Saturday, December 31, 2011

Li starts Hopman Cup with win over Bartoli

Li Na has defeated Marion Bartoli 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the first rubber of the Hopman Cup. Bartoli and partner Richard Gasquet easily won the doubles rubber against China, however. Gasquet also won his singles match, putting France 2-1 against China.

Australia will play Spain in session 2. The women's singles rubber will feature Jarmila Gajdosova and Anabel Medina Garrigues.

France is seeded 2nd and Spain is seeded 3rd.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What's in store for the top 10?

The 2011 season may be over, but the top 10 lingers on--at least for a while. What are the prospects for the best-ranked players in the world?

10. Andrea Petkovic
Andrea Petkovic is so witty, bright and creative, sometimes we forget to focus on her tennis. Her rise to the top 10 occurred somewhat under the radar, and her improvement has been incremental. Petkovic has talent, but her ball-striking was, for a long time, more accomplished than her mental strength. That changed in 2011, though she she's the first to say that she still has a way to go in terms of confidence. She has been called an "over-achiever" (I so dislike that term), but the fact remains that she's made it to the top 10, she works very hard to improve, and she has one of the best attitudes around. Petkovic has fun doing her job, and she's as good at injecting reality into an occasion as she is at injecting humor.

Dance Party, as the German is known on this blog, does have a bit of a knee problem, however. In 2008, she had to leave the tour for eight months because of it, and this past year, she had a knee injury. After it was treated, Petkovic said her main problem was guarding against a recurrence and thereby not moving as fully as she could have on the court.

Petkovic did win a title (her second) this year and she played in one of the best finals of the year. Agnieszka Radwanska defeated her in Beijing 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, but all was well when they did the Petko dance together for a very appreciative crowd. Petkovic also reached the quarterfinals of three majors, and that's a big accomplishment by any standard. If her knee doesn't give her any serious trouble, I look for the dance to go on.

9. Marion Bartoli
For those of us who have kept the faith with Bartoli for years, 2011 was kind of an "I told you so" moment. The Frenchwoman has never looked as deadly as she did this year, nor has she ever looked as physically healthy. With Bartoli, illness and injury are part of the package, but she fought through several bad moments this season, showing a kind of toughness that was most impressive. She reached the final in Indian Wells, losing to Caroline Wozniacki in three entertaining sets. At the French Open, where she had never before had any type of comfort level, she embraced the crowd's support and made it to the quarterfinals. Bartoli won Eastbourne, and in the Wimbledon third round, she won what may have been the match of her career against Flavia Pennetta.

Whether she's hopping up and down between points, painting landscapes, napping between Wimbledon upsets, or strapping tennis balls to her arches during a training session, Marion Bartoli is her own woman. She's been called "eccentric," but that's what we tend to call people who don't really care about how they're "supposed" to act and think. Actually, Bartoli is a charming and intelligent woman who happens to hit killer groundstrokes, and who can take the ball before you can say "Qu'est-ce que c'est?!" Can she win a major? Don't look for me to say "no" to that question. I think she has a shot until the day she retires, which I hope isn't any time soon.

8. Agnieszka Radwanska
For some time now, Radwanksa has been one of my very favorite players on the tour. I like to watch her as she dips, volleys, scurries, and finds little slices of angles near the net. Radwanska's game is always there to remind me why I started watching women's tennis in the first place. She can think, and she can think fast. But the clever and quick Radwanska has also faced significant problems in her career; specifically, a lack of aggression, a poor serve, and an abusive father/coach.

In 2011, the creative Polish player turned some of that around. She replaced her father with another coach, she developed a decent first serve, and she went eye-to-eye with opponents in big matches without blinking. Radwanska won the two big back-to-back Asian tournaments--Tokyo and Beijing--and she also won Carlsbad. And she accomplished much of her success while dealing with an injured shoulder. She still needs a useful second serve, and--unfortunately--she's already giving that only-too-familiar speech about the close tie between her and her father, despite the dramatic improvements she made when she worked with another coach.

But Radwanska doesn't seem like anyone's fool, either, and she should be entering the 2012 season with a big dose of confidence. She'll have her hands full, what with the return of the likes of Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams, but that doesn't make her any different from any other big player on the tour. Can she make another big strike, or did she peak in the latter part of 2011?

7. Vera Zvonareva
Did anyone really think that Zvonareva could repeat her 2010 success? I don't mean that as put-down at all--it's just that making the finals of two majors is a huge accomplishment for someone who isn't one of the above-mentioned players who might annoy Radwanska in 2012. But even as I write this, I know that Zvonareva has the ability to surprise us and make another big run because, when's she "on" mentally, she's quite dangerous. Commentators like to say that Zvonareva doesn't do any one thing really, really well, but she does everything better than most other players. She deserves better than--pun alert!--such a backhanded compliment, however. Zvonareva's speed and stinging backhand make her a very tough opponent, and when her serve is working well, she's even tougher.

6. Samantha Stosur
The continuing rise of Sam Stosur is one of the most peculiar phenomena in pro tennis. I mean that in a good way. She is the only player besides Jana Novotna (however, the Czech player's transition was less dramatic in terms of singles titles won and transitonal timeline) to go from being a huge doubles star to being a big singles star. She doesn't win many tournaments (she has only three titles) because she tends to lose finals. And just when it looked as though the 2010 French Open finalist had already seen her greatest singles moment, she went and won the 2011 U.S. Open--by beating Serena Williams in straight sets in the final. Who saw that coming?

Considering the fact that--unless you're Ana Ivanovic--lifting a huge, very shiny trophy gives you a whole lot of confidence, Stosur has a load of momentum going into the new season. You could also flip that idea around and ask: How is she going to handle being Australia's great hope when the 100th Australian Open is played in a few weeks? That's a lot of pressure, to be sure, and we have only to look at the U.S. Open results of both Li Na and Petra Kvitova to know what could happen.

But so what if it does? I don't think Stosur would be crushed if she went out early in Australia. I say that because she's already been crushed--twice--and she survived to talk about it. In other words, the Australian is tougher than she looks. While Stosur was in her post-French Open slump, coach David Taylor tried to tell us that she was very close to regaining her form, and he was right. Will she always be streaky? Probably. There are worse things.

5. Li Na
Here's the player who defines the word "streaky," but on her good days, watch out. She got to the final of this year's Australian Open, then surprised probably almost everybody by winning the French. She then went "poof" into thin air, going out in the first round of the U.S. Open, and sputtering and muttering her way to the end of the season. This has pretty much been the story of Li's career, but again--so what? When her head is on right, she can use that mighty forehand to wear down the best of them. Li, probably the rightful (though not actual) winner of this year's Diamond Aces award, is the ultimate tour ambassador. She has taken her breakthrough role very seriously, and it's hard not to cheer for the sharp-witted, sometimes hilarious Chinese star who always tells it just like it is. At the end of the season, she was publicly upset with herself, and I think we'll see more of the winning Li in 2012. Whether she can win another major is another matter, but I wouldn't count her completely out.

4. Maria Sharapova
Sharapova is a brave public figure, but one can't help but believe that losing the 2011 Wimbledon final had to have cut pretty deeply. After all, it had been seven years since the Russian's huge, breakthrough win over Serena Williams, and she had finally played her way into another Wimbledon final. Though it may have seemed that Sharapova was "supposed" to win Wimbledon this year, she was unable to handle the assault on her game made by Petra Kvitova. Actually, the "old" 'Pova would have had a big fight on her hands with Kvitova. The current not-quite-sure-of-herself Sharapova gave the Czech star the bit of space she needed to move in and take over.

Would things be different if Sharapova had never had to deal with a badly injured shoulder and an incompetent doctor? Undoubtedly. But there were always vulnerabilities present, as there are with all players; now, those vulnerabilities are easier to exploit. Sharapova is one tough cookie, though, and I don't think we should write her off. Her 2011 season was actually a very good one. She won titles in Rome and Cincinnati, made it to the semifinals of the French Open, and achieved her highest year-end ranking since 2007.

The bad news is that Sharapova is still dealing with an ankle injury, and will therefore make a late start in 2012. She has canceled her appearance in Brisbane, but says she'll play in the Australian Open. Four years ago, she won in Melbourne. How far will she go this time?

3, Victoria Azarenka
Finally, in 2011, Azarenka reached the semifinals of a major. Seeded 4th at Wimbledon, she lost to eventual champion Petra Kvitova, but was one of the last four women standing. Actually, in Azarenka's case, the "standing" part is good in and of itself. The talented Azarenka has hobbled, staggered and literally passed out of so many matches, her physical fragility (perhaps even greater than Marion Bartoli's?) has become as well-known as her tennis.

Azarenka hasn't had an easy time of it. She's fun to have at the top, though, because she's bright and candid and interesting--and she's a really good tennis player. This year, she made her nemesis, Kvitova, work harder for the victories, though the Czech now holds a 4-2 record against her, with all four wins achieved in the last two years. It's not a real rivalry yet, but it could become one.

Of all the players in the top 10, save Kvitova, Azarenka probably has the most potential to keep advancing. I do think it's all about her physical health. If she can just stay upright, the woman whose very name makes her a winner might do some big winning next year.

2. Petra Kvitova
A few years ago, I would watch Kvitova and wonder "Will she ever, ever think before she hits?" She seemed so close to doing something big, but the talent was just too raw, too out of control. And then she took control of it, and I saw the Kvitova I knew was always in there--the one who knows she's a champion and acts like it. Rather than throwing her off her course, losing that 2010 Wimbledon semifinal match to "the Serena" (a nervous Kvitova couldn't quite get "the semifinal against Serena" to come out of her mouth during a Wimbledon interview, and she wound up delivering what has become my favorite name for the younger Williams sister) obviously made Kvitova think about what she wanted to become.

She had the serve. She had the groundstrokes. What she needed was better movement, more variety and a steadier mind. Her movement can still improve and her mind could be steadier, though her 2011 trips to the net certainly gave her a big advantage in the "variety" department. Kvitova still "goes off," but she comes back. After her shocking first-round loss at the U.S. Open, she did something to pull herself together, and went on to win Linz and the WTA Championships, and to lead her team to the Fed Cup championship.

Kvitova's childhood idol was the great Martina Navratilova, who also suffered from over-thinking and -feeling on the court. Until she didn't. With her tricky left-handed serve and her sometimes scary returns, Kvitova--for all her fumbles and brief trips to space--is breathtakingly good. Behold The Rock.

1. Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki, who has comfortably ended the last two seasons with the top ranking, now faces a gap of only 115 points between her and Petra Kvitova. The Dane probably won't hold onto her ranking too much longer, and that should work to her advantage, since it removes the (according to her, nonexistent) pressure that's on her for being number 1 and not winning a major.

Does that mean Wozniacki will finally win a major? Her two best chances are at the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. She reached the semifinals of both of those events this year, and lost to Li Na and Serena Williams, respectively. Wozniacki lost her French Open third round match to Daniela Hantuchova, and her round of 16 Wimbledon match to Dominika Cibulkova.

On the "up" side, Wozniacki won six titles in 2011, tying Kvitova in quantity.

But I digress. Can the player known as Sunshine, the Great Dane and the Golden Retriever win a major in 2012? I don't consider her a big favorite to do so, but neither can I eliminate her from the field. We sometimes get so caught up in talking about Wozniacki's failing, we forget how truly good she is. She does almost everything very well, and is an athlete of enviable stamina and strength. Her shot-making accuracy is unsurpassed. But at big moments, she can't seem to will herself to bring the aggression that's needed.

Wozniacki, coached for years by her father, Piotr, has hired a new coach, Ricardo Sanchez, who was twice (once, just recently) the coach of Jelena Jankovic (and yes, it hurts that she's not on this list). I can't shake the feeling, however, that Sanchez is going to be more of a cardboard cut-out, propped up to make us believe that Wozniacki has made a big change. I say that because it's hard for me to imagine Piotr Wozniacki stepping back and allowing anyone--much less the contentious Sanchez--to take over. For all their bickering, Sanchez and Jankovic seemed like a natural pairing. Sanchez and Wozniacki--not so much.

Wozniacki hasn't appeared too comfortable in her own skin for a long time. And while she's hardly the first tennis pro to drag observers of the sport through an awkward self-identity-seeking mission, she's the one who most needs to keep her head down and focus on her tennis.

That does it for the top 10, but no discussion of this particular top 10 would be complete without mentioning numbers 13 and 12.

Kim Clijsters is ranked number 13 in the world, and is the defending Australian Open champion. Clijsters was struck down by multiple injuries in 2011, and 2012 will probably be her last year to play on the tour. She won't want to go quietly, though, and we can expect her to compete enthusiastically for a gold medal at the Olympic Games. We can also expect her to put up a fight to defend her Melbourne title, and to get one final U.S. Open championship. And of course, this isn't to say she won't be a contender at the French and at Wimbledon. Her body is fragile, though, and she plans to limit her tour appearances. But if she can stay reasonably healthy, Aussie Kim is still in the mix to take home at least one big trophy.

That brings us to world number 12, one Serena Williams, who has practically no points to defend for some time. Williams has won the Australian Open five times, Wimbledon four times, and the U.S. Open three times. She won the French Open once, in 2002. Williams returned to the tour late this year, after undergoing multiple health problems, and--though she lost the U.S. Open final--she managed to win two hard court titles. She has a couple of Olympic gold medals in doubles, but none in singles, so we can expect her to be highly competitive during the Games in London next summer.

Again, it's all about health. If both Clijsters and Williams can stay free of major injuries and/or illnesses, they will be looking to escort two of the aforementioned players out of the top 10 sooner than later. Both of them will focus on the majors and the Olympic Games, and neither of them is anyone a player wants to see opposite her name in a draw.

Friday cat blogging--holiday fun edition

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Passing shots

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario is the new captain of Spain's Fed Cup team. Sanchez-Vicario--who played during the Graf-Seles era--won four majors in singles, and was also a very successful doubles player.

If you're on Facebook, you can enter the Tennis Express addidas barricade 7 Giveaway.

Anna Chakvetadze reports that she has made a complete recovery from the inner ear infection that caused her to experience so much dizziness this year. Good news.

New Zealand's Sacha Jones has decided to play for Australia. Jones' father is Australian.

Casey Dellacqua has been awarded wild cards into Brisbane, Hobart and the Australian Open. Dellacqua recently won six consecutive ITF tournaments in Australia. Her 30-match win streak included 27 straight-set wins.

Marlene Weingartner is now in her final year of medical school. The former world number 36 left the tour because of problems with her back.

Here are "The Intriguing 100" questions about the 2012 season.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Players to watch--Petra Kvitova

I'm pleased to say that my contribution to On the Baseline's "Players to Watch" series is now online. You can read "All Eyes On Petra" here. But don't stop there--there's a rich variety of pieces in the 2011 series, for your reading pleasure.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Passing shots

The women's championship trophy at the Brisbane International tournament has been renamed the Evonne Goolagong Cawley Trophy.

Mirjana Lucic recently married businessman Daniele Baroni.

Aravane Rezai has been given a wild card into the main draw of the Australian Open.

Up-and-coming Russian player Ksenia Pervak is now playing for Kazakhstan, a move that displeases Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpishchev and Fed Cup coach Vladimir Kamelzon. Tarpishchev speculates that Pervak made the move so that she can compete in the 2012 Olympic Games, but she would still have to negotiate a series of obstacles to wind up on Kazakhstan's Olympic team. "I just can't understand Pervak's decision, and I will never accept it," Kamelzon said. Pervak is ranked number 39 in the world.

Beginning in 2012, the BNP Paribas Open will award $1 million dollars in prize money to each of its singles champions. Prize money has been increased for all rounds of the tournament.

Here is Kamakshi Tandon's 2011 holiday quiz.

Sharapova withdraws from Brisbane

World number 4 Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Brisbane International because of the ankle injury. Sharapova has been training and practicing, but says she is not yet ready to compete in a tournament. This would have been her first time to enter Brisbane, which now has premier status.

The event begins on January 1. Kim Clijsters is scheduled to play the first match, and Australian Sam Stosur is scheduled to play in the first night match.

Kvitova named Czech Athlete of the Year

World number 2 Petra Kvitova has been named the Czech Republic's 2011 Athlete of the Year. Kvitova was also selected as the WTA's Player of the Year and was given the designation of ITF World Champion. She led the Czech Fed Cup team--named Czech Republic Team of the Year--to the 2011 championship, and won both Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, plus four other titles.

Kvitova has recently gone through off-season training in the mountains in the High Tatras mountain range, located between Poland and the Slovak Republic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Passing shots

Madison Keys has been awarded a wild card into the Australian Open main draw. 16-year-old Keys won the USTA's Australian Open wild card playoff tournament. Keys beat Gail Brodsky in straight sets in the final on Sunday.

Venus Williams has withdrawn from the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand. Williams is continuing to recover from the effects of Sjogren's Syndrome. The ASB Classic begins on January 7.

Trainer Scott Byrnes has left Ana Ivanovic's support team--again. This time around, Byrnes was Ivanovic's trainer for only five months.

Kim Clijsters has won Belgium's Sportswoman of the Year award for the eighth time. The award was presented to her by Justine Henin (photos available, if you dare).

All for now--I've gone caroling with friends.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Passing shots

Here is an interview with Petra Kvitova about her off-season training and other activities.

And here is one with Jelena Jankovic.

"There were a lot of nights crying and things being thrown," Bethanie Mattek-Sands says about her Wimbledon injury, which took her out of play for the season.

Heather Watson has learned how to drive, and has passed her driving test.

Finally, here's the WTA's very entertaining look at 2011:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quote of the day

"I must say that the role of tennis players I like more than the role of models."
Petra Kvitova, after doing a photo shoot

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Passing shots

Ashleigh Barty is the winner of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff tournament. Barty won all three of her matches in straight sets. She defeated top seed Casey Dellacqua, 6th seed Arina Rodionova and 2nd seed Olivia Rogowska. 15-year-old Barty, who is ranked number 3 in juniors, won the junior Wimbledon title this year.

Steve Tignor gives us his list of the ten best matches of 2011, starting with Agnieszka Radwanska's defeat of Vera Zvonareva in the Istanbul final.

Svetlana Kuznetsova has re-hired former WTA star Olga Morozova as her coach.

Daniela Hantuchova has hired Claudio Pistolesi to be her new coach.

New Zealand's Fed Cup team has been banned from 2012 competition. The New Zealand team withdrew from play right before the competition in February because its two top players were injured.

Kvitova named ITF World Champion

Petra Kvitova, the WTA's Player of the Year, has been awarded the International Tennis Federation's World Champion designation for 2011. This award generally goes to the top-ranked player in the world, but Kvitova received more votes than world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Kvitova won six titles this year, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships. She is ranked number 2 in the world.

Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik won the award for women's doubles.

The ITF World Champions dinner will be held in Paris on June 5.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Passing shots

Judy Murray is expected to be named Britain's new Fed Cup captain. Murray would succeed Nigel Sears, who is now coaching Ana Ivanovic. Murray is the former national coach of Scotland, and is also the mother of ATP world number 4 Andy Murray.

Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva have been inducted into the Russian Tennis Hall of Fame.

Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone will play doubles together for the first half of 2012 so that they can qualify to play doubles together in the Olympic Games. One (at least this one) hopes that Pennetta and current partner Gisela Dulko will become a team again.

Sam Stosur has won the Newcombe Medal for the second year in a row.

Maria Sharapova has recovered from her ankle injury and is training again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wozniacki hires Ricardo Sanchez as coach

Those of us who follow Jelena Jankovic closely were thrilled when JJ hired back her former coach, Ricardo Sanchez, for she has always played her best tennis under his watch. But the second Jankovic-Sanchez team has split, too. Sanchez has signed a one-year contract with Caroline Wozniacki.

There's more: Sanchez was not the "mystery coach" helping the world number 1 during the U.S. Open--the one whose name was supposed to have been revealed right after the Open. So the Mystery Coach remains a mystery, and the next question is: Who will coach JJ?

Friday cat blogging--view from the top edition

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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Istanbul finals best moments

Passing shots

Stacey Allaster has changed her tune yet again about the noise issue. (If you don't like her statement, just wait a week or two.)

Marion Bartoli finally has a clothing sponsor. She wore her new Lotto outfit in Istanbul.

Laura Robson and Heather Watson recently played against each other for the first time since they turned pro. Robson defeated Watson 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in Barnstaple.

Will Petra Kvitova be the WTA Player of the Year? (Can anyone possibly come up with an argument for someone else?)

Get to know Bibiane Schoofs.

As of today, the top 5 players in the world are Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Li Na.

Here is a peek at my collection of autographed tennis balls:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Petra Kvitova wins the WTA Championships

She did it the hard way, but Petra Kvitova won the WTA Championships in Istanbul today, defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. And with all respect for Azarenka, a player I admire, the Czech star should have taken the trophy in straight sets. Because when she isn't the middle of a mental collapse, Kvitova is just scary-good. Everyone talks about her lefty serve and her laser-like groundstrokes, but there are also the beautiful angled drop volleys, the topspin lobs, and the uncomfortable-looking pretzel-like positions from which the lanky Wimbledon champion can somehow manage to hit winners.

The problem is that the mental collapses continue to occur. That was evident today when Kvitova experienced moments when she could hardly find the court. Renee Stubbs, who worked as a commentator during the Championships, remarked that it must be a nightmare to coach Kvitova--she's either perfect, or she looks like she doesn't belong in the top 50.

The Czech star went up 5-0 in the first set, and looked as though she might just run over Azarenka. Azarenka held at 1-5, though, and it was that hold that marked the beginning of Kvitova's first trip to wherever she goes when she becomes unglued. Spewing errors all over the place, she was broken at love when she served for the set. Azarenka then held, and--obviously sensing that all was not well on the other side of the net--proceeded to break Kvitova at love again. The set went to 5-all, and then Kvitova came back to reality just as suddenly as she had vacated it: She brilliantly held for 6-5, then had a look at a couple of set points on Azarenka's serve. On her 5th set point, she won the first set.

At 1-all in the second set, Azarenka broke Kvitova, who broke her right back. Azarenka broke again, then saved a break point on her next serve. Looking calm and steady throughout, she would go on to win the second set 6-4, as Kvitova experienced momentary storms of unforced errors. 

In what seemed like almost no time, though, Kvitova went up 3-0 in the third set. But to conclude that this was going to be a cruise to the last point for the Czech player would be to underestimate her capacity for caving in to pressure. And here is where full credit should go to Azarenka, who never gave up, and who began to play higher percentage tennis to give herself a chance to make a comeback. Kviitova--by now, having saved a number of break points--jumped ahead to 4-2, then 5-2. She had a match point on Azarenka's serve, but Azarenka held. 

Kvitova held two match points on her own serve, and she converted the second one, to win the Championships. This was her sixth title of the year. This year, she won titles on all four surfaces, and these included a major (Wimbledon), a premier event (Madrid) and this week's elite end-of-season playoffs. When the rankings are published tomorrow, Kvitova's name will appear right under Caroline Wozniacki's; she will be the number 2 player in the world. During the trophy ceremony, Kevin Skinner hinted to Wozniacki that the sound she hears behind her are Kvitova's footsteps. 

In the U.S., there was no live broadcast of the singles Championships; ESPN showed them after the fact, with Chris Evert as one of the commentators. I watched them on Tennis TV and enjoyed the insights of Renee Stubbs (except for the chronically sexist language). At one point, while promoting the tour, Kevin Skinner talked about the "Strong is Beautiful" campaign, and how it "balances" athleticism with beauty. And that's my problem with the campaign--it emphasizes the false (but culturally, extremely popular) concept that female athletes can be beautiful in spite of being athletic. 

The fans in Istanbul were very enthusiastic and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the event. They were thanked profusely be every player who made an appearance at the trophy ceremony. Both Kvitova and Azarenka had a lot of wildly cheering supporters, which made for a great final. My only quibble with the tournament, which I thought was a beautiful event, was that the court was painted Oriflame green, which made it hard to see the ball on television.

And finally, though it makes me sad to think about it, it was so great that the crowd in Istanbul was treated to this:

Huber and Raymond win WTA Championships

The number 1 seeds, Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, ended their WTA Championships run today exactly as they ended it last year--as the runners-up. Depite getting off to a good start, Peschke and Srebotnik were defeated 6-4, 6-4 by 2nd seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond.

Srebotnik, in particular, had trouble focusing and matching the aggression of the opponents. In the middle of the second set, however, Peschke and Srebotnik staged a strong comeback, but were broken for the fourth time when they served at 4-all. In the next game, they saved two championship points, but Huber and Raymond were successful on the third.

Peschke was also the runner-up, with Rennae Stubbs, in 2008. Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama were the runners-up in 2007.

Liezel Huber ends the season as the number 1 doubles player in the world.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kvitova and Azarenka go to Istanbul final

Someone in Istanbul finally took a set off of Petra Kvitova. That someone, of course, was semifinalist Sam Stosur, who won the first set of today's WTA Championships Red Group  match. Kvitova came back, however, and won the match 5-7, 6-3, 6-3. The Czech player has not lost on an indoor court in 2011.

The last time that a player reached the final while making her debut at the Championships was 2004, when Maria Sharapova won the tournament. Sharapova, after going down 0-4 in the third set, was victorious over Serena Williams.

Victoria Azarenka, of the White Group, won the second semifinal. She defeated Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-3. Zvonareva made it the semifinals because Azarenka lost her third round-robin match to Marion Bartoli, who was substituting for Sharapova, who had withdrawn. It's complicated!

Kvitova and Azarenka are not the only finalists. The world number 1 doubles team of Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik defeated Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 6-4. And Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond defeated defending champions Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 4-6, 6-3, 10-7. Dulko and Pennetta led in the super-tiebreak most of the way through, but in the end, Huber and Raymond out-played them and took control of the match.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The drama of Istanbul

I prefer WTA drama when it takes place on a tennis court, such as we saw when Vera Zvonareva played Agnieszka Radwanska this week in Istanbul. However, there's plenty of drama to be found off the court these days, too:

The "t" word is being used a lot to describe Victoria Azarenka's loss to Marion Bartoli today. Given Azarenka's physical fragility, given the fact that Azarenka was already a lock for the semifinals, and given the fact that this match was scheduled as the last of the night--was it really a surprise that Azarenka perhaps didn't put forth her best effort? I'm not making an argument for or against the Belrusian player; I'm just saying that I wasn't surprised by the outcome (and credit to Bartoli, please). I would like to know, however, why this particular match was scheduled the way it was.

Caroline Wozniacki, the second biggest actual grunter on the tour (perhaps we can all agree that Schiavone is the biggest actual grunter), suggested this week that some players may "grunt" (that is to say, scream, etc.) on purpose to throw their opponents off track. A loud "Oompa!" apparently is not a distraction. Is Wozniacki that sure that her own sounds are "not on purpose" and other players' sounds are? And why has she so suddenly decided to take a stand on this (in my opinion, sexist and irrelevant) issue? 

Perspective is everything, isn't it?

Is this Hurl Vika Under the Bus Week and no one bothered to tell me?

An off-court feature I've enjoyed is Renee Stubbs' reporting on the pleasures of Istanbul. I laughed out loud when she called herself "Reasonable Renee" as a retort to rug salesman Reasonable Charlie. Stubbs' features, in fact, have been the bright spots for me in Tennis Channel's coverage of the Championships. 

I've also found myself looking forward to Petra Kvitova's post-match interviews. She likes indoor courts because she doesn't have to deal with "the windy and the sunny." 

And I've really enjoyed the blog written by Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. 

There's undoubtedly more drama to come--here's hoping that it takes place during the matches. The doubles semifinals will be played tomorrow, as well as the singles. Both the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open champions are still in the mix, as well as the unpredictable Vera Zvonareva and the ever-climbing Victoria Azarenka. I like the fact that we have four distinct personalities (all of which I like) remaining, and that's enough drama for me.

Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, by the way, are the defending champions in doubles, though it should be noted that both of them have been dealing with injuries for several weeks. They play U.S. Open champions Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond tomorrow. Two-time major winners Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova play the world number 1 team of Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. 

Kvitova finishes round-robin with 3-0 record

Down 1-5 in the first set, Petra Kvitova found her way back and defeated Agniszka Radwanska 7-6, 6-3 today in the final Red Group round-robin match in the WTA Championships. If Radwanska had won a set (and she had ample opportunity to win that first one), she would be in the semifinals. As it is, it's Vera Zvonareva who goes to the semifinals, in which she will play Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka, who--like Kivitova--had already qualified for the semifinals, lost her focus in her match against Marion Bartoli. Bartoli, after over two and a half hours, won 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. The Frenchwoman, substituting for Maria Sharapova, served for the first set, but was broken. There is speculation, of course, that Azarenka simply didn't want to put forth the effort to win since she was assured of being in the semifinals.

In the White Group, Sam Stosur defeated Li Na yet again (she now has a 6-0 record against her); Li won only one game. Stosur will play Kvitova in the semifinals.

Zvonareva has a 6-3 record against Azarenka. Kvitova has a 2-0 record against Stosur.

Friday cat blogging--Nosferatu edition

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quote of the day

"He asked her a few questions and she didn't answer, so he went back into his normal dialogue, which is Caroline doesn't say anything."
Lindsay Davenport, referring to Piotr Wozniacki

Radwanska saves 3 match points to defeat Zvonareva

Vera Zvonareva should be clearing some extra shelves in her head about now, since Agnieszka Radwanska has apparently moved in. Today, for the fourth straight time, Radwanska beat Zvonareva, and the the third set was a drama unto itself. Both part of the Red Group in Istanbul, Zvonareva and Radwanska played a round-robin match that featured sharp changes in momentum, plenty of excitement (especially in that final set), and vastly entertaining shot-making.

Zvonareva, who looked determined to end her losing streak against A-Rad, efficiently took the first set 6-1. But any experienced tennis viewer knew to "stay tuned"--the scene would change. It did. Radwanska dominated in the second set and won it 6-2. The third set was the scene of rallies like this. When Zvonareva served for the match at 5-3, Radwanska saved three match points. All were dramatic, of course, but the third save was simply amazing. Zvonareva was broken, and Radwanska held her nerve and won the set 7-5 while her opponent appeared somewhat done in by the occasion.

Radwanska plays Petra Kvitova tomorrow. Kvitova, who defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-2 today, has made it to the semifinals. If Radwanska can win one set against Kvitova tomorrow, she will advance to the semifinals. If Kvitova should beat her in straight sets, the semifinal spot goes to Zvonareva.

Wozniacki was not well today, and she saw both a trainer and a doctor after the first set. Clearly not herself, she continued to play, but Kvitova had an easy time of it in the second set. The Czech player did get tight toward the end, though, and needed three match points to close.

Wozniacki, by the way, ends 2011 as she ended 2010--as the world's number 1 player.

The other victory today went to the White Group's Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Li Na 6-2, 6-2. Azarenka was the first player to reach the semifinals. Tomorrow, she will play Marion Bartoli, the alternate who is stepping in because Maria Sharapova withdrew. Azarenka, who won in Luxembourg last week, has now won seven consecutive straight-set matches.

Also playing tomorrow are Li and Sam Stosur, with the winner going to the semifinals. Stosur has a 5-0 record against Li.

The Istanbul doubles draw was made today. Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik will play Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova in one semifinal, and in the other, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta will play Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sharapova withdraws from Istanbul

Maria Sharapova, who sprained her ankle in Tokoyo, withdrew from the WTA Championships today, citing continued swelling of her ankle as the reason. Sharapova, who was in the White Group, lost to Li Na today. Li's 7-6, 6-4 victory included her winning seven straight points when she was down 0-4 in the first set tiebreak. The Russian star had already lost her first match to Samantha Stosur.

Stosur lost today to Victoria Azarenka, which gives Azarenka a 5-0 record against Stosur. In the Red Group, Vera Zvonareva defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Zvonareva hit 49 winners and made 49 unforced errors.

Here are the results so far:

Caroline Wozniacki, 1-1
Petra Kvitova, 1-0
Vera Zvonareva, 1-1
Agnieszka Radwanska, 0-1

Maria Sharapova, 0-2, withdrawn
Victoria Azarenka, 1-0
Li Na, 1-0
Sam Stosur, 1-1

After the round-robin has been completed (see rules here), the best-performing player from the Red Group plays the second best-performing player from the White Group, and vice versa. The winners of those two matches then meet in the final.

Tomorrow, Azarenka plays Li, Wozniacki plays Kvitova and Zvonareva plays Radwanska. (Azarenka will play her third round-robin match against first alternate Marino Bartoli.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"I couldn't move...My stomach was rolling"

"It was nervous," Petra Kvitova said after defeating Vera Zvonareva in straight sets in the first round-robin match of the WTA Championships in Istanbul today. It wasn't a trouble-free match for Kvitova; she went "in" and "out," as she is known to do. This was not only the first match of the Championships, but Kvitova's first WTA Championships match ever. The good news for her is that the matches are played on an indoor court, and she is now 15-0 on indoor courts for the 2011 season.

Caroline Wozniacki hadn't lost to Agnieszka Radwanska for four years, but today, it looked as though she might. However, in what turned out to be a really good and sometimes exciting match, the world number 1 pulled off the win after two hours and 39 minutes of play. Wozniacki prevailed 5-7. 6-2, 6-4, after Radwanska fought back for a few sets and saved a match point on her own serve.

Sam Stosur hadn't beaten Maria Sharapova in nine tries, but today, in their tenth career match, she defeated Sharapova 6-1, 7-5.

Kvitova and Wozniacki are in the Red Group, and Stosur is in the White Group.

On Wednesday, Stosur will play Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova will play Li Na as part of the White Group competition. In the Red Group, Wozniacki will play Zvonareva.

Monday, October 24, 2011

WTA Championships begin tomorrow

The Championships begin tomorrow in Istanbul. Here is the draw for singles round-robin play:

Caroline Wozniacki
Petra Kvitova
Vera Zvonareva
Agnieszka Radwanska

Maria Sharapova
Victoria Azarenka
Li Na
Samantha Stosur

Note: Maria Sharapova has a 9-0 record against Sam Stosur, and Stosur has a 5-0 record against Li.

Passing shots

Be sure to check out the WTA's pre-Istanbul gallery. There are some great photos there.

Here are some good profiles of players who could be named WTA Player of the Year.

Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova are blogging from Istanbul.

Stacey Allaster's contract has been extended through 2016. Perhaps, by then, she'll start referring to herself as someone of the female gender, and perhaps she'll also figure out how ridiculous and sexist it is to install vocal measuring devices. In the meantime, here's hoping she continues her support of Yanina Wickmayer.

Douglas Perry writes about women's doubles and calls it the "best kept-secret in sports."

Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters will play an exhibition match at the Diamond Games in Antwerp in December.

Voters at have chosen Maria Sharapova as most likely to win the WTA Championships; she got far and away the most votes. Sharapova won the Championships in 2004.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cibulkova wins Kremlin Cup

Dominika Cibulkova won the Kremlin Cup today after defeating Kaia Kanepi 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the final. The Moscow title is Cibulkova's first, though she was a runner-up three times. The first time, in Amelia Island in 2008, Cibulkova appeared to be headed toward victory, but she was injured during the match, and--though she continued to play--her level dropped because of the injury, and she lost to Maria Sharapova. She lost the Montreal final in 2008 to Dinara Safina, and earlier this month, she lost the Linz final to Petra Kvitova.

Cibulkova and Kanepi played for over two and a half hours today, and Kanepi hit ten aces. Cibulkova, who was seeded 8th, defeated 1st seed Vera Zvonareva on her way to the final.

Top seed Victoria Azarenka won the Luxembourg title, defeating Monica Niculescu 6-2, 6-2. The top-seeded doubles team of Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova won the doubles title. They defeated 2nd seeds Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 6-3.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cibulkova and Kanepi in Kremlin Cup final

Dominika Cibulkova has yet another chance to win a WTA title. She defeated Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-2 today in Moscow and will play in the final against Kaia Kanepi. Kanepi defeated Lucie Safarova 6-7, 6-4, 6-3. Cibulkova, who defeated top seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals, is seeded 8th. Kanepi is unseeded.

2nd seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova won the Moscow doubles championship today. They defeated 4th seeds Anastasia Rodionova and Galina Voskoboeva 7-6, 6-3.

In Luxembourg, top seed Victoria Azarenka advanced to the final when she defeated 6th seed Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-3. Her opponent in the final will be Monica Niculescu, who defeated qualifier Anne Keothavong 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

In doubles, top seeds Iveta Benesova and  Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will play 2nd seeds Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova for the Luxembourg title.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Radwanska qualifies for WTA Championships

Agnieszka Radwanska became the 8th woman in the Istanbul field today when 3rd seed Marion Bartoli withdrew from the quarterfinals of the Kremlin Cup because of a viral illness. Bartoli's withdrawal gave a walkover victory to Elena Vesnina.

Top seed Vera Zvonareva was defeated 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 by Dominika Cibulkova, and countrywomen Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Dushevina were defeated by Kaia Kanepi and Lucie Safarova, respectively.

In Luxembourg, top seed Victoria Azarenka advanced to the semifinals by defeating Iveta Benesova, and qualifier Anne Keothavong also advanced.

Retired doubles star Janette Husarova played this past week in Luxembourg. However, she and partner Simona Halep were defeated in the semifinals today by top seeds Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Stycova.

Falconi wins gold in Pan American Games

Irina Falconi of the USA, seeded 2nd at the Pan American Games, won the gold medal today when she defeated 7th seed Monica Puig of Puerto Rico. 6-3, 6-2. Falconi and partner Christina McHale won the silver medal in doubles; the gold was won by Maria Irigoyen and Florencia Molinero of Argentina, who won 6-4, 2-6, 10-6. Irigoyen and Molinero were the top seeds, and Falconi and McHale were seeded second.

McHale won the bronze medal in singles; she defeated Molinero 6-1, 6-1. The bronze medal in doubles went to Catalina Castano and Mariana Duque of Columbia. They defeated Teliana Pereira and Vivian Segnini of Brazil 6-7, 6-4, 10-6.

Friday cat blogging--brotherhood edition

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Falconi and Puig go to Pan American final

2nd seed Irina Falconi advanced to the final of the Pan American Games women's singles competition today when she defeated 4th seed Florencia Molinero 6-3, 6-4. She will face 7th seed Monica Puig, who upset top seed Christina McHale 7-6, 6-4.

Falconi is from the USA, and Puig is from Puerto Rico.

Quote of the day

"I love the Russian food. I think especially your pancakes... I had some in the morning, I had some at lunch, I had some at tea time, and some at dinner!...I love everything here. I love the snow, it's beautiful. I love the food. And I'm trying to read the language too...."
Marion Bartoli, on what she likes about Moscow

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Passing shots

Tennis competition is in progress at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Top seed Christina McHale will play 7th seed Monica Puig in the semifinals, and 4th seed Florencia Molinero will play 2nd seed Irina Falconi.

Peng Shuai has been given a wild card to play in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali. Peng and partner Hsieh Su-Wei won the Bali doubles competition in 2008. Defending champion Ana Ivanovic already has a wild card. Ivanovic is currently experiencing joint inflammation in her back.

Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki, Andrea Petkovic, Roberta Vinci, and Daniela Hantuchova have all qualified to play in Bali. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Jarmila Gajdosova, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, and Nadia Petrova are competing for the final spot.

I'm still not that much of a fan of the Tournament of Champions, but what I'm really opposed to is holding it after the WTA Championships have been played.

The U.S. Open may officially end on a Monday in the future.

Get to know Ksenia Pervak.

Kim Clijsters says her rehab is going well.