Belgians set the pace for 2010

10 01 2010

After a ridiculously long absence of at least six weeks, the new tennis season has arrived with a bang! 2010 opened with tournaments in Brisbane and Auckland and both were won by Belgian players, Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer respectively.

The main focus this week has been the return of Justine Henin after 18 months out of the game and she didn’t disappoint, finally succumbing to Clijsters in the Brisbane final on a third set tie-break. Henin saw off Nadia Petrova in her first match and also took care of Sesil Karatantcheva and, after a tense battle, Melinda Czink before dispatching Ana Ivanovic without too much trouble. In the final against Clijsters the bar was raised in a rollercoaster match which saw Clijsters take a 6-3, 4-1 lead and appear certain for a comfortable win. Henin had different ideas and won the next eight games to take the second set and establish a 3-0 lead in the third, before herself collapsing as Clijsters fought back. Almost inevitably it went to a tie-break after Henin failed to finish off two match points in the final set, and the breaker was as giddy as the match itself; Clijsters took a 4-0 lead, then 5-1, but Henin clawed back to 6-6 before producing a double fault to give Clijsters match point on her own serve, and Clijsters screamed with joy for a second before a line judge called ‘out’ on what seemed a perfectly good ball. At that point it would have been very harsh for Clijsters to be denied but she wrapped the match up moments later, taking the tiebreak 8-6. Disappointing for Henin but just getting to the final in her first tournament back was a huge achievement.

So what next? Well, Henin has pulled out of this weeks tournament in Sydney citing a leg injury which she wants to rest, which makes sense. At times this week she has looked rusty, other times phenomenal so it’ll be great when she’s back in the groove of the Tour.

In Auckland it was Belgian youngster Yanina Wickmayer who triumphed, beating Flavia Pennetta in the final. Wickmayer, who was facing a one year ban just a month ago, couldn’t prepare properly for the new season of course as she didn’t know whether she’d be able to compete, but looked superb in her first tournament of the year. Pennetta also looked to be going with all guns blazing, playing some awesome tennis until the final, when she seemed unable to do anything right. Wickmayer will next have to qualify for the Australian Open despite being ranked No. 16 in the world, due to the issues surrounding her ban, so you have to pity the poor bollocks who draws her in qualifying.

Other notes from the tournaments this week, based mainly on my own interests… Alize Cornet is showing signs of getting over the slump of last year, beating Erakovic and Vesnina pretty comfortably before going out to feisty Italian Francesca Schiavone. She started this week in Hobart with a 6-1, 6-0 thrashing of Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru.

Shahar Peer was the subject of a small protest in Auckland. The group, which I think consisted of about seven people, stood at the entrance to the tournament during her matches and called through a megaphone for the Israeli to withdraw from the tournament due to the government of her country. Peer didn’t seem to mind though and progressed to the semi finals before bowing out to Wickmayer in straight sets. The only player that seemed to be affected by the protest was Magdalena Rybarikova who was visibly shaken and seemed to agree that her match against Peer should be abandoned – well done protestors, Magdalena thanks you for ruining her tournament.

So where the hell were the rest of the top players in the opening week of the season? Hong Kong, playing an exhibition tournament which I’m not even going to bother going into. Rumours that none of them fancied playing Clijsters or Henin remain unconfirmed, but Serena Williams, Dementieva, Sharapova, Safina, Azarenka, Wozniacki, Kuznetsova, Zvonareva and Jankovic will all be competing this week in Sydney. Venus Williams, however, decided that one exhibition tournament is more than enough preperation for the Australian Open and is putting her feet up somewhere – please, don’t suggest it’s because she’s not going to go far in the AO. Last year’s exit to the always-enigmatic Carla Suarez Navarro won’t be repeated.

So, Sydney and Hobart will lead us up to the AO, hopefully it’ll be another good week for the WTA but I suspect it’ll be littered with retirements and withdrawals as we approach the first Slam of the year one week from now – roll on!




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