted on a game point, she followed that with a wild error to give Li a BP. On her second attempt, Li took the game and served for the match at 5-2. After double-faulting on her first match point, Li ended things on her second. With the win, Li advances to her first career WTA Championship final (another "Chinese first" for Na, who Tennis Channel's Brett Haber has often this week called the "pied piper" of tennis in her nation) and will move to #3 in the rankings next week, a new career high. Lindsay Davenport called this Li's "best" and "most solid" win of the season. Though it was a fairly nice one, I suppose, I'm not sure I'd agree with that... but, then again, I think Lindsay may currently have a bit of a minor "glitch" in her thinking. But more on that in moment.

(1) S.Williams/USA d. (7) Jankovic/SRB 6-4/2-6/6-4
...these two have shared some odd moments in the past, the most recent of which being the minor "verbal altercation" they engaged in in the Charleston final this spring when the subject of pace of play came up in, umm, the middle of a game. At the time, Jankovic had just won the 1st set and was looking very good. From that point in, Serena, quite possibly piqued, won twelve of the final fourteen games.

While Serena entered on a 16-match winning streak, including a 3-0 mark in round robin play in Istanbul, Jankovic was just the fourth woman to advance to the Championships semifinals with a 1-2 record for the week. But "moments" seem to follow these two around, and another happened -- or nearly did, at any rate -- today, too. Almost from the beginning, Serena was sporting the sort of "hangdog," barely lifting her feet, serving at three-quarter speed form that often is a prelude to one of those losses that boggle the mind and are never officially "explained." With her second serve a shadow of its usual self, as she lost seven of her first eight points on it, Williams was broken for 3-1. Of course, JJ, with the great help of a double-fault, promptly gave the break back a game later. Still, at 3-2, Williams spent more than a minute, unmoving, with her face buried in a towel during the changeover. Oh, no... now what? With her service speed routinely cut by about 20 mph, there was an open question about a potential back injury, something which had nagged Serena for a while earlier this season. Still, even while in less-than-fine form, Williams got a break to take a 4-3 lead, then served out the set at 6-4. Then things got even worse.

Jankovic again got a break for 3-1 in the 2nd, but this time she followed it up with a hold of serve for 4-1. Williams was lackadaisical and often didn't even run after some balls. After going down 5-1, she even heard some whistles from the stands in Istanbul. Perhaps as a response, she DID up her game a bit in Game #7, getting a break, but then she gave it back to drop the set at 6-2 a game later. If things didn't change soon, it looked like Serena's best season was going to have a rather ignominious ending.

In the 3rd, the two traded off breaks in the first three game before Serena finally held for 3-1, then broke Jankovic to take a 4-1 lead as she began to "somewhat" resemble her usual self, but only barely. She served for the match at 5-2, holding a match point, only to falter and drop serve. She restrained from smashing her racket, then tried to win it again at 5-4. Williams would face another BP, which she erased with an ace. On match point #2, Serena put away an overhead to take the match and advance to her sixth career WTA Championship final (behind only Navratilova & Evert), despite a choppy and often disconcerting effort in this match. Afterward, Williams talked, much like A-Rad and Vika, of "hitting the wall" physically and emotionally, and said her "tank was empty," but hoped to have an adrenaline boost tomorrow.

We'll soon see whether she does, I guess.

As for JJ, while she went 1-3 in Istanbul, she still played in the Championships for the first time since 2010, reached the semis for the first time since '09, and earlier notched her first win over a Top 4 player (Azarenka) in over three years, ending what had been a 0-17 slide. Back in the Top 10, she's now joined the resurgent group of late twentysomethings (or older) who have shown such strength in recent seasons. Good for her. Let Chaos continue to reign.

...JJ STATS OF THE DAY: in a bit of odd figures, Jankovic's numbers from today showed why it's always a good idea to look at as many details from one of her matches as possible since there's always a chance something will make you shake your head. From today: JJ had 22 winners, and 22 errors. She had three aces, and three double faults. She won 14 games, and lost fourteen games. Heck, Serena even got into the act, with 40 winners and 40 errors for the day.

It's always something.

...MAYBE LINDSAY SHOULD STEAL ANNA'S TIME MACHINE... OR MAYBE THIS ISN'T THE REAL LINDSAY?: she's done it before on occasion this season during her TC commentary, and Davenport once again today maintained that the comments often made by Jankovic about putting on muscle prior to the 2009 season don't really make any sense to her. According to Davenport, because so many other players' games improve because of added strength training, Jankovic's game wasn't negatively impacted a few seasons ago. Plus, Davenport said that JJ "looked exactly the same" that season as she had the previous year.

Umm, no.

I think Davenport is just confused. As anyone who actually remembers watching JJ play in, especially, the first half of that season, she WAS noticeably more bulky in '09 than she had been in her #1-ranked season of '08. It really wasn't even debatable... it was quite clear that she was physically bigger and less streamlined than she'd been previously. And while Davenport maintains that added muscle couldn't have hurt Jankovic's game, it, too, was quite clear in '09 that the Serb's added weight had caused her to lose a bit of her court speed and maneuverability. And with a game that so depended on Jankovic defensively racing around the court to keep rallies going in order to set up an occasional winner of her own, or force an error from an opponent, that slight difference in speed made quite a difference. Anyone who watched JJ in 2008 and 2009 would know that, so I think Davenport might have been busy with other things at the time.

I'll grant Davenport is logically correct about players always improving when they get stronger. But, remember, this was Queen Chaos, still being coached by Ricardo Sanchez at the time. "Normal" meant absolutely nothing. Increased strength seemed like a good idea for JJ's game at the time, in order to better deal with power players, but the sort of training that the Serb undertook on her offseason trip to Mexico between the '08 and '09 seasons changed Jankovic's body in a way that wasn't conducive to helping her tennis game. That was one of the reasons why she fired her fitness trainer in the spring of '09, and Sanchez didn't last a whole lot longer, either.

...the doubles semifinals were also contested on Saturday, and while the Hordettes won't have their #1 doubles team next weekend in the Fed Cup final in Italy, Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina gave a sample of what Team Russia will be missing when they staged a come-from-behind victory against top-seeded Italians Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, winning a deciding tie-break 3rd. They'll face off with #2-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai, who downed Nadia Petrova (who won the title last year w/ Maria Kirilenko) & Katarina Srebotnik in straight sets.

No Chinese woman has ever won a title at the WTA Championships, but with both Li and Peng still alive on Sunday there's a chance the nation could get a share of both titles this time out.

2009 Serena Williams/USA d. Venus Williams/USA
2010 Kim Clijsters/BEL d. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2011 Petra Kvitova/CZE d. Victoria Azarenka/BLR
2012 Serena Williams/USA d. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2013 Serena Williams/USA vs. Li Na/CHN
2009 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP) d. Black/Huber (ZIM/USA)
2010 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA) d. King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)
2011 Huber/Raymond (USA/USA) d. Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)
2012 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) d. Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
2013 Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN) vs. Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)

6...Victoria Azarenka (3-3)
5...Simona Halep (5-0)
4...Agnieszka Radwanska (3-1)
4...Petra Kvitova (2-2)
4...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2-2)
4...LI NA (1-2)
4...Sara Errani (1-3)

All for now. More after the weekend's action.


Blogger Diane said...

Davenport was incorrect in about half the things she said today--not just the remark about JJ. And an even better example of the bulk syndrome would be what happened to Henin after she trained with P.E. She said the bulk inhibited her movement, and of course, the excessive training was probably more than her body could stand.

Sat Oct 26, 06:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i would say Li's semifinal performance in AO against sharapova was her most solid performance of the year...

I think Kvitova got a bit of revenge by beating Li in the China Open a couple weeks ago infront of LI's home crowd. Li was leading in that match.

Diane, what do you mean P.E.? I thought Henin did pretty well bulked up... Wasn't that in 2004 when she was absolutely dominating the first half of the season before being waylaid by cytomegalovirus? Or are you talking about a different season?

Also, JJ's comments about Serena's sportsmanship don't make sense... Why would someone play even worse when they're down? Isn't that counterintuitive? Serena's play, while up and down, seemed to be related to a physical malady. Why else would you not serve hard? That's the one shot that you can control. Am I missing something? Adrenaline plays a factor; and a will to win/hatred of losing plays a factor. Not to mention, she's not going to say she's hurt if she has a match tomorrow...

Between two divas...i think a lot of the fuss is just bc they suddenly realize that it's not always about them.

As for JJ, she's still not where she was when she was number 1...(and she doesn't look to control play with her backhand down the line). I always felt like she had matches in her hands in 2008. And I felt like she could control points. Against Serena today, even when Serena was hurting, it was still all about Serena. When JJ took a set off Serena at Charleston, JJ was totally in control. Glad she's back though. Tour needs some diversity - of personality and play.

Anyone else notice how this year's tournament seemed to favor the big hitters?

Sat Oct 26, 06:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Carlos Rodriguez said that Serena has 5 different first serves... Todd, what does that mean? Like different spots? I tend to think there's flat, slice, kick serves...what are the other types? Bc if you combine the different techniques with different locations, then you have more then 5 options...

I'm hoping that Li Na wins tomorrow... After our discussion about HOF worthiness, I keep thinking about how she needs more titles big and small.

(But then I think about how Serena needs the win tomorrow to crack the top 10 top winning % list...btw, I wonder how many matches in a year you have to play to qualify for that list.)

Also, Michael Chang is the forgotten Asian. So many articles yesterday quoted Li Na as being the highest ranked Asian player male or female. But not so. (Don't get me started on how immigrants or children of immigrants aren't considered as being from their ethnic country or from American.)

As for first time slam winners for 2014...I think Radwanska needs a lot of things to go right to win a major...Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon comes to mind...I don't think Angelique Kerber has the belief to win one...sometimes I get the feeling that she's still in the "happy to be here" stage. I'm not sure about Caroline Wozniacki...sometimes I think that Ana Ivanovic has a better chance of winning another slam since she has weapons and can go on a tear. I'm surprised that no one has mentioned JJ. I think she has a good shot at 3 of the four majors. She definitely has the confidence and experience. Sloane Stephens is also tricky to predict bc she has an x factor. I tend to think she needs to show that she has the focus to win a title...but things tend to happen for people with the x factor. Halep needs to get to later rounds of Slams. And Madison Keys needs to improve her focus as well (and maybe her backhand footwork). Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Robson are darkhorses for different reasons. Bouchard has the mental werewithall, but perhaps not the weapons; Robson has the weapons, but not the focus or consistency. And I've heard rumblings about Elina Svitolina, but I've never seen her play.

Musing of the day: Who had the better season? Simona Halep or Sloane Stephens?

I think Sloane has more upside since she has weapons, power, and speed...but there's something to be said of someone who can win. This year, I really started to reexamine what I consider a good tennis player is (still a work in progress). I used to think you had to have all the qualities I listed above, but I really respect Maria Sharapova and Chris Evert...who win a ton without being the best pure athletes (still working on putting Martina Hingis in that category lol...). Halep definitely has mental strength -- and something that's never brought up these days is that she chose as a teenager to undergo breast reduction surgery to be a better tennis player. That's a lot of guts, determination, and focus from someone so young. Sacrifice breeds champions...

Sat Oct 26, 07:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Diane -

It was especially an oversight when you consider that Davenport was actually a better player when she took OFF weight and had better court movement. Of course, she was also one of the harshest critics of those players in recent years who finished #1 in the rankings in seasons in which they didn't win slams... when she did the exact same thing on three different occasions, twice in seasons when she didn't reach a slam final.

Eric -

I think Lindsay probably missed that AO match. ;)

Yeah, you never really know with Serena when it comes to what might be bothering her on a particular day. You can only go off what she says, and that's often very little. As I've said in the past, I figure we'll never really know the whole story on anything until her autobiography comes out way down the line. ;)

It was very telling that as mediocre-at-best as Serena played, she still won the 1st, and then came back from that dreadful 2nd to take the 3rd. Sometimes, I think she knows precisely what level of play, percentage-wise, she needs to reach in order to win, and oft-times that all she ends up giving. Usually works, though.

Although, she's never played this many matches in a season before, so she's bound to have bad mental days where she almost doesn't care... then does just enough to get to tomorrow, hoping that she'll be back to normal.

Well, that particular win pct. list is in the WTA media guide, and its parameters are 50 or more match wins, and less than ten losses. I guess you have to draw the line somewhere. :)

Well, I think the highest-ranked Asian thing is just going on what country is being represented, of course. Technically, Seles started being listed as "American" after a certain point in her career, but I always think of her as being "Yugoslav"... even though the country doesn't even exist anymore! :D

Hmmm, Halep vs. Stephens IS interesting. Obviously, slams would be Stephens, and pretty much everything else will be Halep. Although, Halep DID have her career best slam result at the Open. I know that when the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings are posted five (or maybe six after Sofia) titles will be greater than zero finals. ;)

I think many don't like to talk about Halep's surgery because they think it's either an "inappropriate" subject, not "family-friendly" or could send what some might think is a "bad message." Obviously, it was a personal decision that she's happy with, and her progress on the court backs it up, too. Also, tennis or no tennis, considering how small she is physically, seeing pre-surgery photos of her, you'd have to think that surgery would eventually have been a viable option just on quality-of-life alone since long-term back pain issues would be a legitimate worry.

I think a lot of opinions about Wozniacki's (short term) future potential will be formed by who ends up being named as her new coach. Will it be someone who will just be a puppet of Piotr, or someone who could really foster a long-term change that could transform her career. After all, if Murray didn't hook up with Lendl there's no way to imagine his career would have changed as it has.

Sat Oct 26, 08:15:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric, I was referring to Pat Etcheberry. There was suspicion that all that training made Justine vulnerable. And she herself said she lost a certain amount of "feel" in her movement. Getting more muscle is goo, but over-training is dangerous. There's a balance.

Who had the better season? Simona! She began to meet her considerable potential. Sloane should wish she had the mental strength and dedication Simona has.

And yes, I don't think Halep's evolution would have occurred without the surgery. If you play tennis or golf or softball and your breasts are way out of proportion with the rest of your body, your performance is definitely limited. And, as Todd said, the procedure is warranted, anyway, to prevent other issues, including back pain.

Sat Oct 26, 09:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Funnily enough, I wasn't even thinking about other health concerns. I was mostly thinking about how she's an unknowing pioneer of promoting the fact that a woman's body isn't just meant to be admired or to be a vessel for babies...there are other functions. And that instead of "breasts are beautiful", "determination, athleticism, and winning are beautiful" as well.

IMO, a lot of the gender inequality and even women's self-esteem stems from this fact. A woman is image conscious because of the strict definition of beauty which has been placed on her. Her body is not meant to be functional, but beautiful. That's the major reason why I'm a fan of women's sports. Because it changes that mindset for both themselves and society. A woman's body has other functions. And fulfilling those functions is just as beautiful. The WTA needs to remember that, especially when they come up with the Tournament of Champions lineup every year. Accomplishments > "Popularity".

Sun Oct 27, 12:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Prolly should have posted this on Diane's blog...

Sun Oct 27, 12:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Welcome anytime. ;)

Sun Oct 27, 01:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Post it everywhere! :)

And that post is very "at home" right where it is.

You know, lately, I've heard more people mention how beautiful they think Serena is. Maybe I'm just hanging around the right people, but--at any rate--it's nice to hear that someone who isn't model-thin with blonde hair is considered physically attractive.

Sun Oct 27, 10:19:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Good thing Serena is facing a quality opponent. She's having to focus and forget about her fatigue.

Sun Oct 27, 12:02:00 PM EDT  

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