Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lenglen at 118

May 24 has arrived, and that means it's time again to honor La Divine herself, groundbreaking Hall of Famer Suzanne Lenglen, on the 118th anniversary of her birth.

As for the mix of old and new...

Has it already been a full year since I chronicled the life and times of the eight-time slam singles champ, 21-time overall major title winner and two-time Olympic medalist with a different selection of photos, videos, stories and commentary for every day of last year's Roland Garros?

Why, yes, it has. Here's the link to that collection:

With my interest piqued last year, I returned earlier this season with a special post that collected all the various accounts of the famed "Match of the Century" that featured Lenglen against U.S. counterpart and nearly total opposite, both on and off court, Helen Wills in their only meeting:

As for some new additions to the Backspin Lenglen Log...

Being still oh-so-Lenglen, the French woman continues to make the occasional appearance today. But not in any ghostly way, of course. A year after celebrating her with a Doodle on her 117th birthday, Google included Lenglen in the group of honorees for International Women's Day in March.

And Lenglen's memory isn't totally lost on the new generation of Pastries, either. 18-year old Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, a wild card singles entrant in this year's RG women's main draw, was a part of a recent unofficial La Divine tribute of her own...

????Whatch out, Suzanne Lenglen BLACK*???? is on the place

A post shared by Tessah Andrianjafitrimo ?????? (@tessahandrian) on

So, with play set to begin in a few days on the terre battue of Lenglen Court in Paris...

It seems appropriate to say that... "Suzanne has left the building." But only temporarily.

All for now.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wk.20- In a Rut? Call Simona Svitolina.

Another week, another grandstanding president with a narcissistic streak and authoritarian tendencies taking to an online format to talk about how wonderful he is.

No, not that one. I'm talking about the French Tennis Federation President/Facebook star, Bernard Giudicelli. But more on all that later... Elina is kissing another trophy.

ROME, ITALY (Premier 5/RCO)
S: Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Simona Halep/ROU 4-6/7-5/6-1
D: Chan Yung-Jan/Martina Hingis (TPE/SUI) d. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS) 7-5/7-6(4)

...we'll never know what might have happened in the Rome final had Simona Halep *not* rolled her ankle late in the 1st set, but the continuation of Svitolina's career year (even while she's yet to reach the half-way point of '17) eventually made her title-winning weekend a fait accompli once the Romanian had determined that her injury prevented her being able to chase down balls, and the Ukrainian smelled the finish line.

8-2 in career WTA finals (4-0 in '17), she's 14-4 in all pro (WTA/ITA) singles finals, 12-2 since the start of 2012.

Svitolina's week began with a straight sets win over Alize Cornet that included a 13-11 2nd set TB win, followed by her dropping the opening set of her next match against Mona Barthel. But Svitolina responded with back-to-back bagel sets vs. the German, then won another long TB (11-9) to defeat Karolina Pliskova in straights (ending her 0-5 career run vs. the Czech) before seeing Garbine Muguruza retire with a neck injury five games into a semifinal match. In the final, Halep was in control early, but rolled her ankle late in the 1st. With the Romanian's mobility hindered, and the pain constant, Svitolina seized command late in the 2nd and coasted through the 3rd to wrap up a 4-6/7-5/6-1 win.

After a sizzling 18-2 start through February, Svitolina hit a slight rut (hmmm, maybe *that* was the "rut" Pam Shriver was talking about this week... which is a funny notion, actually, because I'm sure she doesn't even know of that rut's existence, but that's another conversation altogether, isn't it?), going 3-3 up through Ukraine's Fed Cup loss to Germany last month. But she's carried herself through the clay court season with increasingly more successful form. After Rome, she's gone 10-1 in three events, winning two titles, and ending with a big Premier event win to go along with the International title she picked up in Istanbul. As has been the case for much of the season, she's leading the pace on the stats lists, too.

2017 title #4 leads the tour, and she's tied atop the WTA lists (w/ Kristina Mladenovic in both, though the Pastry has just one title) for finals and semis. She leads the Singapore race, as well, and her 31 match victories are more than any other player on tour. After becoming the first Ukrainian to reach the Top 10 earlier this year, she's now up to #6, less than 100 points from becoming the first in the Top 5. Her 5-0 record vs. Top 5 players this season is the tour's best. For her career, Svitolina now has ten Top 5 wins, and fifteen over players in the Top 10 (since February of last year alone, she's posted nine and eleven, respectively).

Does it mean she's now a Roland Garros favorite? Well, her best slam result *is* a QF in Paris in 2015, and she was the junior RG champ in 2010. This title run on clay (on the heels of a similar win in Dubai in February) takes away most of the "International Event Queen" knocks that might come her way, but she still has some honest-to-goodness slam stripes to earn. She surely isn't the "favorite," as really *no* player is in anything but numbers-and-name only in what should be a very competitive major. She very well *could* slip up...

But Svitolina's time is coming. At some point it'll arrive. Maybe even three weeks from now.
RISERS: Simona Halep/ROU, Kiki Bertens/NED and Dasha Gavrilova/AUS
...Halep rolled into Rome with the sort of pace that was sure to place a great deal of expectation on her shoulders when it comes to the deep-but-lacking-in-one-name-superstars competition that kicks off in Paris next Sunday (ugh... let's make this the first official crabby reaction to that Sunday start). The Romanian picked up in Italy where she'd left off in Madrid.

Still talking about her "2.0" attitude and how important the tough-love (but brief) walk-out by coach Darren Cahill had set her straight about how to approach things on court when things get tough, Halep added to her '17 tour-leading clay court win total with victories over Laura Siegemund, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (winning a love 3rd after dropping the 2nd, giving her another chance to talk about how she's changed), Anett Kontaveit and Kiki Bertens to reach her second straight final, riding a ten-match winning streak. She was on her way to winning the opening set vs. Elina Svitolina, too. She led 5-2. Then she pretty much completely rolled her right ankle in the backcourt.

Halep played on, and even won the set and was even mid-way through the 2nd. But with the pain persistent, and her inability to run full-out hindering her chances to stay even with the Ukrainian, it all felt apart, piece by piece. After a quick loss of a service game to fall behind 5-3, Halep managed to break with Svitolina serving for the set, but another loss of serve in game #12 sealed Halep's fate. Svitolina took the 2nd at 7-5, and ran off to a 5-0 lead in the 3rd as Halep's lack of mobility (and caution with Paris a week away, combined with a lack of desire to retire) ended the truly competitive part of the final, which would be a great QF/SF/F match-up in Paris should both players be healthy and in good enough form to get that far.

14-2 in the clay season, Halep will be in the RG title mix, assuming this injury (on the opposite foot where she's had previous issues) doesn't linger, and that her somewhat swift move for the exit in the 3rd set was motivated more by pain/desire-to-gut-it-out-to-a-finish than the sort of frustration that she's worked hard to remove from her gameday S.O.P. over the last few months.

Bertens, set to defend her '16 Nurnberg title and RG semifinal over the next three weeks, posted her best result of the clay season in Rome, following up her Madrid QF with a semifinal run. Wins over Monica Niculescu, CiCi Bellis, Ekaterina Makarova and Dasha Gavrilova inspire hope that the 25-year old Dutch woman will finish out her spring clay schedule on another high note, after a 4-9 start to '17 on hard courts (which even included the showing of a few cracks in her sterling Fed Cup reputation in February) had raised a few eyebrows when it came to backing up what was a career season in 2016.

Meanwhile, Gavrilova apparently enjoys taking the long route when she visits Rome. In 2015, in her Italian Open tournament debut, she made her way through qualifying and then upset Belinda Bencic, Ana Ivanovic and Timea Bacsinszky en route to the semifinals. Last year, she'd already earned her place in the draw (and entered the event). After notching wins over Sabine Lisicki and Simona Halep, she fell short with a three-set loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd Round. This year, once again Dasha was set to made a MD appearance... except for the fact that she forgot to enter the event. Whoops.

No bother, though. The world #27 put up Q-round wins over Aliaksandra Sasnovich (3 sets) and Bethanie Mattek-Sands to reach the MD, then proceeded to get three more wins -- all over Top 25 players -- on her way to a QF result. A trio of three-set victories over Madison Keys (7-5 in the 3rd, after losing the 1st, dropping the Bannerette to 3-5 on the season), Caroline Garcia and Kuznetsova (again after losing the 1st) in a rematch of last year's tussle, putting an end to her winless head-to-head (0-4) vs. the Russian. She finally fell to Bertens in straights in the final eight, but she's now 13-3 in her Rome career and will move up to #25 this week, one off her career-best ranking.

SURPRISES: Karolina Pliskova/CZE and Gao Xinyu/CHN
...CoCo Vandeweghe hasn't been the only big-hitting hard/grass court maven who has been surprisingly effective on the clay this spring. While Pliskova expressed little expectation of clay results for what remains of May after her 2nd Round loss a week ago in Madrid, she nevertheless went to Rome and had a nice tournament. Coming in with zero wins in two appearances in the Italian Open MD, the Czech knocked off Lauren Davis and Timea Bacsinszky before losing 6-2/7-6(9) to eventual champion Elina Svitolina in the QF, giving her a decent (for her) 4-4 mark on dirt this season heading into Paris. Pliskova's not going to win Roland Garros (she's 2-5 there in her career) but, if nothing else, her eight matches on clay this spring might provide some fitness and confidence dividends on her better surfaces through the summer schedule. Positioned quite nicely at #3 in the rankings, with #1 Kerber's results sagging badly and #2 Serena (just 10 points ahead of Pliskova) out until 2018, the Czech might get "first dibs" at a chance to challenge for the #1 ranking later this season. If she got to high ground, Pliskova would become the first Czech woman since Martina Navratilova to hold the top spot.

On the ITF circuit, 19-year old Gao picked up her second consecutive title, and third this season, with a championship run at the $25K challenger in Qujing. Her 6-1/3-6/6-3 win in the final over Italy's Giulia Gatto-Monticone gives the Chinese teen a 6-0 mark in ITF singles finals for her career. She'll jump up to a career-best #224 in the new rankings.

VETERAN: Venus Williams, USA
...though last year she did put up her best result (4th Rd.) in Paris in six years, Williams isn't a good bet to follow up her '17 Australian Open final with another at Roland Garros. But she's at least in good spring form at the moment, which would seem to only be a good sign for the soon-to-be 37-year old's summer schedule on grass and hard courts. In Rome, she posted wins over Yaroslava Shvedova, Lesia Tsurenko and Johanna Konta (ending her three match losing streak vs. the Brit) before falling in three sets in the QF against Garbine Muguruza. Venus first reached the final at the tournament nineteen years ago in 1998, and won her only Rome title a year later. This QF run was her best since reaching the same stage in 2012.

COMEBACKS: Garbine Muguruza/ESP and Laura Robson/GBR
...finally, after a 0-2 start to her clay campaign, the soon-to-be-defending '16 Roland Garros champion began to look the part in Rome. After outlasting Jelena Ostapenko in three sets in her opener for her first win since Miami, Muguruza's sudden Mucho Mugu Mojo carried her to victories over Julia Goerges and her first win in four meetings with Venus Williams. Against Elena Svitolina in the SF, though, a pre-match neck injury (the Spaniard said she hurt it with a sudden movement when returning serves) led to a retirement after just five games. The third of the three Rome semifinalists who leave Italy with both good memories and possible lingering injuries heading into RG, Muguruza is the one with the pressure to back up a superior result in Paris, where her experience and previous success (QF-QF-W the last three years) will be called upon to get her through.

Hmmm, is it a "clear skies" moment for Mugururza, or are the clouds lurking? Or possibly both? Even her posted Twitter photo isn't certain.

In Japan, Robson took home the title at the $60K Kurume challenger. The 23-year old Brit was part of some odd headlines early in the week after opponent Rika Fujiwara took to doing push-ups between points during their 2nd Round match.

But it was Robson who became the focus as the week went on, with her ultimately winning a 6-3/6-4 final against 20-year old countrywoman Katie Boulter, who'd upset the top seed (Ksenia Lykina) and was seeking her biggest career title. Robson, who'll jump forty-nine spots to #169 on Monday, will next appear on the grass court circuit, where she'll try to pick up enough forward motion to get a MD win at Wimbledon, where she's likely now assured of getting a wild card after this encouraging result (she was awarded berths the last two years during her prolonged comeback from wrist surgery). Robson's last slam MD win came at the U.S. Open in 2013, about two months after she'd posted her best career slam result (4th Round at SW19). She reached #27 in the rankings that July, then injured her wrist the following January.

FRESH FACES: Anett Kontaveit/EST and Sofya Zhuk/RUS
...quietly, Kontaveit is having quite a breakout season. Last week, she made her way through Rome qualifying, getting wins over Jana Cepelova and Mariana Duque. With her head of steam appropriately fueled, the 21-year Estonian went veteran headhunting. First, it was the noggin of Andrea Petkovic, then Angelique Kerber in a 4 & love win for her first career victory over a world #1. The wins over the Germans was followed up by a 1 & 1 destruction of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. She lost in the QF to Simona Halep, but her 22-7 run in her last twenty-nine matches (which included the Biel final) has her on the cusp of the Top 50. She'll jump sixteen spots on Monday and land at #52 on the WTA computer.

In Naples, Florida, 17-year old Hordette Zhuk claimed career ITF title #5. The '15 Wimbledon girls champ's weekend included wins over #3-seed Michelle Larcher de Brito in the semis and #1 Taylor Townsend in a 6-4/7-6(5) final. This is the Justine Henin Academy-trained teen's first title this year, but she's currently on a 12-1 run, with two finals (one a walkover loss) and a semi in her last three events. She'll climb to a new ranking high inside the Top 230 this week.

25k champion?? P.S had to jump in the pool with ball kids after lol?????

A post shared by Sofya Zhuk (@sofya_zhuk) on

DOWN: Angelique Kerber/GER
...after being injured in Madrid, holding onto her spot in the Rome main draw seemed either a risk too great to take so close to Roland Garros, or an exercise in futility for Kerber. It turned out to be the latter. The German lost her opening match to Anett Kontaveit, getting just four games off the Estonian, and being bageled in the 2nd set. She's already lost twelve times this season (she was 63-18 in all of '16), including seven defeats as the world #1.

The "good" news: Angie doesn't have anything to defend in Paris, as she was upset in the 1st Round a year ago by Kiki Bertens. The bad news: she *does* have a whole lot of points to back up this summer. The good news (for the rest of the tour): unless Kerber gets it together, we could see a wild scramble by quite a few players for the #1 ranking come September.
ITF PLAYER: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
...the 17-year old Czech's star continues to rise. Already a winner of a WTA title (Biel) this season, as well as $15K and $25K crowns, Vondrousova stormed to a win at the $100K challenger in Trnava, SVK this week. The world #109 knocked off Alison Van Uytvanck, top-seeded Yanina Wickmayer, Ekaterina Alexandrova (ret.) and Veronica Cepede Royg in a 7-5/7-6(3) final to earn the right to hold the trophy. Vondrousova gave up just thirteen total games through her first four matches before losing eleven against Cepede Royg. VCR, 25, was looking to become the second straight South American to pick up a $100K title this spring, on the heels of Beatriz Haddad Maia's win in Cagnes-sur-Mer (of note, the Brazilian defeated Vondrousova in a $25K final in March). She'll have to settle for not only reaching her biggest final, but also her very first in Europe. The Paraguayan's previous twenty-three ITF final results were achieved in events in either South (22) or North (1) America. Both players will climb into the Top 100 for the first time on Monday.
JUNIOR STAR: Ylena In-Albon/SUI was an all-Swiss match-up for the Grade 1 Santa Croce title in Italy, as unseeded In-Albon defeated #7-seeded Simona Waltert 6-4/6-4 to win her first career G1 crown.

The 18-year old, the #108-ranked girl, was playing in her first career G1 final, and didn't drop a set all week. 16-year old Waltert (jr. #33) lost for just the fourth time in twenty-six '17 matches. She lost another G1 final in Nonthaburi in March, and was also looking for her own maiden Grade 1 title. Doubles partners for the week, as well, In-Albon & Waltert advanced to the semifinals.
DOUBLES: Chan Yung-Jan/Martina Hingis (TPE/SUI)
...the Chan/Hingis mojo continued in Rome, as the pair combined to win their third title together, all of them high-level Premier events this spring.

After coming together to win Indian Wells in March, the duo have raised their game even higher on the clay. A week after winning in Madrid, they escaped early-round trouble in Rome -- dropping the 1st set, then saving MP vs. Hibino/Rosolska in the 2nd Round, winning an 11-9 3rd set TB -- and then proceeded to close out the event by winning eight straight sets over their four matches vs. the likes of Spears/Srebotnik, Mirza/Shvedova (Hingis won Rome in '16 Mirza, their only red clay title together) and Makarova/Vesnina (last year's finalists) in the championship match. Hingis now has 58 career tour WD titles, while Chan comes in with 21. 19-3 together thus far in '17, they'll now head for Paris, where Chan will be looking for her first slam win, while Hingis seeks #23 (13th in WD).

On FFT President Bernard Giudicelli, it should be noted that he took to the spotlight this week like a bird to flight. Or like a pig to slop, I guess, if pigs felt it was their role to inform that world that only *they* know the way things should be... and certain portions of the bleating sheep on the other side of the barnyard decided to chime in afterward about how right the oinkers are in their thinking.

Of course, Giudicelli was last seen before this week threatening to suspend French Davis and Fed Cup players for having the temerity to think they can decide for themselves whether or not they wish to sacrifice parts of their season to play for their nation in a team event while points and prize money-gathering events are taking place elsewhere around the world in what is an individual sport, and then forcing those players who declare injury as the reason for their absence to "prove it" to federation doctors or face the consequences.

Yeah, him.

Anyway, he was at it again this week when, rather than announcing or informing those involved well in advance (but, you know, he called *three* times before she was set to head out for a 2nd Round match in Rome), chose to make a show of it on Facebook Live when declaring it was his and the FFT's "moral obligation" to deny Maria Sharapova not only a wild card into the main draw of the event that she's won twice, but to also shut her out of the qualifying tournament.

Climbing upon the soapbox of good intentions (he said so, so it must be true) and future headlines sure to include his own name, Giudicelli stood up against the notion that the FFT would essentially not stoop to do what so many figured it would -- make its WC decision based on any money that Sharapova might help bring to the event (though, really, one player won't make any difference as far as the revenue generated) that will already be missing the likes of Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Vika Azarenka and Petra Kvitova, just to name a few. Of course, the tournament is *still* scheduled to start next Sunday, a day earlier than any of the other three majors in an attempt to squeeze out as much revenue as possible. So, yeah... there's still that. And that the FFT had previously offered the Russian a WC into another of its events, as well. So, there's that, too. Apparently, the moral high ground ends at the Strasbourg city limits.

Organizational -- and presidential -- hypocrisy and showboating crosses all language barriers.

Of course, it's been said in many corners that the FFT didn't owe Sharapova anything, and that is indeed true. It's the right of the powers that be to award or deny a WC berth to any player, especially to a player outside of the four slam-hosting natures (I mean, what's in it for the FFT, right?), let alone one coming off a fifteen-month suspension.

While WTA head Steve Simon stated that it was a case of the FFT leveling an additional penalty on a player who has already served an assigned punishment, others (including generally on-target voices, like Nicole Gibbs) didn't agree that denying a WC met the conditions of an "additional penalty." And, on it's face, it's hard to argue with the latter reasoning, except for the fact that the FFT and Giudicelli used the phrase "moral responsibility" when announcing the decision, which takes it from being a by-the-book decision based on rankings and points to one of an organization deciding that the assigned suspension wasn't enough for Sharapova, and that further punishment was necessary.

So, then, it *was* further "penalization."

But, so be it. Thank the Tennis Gods this whole thing is over, at least as far as this portion of the story in concerned. The event will go on, and so will Sharapova and her (so-called, as a certain insufferable Canadian called it) comeback. Later in the week, she announced that she won't even request a WC for Wimbledon, and will instead play the qualifying tournament.

So maybe (the all knowing and powerful, apparently) Pam Shriver, who took advantage of her so-called (by no one) brilliant take on the game to declare this rather exciting '17 season to be an example of the WTA being "in a rut" this week, can now be satisfied that Sharapova is being "grateful" and showing enough "humility" in a case that so many with such strong opinions really seem to know very little about when it comes to scientific evidence and official rulings.

Of course, facts, knowledge and context don't mean much when snide comments and loud voices are consistently given precedence over anything that doesn't highlight conflict and judgmental opinions.

But, hey, at least we know the FFT isn't in position to be blackmailed by the Russians, right? That's a start. I guess.

1. Rome Final - Elina Svitolina def. Simona Halep
The first meeting between these two since 2013...

surely won't be their last. Maybe not even this spring.

Hopefully, the next one will have an actual finish, rather than just an ending.
2. Rome 2nd Rd. - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni def. Maria Sharapova
...6-4/3-6/1-2 ret.
It wasn't a day to remember for Sharapova. On the same afternoon -- within the same hour, actually -- that it was announced in look-at-me-because-you-should-know-my-name fashion by the FFT Prez that she wouldn't be playing Roland Garros *at all*, Sharapova seemed on her way to taking out Lucic for the second straight event. But a thigh injury slowed her roll, and eventually sent her home (and to the grass courts, including Roehampton) three games into the 3rd.

3. Rome 1st Rd. - Barbora Strycova def. Daria Kasatkina
...6-4/4-3 ret.
Speaking of an injury changing the storyline. Kasatina was rockin' and rollin' against Strycova, but then rolled her ankle when her sliding foot seemed to catch the back line of the AD service box at 6-4/3-3.

It wasn't pretty...

The good news? While The Kasatkina can be hurt, she isn't down for long. She was back out on the practice by the weekend.

Back on the court???? #tennis

A post shared by Daria Kasatkina (@kasatkina) on

4. Rome 2nd Rd. - Anett Kontaveit def. Angelique Kerber
Kerber has suffered seven losses as #1 through the first four and a half months of 2017, falling to players with an average ranking of #26. Kontaveit was #68 going into Rome.
5. Rome 1st Rd. - Julia Goerges def. Kristina Mladenovic
You want the French definition of "drinking the Kool-aid" (or maybe "Stockholm Syndrome," take your pick)? Well...

And, remember, this is coming from a player who had a royal, open air (and Twitter) conniption fit of Trumpian proportions last summer when the FFT didn't inform her and Caroline Garcia (also now on her s*** list) about matching uniform rules, and then fully blamed the federation for the loss (in a match in which the Pastry pair won the 2nd set at love to force a 3rd, it should be noted) because of the pre-match distraction.

Obviously, she's learned little by osmosis by teaming up in doubles with cool-as-an-autumn-breeze Svetlana Kuznetsova in recent weeks.

It's a good thing Kiki's tennis is so fulfilling to watch, because much of the rest of the mix leaves a great deal to be desired.
6. Rome 1st Rd. - Wang Qiang def. Elena Vesnina
Since winning Indian Wells, Vesnina has gone 2-6 and failed to get past the 2nd Round at five straight events.
7. The Rome Semifinals Serena's-Not-Playing-So-It-Doesn't-Count Final Four

hmmm, let's see. A semifinals consisting of the tour's hottest clay courter, Madrid champ and '14 RG finalist... and the tour's most consistent winner in '17... and a 2016 Roland Garros semifinalist... *and* the 2016 RG champ.

Or, as Pam Shriver would describe it, further evidence of the "rut" that the WTA now finds itself in the too-many-good-stories-to-keep-track-of 2017 season.

Said Shriver of this awful season: ""This is a rough time. I thought a year, year-and-a-half ago that the recession was over. Serena was winning, and the up-and-comers looked like they were going to be here for quite some time. Throw in Maria, and there was a lot of depth. But between injury, struggles and now Sharapova, the WTA finds itself in a bit of a rut again."

That the dumbassery of the likes of Shriver counts as an opinion of record in the U.S. when it comes to the goings-on in this sport says a great deal about the impossible corner that (especially women's) tennis will find itself in here (and elsewhere) once Serena and Venus are gone. If anything that happens on the court doesn't involve a Williams, it's been decided by many who don't play attention otherwise that it doesn't count, and when the Sisters *do* rise above the fray it's said by the same group to prove the lack of talent on the tour. On many levels, it's the same with Federer and Nadal on the men's tour, except for their '17 resurgence being judged as a continuation of a "golden era" rather than raising questions about the next generation. With the likes of Shriver, and those who believe anything she says should mean anything (since she really knows very little about what goes on in the sport -- just listen to her commentary, and that'll become clear fairly quickly) leading the way, it's looking to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that the sport will be dead in the States as far as big media coverage once the Roger/Rafa/Serena/Venus era officially ends, no matter how great the events that happen on the court from that point forward.
8. Strasbourg Q1 - Camila Giorgi def. Dayana Yastremska
Giorgi saved a MP en route to victory over the Ukrainian in a match where the two combined for 28 double-faults (20 from Yastremska, who celebrated her 17th birthday last week).

9. $15K Oeiras Final - Panna Udvardy def. Gaia Sanesi
The 18-year old Hungarian picks up her third career ITF title.

10. $15K Antalya Final - Varvara Flink def. Maria Lourdes Carle
Hordette Flink, 20, went 0-4 in ITF singles finals in 2016, but finally picked her first career crown here with a win over 17-year old Argentine Carle, the reigning Eddie Herr 18s girls champ from last season.
HM- Nurnberg Q2 - Barbora Krejcikova def. Petra Krejsova
Two Czechs. A Barbora, but not that Barbora. A Petra, but not that Petra. A Krejcikova defeating a Krejsova. The Maidens have mad depth... in all *sorts* of areas.


And... baby!

1. Rome Final - CHAN YUNG-JAN/Martina Hingis def. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina
The Russians have a varied history with Hingis in big event finals. They 1-1 vs. the Original (and still standing) Swiss Miss, with Flavia Pennetta & Sania Mirza by her side, in slam finals, and defeated Hingis & Timea Bacsinszky for the Olympic Gold in Rio last summer. But they're now 0-5 against her in Premier finals since 2014, whether she's teamed with Sabine Lisicki, Mirza or Chan. Last year in Rome, Hingis/Mirza defeated Makarova/Vesnina in a three-set final.
2. Rome SF - CHAN YUNG-JAN/Martina Hingis def. Sania Mirza/Yaroslava Shvedova
The post-"Santina" head-to-head between Hingis and Mirza is now 2-2. Hingis is 2-1 in 2017. Meanwhile, Mirza/Shvedova are just 2-2 this clay season. So Slava would be wise to line up a different partner for the summer.

3. Rome QF - Garbine Muguruza def. VENUS WILLIAMS
Muguruza is now 1-3 in her career head-to-head vs. Venus. The other three match-ups were on hard courts. She's 2-3 vs. Serena.
HM- Rome QF - Elina Svitolina def. KAROLINA PLISKOVA
It was a week for getting maiden wins vs. WTA sisters. Svitolina is now 1-5 vs. Pliskova.

Coming soon... Auntie V

Though she falls out of the Top 10 again this week.


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Step one, heading off any potential B.S. next month...

4 - ELINA SVITOLINA, UKR [Taipei,Dubai,Istanbul,Rome]
2 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE [Brisbane,Doha]
2 - Johanna Konta, GBR [Sydney,Miami]
2 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova , RUS [Monterrey,Rabat]

DUBIA: Elina Svitolina, UKR
INDIAN WELLS: Elena Vesnina, RUS
MIAMI: Johanna Konta, GBR
MADRID: Simona Halep, ROU
DUBAI: Makarova/Vesnina, RUS/RUS
MIAMI: Dabrowski/Xu Yifan, CAN/CHN
MADRID: Y.Chan/Hingis, TPE/SUI

Brisbane 2016-17 - Sania Mirza, IND (d)
Taipei City 2016-17 - H.Chan/Y.Chan, TPE/TPE (d)
Madrid 2016-17 - Simona Halep, ROU

13...Elina Svitolina, UKR [ended by walkover]#
11...Elise Mertens, BEL [ended by Mladenovic]
#-2 additional wins after walkover, then lost to Muguruza

**2017 WTA FINALS**
4...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (1-3)
3...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (0-3)
2...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (2-0)
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (2-0)
2...Johanna Konta, GBR (2-0)
2...Elise Mertens, BEL (1-1)
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (1-1)
[clay finals]
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (1-1)
2...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (0-2)

2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands (d) (Brisbane=>AO)
2 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Monterrey=>Rabat)

2 - Caroline Wozniacki (Doha-L,Dubai-L)
2 - Francesca Schiavone (Bogota-W,Rabat-L)
2 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Mont.-W,Rabat-W)
2 - Kristina Mladenovic (Stuttgart-L,Madrid-L)

**MOST 2015-17 WTA...**
[singles titles]
8 - Serena Williams, USA (5/2/1)
7 - Simona Halep, ROU (3/3/1)
7 - Angelique Kerber, GER (4/3/0)
6 - Aga Radwanska, POL (3/3/0)
5 - Karolikna Pliskova, CZE (1/2/2)
5 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (3/2/0)
[singles finals]
14 - Angelique Kerber, GER (7-7)
12 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (5-7)
11 - Serena Williams, USA (8-3)
10 - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (7-3)
8 - Aga Radwanska, POL (6-2)
8 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3-5)
[singles semifinals]
21 - Angelique Kerber, GER (14-7)
18 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (12-6)
18 - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (10-8)
18 - Aga Radwanska, POL (8-10)
16 - Serena Williams, USA (11-5)

**#50+ def. #1 - since 2005**
2009 Beijing 2r - #226 Zhang Shuai d. Safina
2008 U.S. Open 2r - #188 Julie Coin d. Ivanovic
2005 I.W. Final - #133 Kim Clijsters d. Davenport
2008 Wimbledon 3r - #133 Zheng Jie d. Ivanovic
2009 Tokyo 2r - #132 Chang Kai-Chen d. Safina
2009 Marbella 1r - #95 Klara Zakopalova d. S.Williams
2008 Montreal 3r - #94 Tamira Paszek d. Ivanovic
2014 Charleston 2r - #78 Jana Cepelova d. S.Williams
2011 Cincinnati 2r - #76 Christina McHale d. Wozniacki
2011 Bastad 2r - #73 Sofia Arvidsson d. Wozniacki
2009 U.S. Open 3r - #52 Petra Kvitova d. Safina

3...Y.CHAN/HINGIS (IW/Madrid/ROME) - 1 HC/2 RC
2...Mattek-Sands/Safarova (AO/Chas.) - 1 HC/1 GC

4...Hradecka/Siniakova (0-4)
3...Y.CHAN/HINGIS (3-0)
3...Hlavackova/Peng (1-2)

**2017 ITF $100K FINALS**
MIDLAND, USA: Tatjana Maria/GER d. Naomi Broady/GBR
ANNING, CHN: Zheng Saisai/CHN d. Zarina Diyas/KAZ
CAGNES-SUR-MER, FRA: Beatriz Haddad/BRA d. Jil Teichmann/SUI
TRNAVA, SVK: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE d. Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR

**2017 ITF TITLES**
4 - Polina Monova, RUS
4 - Dejana Radanovic, SRB
3 - Sarah-Rebecca Sekulic, GER
3 - Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP

Italian made easy, by Roberta Vinci (w/ an assist from Sania Mirza)

Gelato & Laura Siegemund

And... holy selfie!

If only a good hair game was a sure-fire prelude to a great Roland Garros...

16 Singles Final: Garcia def. Lucic-Baroni
16 Doubles Final: Medina-Garriges/Parra-Santonja d. Irigoyen/Liang
17 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Vesnina

#1 Wozniacki d. #4 Suarez-Navarro
#7 Gavrilova d. #5 Garcia
#1 Wozniacki d. #7 Gavrilova

#2 Dabrowski/Xu Yifan d. #3 Jurak/An.Rodionova

16 Singles Final: Bertens def. Duque
16 Doubles Final: Bertens/Larsson d. Aoyama/Voracova
17 Top Seeds: Bertens/Putintseva

Mertens d. (Q) Bouzkova
Cirstea d. #6 Goerges
Mertens d. Cirstea

Knoll/Schuurs d. Voracova/Voskoboeva


All for now.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wk.19- Fifty Shades of Simona

See Simona lead. See Simona laugh. See Simona not destroy herself for not being perfect all the time, even when the urge to do so is bubbling up inside of her.

See Simona dominate. See Simona battle. See Simona win.

Hmmm, maybe the best WTA story of this story-filled 2017 season is only just beginning.

Simona Halep has already gone through quite a few stages in her young career. Early promise, elective surgery, a well-earned breakthrough, mounting pressures, lingering injuries, damaging perfectionist tendencies run amok and, as noted so often in this space, a tendency to be lured toward dramatic and dangerous "Cliff side" views in matches that should have probably been more akin to an eventful walk in the park have all combined to make the Romanian a player to keep an eye on when it's come to the most important events on tour the last few seasons, but also one still seeking the elusive "key" to unlocking the *true* big-time champion that exists within.

But maybe, just maybe, she's found it. Per usual with Simona, though, it didn't come without a dramatic and dangerous moment of truth.

The early months of 2017 weren't particularly kind to Halep. Fighting a knee injury, she reached just one QF in the first nine weeks of the season (she retired from it) and ended the opening quarter of the year with a mediocre 6-4 mark. She put up three wins in her closing 1Q event in Miami, as many as she'd had up to that point all season, but the emotional negativity that has hounded the Romanian since her initial tour breakthroughs finally came to a head in her QF match with Johanna Konta. Halep served for the match vs. the Brit, but was broken, then lost a deciding TB and seemed to just go away in a 6-2 3rd. So upset with her attitude and his belief that she "gave up," coach Darren Cahill briefly walked away from the relationship that has seemed to be a very beneficial one for Halep, as far as lightening her sometimes overwhelming psychic load and allowing her to loosen up and smile while also further developing and maintaining her killer instinct.

In an interview with WTA Insider, Halep revealed that, "After Miami, (Cahill) stopped working with me because he was upset about that match. It wasn’t because I lost, but because of my attitude and him feeling like I gave up. That’s why I started to work hard on my mentality, and my psychology."

Cahill returned, but his tough love game of chicken seemed to make its intended point. Since Miami, where she felt embarrassed by her behavior, Halep has often noted that she was working on herself, recognizing that her negativity was having an adverse effect on her tennis, holding her back, and that she knew she had to fix it.

So far, so good.

"Simona 2.0" slowly recovered from the knee injury (though she says she still feels it), and took on a leadership/calming presence role in Fed Cup when no less than the team's captain put on a truly embarrassing display of his own. A semifinal, her first of the season, on the clay in Stuttgart optimistically kicked off her clay court spring, while her return to Madrid provided her with another hurdle to clear. The defending champion at the event, organized by fellow Romanian Ion Tiriac, Halep views it as something of a "home" tournament for her. A wild card into the main draw in '13 started her down her road to WTA success, and the relationship was sealed from there forward. She lost in the 1st Round that time, but won six tour titles over what remained of that season, reached the Top 10 the following January, and played in the Roland Garros final the ensuing spring. Since then, she's reached at least the final three times, including the completion of the very first successful title defense of her career this weekend.

With expectations high, Halep kept her perfectionism and negativity in check in Madrid. An escape in the 2nd Round against Roberta Vinci (the Italian led 5-2 and served for the match) set the stage for a sometimes-dominant, always gutsy week of action. In the final vs. Kristina Mladenovic, after squandering a set and a break lead, then losing a TB (just as happened against Konta in Miami), she responded by taking an early break lead in the 3rd and then outlasted the Pastry, her fitness leading the way despite her somewhat behind schedule training regimen due to the knee injury, but also because of the return of her former trainer after a year-long break-up of the partnership.

Might the Mladenovic match prove to the key to the remainder of Halep's '17 season? There, she battled and pushed back, then saw her opponent reciprocate with just as much will and force (not to mention a killer forehand). But rather than get down and berate herself for any lost opportunities, then throw up her hands in frustration and try to get off the court as quickly as possible (you know the look... think of a few of her matches vs. Ekaterina Makarova), Halep dug in and found a way, with the final key being converting on her third BP in game #7 of the 3rd to take a 5-2 lead in what turned out to be a 7-5/6-7(5)/6-2 final.

She's always had the heart and ability to do it. It's only been that "other" Simona who's often gotten in the way.

"Today, I showed it’s a new Simo," she said, "that I don’t give up anymore, even if I lose a close 2nd set. It makes me proud that I was able to change this in such a short time." And, of course, in her victory speech, Simona made a point to thank Cahill for coming back. Tough love = a tougher Simona. Not a bad trade-off. For the face of Swarmette tennis (and the "heart of Backspin," too), maybe the best really *is* yet to come for Halep.

Come on, can you hear it?

"Si-mo-na! Si-mo-na! Si-mo-na!"

Ah, sounds good.

MADRID, SPAIN (Premier Mandatory/RCO)
S: Simona Halep/ROU def. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 7-5/6-7(5)/6-2
D: Chan Yung-Jan/Martina Hingis (TPE/SUI) d. Timea Babos/Andrea Hlavackova (HUN/CZE) 6-4/6-3

...10-1 on clay this spring, with a head of steam and new attitude heading into the (seemingly) hours left before the start of play in Paris, Halep looks to be in as good a shape as ever to finally seek to follow up on the breakout slam performance she put up at Roland Garros three years ago when she reached her (so far) only slam final. Defending her Madrid title from all sorts of angles should at least prepare her for whatever type of match may be on her horizon. The run included comfortable wins over the likes of Kristyna Pliskova, Sam Stosur and CoCo Vandeweghe (who won just two games), a "survival" against Roberta Vinci (down 5-2 in the 3rd in the 2nd Round), a nipped-it-in-the-bud, closed-it-down victory over Anastasija Sevastova in the semis after the Latvian looked as if she might prove to be a frustrating pest in the 2nd set, and an all-out, all-hands-on-deck win in her closing Madrid battle with Kristina Mladenovic, a momentum-swinging, classic clash of wills that will surely go down as one of the best finals we'll see this season. Halep even got in some additional practice on the doubles court, teaming with Irina-Camelia Begu to reach the semis after upsetting Mirza/Shvedova. With her second straight Madrid title in hand after reaching her third final in four years at what has become something of her "second home" tournament, the Swarmette will return to #4 in the rankings (important for Paris) after having dropped to #8 last week when her '16 championship points briefly fell off her totals last week.

RISERS: Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Kiki Bertens/NED and Misaki Doi/JPN
...for all intents and purposes, Mladenovic looks to be riding a rocket ship to tennis' version of the moon. Only thing is, she still needs to work a bit on her "landings."

In Madrid, the Pastry reached her second straight clay court final (after Stuttgart) while casually (or as close to that as Kiki gets on the court) tossing out mindboggling shots with frightening regularly all week long. Lobs, drop shots, crushing forehand winners, lightning-quick defense turned into indefensible offense. She really had and did it all. But, again, she failed to go home with the winner's trophy. Wins over Ana Konjuh (ret.), Lauren Davis, Oceane Dodin (2 & 1 in their first meeting since France's recent Fed Cup controversies), Sorana Cirstea and Svetlana Kuznetsova allowed her to reach her tour-leading fourth final of the season. She's also tied for the lead in match wins (27, w/ Wozniacki) and all alone in first when it comes to semifinals (5). But she's now just 1-3 in those finals after her hard-fought (w/ a lower back ailment, no less) three-set loss on Saturday to Simona Halep. Thankfully, Mladenovic picked up her maiden title in Saint Petersburg in February (a three-set win over Yulia Putintseva), for otherwise her rapid ascent up the rankings (she'll be at a career-best #14 on Monday) would truly be dogged by a prominent asterisk. Overall, she's now just 1-6 in tour singles finals. Not great, but better than 0-7. That one title run in Russia now keeps Mladenovic from being knotted with Lucie Hradecka (actually 0-7) atop the list of active players with the worst career marks in WTA finals.

As has happened throughout her singles career, though, Mladenovic is likely just a "slow starter." Once she gets the hang of things, she'll probably run off a string of three or four successive wins in finals. It's not as if she's crumbling under the pressure of the moment in these losses. She lost a 3rd set TB to Laura Siegemund in Stuttgart, and battled Halep all day long in Madrid. Either match could have easily gone her way. For quite some time, Mladenovic's game, though inconsistent, has been one of the most exciting on tour. Now it's gradually becoming one of the BEST on tour. Eventually, and probably in short order, it's going to lead to her going home with something BIG. How big? We shall see.

Bertens, seemingly waiting patiently (or not) for the clay season to begin and allow her to truly kick her season into gear, finally put up the sort of result in Madrid worthy of a player who has become a Fed Cup star, grand slam semifinalist and Top 20 player over the past year. Impressive victories over Ekaterina Makarova, Timea Bacsinszky (2 & 2!) and Irina-Camelia Begu got her into her third QF of the season (second on clay). After having not lost a set all week, she fell in straights to Anastasija Sevastova, but raised her season clay court mark to 8-4 after suffering through a 4-9 open to '17 on hard courts. In doubles, Bertens teamed with Johanna Larsson to also reach the QF there, getting big wins over Kuznetsova/Mladenovic and Mattek-Sands/Safarova.

Doi's big move in Madrid came before the "regular" week had even started, as her opening weekend upset of Madison Keys gave her the first Top 10 win of her career (one day before Keys actually FELL from the Top 10, incidentally). She followed up with a victory over qualifier Donna Vekic before losing to wild card Sorana Cirstea in the 3rd Round.

SURPRISES: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA and Wang Qiang/CHN
...and if you predicted that Vandeweghe would reach her first Premier Mandatory QF at a *clay* court event, well, you can go ahead and retire the Prognostication Trophy. It's all yours.

But, really, that *is* what happened on the red dirt in Madrid. After putting on a rather nice show on green clay in Fed Cup last month, going 2-0, Vandeweghe notched her first back-to-back wins in a tour-level clay event. Like, ever. Knocking off Anett Kontaveit in the 1st Round was one thing, but taking out Laura Siegemund -- one of the top clay courters on tour over the last two years, and the reigning Stuttgart champ -- in three sets is another. As is putting the kibosh on Carla Suarez-Navarro's run in front of the Spanish fans (although, that was a little bit like Fed Cup, so CoCo was in her element there). Of course, her own run came to an unceremonious end against Halep in the final eight, but the result was enough to lift Vandeweghe back into the Top 20 and to a new career high of #19. And no matter what happens in Paris, Vandeweghe looks to be poised to quite possibly wreak some real havoc on the grass courts, where she had already has quite a bit of success -- two Rosmalen titles and 4th Round/QF results at SW19, all from 2014-16 -- before her series of breakout performances in '17.

While Zheng Saisai has been stirring of late, mostly on the ITF circuit, it's been Wang Qiang who's been the breakthrough Chinese player in tour level events this season. After making her way through Madrid qualifying with wins over Hordettes Varvara Flink and Evgeniya Rodina, the 25-year old knocked off Caroline Garcia and (well, well) Zheng in the main draw before falling to a dominating version of Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 3rd Round. It's Wang's fourth multiple-win MD event on tour this season (w/ three QF, and a win over Kristina Mladenovic), during which she also won her first WTA 125 Series title (with wins over Peng Shuai and Duan Yingying, two of Wang's four countrywoman ranked with her in the Top 100, along with Zheng and Zhang Shuai). After coming in at a career-best season-ending rank of #70 in 2016, she's set to climb seven spots to #57 on Monday, just one off the career high she set in April. Fresh off her results in Madrid, Wang made it through Rome qualifying this weekend, as well, with victories over Sorana Cirstea and Risa Ozaki.

The wings are still there ... no meter what ..???? thank u Naomi for a pic ... I wish the best even for my heaters ????

A post shared by ???????? ?????????/Kuznetsova (@svetlanak27) on

VETERANS: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS and Anastasija Sevastova/LAT
...despite not winning a title, or even reaching the final, Kuznetsova came to Madrid and gave us all we ever really ask of her. She produced at least one drama-heavy three setter (vs. Alison Riske in the 2nd Rd., when she saved a MP in the 2nd set), dispensed some matter-of-fact Sveta truth (when asked about Genie Bouchard's assertion that she was supported by "a lot of players" when it came to her insultingly ignorant comments about the Sharapova case)...

and, Sveta being Sveta, proved yet again why it's mandatory for her to be beloved, as she made it clear she was just stating the facts as she perceived them and wasn't trying to ruffle any feathers, and then pleaded for peace, too, for good measure...

Still, she did us all a favor by putting a definitive end to Bouchard's "so-called" comeback with a 6-4/6-0 beatdown in the QF, sparing us a run to the final four or better by The Insufferable One, err, I mean self-professed lockerroom "woman of the people," even though the Canadian made it pretty clear a few seasons ago that she couldn't really stand to be around those same people... well, at least until the self-serving moment arrived when she could declare how much everyone was supposedly behind her in order to provide cover for her own grandstanding, headline-seeking commentary. (I tell you, if it wasn't for her Canadian heritage, Bouchard might have a future in U.S. presidential politics.)

Anyway, back to Sveta. Additional wins over Yaroslava Shvedova (1st Rd.) and Wang Qiang (QF) helped her post her first SF result since reaching the Indian Wells final in March, and her first such success on clay since Prague last April. Her last final four berth in a clay event as big as Madrid was in 2015, when she was the runner-up at this same tournament. Ultimately, heavy conditions proved to help along her demise against Kristina Mladenovic. She'll surely be a hot pick in many corners come Paris, though placing such high expectations on the Russian is almost always a sure way of compromising any possibility she might have to actually accomplish such a feat. The Kuznetsova Curse is no longer confined to Backspin, after all.

Kuznetsova, 19-8 on the season, will step up one spot to #8 in the new rankings, just a few points behind #7 Muguruza.

Last year, in her first full season since 2012 after an 18-month retirement in 2013-14, Sevastova shined on all surfaces. She reached finals on clay and grass, and put up a (2.0) career-making QF run on the the hard courts of the U.S. Open en route to the first Top 40 finish of her career. In Madrid, she achieved her first Premier Mandatory semifinal result, and second final four appearance (w/ Dubai) of the season. After getting wins over Zhang Shuai, Karolina Pliskova, Lara Arruabarrena and Kiki Bertens, Sevastova faced Simona Halep. The Romanian double-bageled her in last year's Bucharest final, and allowed just three games to her in the Stuttgart QF last month. This time around, Sevastova at least managed to frustrate Halep in the 2nd set, taking a 3-0 lead, but ultimately fell in straights, 6-2/6-3. Sixteen months into her comeback, Sevastova will climb into the Top 20 for the first time ever on Monday after her third consecutive QF-or-better result this clay season, reaching a new career high of #18.

COMEBACKS: Genie Bouchard/CAN and Sorana Cirstea/ROU
...make no mistake about it, like a mythical monster that thrives on bitter resentment, Bouchard played a great match against Maria Sharapova in their much-anticipated (for, let's be honest, pretty much all the wrong reasons, as no matter which side you stand regarding the "controversial" issue of the Russian's suspension, whichever player you were rooting for likely had more to do with "off-court sentiment" than actual tennis) 2nd Round match-up.

Unquestionably, after arriving in Madrid without a tour win since Melbourne, and having not been very successful on the challenger level, either, the Canadian turned back the clock to 2014 with her performance against Alize Cornet to get to the Sharapova match, then her gutsy, sometimes-brilliant (as far as shotmaking) win over the Russian, whose match rustiness showed as she blew leads in both the 1st and 3rd sets. Bouchard got a break in the 3rd Round when Angelique Kerber battled a thigh injury and retired a set and 5-0 down (and, please, spare me the boo-hoo comments and attacks on Kerber this week for retiring a game away from the finish line and therefore "robbing" Genie of her victory moment... if there was ever any player who didn't "deserve" to be the beneficiary of such rushes to her defense, it's her), but the ran into a different Russian buzz-saw when she faced Svetlana Kuznetsova. Sveta, who has pointed out in the past how many players tend to judge Sharapova far too harshly without really knowing anything about her, dominated Bouchard to such a degree that one wonders if the Canadian can now ONLY raise her game to its previous level if she convinces herself that her opponent is "evil" (or something close), and whether her great early-round play in Madrid will now be an even more elusive condition than it's already been the last couple of seasons.

Really, it's hard to tell what's the worst part about the Bouchard (not Sharapova) case over the past week or so. The original "cheater who should be banned for life" nonsense, her shameless attempt to cast herself as a "conduit for the opinion of the masses" of Sharapova detractors on tour (a group of players she'd sooner spit on than seek to be the representative of, or shake hands with, for that matter, a season or two ago), her continued attempts to tweak with back-handed compliments & commentary regarding the Russian's "so-called comeback"... or, quite simply, the general acceptance/normalization of Bouchard's grandstanding, common-sense/fact-deficient behavior by certain members of the media, who'd rather pat the Canadian on the back for "speaking her mind" than point out the inherent gaping holes in her logic/opinion, not to mention outlandish hypocrisy. In a week in the U.S. where the so-called powers that be attempted to essentially show us a picture of a rock and tell us it was actually an oak tree, maybe *all* areas of the media, sports or otherwise, should seek to point out truths rather than be giddy about comments that make nice headlines. I'm just sayin'.

So, on court, at least for a while, Bouchard earned an "A" for her efforts, though you have to ask, if she still *can* play with such desire, does her inability to do so for so long mean she just hasn't been motivated enough to care? It's a legitimate question. As far as off court, playing the villain is fine. It's not really a bad thing (see Connors and McEnroe back in the day), and it *does* make things interesting. But doing so while being a self-described version of an "avenging heroine" for an unnamed group of players that you proudly noted that you didn't give squat about before now? That's just insufferable.

I don't know whether or not Sharapova actually *did* intend to "like" that faux Bouchard book cover tweet this week, or whether it was an unintended consequence of randomly searching for and liking posts that seemed to promote her own new autobiography. But I do know that I can find reason to hope for *either* scenario, depending on the angle of the sun at any particular moment.

While Halep was the Romanian who shined the brightest in Madrid, Cirstea had a significant week, as well. The 27-year old, who climbed as high as #21 in '13, returned to the Top 100 last season following shoulder surgery, coming in at #81, 163 spots higher than she'd finished in 2015. Earlier this season, Cirstea reached the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, her best slam result in eight years ('09 RG QF), and her QF result in Madrid, on the heels of another QF in Istanbul, gives her back-to-back singles QF in WTA events for the frist time since her (so far) career-best North American summer run on hard courts four years ago, when she put up a SF in Stanford, followed by a QF in Washington and Toronto runner-up result (she def. Wozniacki, Jankovic, Kvitova and Li en route before losing to Serena). Last week, she notched victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (24 hours after the Russian won in Rabat), CiCi Bellis and Misaki Doi. She lost to Kristina Mladenovic in the QF, but she'll climb to #67 on Monday.

...the 16-year old (#8 Jr./#459 WTA) grabbed the biggest title of her career in the $25K challenger in Naples, Florida. The Californian's second career title included a string of wins over young up-and-coming fellow Bannerettes. Qualifying wins over Alona Bondarenko, Ellie Douglas and Sofia Sewing got Liu into the main draw a week after she reached the semis at a $60K in Charleston with an upset of Francoise Abanda. What followed here were victories over #3-seeded Sonya Kenin, #8 Usue Arconada, #2 Kayla Day and #7-seeded, two-time NCAA champ Danielle Collins in a 6-3/6-1 final. Collins, 23, had reached the final at that Charleston event a week ago, and was also the doubles runner-up this weekend while partnering Taylor Townsend.

DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN, Garbine Muguruza/ESP and Angelique Kerber/GER's not as if the Dane is crashing. She's not. But one has to wonder if the ol' itchy-feeling-on-the-neck might soon return when it comes to all things Caro -- or at least the ones involving Sascha Bajin's involvement in the effort, no matter how much of a good thing it would seem to be -- if things don't reverse the course of results in recent weeks. With the Wozniacki family, it's never smart to say "never." One tournament after failing to convert MP and losing to Jelena Ostapenko (3-0 vs. the Dane in '17), Wozniacki had to go 3:27 to take out Monica Niculescu in the 1st Round in Madrid, then lost to Carla Suarez-Navarro a round later. 4-3 on clay since the 17-4 hard court run that included spots in the Doha, Dubai and Miami finals, it shouldn't be a time to worry... but sometimes that's precisely when it *has* been where Caro's team makeup is concerned.

Still, Wozniacki returns to the Top 10 this week for the first time since September 2015.

Muguruza, who spoke optimistically about the clay season just a few weeks ago, is still seeking her first '17 win on the dirt this spring following her 1st Round exit in Madrid, a crushing 1 & 3 defeat at the hands of Timea Bacsinszky. With her third straight loss, the Spaniard is now 7-7 in her last fourteen matches after starting 7-2 Down Under "way" back in January.

And, once again, Kerber has found her way onto this list. Sigh. Thing is, though, she didn't play poorly in Madrid. She posted wins over Timea Babos and Katerina Siniakova, the latter after digging out of a 5-3 3rd set hole vs. the Czech. But then she was forced to retire with a thigh injury in the 3rd Round vs. Genie Bouchard, down 6-3/5-0 after having failed to hold her serve even once. She said she no longer has expectations for the clay season, but she's still in the draw for next week's event in Rome despite the fact that a Kerber without "four working wheels" is probably better off just putting herself up on blocks for a few weeks.

That said, the German will return to #1 on Monday. Ah, 2017... you magnificent trickster.
ITF PLAYERS: Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA and Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
...the rising South American star that is Haddad continues to rise. Following up her qualifier-to-quarterfinalist run in Prague, which included the first Top 20 win by a Brazilian in nearly three decades, the 20-year old extended the best stretch of her career by claiming her biggest title with a win in the $100K challenger in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. An unseeded participant in the draw, Haddad knocked off Viktoriya Tomova, Anna Blinkova, Elizaveta Kulichkova, Danka Kovinic and Jil Teichmann in a 6-3/6-3 final to complete a combined 10-1 run over the past two weeks (she's 20-7 on the season). Ranked outside the Top 325 a year ago, the Brazilian entered this week at a career-best #115, and now this result will lift her into the Top 100 for the very first time in the new rankings.

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A week ago, Rybarikova won her first title ($80K Gifu) since a '16 season that saw her undergo wrist and knee surgeries. Her season ended after Wimbledon. The 28-year old Slovak's comeback roll continued in Japan with another title at this week's $60K challenger in Fukuoka. She posted wins over both the #2 (Zarina Diyas in the SF) and #1 (Jang Su-Jeong in the Final) seeds en route to the crown, taking out the Korean 6-2/6-3 to close things out with her ninth straight win. She's 12-1 in her last three events, and 16-4 so far in 2017. Ranked #384 heading into what turned out to be her first of back-to-back title runs, Rybarikova's surge will see her come in at #188 on Monday (a jump of 54 spots this week).

Thank you Fukuoka, another title ????????????#japan#secondtitle#comeback#thankfull #happy

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First pro title?? #25k

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JUNIOR STAR: Marta Kostyuk/UKR
...the pool of young Ukrainians is deep and talented, but Kostyuk is the only one not named Svitolina with a junior singles slam crown to her name, having won the Australian Open this past January. This week the 14-year old (jr. #6) reached AND won her first pro singles final, taking the title in the $25K Dunakeszi, Hungary challenger in just her fifth career pro tournament appearance. She did it without dropping a set, and put up upset wins over the likes of Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (7-5/7-6), Ipek Soylu, Alexandra Cadantu and Bernarda Pera (6-4/6-3) in the final.

DOUBLES: Chan Yung-Jan/Martina Hingis (TPE/SUI) took some trial and error, but Hingis may have found her post-Sania doubles soulmate, as things between the Hall of Famer and Chan Yung-Jan seem to be going rather swimmingly.

In Madrid, in just their fifth pairing, Hingis & Chan picked up title #2, their second Premier Mandatory crown (w/ Indian Wells). It wasn't a cakewalk, mind you. The veteran duo twice dropped the opening set in early-round matches but survived by claiming 3rd set TB wins over Jurak/An.Rodionova and Prague champs Groenefeld/Peschke to reach the semifinals, then settled in with straight sets wins over Parra-Santonja/Soler-Espinosa and Rabat winners Babos/Hlavackova in the final. The duo are now 15-3 (Hingis is 6-4 w/ others WD partners in '17), and their second title ranks them with Mattek-Sands/Safarova as the only teams to win multiple titles this season. Chan, now living the other side of the Hingis life after she and sister Hao-Ching went 1-6 vs. Hingis/Mirza in 2015-16, picks up career title #20 with the win, the equal of her biggest career crown (she's 0-3 in slam WD finals) and her third this season (tied w/ Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the tour lead). It's Hingis 57th tour doubles win, and when added to her singles totals gives her exactly 100 WTA titles in her career (along with five MX slam crowns).


The tiny rackets make all the difference. Much (overdue) respect to the Madrid tournament trophy.

1. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Maria Sharapova
Was it the match of the year (so far)? Maybe. But not for all the pre-match reasons, though.

Bouchard turned back the clock here to 2014 -- you know, when she was a Sharapova wannabe and one-time fangirl trying to walk in the Russian's well-placed footsteps in terms of on-court mindset and off-court endorsement contracts -- with winning big point construction, hustle and great shotmaking, proving that her mostly lacking play for most of the last two years is even more puzzling than the whole USTA lawsuit thing (although, considering her recent behavior, maybe the seemingly-guilty USTA -- difficult as it is to say -- *isn't* totally in the wrong there, and that there *is* more to the story than we know). But the other truth here was that Sharapova's lack of match play is starting to show, as the Russian failed to take advantage of her own opportunities against an opponent who, while far from being perfect in the practice herself, managed to squander fewer in big moments than Sharapova did during the match.

Sharapova led 4-2 in the 1st set, but saw Bouchard surge back and serve for the set at 5-4, only to be broken. But the Russian couldn't back up the break and the Canadian served out the 7-5 set in 1:10. It proved to be a, if not *the*, key moment in the match. In the 2nd, two consecutive DF from Bouchard gave Sharapova another 4-2 lead, which she finally held onto by claiming the final four games of the set. In the deciding 3rd, the momentum shifted wildly. Sharapova held from love/40 for 2-1, then Bouchard did the same a game later, and Sharapova did it again the game after that (saving 5 BP). Bouchard then proceeded to take a break lead at 4-3, only to give it back a game later. In game #9, Sharapova served up 40/15, but was broken to fall behind 4-5. With Bouchard serving for the match, Sharapova then missed an open down the line backhand on BP that would have gotten things back on serve. She staved off a MP with the help of a wild net cord bounce, but Bouchard put away MP #2 with a big forehand winner to end the 2:51 match and get her first win in five meetings with Sharapova.

On the final scoresheet, Sharapova won more total points (112-107), and held a 44-20 edge in winners. But 49 UE's to Bouchard's 27, and a one-more-would-have-made-all-the-difference 5-of-15 performance on BP just wasn't enough to nip Bouchard's equally scratchy 5-of-21 numbers at the finish.

2. Madrid Final - Simona Halep def. Kristina Mladenovic
In a truly entertaining, momentum-swinging final, Halep outlasted Mladenovic in the 3rd after failing to close things out in the 2nd. Battling a lower back injury, the Pastry lost a 5-2 1st set lead as the Romanian reeled off four straight games to grab the early lead in the match. She ran her string to six games in the 2nd, up a break at 2-0. After Mladenovic got things back on serve, Halep held for 5-4 and 6-5, but the French woman's effortless defense-to-offense tactics -- including a head-swirling running forehand drop shot behind the baseline during the TB -- pushed things to a 3rd. Again, Halep held an early break lead at 2-1, but this time she didn't lose it. Finally breaking Mladenovic for 5-2 on her third BP of game #7, the Swarmette quickly went up 40/love in her own service game and served out her first successful title defense. Afterward, the tournament run by a Romanian, and won by a Romanian, also somehow found a way to include recently-disgraced Romanian FC Captain Ilie Nastase in the trophy presentation (though the TV coverage of it seemed to try to crop him out of nearly every camera angle) despite his recent suspension for unbecoming conduct (to say the least) during the ROU/GBR tie. For once, WTA chief Steve Simon jumped on the issue fairly quickly...

3. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Angelique Kerber
...6-3/5-0 ret.
Bouchard's third career Top 3 win. The others? Then-#3 Halep at Wimbledon in '14, and a #2-ranked Kerber in Rome last year. Her own progressive rank at the time of the three matches: #13, #46 and #60.

4. Madrid QF - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Genie Bouchard
The end of *Bouchard's* "so-called comeback, if you want to call it that?" We'll see, I suppose.

5. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Simona Halep def. Roberta Vinci
Vinci led 5-2 in the 3rd, and served at 5-3. Then Simona 2.0 took over.
6. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Alison Riske
Kuznetsova saved a MP in the 2nd set, and won an 11-9 TB. The rest was history. Ah, Sveta.
7. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Kristina Mladenovic def. Oceane Dodin
Say what you will about Kiki's record in singles finals, she's 2-0 in 2017 "grudge" matches.

8. Madrid QF - Irina-Camelia Begu/Simona Halep def. Sania Mirza/Yaroslava Shvedova
...6-3/3-6 [10-6].
After going 1-1 in their debut event, Slava shouldn't be making up any "SM/YS" monogrammed towels. Hingis winning the title only makes that second "1" look bigger.

9. $25K Changwon Q1 - Kimiko Date def. Shamika Dhar 6-0/6-0
$25K Changwon Q2 - Kimiko Date def. Jeong Yeong-won 6-0/6-2
$25K Changwon Q3 - Kimiko Date def. Sim Sol Hee 6-4/7-5
$25K Changwon 1st Rd. - Park Sohyun def. Kimiko Date 6-4/2-0 ret.
Kimiko went from changing her own scoreboard in qualifying to retiring with a shoulder injury. Hopefully, it's just sore. She *did* play a lot of matches in a short time after a long absence, after all.
10. $25K Changwon Final - Gabriella Taylor def. Danielle Lao
The 19-year old Brit wins her second career title, and biggest ever, with a victory over "The Little Giant."

11. $25K Hua Hin Final - Ankita Raina/Emily Webley-Smith def. Nudnida Luangnam/Zhang Yukun
The self-anoited "Indian Tiger" and "British Lion" pick up their third career title as a duo. Haha... #shakindatass.


12. Rome Q2 - Dasha Gavrilova def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Though she reached the semis as a qualifier in 2015, and knocked off Halep there last year, Gavrilova managed to forget to enter Rome this year. (See, sometimes people *do* just screw up the details.) Oh, well... now maybe she can find her Italian groove as a qualifier again.

13. Madrid 1st Rd. - Oceane Dodin def. Andrea Petkovic
Dodin won this battle of qualifiers last week, with things not being exactly "peaceful" between the two players' respective camps.
14. Rome Q2 - Andrea Petkovic def. Oceane Dodin
Naturally, they soon met again, as Petko won her second straight three-set qualifying match to reach the main draw.
15. Rome Q2 - Jelena Ostapenko def. Ash Barty
Who wants to see this match-up again, on an ever bigger stage, at some point? Logic tells us we probably will.

Disney Serena...

Had the best time at Disney, Pandora was unreal!!#visitpandora

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1. Madrid Final - CHAN YUNG-JAN/Martina Hingis def. Timea Babos/Andrea Hlavackova
Babos/Hlavackova were playing in their second straight final, but Martina had some unfinished business. Earlier this season, Hingis lost to Babos (w/ Pavlyuchenkova) in the Sydney QF along with Vandeweghe, and Hlavackova (w/ Peng) in the Dubai QF with Chan.

2. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Anastasija Sevastova def. KAROLINA PLISKOVA
The 2016 U.S. Open quarterfinalist takes out the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up. Wake Karolina when the grass season starts.

3. $15K Antalya Final - Maryna Chernyshova/Kateryna Sliusar def. TAYISIYA MORDERGER/YANA MORDERGER
The 20-year old, Kiev-born German twins failed to pick up their third doubles title together, losing to the all-Ukrainian pair. They picked up title #2 as a duo in Antalya back in January, while right-handed Yana won her first pro singles title in the city in February, defeating lefty Tayisiya in the final. Tayisiya won two singles titles of her own in Antalya last fall.


Much needed spa afternoon ?? back at it tomorrow ????#dontcallitacomeback #betterthanever

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I was gonna go unnoticed with my camouflage outfit, but my bag gave me away ??????

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Happy Mother's Day! ? my mumma is the funniest mumma ever! I am who I am because of her ?

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Love this shot. Whoever took it, thank you!

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The Coliseum.

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Dubai: Elina Svitolina, UKR
Indian Wells: Elena Vesnina, RUS
Miami: Johanna Konta, GBR
Madrid: Simona Halep, ROU
Dubai: Makarova/Vesnina, RUS/RUS
Indian Wells: Y.Chan/Hingis, TPE/SUI
Miami: Dabrowski/Xu Yifan, CAN/CHN
Madrid: Y.Chan/Hingis, TPE/SUI

Brisbane 2016-17 - Sania Mirza, IND (d)
Taipei City 2016-17 - H.Chan/Y.Chan, TPE/TPE (d)

**2017 WTA FINALS**
3...Elina Svitolina, UKR (3-0)
3...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (0-3)
2...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (2-0)
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (2-0)
2...Johanna Konta, GBR (2-0)
2...Elise Mertens, BEL (1-1)
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (1-1)
[clay finals]
2...Francesca Schiavone, ITA (1-1)

2 (FEB) - Caroline Wozniacki (Doha-L,Dubai-L)
2 (APR-MAY) - Francesca Schiavone (Bogota-W,Rabat-L)
2 (APR-MAY) - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Monterrey-W,Rabat-W)
2 (APR-MAY) - KRISTINA MLADENOVIC (Stuttgart-L,Madrid-L)

**MOST 2015-17 WTA...**
[singles titles]
8 - Serena Williams, USA (5/2/1)
7 - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (3/3/1)
7 - Angelique Kerber, GER (4/3/0)
6 - Aga Radwanska, POL (3/3/0)
5 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (1/1/3)
5 - Karolikna Pliskova, CZE (1/2/2)
5 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (3/2/0)
[singles finals]
14 - Angelique Kerber, GER (7-7)
12 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (5-7)
11 - Serena Williams, USA (8-3)
8 - Aga Radwanska, POL (6-2)
8 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3-5)
7 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (5-2)
7 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (5-2)
7 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (4-3)
[singles semifinals]
21 - Angelique Kerber, GER (14-7)
18 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (12-6)
18 - Aga Radwanska, POL (8-10)
17 - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (9-8)
17 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (7-10)
16 - Serena Williams, USA (11-5)
14 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (8-6)
12 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (7-5)
11 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (7-4)
10 - Venus Williams, USA (6-4)

4...Lucie Hradecka, CZE (0-4)
4...Katerina Siniakova, CZE (0-4)
3...CHAN YUNG-JAN, TPE (3-0)
3...Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (3-0)
3...TIMEA BABOS, HUN (2-1)
3...Sania Mirza, IND (1-2)
3...Peng Shuai, CHN (1-2)
3...Olga Savchuk, UKR (1-2)

14 - Sania Mirza (2015-16)
11 - Anna Kournikova (1999-02)
8 - Jana Novotna (1997-99)
4 - Leander Paes (2015-16 MX)
4 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1997)
4 - Helena Sukova (1996,98)
2 - CHAN YUNG-JAN (2017)
2 - Sabine Lisicki (2014-15)
2 - Mirjana Lucic (1998)
2 - Flavia Pennetta (2014)
2 - Mary Pierce (2000)
2 - Natasha Zvereva (1997-98)

**MOST PREMIER (all levels) TITLES**
20 - Serena Williams, USA
13 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
13 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
13 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
12 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
12 - Aga Radwanska, POL
6 - Angelique Kerber, GER
6 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
[Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 only - active]
13 - Serena Williams, USA
9 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
8 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
6 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
5 - Aga Radwanska, POL
5 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3 - Venus Williams, USA
2 - Jelena Jankovic, SRB

72...Serena Williams (most recent title: 2017)
49...Venus Williams (2016)
43...Martina Hingis (2007)
35...Maria Sharapova (2015)
25...Caroline Wozniacki (2016)
20...Victoria Azarenka (2016)
20...Aga Radwanska (2016)
19...Petra Kvitova (2016)
17...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2016)
15...SIMONA HALEP (2017)
15...Jelena Jankovic (2015)

30t.Kerry Melville Reid (17)
30t.Mary Pierce (17)
30t.Svetlana Kuznetsova (17)*
33t.Ann Haydon Jones (16)
33t.Elena Dementieva (16)
35t.Jelena Jankovic (15)*
35t.Ana Ivanovic (15)
35t.Dianne Fromholtz Balestrat (15)
35t.SIMONA HALEP (15)*
39t.Jennifer Capriati (14)
39t.Zina Garrison (14)

Another week, another comeback...

ROME, ITALY [Premier/Red Clay]
16 Singles Final: S.Williams d. Keys
16 Doubles Final: Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina
17 Top Seeds: Kerber/Ka.Pliskova

#6 Halep d. (WC) Sharapova
#7 Kuznetsova d. #4 Cibulkova
#13 Mladenovic d. #9 V.Williams
Suarez-Navarro d. #8 Svitolina
#7 Kuznetsova d. #6 Halep
#13 Mladenovic d. Suarez-Navarro
#7 Kuznetsova d. #13 Mladenovic

...I might as well get my version of the Kuznetsova Curse out of the way before Paris, right? Sharapova's road here could be interesting, as she might face "slingshot" Lucic-Baroni once again in the 2nd Round, then maybe Kerber. If Mladenovic's back is an issue, it could be qualifier Ostapenko who shoots through that section of the draw. And if Pliskova isn't expecting anything this clay season, then why should anyone else (hence, CSN coming through in that section, which also includes Kasatkina and Bacsinszky).

#4 Babos/Hlavackova d. #1 Makarova/Vesnina
#8 H.Chan/Ostapenko d. #2 Y.Chan/Hingis
#8 H.Chan/Ostapenko d. #4 Babos/Hlavackova

Meanwhile, the wait is on...

Con chi stavo parlando ???????? Ma con papino @fabiofogna ??????bravo per oggi ????????#40weekspregnant ????

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All for now.