Sunday, April 05, 2015

Wk.13- Prelude to a Showdown?

You always run the risk of angering the Tennis Gods -- as well as some regulatory agencies, I'm sure -- when you quote one Ms. Pam Shriver. But, in this case, I think Pammy's onto something.

Could it be that what "Serena vs. Maria" has never been, and what "Serena vs. Vika" wasn't quite able to sustain despite such a good stretch of promise, could become reality in the form of "Serena vs. Simona?" Maybe, but, really, it doesn't HAVE to be ALL that. It just has to be A LITTLE that. At least for a little while. That'd be enough to turn the twin 2015 pursuits of what will (likely) soon be the top TWO players in the world into something resembling classic drama. Without the tragic Shakespearean plotlines, that is. Well, at least one would hope.

For the remaining seven months and change of this season, aside from the popping-up-here-and-there storylines involving players such as Timea Bacsinszky, Aga Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki or others remarkably similar or decidedly different from them in stature or backstory, the dueling plots that could drive the pace car of what's left of this WTA season may have been launched in Miami. Or was it Singapore? Or maybe Melbourne?

Simona Halep's win over Serena Williams in last year's WTA Finals set the stage for what's happened over the past five months. Halep refused to throw in the towel in her final round robin match last November, which allowed Serena Williams to slip into the Singapore semifinals. She won there, then destroyed Halep in the final as the Romanian collapsed down the stretch. Since the calendar flipped over to 2015, Williams prevented the frustrating nature of the majority of her '14 season -- when she failed to win any of the year's first three slams, and often looked quite lost in the process -- from repeating itself by winning her nineteenth major title at the Australian Open. She still hasn't lost again on the court since last year's defeat at the hands of Halep, with the only time she failed to advance coming when she withdrew from her much anticipated rematch with the Romanian in the Indian Wells semifinals. There's only one player on tour who is realistically in the mix for a true Grand Slam (not the "Serena Slam" variety, but the real thing) until she loses her first match of the season. And we know who that is. Thus, Williams is still alive for a run at the only major accomplishment she's failed to pull off in her Hall of Fame career. If she can win in Paris, she'd probably be favored to pull it off, too. Would you want to stand in her way?

As it may turn out, though, it could be the Pride of Romania who stands the tallest among the would-be spoilers. And, based on what happened when they met in Miami, she may just seek out the position.

Sure, Maria Sharapova has won two of the last three titles at Roland Garros, but she shrinks in stature when Serena is on the other side of the net. In Miami, Halep, the smaller of the trio of woman who sit securely in the top three positions in the world rankings, did just the opposite. She seemingly grew. Not in actual height, of course, but in personal confidence. The Romanian didn't expect -- or maybe even trust -- her 6-0/6-2 victory over Williams (her worst-ever loss) in the WTAF, and it showed in the subsequent final. After struggling with her own confidence and how she deals with the pressure of expectation in various matches throughout the opening months of '15, yet prevailing more times (she still won three titles) than not in such circumstances, Halep was ready, willing and able to take down Serena when they finally met up again in this past week's semifinal (and, really, de facto final).

It may have been the Match of the Year of this young campaign, with various shifts in momentum that led to dramatic games and points late in the 3rd set with the match/title on the line. In the end, as is often the case when anyone faces off with Williams, Halep wasn't able to finish off the win, as Serena dug down into her deep-as-forever well of reserve will and found a way through. But it was quite clear that Halep BELIEVED she could win the match, and probably still thinks that she should have. And, against Serena, that puts you in the game "the next time"... though that's only when the TRUE work begins.

After Indian Wells, Halep was asked which she's rather be -- #1 or a grand slam champion? She chose the latter and, unprompted, mentioned the possibility of doing so in Paris.

Of course, she wasn't intentionally making any sort of prediction. But this isn't a court of law, either, so I'll look at it as a peek at the Romanian's state of mind. Since that moment, she's followed up her biggest career title by nearly sweeping through to the Miami decider, as well. A year ago, she took Sharapova to the edge in the RG final, and she's certainly focused her sights on making up for that lapse later this spring.

Come May in Paris, Sharapova will be the defending champion seeking her third title run in four seasons, while Halep will be seeking her first. Maybe it's the thrill of the new quest, but the Swarmette's story would seem to have the most buzz-worthy potential in the land of tennis, even if another Sharapova championship would be a great story in its own right.

Of course...

Historically, Williams winning her own third RG crown could be the next logical step toward something even bigger by the end of the summer. After a decade of nothing-close-to-near-misses for Sharapova, even on her now-favored clay, there's little reason to believe that an all-or-nothing meeting with Williams in Paris would be anything but a match as anticlimactic as the Miami final turned out to be. While one gets the feeling that Sharapova would breathe a sigh of relief if she isn't forced to face Serena, Halep might just relish another opportunity to problem solve against and potentially frustrate the world #1. A confident Halep on a quest would seem to provide the greatest resistance -- and the best drama -- against Serena's own quest for greatness.

As Miami showed, it's a match and moment -- a showdown, really -- worth rooting for.

MIAMI, FLORIDA, USA (Premier $5.381m/HCO)
S: Serena Williams/USA def. Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP 6-2/6-0
D: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) d. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS) 7-5/6-1

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Serena Williams/USA says much about Williams that the skill that usually separates the "great" from the "good" -- a player winning matches when they're not in top form -- is something that Serena learned many years ago. In fact, she's perfected the practice. Forget about just winning stinkin' matches while drifting in and out of her "A/B+"-game, she wins TOURNAMENTS while constantly battling the condition. In Miami, she was great against Monica Niculescu, CiCi Bellis and Svetlana Kuznetsova, but less so when Sabine Lisicki was on the other side of the net. Against Simona Halep, Williams was great, bad and then good enough. In her tenth career Miami final, Williams was devastating against an overmatched (at least in her own mind) Carla Suarez-Navaro as she wrapped up her eighth title at her home event (#66 in her career) after having earlier become the ninth woman to surpass 700 career wins on the WTA tour. Overlooking her walkover loss (ending her "official" winning streak) in the Indian Wells semis, Serena is still undefeated (18-0) on the court in WTA/Fed Cup matches in '15 and has won her last twenty-one matches since her loss to Halep in the WTA Finals round robin in Singapore. She's ended long winning streaks by Halep (14), Timea Bacsinszky (15) and Maria Sharapova (11) this season, and is 54-5 vs. the Top 10 since her return to action in 2012 (and that's not counting CSN, who'll be in the Top 10 on Monday). Want some more? All right. She's 5-0 this season in three-setters, and 22-7 since '12. Oh, and her Miami win is actually a three-peat, giving her THREE different events (w/ the U.S. Open and WTA Finals) in which she's currently the three-time reigning champ. I'm sure I could find a few more. But, really, I think we sort of expect such things from Serena, don't we? The biggest question on the horizon now might be, you know, just how well her 2015 season might eventually compare to the historic run put together by a certain German back in 1988.

So excited to win the #miamiopen again number 8! Thanks to my fans I love u all ??????????????????#renasarmy

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

RISERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP & Simona Halep/ROU
...even since her coach convinced CSN that in order to rise out of the #15-25 ranking trap she's been in for several seasons she needed to make her forehand more of a weapon, the Spaniard's career trajectory has decidedly been on the upswing. She won her first career title last year in Oeiras, and her string of victories over Elena Vesnina, Alize Cornet, Aga Radwanska, Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic (CSN had awarded the German the Antwerp title with a walkover in the final in February) last week in Miami pushed her into her first Premier Mandatory final. She'll rise into the Top 10 for the first time in the new rankings, becoming the first Spaniard to make her debut since Conchita Martinez in 1989. While Suarez-Navarro has eight Top 20 wins, five of the Top 10 variety, this season she's still not quite ready to feel comfortable when the tournament is on the line, though. Her nerves prevented her from ever feeling comfortable in the final against Serena Williams, who coasted to an easy victory to drop CSN's career record when she reaches a tour singles final to just 1-7.

While Halep has at times looked uncomfortable herself in big moments in '15, she surely didn't when she faced off with Serena Williams in the Miami fina-... err, I mean semifinal (though it effectively WAS the tournament decider, in every way but officially). Closing in on Maria Sharapova's #2 ranking, Halep strung together wins over Nicole Vaidisova, Camila Giorgi, Flavia Pennetta and Sloane Stephens and came within a late 3rd set surge by Serena from following up her Indian Wells title with a trip to the Miami final, as well. While The Pride of Romania didn't win the title, or even play for it, she may have gotten more out of her trip to south Florida than any other player in the draw. While Williams was "off" at times during the match, she often is just that for brief stretches during many of her matches. It's just a question of whether her opponent has the belief and know-how to take advantage of the moments when Serena's "A"-game isn't alive and kicking. After some questionable moments in the early weeks of this season, Halep now has that belief. Williams had to pull out her best stuff at the right time to beat her, while Halep never once backed down from the challenge. As long as she maintains her health, the Swarmette Queen's confidence should only continue to grow as we enter the clay court season. What that could mean is... well, we'll cross that bridge in Paris when we come to it.
SURPRISE: Sabine Lisicki/GER
...Lisicki didn't actually WIN anything of note over the past month, but after having sported a 1-6 record on the season when Indian Wells began, she put up seven wins there and in Miami, following up her SF in the desert with a QF result in south Florida. The breakdown (of her victims' ranks, not the German in a crucial stage of the match): one Top 10er, four in the Top 20 and six in the Top 40. In Miami, Lisicki took out Julia Goerges, Ana Ivanovic (at #6, her best win since victories over Serena Williams and Aga Radwanska at Wimbledon in '13) and Sara Errani to reach a QF in which she actually had her chances in a three-setter against Serena Williams. The German won the 2nd set after having failed to convert a set point in the 1st. Still, she'll be in the Top 20 on Monday, returning for the first time since last July.

VETERANS: Andrea Petkovic/GER & Venus Williams/USA
...finally "recovered" from her Fed Cup/Antwerp heroics, Petkovic rediscovered her Top 10 form in Miami, reaching the semifinals without dropping a set. Dominating wins over Christina McHale and Kiki Mladenovic (six total games lost in the two matches) were followed up with impressive victories over #9 Ekaterina Makarova (6 games) and #14 Karolina Pliskova (6 games). She ran into the pre-final buzzsaw that was Carla Suarez-Navarro, though, losing out after taking the opening set against the Spaniard. Still, Petko looks right on schedule to be in good form this week as she returns to South Carolina to defend her Charleston title.

Venus wasn't able to pull off the run to the final that SOME of us thought was possible in Miami, but she did put up victories over Ula Radwanska, Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki to reach the quarterfinals. Williams dominated CSN there in the opening set, but often looked tired in the Miami heat down the stretch as the Spaniard managed to avoid a deciding tie-break in the 3rd. Venus' win over the Dane maintains her undefeated record (4-0) against Top 10 players this season. She's 7-1 vs. Top 10ers since the start of the summer hard court season last year, losing only to Aga Radwanska in the Montreal final.
COMEBACK: Sloane Stephens/USA, has the last month been real, or just a fleeting mirage? In Indian Wells and Miami, Stephens managed to reclaim a nice portion of her previous "Future" luster, though not so dramatically that it'll be a mental burden to contend with over the coming months. Maybe that'll make all the difference. Credit coach Nick Saviano for at least challenging Stephens to care. After wins over Yanina Wickmayer, Madison Keys, Johanna Larsson and Belinda Bencic put Stephens into the Miami QF (after reaching the Round of 16 in the desert), she fell behind Simona Halep 6-1 and was (one would hope) looking to avoid the sort of get-me-out-of-here exits that have plagued her since Melbourne in January '13. Saviano came onto the court and told her, "I want energy, I want passion, I want joy," adding, "If she can beat you doing that, then God bless her. Shake her hand." Stephens then proceeded to fall behind 3-0 in the 2nd. But she finally kicked into gear, taking Saviano's words to heart. Stephens admitted, "That's the same message he's been giving me for a long time." This time, though, she listened... after a brief time delay, that is. Stephens ultimately got back on serve and took a 5-4 lead, only to see Halep carve out a late break and win the set 7-5 to close out the match. While she didn't rebound and manage to add a career win over current #3 Halep to go along with her past victories over #1 Serena and #2 Sharapova, Stephens has added a dash of excitement -- or at least interest -- to the possibility of what she might do next. "The last three weeks, between Indian Wells and here, there was a lot of good competing, a lot of fight, a lot of fun being out on the court," Stephens said. "That's what I'll take from this." Hopefully.
FRESH FACE: Belinda Bencic/SUI
...the 18-year old Swiss is still the youngest player player in Top 50, and only Ana Konjuh is her junior in the Top 100. While Bencic ultimately lost in the 4th Round to Sloane Stephens in Miami, her wins over Daniela Hantuchova, Casey Dellacqua and Tatjana Maria pushed her into her second straight Premier Mandatory event Round of 16. At #35, she'll likely earn enough points over the next month or so to ensure a seed in Paris, the only major where she's yet to garner a main draw victory, despite being the Roland Garros girls champ in 2013. Bencic has since arrived in Charleston, and got caught up in the 3:19 a.m. fire alarm that led to a total evacuation of all the WTA players previously sleeping snugly in their beds.

But, all is well.

DOWN: Aga Radwanska/POL
...A-Rad looks to be a player currently existing outside a house with no open windows. It may turn out to be only a temporary condition, but as she seems to slip ever so slightly each season Aga continues to give every indication that she may have hit her career peak in 2012 (Miami champ, Wimbledon RU) and is now faced with contending with a "back half" of a career where big titles will almost always be just out of reach. As those crowns are claimed by the veteran players who have always been able to defeat her, as well as now many of the new younger stars who are proving adept at doing the same, Radwanska may have to toil simply in an attempt to maintain a Top 10 ranking and pick up a title or two each season, her slam dreams left forever unfulfilled. After being sent out early in Indian Wells (a year after reaching the final), she was shipped off by CSN in the 4th Round in Miami. She'd never lost to the Spaniard in three previous meetings. A-Rad will drop to #9 in the new rankings, and will likely have a hard time holding off the group of woman pressing for their own Top 10 exposure in the coming weeks (she's been ranked in the Top 10 for 183 straight weeks, the second-longest active run behind only Sharapova's 210). She's just never quite been the same player since following up her '12 Wimbledon final loss with the heartbreaker against Sabine Lisicki in the semis at the AELTC a year later, a defeat which seems to have effectively closed her career window of opportunity for ultimate slam success. Maybe Aga's Polish mojo is just another big Wimbledon run away from being recaptured -- and advisor Martina Navratilova could still have a hand in achieving that -- but it's apparent that Radwanska herself senses that she's currently smack in the middle of what could be an ultra-important, career-defining (for good or mediocre, from here on out) stretch. She's even asking her always-great fans to not lose faith. They won't... but for how much longer will she be able to say the same?

ITF PLAYERS: Margarita Gasparyan/RUS & Alexa Glatch/USA
...already coming into the week at a career-best #168, 20-year old Gasparyan became the first player this year to claim a third ITF circuit singles titles with her win in the $50K Croissy-Beaubourg challanger. The unseeded Hordette notched wins over Ivana Jorovic, Kristyna Pliskova and Mathilde Johansson in the championship match. Gasparyan is 9-0 in career singles finals. In another $50K in Osprey, Florida it was Glatch putting up her third straight good result after returning to action last October following a 15-month absence during which she had hip and wrist surgeries. After winning a $25K in Irapuato, Glatch reached the QF in the $25K Palm Harbor event before running off wins over Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, Cagla Buyukakcay, Laura Siegemund, Evgeniya Rodina and #1-seeded Madison Brengle in a 6-2/6-7(6)/6-3 final in Osprey (as a wild card) to claim her ninth career title. It's Glatch's biggest win since 2008.
JUNIOR STARS: Sonya Kenin/USA & Xu Shilin/CHN the International Spring Championships in Carson, California it was 16-year old Bannerette Kenin who continued her recent hot stretch. Coming off a run to the singles final in the $10K ITF pro event in Gainesville, Florida and doubles titles there and in $10K Orlando with Fanni Stoller, junior #22 Kenin claimed her first Grade 1 girls event just a few months after winning the Grade A Orange Bowl crown this past winter. The #2 seed, Kenin defeated American Michaela Gordon (who'd defeated Kenin in the Coffee Bowl semis in January), then took out Stoller in a three-set final. Stoller saved two match points in a 2nd set tie-break and forced things to go the distance, but had little left for the remaining challenge, as Kenin won 6-3/6-7(7)/6-0. Meanwhile, the very first Junior Masters event in Chendu, China featured eight top junior girls. As she did in the China-hosted Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing last August, Xu walked away with the title in front of her home nation crowd. Xu put up victories over Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, Jil Teichmann and Kristina Schmiedlova in a 6-4/6-2 final. Xu also defeated Schmiedlova (in the QF) en route to her championship in Nanjing last year. Belarusian Iryna Shymanovich claimed 3rd place in the event, defeating Teichmann in the consolation match.

DOUBLES: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza (SUI/IND) & Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith (GBR/GBR)
...let's see. All Hingis & Mirza have done is play a pair of tournaments together, winning them both. Oh, and did I mention the events were played in Indian Wells and Miami, the jewels of the most illustrious non-slam stretch of the season? Not only did the veteran pair go 10-0, but they didn't even drop a set. In Miami alone, they took out the #4-ranked team of Babos/Mladenovic in the semifinals, then defeated the top-ranked active team of Makarova/Vesnina in the final, just like they did in the Indian Wells championship match (and Hingis did with Sabine Lisicki vs. the pair in last year's Miami final, as well). In the Miami final, they even toyed with the Russians a bit. Makarova/Vesnina led 5-2 in the 1st set, served for the set twice, and held a set point. It was just a minor annoyance for Hingis/Mirza, though. The pair put together an eight-game run and won eleven of the final twelve games to win 7-5/6-1, allowing the Hordettes one less game than they got in the final in the desert. At this point, with Errani/Vinci kaput, it might be just a matter of counting down the days until Mirza becomes the first Indian woman to be ranked #1... with former #1 Hingis right on her heels.

Down a level, Brits Rae & Smith have once again bubbled to the top in an ITF doubles competition. The pair claimed the $50K Croissy-Beaubourg challenger in France, defeating Julie Coin and Mathilde Johansson in the final to extend their career circuit record in finals as a duo to 10-2 (they're 0-1 in WTA title deciders).


"Alize Lim and the Case of the Spreadable Goodness"...

And "Nicole Gibbs and the I've-Been-Thinking-the-Same-Thing-for-Months"...

1. Miami 4th Rd. - Halep d. Pennetta
The continued building of the Halep statue of honor. The Swarmette had been 0-3 vs. Pennetta for her career, and looked about to be forced to a 3rd set when the Italian led 5-2 in the 2nd. But Halep rallied, putting together ten straight points in one stretch, to avoid having to go the distance. Plus, it says a lot about a player when they can inspire CURRENT competitors, not just future ones.

2. Miami 4th Rd. - Stephens d. Bencic
Stephens is still ranked below the Swiss teen but, as with Keys in Indian Wells, she served at least a bit of notice to a generational counterpart to not stop looking over their shoulder just yet. Talk is one thing, wins are another. It's nice to see a bit of the latter once again from Sloane.
3. Miami QF - Halep d. Stephens
Turning things around from 6-1/3-0 to leading 5-4 in the 2nd is enough to consider this loss as a "plus" in Stephens' column. Learning to win usually involves accepting the lesson that not giving up is often the most important aspect of any big match. Keys learned the same thing (vs. Cornet in Fed Cup) at approximately this time last year, and look what's happened for her since. Maybe Stephens will follow in her footsteps. At least a few of them.

4. Miami SF - Suarez-Navarro d. Petkovic
This win put CSN into the Top 10 for the first time. Petko knows the feeling, and reacted appropriately.

5. $15K Melbourne Final - Hon/Patterson d. Baranska/Zaniewska
...2-6/6-4 [12-10].
16-year old Aussie Hon followed up her singles RU/doubles title runs last week with a second doubles crown, as well as a win over the top-seeded Zaniewska in the 1st Round of singles.
6. $10K Manama Final - Fatma Al Nabhani d. Vivien Heisen
The 23-year old from Oman claims her fifth career ITF crown, her first since 2013. She also won her sixth career ITF doubles title, taking the event with 19-year old Camila Fuentes of Mexico.
7. $10K Heraklion - Maria Sakkari d. Valentini Grammatikopoulou
Sakkari wins her second straight ITF singles title, claiming the all-teenager, all-Greek final.
8. Miami 4th Rd. - Petkovic d. Makarova
This match-up could become very important this week in Charleston, too.
9. I.W. Final - Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina 6-3/6-4
Miami Final - Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina 7-5/6-1
if the Russians didn't know already, well, they do now.

10. $50K Osprey Final - Alexa Glatch d. Madison Brengle
Glatch was the victor, but the week provided a nice resurgence for BrengleFly, too. 2-3 since her Australian Open Round of 16 run when she arrived, Brengle added a 2015 ITF final appearance to her WTA final in Hobart from January (no other player has reached singles finals at both levels this season). Only a few weeks since climbing into the Top 50, she's 20-7 this season and 47-15 since she began the Summer of Brengle run that earned her a wild card berth into last year's U.S. Open main draw.

Meanwhile, on Caro Corner...

And Aga Alley (where an egg hunt revealed just how important -- or unimportant -- cheesecake REALLY is)...

1. Miami SF - Serena Williams d. Halep
This one, surely in the running for 1Q Match of the Year, sort of made the final anticlimactic. Unlike in Singapore, where she was taken off-guard by her round robin result against Williams, Halep truly believed she could win this time around. And she very nearly did, too. Serena's forehand went in and out all match, and she was often bothered by the (overly?) boisterous Romanian crowd in what she sees as her "backyard tournament," but her serve (as usual) often bailed her out of trouble and Halep's defense (and guts) made Williams reach for something more in the clutch. As she generally does, she found it just in the nick of time... but not until after Halep broke her to take the 2nd set, then when Serena was serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd. If this match had been played on clay, would the result have been the same? Hmmm, we may just get the answer to that question in a few weeks.

2. Mia QF - Serena Williams d. Lisicki
Serena's 700th career wasn't a work of art. Lisicki served at 6-5 in the 1st, and held a set point. Williams quickly dropped the 2nd set, lost six straight games and destroyed a racket. But the cake was nice.

Wow 700 wins! I still can't believe it. Thanks for all the love and support. #renasarmy #wow

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

3. Miami 4th Rd. - Venus Williams d. Wozniacki
Venus looked tired in spots, and failed to serve out the match in the 2nd. But, again, she dominated Caro in the clutch moments down the stretch to win a 7-1 tie-break, adding to her undefeated (6-0) record against the Dane, including two wins this season. Meanwhile, don't look now, but we could have an Indian Wells Redux next March (though probably with a bit less fanfare... we're talking about Venus, after all)...

4. Miami 4th Rd. - Suarez-Navarro d. Aga Radwanska 5-7/6-0/6-4
Miami QF - Suarez-Navarro d. Venus Williams 0-6/6-1/7-5
in very similar outings, CSN rebounded from disappointing opening sets (she lost 30 of 45 pts. vs. Venus) to dominate two former Miami champions in the 2nd and pull away for victories. The Spaniard led 5-1 in the 3rd vs. Venus before having to sweat it out to avoid a tie-break which likely wouldn't have gone in her favor.

5. Miami Final - Serena Williams d. Suarez-Navarro
You didn't really think CSN was going to defeat BOTH Venus and Serena in the same event, did you? Yeah, neither did she. In the five career matches between the two, Suarez-Navarro has won just ten total games. Meanwhile, Williams is 66-0 in Miami in matches in which she wins the 1st set. Hey, there's another one!
6. Miami QF - Hingis/Mirza d. Anastasia Rodionova/Arina Rodionova
And some Aussie sisters must be sacrificed for the good of the House of Hingis. Hmmm, a lost "Game of Thrones" episode?
7. Miami QF - Niculescu/Panova d. Hsieh Su-Wei/Pennetta
...3-6/6-3 [11-9].
For a brief instant, an all-former-partners final against Hingis/Mirza seemed possible. Then Hsieh/Pennetta failed to convert a MP and, well, you know the rest. In truth, for Su-Wei and Flavia's sake, it's probably for the best.
8. $15K Melbourne Final - Hives d. Sally Peers
Peers, sister of ATP player John, drops the final to fellow Aussie Zoe Hives. It's the 18-year old's first pro title, as the Australian women's talent pool continues to get better and deeper. Hives, who nearly quit the sport three years ago, will now rise into the Top 500 for the first time.

HM- Miami 4th Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Gavrilova
Eventually, all good (new) Aussie things must come to an end. Still, we've got another chirpy blond to contend with. And that's a good thing.


**2015 WTA FINALS**
3...Simona Halep, ROU (3-0)
3...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (2-1)
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS (1-1)
2...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1-1)
2...Carolina Garcia, FRA (0-2)
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (0-2)
29...7/13/7/2 - SERENA WILLIAMS (27-2)
21...9/5/5/2 - Maria Sharapova (10-11)
17...9/6/1/1 - Victoria Azarenka (9-8)
15...1/6/5/3 - Simona Halep (11-4)
12...5/4/2/1 - Sara Errani (6-6)

1442...Martina Navratilova
1309...Chris Evert
902...Steffi Graf
839...Virginia Wade
759...Arantxa Sanchez
753...Lindsay Davenport
739...Conchita Martinez
704...Evonne Goolagong

Shenzhen - Simona Halep (d. Bacsinszky)
Brisbane - Maria Sharapova (d. Ivanovic)
Sydney - Petra Kvitova (d. Ka.Pliskova)
Australian Open - Serena Williams (d. Sharapova)
Dubai - Simona Halep (d. Ka.Pliskova)
Rio - Sara Errani (d. A.Schmiedlova)
Kuala Lumpur - Caroline Wozniacki (d. Dulgheru)
Miami - Serena Williams (d. Suarez-Navarro)

[won '15 title]
Miami - Serena Williams 2013-15
[defending '14 champion]
Stuttgart: Maria Sharapova 2012-14
Washington D.C.: Shuko Aoyama (d) 2012-14
U.S. Open: Serena Williams 2012-14
WTA Finals: Serena Williams 2012-14

Dubai (HC) - #4 Halep/ROU d. #18 Ka.Pliskova/CZE
Ind.Wells (HC) - #3 Halep/ROU d. #21 Jankovic/SRB
Miami (HC) - S.Williams/USA d. #12 Suarez-Navarro/ESP

2008 A.Radwanska
2009 Azarenka, Wozniacki, Pennetta
2010 Li, Stosur, Schiavone
2011 Kvitova, Petkovic
2012 Kerber, Errani
2013 Kirilenko
2014 Halep, Cibulkova, Bouchard
2015 Makarova, Suarez-Navarro

[w/ debut season]
BEL: Van Roost(98),Clijsters(01),Henin(01)
BUL: Man.Maleeva(84),K.Maleeva(89),Mag.Maleeva(93)
ESP: Sanchez-Vicario(89),Martinez(89),Suarez-Navarro(15)
GBR: Wade(75),Barker(76),Durie(83)
ITA: Pennetta(09),Schiavone(10),Errani(12)
ROU: Ruzici(79),Spirlea(96),Halep(14)
SUI: Mal.Maleeva(84=BUL, later SUI),Hingis(96),Schnyder(98)
SVK: Habsudova(97),Hantuchova(02),Cibulkova(14)

[without grand slam final appearance]
1990 Judith Weisner
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2015 Carla Suarez-Navarro
[without grand slam title]
1990 Judith Weisner
1994 Natasha Zvereva
1995 Kimiko Date
1996 Chanda Rubin
1998 Anna Kournikova
2008 Jelena Jankovic
2012 Aga Radwanska (W)
2015 Carla Suarez-Navarro

2011 Wimbledon 2r (g) - Serena 3-6/6-2/6-1
2013 Rome SF (c) - Serena 6-3/6-0
2013 Cincinnati QF (ho) - Serena 6-0/6-4
2014 WTA Finals rr (hi) - Halep 6-0/6-2
2014 WTA Finals F (hi) - Serena 6-3/6-0
2015 Indian Wells SF - Halep walkover
2015 Miami SF (ho) - Serena 6-2/4-6/7-5

1. Simona Halep, ROU: She came THIS CLOSE to an IW/Miami sweep. We might know just how close she was based on what happens next on the dirt.
2. Serena Williams, USA: An Indian Wells return. An 8th Miami title. Great, for sure. But Simona deserves the bump.
3. Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND: Until a team -- ANY team -- beats them, they're "unbeatable." 'Nuff said.
4. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI: the Mexican Queen rules!
5. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP: the most recent "late bloomer" to shoot up the rankings. Imagine what she could do if she learned how to play a final.
6. Jelena Jankovic, SRB: Indian Wells was dreamy (though not a complete fantasy... gee, thanks Simona). Miami, not so much. But hope for Queen Chaos springs eternal. Again.
7. Sabine Lisicki, GER: If only the German could spread out what she did in California and Florida over the course of an entire season, she might really have something. At least the grass court season won't provide her ONLY bright spot for '15.
8. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN: the IW/Miami swing was disappointing, but she DID win in Kuala Lumpur
9. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS: 0-2 vs. Hingis/Mirza in IW/Miami. Undefeated against everyone else.
10. Andrea Petkovic, GER: she flashed some dominant stretches in Miami. Now, time to move up the coast.

RISER: Daria Gavrilova, AUS
SURPRISE: Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
VETERAN: Flavia Pennetta, ITA
COMEBACK: Sloane Stephens, USA
FRESH FACE: Belinda Bencic, SUI
DOWN: Maria Sharapova, RUS
ITF PLAYER: Katerina Stewart, USA

Maria and the art of making a fan's day. Twice.

Oh, and this, as it is proven that even idols sometimes come up short against Mother Nature...

14 Final: Petkovic d. Cepelova
14 Doubles Final: Medina-Garrigues/Shvedova d. Chan/Chan
15 Top Seeds: Bouchard/Makarova

Stephens d. #7 Keys
#4 Errani d. #8 Garcia
#3 Petkovic d. #6 Jankovic
#2 Makarova d. #9 Stosur
#4 Errani d. Stephens
#3 Petkovic d. #2 Makarova
#3 Petkovic d. #4 Errani

...was Petko's almost-but-not-quite-there semifinal run in Miami a tennisgodsend? A prelude to her finding a way to peak over the next week in Charleston as she attempts to successfully defend a title for the first time in her career? Top seed Bouchard is still an injury question, while #2 Makarova lost to Petkovic this past week in Florida. Who knows if another title run is in the making, but it'd at least be nice if the possible Petko/JJ QF meeting takes place. It might mean former champ Jankovic taking out '14 semifinalist Bencic to do it, though.

Of course, even Petko might have a hard time topping this:

14 Final: Cornet d. Giorgi
14 Doubles Final: Beygelzimer/Savchuk d. Koukalova/Niculescu
15 Top Seeds: A.Radwanska//Cornet

#3 Giorgi d. #1 A.Radwanska
Mladenovic d. #8 A.Schmiedlova
#3 Giorgi d. Mladenovic (Italian Fed Cup revenge?)

...does Aga's first step back begin at home? She's never won a WTA singles title in Poland, and claimed just one (in Warsaw in 2005) on the ITF circuit. She arrives as the #1 seed, having lost in the semifinals a year ago to eventual champion Cornet (she came back from MP down in the final to defeat Giorgi). The little Italian is back, too, only this time she's on Aga's side of the draw. Hmmm.

And, last but not least, taking care of that Dinara fix...

1st Quarter BSA's up next!

All for now.


Blogger Eric said...

I LOLed IRL when i read your Kate Upton/Game of War line. I wondered the same, too.

Mon Apr 06, 07:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I still can't believe that it was 37 titles from 1999 - 2010 and then 29 titles from July 2011 - Apr 2015. That is crazy.

I think that we're very lucky that Serena and Simona are overlapping for a bit. I really feel like Simona is going to end up being a consistent force on the tour for a long time. It's good for Simona to continue to develop without the pressure of being #1 etc. etc. And to have a tangible model of what can be achieved.

I think that Serena didn't get her act together faster because Graf retired very early in her career and she passed her contemporaries rather quickly. She didn't have anything to achieve anymore...AND she didn't really have a non-familial rival to push her.

I really feel that Serena has motivated players like Vika and Simona. I can see both of them have 5+ slam careers and not being satisfied with that. I don't see many of the other players having that drive/passion for tennis. Maybe Petra...but I'm not sure if her body is willing. (I exclude Maria bc Maria doesn't need Serena as a model. Maria is always going to do her own thing.)

Mon Apr 06, 07:24:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, so many things seem to have conspired to allow Serena to be at this level at this stage of her career. The injuries that plagued her so often and kept her from playing full seasons, possibly making her physically "fresher" than her age would suggest, and maybe even all those things that Evert talked about when she wrote that letter to Serena in Tennis magazine about, essentially, fully committing herself to being as great as she could be. Pretty much everything she pleaded for her to do she's done.

Like Agassi, if she'd charged harder earlier in her career she likely wouldn't still be able to do as much as she does today. And, now, of course, she's got a whiff of the history she can still achieve and that's driving her now.

All in all, it's turned out pretty well for her, and us. Maybe not for all those players who would have won more slams without her being around (including, ironically, Venus)... but, hey, that's their problem. :D

Haha. I'd still like to know how that idea originally came up in the first place. "Hey, you know who we should get to play the inspirational wartime leader of the armies in the commercial? Now, don't laugh... Kate Upton!"

I wonder how long the period of silence lasted in the room after that little creative bomb was dropped on the table?

Thing is, in a weird way, I guess it worked. Would people have even noticed those ads without the immediate, "Wait, is that...?" double-take. ;)

Tue Apr 07, 12:26:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I feel-like the ATP and WTA should try to use the term "compelling match-up" rather than rivalry. Like the only rivalries I see in tennis right now is Nadal-Djokovic...and Federer-Djokovic...maybe sharapova-azarenka.

Rivalry depends on so many different things...not just unpredictable wins and number of times people playe each other...but also the stage that people play on...

Wed Apr 08, 09:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I can see why you like her. Besides her tennis accomplishments, I hadn't been exposed to her personality before. I like how she said things.

Wed Apr 08, 10:32:00 PM EDT  

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