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Reflections on WTA 2009

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Reflections on WTA 2009


img_1710It’s that time of year when we look back at what transpired on the women’s tour over the past season and view ahead at the upcoming year.  Here’s a recap of the great, the good and the down right ugly moments from 2009.

Last year, in many respects, can be characterized as bizarre. The majors commenced with a meltdown by Dinara Safina as Serena Williams thrashed her in the Australian Open final.  Months later after sensational results at lead up tournaments, Safina, newly crowned world number one, had another breakdown in the French Open final vis-à-vis Svetlana Kuznetsova.  As such, Kuznetsova grabbed the second major of her career.

At the All England Club, after Serena survived a riveting semifinal match against Elena Dementieva, she faced Venus in the finals for the second consecutive year.  However, this go around, Serena bested big sister to capture 2009′s third major.  Also a favorite to step to the finals at the U.S. Open, Serena encountered two stumbling blocks, her emotions and  Kim Clijsters.

After fulfilling her desire to procreate, Clijsters discovered that her retreat from tennis had left a void.  Thus, following a two year absence, Clijsters once again embraced the game. Subsequent to some impressive triumphs, Clijsters took on Serena in the semifinals. The weather may have been in part culpable, more likely though, it was Clijsters’ superb touch that got under Serena’s skin as a foot fault by a line judge roused Serena’s anger.  Unsavory words by Serena caused a point penalty with Clijsters having match point.  A day later, Clijsters went on to rope the U.S. Open trophy, the second major of her career.

Leading the pack of names that captivated the tour in 2009 is Dane Caroline Wozniacki.  The teenager became her country’s first competitor to reach a major final. Although downed by Clijsters, after starting the year in the top 20, Wozniacki closed 2009 at number 4.  Belarusian Victoria Azarenka continued her march in the right direction.  Azarenka demolished Serena at the Sony Ericsson Open to catch the biggest title of her career.

On the other hand, for the Serbs, it was  a year of sliding backward. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former world number one, had trouble directing her forehand and serve. With neither stroke on the money, Ivanovic did not get pass the fourth round at any of the majors. Ivanovic reached one final, Indian Wells, but failed to hoist the trophy. Fed up, Ivanovic put a punctuation to her season in October and her ranking tumbled to 21st.  Number one at the start of the year, Jelena Jankovic, fared a little better than Ivanovic by collecting two titles.  However, Jankovic was equally a disappointment at the majors with only a round of 16 appearance in Paris and Melbourne.

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2009 French Open Draw Released

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2009 French Open Draw Released


french_open_logoThis Monday, the most talented men and women in tennis will initiate the process of deciding who will walk away with the year’s second major. While Rafael Nadal is unequivocally the favorite on the men’s side, the women’s potential champion is much harder to predict.

Although Nadal going down to Roger Federer in Madrid added spice to the contest, the Spaniard remains the one with the target on his back. Fellow countrymen David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco, possible fourth round and quarterfinal opponents respectively, could provide further intrigue to the plot. But, Nadal has had no trouble dealing with either man during his spectacular clay court run. The most anticipated semifinal match up could be Nadal versus Brit Andy Murray. Murray showed moments of brilliance in their semifinal meeting in Monte Carlo which he lost. Murray may need to go through Spaniard Albert Montanes, Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, pesky Czech Radek Stepanek or Marat Safin, a semifinalist in 2008. So Murray’s will have a mount to climb before getting to Nadal.

On paper, Federer should reach the quarterfinals without difficulties. However, lurking in Roger’s section are James Blake, Tomas Berdych and a couple Spaniards, any of them could serve as spoilers. In the quarters, Federer could face Andy Roddick. Yet, Roddick could have a rough time getting past his rivals since clay is not his best surface. Serb Novak Djokovic and Federer could meet in the semifinals. Having come back from a set and a break down to prevail their last two encounters, Novak will have confidence squarely in his corner. However, standing in Djokovic’s way in the preliminary rounds may be former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, top ten players Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro and Frenchman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.

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Kuznetsova Cuts Off Safina For First Trophy In Two Years

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Kuznetsova Cuts Off Safina For First Trophy In Two Years


img_1153-version-2In the finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, a clay court premier tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova vanquished fellow Russian and world number one, Dinara Safina, 6-4, 6-3 to claim her tenth career title.

After each player readily held serve, Kuznetsova faced two break points but dismissed them with forehand up the line winners for 2-1. Serving at 2-3, Safina had a backhand go long after a rocket forehand return by Kuznetsova giving the latter a 15-30 edge. Nevertheless, with a backhand volley winner and an ace, Dinara preserved the game. Then, after Svetlana had no trouble with her service game, Dinara double faulted and made an unforced error giving her rival break point. In spite of that, Safina wiggled out of that predicament with another ace and unforced errors by Kuznetsova to square the set at 4. After securing a 5-4 advantage with a forehand up the line winner, Kuznetsova overpowered Safina with forehand winners to get double break point. With Safina’s backhand finding the net, Kuznetsova rested the set.

The difference in the first set was Kuznetsova’s accuracy not only with her forehand, but her consistency from the backhand side. However with the score 1-1, Kuznetsova had a backhand travel long to hand Safina double break point. Still, with powerful forehand winners, Svetlana kept her slim edge for 2-1. Although theoretically Dinara was holding serve, in reality, she was relying too much on her second serve. That flaw came back to haunt her at 2-3 when Kuznetsova, with double break point, fired a backhand return deep which resulted in a weak reply by Safina. Subsequently, Kuznetsova put away an easy forehand volley for a 4-2 lead. After consolidating with a love service game, Kuznetsova had an initial match point because of a Safina double fault. Dinara managed a backhand return error for deuce. Afterwards, with a forehand crosscourt winner and backhand misfired by her rival, Dinara prolonged the match. Then, with a strong service game, Kuznetsova on her third championship point smashed an overhead for a winner to end the set.

Having lost eight straight finals and with Safina winning seven of their eleven meetings, including the last four, Kuznetsova didn’t seem to have a pray. So, this week, Kuznetsova got a big monkey off her back. In addition to Kuznetsova’s last title being in 2007, it had been a while since she prevailed over a top five opponent. In the semifinals, Kuznetsova banished world number three Elena Dementieva in straight sets. From number nine, Svetlana’s ranking will bump up to number eight. Importantly, Jelena Jankovic struggles persist. Italy’s Flavia Pennetta ousted the second seed and world number four in the quarterfinals. Also, Argentina’s Gisela Dulko stopped recent Sony Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

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USA Squeaks By Argentina For Semifinal Spot In Federation Cup


With the top U.S. players, Serena and Venus Williams, unavailable for the first round of Federation Cup, new captain Mary Joe Fernandez was dealt an impossible hand. With a team comprised of 34-year-old Jill Craybas and 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, ranked 151 in singles and making her debut, the U.S. was in an unenviable position versus Argentina. However, in Surprise, Arizona, Oudin proved to be the best of all surprises.

As a clamorous crowd cheered on, Oudin won Sunday’s second rubber to push the event into a fifth match. As it came down to the wire, Liezel Huber, doubles world number one and recently naturalized citizen, and Julie Ditty pulled off a 6-2, 6-3 victory for the U.S. to move on to the semifinals.

In the first match on Saturday, Craybas defeated her 20-year-old Betina Jozami 6-2, 6-1 to give the Americans a leg up. After starting out poorly, Craybas quickly recovered. Craybas’ years of accumulated knowledge was the difference, as she won her first Fed Cup match on home soil. Similarly, in the second rubber, Gisela Dulko at 24, a tour veteran, utilized her experience to beat Oudin in straight sets 6-2, 7-5. After being blown away in the first set, Oudin saved match point and broke in the second to tie it at 5 all. But, the next game, Oudin lost her serve. Dulko shut out the set with a love game. So, the first day, the teams split the two rubbers.

In Sunday’s first rubber, on paper, it was an excellent match-up for the Americans because of Craybas’ great record against Dulko. Yet, in the first set, Craybas, bitten by the unforced error bug, let Dulko cruise through. Then, in the second set, Craybas went down an early break at 1-4 and never caught up. With a well-angled backhand volley winner, Dulko extended her lead to 5-2 and closed out the match with a crosscourt forehand pass. With a 6-1, 6-3 victory, Dulko gave Argentina a 2-1 lead.

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First Major of the Year, the Australian Open, Posts Its Draw


The 2009 Australian Open released the match up list today. For both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the number one and two seeds respectively, it will be a treacherous path to the finals.

Potential semifinal opponents for Nadal include Andy Murray unstoppable of late whether facing Roger or him, Gilles Simon who had a spectacular win against him in Madrid last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 finalist. However, as of press time, it’s still a question mark whether Tsonga will take the court due to a back problem. For Federer, all roads to the finals seem to go through defending champion Novak Djokovic. The two appear destined for a semifinal rematch. The spoiler may be Andy Roddick who will possibly have to defeat Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Regardless, with his phenomenal record since losing in his first major final, no longer a novice, this may be Murray’s tournament for the taking.

Maria Sharapova, last year’s winner, will be unable to defend because she is rehabbing her shoulder post surgery. Therefore, on the women side, potential champions abound. Top seed Jelena Jankovic should sail through to the quarterfinals where she may battle Vera Zvonareva, a player Jelena has had little trouble crushing in the past. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 runner up, and Dinara Safina are possibly heading for a quarterfinal clash. Either one could be an impediment to Jankovic making her second consecutive major final. But, Ivanovic’s play has been patchy lately; it would not be surprising if Caroline Wozniacki stops her from advancing. With the Williams sisters on the same side of the draw, Venus and Serena may meet in the semifinals. Venus may need to bypass Elena Dementieva or Flavia Pennetta while Serena may have to vanquish Victoria Azarenka who recently won her first tour title or Agnieszka Radwanska before the siblings can tango. With two titles under her belt already and a recent win over Serena, Dementieva will be no push over for Venus and is a genuine contender. Nevertheless, Venus is perhaps the underdog with the best chance to win it all considering how well she finished 2008. The first ball strike is in less than 72 hours. For a detailed look at the singles and doubles draws go to www.australianopen.com

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2008:  A Year Full Of Surprises On The Women’s Tour

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2008: A Year Full Of Surprises On The Women’s Tour


img_2867As another season concludes on the WTA, its is only fitting to reflect on the moments that branded it and look forward to what might be in store for 2009.

The Russian onslaught continues with half of the players ranked in the top ten coming from that nation. One of the pack’s standouts, Maria Sharapova, bulldozed over her opponents to win the year’s first major in Australia. However, after an impressive winning streak, Sharapova went on forced sabbatical due to an old shoulder injury resurfacing. Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva finally lived up to their promise, as these two had a phenomenal run in 2008. Sporting new coaches, these two women known for their volatile outburst on court, bottled their tempers which translated into great results. Safina’s newfound mental solidity carried her all the way to the French Open final. For her part, Zvonareva was a finalist at the year-end Sony Ericsson Championships where she lost a heartbreaking match to Venus Williams. Moreover, this powerhouse of tennis swept the medals at the Olympics with Elena Dementieva taking gold, Safina silver, and Zvonareva bronze. In team play, the Russians were also supreme, crushing Spain to grab another Federation cup.

The Serbians also became more firmly entrenched in the sport. After her defeat in the Australian final, Ana Ivanovic claimed her first major in Paris. Compatriot Jelena Jankovic made her first majors’ final appearance at the U.S. Open, but lost a tough three setter. As a result of the French Open title, Ivanovic captured the number one ranking. But with a niggling thumb injury, Ivanovic struggled the remainder of the year. On the other hand, Jankovic overflowing with confidence after her great U. S. Open showing, won three straight tournaments and finished the year at number one. Jelena is the third player after Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis to hold that honor despite failing to earn a major trophy.

The Williams sisters persist as the beacon of light of American tennis with Venus shining on her best surface, the grass at Wimbledon. Venus seized her fifth title at sister Serena’s expense. But the latter’s tears were short-lived as the siblings took the Wimbledon doubles title and repeated with doubles gold in Beijing. Moreover, Venus showed that at 28, she still could keep up with her younger peers by winning both in Zurich and at the prestigious year-end championships. While Serena, no spring chicken herself, prevailed for the third time at the U.S. Open.

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Venus Finishes Regular Season With A Title In Zurich


Italian Flavia Pennetta has had Venus Williams’ number in their last three encounters. Ousting the majors’ champion in the semifinals in Bangkok, the third round at the French Open and last week in the first round in Moscow. But today, Venus exacted revenge by prevailing in straight sets in the finals at the Tennis.com Zurich Open 7-6, 6-2.

As always for Venus, the key to her success was her serve. Williams opened the match with a few big bombs to hold at love. Not intimidated, Pennetta got through her service game easily thanks to unforced errors from Williams. Another crucial factor was Venus’ success when venturing into the forecourt. After getting an ad point, Williams made a nice forehand swing volley to stay on serve at 3-2. After an untroubled service game, Pennetta got to deuce on Williams’ serve, but with an ace and great defense in an extended rally, Williams forced Pennetta to miss the volley to lead 5-4. With neither player able to break, the first set went to a tiebreak. Williams dominated from the outset. With a deep service return, Venus got the error from Flavia to go up a minibreak 2-0. Then, a Pennetta miscue on a volley and two backhand errors placed Williams in command in the tiebreak.

After going down 15-30 in the second set’s opening game, Flavia regrouped and held serve. After breezing through her service game, Williams used great defense to get the forehand error from Pennetta in an interminable rally giving Venus the first break point of the match. Unflappable in the long rallies, Williams forced her opponent into an error to obtain the break 2-1. After consolidating the break, Williams started to tee off on Pennetta’s second serves. With a double fault, Venus got a second break point which Flavia defended to keep the gap at one break. After this momentary reprieve, Williams baited Pennetta into three unforced errors her next service game, then used her defensive skills to top Pennetta in a blockbuster rally for a 5-2 lead. After scooping up a low volley for a backhand winner, Venus arrived at match point. Following a controversial line call which kept Pennetta alive, Venus refocused to hit a forehand down the line winner for a second match point. Williams then put a period on the proceedings with a solid serve.

For Pennetta, it was a week of firsts. The Italian beat world number one, Jelena Jankovic for the first time and made it to her first tier II tournament final. Williams, who has been struggling since winning her only title this year at Wimbledon, defeated Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals. With this victory, Venus secures her place in Doha at the Sony Ericsson championships. Celebrating its 25th and final year, the Zurich Open is being axed from the restructured WTA calendar in 2009.

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Safina Pulverizes Pennetta To Win East West Bank Classic


The women’s final at the second stop of the U.S. Open Series placed Italian Flavia Pennetta against Russian Dinara Safina. The latter must have felt comfortable coming into this match since she had never lost to the Italian. Safina smashed her opponent 6-4, 6-2 to take her second trophy this season.

After a tentative start where Pennetta had a break point in her first service game, Safina began to find her rhythm. The Italian attempted to match the power coming from her competitor’s racket, but serving at 3-4, Pennetta was broken. Yet, Dinara was unable to wrap up the set. Shortly after, unable to find the mark with her serve, Safina was broken herself. Nevertheless, the normally volatile Russian kept her cool and continued to pound away at the ball and created a double break point opening which seized to prevail in the first set 6-4.

In the second set, Safina proceeded to punch-drunk Pennetta with her weighty shots. Although Flavia broke Dinara’s serve twice, she was unable to hold hers even once. Thus, despite her great effort, Pennetta was crushed in the second set at 6-2. With this win, Safina’s ranking moves up a notch to number 8, her highest ever.

Safina dismissed the tournament’s top seed, Jelena Jankovic, in the semifinals. Jankovic would have grabbed the number one ranking away from her countrywoman Ana Ivanovic if she won this week. Serena Williams pulled out of the event because of last week’s knee injury while Daniela Hantuchova and Anna Chakvetadze fell in the third round and the quarterfinals respectively.

At the Slovenia Open, a tier IV hard court tournament, Italian Sara Errani beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 6-3 to win her second title this year.

Next week the ladies will be in Montreal for the Rogers Cup where most of the top players will be competing minus Venus and Serena Williams who will be absent due to illness. A tier IV hard court tournament will also be taking place in Sweden with Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska as the number one seed.

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Life After Wimbledon: The Latest News from The ATP and WTA


In case you were wondering, after two amazing weeks of play at the All England Club, tennis does go on. Although several of the top players are taking a well-deserved rest, here are the most recent results from the women and men’s tours.

In Stuggart Germany, a clay court event, 19-year-old Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro beat second seed Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-5 in the finals at Mercedes Cup in order to win his first ATP title. Along with a nice paycheck, Del Potro received a spanking new Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 convertible. Ah tennis, nice work if you can get it! Top seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament because of a right knee problem suffered during his grueling fortnight at Wimbledon.

Two other tournaments were taking place in Europe, also on clay. At the Allianz Suisse Open in Gstaad, Romanian Victor Hanescu defeated Russian Igor Andreev 6-3, 6-4 in the finals. Hanescu prevailed over top seed and favorite son Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals. In Sweden, Spaniard Tommy Robredo disposed of Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-1 to claim the title at the Catella Swedish Open in Bastad; Tommy’s first trophy this year. Robredo eliminated defending champion and number one seed David Ferrer in the semifinals.

Grass was the surface in play at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island. Second seed Fabrice Santoro vanquished over wildcard finalist Prakash Amritraj 6-3, 7-5 to win his second consecutive title. Americans Mardy Fish and John Isner took the doubles prize.

For the women, it was back to the clay and a week of first for the eventual winners. At the Gaz de France, a tier III tournament in Budapest Hungary, France’s Alize Cornet, seeded second, defeated Slovenia’s Andreja Klepac 7-6, 6-3 to seize her first WTA title. Klepac ousted local sensation and number one seed, Agnes Szavay, in the second round on her way to the finals. Later in the day, Cornet along with partner Janette Husarova of Slovakia went on to take the doubles title. At the Internazionali Femminili Di Tennis in Palermo Italy, a tier IV event, Italian Sara Errani became a first time titlist on the WTA tour. Errani advanced after countrywoman and top seed Flavia Pennetta retired in the semifinals. In the finals, Errani squashed Ukrainian Mariya Koryttseva 6-2, 6-3. Like Cornet, Errani also captured the doubles trophy with teammate Nuria Llagostera Vives of Spain.

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Wimbledon 2008: A Preview Of The Singles’ Draw


Once again, the Wimbledon seeding committee has upset the apple cart by utilizing its prerogative of not formulating the draw according to rankings. It is the only major that does not always abide by the rankings.

Thus, on the gentlemen’s side, Richard Gasquet currently the world number nine has been seeded ahead of James Blake ranked number eight. This is far from a minor detail. Gasquet’s semifinal finish last year probably influenced that decision, but his performance so far this year has been disastrous. For Blake, the implications are huge. Instead of meeting Andy Roddick seeded sixth in the semifinals, the two could potentially clash in the round of 16.

Marcos Baghdatis also reaped the fruits of his quarterfinal showing last year. Now ranked 25, Baghdatis is seeded tenth. Meanwhile, Stanislas Wawrinka, world number ten, in spite of his excellent season has been bumped to the number thirteen slot. Otherwise, the top seven players were seeded as expected.

For world number one Roger Federer, the road to the finals is paved with stones. In the first round, Federer faces former top ten player, Dominik Hrbaty. From there, things get more complex with Lleyton Hewitt, Fernando Gonzalez and possibly Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. For Rafael Nadal, it is harder to isolate potential pitfalls. Nadal recently beat Roddick on grass who is also on his side of the draw. Perhaps if Blake makes it to the semifinals, this may be problematic for Nadal considering that Blake leads him 3-2 in their head to head but they’ve always met on hardcourt.

The ladies’ seeding followed the rankings. Analyzing the top half of the draw, Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams should technically make it to the semifinals. For Ivanovic, speed bumps could include Patty Schnyder, Nicole Vaidosova and Agnes Szavay. On the other hand, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Agnieszka Radwanska may prevent Serena from getting to her projected engagement with Ivanovic. Defending champion Venus Williams’ journey to the trophy will be tough with Jelena Jankovic, Vera Zvonerava or Flavia Pennetta standing in her way in the quarterfinals. While Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina or Elena Dementieva may be semifinal obstacles for Venus. Similarly for Sharapova, her side of the draw is stacked with fellow Russians such Safina, Dementieva or Petrova who may stop her from advancing.

So, there is a lot to contemplate as we look ahead to next couple of weeks. On the women’s side, the draw appears wide open. Past major champions may have the edge because of their experience. With the gentlemen, considering that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic with their talent have distanced themselves so much from the rest of the field, it is hard to foresee another player as having even a marginal shot at the trophy. The question to be answered is whether this will be Federer’s sixth consecutive title or whether Nadal or Djokovic will manage to snatch it from Federer’s grasp.

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