Fed Cup


Balls struck by the Andy Murray backhand on the Saturday preceding the US Open (above).  Notice those string marks.

As you know from our page, we’ve taken Andy Murray very seriously since he hired Ivan Lendl.  We weren’t in love with what we considered a bit of a backslide, pardon pun, on clay, after what we thought was a really strong showing, especially against Djokovic and Nadal at Rome and Monte Carlo in 2011.  He didn’t do much to build on that this year, and we thought it a bad sign.  Although, losing to ultimate warrior David Ferrer in the quarters, who has his number on clay, is not at all a bad showing when you still make the quarters.  We thought Murray was going to be the first Brit to hold a trophy on clay since the 70’s on the men’s side (albeit a lesser trophy), and we still do.  But obviously that didn’t happen in 2012, and it doesn’t really matter, since Murray won Olympic gold and his first major at Flushing, in dramatic 5 set fashion over nemesis Novak Djokovic.  And finally, there was a couple of finals in real pressure cooker spots where you could say that Murray, Andy Murray of Great Britain, was the guy who wanted it more, who kept it together when it all could have went south.  Good for him.  Beating Federer at the Wimbledon Olympiad, a tired Federer or whatever, was still his biggest win up til then.  Perhaps he needed that second 5 setter versus Federer to get out all the mistakes and nerves.  Seemed that way.  Perhaps the partisan nationalist crowd was a factor.  That also seemed to be true.  But Murray played the better tennis and deserved to walk out with the win.  Anytime you beat Djokovic and Federer in successive matches, you deserve to hold the trophy.

At the US Open, Murray played an excellent semi-final against Berdych, in terrible conditions due to wind.  Frankly, we think the wind aided Murray a great deal.  Berdych was poised to dictate that match on his forehand, sans the wind.  Even Murray, an excellent returner, could not have dreamed for more opportunities on second balls than the wind afforded him on Super Saturday.  And Murray didn’t wow us against Marin Cilic, who was thisclose to taking the new champ out in the quarters prior to his coronation.  But it takes some luck, some nerves on the part of the competition, some upsets, and it takes resolve under pressure, which Murray showed when down to Cilic, in the wind versus Berdy, and in the wind versus Djokovic in that final, and when Djokovic had stormed back from 2 sets to the bad.

Murray has the game to win majors and put it all together this summer in 2 very big spots.  Is he a better player than any of the big 3?  No.  But he had never defeated Djokovic (0-2 prior to the Open final, both matches at Melbourne) or Federer (0-3 prior to the Olympic gold medal match) in a 5 set match prior to this summer, and now he has beaten each on their respective favorite surface.  Well done indeed.

Does it mean we expect to see Murray leap frogging better players at the top of the game?  No.  Djokovic deserves the ranking.  He went to 3 major finals, won one, and reached the Wimbledon semi.  He is still top dog.  Federer gets to play the rest of the season on his beloved indoor courts where the wind doesn’t affect his toss or his groundstrokes.  Just recall his performance against Murray in the Wimbledon final once they covered Centre Court.  We don’t see Federer losing too many matches from here on out, and he may do enough to end the year at #1.  Federer certainly has the YEC in his sights yet again.

We also see Djokovic learning some really important lessons this year, as it is far different as the hunted than as the hunter.  We think Djokovic became perhaps a little too impatient on all surfaces this year, a little too frustrated this year, outside of Melbourne, in spots where he was record clutch just about everywhere in 2011.  While the attack mode plays best at Wimbledon, and we did like Djokovic to win there, frankly, Roger taught him a few tricks of the trade on grass, and failed let Djokovic dismantle the Federer backhand, as Federer has been an ace at stepping around the backhand in his most recent matches with Djokovic.  And if Djokovic gets a windless day a few Mondays back, or if he wins that first set when up 4-2 in that breaker, he probably hoists his 2nd Open trophy.  But he didn’t play well enough or get enough breaks.  So what we see coming of it is that Djokovic goes into hyper work mode, as he did toward the end of 2010, when he broke through his plateau against Nadal.  Djokovic is going to be the driving force in the men’s game next year.  We are confident of that.

Murray and Robson (above) at Hopman Cup in Perth, 2010.

Murray is going to be a serious player at the hardcourt majors and Wimbledon for a long time to come.  We thought Murray practiced very well leading up to The Open, and had the pleasure of watching him from the first row in a session against David Ferrer in which he hit the ball as hard as anyone we’ve seen hit it, leaving the string marks on the ball as pictured above.  Murray has a lot of power when he hits his shots with momentum, and a lot of touch when he sheds that trademark temerity and approaches the net.  Now, he uses those talents.  Then there’s Murray’s bronze medal mixed doubles partner, Laura Robson, who on Sunday was nearly the first British woman to take home hardware since Virginia Wade did 30-something years ago.  We remember Robson as a 13 and 14 year old prodigy on the outer courts of SW-19, thinking about the enormous pressure on her, the whole pride of Britain thing.  And we didn’t see all that many gains for almost 5 years.  But now, we see a kid who at 18 is on target to make the top 10 on the soon side.  Robson took out Clijsters at Flushing in round 2, and we get the notion that Clijsters was also playing her emotions in that spot, her final USO match, final career match and whatnot.  But nobody is rooting for Robson there so it isn’t a great spot for the kid either.  Frankly, a lot about Robson reminds us of Clijsters.  The backhand, for one, is a real weapon.  She steps in and rips that 2-hander with control.  But Robson, at 5’11, has a great serve and seems like one of the best candidates in the women’s game right now to hold her serve consistently.  Then there’s that big lefty forehand that she can crush flat or corkscrew with topspin, a shot that smaller players will have a lot of trouble with when it gets up high.  And Robson moves forward with ease, goes side to side and defends gracefully, and keeps her composure far beyond that of a normal 18 year old, even in tennis.

Robson has climbed some 250 spots in the last two years since she began training at the Mouratoglou academy in Paris.  BTW, Mouratoglou also coaches Dimitrov, who has made decent strides since beginning that partnership, and is also a recent addition to Serena Williams coaching team, as well as being linked romantically to Lady S.  Since joining forces with Williams, Serena has won Wimbledon, Olympic gold, and the US Open.

Last week, Robson had a great run in Guangzhou at a 250 level event, defeating Zheng Jie (#22), Shuai Peng (#47), and Sorana Cirstea (#30) on her way to a final berth in which she almost came from 6-3, 5-3 down to defeat then world #53, Su-Wei Hsieh.  Eventually she lost to Hsieh 6-4 in the 3rd, but it was still a banner week for young Robson.  Hsieh is a tricky two hander who had handled Robson in their previous meeting, 7-6, 6-4.  Hsieh is a mature 26 year old, who went up to world #39 with Sunday’s win.  Robson, prior to that match, talked about how hard Hsieh was to read and how difficult it is to get a rhythm playing against her.

Obviously Robson is finding a way to problem solve on the court.  After the stunning upset of Clijsters at Flushing, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for her to let down in round 3 against Li Na.  When she was up a set and a break on Li and then lost the break and a 2nd set breaker, no one in the house was expecting her to pull out the win.  That win, sending Robson to her 1st round of 16 as a pro, was hard fought and well won, and marked her taking out two major champions in successive matches.

Robson, who started the year at 2-8 and did not get a win on the main tour until Miami at the end of March, is now 29-23, and in looking over the players above her, we see that she is poised to make a big move up the rankings this fall.

42    42    Arvidsson, Sofia    16/02/84    SWE    1355    25
43    41    Wozniak, Aleksandra    07/09/87    CAN    1350    23
44    44    Pironkova, Tsvetana    13/09/87    BUL    1325    22
45    48    Cornet, Alize    22/01/90    FRA    1325    27
46    47    Peng, Shuai    08/01/86    CHN    1315    23
47    46    Niculescu, Monica    25/09/87    ROU    1306    21
48    45    Suarez Navarro, Carla    03/09/88    ESP    1281    26
49    49    Halep, Simona    27/09/91    ROU    1225    22
50    51    Cetkovska, Petra    08/02/85    CZE    1215    20
51    50    Hradecka, Lucie    21/05/85    CZE    1199    21
52    52    Tatishvili, Anna    03/02/90    GEO    1162    30
53    43    Scheepers, Chanelle    13/03/84    RSA    1120    26
54    54    Govortsova, Olga    23/08/88    BLR    1120    26
55    55    Kuznetsova, Svetlana    27/06/85    RUS    1082    15
56    58    Jovanovski, Bojana    31/12/91    SRB    1080    29
57    74    Robson, Laura    21/01/94    GBR    1073    26

http://www.wtatennis.com/page/RankingsSingles/0,,12781~0~1~100,00.html

We are not impressed with anyone on that list above, except for Robson.  We’d say there are some players ripe to be overtaken right up to Wozniacki at number 11, and we think Robson can leap frog a lot of these ladies with a strong end to the year.  Spots 28-41 are all people Robson is going to be beating regularly, with the possible exception of Sloane Stephens, though that may be debatable.  And Robson has virtually no points to defend as she moves through the remainder of the outdoor hardcourt season and then goes indoors, where she is obviously suited to the speed of play.

We were never big Murray fans and we think you know that to be the case.  Still, we’ve been on Murray as a big time threat, except for at Roland Garros, since he brought Lendl aboard.  Robson is a lot easier to like than Murray.  No tantrums.  No hype outside of the Isles.  And no maddeningly passive strategies, though Murray, especially with Lendl as his coach, has better figured out when the time is to let it rip.  But of all the young women we watched this summer, Robson did the most to impress.  Tough break drawing Schiavone in the 1st round at Wimbledon, but we’d bet the house she’d win the rematch on grass, where she has practiced a lot, as she is already a linchpin of her nation’s Fed Cup team.

Simply put, if you are a weak minded female, or one with no weapons, then Robson will have your ranking soon enough.  Between Murray and Robson, Britain is poised for their best run in tennis since the pre-modern era.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

Sloane Stephens (above), popping a serve off against Mathilda Johansson on Friday in an easy breezy victory.

While we understood Serena as the prohibitive pre-tournament favorite, we have said many times that clay is a different animal that always treats her differently.  We said that her M.O. at RG was that something always seems to go wrong.  Were we surprised at the loss to Razzano?  Absolutely.  Were we on it?  No.  Betting against Serena is a bad business, as we’ve said, and only further reinforced by her destruction of Azarenka in Madrid, and that little gambit we took with Vica.

Hopefully someone took our underdog philosophy and made some bank on Razzano.  Still, not an easy bit of business, down a set and 5-1 in the breaker before the tide turned.  How often does Serena choke one away?  Or lose R1 at a major?  Until Tuesday, the answers to both were never.  But then again, neither the partisan French crowd–in truth a pit of vipers–nor Chair Eva Asderaki, with whom Lady S has past history, were going to do her any favors.  On Asderaki: 1) That’s a tough over-rule.  I don’t like to criticize calls, as it’s bad form, and at RG, the Chairs do player a larger role than elsewhere because the stupid clay leaves stupid marks…and yet, there is simply no line call conflicts on any other surface and at the other majors, where they have gone to modern technology.  John McEnroe has said often enough that he feels he would have been far more successful with the current Hawkeye system because he expended so much energy fighting officials and that had such a negative impact on his game.  Anyone who remembers John John understands the point all too well.  Are the French cheap, stupid, or just stubborn?

Ding ding ding.  Anyway on to 2) Point penalties for “hinderance” on player audibles are never called, yet has now been called by 1 Chair in 2 different majors against Serena in the last calendar year.  Does Asderaki make that call against Azarenka and Sharapova, the tour’s loudest players?  No.  But then again, they haven’t called Asderaki a “hater” and a “terrible person.”  But then again, again, Asderaki’s 1st hinderance call in the US OPEN FINAL against Stosur was not prompted by unfortunate remarks.

The Chair has played way too big of a role in Serena’s most recent USO & RG losses.  The same Chair.  While we may stop short of calling Asderaki a racist on this page, we would have to agree with Serena’s assessment.  Also, we aren’t one of those types who scoffs at the notion of racism in tennis.  We also feel that Asderaki is obviously prejudiced against Serena, if not actually prejudice (although…)  In a virtually even match on points (Razzano won on total points by 5, 117-112), those 3 points essentially gifted to Razzano would have swung the total in favor of Serena by one.  Three points is practically a game, or half a breaker.  Frankly, the Chair should not play a determining role in ANY match, EVER.  If the Chair’s fairness is questioned, then it ruins the integrity of the game.

On to little Lauren Davis, who announced herself this week with a huge victory over very impressive German Mona Barthel.  We thought Barthel was set to turn heads here.  But Davis, on a foreign surface, abused Barthel.  Despite her loss to the American bulldog, Christina McHale in the next round, we are very pleased with her results, obviously coming into RG prepared for both the surface and the stage.  If Barthel hasn’t yet registered as a name, it’s only because ascent has been so meteoric.  That is a tremendous win.  Perhaps MJF is doing a better job with our young ones than we usually credit her for, having been awarded the Fed Cup post out of what we feel is blatant cronyism.  As for McHale, she may not be ready to take out Li Na, but we watched it closely, and also listened to RadioRG tell it in stretches.  We all thought that McHale scared Li very much with that strong, clean first set, and you can really see McHale winning a match like that next time around.  McHale seems to get as much torque on her forehand as any woman we’ve seen this week.  In short, Joy-zee was in da house.

John Isner, 2 years after setting the major match length record at SW-19 after his 70-68 5th set win over Mahut, now has the French Open record, this time losing to Paul Henri Matthieu 18-16 in the 5th.  This match has us considering if John McEnroe isn’t right about something else as well.  We were inclined to disagree with Johnny Mac, who has pushed for deciding 5th set breakers at all the majors.  We had felt that the extended 5th set format at the AO, RG, SW-19, and DC has a certain mystique and that the players who take part in those matches enhance the history of the game and their own names by playing in these most memorable matches.

But the epic Isner-Mahut affair did effectively scuttle the rest of both players’ 2010 seasons.  Mac talked about how the players have discussed job actions in order to pursue better prize money for lesser players and better protections.  He’s correct that the 5th set breaker would protect players health and ultimately their careers.  And the very personable Dimitry Tursunov underscored the travails of the lesser player in a phenomenal interview he gave to Matt Cronin and Matt Brown of RadioRG.  Tursunov discussed his gig as a pro tennis blogger and how fickle fans always threaten to unfollow him, and more serious stuff, like how expensive the tour is for lesser players like him, who God forbid, want to travel with a coach, a physio and even a girlfriend.  Tursunov candidly explained that in a city like Paris he can barely afford to do anything.  We loved Tursunov in this spot.  While Justin Gimelstob (who hit with Brian Baker prior to Baker’s win over Xavier Malisse and gave great insight as to the Baker story, an American who played in the RG Junior Final in 2003 and was injured the next year and then spent almost 8 years off the tour) is obviously our favorite TTC personality by a mile, we are considering throwing our support behind Tursunov as well, who would be a fine score for TTC.

After an easy R1, Isner spoke with Bill Macatee of TTC, and discussed how he really likes playing on the clay, because of the time it affords him and because the ball bounces up high, right into his strike zone.  We weren’t paying close enough attention, and missed on another upset.  Paul Henri Matthieu is perhaps the flattest hitting Frenchman there is, and goes very flat on both sides.  Even flatter, we feel, than Gilles Simon.  Isner got a bad matchup in that regard, and is not as good when he has to get down low to play balls.  But the central issue with Isner remains his inability to generate opportunities in the return game.  We talked a lot about how Kevin Anderson was such a bad matchup for him back in Delray, because Anderson holds serve easily.  How many times have we seen Isner play these matches where he can’t muster a break?  We know that Jim Courier has been coordinating his efforts with guys like Isner and Harrison, and their coaches.  Isner’s coach, Craig Boynton, has done a great job getting this giant to play defense as he does, but the laterals are always going to be the question with a guy this big.  And now, in 3 recent majors (2012 AO, 2012 FO, 2010 SW-19), he has had to go to an extended fifth set, and all 3 times he faced unimpressive servers (Nalbandian, Mahut, Matthieu), or relatively unimpressive servers.

Isner has heart and smarts and weapons, but he has to do better in spots like these.  Matthieu in the 2nd round, on a collision course with Andy Murray, weak on clay in the quarters, then possibly Nadal, who he pushed to a 5th set here last year, Nadal’s only 5th set ever at RG.  That’s a bitter defeat.  But Wimbledon should also offer a wealth of opportunities for a guy who serves out of a tree top.

Then there’s Sloane Stephens.  Wow.  This is why we have been begging for her inclusion on the Fed Cup team.  She’s our best bet.  She’s not tiny like McHale, but she can defend like McHale, and her weapons are real.  Frankly, she has dominated this week, blowing out BMS and Johansson, and also straight setting Makarova, who was a big favorite.  We are going with her tomorrow against another SS, Sam Stosur.  We’ve gotten hot, pegging Varvara Lepchenko for good things throughout the week so far (another American), and today we had Granollers, Kanepi, and Rus.

Tomorrow it’s Sloane at +475.  As we see it, Stephens has the pace to target Stosur’s backhand and actually get the ball there.  If Stosur is allowed to run around every forehand, she wins.  She probably does enough to win here tomorrow, but she has been very wonky since winning the Open, and Sloane has the power and speed to show her up a little.  We do not see this line as being a realistic indicator of the scoreline.  We do not see the rock solid Stosur we saw two years ago here.

We’ll be happy to watch it all play out, provided NBC and ESPN and TTC can get the coverage straight, and we don’t have to watch a Spanish feed of the match off the internet (as we did today for Raonic-Monaco).  And hopefully Asderaki is chairing on another court, or better yet, no court at all.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

 

Stacey Gardner (left, above) and Ester Satorova.

Originally we were going to light up The Tennis Channel for it’s diminished coverage of our beloved Hopman Cup, which is a celebration of tennis, a multi-national competition sometimes decided by our dearly beloved mixed doubles–how novel–and the greatest of New Year’s pick me ups.  It is true that TTC only televised three sessions of the Hopman Cup, but in it’s quest to cover American tennis primarily, and with the blah team of Mardy Fish and Bethanie Mattek-Sands representing America, could we really blame them?  In this day and age, if you can’t find just about any tennis online live, you have no business criticizing the The Tennis Channel anyway.  But criticizing Fish and Sands?  That’s a cottage industry.

Well, if you hearken back to last year when John Isner–a winner–and Sands partnered up to win Hopman Cup XXIII, you couldn’t have been too displeased with Sands, who perhaps had no business tussling with Justine Henin, but who did pull her weight admirably in perhaps sharing with Isner in her greatest tennis glory.  And was it not a sight to see Justine Henin returning serve to John Isner?  Let’s face it, Sands is a middling player at best, a blight on our Fed Cup team, a high socked, neon dyed chubby little picture of bad fashion with the girliest popgun forehand in the women’s top 55, but she is not a disgrace to American tennis.  The girl gets doubles, understands well her limitations, and therefore uses the net, approaches as much as possible with nice touch at net, and again, she came through as much as one could expect her to last year to get USA her sixth Hopman Cup.

It’s not her fault that her meager game gets trotted out so regularly to horrible results by Mary Joe Fernandez.  That would be the USTA’s fault.  So when the Czech sounded the American death knell the other morning, and Sands got obliterated by Kvitova, as she should, and when Fish got abused by Berdych, as expected, we put no blame on Ms. Sands.  After all, the Americans were up a break in the second set of the mixed, and it was no fault of Sands that Mardy Fish blew about ten volleys in 4 games and netted four crosses in the exact same damned spot in the net.  As our mate Fred Stolle aptly pointed out, if Fish were tired from being beaten so badly by Tomas Berdych, that was not an excuse for dead legged tennis in the mixed, crossing like a kamikaze to blow volleys that the 12 year olds over at the NYJTL make regularly in the school yard.  Fred Stolle, who we only get down under and occasionally during mixed package major season, the first seven days of the majors, when we are very lucky.  Fred, why couldn’t you have stayed with ESPN back in the day and that hack Cliff Drysdale have gone?

Fish Fish Fish.  The worst thing anyone could possibly do is to put their faith in Mardy Fish in the big spot.  Now you might say, well, didn’t Fish win the bespeckled tennis ball with a driven Serena a scant few years back?  Yes.  But Serena is so great that she can make Mardy Fish a winner for a week, something we’ve yet to see anyone else do.  She carried Fish, she banged unreturnable serves to the men and women, and her presence on just about any doubles team has generally always produced medals and champion trophies.  It was lucky for Mardy that Serena likes bling so much, was healthy, and so motivated to get another blinged out tennis ball from old Lucy H.  For when Fish had the opportunity to take home the gold, he lost in five sets to…Nicolas Massu.  And he’ll never live that down.

And the excuses abound.  And that’s just tiresome.  Like hearing about Mardy Fish’s ankle all summer.  Let’s face it.  Nadal is more heavily taped up on a day to day basis by a lot, and he only wins majors.  While Fish is rationalizing to the cameras on Hopman Cup that at least Bethanie got in some matches.  Again, Sands is not the dominant player here.  When she won, it was Isner, and when Fish won, it was all Serena.  But can’t Fish state a grand intention for once, even if it’s only at Hopman Cup, where he is a past champion paired with the defending champion?  Instead it’s always like, ‘well maybe I can make the quarters.’

So we aren’t upset that America lost, considering the roster, and that so many other rosters were much much stronger.  Had a special eye on Bulgaria with our lad Grigor Dimitrov, the best up and coming one hander in the game, and Tsvetana Pironkova, Wimbledon’s mistress–quite a team.  BTW, Dimitrov did not look like a prodigy but rather, a prodigy realized, when he spanked Mardy Fish 6-2, 6-1.  Loved France with super talented one hander Richard Gasquet and two-hander Marion Bartoli, an utter hack but taken with Gasquet, a very diverse tandem.  And the Czech obviously were going to be heavy favorites because they were loaded, with Kvitova a given to win and Berdych sitting very pretty.  If the Americans could have actually stretched it out TTC would have shown us more tennis, but they still had the good grace to televise the final which we happened to catch last night at 4 AM, and despite the lack of drama due to the sweep and the no mixed match which would’ve been a hot contest, we got to see the dominant left hand of Kvitova, the dominant serve of Berdych, and the flair of Gasquet, one the game’s best shot makers.  Gasquet took the backhand early and made many beautiful backhands up the line, made incredible forehand return winners, making for a very interesting match which Berdych took 7-6 (7-0), 6-4.  Berdych is in fine form.  His return game was clicking, popping several huge forehands for winners in his own right, and even on the tacky blue plexicushion, we felt the indoor conditions made the court play extremely fast.  It was bang bang tennis, and both guys should get credit for going for shots, coming forward, and pursuing the attack.

A nice bit of warm spirit after the contest was when Bartoli came down to console Gasquet after the match, and when Kvitova came to congratulate and celebrate with Berdych.  This is a great competition and always has been, in the name of the great Harry Hopman who coached from Laver and Rosewall to McEnroe and Gerulaitis, and who stressed the serve, the overhead, and getting to net and sticking your racquet out.  Unfortunately from a sentimental aspect, the event has had its last run at Burswood, but is sounds like the Hopman Cup is moving to an even better venue in Perth’s new arena.

It’s no real comfort to America, but Fish goes home with Stacey Gardner, so obviously these losses aren’t sweated too heavily.  And Berdych to Ester Satorova.  Damn.  We should’ve had a battle of the tennis babes featuring those two.  But there’s still time.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

Victorious Petra Kvitova (R.), who ended her year today with an active 20 match indoor win streak, and hottie Maria Kirilenko. 

On the back of the best player in the women’s game, the Czech Republic stands today as Federation Cup Champions.  In what is yet another coup for world # 2 Petra Kvitova, de facto # 1, Kvitova added the Fed Cup title to her resume that already boasted the 2011 Singles Wimbledon Championship, and the 2011 Year End WTA Tour Championship, which she won last week in Istanbul.  Kvitova, on a Russian indoor court in Moscow’s Olympic Stadium, whipped up on Maria Kirilenko in the first match of the tie, 6-2, 6-2 in straights, and then today gritted one out against Svetlana Kuznetsova in three tight sets, putting the Czech in position to claim their first title in Fed Cup since a Jana Novotna led 1988 squad which also prevailed against Russia. 

The Russians, who were aced out on their own soil, had won the Fed Cup Title four times since 2004, and evened the tie in the 4th rubber when Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova defeated Lucie Safarova in straight sets, putting the Russian team in a great position to take a 5th team title in 8 years, if they could pull out a win in the doubles.  It was a tough weekend for Safarova, who managed to take no sets and only 11 games in two matches during the final tie.  Good news for her that she had Kvitova and the team of Pesche and Hradecka to pick her up.

Obviously no small task either to have to win the deciding rubber on the road, but Kveta Pesche, a doubles specialist and major champion (Wimbledon, 2011 with Katerina Srebotnik), teamed with Lucie Hradecka, with whom she has some chemistry and a little Fed Cup experience playing along side of, proved out against the ill suited Russian team of Maria Kirilenko and Elena Vesnina, 6-4, 6-2.  With many rumors about the job security of Russia’s head tennis man, Shamil Tarpishchev, who was overseen and captained both Russian Davis and Fed Cup squads since the seventies, circulating, many have found time today to criticize the decision to pair Kirilenko and Vesnina, and for that matter, to question why Pavlyuchenkova was not in on the second singles rubber, and why Kirilenko was.

Anastasia Myskina, former one hit French Open wonder, was sitting with the Russian squad this weekend, and has been widely speculated as being in line to replace Tarpishchev with the Fed Cup team, when change comes.  It should also be noted that Vera Zvonareva was not available due to injury.  Still, how wonderful it was to see a major championship come down to doubles, and to see a heavy road dog and a different set of faces pevail after recent Russian and Italian dominance.

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

First time Wimbledon Ladies singles champion Petra Kvitova (above) of the Czech Republic ended a perfect week and a perfect indoor season in 2011 with a hard fought 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka in Istanbul.  Kvitova outclassed the rest of the field here in Turkey, edging US Open champion Sam Stosur in the semis in 3 tough sets, to run her record against the Aussie to 3-0 for her career.  Kvitova did not drop a set in the round robin portion of the competition, which included an easy win over world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has done nothing to quiet her many critics, as she came up imminently small once again.

The big serving lefty Kvitova, despite having zero transition game, played the entire indoor season as she did Wimbledon: as Ms. Big Shot.  Her ability to dictate, usually the prime determinant on fast courts, proved out, even today against Azarenka, who had a great year and some hard luck, running into a rested Serena in the 3rd round of the US Open.  Kvitova has now clinched the year end #2 spot, a far cry from last year, when she ended the year outside the top 30.

Kvitova won the WTA Tour Championship in her first ever trip to the tournament which only accepts the world’s top 8 females.  She has not lost indoors since last October’s Kremlin Cup, when Kateryna Bondarenko got her in 3 sets in the 1st round.  Kvitova ends the year on an 11-0 indoor win streak.

As for Wozniacki, we definitely do not agree with favorite TTC personalities Corina Moriariu and former great Lindsey Davenport, who tried to pump up the Dutch pastry all week long.  Wozniacki and Kvitova both won 6 events, but Kvitova won a major in her first major final, and the Wimbledon winner is always regarded as the year’s true champion.  The YEC title, while not a major, is certainly a championship of note, and made more difficult by the fact that there are no easy matches.  All the more impressive, Kvitova did not lose in the tournament, while Wozniacki could not even reach the semi-finals.  No shocker since she is awful against top players.  Don’t be fooled by her “best” record against players in the top 10, which was intact, and may still be, even after getting shredded in straights 4 and 2 by Kvitova to open the Red Group’s RR play, and then followed it up with a loss to Vera Zvonareva.  In fact, Wozniacki could only manage one win this week, and barely, as Radwanska had her down a set and an early break in her one victory.

The four best players available made the semis, in Kvitova, Li, and Stosur–3 first time major champions–and Azarenka.  Clearly Zvonareva is a much better player than Wozniacki, as has been Sharapova this year, and as Venus, Serena, and Clijsters all surely are.

Yet Wozniacki holds the ranking, though she is likely outside the 10 best players in the game, because we’d probably put Schiavone, who is a French champ and last year was the French runner-up, ahead of her as well.  Though Moriariu and Davenport attemtped to portray Wozniacki as having a prominent future because the biggest rivals on the scene are aging, we’d say to that where are the actual rivalries?  She hasn’t really beaten anybody in the spot, and her 6 tournament wins last year were basically inconsequential, when compared to Kvitova’s body of work.

Since Clijsters, Venus, and Serena are headed back, and Kvitova, Azarenka, and Zvonareva aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, we think the Dutch Ms. is going to remain an utter disappointment.  As for Kvitova, if our tally is right, she has run her record to 59-13 on the year, and now prepares to represent her country in the Fed Cup Final tie versus Russia which begins next weekend.

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida native Sloane Stephens (above) raises her arms after notching her 1st major upset yesterday.

Eighteen year old American tennis prodigy Sloane Stephens is on a roll.  At the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, California, Stephens has put together what seems to be her first two match win streak, with victories over Shuai Zheng of China and Julia Goerges of Germany, who has been one of the it girls on the tour in recent months with her meteoric rise to world #2o.  Stephens is yet to lose a set this week, and blitzed the 7th seeded Goerges 6-3, 7-5 in the 2nd round round, earning her a date with Wimbledon darling Tamira Paszek in the round of 16.

Stephens played the better tennis yesterday on both sides of the ball, sharp in both her serve and return games.  The summer hardcourt swing is the season for young Americans to make waves, and Stephens is taking advantage.  She was quick all over the court and showed the consistently solid play she has only flashed at times until now.  Prior to this week, Stephens had only one barely quality win, which came in the spring over Melanie Oudin.  But you know we don’t think highly of Oudin at all, who is plummeting in the rankings after bursting on to the scene two summers ago.  Oudin fell to world #111 this week and was unceremoniously bounced with a bagel and a breadstick, 6-0, 6-1 by Britain’s Elena Baltacha in the 1st round.

While we never saw much in the tiny, pop gun hitting Oudin besides a balloon waiting to burst, Stephens is another story.  Stephens is almost 5’9, a height enough to get some stick on her serve, and she is a practiced doubles player who has great court sense and feel on the court.  In 2009 on the junior circuit, Stephens nearly completed the Grand Slam in doubles.  She took the trophy with Timea Babos of Hungary at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open.

We have been campaigning for Stephens’ inclusion over Oudin on our severely downtrodden Fed Cup squad, and she seems on the road to claiming a place on the team, which would further accelerate her development. 

It’s also been a good week for a couple of other young Americans.  Christina McHale is nto the 4th round where she will face Agniezska Radwanska and Coco Vandeweghe, neice of former Knick Kiki Vandeweghe and local product, who is hovering right around the top 100, should move up after consecutive wins that will see her face off with Sabine Lisicki today in the 4th round.

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Has Serena’s week of work out here at Stanford been more a sign of her sterling dominance or has it been yet another testament to the weak state of the women’s game?  While we were happy with last night’s result–a complete dismantling of world #5 Maria Sharapova–we thought it displayed more of the latter.  Aside from the 2 matches she has lost in majors, Masha has been the most dominant woman on the tour since May, and ran into the hotter hand and bigger hitter in a Roland Garros semi and a Wimbledon final, losing to eventual champions in both.

We think Maria ran into another eventual champion here yesterday.  If anyone was about to consider last night’s match a fluke, or to consider giving credence to Maria’s weak ass excuses–she couldn’t get into the match, she was tight, etc.– then what’s left to say tonight, after we have just seen Serena destroy the game’s other hottest player, Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki, taking 10 of the first 11 games out of the gate and wrapping up the first set in 24 minutes?

Lisicki has shot up the rankings to world #26 by winning Birmingham and making her 1st major semi-final at Wimbledon, but this is a girl who was around #160 in the spring when America faced off against and got their asses handed to them by Germany in Fed Cup, who was playing challengers all spring and who had to go through the qualifying rounds at Roland Garros.  These are further indictments on the women’s game, how a hot and able lady can get on a roll and go from the brink of obscurity to being squarely in the mix in the blink of an eye.  Good news for Serena, who is currently world #159 by the hand of the computer, but could anyone argue that she is not really the best player in the world right now?

Serena takes it 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes.  She won 69% of the points on serve and 54% of the points in her return game, allowing Lisicki to win only 4 of 17 points on second serve and only 34 of 91 total points.  Serena was not broken in the match, and has lost only 12 games in 3 easy straight sets wins here in which Patrick McEnroe has described her play as “nothing short of phenomenal.”

Tomorrow Serena gets another look at Marion Bartoli who defeated her at Wimbledon in her first action at a major since her return.  Serena is 2-1 lifetime versus Bartoli, and we’d be loathe to think Bartoli had a chance in that round of 16 if not for how little Serena had played in a year.  Though we hate the Plexicushion surface and how California as a state has favored a ticky tack surface that doesn’t favor the American style, we see pretty fast conditions here, and even faster ones tomorrow in the sun.  We don’t like how that bodes for Bartoli and her cumbersome two handed strokes on both sides and her awful, truncated service motion, which is completely devoid of fluidity.

We’ll pop the odds up for you tomorrow, but look for Serena in another walk.  By the way, Serena will move into the top 100 with tonight’s victory, and since she has no points to defend until next year at Birmingham, we’d expect that she will rise dramatically in the coming weeks, even with pedestrian showings in Toronto and Cincinnati, where she will probably do very well.

Of course Serena really shouldn’t have to worry about seedings going into The Open, but then again, the blasted USTA, unlike Wimbledon, does go by the WTA rankings.  We’re sure Mary Joe Fernandez will be watching with baited breath, as no one can be happier than our Fed Cup Captain, who has yet to wow us in any respect, and who will no doubt beg, borrow, and steal to get Serena for the next round of Fed Cup.

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