He Said What? – Piotr Wozniacki Proclaims Caroline Is “Ready to Win Madrid”

Caroline Wozniacki has fallen from World No. 1 to World No. 6 in a span of three months. She has not reached a final in 2012. Heading into what is historically the weakest portion of her season, the Wozniacki camp would have a general reason to be concerned.

Or maybe not.

As reported by Søren Klæstrup at BT, Wozniacki’s father and coach, Piotr had this to say about his daughter’s 6-1, 6-2 drubbing at the hands of Angelique Kerber in the 2nd round of Stuttgart.

“It is a special base in Stuttgart, and it’s not something she is so accustomed to. The German girls have a big advantage at the very base, because they play Fed Cup and train on it. Therefore, they are favorites, when on the ground, for it is very, very difficult to play.” (Original in Danish)

Piotr’s logic might actually make sense if…nope. Maria Sharapova beat Victoria Azarenka in the Stuttgart final. Neither of them are German nor played in the Fed Cup tie between Germany and Australia the weekend before the tournament. Azarenka defeated two German players, Andrea Petkovic and Mona Barthel en route to the final. Semifinalists Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova and Polish and Czech respectively, and still performed well in the tournament.

Wozniacki lost in Stuttgart for one reason only. Kerber knew exactly how to play her; she played with consistent, controlled agression and sustained a level that Wozniacki is incapable of reaching. For the 67 weeks she was #1 in the world, Wozniacki prided herself on out-steadying her opponents – forcing them to hit one more ball, which they would miss without fail. Players have finally cracked the secret to playing Wozniacki, and now her self-confidence has taken a hit. Her opponents can expect more unforced errors off the Dane’s racket than they did before; her “air of invincibility” has evaporated. They don’t need to be perfect to win, they only need to be solid and take advantage of opportunities.

The two main warmup events in Madrid and Rome remain on the road to Roland Garros. Later in the piece, Piotr had this to say about his daughter’s upcoming participation in the Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open.

“She is strong at the moment and if you ask me, so I think she wins the tournament,” said Wozniacki.

Wozniacki’s career record in Madrid is 8-3; however, in her past two trips there she has lost in the second round in 2010 (l. to A. Bondarenko) and in the third round last year (l. to Goerges).

As it has so often been the case with Wozniacki in the past, there is no consideration of the bigger picture. While Piotr says “their” main focus is the Grand Slams, the fact remains Wozniacki has not realistically challenged for a major title in over a year. One has to wonder what exactly he’s doing to fix it.

Fed Cup – Fun and Frolic

Fed Cup time is the best time, and this is why. On the eve of the World Group semifinals and playoffs, observe typical team bonding activities.

Bojana Jovanovski, Jelena Jankovic and Aleksandra Krunic form a less than intimidating biker gang.

Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson already booked their tickets to the gun show. Put ‘em up, ladies.

Flavia Pennetta reveals her master plan to help Italy to victory against the Czechs – puppeteering the hosts to do her bidding from the bench. Roberta Vinci approves.

Andrea Petkovic, returning to compete for Germany after a back injury, realizes why alternative dance therapy was a bad idea. Mona Barthel tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen.

(Photos: Fed Cup)

Fed Cup Semifinals Preview

Russia vs. Serbia: Sports Palace “Megasport” – Moscow, Russia

 

Russia – Elena Vesnina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Serbia- Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Bojana Jovanovski, Aleksandra Krunic

With the absence of World #2 Maria Sharapova, and World #10 Vera Zvonareva sidelined with an injury, Russia’s hopes for the tie lie with World #21 Maria Kirilenko. Kirilenko has had a quietly successful year in singles, highlighted by a runner-up finish in Pattaya City (l. to Hantuchova) and a quarterfinal showing in Indian Wells (l. to Sharapova). Somewhat shockingly, however, Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev has elected to leave her out of the opening day in singles. Instead, he will turn to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Both, particularly Pavlyuchenkova, have not shown stellar form this year, and Tarpischev is taking a huge gamble on the opening day. Kuznetsova, a team stalwart, has played in 15 career Fed Cup ties and this is her second tie this year, having helped her team defeat Spain in the opening round. Russia also possess strong prowess in doubles, as Kirilenko is currently ranked #7 in the discipline. Elena Vesnina, currently ranked #11, has been ranked in the top 10 in doubles, and Kuznetsova has won two career Grand Slams in doubles, including at the Australian Open earlier this year partnering Zvonareva.

Serbia will have both their marquee players headlining their squad, as former World #1’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will be playing their first tie this season. However, both are surrounded by question marks coming into Moscow. Ivanovic, who has experienced a resurgence in form this season, reached the fourth round at the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). However, despite these successes, she has reportedly split with coach Nigel Sears. Jankovic, on the other hand, is far from her best form; despite reaching the semifinals in Copenhagen last week (l. to Kerber), she has lost in her opening round three times this season, including in Indian Wells and Miami. The burden will not solely be on the veteran’s shoulders, as youngsters Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic have already proven themselves capable of competing at the highest level in the team competition. The two rallied the team from 2-1 down against Belgium in the opening round earlier this year; Jovanovski won her 2nd singles match and then teamed with Krunic to clinch the deciding doubles tie.

Russia leads Serbia 3-0 in the career head to head, and the last meeting was a 3-2 victory for the Russians in the 2010 World Group first round.

Czech Republic vs. Italy: CEZ Arena – Ostrava, Cezch Republic

Czech Republic – Lucie Hradecka, Lucie Safarova, Petra Kvitova, Andrea Hlavackova

Italy - Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will be leading the Czech squad at home against a veteran Italian team. Because of injury and illness, the World #3 has only played three matches since the Czechs defeated Germany in their opening match in the World Group in February. She has, however, won 27 consecutive matches on indoor hard courts, explaining the choice of surface and venue for the hosts. Safarova, a stalwart in the top 30 for the past few seasons, is coming off a run to the finals in Charleston (l. to Serena Williams) and has been in decent form to start the season. Kvitova and Safarova will be expected to play singles for the host nation, while defending French Open champions Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka are on tap for the doubles rubber.

Italy, the Fed Cup champions in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, are in a state of flux entering the semifinals. Both Schiavone and Vinci have been struggling to find form this season, while Sara Errani has established herself as one of the breakout players of the 2012 season. Errani, a two-time title winner already on the WTA this season, also made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti will have to rely heavily on Errani in this tie, as she has been tapped to play singles behind Francesca Schiavone. She and Roberta Vinci have also been selected for doubles; they have partnered for three WTA doubles titles this season, and were runners-up at the Australian Open.

The head-to-head is 4-3 in favor of the Czechs, however, Italy has won three in a row. The last meeting between these two teams came in 2012, where Italy swept aside the Czechs, 5-0 in the semifinals. “It will be good revenge,” Kvitova remarked about the tie. “Last time when played against them we lost 5-0, so it wasn’t really a good result and we have bad memories from this.”

(Photos & quotes: Fed Cup)

Kim Keeps Away from Roland Garros – Again

The first women’s withdrawal from Roland Garros was announced today, and in many respects, it was not unexpected. Kim Clijsters will not be competing this clay season including at the 2012 French Open due to a lingering hip injury. Clijsters, who will be retiring again at the end of the year, instead has her sights set on the grass season, including Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Clijsters, who reached two finals at Roland Garros – in 2001 (l. to Capriati) and 2003 (l. to Henin) has won three career titles on clay. However, since her comeback in 2009, Clijsters has only played two tournaments on the red European clay. At the 2010 Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, Spain, Clijsters defeated Alexandra Dulgheru in the opening round before being stunned by qualifier Beatriz Garcia Vidgany. At the 2011 French Open, she defeated Anastasiya Yakimova in the opening round before falling against Arantxa Rus after having match points. It was the first time she had competed in Paris since 2006.

While it is unfortunate Clijsters’ body will not allow her to dictate the terms of her final year on tour, one must really consider how motivated she is to play out the year. After injuring her ankle against Li Na in the fourth round on the Australian Open, she withdrew from Indian Wells. She then proclaimed herself healthy to compete in Miami. There, she suffered the current injury and crashed out to countrywoman Yanina Wickmayer in the third round. Clijsters has openly expressed her desire to spend time with her family and to have more children, and many are convinced she would have called it quits in 2011 were it not for the London Olympics looming this July. Clijsters, who has never represented her country in the Olympics, has repeatedly cited competing there as a goal this year.

Clijsters’ next scheduled tournament is the Unicef Open in Rosmalen, the Netherlands.

JCap & Guga – New Kids in Newport

Jennifer Capriati will the the final member of the Class of 2012 that will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this year. Both Capriati and Gustavo Kuerten have been selected for induction in the Recent Player category; Kuerten’s nomination was announced in March.

Capriati, 36, captured 14 career titles, including three Grand Slams. She won the Australian Open in 2001 and 2002, as well as Roland Garros in 2001. A gold medalist (d. Graf) at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she held the #1 ranking for 18 weeks, and finished her career with an impressive 430-176 career record.

Capriati made her WTA Tour debut in 1990 at the tender age of 13, and reached the final in the first event she played in Boca Raton (l. to Sabatini). She made the semifinals of Roland Garros that year after her 14th birthday, and also won her first career title in Puerto Rico (d. Garrison).

After winning 6 titles from 1990-1993, Capriati took an extended break from the game following a first round loss at the 1993 US Open. During this time, her personal struggles with shoplifting and drugs were well-chronicled.

Capriati returned to the WTA in 1996 but did not win another title until Strasbourg in 1999 (d. Likhovtseva). She came into the 2001 Australian Open seeded 12th, and stormed her way through the draw, defeating #1 Martina Hingis 64 63 for her first Grand Slam title. Following her title, she returned to the top 10 after an eight year absence. Seeded fourth at that year’s Roland Garros, she again defeated Hingis, this time in the semifinals. Capriati defeated Kim Clijsters in what is widely regarded as a classic final, 16 64 1210.

The top seed and defending champion at the 2002 Australian Open, Capriati battled her way into the final for the second straight year, and again found Hingis on the other side of the net. However, this final was a contrast from the previous year, as Capriati saved four match points and stormed back from 64 40 down to take the title, 46 76(7) 62.

Injuries took their toll late in Capriati’s career, and although she never officially retired from competition, she has not competed on the WTA since 2004.

“I am thrilled to learn that I have been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” Capriati said in a statement. “This is a dream come true and an extraordinary tribute. I love this game and am incredibly honored by the Hall of Fame’s vote. Tennis has been my passion and dedication for my entire life, and to be acknowledged for this passion and dedication is truly icing on the cake.”

Kuerten, 35, nicknamed “Guga” by the public, was a three time champion at Roland Garros (1997, 2000, 2001). In total, Kuerten captured 20 career titles, and held the #1 ranking for 43 weeks.

Kuerten rose to prominence during his run to the 1997 Roland Garros title (d. Bruguera), and became the 3rd lowest ranked man to win a Grand Slam title (66th). In 1999, he became the first Brazilian to qualify for what is now known as the ATP World Tour Finals, reserved for the best eight players in the world. He won the event in 2000, defeating Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras in back-to-back matches.

In late 2004, age and injuries began to catch up with Kuerten, and he played sparingly on the ATP Tour from 2005-2008. At Roland Garros in 2008, Kuerten received a wild card into the the tournament to bid farewell to his devoted fans and the tournament he loved. Although he lost in straight sets to Paul-Henri Mathieu, he was honored in a ceremony after the match by tournament organizers and fans. Kuerten retired from the ATP Tour in May 2008, having compiled a 358-195 career record.

“I have to confess, in my first years playing tennis, I didn’t even know that the Hall of Fame existed,” Kuerten said. “It was something I really didn’t expect to happen. Now I know how important it is to be there.”

Spanish legend Manuel Orantes, administrator Mike Davies and wheelchair player Randy Snow (posthumously) will also be inducted.

The Class of 2012 Induction Ceremony will be held on July 14, 2012 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.

From Russia with Love…That’s Slumping

For the past 10 years, Russia has had a large number of players occupying the top spots in the WTA Tour rankings. At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Russian women swept the medals with Elena Dementieva winning gold, Dinara Safina taking silver and Vera Zvonareva finishing with bronze. Four years later, the Olympic picture is much different for the Russian team. With Dementieva retired and Safina sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, the Russians no longer hold the vicegrip on the WTA rankings they once did. Russians occupied five of the top ten places in the world rankings in 2008; currently, there are only two in the top 20.

Rules for Olympic team nominations are as follows (courtesy of the ITF):

The main qualifying criteria is the ATP and WTA ranking lists as of June 11, 2012…Players must have also participated in two Fed Cup events from 2009 – 2012, one of which must have taken place in 2011-2012, and have a good standing with their National Olympic Committee. Each NOC can enter 6 men and 6 women athletes, with a maximum of 4 entries in the individual events, and 2 pairs in the doubles events. Any player in the world’s top 56 is eligible, and NOC’s have the option to enter players of a lower rank. Athletes are able to compete in both singles and doubles events. Doubles players within the top 10 rankings on 11 June are eligible provided that the number of players of the same nation doesn’t surpass the total of six.

Leaving #2 Maria Sharapova (W/L: 18-4 Best Result: F Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami) out of the equation, the win-loss records of the next five (singles rankings as of April 2nd) Russian women this year are a mixed bag at best:

#9 Vera Zvonareva W/L: 7-6 Best Result: QF Charleston

#21 Maria Kirilenko W/L: 14-7 Best Result: F Pattaya City

#22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova W/L: 3-8 Best Result: R16 Brisbane

#25 Svetlana Kuznetsova W/L: 11-7 Best Result: R16 Brisbane, Doha

#35 Nadia Petrova W/L 5-6 Best Result: QF Charleston

Shamil Tarpishchev, Russia’s Fed Cup and Olympic team captain, expressed his concerns in a recent column for tennis.sport-express.ru. He specifically addressed team stalwarts Zvonareva and Kuznetsova, who had lost their opening round matches at the Sony Ericsson Open (l. to Muguruza Blanco and Benesova, respectively). Tarpishchev discussed Zvonareva’s bouts with injuries (shoulder and hip) and illness, as well as Kuznetsova’s lack of focus in winning positions.

Based off of these rankings, Russia’s four singles players would be Sharapova, Zvonareva, Kirilenko and Pavlyuchenkova. Pavlyuchenkova’s slump has been particularly alarming; the 21-year-old, who made the quarterfinals of both Roland Garros and the US Open last year, has lost in the first round of all but three events this season. The Russian who has had arguably the 2nd best season behind Sharapova in singles is #39 Ekaterina Makarova, who had a stunning run to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (d. Zvonareva, S. Williams en route, l. to Sharapova) and the fourth round in Miami (d. Pavlyuchenkova en route, l. to Sharapova). Going only by current rankings, she would not make the team, although her form this season should suggest otherwise.

Kirilenko, the 3rd Russian in the singles rankings, is also ranked in the top 10 in doubles. She, along with Elena Vesnina, would be directly qualified to compete with any partner in the doubles competition if the current rankings stand. However, Kuznetsova and Zvonareva partnered to win the Australian Open in doubles and Petrova is paired with Kirilenko to start the season; she is currently ranked 16th in doubles. Kirilenko and Petrova took home their biggest title as a pair in winning the Sony Ericsson Open (d. Kuzntsova/Zvonareva en route, d. Errani/Vinci for title). Vesnina competes in events with India’s Sania Mirza, and there is speculation that Vesnina would be left off the team.

With Roland Garros looming on the horizon, the race to the Olympics will be a big story throughout the European clay season. While the Russians are blessed with enormous depth, there are questions if their best players can round into form in time.