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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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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pre-Stanford: Tournament Preview

Tennis fans everywhere will wish they were in California tomorrow as the 2011 Bank of the West classic kicks off first thing in the morning. Despite the absence of the WTA's top three players, the tournament should provide top-notch action as Victoria Azarenka looks to defend her title and Serena Williams looks to claim it for herself.

Azarenka dominated the tournament in 2010, defeating Maria Sharapova in a high-volume finale that could be repeated this year. At the top of the draw and seeded first, Azarenka should have a fairly easy time advancing into the later rounds, but will have to stay focused if she wants a repeat title. She's likely to face either Cibulkova or Date-Krumm in the quarters and either Bartoli or Ivanovic in the semifinal. She is strong and she is talented, so a finals appearance isn't unlikely—and let's be honest, Kvitova isn't in her path this time.

The second quarter features French two-hander Marion Bartoli and former world no. 1, Ana Ivanovic. Based on Bartoli's previous results this season, she is the better pick for a run to the semifinal, but you can't quite count out Ana. The Serbian used to have a dictating forehand and unstoppable confidence, but she needs a few more wins under her belt before she will truly be a threat again. The second quarter also features a first round dog-fight between young-guns Marino and Vandeweghe, both of whom will step onto court with expectations of a victory. Expect an interesting match there.

Fourth seed Sam Stosur and fifth seed Aggie Radwanska lead the pack in the third quarter of the draw. Stosur made the semifinal in Stanford last year but could be cut short in the second round with a likely match against Sabine Lisicki. After a stunning performance at Wimbledon, Lisicki could very well taper-off and forget her A-game back in London, but if she comes to California with all gears in motion, she could find herself in the championship.

The lowest quarter of the draw is by far the most interesting of the tournament. Six-seed Julia Goerges will have her hands full in the first round as she dukes it out against Russia's "other Maria", Maria Kirilenko. If she is capable of passing that test, she will then likely face Serena Williams, the 13-time grand slam champion who needs good results to wipe away an abysmal 100+ world ranking. No match is more anticipated, however, than the possible Williams-Sharapova collision in the quarterfinal. Though Sharapova has failed to defeat Serena since 2004, their matches are always headlining spectacles full of big egos and even bigger hitting.

Sharapova will be hungry for the Stanford title having lost to Kvitova in the Wimbledon finals, and although a BOTW trophy is nothing compared to the Venus Rosewater Dish, a championship will do wonders for her confidence into the latter stages of the season. The question is, can she rise to such a demanding draw? Despite her first-round bye, Sharapova is likely to face Hantuchova, Serena, and either Radwanska or Lisicki on her way to the championship. If the answer is yes, it is unlikely anyone will be able to out-play her in the final match.

But something tells me Serena has plans of her own.

For a full schedule of the tournament, click HERE.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Creative Conversation - WTA Tweeting

Serena loves karaoke. Kuznetsova is speaking in Russian. Lindsay Davenport had a relaxing day with the family. And how do we know all this? A little a birdie told us.

In today's digital age, people everywhere have grown to love updating the world on their whereabouts and daily tasks, and players are no different. Make a quick search on twitter and you'll be astonished at how many confirmed WTA athletes are dialed into the web as they globe-trot around the world. Though you may grow tired of reading "Had a great practice session this morning!" from what feels like a million different player accounts, there's some sort of guilty and endless entertainment out of reading the thoughts of your favorite stars. At the very least, it reminds you that they, too, are real.

Aren't we all dying to know the story behind this tweet?
Players, reporters and even blogs like us join in online for tennis conversations everyday, but among the real twitter accounts lie an assortment of humorous fake accounts launched with one intention: to make readers like us laugh. You might find an imitation Marion Bartoli tweeting about her obsession with kittens, or a crazed Bondarenko fan boasting that she's due for world number one, but none are as creative as an account with a unforgettable name:

A creative fake quote from Wozniacki, referencing the
true life quote from Sharapova regarding making friends on tour.
The evil mastermind behind this clever twitter handle is well-read in tennis news, updating his/her account with funny "what they probably would have said" quotes from both men and women on the professional tour. You'll roll on the floor at some of the witty and blunt quotes ShitPlayersSay makes up for the game's biggest names, including cocky banter from Djokovic, angry threats from Sharapova, and ridiculous commentary from a number of others (seriously—check out all the Safina quotes...). My personal favorite is the sign off the account uses for every tweet from WTA good-girl, Caroline Wozniacki: "xoxo, Sunshine"

If you find yourself offended by the account's tweets, remember that it's merely an account for entertainment's sake. Yes, it's frustrating to read Jankovic quotes saying she's "so over this tennis thing," but the author clearly uses true life events and quotes to generate clever, sarcastic and even critical posts. Take it all with a grain of salt, or, if you want, make your own account to rival this one.

Yes, twitter makes our favorite players more real. It let's us see into their mind, know what their doing, and interact with them in a way we might never have done so otherwise. But sometimes, what's not real is just as good.

Be sure to follow us on TWITTER by clicking HERE!
And for WTA-related accounts, click HERE!

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Dire Leave of Absence

At a time when many on the WTA circuit are celebrating the marriage of Elena Dementieva to her long-time boyfriend Maxim Afinogenov, tragedy plagues a fellow Russian competitor. Last week Alisa Kleybanova announced that she has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer.

The young and upcoming star of women's tennis has shown great potential over the past few years, clubbing her way to deep runs at a number of the circuit's big events. Often criticized for her physical shape, Kleybanova has a way of hushing nay-sayers with her can-do attitude and willingness to leave it all on the court. There are few in the WTA who have the courage to dart, scramble and throw their weight behind every shot late in a third set the way we have seen Kleybanova do in the past, and to see her take leave from the tour is a disappointing blow to the game.

With a career-high singles ranking of 20, the feisty Russian has earned two career titles, her latest coming in Seoul, Korea in 2010. Her most notable Grand Slam effort came in the 2009 Australian Open, where she stunned Ana Ivanovic in the third round only to lose steam in an 8-6 third set against Dokic in the round of 16. Kleybanova has had a number of other impressive wins, including a 6-3 6-2 championship win over Dementieva in the 2010 Malaysian Open.

Health complications have kept Kleybanova from competing since Rome in May, and her latest diagnosis will force her to take time away from the WTA while she receives immediate treatment. Fortunately for the 21-year-old, the prognosis for young people with stage 1 or 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma is positive and Kleybanova aspires to return to the circuit in the future.

"Obviously this is different than anything I've ever experienced, but after this is over my life will be even better than before," said Kleybanova in a press conference. "This is the toughest time in my life, and I hope it always stays the toughest time in my life. I'm sure I'll be able to overcome this—it's just a matter of patience and time." (For a full article, click HERE)

As Kleybanova finds the strength to overcome this difficult time and return to the circuit, her story will be an inspiration for the tennis world. Maybe, if we're lucky, she'll return with an even stronger competitive spirit and one day lift a grand slam trophy. That may be a little far-fetched for a player yet to break into a slam quarters...

But if anyone can do it, it's her.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Home on the Hard Courts

It's mid-July and it's time players settle in for the long haul toward the US Open. The fine red dirt of Paris and the slick grasses of London are in the past, and now we wait for someone to show us they have the all-court game.

I always find the two middle slams interesting for more than the play, but the courts themselves. In May I ask how much speed will be taken away from the WTA's big-hitters on clay and who will have fine-tuned their movement to slide gracefully into their shots. In June I wonder which woman will slip winners along the low-bouncing grass and fire aces off the chalk lines. Now that the French Open and Wimbledon are over, we return to the basic hard court tennis we know and love.

Sure, the speed and bounce of hard courts vary by location, but the general dynamics are the same. We are no longer searching for that one glorious clay courter or the player willing to risk it all on grass. Now, we are looking for the player who has it all—the ability to rally with power, to approach and volley, to serve with consistency and to take chances, all on courts that offer less effect.

So which woman will it be? 

As we move closer to the US Open series and a number of master tournaments, the WTA field is just as open as ever. I feel like a broken record saying that Wozniacki will be searching for her breakthrough slam, but it's a fair and honest statement. The Dane has the game to win and both her movement and consistency seem at their best on hard court. Her scrambling and put-it-back-in-your-face style of play should help her succeed late into the summer, so long as she keeps her forehand from crumbling. If she can't step up and hit a few more winners, she may have to settle for winning New Haven...again.

What about the Williams sisters?  Serena is scheduled to play Stanford, Toronto and Cincinnati, but we know that's questionable to say the least. Neither Serena nor Venus were at their best in London but still showed us they have the skill and drive to win titles. With a little more match play under their belt, they too will be contenders in New York. Even when they don't bring their A-game, they bring the intimidation factor.

I'm holding out for howling sisters Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. Over the past few months we've seen how Sharapova's game has adapted to all surfaces, so her intensity and force should be just as evident on hard court. Then there's Azarenka—she survives on raw athleticism and courage, so her success of late shouldn't surprise anyone. How will they fair this season? The Belarusian won Stanford last summer (against Sharapova, no less) and will want to make her mark again. Perhaps this time she can ride the momentum of victory into a slam championship. No holding your breath though. For now I just want to see her go two months without an injury. Sharapova, on the other hand, has been knocking at the door for titles and we know she won't be content having only won Rome.

There are plenty of other women we should be excited to see compete. Will Bartoli keep up her high level of play, or has all her jumping and fidgeting worn her out? Will Kvitova be able to back up her Wimbledon title with some victories on her way to NY? How about Zvonareva?—I'm waiting to be re-impressed by her and we know she likes hard court matches. The list goes on, but I'm tired of asking questions.

Let's get to the tournaments and start seeing some answers.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Errors of the "New Era"

It's been a long time since we've seen a young star stun fans in a grand slam event. You have to go back seven years to dig up the highlights of Sharapova's teenage trounce over Serena Williams, but only back to this year's French Open to see 30-year-old Li Na take Paris by storm. For awhile we have been talking about the young guns, the next generation—the "New Era" if you will—and talking has lead to a lot of confusion. Instead of youth and courage dominating the tour, we've been content with crowning seasoned veterans. Who, then, would finally rise to the occasion? Who would step forth? Finally our questions have been answered in the left-handed Petra Kvitova, but what can we say for the rest of the young ladies in the WTA?

Petra Kvitova put on a superb display at Wimbledon, especially in her championship match against Sharapova which was near flawless. Her shots were fluid, powerful and unrelenting. The Czech refused to be pushed behind the baseline and swept Sharapova's strikes into unreachable corners as though she had been winning slams since she was ten. It was a truly extraordinary performance for a 21-year-old who had never reached a slam final before, but before reaching the championship, Kvitova had shown signs of weakness. In both her quarter and semifinal matches Kvitova went from full speed to stumbling within seconds, dropping sets in a fashion that made us scratch our heads and wonder how she could possibly pull it together. Regardless, she managed. Calming yourself and readjusting is something that makes a champion who they are. Still, Kvitova was not the young competitor we expected to see win a slam before names like Wozniacki and Azarenka...

So what is wrong with the New Era? What has kept them from winning? We've seen sparks come and go, but no one has been strong enough to sustain a lasting surge. We were excited in 2009 when Melanie Oudin reached the quarters of the US Open, but since then she has fallen back and out of the spotlight. Does she have something in store for us beyond a first round exit?

Again we were excited by the prospects of Victoria Azarenka, the howling baseliner who brought more heat than Sharapova, lacking only in the mental maturity needed to win big matches—that is, of course, until she became accident prone. What's tough about the Belarusian is that she has finally calmed down on court, making her a sweet pick for victories (lets look back at Miami and Madrid), but her body seems to have fallen a step behind. Just when you think she's healthy, she hurts something, or she reaches a slam quarterfinal and fizzles. When she made her first slam semifinal at Wimbledon I thought, "This is it. This is the breakthrough. It's straight to the championship," but then she looked dazed and confused on court against Kvitova. What will it take for her to lift a trophy at a major?

The player who leaves most people perplexed is "world number one" Caroline Wozniacki. She has reached a grand slam final before, she has been inches away from victory, she has been ranked no. 1 for a substantial amount of time...what more does she need? Yes, she has the most titles on tour this year, but I think we are all growing tired of congratulating Wozniacki on her victories in Brussels and New Haven. Currently suffering from a shoulder injury, the Dane will be taking some time off until early August. Maybe a little relaxation is what she needs so she doesn't run out of gas at Flushing Meadows.

There is always hope that the next grand slam will showcase a blast of youthful hopefuls waiting to break through. To be honest, Wimbledon turned out to be a great first triumph for the New Era. Three of the four semifinalists were 21 years old or younger and the fourth was only a few years older. Still, we want to be wow'd like we were in 2004. With players like Azarenka, Wozniacki, Lisicki, Goerges, Pavlyuchenkova and more knocking at the door, we are in for years of exciting tennis. Let's just get more of them to start believing they can win.

Because they can.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, July 1, 2011

Break in the Action

While on vacation I have limited access to a computer for up-to-date blogs and features, but I will be covering the championship match via our TWITTER account during the match. Be sure to check it out and tweet with us!

In the meantime, give us your predictions.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor