Kim Stars in Fairytale of New York

21 09 2009

Fate, destiny, written in the stars; some of the descriptions I’ve heard since Kim Clijsters capped a remarkable return to tennis by winning the US Open. Featuring in just her third tournament since her comeback, she took a wildcard into the final Slam of the year as an unseeded entrant, and left with all the spoils. It’s the heart and soul of dreams.

She began with an expected win over Viktoriya Kutuzova before leaping her first hurdle, in the shape of Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, in three sets and then took out compatriot and friend Kirsten Flipkens. Next she faced the biggest test of her comeback thus far in Venus Williams and took a remarkable match 60 06 64 to progress to the Quarter Finals. Here she disposed of Li Na to set up a Semi Final match against world number 2 Serena Williams. Unless you’ve been in hiding for the last couple of weeks then you know what happened in THAT match as Clijsters progressed to the US Open Final in straight sets, 64 75. The final obstacle between the Belgian and an unbelievable victory was Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki, who had overcome her own personal millstone in Sorana Corstea before knocking out French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, American wonderkid Melanie Oudin and another Belgian in Yanina Wickmayer. Wozniacki, who capped a superb year by quailifying for the year end championships with this run, couldn’t halt the irrestible force and succumbed to Clijsters 75 63. Our champion was then joined on court by her young daughter Jada, much to the photographers delight.

So what next for Clijsters? Well she’s scheduled to play in Luxembourg next month, a tournament she’s won five times previously, and has announced her entry into Brisbane at the start of next season. Until then she’s going to relish the last couple of months and let it all sink in, I think – as well as enjoy looking after her daughter at home again. Clijsters has been a revelation since her return and has looked every inch the mature player, composed and patient, something she could perhaps teach some of her younger counterparts on the WTA Tour.

It was a grand way to complete the 2009 Slams and a better story couldn’t have been scripted; alongside the dream run of Oudin, the fall of big name players, Serena’s meltdown and a first-time Slam finalist, it was a tournament full of excitement and freshness. Well done Kim.





US Open: One Week In

7 09 2009

The US Open is now entering the second week and there’s been plenty of entertainment from the women, some matches good, some matches exciting and a fair share of big names sent packing.

Perhaps the most enticing story so far has been that of Kim Clijsters, continuing her return from retirement as an unseeded player in New York. She passed her first round test as expected with a 61, 60 win over Kutuzova to set up a rematch with Marion Bartoli; the Frenchwoman took the first 75 but Clijster flicked the switch and took the next two sets at the expense of just three games. In the third round she comfortably saw off compatriot and friend Kirsten “Flipper” Flipkens to set up a fourth round match against No. 3 seed Venus Williams. Her opponent has spent this tournament again playing with wrapped knees and had seen off Dushevina, Mattek-Sands and Rybarikova to reach this round, and although she  is clearly having problems with her knee, it isn’t stopping her from competing in doubles with her sister. The match was turned on it’s head in the first two sets as each player bagelled the other, first Clijsters and then Venus, and a tight third set saw just one break in favour of the Belgian, enabling her to send Venus crashing with a 64 victory. Next she faces Li Na in the quarter-final before potentially facing Serena Williams in the semis.

The American crowds are all excited about 17 year old Melanie Oudin who has had great success so far, coming from a set down to beat Elena Dementieva in the second round, before doing exactly the same thing in the next round to Maria Sharapova. After beating Shvedova, who herself pulled off an upset with the beating of Jelena Jankovic, Oudin faces another Russian today in the form of Nadia Petrova for a place in the QF, and the top half of the draw has really opened up following Oudin’s dismissal of two top players, added to the exit of Dinara Safina who lost to Petra Kvitova after scraping her way through the first two rounds. Victoria Azarenka is also out at the hands of Francesca Schiavone and the two main seeds left in that half are Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova – who face each other today in a fourth round match. Kvitova faces Yanina Wickmayer and the winner will meet either Gisela Dulko or Kateryna Bondarenko in the QF. Either Wozniacki or Kuznetsova will face the winner of Oudin-Petrova.

In the bottom half it’s a much tougher affair. Tournament favourite Serena Williams will face Flavia Pennetta in the QF after the Italian saved six match points to see off Vera Zvonareva, and the winner of that will probably face Clijsters. It’s heavily expected that the winner of the US Open will be whoever makes the final from the bottom half, although I’m sure Wozniacki and Kuznetsova – and others – will have an opinion on that.

With all the relentless talk about the number one ranking this year, it would be very interesting if Svetlana Kuznetsova were to win the US Open. I think we’re all sick to death of hearing how Safina is the number one even though she hasn’t won a Slam, and Serena holds three Slams but is number two… well, ff Kuznetsova comes out on top here, she and Serena will each hold two Slams; Serena the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Svetlana the French and US Open. But then Kuznetsova holds a Tour title and Serena holds none, so will the debate open up into fierce arguments of how Kuznetsova should be the number one ranked player? I doubt it, but it would be interesting.

Anyway, for what it’s worth I chose Clijsters at the start of the tournament and I’m sticking with my choice as we go into the second week. Go Kim!





Magnifique: Marion Earns Top Honours at Stanford

8 08 2009

An entertaining week of tennis was capped off with Marion Bartoli defeating Venus Williams in three sets to claim the biggest win of her career to date.

As the Final approached it was Venus who was heavily tipped to win her third hardcourt title of 2009; she had steamrolled Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva in the previous two rounds, dropping just five games in both matches combined. Bartoli on the other hand had played three sets against Sam Stosur in the Semi Final and the night before had fought back from a set down to beat Jelena Jankovic. That match had it’s own little mini-drama as Marion had claimed she prefers to be playing Jankovic rather than the Serbs’ beaten opponent, Sabine Lisicki, because “I always beat her”. Jankovic responded by saying that Marion isn’t exactly Serena Williams and can’t bring it to the big names, ending her interview by smiling and declaring that “Bartoli is going to get it tomorrow”. It looked as though Jankovic would be proved right when she was 6-3 3-1 in the lead but didn’t count on the French woman fighting back to take the second set 76 and then seal success with a 63 win in the third set. Someone had to eat humble pie and it turned out to be Jankovic.

On that same night Australian Stosur produced a surprise by downing Serena Williams. The American showed just why she isn’t the world number one by once again failing to produce her best game outside of a Slam and Stosur took advantage to roll her over 62 36 62 and claim herself a big scalp.

Back to the Final and Bartoli won more games in the first set than Sharapova and Dementieva had managed between them against Venus, taking it 62 to shake Venus up as she was unable to continue her great form in the tournament, partly through her own UE rate but also through her FORCED error rate, which was shown at one point in the second set as being at 17, but I’ve been unable to find final stats for this – if anyone can point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated. Marion’s aggressive game gave Venus very little time for her shots and proved to be the right gameplan in the opening set. In the second set Venus upped her game a little and earned herself a 75 win, despite Bartoli serving for the match at 54.

At this point all advantage seemed to be with Venus and it was generally voiced by commentators and bookmakers alike that there was only one winner, that Marion had missed her chance and would now fade away. That was not to be however and Venus was stunned to find herself 03 down before she knew it, and Bartoli showed energy and fight to continue her aggressive game and dismiss Venus 64 to earn the biggest title of her career thus far. Personally, it was a glorious moment to see Marion celebrate on court, the climax of a lot of hard work by the Frenchwoman and her coach/father, Walter. During the week she had dismissed myths and proved a lot of people wrong about a number of things, chiefly that she can’t fight back against a good player – see the set down comeback against Jankovic; that her head goes down and stays down if she loses the second set, having won the first – see the victory over Sam Stosur; that she doesn’t have the fight to beat a big name player in a tough tussle – watch the final against Venus Williams. Talk of her retiring at any opportunity was also put to one side as she played most of the week with both knees wrapped and had problems with her calf from the Quarter Final match with Jankovic onwards. In the final she was clearly struggling to stay loose but fought through this and was repeatedly seen stretching her body between games as she pushed against the court walls. The spirit and determination shown proved to be too much for her famous opponent and her victory here was greatly deserved.

It was a great week for Marion Bartoli, our WTA Stanford Champion 2009.





WTA Invades America

27 07 2009

It seems like an age has passed since Wimbledon finished but it’s only been three weeks and now we’re on the verge of the US hardcourt season. In the intervening period most of the top players rested but there has been clay court action to enjoy (if we can find matches online anyway) but really, those three weeks after Wimbledon aren’t the same, it’s as if most players are just putting their feet up and breathing deeply, preparing for the big push to the final Slam of the year. Word of note to Andrea Petkovic though, who won her first WTA Tour title yesterday in Bad Gastein, Austria. The world number one, Dinara Safina, also lifted a trophy as she won a hardcourt tournament in Portaroz, Slovenia.

Today, a large number of the top players are in Stanford, USA; the line-up includes both Williams sisters, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Agnes Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and Nadia Petrova. If we go by the bookmakers then Serena Williams is the easy favourite for this tournament and if she plays well, rightly so – but we all know that Serena doesn’t seem to turn up and give everything she has outside of the slams, evidenced by the fact that she hasn’t won a Tour title in over 15 months now. She has a tricky first round match against Li Na and whilst she should win, I don’t think it would be an earth-shattering shock if she lost that one, although it should be noted that Na is carrying a knee injury. Other potential finalists from that half of the draw include Jankovic, Bartoli and Lisicki and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of Sam Stosur vs Dominika Cibulkova go far.

In the bottom half of the draw, Venus Williams is the favourite to reach the final and with hardcourt titles under her belt already this year, why not? Well, again it will come down to how she approaches the tournament and Venus isn’t adverse to an early defeat to a player she should be beating. She looks safe to win her first two matches but could then find herself up against Maria Sharapova, who is getting ever fitter and would no doubt love to start winning tournaments again as she approaches something resembling her old self, and after that it’s more than likely that Dementieva would be waiting. I think both of those players have more desire than Venus to win this tournament and I would expect one of them to cut off her challenge.

Personally speaking, I’d love to see Marion Bartoli do well here. She’s in potentially the ‘easier’ half of the draw although that description goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that Serena won’t be giving it her all and that Jankovic just isn’t on her game at all right now (or this year).  The young Frenchwoman is more than capable of taking advantage of any shortcomings in her rivals games, so I’ll have my fingers crossed for her. I’d also quite like to see Stosur, Lisicki and Sharapova do well here, but my prediction to win the tournament is Elena Dementieva. She’s won hardcourt titles earlier this year in Auckland and Sydney, reached the Semi Final of the Australian Open (lost to Serena Williams), made the final in Paris (lost to Mauresmo) and of course the last time we saw her was at Wimbledon where she came so close to beating Serena and making the final. Dementieva’s first task is, unfortunately for us Brits, to get past British number one Anne Keothavong.

Elsewhere this week, Nathalie Dechy announced her retirement from tennis, and also her pregnancy, at the age of 30 – best wishes for her future life as a mother! Nicole Vaidisova lost in Stanford qualifying 6-2 6-1 to Stacey Tan, ranked 584 in the world. I’ve no idea what’s going on with Vaidisova and her still-hurtling fall from the upper reaches of the rankings, but it’s looking like she desperately needs to address something in her life and game. It’s really sad to see. And finally, Tamira Paszek told at a press conference how she’d been receiving treatment for a back problem by having her own blood injected into her body, only to have the legality of this questioned. It seems that this type of treatment, known as autologous injections, is against anti-doping rules. Paszek then immediately contacted the Austrian anti-doping agency to find out more about this. Apparently this kind of ‘blood doping’ is against the rules but there’s also an exemption certificate which can be gained to have the treatment administered, though whether this can be acquired after the treatment has occurred, I don’t know. Looking at the massive difference in the Richard Gasquet and Martina Hingis cases, Paszek can expect anything from a wry smile and a slap on the wrist to a hundred year ban from even looking at a tennis court.

For now we have an exciting week of tennis ahead as we lead up to the US Open, so bring it on!