Tenaciously Tennis

Dementieva Retires: Reflections on a Champion’s Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zvonareva Ranked Second, Can Surpass Wozniacki in Doha

Vera Zvonareva, this year’s finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open, replaced the ailing Serena Williams in her rise to the number two world ranking today. This distinction, however, may not be the final one of the year for Zvonareva in her best season on tour to date. In fact, she has the chance to overtake Caroline Wozniacki’s relatively new top ranking at the year-ending tournament in Doha.

Here’s Zvonareva’s reaction via Facebook: “Just heard I have reached #2 in the world rankings! I have worked really hard this year so it is nice to see the results pay off. Also had a good time here in Doha at the player party and draw ceremony yesterday. Playing my first round robin match tomorrow.”

For her to nab the top spot, explains an Associated Press article, Zvonareva “must win all three matches in the group stage and then make it to the final, while all Wozniacki has to do is win two of her round robin matches to retain her ranking.” It continues, “If Zvonareva loses a match in the round robin, Wozniacki would then only need to win one of hers.”

Therefore, many things need to happen for Zvonareva to take hold of this opportunity — being the world’s best at the year’s end.

The idea that she may become the world number one is frankly a little mystifying, despite her excellent showing in majors this year. Maybe it’s the fact that the media simply doesn’t hype her the way it does Serena, Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, and others. Or, it could be the fact that her on-court temperament still lacks that of a true champion. Whatever the case, Zvonareva has proven she’s here to stay atop the highest tier of the WTA tour for a long time coming.

In Bobby Chintapalli’s recent post, “Small Babe, Big Results,” we get a strong sense of Zvonareva’s ability to overwhelm her opponents with tricky shot selection and the ability to change up pace and spin. Writes Chintapalli, “You’re not immediately sure what Zvonareva did, but you know she did something right. It’s fitting, because that’s how she can make her opponents feel when she plays well.” This refreshing quality makes Zvonareva an interesting candidate for the top position — just like Wozniacki a few weeks ago and Jelena Jankovic before

Now, it’s a matter of the media taking her under its wing, too. If she wins her first-round match against the struggling Jankovic in Doha tomorrow, she’ll be well on her way.

Federer Wins 64th Career Title; Azarenka Makes Doha

Roger Federer has tied Pete Sampras’ record of 64 career titles with his win in Sweden over Florian Mayer of Germany. Federer beat the 47th-ranked player with a smooth 6-4, 6-3 score in the tournamant during which he also claimed his 50th match of the season. This distinction, reports an Associated Press article, makes Federer “only the fifth man, and the first since Sampras, to win 50 matches in at least nine straight years in the Open era.”

The article continues, “Since 1968, only Jimmy Connors (109), Ivan Lendl (94) and John McEnroe (77) have won more singles tournaments than Federer and Sampras,” highlighting the extent of Federer’s impressive career thus far.

Can Federer keep going to match Connors’ 109 titles? I wouldn’t count him out by any means, although 45 more title would certainly be a stretch. The win in Sweden marked his 3rd of the year. If he continues on this path, he’d need to play over 15 years. And that, we all know, isn’t happening.

Regardless, it’ll be great to see just where the next few years takes Federer. Can he get to 20 major titles? Can he overtake McEnroes’ record 77 titles? This will all come with time.

In other news, Victoria Azarenka is back winning. This time, in the Kremlin Cup against Maria Kirilenko. The title marks the fifth of her career in a season hampered with injury, including the frightening end to her US Open run in August due to a collapse. She looked strong in her 6-3, 6-4 victory.

In other news, her win qualifies her for the year-ending tournament in Doha. In fact, Azarenka only needed to make the quarterfinals of the event. She’ll be confident and ready to make some noise at the event in which both Serena and Venus Williams pulled-out due to injury.

“It’s a big boost to win ahead of Doha. The win gave me confidence and perfect fitness. I feel my rhythm and I’m ready to go and play there,” said Azarenka. That sounds good coming at a time where many of the other top women are struggling.

Ivanovic Stuns Schnyder to Win First Title in Two Years

Posted in Ana Ivanovic,Patty Schnyder,Serena Williams,Venus Williams by Ben on October 19, 2010

Ana Ivanovic is back.

While it wasn’t at the largest of tournaments, her 6-1, 6-2 win against Patty Schnyder at the Generali Ladies proves she regaining the confidence and the game that took her to number one just a couple of years ago. Interestingly enough, the Generali Ladies title was her last victory in 2008 before the French Open champion started faltering. This time, Ivanovic looked dominant for the first time in awhile, failing to lose a set throughout the tournament.

At the same time, praise should be given to the veteran Schnyder, who has had a strong season. She made it to a final earlier in the year and has proven that her technical game still holds up well to many of the more physical players on tour. Schnyder has also had success at the Generali Ladies tournament in the past, advancing to the finals twice before in 2005 and 2007.

Schnyder simply couldn’t handle Ivanovic’s spot on execution. She failed to hold serve until the second set when Ivanovic led 5-0. “Respect for Ana, there was nothing in it for me. She took the balls so early and placed them so well,” said Schnyder of Ivanovic’s play.

With the win, Ivanovic also sees a boost in her ranking to 26th in the world, up three spots from the previous week. Schnyder, meanwhile, finds herself at 43rd, up from 47th.

If Ivanovic and Schnyder can keep up the form in 2011, they should be interesting additions to a field that’s getting stronger by the month. That is, if everyone can keep their injuries in check. Most notably: Serena and Venus Williams. That, however, is another story for another time.

Schnyder Saves Match Points, Meets Ivanovic in Final

Posted in Ana Ivanovic,Andrea Petkovic,Patty Schnyder,Roberta Vinci by Ben on October 16, 2010

Patty Schnyder saved two match points in her match against Andrea Petkovic to make it to her second final this year. She advanced in a tough 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 battle after “serving at 4-5, 15-40 down in the deciding set against Petkovic,” according to a recent Associated Press article. Schnyder has made it to the finals at the Generali Ladies tournament twice before in 2005 and 2007. Both times, however, she failed to win the tournament. This time around, it’ll be just as difficult as Ana Ivanovic routed Roberta Vinci 6-3, 7-5 to make her first final in 19 months.

In fact, Ivanovic’s last WTA tour title came at the Linz tournament in 2008. Will she prove to everyone that she’s truly back with a win against Schnyder in the final? A lot seems to be pointing to just that result. First, Schnyder had a much more difficult time in her semifinal match. Therefore, she’ll be the more tired of the two and less physically fit. Second, while the career head-to-head between Schnyder and Ivanovic is locked at 4-all, Ivanovic has won the last four meetings in dominating fashion. Therefore, Ivanovic has the confidence (and the record) to win.

Regardless, I’m not so sure that the match will be decided in such a lopsided manner this time around. Schnyder’s season has been stronger and before the semifinals, she ousted her opponents in a decisive manner.

In short, I predict that Ivanovic claims her first title of the year in three sets.

Schnyder Reaches Third Semifinal; Thoughts on Ivanovic’s Bathroom Break

Veteran Patty Schnyder continues to make noise on tour at the smaller events with her recent upset of Daniela Hantuchova at the Generali Ladies tournament in Linz. This semifinal appearance marks her third for the season, having advanced to the finals in Budapest and the final four in Prague back in July. Schnyder beat Hantuchova in a routine 6-4, 6-4 win as the world’s 47th-ranked player.

Up next for Schnyder is Andrea Petkovic, who is currently ranked 36. The two last met in 2009 at the Budapest tournament. There, Schnyder won 7-6 (3), 6-3. As a personal favorite and an experienced player with a strong record this year, I’ll take Schnyder over Petkovic in straight sets. Schnyder’s done well so far this tournament. In fact, she hasn’t dropped a set so far. I predict that she continues the same trend to make the finals. There, she has the chance to meet either Roberta Vinci, or a resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

Speaking of Ivanovic, what’s up with the recent bathroom break / game deduction that Ivanovic suffered during her match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. After holding to lead 1-0, Ivanovic left the court to use the bathroom, complaining of stomach problems related to yogurt consumption. “When she returned,” writes a recent Associated Press article, “the match was tied 1-1.”

Although it’s typical for players to use the restroom after the conclusion of the first set, they may also go before preparing to serve. Ivanovic, however, believed the chair umpired had agreed to let her go before Strycova’s service. That, obviously, wasn’t the case. Ivanovic blames the lost game on a miscommunication. “I was really surprised to be punished,” she told reporters.

Regardless, Ivanovic didn’t lose focus. Instead, she won 6-3, 6-2. Now, she has a strong chance to face Schnyder in the finals in what would be an exciting match. Schnyder will need any free points she can possibly get, although their career head-to-head is locked at 4-all Ivanovic has taken the last four matches. During their last meeting during the 2008 French Open, Ivanovic won 6-3, 6-2. I strongly doubt that Ivanovic will be taking more bathroom breaks before her opponent’s serve any time soon.

Wozniacki Claims World Number One Spot from Serena

With a string of wins taking her to the finals in Beijing, Caroline Wozniacki has surpassed Serena Williams in the rankings to helm the WTA tour. To get the world number one ranking, Wozniacki needed to advance beyond the third round in Beijing. She did after winning 6-3, 6-3 over Petra Kvitova, the player who knocked her out in the fourth round of Wimbledon earlier this year.

Although Serena has been dominant this year in terms of Grand Slam wins — she won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles — a foot injury has kept her out of play since the third major. Comparatively, Wozniacki advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open and made the semifinals at the US Open. Wozniacki also has 11 career titles to her name, including five titles this year. Additionally, she won the US Open Series, the event leading up to the year’s final major. This consistency shows she has what it takes to eventually take home a major title and that she wholly deserves this latest distinction to an already impressive list of accomplishments at such an early age.

In Beijing, Wozniacki looked particularly strong with wins over Ana Ivanovic and Shahar Peer most recently. Next, she faces Vera Zvonareva, who’s been having a sensational season of her own, including making two major finals at Wimbledon and the US Open this year.

I predict that nothing’s going to stop Wozniacki in the final against Zvonareva. She’s on a mission to not only hold on to her ranking, but also to prove that she’s number one for a reason. I’d say watch out to the rest of the field: Wozniacki’s success on tour has only just begun.

Wozniacki Wins, Nadal Loses in Three

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

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

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

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

Predictions for Wozniacki Versus Dementieva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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