Tenaciously Tennis

Schnyder Teams with Klemenschits in Istanbul

Patty Schnyder and Sandra Klemenschits make for a compelling story as the third-seeded pair at the Istanbul Cup. Schnyder, who’s potentially retiring after this year, is out of the singles, but looked strong with Klemnschits in their first round match. The duo won over Johanna Larsson — the player that defeated Schnyder in singles — and Tatjana Malek in two sets, advancing 6-3, 6-4.

Klemenschits made news not necessarily for her doubles play, although she did win 20 titles on the ITF circuit, but more so for the cancer that took the life of her doubles partner and twin sister Daniela in 2008.

Seeing both players come together in doubles must be a special thing to watch. I hope they go far in the tournament.

Here’s a recap of some of the highlights on the WTA tour at both the Istanbul Cup and in the US Open Series tournmanet at Stanford:

  • Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova continues to be a rollercoaster ride on tour after her amazing run. She lost to Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
  • The Latvian teenager Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Petra Kvitova in the first round, was ousted from Istanbul with a three-set loss to Vera Dushevina, 6-3, 6-7 (8), 6-2.
  • At the Stanford tournament, Sam Stosur reached a career-high ranking of 5 in the world after beating American qualifier Christina McHale in two sets. Stosur advanced with her 6-1, 7-5 win.
  • Agnieszka Radwanska and Yanina Wickmayer both needed two sets to advance. Melanie Oudin, however, needed a tough three-setter to close out Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada. The teenage Oudin eked through 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-3.

WTA Tour Heats Up in Stanford and Istanbul

Things are getting intense for the WTA tour in two very different parts of the world — California and Istanbul. At the Stanford tournament, winners included: a struggling Ana Ivanovic, who looked good as she sailed through to the second round, Maria Sharapova in a tough first match against Jie Zheng, defending champion Marion Bartoli, Shahar Peer, and Maria Kirilenko. In Istanbul, Wimbledon semifinalists Tsvetana Pironkova and Petra Kvitova met with mixed results as the former won her match and the later continued to struggle. A lot of other headlines graced the tournaments’ action — let’s look at the results.

The seeding is holding relatively true to form so far in Stanford. That is, except for unseeded Dinara Safina’s bleak second straight loss to the veteran Kimiko Date Krumm. Safina, who’s suffering from back injuries and low confidence, lost to Date Krumm at the French Open in the first round. At Stanford, she fell in another three set affair: 4-6, 7-6, 6-2. Things aren’t going well for the former world number one and three-time Grand Slam finalist. She needs to sit out for the rest of the year in my opinion and heal once and for all, instead of coming back prematurely and falling against players she has the skill to beat.

At the same time, for Date Krumm to win consecutively against Safina means she’s doing well in her comeback, even if Safina isn’t in top form. We’ll see if she can do some more damage in her section of the draw as the tournament unfolds.

In Istanbul, the French Open winner Francesca Schiavone advanced in straight sets. After a hugely disappointing Wimbledon — Schiavone lost in the first round — we’ll see if she’s done celebrating, and ready to prove she has more big titles in her future. The win is in the right direction.

Kvitova, on the other hand, lost in the first round again. This time to Anastasija Sevastova, the Latvian player, who won her first title this year at the Estoril Open. It’ll be interesting to follow how Kvitova recovers from this post-Wimbledon slump, and to see if Sevastova picks up her talent during the US Open series, something we got a glimpse of a few months ago.

In other news, Patty Schnyder, who had a great clay run weeks ago, including getting to the finals at Budapest and the semifinals at the EMC Prague Open, lost in straight sets to Johanna Larsson. Meanwhile, Pironkova, the sound tactician that ousted Venus Williams at Wimbledon, beat Tatjana Malek 7-6 (4), 6-2 to get to the round of 16.

French Open Predictions – Which WTA Star Will Reign Supreme at Roland Garros?

With the French Open almost upon us, it’s time to make predictions. First, let’s take a look at the draw for the WTA tour. The big stories to keep in mind during the first few days at Roland Garros include: Serena and Venus Williams’ inconsistent play on clay, Maria Sharapova’s recent success, Jelena Jankovic’s time to possibly shine, and Justine Henin’s title in Stuttgart and desire to win another Grand Slam on her best surface yet. All of these players are real contenders for the title, and it will fascinating to see how their stories play out in the coming days.

Let’s take a look at each quarter of the draw.

The First Quarter:

This part of the draw includes the following seeded players: Serena (1), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (29), Shahar Peer (18), Marion Bartoli (13), Maria Sharapova (12), Justine Henin (22), Jie Zheng (25), and Sam Stosur (7). This is a heavy part of the draw featuring a group of hard-hitting powerhouses. While Serena will most likely sail through to the fourth round, she’ll could have  a potentially tough time handling Pavlyuchenkova, the Russian. Serena could then face Israel’s Shahar Peer afterward.

In the bottom half, there will be an interesting match-up between Sharapova and Henin. While Sharapova comes fresh off a win at the Strasbourg tournament on clay, Henin recently won at Stuttgart and plays her best on Paris’ red clay. I see Henin coming through in three. Her next opponent: most likely Stosur, who’s done well for herself this clay court season, including a win at Charleston. If she continues with the same consistency, she could find herself in a rematch of the Stuttgart tournament against Henin. If so, I take Henin in two close sets.

Therefore, I predict that it will be a match-up of Serena and Henin in the quarterfinals.

The Second Quarter:

Here, the seeds are: Jankovic (4), Alyona Bondarenko (27), Daniela Hantuchova (23), Yanina Wickmayer (16), Dinara Safina (9), Vera Zvonareva (21), Alisa Kleybanova (28), and Agnieszka Radwanska (8). This section holds considerably less firepower than the first half of the draw. In fact, I see only one real contender – Jankovic, who beat both sisters in Rome, but then failed to take home the title. Depending on the health of Safina, last year’s finalist, we could see a match-up between her and Jankovic in the quarterfinals.

The Third Quarter:

In the third quarter the following seeds appear: Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Maria Kirilenko (30), Francesca Schiavone (17), Na Li (11), Flavia Pennetta (14), Lucie Safarova (24), Alexandra Dulgheru (31), and Caroline Wozniacki (3). Much like the second quarter, there are not many real contenders, except, of course, for last year’s champion, Kuznetsova. While the Italians Pennetta and Schiavone will be tricky opponents, the Russians should see herself back at the quarterfinals, although not without her three set scares. Her opponent once there: Wozniacki. That is if her physical condition holds up well enough.

The Fourth Quarter:

This side gets a little heavier with the following seeds: Elena Dementieva (5), Katerina Bondarenko (32), Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (20), Victoria Azarenka (10), Aravane Rezai (15), Nadia Petrova (19), Dominika Cibulkova (26), and Venus (2). I see plausible winners in Dementieva, Martinez Sanchez, and Venus. The other seeds are strong players, who just might pull the upset. Moreover, players such as Anastasija Sevastova and Melanie Oudin are lurking in the background, which will make things even more interesting in this last quarter. Regardless, I believe Dementieva will beat Oudin in a potential third round match and will end up in the quarterfinals. However, she’ll need to get through a tough opponent in the Rome winner, Martinez Sanchez. I see Dementieva’s experience allowing her to win in three. There, she should meet Venus in the quarters.

To recap:

Serena will face-off Henin in the first; Jankovic will play Safina in the second; Kuznetsova and Wozniacki will meet in the third; and Dementieva will attempt to fend off Venus in the fourth.

The results:

Henin takes out Serena in three; Jankovic wins against an ailing Safina in two; Kuznetsova advances; and Venus prevails to complete the semifinals. Next, Henin defeats Jankovic and Venus wins over the reigning champion Kuznetsova. Henin takes out Venus in two sets and wins her first Grand Slam after a brief retirement.

To look at the full draw, click here.

Henin Downed by Dulko; Sharapova Squeaks Through; Sevastova Surprises; Cilic Out

Wildcard Justine Henin, my pick to take home the Indian Wells title, was ousted by the thirty-first seed, Gisela Dulko in three sets in the first round, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. The score says it all: Henin let the first set slip away, came firing in the second, and then looked to clinch the win before falling in a close third set. With Henin out of the way, look for Elena Dementieva to capitalize on her section of of the draw. There, only Agnieszka Radwanska, the fifth seed, has a chance to touch Dementieva, although even that is questionable given the Polish player’s lack of power.

In other results, Maria Sharapova, a blackhorse selection, locked in a close three-set win over Vera Dushevina, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. While she isn’t playing at her best so far, I see Sharapova winning comfortably against the surprise Australian Open semifinalist, Jie Zheng in the next round. Although Zheng won her match easily, 6-3, 7-5, Sharapova has the tenacity and the hunger for a large title. Sharapova will need to make the first strike and take advantage of Zheng’s weak serve to ensure victory.

Another match of note is Latvian Anastasija Sevastova’s win over Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, 6-4. The win means that Sevastova has defeated both former Serbian world number ones within the same couple weeks. She recently took out Jelena Jankovic in the first round of the Monterrey Open before losing in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Anastasia Pavyluchenkova. Look to see Sevastova continue her strong showings on the WTA tour and put up a good fight against the number twelve seed, Vera Zvonareva in the round of 32.

On the ATP side, Marin Cilic, another of my blackhorse selections, bowed out in two lopsided sets, 7-6(1), 6-0, against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. With Gilles Simon of France also out, Novak Djokovic will have a much easier time making it to the quarterfinals, where he’ll meet Rafael Nadal. Although coming off of serious knee injury, Nadal looked strong in his 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Rainer Schuettler.

Pavyluchenkova Prevails, Sevastova Continues to Impress

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won her first title on the WTA tour today, playing two matches in one day at the Monterrey Open. On the way, she took out Latvian up-and-comer, Anastasija Sevastova in the semifinal. Both the semifinal and final match were lopsided affairs for the Russian, including her 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 win over Sevastova, and her 1-6, 6-1, 6-0 win in the final versus Daniela Hantuchova.

Pavlyuchenkova, currently ranked 25 in the world for singles, was long overdue a title given her impressive wins over the past couple years. With her confidence at an all time high, it will be fascinating to see her performance at next week’s Indian Wells tournament, especially as Serena Williams and Venus Williams open the draw by not appearing at the event. With her aggressive baseline game and obvious momentum, it’d be no surprise to see Pavlyuchenkova make it to the quarterfinals. In fact, last year, the Russian made it to the quarterfinals, eventually losing to the defending champion, Ana Ivanovic.

Parallel to Pavyluchenkova’s success story is that of Sevastova, who was taken out of this year’s Australian Open by the former at the event’s first round. Getting to the semifinals was no easy feat for the Latvian, who defeated Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic in the first round, 5-7 6-4 6-4. With a current ranking of 72 that will certainly rise based on her success along with wins over the former world number one and the three-set fight against Pavlyuchenkova, a top 30 player, look out for Sevastova to finish the year inside the top 50.

Should she make it to Indian Wells along with Pavyluchenkova, it will be compelling to keep an eye out for these Eastern European tennis stars. Both are looking strong going into the fifth major.

Safina, Jankovic Continue to Disappoint

Current number two player in the world, Dinara Safina, and former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, continue to disappoint with the former sidelined by injury, while the later exits from a tournament early.

Safina, who had a rocky Australian Open, pulled out of the Indian Wells tournament recently. After fizzling out at the finals of the 2009 Australian Open and French Open, Safina has simply not looked the same. Citing injury, it seems that mentally, she’s also suffering. Big time. Not quite to the same extent as former top-ten player and French Open semifinalist, Nicole Vaidisova, but if things don’t being looking up for the Russian, she just may end the year outside of the top ten. There will inevitably be a slippery slop back into the top-tier of the woman’s game, especially with Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, and Maria Sharapova making strong comebacks. Safina needs to regain the power and mental toughness that took her to the number one ranking. It won’t be easy, but I believe she still has the ability to make it to a Grand Slam final. The only question is, can she actually win one?

Like her struggling compatriot is the Grand Slam-less and other former world number one, Jankovic, who bowed out early to Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, at the Monterrey Open. She lost to…who exactly? Apparently, Sevastova is a 19-year old player currently at her career-high ranking of #73 in the world. With solid play like she took to Jankovic, maybe there’s a strong career from her for the future. She might be someone to keep an eye out for.

Anyway, Jankovic needs to get back on track and possibly take advice from her compatriot, Ana Ivanovic who, although struggling, is showing signs of life by recruiting Heinz Gunthardt, Steffi Graf’s former coach, to her team. I don’t see things picking up for Jankovic, or Ivanovic for that matter, before Indian Wells.

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