Monday, August 10, 2015

Wk.31- The Future Sloane is Relative

Sometimes the past, the present and the future all meet up in the same place, daring each other to take the lead. May the best Sloane win.

That's what just happened this week in Washington, D.C. when Sloane Stephens showed up and ripped through the field without losing a set, reaching her first career final and winning her maiden WTA singles title in one fell swoop, all the while looking an awful lot like the intriguing Future Sloane character that we were initially introduced to thirty-one months ago.

Two seasons ago, a teenaged Sloane Stephens rose like a rocket-launched WTA fireworks show down under in Melbourne, upsetting Serena Williams and reaching the semifinals in just her seventh appearance in a major. She was the immediate toast of the tour, whetting desires for "the next," and the focal point of the opening chapter in the yet-to-be-written Book of Post-Serena Life on Tour.

For a while, Sloane seemed to be the perfect protagonist, too. She had the gift of gab. She had the mega-watt smile. She even had the sort of powerful-with-sleek-athleticism game style that could bring American sports fans to the table for the next decade, perhaps saving the U.S. portion of the soul of a sport that has drifted outside the mainstream in an era in which team sports rule the airwaves and fantasy leagues fill in the cracks. After years of anxiety-ridden whispers, the future of American "personality-driven" tennis suddenly seemed to be bright. Stephens' star power was evident. She might not be "the next Serena," but she was close enough... and she talked about how Williams was her "good friend," so the "line of American tennis succession" seemed to be officially ordained.

But, no matter how many headlines, fawning discussions during ESPN's tennis coverage or not-so-gentle nudges by the tour itself, Future Sloane wasn't a reality. Not yet, anyway.

Stephens, while she mostly faltered on the regular tour, admirably managed a consistently good slam run through the first half of '14 (six consecutive 4th Round-or-better results), but she failed to climb into the Top 10 (getting to #11) and until this spring hadn't even reached another tour semifinal, let alone play in a final or win a title. Throw in a few coaching changes, multiple (real, imagined or trumped up) feuds with Serena, Twitter wars, disagreements with the media coverage of her untrue idolization of Williams (a tale which Stephens had created herself) and several other verbal missteps and misunderstandings and the bloom was off Stephens' proverbial rose. Canadian Genie Bouchard reached the Australian Open semis, climbed into the Top 5 and replaced Stephens as the "apple" of the tour and media's eye in 2014. Meanwhile, Current Sloane fell to #37. Early in 2015, fellow Bannerette Madison Keys followed in Stephens' footsteps with a final four AO run. Even if no one said it out loud, you could virtually hear people thinking, "Well, maybe this time it'll work out." While Stephens' game was still intriguing, poor on-court decision-making, what looked like a visible lack of confidence and a questionable heart (no less than Chris Evert openly questioned Stephens' desire, believing that her fear of failure was causing her to refuse to go full out in big moments because of a possible "if-I-lose-when-I-give-it-my-all-what-do-I-do-next?" mentality) had made Stephens a frustrating topic of conversation, lost in a hail of lost opportunities that usually went down in flames via cover-your-eyes fades and, often, love final sets. She was no longer viewed as a "sure thing," and the rise of the next "next" -- multiple ones, in fact -- make it easier to simply ignore her, for lack of a better phrase.

But the possibility of a Future Sloane never really went away, and Current Sloane never gave up trying to make her a reality, either.

Seeking to find the right motivator, Stephens worked for eight months with Paul Annacone in 2014, then briefly employed Thomas Hogstedt. But after a mediocre 21-19 season produced only a pair of QF results, Stephens took a page from her own past, joining forces in January with Nick Saviano. On her way up the tennis ladder, Stephens had trained at Saviano's Florida academy. A season ago, Saviano rode the wave of Bouchard's success as her personal coach before it was decided -- let's say, mutually, maybe... just to be safe -- that they'd no longer work together.

As the 2015 season has progressed, Saviano seems to have found a way to direct Stephens' talents in the right direction, and all the rest away from her worst enemy -- herself. Or maybe that's unfair to say. After all, Stephens was thrown into the spotlight as a 19 year old, suffered the consequences of too much too soon, and maybe it's simply her own natural maturation that has led to what has to now be considered a true comeback -- or maybe "re-breakthrough?" -- season at age 22.

The proof is in the results, and her successes just keep building one upon the next. As it should be.

After a slow 2-4 start, Stephens reached the QF in Indian Wells and Miami in March, defeating the likes of Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Belinda Bencic and Keys. Another slow start on the clay quickly developed into a Strasbourg SF run (her first since the '13 AO) and a Roland Garros 4th Round (ending a 1st-2nd-1st Rd. exit string in majors). That provided the momentum that led to another semi on the grass in Eastbourne. After a 3rd Round loss to Lucie Safarova at Wimbledon, Stephens began her hard court season prep and then came to the District and put up the best weekly result of her career in what she called her "second home."

With her game looking as smooth as ever, her decision-making decidedly better and her confidence blooming with each victory, she ultimately coasted to the title, unarguably "feeling it" as she eliminated Samantha Stosur with a 6-0 2nd set (Sloane knows what that feels like, being serving a bagel on her way out the door on six occasions since her early 2013 breakout) in the semis and then losing just three games in the final against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

When it became apparent that Stephens was going to claim her first title, one wondered how she'd react. Would she become a Cornet-like plush toy rolling around on the court, or turn inward and go against type by not wishing to show any emotions in what is a truly significant moment in her career? As it was, she was restrained in her celebration, but the relief was apparent as the weighty tension of no longer having to answer "that question" was forever lifted off her not-nearly-as-bruised-as-it-could-have-been psyche after what she's experienced the last two and a half years. That's a good sign. She understands the importance of what she just accomplished -- as she Tweeted after the match, she turned "tuna into lobster" -- but she knows that while it's a very important one, it's still a STEP.

Good for her. And us, too.

After all, Stephens playing up to her ability IS a glory to watch. No one will likely ever play like Williams, but there's a smoothness to Sloane's athleticism and speed, and an easiness to her power that makes one eager to see just how good she CAN be. That would be a fun Future ride worth the price of admission.

As it's turned out, the eclipsing accompanying rise of a few fellow North Americans in the wake of her own success may have been a blessing. As Stephens has been able to go about her business more quietly her success has grown. Probably not a coincidence.

Now, of course, comes the next important step. The past, the present and future are all in the same room... and which one comes out alive is all up to Sloane. Stephens can't be satisfied with clearing this hurdle. She has to look to leap over the next one. She knows the pitfalls of getting too far ahead of herself this time around, so her bad past experiences can now become positives.

Tuna into lobster.

All the talk of a Future Sloane wasn't crazy two seasons ago, and it wasn't really even premature, either. The potential to eventually be a true star was there then, and it still is. It hadn't been perfected yet, and still hasn't. The Future is not now, but it's a lot closer to today than it was a short while ago.

By the time Current Sloane officially becomes Past Sloane, we might find out that this was the most revealing week of the career that Stephens was always meant to have.

(Fingers crossed.)

S: Angelique Kerber/GER def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-3/5-7/6-4
D: Xu Yifan/Zheng Saisai (CHN/CHN) d. Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Arantxa Parra-Santonja (ESP/ESP) 6-1/6-3

S: Sloane Stephens/USA def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS 6-1/6-2
D: Belinda Bencic/Kristina Mladenovic (SUI/FRA) d. Arruabarrena/Klepac (SUI/SLO) 7-5/7-6(2)

FED CUP 14s FINALS (Prostejov, CZE)
Russia def. United States 2-1

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Angelique Kerber/GER
...after three straight Top 10 seasons -- though she has been going backwards in slow motion, from #5 to #9 to #10 before falling out altogether earlier this season -- the 27-year old German has decidedly taken her game to another level in 2015. While she hasn't climbed as high in the slams as she has in past seasons -- two 3rd's and a 1st after two SF, two QF and six Round of 16's in the previous thirteen majors -- Kerber has been a more consistent and finishing force on the regular tour. She had a brief dip in results in the early part of the season, as she followed up her QF-SF start in the first two weeks with a 3-7 stretch from the Australian Open until late March. Since then, though, she's been pretty well golden. She's gone 29-4 and won four titles, winning eleven straight matches at one point while being an early "Queen of Clay" in the spring with victorious runs in Charleston (green clay) and Stuttgart (red), claimed her first grass crown in Birmingham and this weekend finished off her first hard court title-winning week since October '13 with a win at Stanford. Prior to this season, Kerber had gone 1-8 in singles finals from mid-2012 until August of last year. This year, though, she's raised her career title total to seven while going 4-0 (tied with Serena Williams for the tour lead), and done it by winning on four different surfaces, more than any other player in 2015. Always a grinder, she was forced to be so yet again in Stanford, missing out on a 1st Round bye and facing a tough road that included matches against Daria Gavrilova, Ana Konjuh, Aga Radwanska in a brilliant three-setter (running her record to 4-0 vs. the Top 10 this year), Elina Svitoina and Karolina Pliskova in another three-set final that was a rematch of the Birmingham championship. Oh, and she recently hired well-regarded trainer Alex Stober (formerly with Li Na and Petra Kvitova) for her team, as well... so maybe she'll be even MORE prepared in the future for the long work weeks that have become her calling card this season.
RISERS: Sloane Stephens/USA & Karolina Pliskova/CZE
...while Bouchard has squirmed in the 2015 spotlight, and Madison Keys has begun to slightly spin her wheels, Stephens seems to have found her footing. In Washington, she sure looked a lot like what we envisioned an early-stage Future Sloane might one day resemble, not only taking out a line of opponents named Linette, Chirico, Stosur and Pavlyuchenkova, but doing so with increasing style and control. Stephens never lost a set, but more importantly she never lost focus of the task at hand, either. One confident result led to another, without any of that troubling fear of failure or nervous walkabout moments suddenly popping up to be a fly in the ointment. THIS is why Stephens legitimately sparked so much conversation in 2013. There are many good young American players at the moment, on both tours, but Sloane is the only one who currently gives off the vibe of a "star." Two years ago she wasn't ready to carry that mantle. She probably isn't now, either. Two years from now, though, it might be elementary. If Stephens just takes one step in front of the other from here forward, it finally looks like she'll really get there. But the next step is to follow up her first title by having a good rest of the summer on hard courts, reach the second week of the Open, and then deal with the rest as it may come.

Meanwhile, in Stanford, Pliskova came SO close to getting over one of those career "humps" that are so significant for a young player. She DID manage one, as she was assured mid-week of entering the Top 10 for the first time on Monday, becoming the eighth Czech woman to do so and raising the total number of current players there to three.

[ On a side note, something I noticed this week. How dumb is it that the Tennis Hall of Fame's website search filter removes the likes of Navratilova, Mandlikova and Lendl (who played under a Czech flag from 1978-91, then the U.S. from 1992-94!!) from the list of "Czech" HoF inductees because they changed their representing country at some point during their careers, sometimes at the "eleventh hour?" Why not just list a player under EVERY nation they represented during their career? All right, 'nuff said.]

Pliskova has been at or near the top of almost every important WTA list that involves wins, finals and aces the last two seasons. After her run to the Stanford final, she's tied for the tour lead in semifinals (6) and leads in finals (5). She's actually reached more finals than countrywoman Petra Kvitova over the past three seasons. But even Pliskova knows HER numbers don't quite "measure up" to the likes of those put up by the likes of Kvitova and Serena Williams, and is well aware that she's only put up four total match wins at the three slams completed thus far in 2015.

Still, after wins during the week over Kimiko Date-Krumm, Ajla Tomljanovic and Varvara Lepchenko, Pliskova had the chance to climb another rung on the WTA ladder by winning the biggest title of her career. All four of her previous titles have come in International events, while she came into Sunday's final with a 0-3 mark in Premier finals (all of them played during the '15 season). As she faced off for the win with Angelique Kerber, Pliskova often seemed to be getting the best of the German, showcasing her often clean and powerful game to it full impact. But with both players tiring and dealing with physical issues (Pliskova injured her ankle during the final), the Czech not being able to fully utilize her big serve ultimately proved to be her undoing against the undying fight of the German, who broke her ten times on the day. So, it was a good week for Pliskova, but she's still searching for her "take off" point.
SURPRISES: Ulrikke Eikeri/NOR & Frances Altick/USA
...truthfully, Eikeri deserves to get some attention almost exclusively because the ITF site actually uses the photo on the left to "identify" the 22-year old Norwegian on her bio page. So there's that. Things weren't quite so fuzzy in the $10K challenger in Fort Worth, Texas this weekend, though. Eikeri qualified (barely escaping by surviving a 12-10 2nd set TB after dropping the 1st in the final Q-round) and then went on to defeat Maria-Fernanda Alves and then Frances Altick in the final to win her eighth career ITF crown. Eikeri came into the week ranked #844, having just returned to action in May after dealing with groin and back injuries and being out since last August after retiring in the first round of U.S. Open qualifying (vs. Katerina Siniakova) last summer. Here's a "somewhat" better photo:

I'll mention Altick here, as well, as Vanderbilt's NCAA championship team seems to sending out all sorts of players to find success on the ITF circuit (remember Astra Sharma, who just won her first circuit title in July?). Well, this time it was Vandy junior Altick. She didn't join Sharma in the winner's circle, but she reached her first pro final in Fort Worth after qualifying and knocking out #5 Renata Zarazua and #6 Giuliana Olmos (USC Trojans) before losing the all-qualifier final vs. Eikeri. Altick has played the American challenger circuit the last few summers, and done quite well in this very tournament in the past. In 2013, she qualified and reached the 2nd Round, then last year she qualified again and put on a QF run.

VETERAN: Varvara Lepchenko/USA
...a year ago, Lepchenko reached the Stanford semifinals, where she held a match point against Angelique Kerber before losing in three sets. Her return to California provided a nice opportunity to begin to right what has been a truly disappointing season for the 29-year old. After a Week 1 semifinal result in Brisbane that included wins over Sam Stosur and soon-to-be AO semifinalist Madison Keys, Lepchenko has had a hard time getting her season pointed in the right direction after suffering an illness in February. She came into Stanford having lost six straight matches and after ending '14 at #36 (her third consecutive Top 53 season) she found her ranking having slipped to #60 after not winning multiple matches at an event since the Australian Open. That changed last week, but it wasn't easy. The Bannerette survived Mirjana Lucic-Baroni serving for the match in their 1st Round encounter, then she was able to get past #1-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who was playing injured with her leg heavily strapped. As the Dane admitted about her outing, "it wasn't pretty." Lepchenko then came back from a set down to take out Mona Barthel to reach another Stanford semi, where she met a very in-form Karolina Pliskova, who'd defeated her in the Seoul final last September. The same thing happened this time, as it was Pliskova's own level of play that pretty much dictated the flow of the Czech's straight sets victory. A slow start turned into a dominant middle (17 straight points during one stretch) before she had a hard time closing things out and nearly was forced to a 3rd before winning a 7-5 2nd.

COMEBACK: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...Pavlyuchenkova always seems as if she's making a "comeback," although she's never really gone anywhere. Truth is, she's consistently won titles (7) over the years, but has done so while never really ever rising as high as most expected she would when she was dominating in the juniors. The Russian has maintained a Top 45 year-end ranking since 2008 -- Top 36 since 2010 -- but she's never finished higher than #16 and climbed no higher than #13 (both four years ago, when she reached her only two slam QF). She came into Washington, where she was runner-up in '12, ranked #40. After opening up with a win over Magdalena Rybarikova in a match that ended at 2 a.m., Pavlyuchenkova's week included victories over Belinda Bencic, Christina McHale and Ekaterina Makarova (when the #1-seeded Hordette retired after dropping the 2nd set) to back up her semifinal run last week in Baku with her first final since winning the Kremlin Cup in Moscow late last season, and the eleventh of her career. Truth is, she was never really in the final match against the previously title-less Sloane Stephens, who jumped on the Russian early and never relented. The good news, though, is that Pavlyuchenkova's 7-2 run the past two weeks has finally lifted her '15 record above .500 to 18-17. It's a mark, that, when you think about, is almost the perfect representatiion of her career: "pretty good, I guess, buuuut..."

FRESH FACES: Louisa Chirico/USA & Samantha Crawford/USA

...19-year old Chirico took advantage of her wild card into the event in Washington, turning around her career 0-5 record in WTA main draw matches with a pair of wins over #55 Heather Watson and #27 Alize Cornet. Chirico was the winner of the USTA's Wimbledon MD wild card earlier this summer due to a "disputed" (well, let's just say it..."stupid") rule that prevented the best player over the assigned three-event challenger stretch (Katerina Stewart) from actually claiming the berth. Meanwhile, the winner of the WC into the U.S. Open draw was officially decided last week, and it was 2012 U.S. Open girls champ Samantha Crawford who earned it. The 20-year old won the spot solely with her run to the $50K Lexington, Kentucky final. Unlike the pre-Wimbledon challenge period, this one was rather lightly contested. Crawford lost in the 1st Round in the first two events, and her runner-up result in the third was enough to give her an easy advantage over the two players -- Brooke Austin & Sanaz Marand -- tied for second with just 30 points due to a single semifinal result put up by both in the first two events.

DOWN: Madison Keys/USA
...the inconsistency of Australian Open semifinalist Keys' power game once again resulted in a disappointing fade that led to a loss against Croat-Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic in a Stanford match which the American seemed to have completely under control in the early stages. Keys took a 6-1, 23-minute 1st set from her friend, winning six straight games and hitting four aces while losing just two points on serve. Even Tomljanovic wasn't thinking good thoughts. "I really thought I'd be off the court in about thirty-five minutes," she said. But Keys had difficulty getting her first serves in, and racked up far too many errors the rest of the day. She failed to break Tomljanovic in the final two sets, while losing her own serve four times. Keys hasn't had to fight against the same sort of off-court pressures that the other then-teenage AO semifinalists-turned-faltering "sophomores" (Stephens in '13, Bouchard in '14) have the last few years, though she HAS been dubbed "the heir" to Serena Williams' SW19 throne by none other than the likes of John McEnroe and Chris Evert in recent months, and having Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport as a coach is bound to bring along a touch of expectation and attention. But not being the same sort of attention-getting, endorsement-grabbing personality machines that Stephens and Bouchard were in their Melbourne afterglow is probably working in Keys' favor right about now. Aside from a final run in Charleston and Wimbledon QF (the latter of which still ended in an error-strewn loss to Aga Radwanska that sort of wiped out all the good that had come before), Keys hasn't often played to the level she showed she's capable of in January over the last six months. While it's been a disappointing development, it thankfully hasn't seemed to have been accompanied by any sort of soul-stealing attitudinal descent, largely because the light shining down on her hasn't been quite as harsh as it was for her fellow North Americans. That may prove to be a big key for Madison's future, especially when it comes to trying to maneuver the "year after" landscape that will present itself to her in 2016.
ITF PLAYERS: Kiki Bertens/NED & Andrea Hlavackova/CZE
...there was some $25K movement at the expense of fellow countrywomen on the ITF circuit this weekend, as Bertens and Hlavackova both won titles by climbing over a fellow Dutch and Czech player, respectively. Bertens, 23, has had a nice spring/summer campaign. After leading Netherlands' to a Fed Cup World Group Playoff win over Australia, she put up $50K QF and $100K SF results, reached a WTA-level semi at Rosmalen (def. Pavlyuchenkova and Vandeweghe) and just a week ago reached a SF in a $75K challenger. This week at the $25K in Koksijde, Belgium it was #1-seeded Bertens taking out Irina Maria Bara, Sharazad Reix and FC teammate Arantxa Rus (#7) in the semis to reach the final, where she defeated Pastry Myrtille Georges (#8) in three sets to win her seventh career ITF title, but her first since 2012.

In the $25K challenger in Plzen, Czech Republic it was Hlavackova, 28, winning her eighth career ITF singles crown (her first since '11) with a three-set win in the final over fellow Maiden Barbora Krejcikova. The #3 seed, Hlavackova knocked off #7 Jana Fett and #8 Anastasiya Komardina before taking out the #2-seeded Krejcikova, 19. Hlavackova hadn't won multiple main draw matches in an event since early April.

JUNIOR STARS: Russian Fed Cup 14s Team
...the next wave of Hordettes have been making their presence felt the past two seasons. The last seven girls slam finals have produced three champions (Elizaveta Kulichkova, Daria Kasatkina & Sofya Zhuk) and two runners-up (Anna Kalinskaya & Anna Blinkova) from Russia, while the next group in the post-post-Revolution generation has now won back-to-back Fed Cup 14s titles. In the multi-team final week of competition in Prostejov, Czech Republic the Hordette squad of Anastasia Potapova (#1 singles), Irina Doronina (captain) and Vlada Koval (#3) brought down the American team in the final, winning 2-1 by sweeping the singles before the Bannerettes took the "dead rubber" doubles match. In the opener, Koval completed her undefeated week by knocking off U.S. #2 Caty McNally 6-2/6-4, and then Potapova secured her second consecutive title-winning year by outlasting American #1 Hurricane Tyra Black 3-6/6-4/6-4 to clinch the crown.

What a great & fun week with you ??????@belindabencic yea definitely a connection there???? #citiopen #washingtonDC

A photo posted by Kristina Mladenovic (@kristinamladenovic93) on

DOUBLES: Belinda Bencic/Kristina Mladenovic (SUI/FRA)
...neither Bencic nor Mladenovic had a great week in singles in Washington (Mladenovic was Stosur's 500th victim in the 1st Round, while Bencic lost in the 2nd), but they teamed up for the very first time and, as is often the case with the Pastry, her doubles partner ended up having a very good experience as the pair swept to the title without dropping a set. They won their closest match in the 7-5/7-6(7) final over Lara Arruabarrena/Andreja Klepac, who'd ended Shuko Aoyama's three-year doubles champ reign at the event with a QF defeat of the Japanese vet and Eri Hozumi. The win gives Mladenovic her twelfth career WTA doubles titles (w/ a ninth different partner), and her fourth this season (the other three came w/ Timea Babos); while Bencic picks up her second career title after having won in Prague with Katerina Siniakova in May.


Sharapova + summer

Summer, I'm all yours! #Beach #Life

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

Future plans...

1. Washington Final - Stephens d. Pavlyuchenkova
More impressive than actually reaching and winning her first final was how Stephens did it, taking out the experienced Stosur in the semis with a love 2nd set to close things out and then never blinking in the final against the Russian. In all, she didn't drop a set all week and won eighteen of the final twenty-one games she played. Her only misstep may have been initially forgetting to thank her team and family during the trophy ceremony (she spent a lot of time talking about the Soles4Souls shoe drive she'd pushed all week, so it was an understandable slip), but she even managed to catch that error before it was too late, grabbing the microphone one more time to end her week in style by leaving all her bases covered and leaving nothing for anyone to pick at her about.

2. Stanford 1st Rd. - Date-Krumm d. Lisicki
44-year old KDK qualified and notched her first main draw tour win of the season vs. Lisicki, coming back from 6-1/4-1 down to do it. While Date-Krumm jumps from #173 to #149 on Monday, the loss drops Lisicki to 17-17 on the season (though that looks a bit better when you consider her horrendous 1-6 start to '15).

3. Washington 1st Rd. - Broady d. Gajdosova
The Brit saved a MP down 6-5 in the 3rd set TB.
4. Washington 1st Rd. - Begu d. Brengle
BrengleFly didn't have quite the same ending here that she'd had just a few days earlier in the WTT final with the Kastles.
5. Washington 1st Rd. - Stosur d. Mladenovic
Stosur's 500th career victory.

6. Washington SF - Stephens d. Stosur
After not reaching a tour semifinal since January 2013, Stephens plays in her third in three months and becomes the second Bannerette (Brengle in Hobart in Week 2) to reach her first career tour singles final this season, ending with an impressive love set.

7. Washington SF - Pavlyuchenkova d. Makarova
...4-6/6-3 ret.
Pavlyuchenkova gets a ticket into the final, while '14 U.S. Open semifinalist Makarova -- the #1 seed in D.C. -- hasn't won a title since January '14 in Pattaya, and that's her only singles title at all since 2010. She's now 0-2 in 2015 semifinals.
8. Stanford 1st Rd. - Gibbs d. Garcia
Gibbs, a former two-time NCAA champ at Stanford, qualified and notched her first main draw tour since April while she was back in town. She'd been 2-12 since her 1st Round loss in Indian Wells in March. She edges a little closer to the Top 100 (#110) on Monday after coming back to California while sporting a #126 standing.

9. Stanford 2nd Rd. - Riske d. Suarez-Navarro 6-4/6-4
Stanford QF - Svitolina d. Riske 4-6/7-5/6-1
Riske got her first 2015 Top 10 victory with her upset of CSN, who dropped her third straight match. But the Bannerette couldn't recover a round later after serving and failing to close out the match at 5-4 in the 2nd set against Svitolina.

10. Stanford 2nd Rd. - Tomljanovic d. Keys
Tomljanovic's 1st Top 20 win since her season-opening victory over Jelena Jankovic in Brisbane.

11. $10K Plovdiv BUL Final - Margot Yerolymos d. Alexandra Nancarrow
The 18-year old Pastry wins her first pro title here, but I wanted to focus on Nancarrow for a moment. In truth, had she won this final she would have won part of the "Surprise" award for this week since I've neglected her to this point in 2015, but she still gets into the mix here. The 21-year old Aussie, a three-time ITF champ this season, entered the week hot off a title run that had moved her up thirty-one spots to #386 in the world rankings. She didn't get title #4, which would have tied her for the season's circuit lead, but she did pick up career doubles title #20 (all since 2012), her fifth of '15.

12. $25K Koksijde BEL Final - Elise Mertens/Demi Schuurs d. Justyna Jegiolka/Sherazad Reix
19-year old Schuurs, already a winner of a pair of WTA doubles titles in '15, picks up her sixteenth career ITF crown. The Dutch teen won another title with 19-year old Waffle Mertens last August in another Belgium challenger.
HM- $10K Buenos Aires - Daniela Seguel d. Fernanda Brito
In an all-Chilean battle, Seguel was the last woman standing. The two combined to win the doubles title, though.

Aga's "Seven Most Defining Moments"

I guess it say a lot that you could probably compile a "Second Seven" without much effort, as well.

1. Stanford SF - Kerber d. Aga Radwanska
Is it really any surprise that when you put these two together you get a match filled with long rallies and spectacular shots? Wonderful points -- often including great defensive gets and ending with drop shots or lobs -- ruled the day in this nearly two and a half hour match, which eventually turned as A-Rad (who come into Stanford nursing an injury) seemed to tire a bit in the closing games as her error total crept up just a few notches too high for her to survive. The Pole double-faulted at 4-4 in the 3rd to give Kerber a BP, then hit a forehand into the net to allow the German to serve out the match, which she did at love.

2. Stanford Final - Kerber d. Karolina Pliskova
While Kerber is a great defensive player, even the German would have been stunned to know she'd break Pliskova's serve ten times in the final, including in the deciding game to win the title. Both players -- Kerber's thigh, Pliskova's ankle -- were battling with physical ailments in the long final at the end of an even longer week (especially for Kerber), but it was the seemingly more worn down German who battled through the weeds the best to put herself in rather rarefied air. She's now tied with Serena for the most titles this season, and has won titles on more different surfaces this year than she'd won titles (period.) before '15 began.
3. Stanford 2nd Rd. - Aga Radwanska d. Doi
After falling behind 6-1/2-0, Aga roared back to complete an "in-match double-bagel" by sweeping the final twelve games.
HM- $10K Plovdiv Final - Nancarrow/Sizikova d. Maryna Kolb/Nadiya Kolb
Ukraine's Kolb sisters -- 18-year old Maryna & 22-year old Nadiya -- reach their tenth career ITF doubles final as an all-sisters pair, but drop to 0-10 in those matches. This was their fourth final in 2015, and their THIRD CONSECUTIVE. Come on, Tennis Gods -- throw 'em a bone! You know, for the effort.

Vika's Anti-Radwanskian Threat Level Chart

Tsk, tsk, tsk. What is it they say about the best laid plans of mice and Genies?

Caro still had an eventful week.

Classic Gavrilova

4 - Serena Williams, USA
3 - Simona Halep, ROU
2 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
2 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
2 - Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
2 - Samantha Stosur, AUS
2 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
2 - Teliana Pereira, BRA

Katowice - Anna Schmiedlova (SVK, age 20, #67)
Bogota - Teliana Pereira (BRA, age 26, #130)
's-Hertogenbosch - Camila Giorgi (ITA, age 23, #35)
Nottingham - Ana Konjuh (CRO, age 17, #87)
Eastbourne - Belinda Bencic (SUI, age 18, #30)
Bastad - Johanna Larsson (SWE, age 26, #72)
Istanbul - Lesia Tsurenko (UKR, age 26, #71)
Baku - Margarita Gasparyan (RUS, age 20, #112)
Washington - Sloane Stephens (USA, age 22, #35)

Hobart - Madison Brengle (24/USA)
Pattaya - Ajla Tomljanovic (20/AUS-CRO)
Rio - Anna Schmiedlova (20/SVK)
Bogota - Teliana Pereira (26/BRA) (W)
Strasbourg - Kristina Mladenovic (22/FRA)
Nottingham - Ana Konjuh (17/CRO) (W)
Istanbul - Lesia Tsurenko (26/UKR) (W)
Baku - Margarita Gasparyan (20/RUS) (W)
Baku - Patricia Maria Tig (21/ROU)
Washington - Sloane Stephens (22/USA) (W)

**2015 WTA FINALS**
4 - Serena Williams, USA (4-0)
3 - Simona Halep, ROU (3-0)
3 - Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (2-1)
3 - Maria Sharapova, RUS (2-1)
3 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (2-1)
3 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1-2)
3 - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (0-2+L)

**2015 WTA SF**
6 - Serena Williams, USA (4-1+L)
6 - Maria Sharapova, RUS (3-2+L)
6 - Simona Halep, ROU (2-3+W)
5 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (3-2)
5 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3-2)
4 - Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (3-1)
4 - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (3-1)
4 - Sara Errani, ITA (2-2)
4 - Aga Radwanska, POL (1-3)

**WTA FINALS - 2012-15**
31...Serena Williams (29-2)
22...Maria Sharapova (11-11)
17...Victoria Azarenka (9-8)
15...Simona Halep (11-4)
13...Sara Errani (6-7)
12...Petra Kvitova (9-3)
12...Aga Radwanska (7-5)
12...Caroline Wozniacki (5-7)
11...Li Na (retired) (4-7)
9...Samantha Stosur (5-4)
8...Ana Ivanovic (4-4)

2 - Bacsinszky vs. Garcia (Acapulco/Monterrey, TB 2-0)
2 - Errani vs. A.Schmiedlova (Rio/Bucharest, 1-1)
2 - KERBER vs. KA.PLISKOVA (Birmingham/Stanford, AK 2-0)
[last two seasons]
2014 - Koukalova/Muguruza (1-1)
2014 - Sharapova/Halep (MS 2-0)
2014-15 - Sharapova/Ivanovic (MS 2-0)
2014-15 - Kerber/Keys (1-1)
2015 - Bacsinszky/Garcia (TB 2-0)
2015 - Errani/A.Schmiedlova (1-1)
2015 - Kerber/Ka.Pliskova (AK 2-0)

Hobart - Heather Watson/GBR d. (Q) Madison Brengle/USA
Pattaya - Daniela Hantuchova/SVK d. Ajla Tomljanovic/AUS
Doha - Lucie Safarova/CZE d. (WC) Vika Azarenka/BLR
Nottingham - Ana Konjuh/CRO d. Monica Niculescu/ROU
Istanbul(*) - Lesia Tsurenko/UKR d. Ula Radwanska/POL
Baku - Margarita Gasparyan/RUS d. (Q) Patricia Maria Tig/ROU
Washington - Sloane Stephens/USA d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
* - all unseeded in SF

Hobart - Heather Watson, GBR
Bogota - Teliana Pereira, BRA
Bastad - Johanna Larsson, SWE
Bucharest - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
Washington - Sloane Stephens, USA

4 - ANGELIQUE KERBER = Green Clay, Red Clay, Grass, Hard
3 - Serena Williams = Hard, Red Clay, Grass
2 - Petra Kvitova = Hard, Red Clay
2 - Maria Sharapova = Hard, Red Clay
2 - Anna chmiedlova = Hard, Red Clay

4 - ANGELIQUE KERBER = Green Clay,Red Clay,Grass,Hard
3 - Karolina Pliskova = Hard,Red Clay,Grass
3 - Serena Williams = Hard,Red Clay,Grass

Petra Kvitova, CZE
Andrea Petkovic, GER
Angelique Kerber, GER
Sara Errani, ITA
Maria Kirilenko, RUS
Simona Halep, ROU
Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
Genie Bouchard, CAN
Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Lucie Safarova, CZE
Garbine Muguruza, ESP
Karolina Pliskova, CZE

[by year debuted, w/ career high]
1975 Martina Navratilova (#1)
1980 Hana Mandlikova (#3)
1984 Helena Sukova (#4)
1989 Jana Novotna (#2)
2006 Nicole Vaidisova (#7)
2011 Petra Kvitova (#2)
2015 Lucie Safarova (#6)
2015 Karolina Pliskova (#8)

5...Martina Hingis, SUI
5...Sania Mirza, IND
4...Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
3...Timea Babos, HUN
3...Lucie Safarova, CZE

18 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (Prague/WASHINGTON)
18 - Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA (Bogota)
19 - Rebecca Peterson, SWE (Rio)
19 - Katerina Siniakova, CZE (Prague)

2013 Shelby Rogers
2014 Nicole Gibbs
2015 Samantha Crawford

2007 United States d. France
2008 United States d. Great Britain
2009 United States d. Czech Republic
2010 United States d. Ukraine
2011 Serbia d. United States
2013 United States d. Russia
2014 Russia d. Ukraine
2015 Russia d. United States

Lindsay Davenport
Monica Seles
Tara Snyder
Venus Williams
Jennifer Capriati
Lindsay Davenport
Amy Frazier
Corina Morariu
Chanda Rubin
Monica Seles
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Jennifer Capriati
Lindsay Davenport
Lisa Raymond
Chanda Rubin
Monica Seles
Meghann Shaughnessy
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Jennifer Capriati
Lindsay Davenport
Monica Seles
Meghann Shaughnessy
Meilen Tu
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Jennifer Capriati
Jill Craybas
Lisa Raymond
Chanda Rubin
Monica Seles
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Lindsay Davenport
Lisa Raymond
Chanda Rubin
Meghann Shaughnessy
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Lindsay Davenport
Amy Frazier
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Lindsay Davenport
Amy Frazier
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Vania King
Meghann Shaughnessy
Lindsay Davenport
Meghann Shaughnessy
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Lindsay Davenport
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Serena Williams
Melanie Oudin
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Serena Williams
Madison Keys
Alison Riske
Coco Vandeweghe
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Sloane Stephens
Serena Williams
Venus Williams


This could be the starting point for a new Nike campaign centered around shoes chosen for comfort, and not necessarily athletic performance. You're welcome, Mr. Knight.

No one here except Maria and the gulls. Well, almost no one.

Fine, I won't swim. I'll just flip my hair. #Instadaily

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

14 Final (Montreal): A.Radwanska d. V.Williams
14 Doubles Final (Montreal): Errani/Vinci d. Black/Mirza
15 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Halep

#1 S.Williams d. #10 Ka.Pliskova
#14 V.Williams d. #5 Ivanovic
#12 Bacsinszky d. Azarenka
#6 A.Radwanska d. #13 Kerber
#1 S.Williams d. #14 V.Williams
#12 Bacsinszky d. #6 A.Radwanska
#1 S.Williams d. #12 Bacsinszky

...Muguruza returns, but will there be a half-step back in her first event? Azarenka is back, but what about that lingering injury that pushed her return to this week? Simona is the #2 seed, but when was her last good result? And what of Petra? But does any of it matter? Either way, it's hard to pick against Serena, so I won't even try.

On a side note, look at last year's doubles final... things can change a whole lot in a year.


Another comeback is on the horizon!

Don't cross Stubbsy!

And where will you be one year from now? I know where three particular woman are hoping to be standing. Again.

All for now.


Blogger jo shum said...

love that olympic photo! wouldn't that be amazing that with 4 years in between, they still look like they have the real chance getting there too.

i think there are a lot of fun matches in toronto. will genie wins first match? maybe now that everyone literally expects her to lose.

muguruza has a very decent draw. vika vs petra if happens, in 4 years! (i actually think vika withdrew DC because it was her birthday week. haha). sloane vs radwanska should be fun. kerber should be out of breadth by now. the way she puts up everything in every match is kind of exhausting. but i'd love a kerber vs halep to materialize. has pliskova played williams before? maybe she has a chance.

Mon Aug 10, 03:51:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

"Pastry Myrtille Georges" was particularly delicious, as Myrtille means "bilberry"!

Mon Aug 10, 10:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It probably, sort of, depends on Vika's ability to join the other two on the medal stand. Good chance the other two will be there.

Bouchard faces Bencic, so that'd be a good very good start on the road back.

Ha! I didn't think about that w/ Vika. Quite possible, I guess. :) (She's got a REALLY tough draw in her first HC event back this week.)

I was going to push Kerber past Aga in Toronto, but I changed it in my pick because of her long week.

Serena def. Pliskova in straights last year in Stanford. That's there only meeting so far.

Happy accidents! :)

Mon Aug 10, 12:20:00 PM EDT  

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