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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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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