Top 32: Radwanska came alive, Kvitova was OK, Venus never gives up

Flavia Pennetta wants to stick around a little bit longer. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Flavia Pennetta wants to stick around a little bit longer. Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

The top 32, WTA, Nos. 8-5

No. 8

Flavia Pennetta

The Italian has already retired, which is too bad, because just a few months ago she played better than she ever had, knocking off Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep and her close friend, Roberta Vinci, for the US Open title. In fact, everyone says that she is one of their good friends, which is because Pennetta is one of the nicest people out there – on court and off. The 33-year-old had played for a long time, and perhaps she should have won a major a few years ago, but she could not because she was always fast enough, fairly powerful and solid at the net, but she wouldn’t always go for it. This time though she kissed the lines day after day and now she was able to walk away, into the sunset, with a wild smile for many years to come.

No. 7

Venus Williams

Perhaps that the American Venus will never be able to win another major, but at the very least, for the first time since 2011 when she was seriously ill, she was much more under control. The 35-year-old has slowed down a bit, but her phenomenal backhand and her gigantic first serve became lethal month after month. Yes, her forehand is up and down, and her second serve can be extremely weak, but her net game is substantially better than 10 years ago. We do know that she always battles, and when she isn’t tired, she can take down anyone. This year by winning Wuhan, she bested Aga Radwanska, Carla Suarez, Vinci and Garbine Muguruza. That is about as good as it gets.

Venus has won seven Grand Slams, but she hasn’t won a title since 2008. Does she have a legitimate chance? Perhaps not, but you can’t totally ignore her.

No. 6

Petra Kvitova

The lefty Czech had a decent year, but not a great one overall. When you have won two Wimbledon crowns, you cannot say that she has improved in a year without an appearance in a Grand Slam final. Often she played amazing well one day, but then she disappeared on the next day when she isn’t all right.

In Australia, she won Sydney and declared that she had a real chance to win the AO, but then she was erratic and lost against Madison Keys. In Madrid, she played spectacular by beating Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the title. She thought she could win Roland Garros; then she was stunned by Timea Bacsinszky.

After that, she got sick again (mono) and after that, she was a little slow. Fortunately, her body recovered and she played excellent ball at the WTA Finals, where she beat Maria Sharapova and then fell against Radwanska. In the Fed Cup final, she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but lost against Sharapova in one of the best matches of the year. However, the Czechs ended up winning the crown. That made her happy, which is good, but in 2016, she has to be healthy and not back off at all.

No. 5

Aga Radwanska

Radwanska-15-Stan-TR-MALT5752After losing in the first round of Roland Garros, the Polish player was very upset. For the first four months, she wasn’t played well at all, she was pushing the ball around and she was indecisive. But once she came on grass, she mentally eased it up, she moved forward, and she became to be more creative. All of a sudden, she was back. She was by no means perfect, but she saw what she needed to do. She reached the Wimbledon semis when she beat Keys before she lost against Muguruza. At the US Open, Keys got her back, but in Asia, she won Tokyo by beating Belinda Bencic. In Beijing, she bested Keys once again, took out Angie Kerber and then fell against the aggressive Muguruza. Then in the WTA Finals, she was driven and directed, finally overcoming Muguruza 7-5 in the third set (finally) and besting Petra Kvitova in three sets to win it all.

Admittedly, the 26-year-old said that now, she is really ready to win a major for the first time. Can the small person actually finally do it? I bet she can, in 2016.

Fed Cup, Winners & Losers, April 19: Czechs & Russia reach final. Kvitova returns, Vesnina helps team, Germany falls


The World Group

Czech Republic d France 3-0

WINNERS: The Czech Republic is unstoppable, once again. On Saturday, Petra Kvitova swept aside Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-4. Then Lucie Safarova — who has been so impressive over the past two and half years and rarely panics at the Fed Cup — overcame Caroline Garcia 4-6 7-6(1) 6-1. Kvitova, who hasn’t played since February, beat Garcia 6-4, 6-4 to win the tie 3-0 over France on Sunday.

The Czechs beat Germany in the final at Prague last year over Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic; they beat Serbia in Prague in 2011 over Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic; they beat Russia 3-2 in the final 2010 in Moscow over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Kirilenko, among others. Now the Czechs will play the final again, this time against Russia once again and presumably, in Prague. Do Kvitova and Safarova want a piece against Maria Sharapova? You bet they do.

LOSERS: Caroline Garcia has improved quite a bit this year but she has to be more patient and not go for winners immediately. She will in time.

Russia d Germany 3-2

The Germans thought it a had a real chance to take down the Russians after Sharapova pulled out, but they couldn’t do it when. in the fifth rubber, the excellent doubles player Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wiped out Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Captain Barbara Rittner had so many different choices. She said that Kerber, who had won Charleston last week, was too tired and didn’t arrive until Wednesday so she needed to rest. Petkovic, who made it into the semifinals, was also tired and hurt. But they had five days before Saturday, so if they were OK, why not just put them on Saturday? At the Grand Slams, you have one day off, and then you are ready to play again. Unless you are injured, that’s fine, but if they are OK, then go with it. That is why they are the main competitors.

However, Rittner felt that Julia Goerges has been good at times on the clay and Lisicki had been played well at Indian Wells and Miami. But they both lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and then Germany was in serious trouble. But whoops, Petkovic and Kerber were ready on Sunday, they destroyed Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and they were ready to grab the tie. But hold on.

Rittner decided to use Petkovic and Lisicki instead of trying Goerges, but Lisicki grew nervous and wasn’t listening, while Petkovic began to get frustrated. Vesnina knew exactly where she should be and what she would do and Russia won it. Props for the captain Anastasia Myskina, who talked to the team and calmed them down at 2-2. You can guarantee that she will want Sharapova to be the leader in the final.

LOSERS: Rittner paid and they lost and that was painful. But her team has stuck in there and they have to give her another chance in 2016.


Italy d USA 3-2

Serena Williams did not play spectacular in singles by beating Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani, but in the fifth rubber, she and Alison Riske lost 6-0 6-3 to Errani and Flavia Pennetta. Props to Errani and Pennetta who really know how to mix in their shots, but Serena and Riske weren’t very enthusiastic.

LOSERS: The younger girls still have a lot to learn, including Riske, Lauren Davis and Christina McHale who lost very quickly and quietly.

Switzerland d Poland 3-2

Crazy days, that is for sure. Aga Radwanska comes out firing and beats Martina Hingis 6-4 6-0, her best match all year, even though the former No. 1 hasn’t played singles in eight years. The Swiss Timea Bacsinszky has played very well over the past two months, and she whacked Urszula Radwanska 6-2 6-1. But then Bacsinszky smoked Radwanska 6-1 6-1. That was stunning. Hingis surpisingly fell to Urszula 4-6 7-5 6-1. Back in the day, Hingis would play for hours and never looked tired. Now at the age of 34, she looks terrific moving around in the doubles, but on singles, she is not as fast. But getting tired after a couple of hours? She must have been super nervous inside, because there is no reason that her legs were heavy.

Whatever the case, Hingis didn’t play the doubles because she couldn’t run anymore, but Bacsinszky was gutsy again, playing with Viktorija Golubic and they beat Aga and Alicja Rosolska 2-6 6-4 9-7.

LOSES: Without question, Aga Radwanska has been reeling, losing to everyone and everything this year. Losing easily at home against Bacsinszky — who has played lights out – by the once former Wimbledon final shows that she is very confused.

Romania d Canada 3-0

Good for Genie Bouchard who changed her mind and came to Montreal. However, she is really slumping, losing both matches to Alexandra Dulgheru and Andreea Mitu, a real unknown. But, the tennis world knows her now. The top Romanian’s Irina-Camelia Begu couldn’t even play on Sunday because she was hurt (she beat Francoise Abanda on Saturday). Credit to all the players who won as there No. 2 Simona Halep couldn’t make it.

LOSSES: Bouchard has lost her rhythm, but she took a big hit by not shaking hands with Dulgheru at the tie. People will talk about it all year long, or until she retires.

Netherlands d Australia 3-1

It looked like Australia would win easily, but Sam Stosur was hurt and couldn’t play. The Netherlands played as well as they could, with Kiki Bertens winning two matches, beating Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua, while Arantxa Rus grabbed one over Gajdosova 0-6 7-5 7-5 to end it. Props to the captain, the former ATP pro Paul Haarhuis, who gave them self belief.

LOSSES: Gajdosova should have been able to best Rus, who is ranked at No. 217.

She had to end it now: Radwanksa beats Errani, to face Serena


Radwanska Stanford 13 TR MALT3445

Aga says that if Serena is clicking it might be impossible to stop her

FROM THE ROGER’S CUP IN TORONTO – Before an examination of Petra Kvitova’s ills, let’s start with some positives from the semifinalists: Agnieszka Radwanska played courageously and disposed of Sara Errani 7-6 (1) 7-5; Li Na played smart, made her own mid-match adjustment and fought off Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-6 6-2; Sorana Cirstea is having her best tournament ever and smacked Petra Kvitova 4-6 7-5 6-2; and Serena Williams has been untouchable, period.

Recall that the last time that Radwanska and Errani had played, at the 2012 WTA Championships, they nearly killed each other going side to side and back and forth. The contest lasted more than three hours, which ended up being a three-set victory for the fourth-ranked Pole.

The Toronto match had a bit of a similar feel, except it was outdoors in the sunshine rather than indoors at night. Both women are so fast and so resourceful that it is very tough to get a ball past them unless a foe has a wide-open court and substantial power. When they face other, they have to work the points forever, because neither of them can rake winners with the force of say, a Serena or Maria Sharapova.

Consequently, when they walk on court they know that it’s more than likely that they will walk off extremely tired and given that it was a quarterfinal, somewhere back in their heads they must be thinking that if this contest does go three hours again, there woudl be no realistic chance to win the tournament.

Radwanska clearly had that on her mind because she pushed herself further inside the court late in the first set (especially in the breaker), early in the second and then at the very end of the third.  The first set featured 11 straight breaks of serve (“For both of us the serves is never the key,” Radwanska said) and in the second set five more.

The final game of the match told the tale, as Radwanska was determined to hit through her foe. That she did, nailing four winners to take it, beginning with a backhand crosscourt. Then she sliced an ace wide into the deuce court, then she took a sky lob out of the air and nailed a forehand crosscourt swing volley winner, and then she ended the contest with forehand crosscourt winner.

Job well done by the former Wimbledon finalist.

“I was trying to focus really hard in the last few points because I knew it could really turn around for her,” Radwanska told me later. “I was looking at the clock and saw two hours already and I said ‘enough I have to end this now.’ I was really pushing myself to stay aggressive because everything is coming back.”

Radwanska will face Serena, who destroyed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1, 6-1. Williams has only lost 10 games in three matches, which shows how well she’s been playing, but it’s doubtful that she will be able to match her low games lost total in Rome in May, when she won the tournament dropping only 14 games in five matches.

But Radwanska knows she could be in for hell.

Williams is the only super elite player she hasn’t scored a win over and after the Pole pushed her to three sets in the 2012 Wimbledon final, Serena destroyed her at the year-end WTA Championships in Istanbul and in the semis of 2013 Miami.

“It’s always a great challenge,” Radwanska said. “She’s dictating everything and when she’s at her best, it’s bad luck.”

This could be fantastic match if Radwanska can manage to get into points and weave her blonde-tinted magic, but she hasn’t been able to in the last two occasions. So she’s not sure what strategy she’ll employ.

“It’s hard to tell,” the Pole said.  “I’ll see after a few games because you never know what to do because sometimes she’s serving and returning  unbelievable and I can’t even touch the ball.”

Absolutely nothing should be taken away from Cirstea for her week here. She’s beaten two former No. 1s in Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic, as well as a former Wimbledon champion in Kvitova.

She stood up tall when she had too and after a heart-warming talk by coach Darren Cahill when she felt the second set slipping a way, she settled down and her confidence returned and she played the big points much better – when she had to.

But she did not have to play a great match to win as  Kvitova doubled faulted on break points in six different games and ended the contest with just 12 winners and 55 unforced errors. Cirstea finished with only 18 winners and committed 47 unforced errors.

While Kvitova is criticized for going on mental walkabouts, is not as if she has been playing brilliantly here and there as of late  and  forgetting she’s on a tennis  court. In the past two weeks, she has left her “A game back at the hotel. She’s simply not dictating enough with her forehand, her serve is much weaker than it should be and she’s not coming to net as often as she should. In short, the tall lefty is not playing authoritative tennis.

She actually she said she was tired and lost her energy as she didn’t sleep well the night before. She said she was exhausted after playing just two matches in Canada, which is stunning given she’s only 24, even if she pulled an all-nighter. She was all but done by the second set.

“The serve was really bad after this, and I didn’t find energy from my legs,” she said. “So that’s why it looks that bad.”

And her  10 double faults overall?

“I think that it was starting because of physically, and then it’s going to my mind it was the mental problem, too.  It’s always connected.”

Li and Cirstea have faced off five times, with Li winning a 4-1 edge, including a win at the 2013 Aussie Open.


Another double bagel for Radwanska over Cibulkova in BOW final?

Radwanska Stanford 13 TR MALT3445


By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD, DAY 6 – Partly due to necessity, players sometimes rewrite their own personal histories in order to be able to move ahead with their careers after devastating defeats. After she bested Sorana Cirstea 6-4 6-0 in the semifinals of Stanford and discussed a possible meeting in the final with  Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova reflected back on the 2013 Sydney final, when the Pole blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the title.

At Stanford, Cibulkova commented that if one had seen the first set, you could see it was closer than the score indicated and to some degree that was true, but I sat courtside that warm night in Sydney and it wasn’t that close. In fact, Radwanska played incredibly well and Cibulkova imploded to the point of no return and had a mental collapse that belies her immense talent and at times, an enormous amount of self belief against other members of her generation. Here is what I wrote then:

“Lots of things are going to have to change for Dominica Cibulkova in the next few days after Aga Radwanska blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the [Sydney] title. The Slovakian was ridiculously erratic early and then she became scared and then she couldn’t keep a ball in the court of any  kind. You could tell that the super steady Radwanska – who seemed to read where she was going all night long – felt a little bad for her, but as Radwanska said later, this is tennis and in tennis things happen and you never ever take your foot off the pedal, even when you can sense your foe’s meltdown and all you have to is get the ball back in the court.

 “In the beginning I think she wanted too much,” Radwanska said. “Then I think in the beginning also a little bit nervous.  This is a final, so it’s always a little bit different than the ones before.  I think in the second set she really didn’t know what to do.  I think I was just playing at same level whole match, and that’s it. It’s always a little bit different because in your head it’s just like, I just lost set 6-0 and I have to win the game.  It’s always tough to play with this feeling.  I think she also had those thoughts in her head and it’s always a little bit harder…Too many mistakes from her.”’

 More than too many mistakes as Cibulkova, who had played so brilliantly in taking out Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani and Angie Kerber, fell into a black hole of erratic and nervous play which she might not get out in Melbourne. She had no defense and her money shot, her forehand, disappeared. How bad was it? Listen to her:

 “When I lost that 1‑0 again in the second set, I just completely kind of break down and stop thinking about what I have to do and how to play well.  I was just thinking, Oh, my God, what is happening? I was not choking, but I was starting to think about the score,.  Until then I had some strategy that I want to do.  And then after 6‑0, 1‑0, 2‑0, I was like, Oh, my God, what is happening?  Now it’s like the score that didn’t want to be in.  After I stopped thinking and I was just thinking about the score all the time.  After I just wanted to stay in a rally with her, but it’s just not something I’m used to d.  I’m just start to play with less power, and that’s not where I feel comfortable. Then I just didn’t want to do the mistakes and then I was doing even more mistakes.  It was just like this, going round [in a spiral]. I knew that she would not give my one easy ball, and it was making my frustration even bigger.

How often does a world No. 15 lose to a world No. 4 6-0, 6-0 in a final. Hardly ever. How often does the notable player who was double bageled, come back at a Slam a few days later and go on a major run? Has it ever happened?

While Cibulkova chances of reaching the second week of Melbourne may have totally disappeared, Radwanska, who went off into the Sydney night in search of  big piece of cheesecake, is feeling very good about herself.

Radwanska did not end of having a great Aussie Open [Li Na, whom she had beaten in the Sydney semis,  punched her out in the quarters], and true to the projection Cibulkova had a disastrous Aussie Open, falling to [who?] qualifier Valeria Savinykh in the second round. Sometime after that she watched the first set of her loss to Radwanska so she could learn form her mistakes. That’s a great idea as it shows she’s not hiding from what has occurred. But I am by no means convinced she can turn things around on Sunday in Palo Alto as on Saturday I could hear her voice quiver a bit – not because she thinks that Radwanska can wipe her off the court if she herself plays well,  but because she fears playing so badly and nervously again. Hopefully for fans both will bring their best because it could be a cracker of a final. After Radwanska’s clinical 6-3 6-2
win over  Jamie Hampton in the semis, the Pole is looking confident again, so she will enter the final a substantial favorite and should she win the title, perhaps she will be able to forget her emotionally devastating loss to Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon semis, a   Grand Slam she admits was on her racket.


No more falling down for Keys on grass

keys, madison 2013

Roland Garros: Ana vs. Aga, who’s the real contender?

Ivanovic IW 13 TR MALT3016

Serena on fire

Serena has only lost four matches in 2012