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Tenaciously Tennis


Petra Kvitova: The WTA’s Next Big Star?

With her recent straight sets win over the newest world number one Kim Clijsters in the Paris final, Petra Kvitova looks sharp. Her game is big, her form is on, and the 20-year old has the results to prove the hype.

Currently ranked a career-high 18th (and on an upward trend with the win in Paris), Kvitova made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year, reaffirming her semifinal showing at the 2010 Wimbledon as something more than a fluke. She took out Sam Stosur in the Sunny Slam, before falling to Vera Zvonareva a couple rounds later as the tournament’s 25th seed. She also started the year with a bang, winning the Brisbane title over Andrea Petkovic. A title in Hobart in 2009 rounds off the successes of her young career.

In a WTA that’s had some recent problems with intensity, spurred on by Serena Williams’ foot injury, the retirements of Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin, a slew of world number ones that went without a major, and more, this year’s Australian Open proved a welcome contrast. With Na Li representing China in the event’s final and strong play from up-and-comers, like Kvitova, the tour looks poised for a bright present, and a brighter future.

Kvitova seems to symbolize that future.

For a sampling of her play, check out this clip from the Aussie Open third round below.

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Dementieva Retires: Reflections on a Champion’s Career

Elena Dementieva’s impressive career came to a tearful and emotional close after her lose to Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion, at the end-of-the-year tournament in Doha recently. Dementieva, 29, lost 6-4, 6-2.

Having won two titles this year, Dementieva also did well at the majors in 2010. She reached the semifinals at the French Open and the fourth round of the US Open. Injury marred her season, however, causing her to pull out of Wimbledon. Dementieva’s retired as the ninth-ranked player in the world.

Regardless of this year’s results, Dementieva’s enjoyed a fantastic career. Most notably, she won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. To take home the revered gold, she fought her way through a tough field, including Serena Williams, Vera Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina.

Although unable to win a major title, she had her chances, especially in 2004. Then, she  had a breakout season and made it to the finals at the French Open (she lost to Anastasia Myskina in the first all-Russian major final) and at the US Open (she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova, another Russian).

Here are some other statistics about her career, according to a recent Associated Press article: “After turning pro in 1998, Dementieva won 16 titles, including Sydney in January with a win over Williams, and the Paris Indoors in February. She was in two more finals in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. Dementieva played 18 ties in Fed Cup, spearheading Russia to the 2005 title with all three points in the final. She has been ranked in the top 20 since April 2003, reaching a career-high of No. 3 last year. She was also a top-five doubles player. She finishes her career with a 576-273 win-loss record, and a place in the year-end top 10 for the seventh time in eight years.”

To be clear, I’m not holding her losses in Grand Slam finals against her. Yes, she deserved to win at least one in her career. However, given her streaky serving, it’s amazing that she was able to reach these later rounds at all. It just shows how mentally strong Dementieva has been throughout her career and speaks highly of her athletic ability. She’s been a true fighter until the end of her career during a time of talent and power on the WTA tour.

I grew up watching her, and it’s sad to see her leave. With focus and a desire that’s rare and a style of game that excites and impresses, Dementieva will be greatly missed.

Wozniacki Wins, Nadal Loses in Three

Caroline Wozniacki survived a tough test from Elena Dementieva to win her sixth title of the season at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, Japan. After losing the first set in a shockingly lopsided way, she rallied to beat the Russian 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.  With this newest addition to her already impressive results from the year, Wozniacki inches closer to claiming the top world ranking from an ailing Serena Williams. Next, Wozniacki needs to make the Beijing quarterfinals next week to claim the number one position.

Previously, I had predicted that Dementieva would win handily given her strong performance throughout the tournament. Plus, Wozniacki seemed shaky against Victoria Azarenka. Regardless, there’s a reason why the 20-year-old Dane is typically all smiles.

In other news, Rafael Nadal squandered an early lead in his match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the world’s 53rd-ranked player, in the semifinals of the Thailand Open. Nadal lost 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3. The tournament, his first since claiming a career Grand Slam at the US Open, could have been his seventh victory of the year. Nadal’s major undoing: He converted only two of 26 break-point chances.

Nadal will next play at the Shangai Masters, where I see him regaining his form and showing the best in the world why he belongs at the top of the rankings.

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.

US Open Predictions – WTA Tour

The action at the US Open has begun. Without Serena Williams and Justine Henin, the year’s final major looks open for the taking. Here are my thoughts on the tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter:

Wozniacki looks sharp as the number one seed. She’s won three US Open Series titles in a row, capturing the Pilot Pen Tournament just a few days ago. She won the Series and could very well dominate the competition on her way to a major title. But before we look that far ahead, Maria Sharapova looms in her future as a potential fourth round match.

In that set-up, I take Wozniacki’s consistency over Sharapova’s experience, drive, and power. Plus, Sharapova needed three sets in her first round win to advance. I say Wozniacki wins in three sets.

Other notables: Aravane Rezai, the 18th seed, is one to watch, possibly meeting Sharapova in the third round.

Na Li’s Quarter:

The highest seed in this section of the draw got knocked out early on. Therefore, the stage is set for Svetlana Kuznetsova to get to the quarterfinals. Maria Kirilenko, however, recently got the the semifinals at the Pilot Pen Tournament. Can she make another big move at a major, like this year’s Australian Open?

Other notables: Kateryna Bondarenko beat Li. Will her form continue against a tough Dominika Cibulkova in the next round? If so, a fourth round result might just be in the cards for her.

Jelena Jankovic’s Quarter:

Jankovic isn’t a threat for the title in my opinion. She’s coming off of injury and needed three sets to get to the second round. If the seeding stays true to form, she could very well lose to Yanina Wickmayer, the 15th seed, in the fourth round.

Other notables: Kaia Kanepi, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist, might make some noise against Jankovic in a possible third round match. Personal favorite and veteran Patty Schnyder gets a shout-out for her dominating 6-1, 6-3 win over Kirsten Flipkins in the first round.

Vera Zvonareva’s Quarter:

This is a tough section with Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska heading the field. Zvonareva, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, should get to the fourth round without a problem. I see her playing against Radwanska to decide the quarterfinal spot.

Radwanska wins that match in three, using finesse, tactics, and superb counter-punching consistency to get inside Zvonareva’s head.

Other notables: Nadia Petrova, the Pilot Pen Tennis finalist, already lost to Andrea Petkovic, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands should find strong support at her home major.

Francesca Schiavone’s Quarter:

In what I view as the hardest section of the field, the French Open winner won’t live up to expectations. Instead, I’m rooting for Melanie Oudin, last year’s fairytale story, to get to the fourth round. Against her could be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sania Mirza, or Victoria Azarenka. The seeding says Azarenka, but I’ve been seeing great things from Pavlyuchenkova lately. Then again, Mirza’s back in action, and looked sharp in her qualifying matches and especially against Michelle Larcher de Brito in the first round.

Other notables: Can Alona Bondarenko find some surprise honeymoon success?

Venus Williams’ Section:

Okay, so the draw doesn’t get much easier in this section. Shahar Peer, Flavia Pennetta, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Venus are all contenders. I’ll take Venus to exact revenge over Pironkova, who beat her in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in straight sets during potential third round action.

The winner of that match could face Pennetta, although I’m a fan of Peer’s game.

Other notables: Can Pironkova bring the same amount of trickery against Venis this time around? Probably not.

Sam Stosur’s Quarter:

Elena Dementieva immediately comes to mind as the winner for this part of the draw. Stosur did well to get to the French Open final, but her form has suffered since then. Dementieva lost in a close match against Wozniacki and will bring that same drive and intensity in search of her first major title. She wants it badly. I’ll predict she advances in straight sets to the quarterfinals.

Other notables: I’m curious to see if Vania King can beat Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated an ailing Dinara Safina, in the second round. I hope King gets a lot of love from the New York City crowd.

Kim Clijsters’ Quarter:

Clijsters is likely to dominate this field. While Petra Kvitova plays a big, athletic game that got her all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals, she doesn’t have the experience to beat last year’s champion. Clijsters’ opponent for a spot in the quarters, however, is by no means locked. Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, and Jie Zheng are all big threats. Regardless, I’m not overly worried.

Other notables: Ivanovic versus Zheng should be an interesting match. Is the Serb ready for the top tier once more? I hope so. She looked promising in Cincinnati before withdrawing from injury against Clijsters in the semifinals.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Wozniacki beats Kuznetsova in two sets to make the semis. She’ll face the winner of Radwanska and Wickmayer. I like the chances of Wozniacki versus Radwanska. who takes out Zvonareva, in this semifinal section.

In the other matches, Azarenka loses to Venus, while Clijsters and Dementieva battle it out. Clijsters prevails in three sets.

The final four: Wozniacki against Radwanska, and Venus versus Clijsters.

Wozniacki Wins; Harrison Qualifies for US Open Main Draw

Caroline Wozniacki beat Elena Dementieva in the semifinals of the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven to make her third straight US Open Series final, winning the event as a result. In an exciting, drama-filled match, Wozniacki played just a little more consistently in the final few games to win in the deciding tiebreak. She advanced 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

After Dementieva looked to be in control of the final set with an early break, she served for the match at 5-4, but failed to convert. Wozniacki then held multiple match points at 6-5, but couldn’t win as Dementieva raised her game. In the end, Wozniacki lived up to her number two ranking in the world, showing she’s meant to be the US Open’s number one seed as well.

The Dane next faces Nadia Petrova, who shook off negativity and errors in the beginning of her match versus Maria Kirilenko to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Petrova, ranked 19th in the world, is actually a wild card in the event after Ana Ivanovic declined it. Petrova entered last minute, and she’s probably very glad as this result is her first final all season.

I predict Wozniacki cruising to take the title for her third time. Petrova needed a lot to beat Kirilenko mentally, and she has a much tougher opponent in Wozniacki. Basically, Wozniacki plays Kirilenko’s game, but much better. Therefore, I see Petrova melting down a little as her shots miss and Wozniacki’s consistent, counter-punching style overwhelms.

At day four of the US Open Qualifying Tournament, American Ryan Harrison got into the main draw after defeating Ricardo Hocevar 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. This win shows a positive sign for the teenager’s young career and the future of the sport here in the US. Hopefully, he continues playing at this high level and gives it everything in the first round.

Other qualifying matches of note: Nicholas Mahut, who lost to John Isner in the longest match ever, is one step away from qualifying. He beat Uladzimir Ignatik 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Wild card Blake Strode lost, joining the 14th seed Ilija Bozoljac in defeat.

In the WTA event, Michelle Larcher de Brito dominated Anastasiya Yakimova 6-0, 6-0, and Sania Mirza qualified for the main event with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 win against Catalina Castano.

News and Predictions from New Haven’s WTA Event

Along with the US Open Qualifying, that’s trucking along despite inclement weather issues, New Haven’s Pilot Pen Tournament is well underway with many big names pushing for that last bit of practice before the final major tournament of the year. The dual WTA and ATP tournament brings the best of both tours together, painting a good picture of who’s in form at the conclusion of the US Open Series.

Highlights from the WTA Tour:

  • Top seed Caroline Wozniacki, who enjoyed a first-round bye, gets the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals. Cibulkova, who’s been ranked as high as number twelve last year due to a semifinal run at the French Open, has seen a slip in her rankings after failing to reach that same superb level of form. She lost in the third round at both Roland Garros and at Wimbledon, falling to just inside the top 50. Look for Wozniacki to make quick work of a tired Cibulkova, who needed three sets to take out Melanie Oudin.
  • The fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva also struggled to get to the quarterfinals after an inspired Kateryna Bondarenko, sister of the recently married Alona Bondarenko, put up a strong fight. The top-ranked Russian edged the younger sister 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4. She’ll face Marion Bartoli — the winner over Alona and the qualifier Anastasia Rodionova — for a spot in the semifinals.
  • Other players of note: Dinara Safina’s putting some wins together. The former top player beat this year’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. She also took out Daniela Hantuchova 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2). She next faces a tough opponent in Maria Kirilenko.

My prediction: Wozniacki gets to the semifinals easily, facing Bartoli, who will surprise Dementieva in three. In the other semifinals, Safina faces Stosur, but loses in straights.

Wozniacki Wins in Toronto; New Haven Tournament Begins

Caroline Wozniacki, the number two player in the world, needed to win two matches in one day to take the title in Toronto. She did, quite easily. In the morning, she outplayed a recently resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-3. Just a few hours later, Wozniacki took to the courts again, ousting an error-prone and emotional Vera Zvonareva. The Dane’s crisp strokes proved too much for the Wimbledon finalist — she won 6-3, 6-2, putting an end to a tournament re-scheduled due to rain.

The question becomes this: Can Wozniacki, who’s going to be seeded first at the US Open with Serena Williams’ withdrawal, take advantage of the field to win her maiden major title? Last year, she made the finals. This year, she’s on fire, winning three titles already. With numerous others hampered by injury, including Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams, and possibly last year’s champion Kim Clijsters, the field currently looks like hers for the taking.

In New Haven, the Pilot Pen tournament got underway with a strong effort by the struggling Dinara Safina on the WTA tour. Safina ousted this year’s French Open winner, the third-seeded Francesca Schiavone of Italy 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, as a wild card. Also victorious: Elena Dementieva over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova over fan favorite Melanie Oudin.

For the men, wild card James Blake, who’s been struggling on tour with injury this season, dominated Pere Riba 6-0, 6-1. Americans Donald Young and Taylor Dent also advanced: Young won with a 6-1, 6-2 drubbing of Stephane Robert, while Dent needed three sets to beat Eduardo Schwank.

The Cincinnati Final Four — A Welcome Surprise

It’s been a shocking week in Cincinnati, current high-profile players, such as Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki dropped-out early. Former number ones Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, and Kim Clijsters, however, are in top form getting to the semis, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova surprised many to also make the final four.

Kim Clijsters:

Clijsters, the defending US Open champion, looks sharp in her return to play after a disappointing loss to Vera Zvonareva in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Her draw hasn’t been an easy one, either. To make it to the semis, she’s won against former world number one Dinara Safina, the young upstart American Christina McHale, and Flavia Pennetta, who took out Zvonareva. Clijsters won against Pennetta in a close 7-6 (4), 6-4 match.

Ana Ivanovic:

It’s great seeing Ivanovic back. Her draw really opened up after Jelena Jankovic lost to Akgul Amanmurdova in the third round. Instead of Ivanovic playing her compatriot, the world’s second-ranked player,  she fended off the 114th Amanmuradova. Ivanovic won 6-1, 6-3 to get to her first semifinal since the Rome clay tournament in May. Can the Serb take out Clijsters to get to her first final in over a year? I don’t think so. Her last final: Indian Wells in 2009, where she lost to Vera Zvonareva as the sixth player in the world. It’s been a long road for Ivanovic both mentally and in her ranking slide these past few months. She has a lot to prove going into this semifinal. I think her mental game and, therefore, athletic game will break down under the pressure of playing a confident Clijsters.

Maria Sharapova:

Coming off a 6-4 6-1 drubbing by Victoria Azarenka in the final at Stanford, Sharapova is playing with a new confidence. That loss, along with some close wins over Elena Dementieva and Agnieszka Radwanska to get to her fourth final of the season, further fired up the powerful game of the former Russian teenage phenom (she won Wimbledon at just 17). Sharapova’s serving embodies this renewed confidence. In a recent statement, Sharapova said, “I’m actually serving a lot better than I did last summer. Hitting bigger serves — maybe I’m missing a few more first serves and second serves, but not hitting second serves 70 miles an hour.” That’s a good sign for the three-time major champion, and a scary one for the rest of the field.

At this tournament, she’s continued to claw her way to the top, taking out a recently victorious Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. In the second, she easily handled the tennis media sensation Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-1. Next, she outhit Radwanska 6-2, 6-3, improving her head-to-head to a dominating 6-1 record. In the quarters, she beat Marion Bartoli 6-1. 6-4.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:

Rounding out the final four is the teenager Pavlyuchenkova, who’s been playing some strong tennis this season. She’s won two titles already, including her last at the end of July in Istanbul. With a ranking of 25th in the world — close to her career-high of 24 — things are looking good for the former girl’s champion. To make it to the semis, she’s been some fantastic players, including: Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, and Yanina Wickmayer (all top twenety talent).  Her next opponent, however, has the experience and drive to handle even Pavlychenkova’s big game, easily.

Predictions:

I’m going by the rankings (and my past prediction, which you can read here) to make it to the final. I see Clijsters taking out Ivanovic easily, just like their last match three years ago on carpet in the quarterfinals of Antwerp. There, she beat Ivanovic 6-2, 6-1. I think the sets will be closer, but not by much.

For Sharapova versus Pavlyuchenkova — the two haven’t played one another yet — I’m going with Sharapova, assuming her serve stays on track. If it does, and she plays the game that’s carried her through the past few tournaments during the US Open Series, she should advance comfortably with a chance to take on Clijsters.

In the end, I’m banking on Sharapova to win — she has a 3-1 record against Clijsters (although it’s been about three years since the last match).

Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Pavlyuchenkova Win Big

Coming fresh off a big seesaw victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova advanced easily over Andrea Petkovic to get to the round of 16 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s event in Cincinnati, Ohio. She won 6-3, 6-1 in the dominating performance. Other strong performers included Ana Ivanovic, who knocked out Victoria Azarenka in the previous round, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the winner over third-seeded Elena Dementieva in two sets.

Sharapova’s last two victories prove she’s regaining the top form that others on the WTA tour should fear. With every match, there’s more of that champion’s spark that brought her to three major titles, beginning at 17. I’ve hinted at it in the past few weeks, but this win only solidifies my sentiments: Sharapova’s prepared to go deep at the US Open. She’ll be seeded well within the top 20, and I see her taking out some other big-time threats to get to the major’s second week.

Her results this year are on an upward trend: first round at the Australian Open, third round at Roland Garros, and a tough loss to Serena Williams in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here’s her chance to break through past the quarterfinals since her 2009 French Open showing. Sharapova’s next opponent? The tricky shot-maker, Agnieszka Radwanska, who’s having a great US Open Series so far, having made it to the semifinals and final of her last two events. I don’t see Sharapova letting up against Radwanska. She’ll win in two close sets.

Compared to Sharapova, Ivanovic’s results at the majors seem wildly unexceptional. She’s only made it to the second rounds at the Australian and French, falling in the first round at Wimbledon. And, yet, things are looking up (even if just slightly) with that win over Azarenka. She followed the upset with a straight sets victory over Yaroslava Shvedova, a quarter-finalist at this year’s French Open, and the winner of the doubles title with American Vania King at Wimbledon. Ivanovic needs to soak up the win and channel the confidence in her next round. She faces Elena Vesnina, the winner over a struggling Francesca Schiavone. I’m taking Ivanovic over Vesnina in three sets.

Pavlyuchenkova’s drubbing of Dementieva secures a huge step for the younger Russian to get to the semis of this event. That is, if she can take out Israel’s Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals. I see Pavlyuchenkova winning that match in three sets. She has the bigger game, and a good deal of experience so far throughout this summer season.

Bracket Breakdown:

In the top half, Jelena Jankovic will get to the semis despite some shaky play. She’ll potentially face Ana Ivanovic in the quarters.

In the bottom half, we see the return of Kim Clijsters, and an impressive showing from the American teenager Christina McHale — the winner against Nadia Petrova. Clijsters easily beat an ailing Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. For McHale, her win over Ayumi Morita means she’ll probably face the Belgian. There, I see her getting overwhelmed by the shots and experience of Clijsters in straight sets. I’m calling Vera Zvonareva to meet Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

On the other side of the draw, I like Pavlyuchenkova to make the semifinals in the top half, although she has stiff competition by facing either Na Li or Yanina Wickmayer to make it there.

In the bottom section, look for Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki to battle it out for the last spot in the final four. I’m predicting Sharapova overwhelms Wozniacki in three sets.

Final Predictions:

Jelena Jankovic defeats Ana Ivanovic in the quarters; Clijsters gets revenge over Zvonareva, who defeated her at Wimbledon in the other match.

Pavlyuchenkova surprises to make the semis, where she’ll face a fiery Sharapova.

The last two standing: Clijsters and Sharapova — a dream match.

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