Monday, November 28, 2011

Passing shots

Tatiana Golovin adjusts to a life without tennis.

Roberta Vinci talks about her game.

The end of the WTA season doesn't mean the end of broadcast sexism. During the ATP World Tour Finals doubles championship match, commentators Leif Shiras and Jimmy Arias speculated that Max Mirnyi continues to do full training--even at his age--so he can get out of taking care of his children.

At last--little Flavia.

Women's Tennis Blog also gives us a peek at some Australian Open (and beyond) dresses.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Passing shots

They don't call it an "exhibition" match for nothing. Petko, she's not.

Speaking of exhibition matches, Venus and Serena Williams will play one in Colombia tomorrow.

Happy birthday, Billie Jean King!

"Master Doubles With Gigi" is a new program that features Gigi Fernandez.

The class yearbook is out!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Passing shots

You probably already know who 2011's Ms Backspin is (how could you not?). Here is part 2 of the Backspin Awards, which include players, performances, matches, and much more.

World number 1 Caroline Wozniacki is the 2011 recipient of the WTA's Diamond Aces Award. The award is given each year to "the player who consistently goes above and beyond in promoting the sport of women's tennis to fans, media and local communities by performing off-court promotional and charitable activities."

According to one writer, Wozniacki and her friend, golfer Rory McIlroy, can will increase their endorsement incomes by 50% if they remain together.

Sam Stosur will soon have some new sponsors (via Beyond the Baseline).

Melanie Oudin, who recently went through a trial coaching period with Tom Gullickson, will remain with Gullickson--at least through the start of the 2012 season. In other words, it's still a trial.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Passing shots

Here is part 2 of the WTA's year-end review.

Steffi Graf will now be the face of all of Germany's Wii Fit and Wii Sports programs.

Four women have been invited to play in the USA's Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs, with four more to be named soon. The players already  named are Melanie Oudin, Jamie Hampton, Alison Riske, and Coco Vandeweghe.

Women's Tennis Blog continues publishing a delightful series of childhood photos, with Victoria Azarenka as the latest player to be featured.

Venus Williams did an interview at the Aspire4Sport Conference in Doha.

In January, Ana Ivanovic will play in Sydney for the first time since 2008.

Sania Mirza, who recently had another surgery on her wrist, has returned to the practice court.

Kvitova named WTA Player of the Year

Petra Kvitova won the WTA Player of the Year award today, as well as the Most Improved Player of the Year award and the Karen Krantzcke Sports(wo)manship award. In the category of special awards selected by fans, Kvitova won in the  Favorite Breakthrough Player category.

Kvitova, who was number 34 in the world at the beginning of the 2011 season, is now number 2. She won six titles, including Wimbledon, Madrid (a premier event) and the WTA Championships. Kvitova also led the Czech Republic's Fed Cup team to the 2011 championship, and she won all six of her Fed Cup rubbers this year. The Czech star also holds a 21-0 record for indoor matches in 2011.

Doubles Team of the Year honors go to Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, who, until recently, held the number 1 spot. Peschke and Srebotnik won six titles this year, including Wimbledon.

The Newcomer of the Year award went to Irina-Camelia Begu. Begu rose from a ranking of 214 to 38. Sabine Lisicki was named Comeback Player of the Year. Lisicki won two titles, and reached the semifinals of Wimbledon.

Here is a complete list of the award, the first five of which were voted on by several members of the sports media:

Player of the Year--Petra Kvitova
Doubles Team of the Year--Kveta Peschke & Katarina Srebotnik
Comeback Player of the Year--Sabine Lisicki
Most Improved Player of the Year--Petra Kvitova
Newcomer of the Year--Irina-Camelia Begu

Voted on by players:

Player Service--Francesca Schiavone
Karen Krantzcke Sports(wo)manship--Petra Kvitova
Favorite Premier Tournament--Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart)
Favorite International Tournament--Abierto Mexicano TELCEL (Acapulco)

Voted on by fans:

Fan Favorite Singles Player--Agnieszka Radwanska
Fan Favorite Doubles Team--Victoria Azarenka & Maria Kirilenko
Fan Favorite Breakthrough Player--Petra Kvitova

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Family Circle Cup presenting "VIP for a day" sweepstakes

Tickets for the 2012 Family Circle Cup in Charleston go on sale Tuesday, November 15. This year, the tournament's 40th, there will be a Grand Prize VIP Experience for one lucky ticket-holder. The prize includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the clubhouse, media center, stadium, and the ESPN2 production trailers. The winner will also eat lunch in the players' dining room, receive an autographed T-shirt, get a box seat upgrade for a day, and participate in a coin toss. And there's even more: The Grand Prize VIP Expeience also incudes a pre-match photo opportunity with players, valet parking and Terrace Club access.

The first weekly winner will be announced on November 25, and there will be one winner announced every Friday through the end of December. Weekly prizes include participation in a pre-match coin toss and pre-match photo opportunities. The grand prize winner will be announced on Monday, January 2, 2012.

"Our VIP for a Day contest is the most exciting opportunity we’ve ever offered to our fans, providing unprecedented access to players and areas that are traditionally off-limits to spectators," said Margaret Shaw, Ticket Coordinatorfor the event.

Tickets are available 24 hours a day via, Ticketmaster charge-by-phone at (800) 745-3000 and at Fans can also buy tickets at any local Publix location offering Ticketmaster services, as well as in person at the event’s box office, located on the second floor of the Family Circle Tennis Center Clubhouse, and by phone from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m .at (800) 677-2293 or (843) 856-7900.

The Family Circle Cup, a WTA premier event, is the only tour tournament played on green clay. Last year, world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki won the Family Circle Cup, and the year before, the tournament once again proved its reputation as an event that launches the careers of major champions: The 2010 Charleston winner was Samantha Stosur, who recently won the U.S. Open. Stosur, in fact, has already committed to compete in the 2012 Family Circle Cup, which will take place March 31-April 8.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Passing shots

Once an indoor specialist, always an indoor specialist.

Once an adorable poser, always, etc.

Guy Forget is about to step down as France's Davis Cup captain, and one of the individuals mentioned as a possible successor is Amelie Mauresmo.

In case you missed it, here is part 1 of an interview by Adam Lincoln with Billie Jean King. And here is part 2.

Here is part 1 of the WTA's year-end review.

Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki will participate in the BNP Paribas Showdown in Madison Square Garden on March 5. They will be joined by Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.

Friday cat blogging--dreamland edition

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011--year of change, year of Czechs

Every year, things change in professional tennis. But this year, change in the WTA tour was palpable, as the "new guard" made its move, not only joining its prodigy, Caroline Wozniacki, but sometimes surpassing her. At the same time, some of the "old guard" rose to the highest occasions. Nowhere would that phenomenon be seen more clearly than at the Australian Open, which Kim Clijsters--in her "second" career--won, and Li Na graced as a finalist.

2011 was a sad season in many ways. Alisa Kleybanova was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and had to leave the tour--at least for now. Venus Williams revealed that she has been suffering significantly for years with Sjogren's Syndrome, but was unable to get a diagnosis (despite having a number of classic symptoms) until recently. And Serena Williams missed most of the season because of a pulmonary embolism, which occurred after she had to undergo two foot surgeries.

Five-time French Open champion Justine Henin retired again, after returning to the tour and sustaining serious injuries. Tatiana Garbin and Sybille Bammer retired, as did Renee Stubbs--but she kept coming back. Both Magdalena Maleeva and Jeanette Husarova came out of retirement briefly and made surprise appearances, but they were hardly noticed. Former world number 1 Dinara Safina had more trouble with her back and had to leave the tour. And despite her brother Marat's repeated announcements that she was retiring from professional tennis, Safina says that she has made no such decision.

The WTA made headlines in a bad way when both the French Open and Wimbledon champions were sent packing in the first round of the U.S. Open--a first in women's tennis history. And various parties campaigned to get players to stop "grunting" (they actually mean "screaming") when they hit the ball. The campaign wasn't new, but it developed a loud voice, so to speak, in England, where female tennis players are routinely denigrated by the news media. It then spread all the way to the top of the WTA, and Stacey Allaster--who had gone on record as saying the issue had little merit--called for the creation of a device that would measure women's voices. Shortly after she made that statement, she had to stand (I thought, rather awkwardly) next to two rather noisy (in different ways) players who had just placed first and second in the WTA Championships. It was no surprise when, right after that, Allaster reversed her opinion yet again.

But I have already used too much space to talk about this, so on to the real issues.

Several players made breakthroughs in 2011. Marion Bartoli, historically fearful of playing at the French Open, made it all the way to the semifinals, and did it in great style, embracing the crowd's support all the way. Maria Sharapova, whose status remains shaky despite her ranking, also--improbably--made it to the French Open semifinals, and then reached the final of Wimbledon. And 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone surprised a lot of people (but not this person) by going all the way to the French Open final, though she did not defend her title.

Dominika Cibulkova waited until the last possible moment, but she finally won a WTA title; Cibulkova was victorious at the Kremlin Cup. Roberta Vinci had the best year of her career, Sabine Lisicki took a wild card all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals, Angelique Kerber came out of nowhere and played in the U.S. Open semifinals, and Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta finally won a major. Their comeback in the Australian Open final was so dramatic, it almost made my top 10 list. Down a set and 1-4, and a point away from being down 1-5, Gisela Dulko simply went on a mad frenzy at the net, and she and Pennetta wound up winning 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 over Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko.

The unseeded Czech team of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova won the French Open, and Czech players would go on to win every title at Wimbledon--singles, doubles and mixed doubles. Esther Vergeer won everything she entered, Christina McHale advanced to number 42 in the world, and pulled off gutsy upsets of both Caroline Wozniacki and Marion Bartoli. Liezel Huber and (the newly fit) Lisa Raymond became a team, and won both the Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open. They're at the top of the rankings now, but earlier in the season, Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik were the number 1 team in the world.

Melanie Oudin, of all people, won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title, in what may have been the surprise (in a good way) performance of the year.

In what had to be the most bizarre moment of the season, Tsvetana Pironkova upset five-time champion Venus Williams at Wimbledon for the second year in a row, and with the same scoreline, 6-2, 6-3. 

Flavia Pennetta, one of an unforgettable pair of Fighting Italians, didn't have as good a year as she might have, but she showed up at the U.S. Open ready to go, and her run this year was memorable. First, she took out 2006 champion Maria Sharapova in a dramatic third round match. But the drama was only just starting because in her round of 16 match against Peng Shuai, Pennetta was ill, and spent a good deal of time attempting to vomit. Stumbling around with glazed eyes, the Italian star came back from a 0-5 deficit in the second set tiebreak, and won the match. Pennetta also played in one of the year's top matches--probably the second best one I saw--at Wimbledon, when she and Marion Bartoli engaged for over three hours in a thrilling, high-quality contest that Bartoli eventaully won.

It was a very big year for Victoria Azarenka. She finally made it to the semifinals of a major--Wimbledon-- but lost to eventual champion Petra Kvitova. Azarenka won three titles, including Miami, and she played consistently well throughout most of the season. She also finished as the runner-up in Madrid (lost to Kvitova) and the WTA Championships (lost to Kvitova). There is somewhat of a buzz about Azarenka and Kvitova becoming rivals. Currently, Azarenka has a 2-4 record against the Czech player, and the four losses have occurred in 2010 and 2011. Azarenka had to deal with a hand injury this year, but at least there was none of the illness, passing out or chronic thigh issues that had plagued her in the past.

Caroline Wozniacki finished the season as number 1 in the world for the second year in a row, but that statistic looks better on paper than it really is. Her margin over the number 2 player is only 115 points, and she still hasn't won a major. She lost to Li Na at the Australian Open for the second year in a row; this year, Wozniacki lost in the semifinals. At the French Open, the Dane was pretty  much run over by Daniela Hantuchova in the third round, and at Wimbledon, she lost to Dominika Cibulkova in the round of 16. At the U.S. Open, where her chances are considered the best, the world number 1 lost to Serena Williams in the semifinals. Wozniacki finished round robin play with a 1-2 record at the WTA Championships in Istanbul.

On the "up" side, Wozniacki won six titles this year. She also announced that she would no longer be coached by her father, Piotr, but that the name of the new coach would not be revealed until after the U.S. Open. We're still waiting for that revelation, and--in the meantime--Piotr Wozniacki has continued to coach his daughter.

Tennis culture is nothing if not highly entertaining. Last year, my favorite moment caught on video was the sight of the Radwanska sisters, happily rocking along in the stands to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." This year, I had two favorite video moments, and Agnieszka Radwanska appeared in both of them, too! One occurred in Beijing, when champion Radwanksa did the Petko Dance with Petko herself. The other probably became an instant classic, and I can't look at it without cracking up.

Here are my personal top 10 occurences of the year, in ascending order:

10. Asian cooking
When Agnieszka Radwanska got rid of her abusive coach, who happened to be her father, she began to shine. She won the Carlsbad championship, then pulled off the back-to-back Tokyo-Beijing double win. In Tokyo, she defeated Vera Zvonareva in the final, and in Beijing, she beat Andrea Petkovic. Radwanska started the year in style, too, returning from foot surgery two months earlier than expected, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The clever and talented Radwanska, who is now executing a much better first serve, has returned to the top 10, and ends the season ranked number 8 in the world.

9. She's....back!
Serena Williams was out for almost a year because of health issues, but when she came back, she made sure her return was a major annoucement. Defending champion Williams made it to the round of 16 at Wimbledon, losing to Marion Bartoli. Then she defeated Bartoli in the Stanford final, and followed that up by winning the Rogers Cup. Williams also made a run all the way to the final of the U.S. Open. She lost that match, but her brief appearance in 2011 taught us--like we needed to be reminded--to never, ever count Serena out.

8. Farewell, widerluege
Patty Schnyder retired this year. The accomplished, one-of-a-kind Swiss player left the tour after playing professional tennis for 17 years. She was a superstar in Charleston, and she added excitement and humor to almost every event in which she appeared. There will never be another like her.

7. Pojd!
Czechoslovakia won Fed Cup five times, and this year, the Czech Republic re-claimed the trophy, beating Fed Cup powerfhouse Russia 3-2 in a thrilling final. Petra Kvitova won both her singles rubbers, and Lucie Safarova lost both of hers. It was the team of Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke who sealed the Czech deal, defeating Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina in the doubles rubber.

6. Aussie Kim for real
Back when Kim Clijsters was romantically involved with Lleyton Hewitt, she was affectionately known as "Aussie Kim." She took that name back this year when she won the Australian Open. Clijsters didn't drop a set until she reached the final, in which she beat Li Na 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. This win gave the Belgian her fourth major, and her first Australian Open title. Clijsters, who wore a green Evonne Goolagong tribute dress during the tournament, looked as though she were about to make a great 2011 run, but unfortunately, she was beset by multiple injuries for much of the season.

5. The Golden Flower of France
After Li Na became the first Chinese woman to reach the final of a major, in January, she did the only thing she could do to top that feat: She won the French Open. Li has historically disliked playing on clay, and has not had very good results on the surface. But tennis is nothing if not unpredictable, and the sharp-witted, hard-hitting, mischievous Chinese star known as Big Sister Na had a grand run in Paris, taking out Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, then besting defending champion Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 in the final. Li then became an even bigger star than she was after her Australian Open run, and--perhaps because of that--she has struggled since her big win.

4. The Czech Republic rules
This year, Czech players partied like it was....1985. The unseeded Czech team of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova won the French Open, taking out four seeded teams on their way to the championship. Czech Kveta Peschke and her partner, Katarina Srebotnik, went to the top of the doubles rankings, and stayed there until September. Czech players won everything at Wimbledon: Petra Kvitova won the singles championship, Peschke and Srebotnik won the doubles championship, and Czech player Iveta Benesova, with partner Jurgen Melzer, won the mixed doubles title. Kvitova won six titles, including the WTA Championships, and the Czech Republic beat Russia to win the 2011 Fed Cup final.

3. Unheralded, undefeated
Samantha Stosur's performance throughout the U.S. Open was remarkable, yet it went almost unnoticed by commentators and sports writers, at least in the USA. In the third round, Stosur played the longest women's match in U.S. Open history. It went on for three hours and 16 minutes, and the Australian needed five match points to finally dispense of Nadia Petrova. In the next round, Stosur played Maria Kirilenko, and that match included the longest women's tiebreak in U.S. Open women's history. Kirilenko won that very thrilling (and very badly called) tiebreak 17-15, but it was Stosur who won the match. To top it all off, Stosur defeated Serena Williams in straight sets in the final, in a performance that was practically perfect.

2. The Rock rolls on
2011 was the Year of Petra Kvitova. The Czech star, who is now number 2 in the world, won six titles, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships. Her Wimbledon victory was all the more impressive because she beat 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in the final. Kvitova went through Fed Cup with a 6-0 record, and led her team to the championship, and she ended the season with a 21-0 indoor record. She continued to struggle with asthma during the U.S. hard court season, and she also continued to struggle with nerves throughout the year. But these issues notwithstanding, Kvitova showed this year that she has just about everything a champion needs to have--a huge serve, powerful groundstrokes on both sides, aggression (with a newfound fondness for volleying), and the ability to mentally dust herself off and get on with things. As the months go by, Kvitova continues to improve, and the fact that she has yet to meet her potential surely strikes fear into the minds of opponents. The asthma problem and the problem with the nerves (sometimes Kvitova just "goes away" for a while or regresses into her younger self) are issues that need to be addressed, but based on her progress so far, there is reason to believe that the year's hottest player will find a way to at least partially resolve them.

The rise of Petra Kvitova would, in fact, be at the top of my list if it weren't for:

1. Schiavone def. Kuznetsova, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14
"Thank goodness the second set was 6-1," Pam Shriver remarked at some point during the longest women's match of the Open Era. Francesca Schiavone (who was also in my number 1 pick in 2010) and Svetlana Kuznetsova played for four hours and 44 minutes in the third round of the Australian Open, and both sustained an unusually high level of play throughout the ordeal. Kuznetsova's feet were covered with blisters, and she said that she sometimes lost track of the score and of whose turn it was to serve. Roger Federer dropped by to serve as a guest commentator, and predicted the match would end soon--only it didn't. In fact, the third set lasted exactly three hours.

Toward the end, Schiavone--who had, in fact, recently sustained a groin injury--called for the trainer because she was cramping. Both players looked, from time to time, as though they might be giving out, but neither did. Both fought and fought--through heat, cramping, blisters, fatigue, and sweat. The thrills were almost non-stop, and the match included 17 breaks of serve. It all came down to who would finally blink, and--not surprisingly--that was Kuznetsova. But really, there was so little to differentiate the players in this wonderful match. Schiavone, in fact, would go on to take a set off of top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the next round, but then her body gave her the message that her Australian Open run was over.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Passing shots

To prepare for the 2012 Olympic Games, Maria Kirilenko will play doubles with Nadia Petrova next year. This means, of course, that Victoria Azarenka will have a new partner, also.

Shamil Tarpischev is protesting the Olympics tennis schedule. I doubt that he'll be alone in his protests.

Ana Ivanovic told the press in Bali that she believes she can be number 1 in the world again. The Bali champion ends the season ranked number 22.

Speaking of Ivanovic, I really like this photo of her in costume with her Bali trophy. There are some more here. And while I'm on the subject of clothing--I especially liked what I suppose would now be called "old school" outfits that Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova wore for the Fed Cup fnal.

Finally, with appropriate apologies to Burt Bacharach and the late Hal David:

Anyone who ever played can double fault
Sometimes over and over
Anyone who's on the tour can double fault
Look at Pavlyuchenkova
Knowing I want to....stop!

Anyone who tossed the ball
Could take it, throw it badly like I do
You couldn't really toss it right and strike it
Like you hit it to serve it right through
What am I to do?

Every time I toss the ball, I always say
This time it's a good serve
Tossing it the way I do
I get upset, and then I'm all nerves
Knowing I want to....stop!

Anyone who tossed the ball
Could take it, throw it badly like I do
You couldn't really toss it right and strike it
Like you hit it to serve it right through
What am I to do?

Knowing I want to....stop!

Anyone who's on the tour
Could take it, make a bad toss, like I do
You couldn't really toss it right and strike it
Like you hit when you serve it right through
Lisicki and Sharapova do it too....

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Czech Republic wins 2011 Fed Cup title

The Czech Republic, led by world number 2 Petra Kvitova, has defeated Russia 3-2 to win the 2011 Fed Cup championship. The teams went into the second day of play tied 1-1, then Kvitova came back from a third set 0-3 deficit to defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third rubber. Russia put the competition into a tie again when Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Lucie Safarova 6-2, 6-4.

Kvitova's first-set service game was erratic and awkward and she was repeatedly broken. She pulled it together for the second set. But, she said of the final set , "When I had three-love down, I didn't think that I can still win. My captain told me, it's only one break, so go for it. It was very important game for me."

It all came down to doubles, and the Czech team of Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke defeated the Russians, Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina, 6-4, 6-2. Russia led 4-2 in the opening set, but the Czech team broke back and then held onto their momentum. All four players are known for their doubles skills. The winning players each won a major this year in doubles; Hradecka (with Andrea Hlavackova) won the French Open, and Peschke (with Katarina Srebotnik) won Wimbledon.

This is the first time that the Czech Republic has won Fed Cup, though team Czechoslovakia won the title five times. Kvitova is 6-0 for the year in Fed Cup play, and she ends the season with a 21-0 indoor record.

Petr Pala is the Czech team's captain.

Ivanovic wins second title in Bali

Defending champion Ana Ivanovic, who entered the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions with a wild card, defended her 2010 championship today by defeating Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 6-0.

Nadia Petrova finished third in the tournament by defeating Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 in a playoff match.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Passing shots

Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev has made a player substitution: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, not Maria Kirilenko, will play Lucie Safarova in the fourth rubber tomorrow.

Sorana Cirstea is appearing on the Romanian version of Dancing With the Stars. Here she is training for the event.

A 5.1 earthquake erupted in Bali on Friday, and the post-quarterfinal press conference had to be moved. The quake hit after the match had been played (as opposed to shaking the ground under JJ's feet).

Thank you, James Waterson.

Tom Perrotta gives top end-of-season marks to Petra Kvitova, Sam Stosur, Liezel Huber, and Lisa Raymond. Also getting pretty high marks are Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka.

Martina Hingis has joined the coaching staff at the Patrick Mouratoglu Academy in Paris. She will help oversee the training of Daria Gavrilova, Yulia Putintseva, Naomi Broady, and Sachia Vickery.

Russia ties Czech Republic 1-1 in Fed Cup final

Russia and the Czech Republic ended the first day of the Fed Cup final on even terms today. In the first rubber, Petra Kvitova defeated Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-2. In the second, Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Lucie Safarova 6-2, 6-3.

Here is a video, via Beyond the Baseline, of a very young Kvitova on the court.

The third rubber, to be played tomorrow, will feature Kuznetsova vs. Kvitova, followed by Kirilenko vs. Safarova. Should there be a need for a fifth rubber, it will be a doubles competition. It's always an option to play the doubles rubber, anyway, just to give the crowd more to watch, and to include more team players. For this to be a dead rubber, however, either both Russian or both Czech players would have to win their singles matches.

Kirilenko has a 4-1 record against Safarova; they have not played each other since 2009. Kuznetsova and Kvitova have never played one another.

In other Fed Cup news, Anastasia Myskina was presented the ITF's Fed Cup Award of Excellence, which is given each year to a former player who represents the ideals and spirit of Fed Cup competition. Other Russian players who have won the award are Olga Morozova and Larisa Savchenko.

The final Fed Cup Heart Award of 2011 was presented to Petra Kvitova.

Ivanovic and Medina Garrigues advance to Bali final

Defending champion Ana Ivanovic advanced to the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions final today when she defeated Nadia Petrova 6-1, 7-5. Her opponent will be Anabel Medina Garrigues, who defeated 3rd seed Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 4-6, 4-0; Lisicki retired because of a back problem.

Ivanovic was given a wild card to play in the season's last tournament.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quote of the day

"With respect to Maria Kirilenko, she says she is feeling really well right now."
Maria Kirilenko, at the Fed Cup press conference

Kirilenko replaces Zvonareva on Russian Fed Cup team

Vera Zvonareva has pulled out of the Russia vs. Czech Republic Fed Cup final because of a sore shoulder. Replacing her on the team will be Maria Kirilenko, whose first duty will be to play Petra Kvitova in the opening rubber. After that, Svetlana Kuznetsova will play Lucie Safarova. Kirilenko is 2-0 against Kvitova, but they have not played since 2009.

Play begins tomorrow at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow, on a relatively slow hard court surface (designed to keep WTA Championships winner Kvitova at bay). The second set of rubbers will feature Kuznetsova vs. Kvitova and Kirilenko vs. Safarova. If a doubles rubber is played, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina will play for Russia, and Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke will play for the Czech team. Team captains are allowed to make substitutes, however.

The Russian competitors have done their practice hits against left-handed players as preparation to face both Kvitova and Safarova.

Russia has won Fed Cup four times. The Czech Republic, as such, has never won Fed Cup, but Czechoslovakia won the title five times. The last time Czechoslovakia won, in 1988, the USSR was the finalist.

Bartoli retires in Bali

Top seed Marion Bartoli had to retire today against Anabel Medina Garrigues in Bali. Medina Garrigues won the quarterfinal match 4-6, 7-6, 1-0. Bartoli injured her right ankle.

Also winning today was 3rd seed Sabine Lisicki, who defeated Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 6-2.

 Medina Garrgues will play one another in the semifinals. The other semifinal will be played between wild card Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova.

Lisicki is the only seeded player remaining in the draw.

Friday cat blogging--room for one more edition

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Passing shots

Ana Ivanovic and Nadia Petrova have advanced to the semifinals of the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali. Ivanovic, the defending champion, defeated 4th seed Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-3 today, and Nadia Petrova defeated 2nd seed Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-3. Both Ivanovic and Peng were given wild cards for the tournament.

Don't miss the Bali photo gallery.

Part 1 of the 2011 Backspin Awards is right here.

2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina is expecting a third child in March.

Steve Tignor writes about Martina Navratilova.

Anna-Lena Groenefeld will play doubles only, starting in 2012.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Draw set for Bali

Here is the draw for the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions:

Marion Bartoli (1) vs. Anabel Medina Garrigues
Sabine Lisicki (3) vs. Daniela Hantuchova
Ana Ivanovic (wc) vs. Roberta Vinci (4)
Nadia Petrova vs. Peng Shuai (2)

Peng received a wild card into the tournament, and--should she win--it would be her first-ever WTA title. Ivanovic is the defending champion. Unlike the WTA Championships, the Tournament of Champions utilizes a simple knock-out format. The winner receives 375 ranking points. There is no doubles competition.