Given Maria Sharapova’s physical struggles over the past eight months now, it could be argued that Ekaterina Makarova has been the most impressive of the Russians over the same period. The lefthander has a lot of game and showed that once again by winning her second WTA title at the PTT Pattaya Open by besting surprise finalist , Karolina Pliskova. In singles (not doubles where she is very solid with Elena Vesnina) she has been more of an upset maker than a dependable top 10-player, but she is headed in the right direction.
Is she better than Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is her typical fashion had a sterling week that raised eye brows to her overall potential when she won possibly the last edition of the Paris Indoors? She bested Carla Suarez, Angie Kerber, Sharapova and then Sara Errani 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the final. It was the first time that she was able to overcome three Top 10 players in the same tournament and it was her first Premier-level title and sixth overall. So now what for the hard hitter, who has been through a slew of coaches, has found herself out of shape at times, and has lacked variety. When she is on, like she was this week, her potential is very clear: top 5. The 22 year old has a great base off the ground, a very good serve, is powerful and can be resourceful. Perhaps she is finally ready to make a sustained push, but let’s see her compete at that level for the next three months before we make any serious projection that is sustainable.
Watching Sharapova double fault her way to a loss to Pavlyuchenkova, it’s evident that her right shoulder is not completely healed yet. She will need at least another month if not more, before she is at full strength.
Kerber has had a so-so year and now another notable lefty, Petra Kvitova, has pulled out of Fed Cup with breathing problems. The Czech has not been fully healthy in a good three years. Will she ever be?
Yes, Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard is attractive and very good player with clear top-10 potential, but before we anoint her the next marketing dynamo, let’s see her sign some major new deals, OK? She hasn’t penned a big, non-tennis one to date, the market is tough for female athletes to begin with and non-No. 1s or non- Grand Slam winners do not make the big bucks. Sharapova is the only one to make over $20 million off court annually, Serena Williams and Li Na are the only players to make over $12 million off court, Caroline Wozniacki makes over $11 million, Victoria Azarenka makes over $9, and Ana Ivanovic makes over $6. Aga Radwanska makes over $2 million, but she has been a Slam finalist and consistent top-5 player. Bouchard is from a wealthier country than Poland is, but at best this season, unless she wins a major, perhaps she pulls in $1 million off court, not a number to sneeze at, but not a head turning number that would match the business press she is receiving.
Michael Mortensen, who once coached Li, is now coaching Caroline Wozniacki on a two-month trial basis. That she hasn’t signed him for the rest of the year shows that she doesn’t trust that it will work out. Sympathy with the Dane though, as the word off court is that it was Thomas Hogstedt who decided to stay in South Africa to coach two juniors rather than join her in Dubai. Apparently he has a good reason for doing so, but a busted contract is just that – a broken one.
Readers of this space know that I love Fed and Davis Cups, so I am disappointed to see Serena and Sloane Stephens not playing for the US unless they are still truly hurt, but if both show up in Doha the week after next we know that is not the case. Azarenka should also be playing for Belarus, but she’s not.
I will give Italy’s top four a pass this time around because they have been so committed to their team for the past five years.
The top 13 Russians who are not hurt and were asked to play should be embarrassed for not competing against Australia. A tradition of greatness, which they have, matters to a country, not just money, especially when the smart and caring Anastasia Myskina is the head coach for that tie.
You have to wonder where Azarenka is headed after failing to defending her Ausralian Open title. Doing it three times in a row is big ask for any player, but she ripped herself for playing stupid in her loss to Radwanska and can get emotionally down on her self. Her play during the next two months on hard courts will be a good indication of whether she can make a serious push at Roland Garros.
Radwanska should not have been loudly complaining about having to play two straight days after her loss to Cibulkova, but had that been a night match and she been given another few hours to rest, the result might have been different.
Regardless, I still see Li Na winning the title, she was playing that well.
Don’t think that Ivanovic was pleased in the least by her performance in her loss to Bouchard. She saw that as a winnable contest.
Simona Halep has clearly improved a lot over the past seven months and has cracked the top 10 for the first time, but she was dreadful in her quarterfinal loss to Cibulkova in the quarters of the Aussie Open. Halep is still lacking super elite confidence.
Now ranked No. 13 Cibulkova only has 280 points to defend through Miami. The Aussie Open finalist doesn’t want to discuss why she hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but she does has an opening to reach her goal in the next two months. She is about 700 points behind No. 10 Halep, so she does have work to do, but she has the game and now apparently the calm head to pull it off.