Monday, October 17, 2022

A season of resurgence

During the last two weeks, we've had the pleasure of watching some really great tennis, especially in Ostrava, where just about every match was a high quality contest. Also during this brief period of time, we've seen three WTA players revive their careers, with one of them winning her first WTA title.

Anna Blinkova, whose highest ranking, achieved in 2020, was number 54 in the world, has now returned to the top 100 (79), where she hasn't been in over a year. Blinkova,  a qualifier, won the Transylvania Open last week, defeating Jasmine Paolini in the final. During her long run, Binkova also took out the second and fourth seeds.

Then there was qualifier Donna Vekic, who made a run all the way to the final in San Diego. And what a run it was--Vekic defeated Emma Mandlik and Jil Teichmann in the qualifying rounds, and in the main draw, she defeated fifth seed Maria Sakkari, Karolina Pliskova, third seed Aryna Sabalenka, and Danielle Collins. She was stopped--as have so many--by world number 1 Iga Swiatek in the final, but she did set off of the world number 1. 

The talented Vekic has had an up-and-down career, and the biggest "down" occurred early last year when she had to undergo surgery on her injured right knee. Following surgery, the Croatian player's favoring of her left leg led to a plantar fascia tear in her right foot. Vekic feared that she might not ever regain the full functioning of her right leg.

In 2019, Vekic was ranked number 19 in the world; she is now number 47. Her performance in San Diego was exceptional. Unfortunately, she had to finish playing her semifinal match the day of the final (not to mention that her opponent was Swiatek). But it was a brilliant run--one that indicates a turnaround for a player who has had a tough couple of years.

Caroline Garcia, once ranked as high as number 4 in the world in singles, experienced a major slump that lasted so long, one might have thought that her best days were behind her. But this year, the Frenchwoman came roaring back. She and Kiki Mladenovic won the French Open (for the second time), then Garcia went on to win three singles titles, including Cincinnati.

In 2021, Barbora Krejcikova won everything. She won the French Open in singles as an unseeded player, then she won the doubles title with Katerina Siniakova. Then she won an Olympic gold medal (with Siniakova) in doubles, and then she and Siniakova won the WTA Finals. 

Krejcikova reached the quarterfinals at the 2022 Australian Open, and she and Siniakova won the doubles title. But an elbow injury caused the Czech star to stay away from the courts for three months. It was a tough journey back for Krejcikova, but in early October, she won the Tallinn Open, defeating top seed Anett Kontaveit in the final. She also defeated Ajla Tomljanovic, Marta Kostyuk, third seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, and second seed Belinda Bencic. 

But that was just the warm-up. Last week, Krejcikova did what no one else has been able to do in a long time--she defeated Iga Swiatek in a final, and she did from a set down. The world number 1 had not lost a final in three years, and had, indeed, won ten straight finals, and her loss to Krejcikova was only her second in twelve finals. The match lasted three hours and sixteen minutes, and it was, quite simply, the match of the year. 

Not only was the final continually thrilling, but the shot-making and athleticism from both women was often breathtaking. Krejcikova defeated Swiatek 5-7 (after being down 1-5), 7-6, 6-3. The trophy ceremony was an emotional occasion--especially since the champion had won in her home country--and viewers, both in Ostrava and at home, shared in the outpouring of emotions.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Lucie Hradecka, long-time Czech doubles star, retires from proessional tennis

On Wednesday, in a lovely and emotional ceremony in Ostrava, Lucie Hradecka was honored for her long and successful career. The Czech player, known primarily for her doubles skills, won 26 doubles titles, including the 2011 French Open (with Andrea Hlavackova) and the 2013 U.S. Open (also with Hlavackova) in doubles, and the 2013 French Open (with Frantisek Cermak) in mixed doubles. 

Hradecka also won a silver medal in doubles (with Hlavacklova) at the 2012 Olympic Games, and a bronze medal in mixed doubles (with Radek Stepanek) at the 2016 Olympic Games. She was a Wimbledon finalist in doubles in 2012, and an Australian Open finalist in doubles in 2016. Hradecka was also a finalist in mixed doubles at the 2013 Australian Open. Hradecka was a member of the Czech Fed Cup team 2010-2016.

The Czech doubles star, playing with three different partners, won the Western & Southern Open three times. In 2012, she and Andrea Hlavacklova won the WTA finals.

The 37-year-old Hradecka played her final tournament in Ostrava with 17-year-old Linda Noskova, one of the Czech Republic's most promising young players. Hradecka and Noskova lost to the top seeds in their round of 16 match. Hradecka and Noskova defeated Serena and Venus Williams at the 2022 U.S. Open in the sisters' final match.