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Welcome to Inside the Baseline, your place for all things WTA tennis. Check in for the latest information on your WTA stars, including tournament previews, results and season outlooks. All website content will be subject to the author's views and opinions, but debate and discussion are more than welcome on each post's comment boards. Enjoy.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The WTA Holiday Wish List

'Tis the season.

With just over a month until the Australian Open, the ladies of the WTA are thinking about what it will take to have a stellar start to 2012. Whether it's a matter of technique, or an entire mental overhaul, here's a look at what our favorite players are wishing for this holiday.

Caroline Wozniacki wants a forehand.

She's young, she's beautiful and she's the "best" female tennis player in the world, so what more could Caroline Wozniacki want? How about the ability to use her forehand? Wozniacki might have the best defense in the WTA (though Radwanska would like to argue that) but her weakness is the most basic shot in the game. I'll give her credit where it's due: nobody can roll a ball over the net like she can... but at this stage in the game Wozniacki needs to be able to do more than push her way through matches. Her forehand often sits short in the court and let's big hitters find their range. Add some depth and maybe she won't need body armor when she faces people like Serena Williams.

Wozniacki's failing forehand lost her a few matches in the back half of the season. Watch it fall apart in this clip as McHale dismantles Caroline in Cincinnati.


Francesca Schiavone and Li Na want to win matches again. 

Plain and simple. These two are laying in bed at night thinking of that time they won a grand slam and saying, "What the hell happened since?" With Schiavone's shot-making and Li Na's stinging ground strokes, there is no reason they can't have a surge in 2012. They might be two of the oldest players in the draw, but old's the new young in the WTA.

Jelena Jankovic wants motivation.

Remember the days of the "Serbian Summer" There was a time when Jelena Jankovic walked on court with confidence and attitude, then backed it up with lethal skill. Now? She doesn't do much at all.

Jankovic's single chance at a title in 2011 came against Maria Sharapova in Cincinnati. For the first time all year it actually looked like JJ wanted to win. Too often she has looked slow, bored and entirely unmotivated. She lost the smile that made her famous and the impenetrable defense that made her great. Where's the blistering backhand? Where's the pinpoint accuracy? Someone give this lady some desire again.

Remember, Jankovic. You used to love this game.

Maria Sharapova wants a serve.

You might not like her screeching, but you can't deny Maria Sharapova's ability to clobber opponents. Ground-stroke to ground-stroke, there are few that can match Sharapova's power (I'm looking at you, Serena and Petra) and even fewer that match her go-for-broke guts. But what Maria needs to find in her stocking this Christmas is a new serve.

To understand just how severe her service problem has become, you only need to look at one match: her third round loss to Flavia Pennetta at the US Open. Serving at 4-5 in the third set, Sharapova struck two double faults (bringing her total to 12), skimmed a few lets and ultimately spun a head-scratching second serve on match point that Pennetta thrashed for a return winner. The look on Sharapova's face explains all.

Victoria Azarenka wants to beat Petra Kvitova. 

Azarenka finally overcame her quarterfinal curse at Wimbledon this year, but she has a new issue to deal with and her name is Petra Kvitova. Azarenka suffered three major losses to her Czech opponent including the finals of Madrid, the semifinals of Wimbledon and the finals of the year-end championship.

While Vika is undoubtedly one of the most fit and skilled players in the league, she is still one of the most underachieving. She has the speed, power and all-court game to hoist many slam trophies, but until she figures out if she wants to play offensively or defensively she's not going to succeed in clutch moments.

Serena Williams wants control over her temper.

Maybe Venus or Mama Oracene will get Serena a stress ball for the holidays. While Serena's attitude and fire are entertaining, I'd rather see her win the US Open than yell at a line judge... again...

-Kedzie Teller, Senior Editor

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Live Blog: WTA Championships, Azarenka v. Kvitova

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Caroline Clinches and Crumbles

As news spread of Maria Sharapova's withdrawal from the WTA Championship, Caroline Wozniacki stood on court against her second round robin opponent, Vera Zvonareva. In that moment, the Dane unknowingly clinched the world no. 1 ranking for her second consecutive year, and, snapping back from a first set defecit, it looked like she would confirm the reasons why she is ranked so high.

Then she didn't.

Caroline Wozniacki is not the first WTA player to end the year at the top of the rankings (let's go back to Safina and Jankovic), but she is the first player to do so two years running. With the best defense in the game, but most certainly not the best offense, Caroline has embodied the meaning of consistency in professional sports (cough, er... except those losses to Vinci and McHale). The problem? She's not stepping up and winning the titles she should. Is she doomed to stick to New Haven?

Today Wozniacki fought back against Russia's Zvonareva, but her efforts were stifled by her opponent's gutsy play. No matter how many balls Wozniacki pushed back into the court, Zvonareva was ready to knock them away again, toppling Wozniacki for a 6–2, 4–6, 6–3 victory.

Zvonareva launches a backhand in her match against Wozniacki.
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
The Dane's forehand still sits short, her backhand doesn't always sting like it's capable of and a lack of aggressive play is holding her back. Maybe it's against her nature to go on the attack? But then maybe it's against her nature to hoist a grand slam trophy.

Regardless of her performance in Istanbul, Wozniacki will celebrate the new year as the world's best tennis player. I didn't say the most powerful. I didn't say the most decorated. For now, just... "the best."

-Kedzie Teller, Senior Editor

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Starting the Finish: WTA Year-End Championship 2011 Preview

Predictions from Kedzie Teller and Joe Barkus
The WTA is always full of its ups and downs, but something about the 2011 season has been particularly stunning. Let's take a quick moment to review:

It all started with Kim Clijster's run in Australia, where the agile Belgian proved (once again) that there are few women who can match her athleticism and determination on hardcourt. Then we were awed by Li Na, the woman who carried an entire nation's expectations in her pursuit to be the first Chinese grand slam champion, and succeeded. Soon after we moved to grass, where the not-so-silent and deadly Maria Sharapova looked to reclaim her spot atop tennis' greatest stage, but instead we rose to congratulate the sleeper, Petra Kvitova, who steamrolled her way to her maiden slam title. And finally, at a time when world no. 1 Wozniacki seemed to be slipping, Serena Williams returned and looked ready to reestablish order, only to fall to the might of Slammin' Sam Stosur.

Ten months of action are coming to a close and the Elite Eight have been set for the year-end championships. Here's a break down of what you can expect to see.

Red Group: Wozniacki, Kvitova, Zvonareva, Radwanska

This section definitely appears to be the bigger toss-up of the two. Will Radwanska continuing her winning ways of the fall, or will she succumb to the pressure of facing top ranked opponents all week? Is Zvonereva’s shoulder okay, and can she muster up more than one good rally a game? Then there's Wozniacki who has had the most trouble playing against women ranked no. 15 to 30—will she step up her game against the big guns like she did at this time last year? And, for the love of tennis, which Petra Kvitova will show up to play?

It's all about the match-ups. Zvonareva has had Kvitova's number lately, but Radwanska has consistently beat Zvonareva all season. Wozniacki has close records against all of them, but generally comes out on top against Radwanska. Radwanska is likely to continue her winning ways against Zvonareva, especially with the Russian's hurt shoulder and inconsistency, but the Pole could fall to either of her other opponents should she fail to keep them on their heels. If Kvitova is sharp, she could win the match 6-2, 6-2, but odds are that this match will be going three sets. 

In all honesty, Kvitova is an easy pick to advance out of the round robin if she comes to Istanbul with her gears in full motion. She could repeat her Wimbledon 2010 performance against Wozniacki, pummel Radwanska's defense-game, and outlast a frustrated Zvonareva.

But then what about world no. 1, Wozniacki? For everything she has accomplished in the past year, the Golden Retriever is still lacking the predatory nature she needs to win it big. At times we see her throw out spectacular shots, incredible speed and gutsy defense, but she's lacking the big guns needed to fight in a war of baselining behemoths. Her head-to-head with Zvonareva is even, and she has the edge on the other ladies in the section, but she'll need to up the level of play we saw this fall if she wants to come out on top.

White Group: Sharapova, Azarenka, Li, Stosur

A double whammy of baselining banshees, expect to see some heavy hitting from Sharapova and Azarenka, the likely winners from this group. Li stands little chance to advance if she plays at the level she has been showing the past few months, but a sudden spark like we saw at the start of the season could hush naysayers in a hurry. Where's that biting forehand that launched her to a championship in Paris? Unfortunately for Stosur, she too faces an uphill battle. Have you seen her head-to-head against Sharapova and Azarenka? It's a combined 0-13, and needless to say, that doesn't give the US Open champion much hope...

That's right, Stosur has never managed to beat either of these big hitters in her entire career. Eve worse, she's only managed to snag one set from the Russian in nine attempts. The main reason for Sharapova's dominance over Slammin Sam is her height; at six feet, two inches tall, Sharapova likes to take shots up high, flattening them out with brutal force. A kick serve or lots of top spin (aka, Stosur's game) then allows the Russian to play comfortably. The main reason Azarenka has had so much success against Stosur is because she likes to take the ball early, so Stosur’s mix of top spin and slice does not affect her inside the baseline style.

And then there's Li Na. In Australia and France, the Chinese no.1 showed great courage and skill, but since then has been rater shaky. Odds are she won't fully show up to this tournament and will be carved up by hungry Maria and Victoria. Who knows, though... maybe she can have a consolation victory over Stosur? Then again, she's never beaten her...

* * * 

Barkus’s SemifinalistsRed Group: Kvitova and Radwanska (with Wozniacki 2-1 but being knocked out due to sets lost)
White Group: Sharapova and Azarenka

Teller's SemifinalistsRed Group: Kvitova and Wozniacki
White Group: Sharapova and Azarenka

Barkus's Championship PredictionAzarenka gets revenge against Kvitova and wins in two tight sets.

Teller's Championship PredictionAzarenka takes advantage of Kvitova's inconsistent play in three sets.

AP Photo
Fact: Three recent players who won the WTA Championships went on to win their Maiden Slam soon after. (Novotna, '97; Clijsters '02-'03; Mauresmo '05). So, Vika and Caroline. Do you have what it takes?

Full more information, check the WTA Championship website.

-Kedzie Teller, Senior Editor & Joe Barkus, Contributing Writer

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Potential Greatness: An Analysis of Victoria Azarenka

The Tennis Channel recently released a “tennisography” on Victoria Azarenka, showing us how the current world no. 3 rose to fame from the small country of Belarus. What it didn’t cover, however, is the question that is on many WTA fans’ minds: Does she have the talent to become world no.1 and win her maiden slam? To me, the answer to that question is an obvious yes. But then that raises questions that are even tougher to answer: Why hasn’t she been able to win on one of tennis’ greatest stages yet? Will she use her natural talent to one day hoist a slam trophy?

Women’s tennis is such an interesting sport in its perception of age. In some cases, a 21-years-old can seem so young, whereas other times rather old. Why are we already wondering why Azarenka has yet to win a slam when she just recently left her teenage years? The answer is mainly due to the fact that players such as Serena, Hingis, and Sharapova won at such young ages, and because Sharapova and Hingis haven’t won a slam past the age of 21. Secondly, Azarenka showed a lot of potential so early in her career that fans started to push her and set expectations so high from the beginning.  

Azarenka first burst onto the scene after this performance against Serena Williams at the 2009 Australian Open.

Azarenka had Serena on the ropes, getting up a set before eventually having to withdraw from the match due to injury. Unfortunately, that has been one of the major reasons Azarenka struggles to stay at the very top of the rankings. Since 2010, she has pulled out of over 10 singles tournaments and several doubles matches due to a variety of ailments. Although she is a tough-as-nails fighter on the court, she can never seem to stay healthy long enough to reach her potential. 

After her '09 performance, Azarenka immediately became a "player to watch". She impressed fans as she had no problem imposing her game on Serena on center court at a slam, and she later went on to beat her easily in the final of the Miami Sony Ericson Open (winning her first Premier Mandatory Event). Azarenka, poised to make another run at a slam, met up with then world no.1 Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals of the French Open.  She scorched her way to an easy first set, taking it 6-1, but lost the last two sets 4-6, 1-6. 

Here lies Azarenka’s second issue of why she has yet to win a slam: her mental game. Azarenka has come very close in several quarterfinal appearances at slams, twice she was up a set against Serena at the Australian Open before losing tight second sets and then falling apart in the third. Most of this could be due to the fact that she was young and inexperienced—however, if Azarenka is going to finally take a slam, this is one of the areas she needs to improve the most.

Now, one of the real issues at hand is Azarenka’s style of play. Azarenka is currently one of the most balanced players on tour. Unfortunately, that seems to be what can hurt her the most at times, as she often seems to be lost in a world in between defense and offense. That wasn’t always the case, though, as can be witnessed by her matches against Serena in '09, or in this final against Maria Sharapova. Again, however, Azarenka tightened up at the end of a match, not going for her shots as much as she is capable of, and ultimately Sharapova was able to storm back.  

Now, Azarenka plays a much more balanced game, which has led to more consistency in the rankings but hasn’t gotten her much farther at a slam. She did manage to make her first major semifinal in Wimbledon 2011, but again she lost due to being the more passive player. Of course, no one may have been able to stop Petra Kvitova her Wimbledon run, but if Azarenka had gone for the lines a little more, it is interesting to think about what could have happened.

Ultimately, if Azarenka wants a shot at a slam, she needs to start imposing her game more. She has gotten extremely fit, and her game can certainly wear players down and she can win plenty of matches that way. And of course, she could continue to use this strategy that has no doubt allowed her to rise in the rankings and get some of her best results this year. However, as she could learn from first time slam champions Li Na and Petra Kvitova (both of whom she lost to while they made their slam runs), in order to win a slam you have to be going for your shots when the points matter. That is what allowed Safina to get back into the match at the French Open in 2009, Serena to battle back at the Aussie Open in 2010, and Kvitova to fight off break points at the end of the 3rd set of their Wimbledon semifinal. She has the ability to do it, but the question is whether or not she has the mentality and willpower to do so when most players usually get tight.  

Azarenka is definitely great for the game. She plays with such passion and energy, pumps herself up as she cleans the lines with winners or forces an error after some impeccable defense, and clearly loves winning. She has the game to be a mainstay in the WTA top 5 and lift at least a few slam trophies, and I’m sure plenty of fans would love to see her do so. Now, I’ll leave you with a clip of her most recent big title, where her passion for the game, her ability, and her will to win are all more than evident.

 -Joe Barkus, Contributing Writer

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Beijing: Ana Finding Form

Ana Ivanovic has made it to the quarter-finals of the China Open in Beijing; a statement every fan of hers was waiting to hear for some time. Not only is she finally winning matches, but she is playing some of the best tennis we've seen from her all season.

AP Photo
Ivanovic defeated world no.3, Vera Zvonareva, 6-2 6-1 in only 68 minutes. The score reflects the rhythm of the match: all Ana. The two competitors are now tied in their head-to-head series 5 a piece.
This was not the only big win the Serbian had this week, however, as her aggressive play lifted her past two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Ivanovic overwhelmed the Russian with an impressive 6-2 6-3 triumph.
The match-up between no.11 seed Agnieszka Radwanska (this year's Tokyo champion) and Sofia Arvidsson will determine Ana’s opponent on Friday. Either way, if she plays the game we've seen in her previous matches, we are all in for another great battle and possibly another flawless performance.
Earlier today, Ana posted the following on Facebook: “That felt really good! I’ve said for a while that I feel that I’m moving in the right direction and this was an important step.”  It has been a while since we've seen Ana perform so dominantly on court (it was her first top 5 win since June 2008) but it might just be the confidence boost the Serbian needed. Could this be the start of something great? It sure gives us hope for the end of the season.
There is only one thing left to say: Welcome back Ana.

AP Photo

-Romina Castagnino, Contributing Writer

Friday, September 30, 2011

Three to Five: WTA Overzealous?

The WTA's Stacey Allaster made a bold statement yesterday when she spoke with Japanese publication, the Daily Yomiuri. The subject matter? Increasing women's grand slam matches from three to five sets.

What an interesting thought. Would the WTA athletes be able to endure five set battles? Of course. You have to remember that they are professional tennis players who live and breathe their sport, training as furiously and passionately as the men who already endure five set marathons. Longer matches would test both their physical and mental conditioning, and really, would make hoisting a grand slam trophy feel that much better.

But can they do that for seven matches in a row?

The tennis season is already the longest of any professional sport, pushing competitors to the brink of self-destruction. Injury, illness and fatigue already plague what has become an unpredictable field of athletes, so the increase in match length could be (and would probably be) disastrous. Do we need Sharapova to blow out her rotator cuff or sprain her ankle again? Do we want Clijsters, Ivanovic or Safina to ever fully recover? How about players like Serena, who make comebacks from long-term injuries? Would they be able to make impressive grand slam debuts when the match requires so much more of them?

Tennis is no longer a slow game of slice, spin and savvy volleying...It has evolved into a fast and physical baseline battle full of heavy hitting and dangerous slides. Demanding more of the players could result in more serious injuries, shorter careers and less interesting late-round matches (let's be honest... someone like Jankovic won't be as agile in the semifinals after lasting through five three-plus matches beforehand)

Though I love watching long matches, a five-set first round between Francesca Schiavone and the lucky no-name facing her isn't something that would catch my attention, let alone the error-fest out on court 17 between two qualifiers. A five-set championship between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, however, would keep fans on the edge of their seats. Is there a way to have three set matches for the first week, and five set matches for the second?

The subject is going to come down to priorities. Prove that the women are as strong as the men, or keep players fresh and healthy? The decision seems simple. No five set match is as epic as a long, tremendous career.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Quest for No.1: Wozniacki Fumbles, Sharapova Stumbles

What's happening with the WTA?

By the end of 2011, we may have a new world number one, but really... who deserves it?

(Via Getty Images)
For a moment you think the crown should remain on Caroline Wozniacki. The "golden retriever" is an absolute backboard, pushing her opponents to do their very best if they want to capture a set. She has dominated the rankings for the past year, holding the top spot since October of 2010 (minus Clijsters' brief moment). All in all, the Dane has been the pinnacle of consistency... or has she?

Since getting drubbed by Hantuchova at the French Open, Wozniacki hasn't done what she once did so well: win matches. She was ousted by Cibulkova at Wimbledon, stunned by Vinci in Toronto, kicked aside by McHale in Cincinnati and most recently, lost a lead to Kanepi in Tokyo. If you saw match point (video in link), then you would have wondered who the higher ranked player really was...

What has she done lately? She won New Haven (woo...) and made it to the semis of the US Open, which, while impressive, is overshadowed by the fact that Serena made her look like a scrub on a practice court.

Then you think, maybe it's Maria Sharapova. Maybe she's finally returned to the intimidating play that earned her the top ranking some odd years ago. Then you watch her serve and realize you were mistaken.

AP via
Surprisingly, Sharapova has been the most consistent contender in the slams this year. She made the semifinals in Paris and the finals at Wimbledon, and despite a third round loss in NYC, people are expecting great things from her in the Asian Swing. That is... until she rolled her ankle.

During her quarterfinal clash against Petra Kvitova in Tokyo—a rematch of the Wimbledon championship—Sharapova's serve added a whole new problem to the Russian's already inconsistent play: the landing. While it's usually her toss or timing which falter, Sharapova actually had trouble with her feet during the eighth game of the match. Serving at 3-4, all six feet, two inches of tall blonde came crashing to the ground after landing awkwardly. Sitting on the court, Sharapova looked dismayed and bewildered. Moments later, she was forced to retire.

Who, then, is deserving of the top ranking? Is it Victoria Azarenka? The under-achieving Belarusian has every tool needed to be the world's no.1, and yet she continues to cap-off at second or third best. A natural born fighter, Azarenka can't be content with quarter and semifinals. It's time she takes advantage of her innate skills and win the titles that are waiting to be claimed.

What about Zvonareva, Li, or the rest of the top 10? While not all of them have enough points to be in contention for no. 1, almost all of them are as undeservingly deserving of the honor.

What it should come down to is the world year-end championships. With any luck, this final big tournament (a dogfight between the top 8 women) should be a contest for number one. I want to see Wozniacki, Sharapova and Azarenka all make it into the semifinals, hungry to end 2011 on top of the rankings.

But, as the WTA has come to teach us, expect the unexpected....

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strong is Beautiful: New Cast Members

The WTA's continuing campaign, Strong is Beautiful, has added two new all-stars to its growing list of players. Interestingly, the new "cast members" (as you might call them) are celebrities you would have expected to see at the campaign's launch:

Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Watch the video below for some behind the scenes action of the ladies' venture into artistic tennis, and be sure to check out the WTA official site for more information.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hawk-eye: 5 Unforgettable US Open Moments

It's hard to believe the US Open is already over, but even more difficult to believe the results. When the first ball was tossed all eyes were on Serena Williams, a champion that would undoubtedly hurricane through her draw as powerfully as the storm which nearly postponed day one. Instead, it was Slammin' Sam of Australia who subdued the 13-time grand slam champion with fury of her own. While the tournament was full of upsets, fairy tales and the expected dominant performances, there are a few moments from the 2011 US Open that stand out.

In no particular order, here are ITB's top five moments/stories that will live on in our memory. We are also introducing the new "Hawk-eye" article series—posts which will revolve around shots of the day, inspirational moments and other must-see things from tennis matches as they happen.

* * *

Kirilenko and Stosur's Epic Second Set Tiebreak: Perhaps the most heart-stopping and hard fought moment of the tournament, Maria Kirilenko of Russia and Samantha Stosur of Australia competed in a second set tiebreak that gave tournament-goers their money's worth. It was a 32 point slugfest complete with five match points (one of which featured two successful challenges by Kirilenko), extended rallies and palpable tension. If Kirilenko's grunts (roars?) aren't enough to give you chills, the look on her face when she wins the breaker to send the match into a decisive third most definitely will.

Kerber celebrates her victory over Niculescu. (AP Photo)
Kerber's Fairytale Journey to the Semifinals: If you didn't know who Angelique Kerber was before this week, don't feel bad... no one really did. Ranked 92 in the world, the German's best grand slam performance prior to this year's Open was one third round effort at the 2010 Wimbledon. You can't knock her, though; she beat good old Aggie Radwanska in the second round to start what would be the greatest run of her tennis career, then took down a surprisingly strong Niculescu and a confident Pennetta to make her way to a semifinal showdown with eventual champion Sam Stosur.

Though it's clear she took advantage of a crumbling draw, Kerber deserved her moment in the spotlight. She took a set from Stosur (something Serena didn't do) and provided us with the unexpected run we all love to see. Come next year, you might forget who she is again and she might become "the other semifinalist." But for now, she's the feel-good story of the tournament, and I can guarantee you she won't soon forget what she accomplished.

(AP Photo)
Serena Wallops Wozniacki: Since the return of the Williams sisters, we've been waiting for one thing: a face-off between Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Would the world no.1 prove her pushing prowess and absorb Serena's heat? Or would Serena step on court and prove that no one, regardless of ranking, is as good as her? Well, the moment finally came and our questions were finally answered: Williams trumps Wozzy.

Serena defeated Wozniacki in a straight set beat-down full of laser-like shots and "come on"s audible from my apartment in Boston. The unforgettable moment was not the performance, however, but the reaction after match point. Serena bounced, cheered and beamed as though she had just won the entire tournament and, quite honestly, made everyone remember that tennis is a passion, not a job. For her reaction, CLICK HERE.

The Hindrance Heard Round the World: There's not much you have to say about this unforgettable moment. Serena struck a blistering forehand that Stosur had no play on, but she exclaimed her joy before the ball was out of play and as a result a hindrance was called. A rule is a rule, and although she deserved the point, she also deserved the penalty. Unfortunately, the call against Williams was followed by a high-tempered rant... Check it out for yourself: (Be sure to vote on our poll at the top of the site!)


Stosur Snags Her First Slam: When all was said and done, you couldn't do anything but feel an overwhelming sense of happiness for Samantha Stosur. Not only did she pick through a difficult Russian trifecta (Petrova, Kirilenko and Zvonareva back-to-back-to-back) she beat the "unbeatable" Serena Williams in the championship match (6-2 6-3). Having been dismantled by Serena in the Toronto final, Stosur was by no means the favorite coming in to her second grand slam championship appearance. But, she did the impossible, and she did it was incredible poise.

Many thought her 2010 French Open effort was the peak of Stosur's performance and that, having crumbled against Schiavone, she would never set foot in the slam spotlight again. Well, the Australian has proven all nay-sayers wrong. Congratulations and welcome to the Grand Slam Club, Stosur.

A slam title well earned. (Reuters)
-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pouring and Boring

It's interesting that the USOpen began with hurricane woes, but somehow dodged rain complications until the second week. The women's quarterfinals fell back two days but are finally underway with fans eager to see which players have stayed sharp through all the waiting.

While the entire draw has seen a variety of surprising exits, the true stunner story of the tournament is the bracket's lowest quarter where Pennetta and Kerber, two unlikely champions, have clawed their way to a birth in the elite eight. Here's a look at what's happening, what's ahead, and what the women of the WTA did to pass time during the delays.

Zvonareva v. Stosur
Maybe the most logical matchup of the four quarterfinals, the winner of Zvonareva and Stosur is favored to makes this year's USOpen final. The match is currently in progress as I write, and, like I expected, the contest will likely demand greatness from both women. So far, Stosur has the edge and considering the head-to-head (Stosur leads 7-1...) she is the favorite for victory. Not so fast, though, says the Russian who made the final here last year.
Prediction: Stosur

Kerber v. Pennetta
At the start of the tournament no one would have guessed to see this quarterfinal match. Pennetta has been a steady WTA competitor for years while Kerber has floated in and out of the top 50, but neither woman has done anything too fantastic in their singles career thus far. Both, however are vying for their opportunity to make their mark this year in New York. It's a toss up, but if Pennetta has recovered from the physical ware and tear she has endured and if she plays as steady as she did against Sharapova and Peng, she will reach the semis.
Prediction: Pennetta

S. Williams v. Pavlyuchenkova
Another match that's currently in progress, Serena will be looking to takedown young Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her question for grand slam singles title number 14. Surprisingly, Pavluchenkova is leading by a break (and now the break back...), but we all know Serena is up for any contest. Pavlyuchenkova is strong, steady and has a lot of weapons to her game, but her lack of big stage experience might weigh her down.
Prediction: S. Williams

Wozniacki v. Petkovic
Another tight matchup, world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will look to soften the heavy blows of Germany's Andrea Petkovic. It's evident that Wozniacki has upped her play since facing two awkward losses in the USOpen series, but will that hold true against her second big-striking opponent in a row? Petkovic wants to bring a slam trophy home, and she has no problem beating big players in order to do so.
Prediction: Wozniacki

There's no rain in sight from here on out, tennis fans, so be sure to keep on eye on all the happens. Our facebook page will be updating with results and our twitter account will have frequent scores updates.

Also, be sure to check out the USOpen's latest video about players keeping busy during the storms.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

US Open: As Seeds Fall, Venus Withdraws

The opening days of the US Open have been rather dangerous for the women's seeds as gutsy opponents made their marks. Three of the top ten seeds  and five of the top 15 suffered early exits, including French Open winner Li Na (no. 6) and the newly crowned Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova (no. 5). With other big names like Maria Sharapova (no. 3) and Vera Zvonareva (no. 2) narrowly escaping defeats of their own, it seemed no player was safe and a true tournament favorite was unknown—unless of course, you favored the Williams sisters.

But just as 19-year-old American Christina McHale added Marion Bartoli (no. 8) to the growing list of WTA casualties, a devastating news alert was released from Arthur Ashe Stadium: Venus Williams had withdrawn from the tournament.

Moments before her second round match, Venus Williams told officials she would not be able to compete. The seven-time grand slam champion was preparing to play German hot-shot, Sabine Lisicki, in what was expected to be one of the best collisions of week one at Flushing Meadows. Instead, Venus exited the facility head down.

Venus Williams releases news of her withdrawal from the US Open.
"I'm really disappointed to have to withdraw from this year's US Open," Williams said in a statement to reporters. "I have been recently diagnosed with Sj√∂gren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which is an ongoing medical condition that affects my energy level and causes fatigue and joint pain." (via

Venus has not played a match since losing to Tsvetana Pironkova in Wimbledon's fourth round (highlights from the match here). She was expected to compete in both Toronto and Cincinnati, but deferred from both with a mysterious "viral illness."

In her first round match, Venus defeated Russia's Vesna Dolonts 6-4 6-3, but according to the American who has only withdrawn from a grand slam once before in here 17-year career, the victory took every ounce of energy she had left. She leaves New York disappointed and it is unknown if she will be able to return to the game at all for the rest of the 2011 season.

Looking at Venus's performances in the last year, it seems her body can no longer keep up with the high pace, high power style of play that has earned her fame. Venus withdrew from the Australian Open earlier this year during her match against Andrea Petkovic due to a hip injury and has only played in 5 tournaments since Wimbledon 2010. Questions about her retirement have flared across the tennis world, but there's no sign that she is ready to hang up her racket.

If Venus were to retire, what would come of American tennis? For nearly two decades we have sat and watched the Williams sisters stun us with incredible wins, controversial losses and jaw-dropping outfits. Yes, we have newcomers like Christina McHale, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens climbing the ranks, but are we really ready to say goodbye to two of the most dominant players in the women's game? Surely not. But if it is time to bid Venus farewell, something tells me Serena will pick up the slack. After all, the younger sister did win two US Open series tournaments in the previous month and earned a clean-sweep of editors picks to win this grand slam.

Whether you lose in round two, or in the championship, only one player can hoist the US Open trophy at the end of these two weeks. Unfortunately for Venus, it was not a big-hitting young gun who removed her from contention, but rather her own body. Although she was unseeded, she joins the rest of the unlucky WTA stars who were sidelined earlier than expected and will have to wait for another chance at glory. In the meantime, we'll see what little sister Serena (no. 29), has to say about the importance of seeds...

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pre-US Open: Tournament Preview

Maybe it's a little dramatic, but the arrival of hurricane Irene almost seems appropriate considering the swirling chaos of this year's US Open draw. The top half features names like Wozniacki, Serena, Azarenka, Jankovic, Ivanovic and more, all of whom will be locked in a dogfight for the sole championship opportunity. The bottom half is a little more open, with questionable seeds like Zvonareva and Kvitova looking to validate their rankings while Maria Sharapova tries to cap off what has been a spectacular summer season. Should they falter, big hitter Sabine Lisicki could wreak havoc on the draw—that is, if she survives an early clash with Venus Williams.... All together it's another power struggle for the WTA's big stars, but someone has to win. Here's a look at the tennis storm hitting New York City.

First Quarter: 
Caroline Wozniacki sits at the very top of the draw, enjoying what might be her last few months as world no.1. If she wants to keep her ranking and prove me wrong (by all means, Caro, I would love that), she will have to settle into a rhythm quickly. She's on a straight path to either Hantuchova or Kuznetsova, the former of which knocked her out at Roland Garros and the latter being a former US Open champion. Hantuchova is the more likely adversary in my mind, considering Kuznetsova's growingly inconsistent play, but the Russian definitely has more fire power and would love a chance to rekindle her fire. Either way, I'm predicting the upset. Wozniacki's win in New Haven just isn't impressive enough to block out memories from her two stunning losses. The first quarter also hosts Andrea Petkovic, the hotshot German looking for her first big breakthrough. I imagine she will struggle but survive against the two-time grand slam semifinalist Zheng Jie, but will later fall to this year's Paris champion, Li Na. Any bets on Kaia Kanepi? Ed McGrogan of Tennis.Com calls her a dark horse, but I'm not convinced.

Quarterfinalists: Hantuchova v. Li

Possible Bracket Busters: Vesnina and Kanepi

Second Quarter:
The second quarter of the draw is easily the most terrifying and talented section of this year's tournament. What predictions can you really make when Azarenka, Serena,  Ivanovic, Jankovic, Pavlyuchenkova and Schiavone are all grouped together? The easy choice is Serena, and I'm jumping on that prediction trend willingly, but who's to say someone else doesn't have the flare to take on New York City? The likely third round match between Azarenka and Serena will be the blockbuster event of the tournament should it happen—the winner of which will surely surge to the finals on confidence alone. Don't count out the Serbians, though, both of whom have upped their level of play in recent months. Jankovic fell to Serena in the US Open championship only a few years ago, so a rematch with her in the quarterfinals would be dramatic to say the least, but don't expect Russia's rising star, Pavlyuchenkova, to let her squeeze by the third round too easily. Regardless of the results, this section should give fans the tennis they want.

Quarterfinalists: S. Williams v. Jankovic

Possible Bracket Buster: Jovanovski

Third Quarter: 
The top and bottom of the third section are headlined by Wimbledon finalists Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova, and wouldn't a rematch between those two be thrilling? Having dropped her level since winning in London, however, Kvitova will have to work hard to earn another crack at the Russian. She is due to face tricky Dulgheru in the first round and big serving Safarova in the third, either of whom could send the Czech packing. Sharapova, on the other hand, has been consistently successful since May, and should she keep errors at a minimum, is a serious contender for the title once again. Radwanska, however, will be looking to pick Sharapova's game apart and take advantage of her ailing serve should they meet in quarters. The silent killer in this section is Pironkova. She has a fairly tame draw, facing Peng Shuai for her first seeded match and word on the Chinese woman's health is questionable. Should she rise to the occasion, she may play Julia Goerges in the third round, and who knows how the German will play.

Quarterfinalists: Radwanska v. Sharapova

Possible Bracket Buster: Oudin (Can she author another Cinderella story?)

Fourth Quarter:
Bartoli and Zvonareva are the final section's highest seeds, but danger lurks elsewhere in the draw. Both Venus Williams and Sabine Lisicki will be looking to hack their way through unlucky seeded opponents, but unfortunately only one of them will have the chance to do so as they are due to face-off in the second round. Whoever prevails will likely face self-proclaimed pocket-rocket, Cibulkova, in the third and no.2 seed Zvonareva in the fourth. If the top ranked Russian wants to make the final for the second year in a row, she will need to play some of her best tennis. Bartoli, too, will need to be on her A-game as she works her way through names like Christina McHale and Maria Kirilenko (I'm predicting a McHale upset). Sam Stosur will also be looking to enforce herself, having made the Toronto finals and looking strong despite crumbling under Serena's power. She may take on Nadia Petrova in the third round and I expect the match to be tight. Lucky for Nadia, the rest of her draw seems rather doable.

Quarterfinalists: Petrova v. Lisicki

Possible Bracket Buster: McHale

* * *

Championship Prediction
We've all been wondering the same thing since we heard she was coming back in May: When will Serena Williams win the first grand slam of her return? My answer: this is it. Though she faces a strenuous draw, Serena Williams is a born champion and she didn't win two USOpen series titles just to come to New York City and lose. Since demolishing her competition in Stanford, Serena's engines have been firing full-blast and the momentum will carry her through the upcoming weeks. Having pulled out of Cincinnati, the 13-time grand slam champion will be well-rested and fully recovered (not that any of us really believed she was hurt when she withdrew) so fatigue shouldn't affect performance. Her biggest task may be defeating Victoria Azarenka in the third round, but after the 6-3 6-3 schooling she unleashed on the Belarusian two weeks ago, there's little one can say against Serena's chances at victory. If there is anything Serena struggles with at the US Open, it will be containing her emotions on championship point. It has been a long road of recovery for the American super star, so although she's hoisted the trophy in Flushing Meadows three times before, something tells me number four will be a little bit sweeter.

Final: S. Williams def. Lisicki

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pre-US Open: Early Round Collisions

It's that time of year again. The fourth and final grand slam is upon us and quality tennis looks to be as imminent as Hurricane Irene. The top half of the draw hosts a variety of the WTA's best in what could be the most hectic and vicious fight for a championship birth all season. Should the draw fall accordingly, these are some of the matches to watch in the first three rounds.

Round 1:
Serena v Jovanovski
There's a lot of chatter about Serena Williams this year and she earned a clean sweep of's editors picks for the title. She will be tested, however, right from the gates as she takes on Serbia's rising star, Jovanovski. The young gun is armed with heavy ground strokes that may push Serena back, but regardless of her fight, Serena will almost definitely advance. A lack of focus from the 13-time grand slam champion, however, could make this match a dogfight.
Prediction: Serena in straights.

Kuznetsova v Errani
Not a match to watch for quality, but one that could see our first seed sent home. Errani is no dumby on court and with Kuznetsova's unpredictable game, all bets are off. I imagine the Russian will be steady enough to advance, but she might fall behind at some point in the match.
Prediciton: Kuznetsova in 3.

Jankovic v Riske 
We watched Riske slowly pick apart Zvonareva in Wimbledon, so a first round match against Jankovic has to be on your radar for a possible early exit. The rookie failed to convert, though, and might have missed her chance to knock out a seed. Jankovic is coming in to the US Open with the confidence of her best result in a long time, so expect her to be on her game.
Prediction: Jankovic in straights.

Round 2:
Lisicki v Venus
Things really heat up as Venus Williams takes to the court against the returned and much improved Sabine Lisicki. After Venus's struggles to shutdown Date-Krumm during Wimbledon and her fight with injury and illness afterward, no one really knows how she will do in New York. Lisicki, however, has no where to go but up, having reached her first slam semifinal and competing at a high level since. Should be a good match between the two biggest servers in women's tennis.
Prediction: Lisicki in 3.

Petkovic v Zheng
Remember our article on German tennis? Well things could get tricky for the German front-runner, Andrea Petkovic. She has to deal with Zheng Jie, a feisty Chinese player who has made the semis in both Wimbledon and the Australian Open. This match should go 3, but the victor is a tricky pick. Petkovic is good, but not consistent. Zheng is talented, but not overly powerful. Flip a coin.
Prediction: Petkovic in 3.

Wozniacki v Vesnina
Wozniacki has been playing awful lately and could lose to just about anyone who knows how to keep the ball in the court. Vesnina could easily do that and send the world no.1 packing in the second round. It won't be the match of the ages by any means, but you won't want to miss an early exit by the first seed if it's going to happen.
Prediction: Reluctantly, Wozniacki in 3.

Round 3:
Wozniacki v Gajdosova 
Like we said, Wozniacki's fate is up in the air. Gajdosova hits the ball hard and, like we saw with Cibulkova in Wimbledon, Wozniacki isn't always capable of keeping hard-hitters at bay. Gajdosova isn't the kind of player you usually see with a low number of unforced errors, though, so she'll really need to be on her game to out-wit Wozniacki. If she's smart, she'll play to the Dane's forehand.
Prediction: Reluctantly, Wozniacki in 3.

Li v Kanepi
Li suffered a surprising loss to Cetkovska in New Haven and hasn't been on point since winning the French Open. Some people are saying Kanepi is a dark horse for the title in NY and, although I won't jump on that bandwagon, I could see her knocking out China's no.1. Watch out for what will surely be a slug-fest. My prediction will likely be incorrect, but no one can really say much against it.
Prediction: Kanepi in straights.

Serena v Azarenka
Here it is, folks, the blockbuster match of the year. Many believe the winner of this match could win the championship and, to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised. Victoria Azarenka is the no.4 seed and one of the best players on tour in every category. Serena Williams is Serena Williams, enough said. Despite a one-sided victory for Serena in Toronto, this third round match has the makings of a grand slam classic. All you need to do is watch highlights from Miami 2009 championship and the 2010 AO quarterfinals to understand how brutal the face-off could be.
Prediction: Serena in 3. But I won't be surprised if Azarenka takes the bull by the horns.

Jankovic v Pavlyuchenkova
Out of the top 10 for the first time in years, Jankovic has to face some challenging players a little earlier at this year's US Open. A real under-the-radar match is Jankovic v. Pavlyuchenkova—a collision that should host huge hitting from the Russian and magnificent defense from the Serb. If JJ really is making a comeback, she should have no problem redirecting Anastasia's power, but if not, she will definitely crumble.
Prediction: Jankovic in straights.

Kvitova v Safarova
A battle of the lefties, Kvitova has a lot to live up to now that she's a grand slam champion. She hasn't done much to impress her supporters lately and she could very well be in trouble with Safarova's huge serve. If you picked Kvitova for a deep run in NYC, I'm going to have to say otherwise.
Prediction: Safarova in 3.

* * *

Welcome to New York City, tennis fans—where dreams are born and anything can happen.

Stay tuned for a full draw analysis this weekend.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grading the Pros: US Open Series Review

Maria Sharapova - Sloppy Success (8/10)
Maria is a player that truly decides her own fate in a match. When she's on point, she's great, but when she's bad, things get ugly. You wonder how she can be losing when her opponent has hit only three winners, and then you notice another statistic: she has 40 unforced errors...You might question the 8 out of 10 I've given her considering she exited Stanford in the quarterfinals and Toronto in just the round of 16, but there's more to Sharapova than the results. She peaked when she needed to and dominated play, taking Cincinnati by storm and denying Jankovic what could have easily been her title. Her wins weren't always pretty, but the aggression and passion are there and she's starting to look like the stone-faced champion she used to be. Also, you can't say her Stanford performance was too awful considering she lost to Serena—a player she hasn't beaten since 2004. All in all, she picked up her game at the end of the series and, if she keeps the double faults to a minimum, she could ride that momentum into a deep US Open run. Might she make the semis or better of a grand slam for the third time this year? The decision is hers.

Caroline Wozniacki - Worst Performance (2/10) 
What can you say about a world no.1 who loses her opening matches in two premiere tournaments in a row? You laugh and say something is wrong with the ranking system, but I digress. Caroline Wozniacki is by far the US Open series' biggest story and biggest failure. She lost to Roberta Vinci in Toronto (read "Sweet Caroline's Bitter Struggles" here) and to Christina McHale in Cincinnati, both in straight sets, both 6-4 7-5. What? Clearly she entered the tournaments with the wrong game plans and will need to get her head back on her shoulders if she wants to do well in New York; well, that and figure out how to hit a forehand. I can't give her a 1 out of 10, however, because I'm certain she'll do well in New Haven (again), unless of course McHale decides to ruin her day a second time. But should we really praise the world's best for winning at Yale? A title is a title, I guess... but it's not a grand slam trophy, and unless Wozniacki really turns things around now that she's dumped her father as a coach, I don't think she'll be hoisting one of those three weeks from now.

Jelena Jankovic - Most Improved (5/10)
Just when you thought Jelena Jankovic had given up on tennis, she decides to show off her skill again. Out of no where, JJ was buzzing around Cincinatti with as much defensive prowess as she did three years ago, slicing, lobbing and launching lethal backhands at will. It's been awhile since Jankovic has impressed anyone (she lost in the first round of Toronto) so it was refreshing to see a little life in her game. She is the easiest choice for "most improved," but I want to see more than just a one tournament surge. She has made the US Open final before and I want to see it again—I just won't make any bets on it just yet. Like Wozniacki, she needs to do more than just push the ball back into the court or else big hitters will trounce her when they find a rhythm. And for goodness sake, JJ, remember to use that backhand! (Read "Serb-Resurgence" here)

Serena Williams - Series Champion (10/10)
She won Stanford and Toronto as an unseeded competitor, she rose in the ranks from 160 something to 29, then she ditched Cincinnati for the Kardashian wedding (don't lie to us Serena... we know). Everyone knows she's back. Everyone knows she is a force to be reckoned with. She's the clear US Open favorite and the definite US Open series champion. Ladies and gentlemen, Serena Williams. (Read "Unstoppable Serena" here)

Vera Zvonareva - Head-Scratcher (6.5/10)
Known for being a headcase on tour, Vera Zvonareva messes with our heads too. Do we ever really know what to expect from her? She has the game to beat just about anyone, and the same game to lose to just about anyone. She won a tune-up tournament in Baku, then used that confidence to make the final of Carlsbad where she lost to Radwanska. Obviously, then, she lost to Radwanska again a week later in the round of 16 in Toronto, but then regrouped to make the semifinals in Cincinatti. Life is always full of ups and downs for the current top Russian, but what does that say about her chances in NYC? She made the final last year and, though I don't think she'll go as far,  I expect another good result this year. Overall she had a fairly good hardcourt series and earned a solid 6.5 out of 10.

Petra Kvitova - Lackluster (3/10)
After Wimbledon, I didn't know how Petra Kvitova would handle her newly acquired champion status. Would she crack under the pressure or continue her flawless play? Unfortunately, it was the former. She botched her appearances in both Toronto and Cincinnati, losing to Andrea Petkovic in both during the round of 16. Petkovic is a great player, but she is someone Kvitova should be able to go blow for blow against, especially considering the German's streaky play. Instead of being the calm and collected star we saw win Wimbledon on an ace, Kvitova played some really lackluster tennis. Maybe she'll rise to the occasion at the US Open.

Christina McHale - Cinderella Story (6/10) 
Ranked 66th in the world and only 19 years old, McHale gained a lot of fans this past week. The American earned the best win of her career by defeating a sluggish Wozniacki 6-4 7-5. How did she do it? Simply put, she out-Wozzy'd Wozzy. McHale put everything back into the court and played clean, forcing Caroline into long and exhausting rallies. The difference? When given the opportunity, McHale switched from rallying to attacking, and she did it with shocking success, especially when she clobbered forehands and backhands up the lines and out of the Dane's reach. She may have lost in the next round and she might not have done well in any other tournaments, but beating the world no.1 definitely deserves some recognition.

Other mentions:
Agnieszka Radwanska - Miss Consistent (7.5/10)
Good results. Nothing astonishing.
Li Na - Post-Clay Struggles (3/10)
She needs to make it past a second round soon,
Samantha Stosur - Finding Form (7/10)
Doing better, but still can't beat Serena.
Andrea Petkovic - Burnout (6.5/10)
She beats the players she shouldn't, then fizzles to someone she should beat.
Victoria Azarenka - Silenced (6/10)
She may grunt loud, but she hasn't been making much noise lately. Best match against Serena all series.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor