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Tenaciously Tennis


Young, Vandeweghe among Americans in Australian Open Qualifying

I am proud to say that the following post is Tenaciously Tennis’ 200th. After just over a year of blogging, I’m excited to begin coverage of the 2011 season. For more on the blog’s first birthday, see here.

With the Australian Open, the year’s first major tournament, set to begin next week, the qualifying tournament is underway. On the ATP tour, players are already fighting it out on court for precious spots in the main draw. Donald Young and Coco Vandeweghe are among the American players seeking their place in the major via the qualifying rounds. While Young is seeded 15th, Vandeweghe enjoys the top spot in the tournament.

A former boys Australian Open champion, Young is ranked 129th, after earning his highest ranking, 79th, in 2008. Already into the second round of qualifying after defeating Germany’s Dieter Kindlmann in straight sets, he faces Alberto Brizzi of Italy next. Young is joined by sixth-seeded Ryan Sweeting, Alex Kuznetsov, Bobby Reynolds, Tim Smyczek, and Kevin Kim. Alex Bogmolov Jr. and Michael Yani have yet to play.

The 115th-ranked Vandeweghe, winner of the 2008 girls’ US Open, joins compatriots Irina Falconi, Jamie Hampton, Madison Brengle, Julia Cohen, and Sloane Stephens. The women still need to start their first round, but I see Vandeweghe and Stephens making a splash to advance to the main draw. For more on Stephens, who I saw play at the 2010 US Open, see here.

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Federer, Ivanovic, and Oudin Win; Italy Takes Second Straight Fed Cup Title

It’s the end of the season, but a lot is still happening on the tennis circuit on both the ATP and WTA tours. For the men, Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic in three sets to take his fourth title in Basel. He won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the Swiss Indoors final against the Serb in the rematch of last year. In 2009, Djokovic defeated Federer, which made the victory that much better for the hometown player.

“It’s great to have won it after losing last year. It reminded me of last year’s match, but [this time] I got off to a great start in the third set,” said Federer. Added to that, the win allowed Federer to exact revenge over Djokovic after a painful loss in the semifinals of this year’s US Open during which the Serb overcame two match points against the struggling Federer. “The 29-year-old Swiss improved to 12-6 lifetime against Djokovic, and 3-1 this year,” writes an Associated Press article.

Moreover, “Federer is 4-4 in finals this year after winning titles at the Australian Open, Cincinnati Masters and the Stockholm Open,” continues the article regarding his season statistics.

Federer looks to be in strong form going into the Paris Masters tournament. There, he will be the top-seeded player as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the event due to a shoulder injury.

For the WTA tour, Ana Ivanovic defeated Alisa Kleybanova of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the finals of the Tournament of Champions. The win means Ivanovic finished the season inside the Top 20. According to an Associated Press article, “The 23-year-old Serb captured her second title in three weeks to move back into the Top 20 for the first time in more than a year, having dropped to a low of 65 in July.” This sends a strong message to the rest of the field as the tour winds down and thoughts go toward the 2011-2012 season.

Can Ivanovic continue her fine form and become a real threat during the big tournaments once again? I’ll say that her upward trajectory continues through to the beginning of the year nicely, and she’ll hover around the Top Fifteen in the world for the first few months.

And speaking of a resurgence, the United States’ Melanie Oudin kept the Fed Cup team alive with a surprise victory over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion and the seventh-ranked player in the world. Oudin, ranked 67th, shocked the tricky, veteran Italian 6-3, 6-1 to give the United States a point in the tie, which was held in San Diego. It was her first win over a Top Ten player this season.

While the win shows that Oudin cannot be written off to perform under pressure and also makes her look good for next season, the United States lost to Italy in the Fed Cup final after Flavia Pennetta ousted the young CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2.

Without Serena and Venus Williams, the United States team faced especially tough competition. Oudin looked great in her match, but it shows that Italy played the bigger points better in their second Fed Cup title over the Americans in that many years. It’s an improvement for the US team to win a point, they lost 4-0 last year. They did well to make it this far, and next year will prove to be their time to shine (with a little help from the Williams sisters?).

Predictions for Wozniacki Versus Dementieva

While I haven’t been following too much of the tennis post-US Open, the Pacific Pan Open has had a lot of great tennis and compelling stories in the past few days.

There’s Maria Sharapova’s early exit, the strong showing by the now 40-year old Kimiko Date Krumm, Coco Vandeweghe’s trip to the quarters, and more. It’s nice to see the mix of familiar faces and newcomers making a push towards success as the season comes to a close.

At the end of the day, however, two of the top women have advanced to the finals: Caroline Wozniacki, the world number two, who is poised to take the number one ranking from Serena Williams, and Elena Dementieva, the seventh seed.

Both overcame tough opponents in the semifinals to grab their spots in the final. For Wozniacki, it was a real test from Victoria Azarenka. She needed three sets to advance, eventually closing out the feisty Belorussian 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-4. At the same time, I could see the fight being a real positive for Wozniacki, who only played five games in her win over Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska retired with a left foot injury after trailing in that first set.

For Dementieva, US Open and Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone stood in her way. Like the veteran and champion that she is in her own right, Dementieva won both matches with poise, experience, and the brand of shot-making that seems so capable of winning her a major title. Regardless of her disappointing inability to win  a major, she advanced in both rounds in straight sets, defeating Zvonareva 7-5, 6-2, and Schiavone 6-4 7-5.

Given the last two rounds, their results so far this year, and their match history, this is a truly compelling final. Both have played a somewhat even amount of tennis in the quarters and semis. Fitness won’t really be a factor, although Dementieva’s arguable playing stronger tennis given her easy advances.

On the other hand, pressure could very well be a factor: Wozniacki needs to win this event and reach the quarters in Beijing next week to secure the world’s top ranking. She would also walk home from the event with her sixth title of the year.

The head-to-head record of Wozniacki and Dementieva is also noteworthy: It’s currently locked at 3-all. In this regard, I give Wozniacki the edge as she won the last meeting, during a high-energy and high-drama semifinal match at New Haven. In the final tournament of the US Open Series, Wozniacki prevailed in three sets, winning 1-6 6-3 7-6 (5).

I’m going with Dementieva to pull-off the upset and win the tournament. She’s on a roll, the pressure’s on Wozniacki, and I don’t think there will be much to stop the Russian from exacting revenge after a disappointing loss in New Haven.

Vandeweghe Victorious Against Zvonareva

In an excellent upset for teenager Coco Vandeweghe, the American stunned the Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the second round of the Mercury Insurance Open to get to the quarterfinals. Until this point, Vandeweghe, currently ranked 205, has lost 13 of her 15 WTA matches. To make it to her match against Zvonareva, she won three qualifying matches.

This big win could very well be a career-changer. If Vandeweghe can continue to hold the belief and consistency that won her the match, she has a strong chance to be a top player in the future. While she lost in the quarterfinals against her next opponent, a player prone to choking, Svetlana Kuznetsova, things are looking up for the young American.

Kuznetsova beat Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-2 to get to the semifinals. It’s a strong result for the Russian, who barely got through her match against Sara Errani of Italy in the second round. After winning the first set easily, she slid through 6-1, 5-7 (5), 7-5.

Kuznetsova hasn’t had a good year until making the semifinals of this tournament. The two-time Grand Slam champion couldn’t perform in her attempt to defend her 2009 French Open title — she lost in the third round. At Wimbledon, the Russian succumbed in the second round, dropping her ranking outside the top twenty (she’s now ranked 21st). If she continues this mediocre track record at the majors, she’ll find her way outside the top 20 for the first time in seven years when the year-end rankings are announced. It’s a big slip, indeed.

While I haven’t seen Vandeweghe play since her match against Ekaterina Bychkova in the first round of US Open qualifying last year, I think the confidence from beating Zvonareva and holding her own against Kuznetsova will get her far in the match-up. Even if she doesn’t come out the victor, she should see a bump in the rankings and a good chance to win a few more matches before the US Open.

Zvonareva, known for her emotional outbursts, reportedly cried during her press conference after the match. She’s quoted: “I don’t think she surprised me. I’ve seen her play before. It’s more that I surprised myself. I started pretty good and then I just started playing stupid. I didn’t change anything, I just kept playing stupid.”

The semifinals of the event are as follows: Agnieszka Radwanska versus Daniela Hantuchova and Kuznetsova against Flavia Pennetta, who beat Sam Stosur 6-4, 6-3. I see Radwanska taking the title of the four — she’s the most consistent, and I believe the most mentally tough.

In other headlines:

  • John Isner lost to Xavier Malisse in Washington, joining Sam Querrey. Malisse defeated him 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in the third round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
  • Joining these two in a big surprise upset: Andy Roddick, the tournament’s second seed. He lost in a lopsided 6-3, 6-3. Said Roddick of the match: “It was just a bad night. I don’t really have any defense for it. I didn’t feel right physically. I didn’t feel right mentally. I wish I had answers for you right now, but I just don’t. I promise you, I’m going to figure this out before I do that again.”
  • Both Lleyton Hewitt and Venus Williams pulled out of their next events. Hewitt will be out of the Toronto Masters with a calf strain, while Venus cited knee pain.

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