Tag Archive | "Azarenka"

Another Serena-Less “Slam”:  Who Will Capitalize at the Australian Open?

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Another Serena-Less “Slam”: Who Will Capitalize at the Australian Open?


For the second consecutive major, Serena Williams will be a no-show.  With the two time defending champion and former world number one still injured, current world number one Caroline Wozniacki should technically be “the” favorite.  While Wozniacki is a certain contender for the crown Down Under, it’s difficult to position her in the number one spot.  With her victories at the U.S. Open and the WTA championships to finish 2010, Kim Clijsters has to be viewed as the outright favorite.  The way the Australian Open draw stacks up, Clijsters has to relish her chances.  Let’s take a look how it breaks down.

Imagine needing to conquer Gisela Dulko in the first round, Dominika Cibulkova in the third round and either Justine Henin or Francesca Schiavone just to get to the quarterfinals.  This is the precise task which probably awaits Wozniacki.  Moreover, in the semifinals, the Dane could clash with either Venus, whom she has never beaten, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova.  In light of the treacherous road ahead, Wozniacki has her work cut out for her in trying to survive the first week and retain the number one ranking.

Since her 2010 Wimbledon injury, this will be Henin’s first major.  After months of noncompetitive play, Henin performed well at the Hopman Cup.  In Melbourne, a possible third round encounter with Svetlana Kuznetsova will be her first true challenge.  Last year, Henin battled her way to the final after an almost two year sabbatical. Consequently, if the Belgian successfully navigates the first week, she could duplicate her feat of a year ago.

If healthy, Venus should reach the round of 16 with ease.  At that stage, the 2003 Australian Open finalist could be tested, if the draw holds true to form, by the 2008 Australian Open champion, Sharapova. The Russian’s last major was in Melbourne.  Subsequent to shoulder surgery a couple of years ago, Sharapova appears finally at full steam.  That type of encounter could be a shot in the arm for Sharapova and push her back into the top ten.

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A Tale of Two Seasons:  Serena Starts and Wozniacki Finishes

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A Tale of Two Seasons: Serena Starts and Wozniacki Finishes


Although the familiar saying states “all good things must come to an end”, when it comes to tennis it’s not necessarily the case.  While the 2010 season is over, in the blink of an eye the new one will commence.  Before turning to a fresh chapter, it’s important to reminisce and ponder what made this past year noteworthy.

At her first tournament after rejoining the tour, Justine Henin was a finalist in Brisbane.  The Belgian followed that result with a run to the final at the Australian Open.  In a compelling match, Serena Williams edged out Henin to defend her title and claimed her twelfth career major.  Despite Williams’ conquest, the road to victory was far from routine.  Thus, early indications were Williams would be fighting tooth and nail to retain the number one ranking.  Yet, in the end, injury became Serena’s speed bump rather than her fellow competitors.

Following Australia, a knee injury caused Williams to put her feet up for a few months.  In May, a healthy Serena returned to competition.  Subsequent to being stunned in the French Open quarterfinals, Williams successfully defended her Wimbledon title.  However, days after her triumph, Serena suffered a freakish foot injury.  Initially, the damage seemed inconsequential.  But, as the weeks went by, Serena withdrew from tournament after tournament and underwent surgery.  Ultimately, Wimbledon proved to be Serena’s last event of 2010.

Ironically, Serena’s similar fate befell Henin.  After being booted in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, Henin turned her focus to Wimbledon the underlying reason for her comeback.  With a title at a warm-up tournament before Wimbledon, Henin was a serious contender to capture the sole major which has eluded her. But, after easily carrying the first set against Kim Clijsters, Henin fell on her elbow and eventually loss in the round of 16.  What at first seemed an innocuous tumble prematurely terminated Henin’s year.

After being upended in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open by Na Li, Venus Williams caught a full head of steam and defended back to back titles in Dubai and Acapulco.  Then, Venus made the finals at the Sony Ericsson Open and the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.  Consequently, Venus’ ranking peaked at number two.  Days after celebrating her 30th birthday,  the five time Wimbledon champion stepped on the grass with high hopes for a sixth crown.  However, in the quarterfinals, Venus was sent packing by Tsvetana Pironkova.  Later at the U.S. Open, Williams watched an opportunity to advance to the final evaporate, going down to Clijsters.  Bothered by a knee issue, after New York, Venus sat out the remainder of the season.

No ifs and or buts, Clijsters is back.  After besting Henin in the Brisbane final, Clijsters rebounded from an early exit at the Australian Open by thrashing Venus in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.  Although a foot injury prevented Clijsters from participating at the French Open, the following month the Belgian reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.  Subsequent to a sensational win in the final in Cincinnati, Clijsters repeated in New York and earned her third U.S. Open title.  Clijsters capped the year with the number three ranking and the WTA Championships trophy in Doha.

In placing one’s bet at the start of 2010, Maria Sharapova, Henin and Clijsters would have been regarded as the candidates likely to supplant Serena at number one.  Instead, Williams was toppled from that spot by a great Dane.  Last year, as a runner-up at the U.S. Open, Caroline Wozniacki demonstrated that she is a legitimate rival.  With Serena sidelined by injury, Wozniacki scaled up the ranking by winning six tour titles and making the finals in Indian Wells and Doha.

Despite being halted in the round of 16 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the quarterfinals at the French Open and the semifinals at the U.S. Open, consistency week in and week out was the key to Wozniacki taking over at number one.

Another individual who had a spring in her step in 2010 is Vera Zvonareva. The Russian followed her first major final at Wimbledon with another at the U.S. Open.  Although Zvonareva fell to Serena and Clijsters respectively, because of her phenomenal performance, Zvonareva shot up to the number two ranking.

Other names to come into the spotlight this season include twenty year old Petra Kvitova who stunned Victoria Azarenka and Wozniacki before being knocked out in the Wimbledon semifinals by Serena.  Along with Li, countrywoman Jie Zheng advanced to the semifinals at the Australian Open.  Perhaps the unlikeliest ones to rise above the fray were veterans Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur.

After beating Henin, Serena and Jelena Jankovic at the French Open, 26 year old Stosur booked her maiden major final spot.  With a victory over Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, Schiavone sauntered into the French Open final as a result of Elena Dementieva retiring in the semifinals with a calf injury.  First time major finalist Schiavone took full advantage of her good fortune.  Less than a month prior to her 30th birthday, Schiavone prevailed over Stosur becoming the first Italian woman to win a major.

In doubles, Serena and Venus triumphed in the finals at the Australian and French Opens while Wimbledon and the U.S. Open were claimed by the new pair of Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova.  The number one doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber had an acrimonious divorce in April.  With the break up of Huber and Black and injuries affecting the Williams’, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko with six titles and the WTA Championships trophy ended the year as the top doubles team.

For the second consecutive year, Italy dismissed the U.S. to take the Federation Cup. Former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic redeemed her season by pocketing the Tournament of Champions trophy in Bali and reintegrating herself in the top twenty.  Nothing but bad news for former world number one Dinara Safina.  Limited by a back problem, Safina hardly played and finished the year ranked 63rd.

At the WTA championships, Dementieva dropped a bomb announcing her retirement after her last round robin match.  The 2008 Olympic gold medalist and two time major finalist felt at 29 years of age the time had arrived to seal this phase of her life and move on to another.

It is impossible to dissociate 2010 from 2011 with injury already a factor in the year to come.  With her foot still on the mend, Serena proclaimed she will not defend her Australian Open title.  As such, the first major of the year will be up for grabs.  Will Clijsters seize her first major other than the U.S. Open?  Can Wozniacki silence all doubters and show she really belongs at the top spot?  Will Zvonareva draw on the positives from 2010 and take the final step to the major’s winner circle?  Will it be Sharapova or Henin reliving their past success down under?  In contemplating the outcome of the Australian Open, the permutations seem infinite.  With all these questions, the first major portends that the upcoming season will be a fascinating one to follow.

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Azarenka Circumvents Kirilenko to Carry Kremlin Cup Trophy

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Azarenka Circumvents Kirilenko to Carry Kremlin Cup Trophy


For Maria Kirilenko reaching her first final of 2010 was a wonderful accomplishment.  Moreover, doing so in her hometown was particularly gratifying.  Thus, with a partisan crowd firmly behind her, it was the ideal setting for Kirilenko to terminate a two year title drought.  Unfortunately, Kirilenko’s opponent and doubles partner Victoria Azarenka did not cooperate.  Azarenka, the second seed, bested Kirilenko 6-3,6-4 to take the Kremlin Cup title, the fifth of her career.

With Kirilenko dumping a backhand into the net, Azarenka broke to start out the match.  However, Kirilenko wiped away game point and by provoking a few errors from her rival manufactured a couple of break points.  Kirilenko capitalized when Azarenka double faulted.  Later though at 2 all, as Kirilenko’s forehand up the line sailed long, Azarenka had triple break point.  Azarenka converted when Kirilenko’s backhand directed down the line found the net instead.  Then, with a forehand up the line winner on game point, Azarenka consolidated for 4-2.  Down the road, with a love game, Azarenka extended her lead to 5-3. Next, with a forehand up the line winner, Azarenka got to double set point.  By connecting with a backhand down the line winner, Azarenka took the first set.

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Week One at U.S. Open: Wozniacki Living Up to Seeding, Jankovic Makes Early Departure

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Week One at U.S. Open: Wozniacki Living Up to Seeding, Jankovic Makes Early Departure


With Serena Williams out of the running, one established truism at this year’s U.S. Open was that the list of potential champions had expanded.  Yet, Caroline Wozniacki’s form the first three rounds is giving many room for pause as she is invariably validating her top billing.  With the initial week of competition concluded, here’s a recapitulation of the event thus far and a peak at what’s ahead.

Wozniacki has permitted her opponents only three games on her way to booking her spot into the round of 16.  Although Maria Sharapova needed three sets in the first round against Jarmila Groth, since then she has also been stingy. Sharapova allowed Beatrice Capra, the 18 year old American who upended 18th seed Aravane Rezai, just one game in their third round match.  As a result, the much anticipated  fourth round match between Sharapova and Wozniacki will take place on Monday.

After scraping by to reach the third round, Jelena Jankovic, the 4th seed, had her progress halted by Kaia Kanepi, the 31st seed.  Therefore, for Jankovic, the disappointment at the majors go on.  Kanepi will face Yanina Wickmayer, the 15th seed and 2009 U.S. Open semifinalist, in the round of 16.

Vera Zvonareva, the 7th seed, has been keeping a low profile while calmly taking care of business.  Without dropping a set, Zvonareva is now in the fourth round where she will battle Andrea Petkovic.  Zvonareva is clearly the favorite in that clash and with Jankovic ousted, she has a great chance to earn a berth in the semifinals.

Na Li, the 8th seed, and Agnieszka Radwanska, the 9th seed, were booted in the first and second round respectively.  With Li sent packing, Dominika Cibulkova was the beneficiary.  Cibulkova is alive for the first time in the fourth round at the U.S. Open and will face Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Since falling under the tutelage of Amelie Mauresmo’s former coach, Kuznetsova has rediscovered the road to success.  Kuznetsova should have no trouble punching her ticket to the quarterfinals for a date with either Sharapova or Wozniacki.

In the bottom half of the draw, Melanie Oudin, last year’s American darling, was bounced in the second round.  Franscesca Schiavone, the 6th seed  and reigning French Open champion, has finally found her game on hardcourt.  The Italian heads to the round of 16 having yet to surrender a set.  Schiavone’s next obstacle will be 19 year old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.  The Russian’s third round showdown with one of the favorites for the title Victoria Azarenka never came to fruition.  In her second round match, Azarenka collapsed and was forced to retire.  Initially, the problem was ascribed to the scorching temperatures.  Later on, the news was released that Azarenka had suffered a mild concussion prior to taking the court which was the culprit for her abrupt egress.  With Pavlyuchenkova dominant on hardcourt this season, it will be fascinating to see whether teenage fearlessness or experience wins out.

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Which Woman Can Rise to the Occasion?  Long Lists of Contenders at the U.S. Open

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Which Woman Can Rise to the Occasion? Long Lists of Contenders at the U.S. Open


This week, the U.S. Open draw was disclosed.  Caroline Wozniacki, the world number two and 2009 finalist, and Kim Clijsters, the defending champion and world number three, are the top seeds.  Yet to fully recover from foot surgery, Serena Williams, the world number one, pulled out a few days ago.  In the absence of such a fierce competitor, this presents a sweeping opportunity for Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Victoria Azarenka or Wozniacki to emerge as a first time champion at a major.  Whether one of these women realizes her potential will be contingent on the performance of those who have previously hoisted this trophy such as Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Clijsters.  Here’s a look at how the draw shapes up.

With the biggest title of her career at the Rogers Cup earlier this week, Wozniacki heads into New York with a wealth of confidence.  But, being the top seed at a major is an unfamiliar status for the Dane, how she handles the pressure will be key.  Wozniacki may need every ounce of mental fortitude to get through the round of 16 where 2007 U.S. Open winner Sharapova will be her likely adversary.  In Cincinnati, Sharapova suffered a foot injury.  If Sharapova is at full capacity, Wozniacki could find her claim to her first major postponed another year.

After a difficult few months whereby her ranking dropped outside the top 10, Kuznetsova’s game appears to be clicking again as evidenced by a recent title in San Diego.  As a potential quarterfinal opponent for Sharapova or Wozniacki, the 2004 U.S. Open champion is someone to keep an eye on in the top half of the draw.

The same applies for 2010 Australian Open semifinalist Na Li who will be searching to go one step further at the U.S. Open.  For that to happen, Li may have to knock out Kuznetsova in the round of 16 and stop either Sharapova or Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.  Also, Maria Kirilenko and Aravane Rezai are two dangerous competitors who may prevent any of these players from advancing to the quarterfinals.

In the bottom part of the top half of the draw, if the script follows the seeding, Vera Zvonareva and Jankovic will face off in the quarterfinals.  Lately though, Jankovic has been plagued by a myriad of injuries resulting in her downfall in the early rounds at the warm-up events.  Thus, the Serbian could be ousted in the primary stages by 2009 U.S. Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer or 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi.

Being a Wimbledon finalist in Zvonareva’s case could be a blessing or a curse.  In light of that experience, the Russian should have the belief to foil any potential upset in the round of 16 by rivals such as Nadia Petrova or Agnieszka Radwanska. Conversely, Zvonareva’s desire to erase that disappointment could lead to additional pressure and open the door for her counterparts.

If the results of the recent tournaments are any indication, it will be a Wozniacki versus Zvonareva semifinal or an all Russian affair, Zvonareva versus Sharapova.  Since Wozniacki defeated Zvonareva in Montreal, the Dane would have the edge.  If it comes down to a test of wills between Sharapova and Zvonareva, the former would have the upper hand.

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Making a Statement: Clijsters Shakes Off Sharapova to Steal Cincinnati Title

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Making a Statement: Clijsters Shakes Off Sharapova to Steal Cincinnati Title


At the Western and Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Kim Clijsters survived three championship points from Maria Sharapova just as the skies were opening.  When the match resumed after a 70 minute rain delay, Clijsters, the 4th seed, changed not only her outfit, but her game.  Clijsters worked her way back to rob the trophy from the 10th seed with a 2-6,7-6,6-2 victory.

Although Clijsters had a slim edge over Sharapova in their head to head at 4-3, the latter had prevailed at their ultimate three meetings.  However, a lot had taken place since the 2007 Australian Open semifinal, the last time Clijsters and Sharapova clashed.  For Clijsters, the wanting of a family and marriage pushed her away from competition for almost two years.  Yet, in the summer of 2009, Clijsters marked her returned on tour in grand style with the title at the U.S. Open.  Sharapova had a near 10 month absence from the game due to shoulder surgery.  Since getting back in May 2009, Sharapova’s serve, one of the principle components which propelled her to three major titles, has been unpredictable.

Strangely enough, it was Clijsters’ serve which was her Achilles heel from the outset.  After being ahead 40-15 in the first game, Clijsters double faulted to give Sharapova break point.  Despite recovering and salvaging a 0-40 game subsequently, Clijsters could not find any answers to an attacking and aggressive Sharapova.  After fighting off two break points to arrive at 2 all, from 15-40, Sharapova aided by miscues from Clijsters got to deuce.  Then, when Clijsters’ backhand crosscourt sailed long, Sharapova had her fifth break point.  The Russian banked the break when Clijsters committed her fourth double fault.  After consolidating for 4-2, Sharapova’s provoked three consecutive backhand mistakes from Clijsters to obtain a second break.  Next, with a love game, Sharapova closed out the set.

Clijsters opened the second set with a love hold.  Once Sharapova netted a backhand, Clijsters had break point.  With a backhand return winner, Clijsters capitalized for a 2-0 lead.  But, with two errors and a double fault, Clijsters faced triple break point.  With another Clijsters’ backhand going out of play, Sharapova was back on serve.  Later, on a deep return by Sharapova, Clijsters dumped her next stroke into the net handing Sharapova double break point. As a result of Clijsters’ forehand up the line landing wide, Sharapova captured the break for 4-3 and went on to consolidate for 5-3.   By unleashing on a forehand return, Sharapova struck a winner for match point.  With Sharapova sending a forehand crosscourt long, Clijsters got to deuce.  Two more championship points followed for Sharapova with Clijsters successfully salvaging both.  On the game’s fourth deuce, the rain intensified causing play to be stopped.

When the women took the court after the weather interruption, a new Clijsters quickly guarded serve for 4-5.  With Sharapova serving for the title, Clijsters coaxed the Russian into two backhand errors to earn double break point.  Thanks to a couple of big second serves, Sharapova brushed those aside for deuce.  However, another backhand miscue by Sharapova led to break point for Clijsters.  As a result of a double fault, Clijsters leveled the set at 5 all.   The second set was decided by a tiebreaker.

By double faulting on the initial point, Clijsters gifted Sharapova a mini-break.  The Russian went on to take a 3-0 lead.  Because of mistakes by Sharapova including a double fault, Clijsters seized the next five points.  After Sharapova erased the mini-break advantage, she double faulted to give Clijsters a 6-4 edge.  As Sharapova misfired with the backhand crosscourt on set point, Clijsters was back in contention.

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Blockbuster Showdown in the Fourth Round:  Sharapova v Serena and Henin v Clijsters

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Blockbuster Showdown in the Fourth Round: Sharapova v Serena and Henin v Clijsters


For the most part, the first week at Wimbledon has gone according to plan on the ladies’ side.  As a result, defending champion Serena Williams will square off in the round of 16 against the woman who beat her in the 2004 final, Maria Sharapova.  Similarly, the projected clash between Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters has come to fruition.  This means that tomorrow, two individuals will be disappointed.  Let’s analyze how we arrived at this point and what lies ahead in the second week.

Top seed Serena Williams has simply run through her opponents. Likewise, Sharapova has had little difficulty getting to this stage, sending her adversaries home in straight sets.  Serena and Sharapova have played seven times with the former winning five of those meetings.  Curiously, since the 2004 championship, the two have never battled on grass.  In essence, this will be their rematch.  A significant factor will be how well Sharapova serves.  If the Russian does well in that department, Serena could be in trouble.

Na Li and Agniezska Radwanska who face each other in the fourth round have yet to drop a set in getting this far.  Radwanska holds a 2-1 record against Li and both victories have been on grass.  But for both Li and Radwanska, the quarterfinals will be a tough ask with either Sharapova or Serena as a rival.

A definite stunner was the dismissal of French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in the first round by Kaia Kanepi.  Previously ranked as high as 18 in 2009, Kanepi’s placement dipped to 80.  After ousting another seed Alexandra Dulgheru in the third round, the talented Estonian is in the round of 16 .  Another surprise is Kanepi’s opponent in the fourth round, Klara Zakopalova.  The 28 year old had not gone pass the third round at a major previously.  Zakopalova advanced by bouncing 18th seed Aravane Rezai in the second round and trouncing 10th seed Flavia Pennetta in the third.

Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed, has been splendid on grass as she attempts to better her fourth round result from last year.  Jie Zheng, the 23rd seed, and Victoria Azarenka, the 14th seed, fell victim to Petra Kvitova in the second and third round respectively. Thus, Wozniacki takes on Kvitova in the round of 16.  The Dane carried their prior two matches.  Furthermore, with Kanepi or Zakopalova as a quarterfinal match-up, Wozniacki truly has a green light to the semifinals.

This was a disastrous week for the French Open winners.  The reigning champion Francesca Schiavone went out in the first round.  Last year’s title holder and 19th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova crashed out in the second round.  Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 victor, bowed out in the first round.  Hence, Ivanovic’s ranking of 45 will continue to head toward the cellar.

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Wimbledon Draw Offers the Potential for Another All Williams Final

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Wimbledon Draw Offers the Potential for Another All Williams Final


With the exception of 2004 and 2006 when the Venus Rosewater trophy was leased by Maria Sharapova and Amelie Mauresmo respectively, Venus and Serena Williams have been the proprietor of the Wimbledon title eight out of the last ten years.  In fact, the Williams sisters have been interchangeably the winner and runner-up the ultimate two seasons.   With Serena and Venus as the top two seeds in 2010, a three-peat in the finals is plausible.  However, with Justine Henin having reincorporated herself into the tour with the express objective of hoisting the Wimbledon trophy and compatriot Kim Clijsters a formidable force after rejoining the circuit last summer, a new decade may mark the end of the Williams’ dominance.  Here’s a preview of the draw and the potential obstacles for the chief contenders at the All England Club.

If the outcome is as anticipated, Serena will meet Maria Sharapova in the round of 16.  Despite struggling with her serve since her shoulder surgery, Sharapova has posted some good results the last couple of months.  Moreover, Sharapova reached the finals in Birmingham two weeks ago.  Thus, depending on how well Sharapova plays, the possibility of an upset is undeniable.  With the Birmingham title under her belt, Na Li is a secondary threat in Serena’s section.  A semifinalist in Australia where she loss in two  tiebreaker sets, Li has the weapons to irritate Serena if she gets to the quarterfinals.

Either French Open finalist Samantha Stosur or Caroline Wozniacki could be Serena’s semifinal opponent.  With her recent history at the French Open against Stosur, Serena may have her work cut out for her.  Beforehand, Stosur and Wozniacki may have to battle it out in the quarterfinals.  Looking further back, Wozniacki may have to deal with Victoria Azarenka the 14th seed in the fourth round and Stosur with Flavia Pennetta the 10th seed also in the round of 16.  Since clay is Pennetta’s best surface and with the Italian never making it pass the fourth round, Stosur should prevail.  For Azarenka, the finalist in Eastbourne, a knee injury may be the limiting factor regardless of the rival she faces.

Focusing on the bottom half of the draw, the Wimbledon grass seems to have restorative properties for Venus irrespective of her previous results.  With two titles and finalists status in Miami and Madrid, Venus is in stellar shape.  Venus’ path looks relatively unencumbered until the quarterfinals where she could battle Marion Bartoli or French Open reigning champion Francesca Schiavone.  Still with Venus’ past performance, the scales are heavily tipped in her direction.

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Makarova Pushes Past Azarenka In Eastbourne for First WTA Title

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Makarova Pushes Past Azarenka In Eastbourne for First WTA Title


In the finals of Aegon International, the ultimate warm-up tournament before Wimbledon, Ekaterina Makarova fought off an injured Victoria Azarenka 7-6,6-4 to grab her maiden WTA title and become the first qualifier to seize the trophy.

Ranked 100th in the world, Makarova has been in top shape the entire week.  The Russian took care of 6th seed Flavia Pennetta in the first round and dismissed compatriot and 2008 finalist Nadia Petrova in the second round.  Then, Makarova booted countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals and upset French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in the semifinals.  Makarova continued her splendid performance by opening the first set with a comfortable game.  Subsequently, with a forehand up the line winner and an error by Azarenka, Makarova arrived at double break point.  With a forehand return winner, Makarova gained the break.  Later, despite a tough game where she dealt with a break point, Makarova extended her lead to 3-0.  With both knees strapped due to tendonitis, Azarenka continued to battle producing high quality tennis to remain one break behind.  With a backhand down the line winner, Azarenka had her second break chance.  However, using her lefty serve to her advantage, Makarova extricated  herself from trouble and closed the game with a backhand volley winner for 5-2.  But serving for the first set at 5-4, Makarova netted a backhand to hand Azarenka a break point.  When a second straight backhand crosscourt went array, Azarenka gained the break.  After Makarova fought off two break points to guard serve and Azarenka held at love, the set moved to a tiebreaker.  With a forehand crosscourt winner, Makarova obtained the mini-break early on.  Further on, with an error by Azarenka, Makarova stretched her lead to 5-1.  Although Azarenka narrowed the gap to 6-5, Makarova’s luck held as Azarenka misfired with the forehand as the ball skidded off the line which terminated the set.

Playing through the pain, Azarenka maintained serve readily her first few times out in the second set.  Then at 2 all, Azarenka double faulted to gift Makarova a break point.  Makarova capitalized when Azarenka’s forehand sailed long.  Still, by forcing two mistakes from Makarova and with a forehand up the line winner, Azarenka promptly had triple break point.  By placing her serve well, Makarova leveled the game at deuce.  Yet, the Russian had to wipe out a fourth break point before consolidating for 4-2.  Unwilling to surrender, Azarenka kept striking winners and guarding serve with relative ease.  Thus, with a forehand winner, Azarenka arrived at double break point.  But, once again the Belarusian was turned away by Makarova who advanced to 5-3.  After Azarenka had a love game, two miscues placed Makarova at double championship point.  With an overhead winner, Makarova ended the match and captured the championship.

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Henin and Serena Homing In On A Quarterfinal Clash

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Henin and Serena Homing In On A Quarterfinal Clash


The sun has set on a the first week at the French Open.  As usual there were upsets, many of them expected.  However, Serena Williams and Justine Henin, two pre-tournament  favorites, have not disappointed.  As such, the much touted quarterfinal encounter between these rivals is one round away.  Here is a synopsis of the main developments of the initial days.

A bunch of big names took a tumble in the bottom section of the draw.  Leading the pack was Svetlana Kuznetsova, the defending champion.  After a miserable tune-up, Kuznetsova looked every bit the champion in the first round.  Moreover, with her back against the wall in the second round, Kuznetsova salvaged four match points against Andrea Petkovic to advance.  But, by the third round, Kuznetsova had utilized all her life lines.  She was taken down in three sets by Maria Kirilenko.

Victoria Azarenka, the 9th seed, has had a tough year.  The 2009 Sony Ericsson champ was schooled by Gisela Dulko, exiting in the first round.  But, in the next round, Dulko was herself stunned by South African qualifier Channelle Scheepers.  Scheepers reached the fourth round where she was stopped by Elena Dementieva.  Another surprise was Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the winner in Rome, also going out in the first round.

As the newly re-minted number two and a finalist in Madrid, expectations were high that Venus Williams would at least make the semifinals.  In the first three rounds, Venus forged a statement not only with her attire, but with her play by bouncing her adversaries in straight sets.  Yet, in the round of 16, Venus’ game went through a transformation.  Although this was their first meeting on clay, Venus had a  4-0 record against Nadia Petrova.  Still, Petrova, a 2005 semifinalist, pulled off a straight sets victory.  As such, for the fourth consecutive year, Venus was booted prior to the quarterfinals.

A combination of rain and obscurity resulted in a few matches being played over two days. When Aravane Rezai and Petrova resumed their third round with the third set leveled at 7, the French crowd was disenchanted as Petrova walked away with the win.  Later that day, France’s last hope, Marion Bartoli, in the top half of the draw, was eliminated in the fourth round by Shahar Peer.

After fighting through Aleksandra Wozniak in the third round and an easy fourth round win, 2004 finalist Dementieva is unquestionably a contender for the finals.  Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed, is another.  Following two uncomplicated rounds, Wozniacki was severely tested by Alexandra Dulgheru and still captured her third match in straight sets. Then, in the round of 16, warrior Wozniacki bested Flavia Pennetta in a three hour duel to move on to her first quarterfinal in Paris.  Bothered by an ankle injury, as Wozniacki faces scrappy Fransceca Schiavone, who booted Kirilenko, she may need to duplicated her last performance

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