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.

Radwanska loses to Safarova in Moscow

Today at the Kremlin Cup, Lucie Safarova upset 2nd seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. This means that Radwanska still hasn't qualified to take the last spot at the WTA Championships in Istanbul. Competing for that spot is Marion Bartoli, who needed three things to get it: 1. to win Osaka (she did it), 2. for Radwanska to lose in her first round (the second round of the tournament) in Moscow (she did), and 3. to win Moscow. Chances are that Radwanska will still be the one to compete in Istanbul, but things have gone Bartoli's way so far.

4th seed Francesca Schiavone was beaten in the first round by Kaia Kanepi.

In Luxembourg, Anastasija Sevastova upset 4th seed Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-2, and top seed Victoria Azarenka won her first round match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Upsets in Moscow and Luxembourg

5th seed Jelena Jankovic was knocked out of the first round of Kremlin Cup play today by Ekaterina Ivanova, who defeated the Linz semifinalist 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, 2nd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was defeated  by 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 by Rebecca Marino, and 8th seed Daniela Hantuchova lost to lucky loser Lucie Hradecka. Hradecka was seeded number 1 in the qualifying draw, but was defeated by Anne Keothavong in the final round of qualifying. She became the lucky loser when Sabine Lisicki withdrew because of illness.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not over 'til it's over

After the U.S. Open, there tends to be a bit of a let-down among tennis fans. All the majors have been played, a lot of players are injured, and maybe we're a bit tired, too. But this post-U.S. Open season has had plenty of drama. The Kremlin Cup has only just begun, and we still have the WTA Championships to be played. But consider, in this final part of the season, what has already occurred:

Petra Kvitova delivered a shockingly bad performance in the Tokyo semifinals.

Agnieszka Radwanska won both Beijing and Tokyo--just like that--making her the hottest player of the  post-Flushing Meadows season.

Marion Bartoli, in a never-give-up attempt to get to Istanbul, won her second title of the year, in Osaka, and she beat Sam Stosur in the final to do it.

Petra Kvitova banished her clumsy doppelganger and won Linz "Kvitova-style."

Agnieszka  Radwanska did the Petco Dance!

We still have few weeks to go, and we still have a Fed Cup final to be played, not to mention the events in Istanbul and Bali. Who knows what drama remains?

Doubles field set for Istanbul

Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova have qualified for the WTA Championships draw. The other teams are Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond and Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta.

The Championships begin October 25 in Istanbul, with singles competitors playing round-robin, and doubles teams playing in a regular knock-out format. There is one player yet to be named in the singles draw. Agnieszka Radwanska is the most likely woman to qualify. To get to Istanbul, Marion Bartoli has to win the Japan Open (something she did last week) and the Kremlin Cup, and Radwanska would have to lose in her first round of Moscow play.

Whoever does  not qualify will be one of the two alternates; the other alternate is Andrea Petkovic.

Last year, Kim Clijsters won the WTA Championships. Clijsters defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta won the doubles competition when they beat Peschke and Srebotnik in the final. Clijsters is off the tour right now because of injury. Dulko and Pennetta are both dealing with injuries, but plan to be in Istanbul.

Last year, the only player to win every match in her round-robin group was Vera Zvonareva, but she lost to Wozniacki in the semifinals. Wozniacki's one round-robin loss was to Samantha Stosur.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kvitova wins Linz, Bartoli wins Osaka

Top seed Petra Kvitova said in Linz yesterday that she was tired and hoped that the final would be short. She played for almost an hour and a half today to defeat 7th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-1, and thereby won her fifth title of the year. 4th seeds Marina Erakovic and Elena Vesnina won the doubles title when they defeated Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5, 6-1.

In Osaka, where there have been rain delays, both the semifinals and the final were played today. Top seed Sam Stosur defeated Zheng Jie, and 2nd seed Marion Bartoli defeated 3rd seed Angelique Kerber. Bartoli then defeated Stosur 6-3, 6-1.

The Osaka title is Bartoli's second of the season. She won her other title, in Eastbourne, also by playing the semifinals and the final on the same day. In that tournament, she beat Stosur in the semifinals (and Kvitova in the final).

Kimiko Date-Krumm and Zhang Shuai won the Osaka doubles title by defeating Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova 7-5, 3-6, 11-9 in today's final.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Passing shots

Top seed Sam Stosur has reached the semifinals in Osaka. Also in the semis are 2nd seed Marion Bartoli, 3rd seed Angelique Kerber and Zheng Jie. 

Li Na has joined the long list of young people writing "memoirs." Hers, reportedly, will be about winning the French Open.

And the book that Patty Schnyder and her husband Rainer Hoffman, have been working on for years, The White Mile, is still unpublished. Schynder and Hoffman stopped working on the book a couple of years ago because the project consumed too much time. However, Hoffman recently announced that The White Mile would be released last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but it was not.

It should come as no surprise that a musical based on the life of Justine Henin will be produced in Belgium next year at Henin's academy.

Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta have qualified for the WTA Championships. Unfortunately, both of them are dealing with injuries right now; Dulko continues to have trouble with her back, and Pennetta hurt her leg.
Some Turkish song and dance is just what you need today:

Cibulkova to face Kvitova in Linz final

Dominika Cibulkova, who has yet to win a WTA title, will have another chance tomorrow when she plays in the Linz final against top seed Petra Kvitova. Cibulkova, the tournament's 7th seed, defeated Lucie Safarova 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals today.

Kvitova and 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic met for the first time in their careers in today's second semifinal, and what a meeting it was. Kvitova, who sometimes still has a tendency to go for too much too soon, knew that an in-form Jankovic would be dangerous, and the Czech player did more fine-tuning to her game, moving easily form side to side and also showing some of the net skills of her childhood idol, Martina Navratilova.

And it was an in-form Jankovic on the other side of the net. For most of the first two sets, Jankovic's signature defensive play and improved service game gave Kvitova all she could handle. Jankovic won the first set 6-4, but lost the second, despite leading 3-1. The final part of the set was as tension-filled as spectators could have hoped for. Kvitova won six straight games and went up 3-0 in the third set, but Jankovic--who looked frustrated and confused by her opponent's run of stinging winner--rose to the occasion and turned the match back into a contest. When Kvitova served for the match, she went down 0-30, then had a break point against her, but she held for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

Both Kvitova and Jankovic had wild cards, and how lucky for the crowd that they did. The only weakness in the match was the failure by either woman to do much with her second serve. But that can be overlooked, considering that this semifinal had just about everything else to make it great--superb shot-making, thrilling defense, exciting rallies, and, of course, some humor. Not that I needed to be reminded, but this match made it abundantly clear why I'm such a fan of both players. 

I expect the final to be a good one. Kvitova has a 3-0 record against Cibulkova.

The doubles final will feature 4th seeeds Marina Erakovic and Elena Vesnina against Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kvitova advances to Linz semifinals

The "real" Petra Kvitova appeared in Linz today, and made short work (6-2, 6-2) of 8th seed and former champion Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals. Her semifinal opponent will be 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic, who defeated lucky loser Evgeniya Rodina 6-2, 6-4.

Also playing in the Linz semifinals are 7th seed Dominika Cibulkova and Lucie Safarova. Cibulkova defeated lucky loser Anastasia Rodionova 6-7, 6-2, 6-1, and Safarova defeated qualifier Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 6-2.

Kvitova, who received a wild card into the tournament, is seeded number 1.

All play in Osaka today was canceled because of rain.

Friday cat blogging--here's looking at you edition

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Players learn to speak Mandarin

Sort of...

Czech team selected for Fed Cup final

Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Lucie Hradecka, and Kveta Peschke have been nominated by Czech Republic captain Petr Pala to play against Russia in the 2011 Fed Cup final in Moscow. The final will take place November 5 and 6 at the Olympic Stadium, on  an indoor hard court.

Nominated to play for Russia are Vera Zvonareva, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Ekaterina Makarova.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Three players retire in Linz

It's just the first round, but three players retired today at the Generali Ladies Linz. Kateryna Bondarenko retired with a neck injury, Elena Baltacha with a lower back injury, and Magdalena Rybarikova with a viral illness.

In Osaka, qualifier Noppawan Lertcheewakarn took top seed Sam Stosur to three sets. Stosur's next opponent will be Misaki Doi.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Passing shots

Last week in Beijing, Flavia Pennetta became just the second player in WTA history to beat both the world number 1 singles player and the world number 1 doubles team on the same day. She defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, then she and Gisela Dulko defeated Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond in the doubles semifinals. The only other player to have accomplished this feat was Steffi Graf, who did it in 1986 in Berlin (with some help from doubles partner Helena Sukova). Only five players have defeated the number 1 singles player and the number 1 doubles team in the same tournament.

Both Vera Zvonareva and Sam Stosur have qualified for the WTA Championships.

Petra Kvitova has moved into the top 5. The Wimbledon champion is now number 4 in the world. Agnieszka Radwanska has returned to the top 10 (number 8), and falling out of the top 10 are Marion Bartoli and Francesca Schiavone.

Sania Mirza has undergone a third knee surgery.

Steve Tignor has some nice things to say about Agnieszka Radwanska. (Check out the Petko Dance photo.)

Tennis Channel's latest edition of "Tennisography" features Victoria Azarenka.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Safina not retiring from tennis

Not long ago, Marat Safin announced to the world that his sister, Dinara Safina, was going to retire soon because of her chronic back problems; Safina did not confirm this. On October 6, Safin announced that his sister was definitely about to retire. Not many hours later, Safina said that she had not made a decision. She has now released this statement:

"Hey everybody. I just want to inform you that I AM NOT retiring at this time. I will continue to use therapy to try to treat my back injury and hope to return to competition eventually."

I don't know what's going on with Safin's repeated announcements of his sister's alleged retirement, but for now, Safina is on the tour and still trying to get well.

Radwanska wins China Open

For the second year straight, a single WTA player has won both of the two big Asian tournaments. Agniezka Radwanska, who won in Tokyo last week, defeated Andrea Petkovic today to win the China Open in Beijing. Last year, world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki won both events. Wozniacki entered both of them this year, but was defeated by Kaia Kanepi and Flavia Pennetta, respectively.

In a final that lasted two hours and 34 minutes (the first set took an hour and 24 minutes), Radwanska beat Petkovic 7-5, 0-6, 6-4. Radwanska is now 5-0 against Petkovic.

This was Radwanska's third win of the season, her fourth premier event win, and her first premier mandatory event victory. She now re-enters the top 10 as number 10 in the world, and she is most likely a contender to play in the WTA Championships in Istanbul. For those us who really like to watch Radwanska play, the past two weeks have marked somewhat of a revelation regarding her potential (and certainly evidence of what can happen when one replaces humiliation and verbal abuse with actual coaching).

There is one premier event left to be played this season--the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. There are also three international events--in Linz, Osaka and Luxembourg. The Championships in Istanbul begin on October 25.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Radwanska gets to second straight final

Agnieszka Radwanska, who won the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo last week, has reached the final of the China Open in Beijing. 11th-seeded Radwanska defeated Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals. Her opponent in the final will be Andrea Petkovic, who defeated Monica Niculescu 6-2, 6-0. Petkovic is the number 9 seed.

Top seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik won the doubles championship today by defeating 3nd seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-4.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pennetta defeats defending champion in Beijing

Flavia Pennetta defeated defending champion Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 in the quarterfinals of the China Open today. Other players who won their quarterfinal matches were Agnieszka Radwanska (def. Ana Ivanovic), Monica Niculescu (def. Maria Kirilenko) and Andrea Petkovic (def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova). Ivanovic retired with a lower back injury.

In doubles semifinals, Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond were defeated by Pennetta and partner Gisela Dulko. Top seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik defeated Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova.

Azarenka hopes to play in Luxembourg

Victoria Azarenka, who withdrew from the China Open because of a foot injury, says she hopes to be okay to play in Luxembourg. The world number has retired or withdrawn from both singles and doubles competition a total of 18 times since the beginning of last year.

Friday cat blogging--reach out edition

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Li qualifies for WTA Championships

French Open champion Li Na has become the fifth woman to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul. There are three more players left to qualify. Right now, the 6th-, 7th- and 8th-ranked women are Vera Zvonareva, Sam Stosur and Marion Bartoli.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Passing shots

The ESPN documentary, Renee, has already aired a couple of times, and will be shown again on Sunday. I was already familiar with Dr. Richards' story, and was surprised that she agreed to do the film, which is directed by Eric Drath. I wish more time had been devoted to Richards' coaching of Martina Navratilova, but a lot of things have to be cut when such a film is assembled. Those who are interested in Renee Richards are also advised to watch the biopic, Second Serve, starring Vanessa Redgrave.

A stress fracture in her back has ended Shahar Peer's 2011 season.

Martina Hingis will introduce the first-ever women's legends event at the 2012 Australian Open.

The DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts will be the site of the 2012 World Group II first round Fed Cup tie between the USA and Belarus.

Here are some photos of the China Open player party (via Beyond the Baseline).

Ivanovic knocks Zvonareva out of China Open

Ana Ivanovic defeated 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 today in the third round of the China Open. Also out is Marion Bartoli, who was defeated by Andrea Petkovic. 2nd seed Victoria Azarenka won a close second round match against Polona Hercog. In doubles, Azarenka and her partner, Maria Kirlenko--the 5th seeds--were defeated by Anabel Medina Garrigues and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kirilenko beats Stosur again

For the second week in a row, Maria Kirilenko and Sam Stosur met in the second round of a big tournament, and for the second time in a row, Kirilenko won. Kirilenko defeated the 6h seed 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 today in Beijing. This is the third time in just a few weeks that the two have played one another, with Stosur winning their U.S. Open match after Kirilenko won their historic second round tiebreak.

Daniela Hantuchova, Roberta Vinci and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez all lost in the second round--to Flavia Pennetta, Virginie Razzano and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, respectively.

In doubles, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears upset 6th seeds Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kvitova out of China Open in 2nd round

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who has had a significant slump since her win in London, was upset today in the second round of the China Open by Sofia Arvidsson. Arvidsson defeated the 5th seed 7-6, 4-6, 6-3. 7th seed Francesca Schiavone also made a second round exit; she was defeated by Dominika Cibulkova.

Going out in the first round were 12th seed Peng Shuai, Nadia Petrova, Julia Goerges, and wild card Gisela Dulko.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Four qualifiers advance to 2nd round in Beijing

Monica Niculescu was not the only qualifier to make it out of the first round of the China Open. Joining her were Chanelle Scheepers (def. Hu Yue-Yue), Christina McHale (def. Ayumi Morita) and Carla Suarez Navarro (def. Ekaterina Makarova). The Scheepers-Hu scoreline is worth noting: 6-0, 5-7, 6-0.

There have also been two retirements. Alexandra Dulgheru (knee injury) retired against Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Irina-Camelia Begu (right shoulder injury) retired against Sabine Lisicki. In doubles, Natalie Grandin retired because of illness.

Li Na's "gender" problems continue in Beijing

Last month, Li Na declared that her streaky performances this season have occurred because of her gender. "The female players are not as harsh or as tough as male players, they want to take some time to re-adjust themselves after a big victory in a big event," she said. Can you imagine, if someone had said she was losing because she was Chinese? That would have been equally ridiculous, and perhaps even Li would have realized that it would have been equally offensive.

But rather than discuss the internalized sexism of the WTA in general and Li Na in particular, I'll mention that the Chinese star has been a streaky player throughout her career, so nothing has really changed. It's just that--now that she's the French Open champion--her ups and downs (mostly downs lately) are in much tighter focus. Today, Li lost in the first round of the China Open, and worse--she won only four games against a qualifier. Monica Niculescu defeated her 6-4, 6-0.

Li, while in the apparently lengthy process of "re-adjusting" herself, recently signed on with two additional sponsors. She also stopped working with her coach.

Last year, Li reached the semifinals in Beijing, so she loses a lot of points this week. The China Open is not only Li's home tournament; it's also the last big tournament of the season. The off-season probably can't come soon enough for the French Open champion.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Passing shots

Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova have qualified to play in the WTA Championships, which begin October 25 in Istanbul. Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova have already qualified, so there are four open slots. Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond have joined Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in qualifying for the Championships in doubles. There are two more teams to qualify.

10th seed Jelena Jankovic was knocked out of the China Open in the first round today by Tamira Paszek. Paszek defeated Jankovic 7-5, 6-4. Jankovic won the tournament in 2008.

Serena Williams is missing the China Open for the second year in a row. She was scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Friday, but there was a change in plans. Maria Sharapova withdrew from the tournament because of her recent ankle injury.

Williams was recently appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

Li Na has two new sponsorship deals: Crown, Australia's leading integrated entertainment and resort operator--and Kunlunshan, China's first mineral water brand.

Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo, Coco Vandeweghe, and Lauren Davis will participate in the third annual World Team Tennis Smash Hits in Cleveland. The charity event is sponsored by Billie Jean King and Sir Elton John.

Dinara Safina's brother, Marat Safin, says that her career is over because of her long-term back injury, but Safina has yet to make an announcement. For some of us, Thrill Ride's absence from the tour has been a really sad occurrence. I miss her candid, irony-infused press conferences as much as I miss her on-court performances.

Radwanska wins Tokyo

Agnieszka Radwanska, the 9th seed in Tokyo, won the 2011 title today by defeating 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-2 in the final. Earlier this year, Radwanska won the Carlsbad championship by defeating Zvonareva in straight sets in the final. She is 3-1 against the Russian so far in 2011.

Zvonareva got off to a good start, breaking Radwanska right away, but just when it looked like Radwanska was going to go down 0-3 in the first set, she won eight straight games, and--despite a wobble here and there--was able to take control of the match.

To get to the final, Radwanska had to beat Angelique Kerber, who defeated her in the second round of the U.S. Open, as well as Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka. This is Radwanska's sixth WTA singles title.

U.S. Open champions Liezal Huber and Lisa Raymond, seeded 1st at the tournament, won the doubles title. They defeated 2nd seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 7-6, 0-6, 10-6.