Sunday, October 26, 2014

Some thoughts about Singapore

The WTA Finals are over, and was that ever an interesting event. Consider some of the things that happened:

Both Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic played superb tennis, which kind of "sealed" their comeback status in 2014.

Simona Halep allowed Serena Williams to win only two games in one of their matches, and also delivered a rare bagel to the world number 1.

Halep then pretty much fell apart during the final. I don't mean to take anything away from Serena--she was wonderful--but Halep did go to pieces in the second set. Tired, maybe? She didn't go to pieces in the French Open final, so one has to wonder.

Petra Kvitova, playing on what should have been her "dream" court (though it turned out not to be a typical indoor court at all) went 1-2.

Before leaving, though, Kvitova beat Maria Sharapova for the first time since 2011.

Genie Bouchard had a total wipe-out, losing all three of her round robin matches.

The world number 1 team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci once again failed to win the title. They had to retire in the quarterfinals because of Errani's rib injury.

So Serena topped off her "bad year" with her third WTA Finals (formerly the WTA Championships) victory in as many years. This so-called bad year also included winning six other titles, one of which was the U.S. Open and one of which was Miami. And did I mention that the 33-year-old Williams ends the year, once again, as number 1 in the world.

Most puzzling to me in this event were Halep's performance in the final, and Kvitova's failure to win more than one match. Unlike some fans, I enjoy the round robin format, partly because of its ridiculous unpredictability. Also, it's a change in the usual routine, which is nice.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

White Group dissolves as Serena and Simona are last two standing in Singapore

Serena Williams had to put up a very Serenaesque fight to hold off Caroline Wozniacki in today's Singapore semifinal, but she did it, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6. In the other semifinal, Simona Halep made rather routine work of Agnieszka Radwanska, beating her 6-2, 6-2 in and hour and seven minutes.

That leaves Williams with her nemesis of the tournament: Her only loss in Singapore was to Halep, and it was a nasty one. Halep defeated Williams 6-0, 6-2 in the opening round of Red Group play (don't let that WTA website front page graphic fool you).

In the meantime, Williams has secured the year-end number 1 ranking. She's the two-time defending champion at the WTA Finals, and if there's anyone on this Earth she wants to put away, it's Halep.

The defending doubles champions, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, have also reached the finals in Singapore. Hsieh and Peng beat Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-4. Their opponents will be Cara Black and her partner, the Forehand of Fire, Sania Mirza. Black and Mirza saved three match points in their semifinal match against Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. They won 4-6, 7-5, 11-9!

Odd though it may seem, this is Mirza's first trip to the last round of the Finals (I liked "WTA Championships" a lot better).

Oh, and of course, when the tournament is over, Hsieh and Peng will no longer be a team.
The WTA Finals: How can you not like anything this strange? I actually do like the unpredictability and seeming randomness of the round robin event.

Also this week, Mickey Lawler was named president of the WTA, and the organization announced a new campaign, "Power to Inspire." This is about as awkward a phrase as I can think of--it is difficult to say out loud (a fact which should have eliminated it as a possibility), and I'm wondering if it came from the same people who brought us the dreadful WTA-in-an-egg logo.

Finally, two players and one team who didn't make it to the finals deserve a mention. Both Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki made good on their comeback ways in Singapore. These two are definitely in the 2015 mix and are to be commended for the way they have reconstructed their careers. Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova, who upset Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in Singapore, have become a strong team, and definitely one we should keep an eye on next year.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WTA Finals to begin tomorrow in Singapore

You can look at the excitement gathering around the commencement of the WTA Finals as a sort of Sex and the City romp:

 Or you can look at it as this:

Perhaps it's both.

The Red Group consists of Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, and Ana Ivanovic.Williams has a 49-4 head-to-head record against the rest of the group. She is, in fact, the only member of her group to have a winning record against other members of the group. She is also the two-time defending champion.

The White Group consists of Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Caroline Wozniacki. Radwanska has a history of poor showings at the Finals, though she made it to the semifinals in 2012. Kvitova has a chance, in Istanbul, to turn around her post-2011 losing record against Maria Sharapova. That dynamic is probably the most interesting one to occur in the White Group. Matches will be played on an indoor hard court, one of Kvitova's two favorite surfaces.

The Rising Stars invitational final will be held October 21. The finalist are Monica Puig and Zheng Saisai.

The official website of the WTA Finals comes close to completely ignoring doubles. There's a video announcing that Anastasia Rodionova and Alla Kudryavtseva made it to the final eight, and other than that, it's as though doubles doesn't even exist in Singapore.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

WTA to launch Tournament of Losers

The WTA announced today that, in the near future, the first annual Tournament of Losers will be added to the tour's calendar. The event, which the WTA's chairwoman, Stacy Allaster, says will be held "somewhere in China," will feature players who make it to finals of tournaments but do not win them. There will be eight spots to fill in the round-robin tournament.

"We are excited about this innovation," Allaster said in making the announcement. "As the world leader in women's sports, the WTA wants to make certain that our most promising losers are given an opportunity to show their talents on an international stage."

"Of course," she added, "someone will win the tournament, but the runner-up will get an automatic wild card entry into the next year's Tournament of Losers."

Allaster said that a Tournament of Losers is needed because "fans want it."

The WTA has a colorful history of losers who went on to have interesting careers. "There is no greater inspiration," Allaster said, "than Francesca Schiavone, who lost nine finals before finally winning one, and she went on to win the French Open!" She added that the runner-up in that event was Samantha Stosur, who lost five finals before finally winning a tournament. Stosur, however--while she has six titles, including one at the U.S. Open--has lost an additional nine finals since winning her first one.

Wild cards will be awarded in the event that fewer than eight players without titles lose finals. Title-less players who lose multiple semifinals will be considered, as well as players who--despite having titles--continue to lose finals. According to Allaster, the wild card selection will also allow for the inclusion of a "Sloane Stephens-type situation."

As an added attraction, fans will vote for their choices to compete in an invitational tournament of Rising Headcases, to be held during the Tournament of Losers. Four young players who tend to go to pieces when they play big matches will be selected by tennis fans all over the world.

Riske tells Bencic "not quite yet"

Alison Riske
In an odd twist on the "veterans are taking over the tour" theme, 24-year-old Alison Riske won her first WTA title today, and in doing so, denied a first title to 17-year-old Belinda Bencic, one of the brightest of the tour's rising stars. Riske won the inaugural edition of the Tianjing Open, defeating Bencic 6-3, 6-4 in the final.

The doubles title was taken by Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova, who defeated Sorana Cirstea and Andreja Klepac 6-7, 6-2, 10-8. Kudryavtseva and Rodionova got not only a trophy, but also the last availble spot in the WTA Finals draw.

In Linz, the intriguing match-up of Camila Giorgi and Karolina Pliskova ended with a third WTA title for Pliskova, who beat Giorgi 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, saving a match point along the way. Raluca Olaru and Anna Tatishvili won the doubles title, defeating Annika Beck and Caroline Garcia 6-2, 6-1.

Finally, in Osaka, top seed Sam Stosur came through again. She defeated Zarina Diyas 7-6, 6-3. This is Stosur's third Osaka title.

In doubles, Shuko Aoyama and Renata Voracova won the title by defeating Lara Arruabarrena and Tatjana Maria 6-1, 6-2.

Qualifying is in progress in both Moscow and Luxembourg.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Who is next?

If you had to answer the question, "Who will be the next player to win her first major?" you'd probably say Genie Bouchard--and you would likely be correct in your prediction. In 2014, Bouchard pulled herself away from any perceived pack of peers, reaching the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the French Open, and the final of Wimbledon. She also won her first WTA title, in Nurnberg, and reached the final in Wuhan.

Bouchard injured her knee at the French Open and has continued to have some problems with it. Her last quarter has not been as stellar as the rest of her year, but she has a chance--at the WTA Finals--to make a strong comeback. The sports marketing machine has already anointed Bouchard, which undoubtedly makes her progress more complicated.

However, a strong argument can also be made for Simona Halep, who is a threat on all surfaces, and who played an outstanding final against Maria Sharapova at this year's French Open. Halep, however, has to find a way to end her chronic injury problem so that her momentum will not be constantly interrupted.

So here are two questions:

Genie Bouchard (photo by Daniel Ward)
1. If Bouchard does become the next woman to claim a major title, which title will it be? (Logic dictates that the French Open would be the most likely event for Halep to win, though arguments against that theory are welcome.)

2. Could another player beat the Canadian or the Romanian to the trophy? Who? "Sentimental" favorites like Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Sara Errani cannot be ruled out. And then there's that group of young players of whom the standouts at this time are Belinda Bencic, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, and Karolina Pliskova. A year ago, Sloane Stephens was on the list, and it's possible that she could put herself back on it.

Who else could surprise us and lift a big trophy in the near future?

Sharapova wins China Open and becomes number 2 in the world

Maria Sharapova continued her winning ways against Petra Kvitova in the Beijing final today, defeating the Wuhan champion 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in the final. Whoever won the final was locked in to advance to the world number 2 ranking, so that goes to Sharapova. Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai won the doubles title, defeating Cara Black and Sania Mirza 6-4, 6-4.

The Beijing title is Sharapova's fourth of the year, and her 33rd in all. This is her first-ever title in China.

Winners of the "big three" Asian swing tournaments were Sharapova, Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic (Tokyo).

The eight players headed for Singapore and the WTA Finals are:
Serena Williams
Maria Sharapova
Simona Halep
Petra Kvitova
Genie Bouchard
Aga Radwanska
Caroline Wozniacki
Ana Ivanovic

Qualified for Singapore:

Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci
Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai
Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina
Cara Black/Sania Mirza
Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears
Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik

The final spot will be filled by one of these teams:
Muguruza/Suarez Navarro

Last year's winners were Serena Williams and the team of Hsieh Su-Wei an Peng Shuai.