Category Archives: WTA

“Ready, Play” (Part II): Waiting in the Weeds – The Legends of Grassonkova and Grasszek

It's been a long road back for Tamira Paszek. Photo by Christopher Levy
It’s been a long road back for Tamira Paszek. Photo by Christopher Levy

With mere hours to go until first ball at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships, my common-law twin David Kane from Tennis View Magazine and #backhandcompliments joins me for Part II of our “Ready, Play” series, a shameless, cross-promotional jaunt through the #WimbleWeird archives. You can read Part I of our retrospective, a reflection on Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki’s 2013 Championship, here.  

Victoria Chiesa: Welcome back to my humble abode, David. I know I’ve said I’ve been back!!11! more times than Ana Ivanovic, but I’ve changed the locks to this place and gotten a new set of keys. After discussing Marion and Sabine’s fairy tale fortnight from a year ago, I felt it only right to give some love to the two women who first popularized the Cinderella-esque Wimbledon run: Tsvetana Pironkova and Tamira Paszek. Both unseeded and looming before it was mainstream. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies. I owe you.

Two of the most enigmatic players have had two incredibly different routes to this year’s Wimbledon Championships. Each is a protagonist of her own urban legend, if you will. One’s had a long road back, and the other’s never left. Let’s start with Paszek, a woman who’s gone from teen prodigy, to top-30 stalwart, to also ran. Despite being on the WTA for almost a decade, she’s still just 23 years old.

David Kane: Hi Victoria, love what you’ve done with the place. I’ll try not to Single White Female you on the WordPress theme, but no promises.

To illustrate how long Tamira Paszek has been part of the greater tennis consciousness, look no further than the big name who first believed she had top 5 talent: Justine Henin. The Austrian took Henin to three sets at the 2007 Dubai Tennis Championships with her now-infamous flat groundstrokes and relentless aggression. That fearless ground game was on display again later that year at the US Open with a run to the 4th round. But it was the first round Australian Open encounter with Jelena Jankovic the defines pre-Grasszek mythology. The Austrian had the future No. 1 on the ropes in a no-ad final set, breaking the Serb multiple times to serve for the match. Against a less wily opponent, Paszek may have escaped on one of the many match points she earned.

Despite serving notice, Paszek struggles to remain healthy, a long absence between 2009 and 2010 undoing her early progress. A top 5 contender, now considered by many to be a grass court specialist. What gives?

VC: A back injury derailed much of Paszek’s late teens, and her game lacked much of the punch that it featured before her hiatus. At the end of 2010, she was back in the winner’s circle with a title in Quebec City, but her 2011 season was nothing to write home about until she arrived at Wimbledon. She played one of the matches of the year, possibly one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, to upset Francesca Schiavone in the third round, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9 and eventually reached the quarterfinals. You couldn’t have written a better script, really. She was knocked off her teen prodigy perch, returned from a career-threatening injury and played captivating tennis to reach the last eight. That’s pretty hard to top, but Paszek’s return to the Wimbledon quarterfinals the next year was even more impressive.

She came into Eastbourne with a 2-13 match record and marched all the way to the title, saving five match points against Angelique Kerber in the final. All of a sudden, people weren’t praying for her ranking, but for her to land far away from their favorite player in the draw.

DK: Among many others since her fall from the top of the rankings, fans of Caroline Wozniacki saw their prayer go unanswered at Wimbledon. Paszek and Wozniacki would play the match of the tournament, and this time it would be Wozniacki who would see match points go against her by inches and the Austrian put her away in three sets. It was an businesslike return to the quarterfinals from there, only to lose to Victoria Azarenka for the second year in a row.

For the casual fan, late Spring 2012 marks the Austrian’s last flirtation with relevance, as the losses continued to pile up over the next 12 months. By last August, Paszek was forced to play qualifying at the US Open after being seeded the year before. A successful outing in French Open qualifying and a solid grass court warm-up has gotten her some buzz among those nostalgic for her ball-bashing game. Is it warranted this time around?

VC: Despite drawing last year’s semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens in the opening round, I’m optimistic about Paszek’s chances. The Belgian hasn’t been in great form this year, and struggled with a knee injury in a loss to Elina Svitolina in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The winner is in a section of the draw that will presumably determine Maria Sharapova’s fourth round opponent, and looks one Angelique Kerber sarcastic shrug away from collapse. Do I think Paszek could make it there? Sure. But so could Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

Paszek launched herself back into relevance at the 2011 WImbledon Championships, but Tsvetana Pironkova started the giant-killing trend a year earlier. The woman who came into the tournament ranked No. 82 found herself a set away from the women’s final nearly two weeks later. Forget Wacky Wednesday – let’s take a moment to appreciate Pironkova’s genius.

I didn’t actually mean *a moment.* How unhelpful are you, YouTube.

DK: When Paszek made her Wimbledon runs, it felt like promise fulfilled. Nobody saw Tsvetana Pironkova coming. As she eased into her first major quarterfinal in 2010, few paid attention as she had been in an ostensibly broken part of the draw and though she’d beaten Marion Bartoli, neither were considered contenders against five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams. Fewer remembered the Bulgarian’s shock win over the American at the 2006 Australian Open. But none of that seemed to matter as Pironkova dominated Williams from start to finish. Into her first major semifinal, she led Vera Zvonareva by a set before fading in three. The run may have been over, but the Ballad of Tsvetana Pironkova had just begun. So often in tennis, the sequel can be better than the original. How does Pironkova’s second Wimbledon run compared to her first?

VC: Coming into Wimbledon in 2011, most stifled a chuckle and an eye roll when debating if Pironkova could spark even a single bolt of the lightning in a bottle that she caught 12 months earlier. She fell one match short of the previous year’s feat in 2011, but if anything, her quarterfinal showing was more impressive. She dropped three games in the first round against Camila Giorgi, who’s become a bit of a Wimbledon wunderkind in her own right, before dropping just five games to both her 2010 conqueror Zvonareva and Venus again. The three-set quarterfinal she and Kvitova played was a dramatic spectacle, and if Pironkova had won it, she very well could’ve won the title. I’m not even joking. If three of the four slams were still played on grass….

Pironkova’s 2012 Wimbledon campaign was logically ended in a 7-6 6-7 6-0 loss to Maria Sharapova in the second round, but she reached the fourth round last year before falling to Agnieszka Radwanska. Pironkova’s already had the token highlight of her year by winning her first WTA title in Sydney, but the draw is perfectly set up for her to reach the second week yet again. Varvara Lepchenko, Caroline Garcia or Sara Errani and then possibly Ekaterina Makarova or Kimiko Date-Krumm? Hardly the murderer’s row she’s used to.

DK: I’m glad you brought up Sydney, because that was arguably more shocking than either of her Wimbledon runs. Three top 10 wins, eight matches in little over a week, all as a sub-top 100 qualifier? She predictably lost early in Melbourne, but that was a week to remember. Though she hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals in the last two years, she hasn’t had a bad loss at the All-England Club, even stretching eventual semifinalist Radwanska to three sets one year ago. She’s proven not to be a draw-dependent floater, but can we honestly expect so much from the Queen of the Unexpected?

So who do you have making it farther this fortnight? Do you bank on Paszek’s potential or Pironkova’s past?

VC: While Paszek looked thrilled to earn her way into the main draw, her reaction might’ve actually been one of relief rather than anything else. She’s been forced to toil away on the ITF Circuit for a year, and she’ll have a nice payday coming her way regardless. Does that satisfy a former prodigy, or does she want more? Pironkova might’ve lost her opening round match at Eastbourne, but she’s got a reputation to uphold.

I haven’t seen enough of Paszek this year to adequately judge where her form and fitness are this season, and I think her opening round against Flipkens will provide a benchmark for answering some of those questions. I can’t ignore the openness of Pironkova’s draw, but Lepchenko did singlehandedly derail the campaign of my Roland Garros dark horse, Petra Cetkovska. It’s a tough one, but I’ll take Pironkova.

DK: Based on the draw, it would be easy to say Pironkova. But Paszek has been steadily improving and has proven she doesn’t derive that much confidence from wins. Someone like Paszek plays with an inner belief that they deserve to be considered among the game’s elite. Pironkova’s Wimbledon runs can come off as comic relief when nobody really expects them to catalyze a true major breakthrough. None of this is to say her opponents shouldn’t take Pironkova seriously, but I would imagine Paszek takes herself seriously and can more easily channel that combination of belief and ability into a successful tournament.

VC: Our tea’s gone cold and the biscuit tin’s empty, so I think that brings an end to our two-part preview series for the 2014 Wimbledon Championships. And we’ve got 10 whole hours to stock up on more snacks! Thanks to David for joining me here at unseeded & looming, and for all of your snarky but fabulous women’s tennis news, Chrissie Evert memes and GIF-analysis, check out his blog #backhandcompliments.

The ‘merican Way

It’s difficult to generalize an individual sport that runs the gamut when it comes to personalities, but a country can certainly develop a reputation for turning out crops of tennis players with similar game styles. The Russians, eager to take command on the court, are quite comfortable ripping two-handed backhands. Spaniards are known for their craftiness and guile, while the Italians are usually characterized by their flair and passion. While the Garbine Muguruzas and Camila Giorgis of the world shun their perceived national norms and carve out their own style with success, they’re typically the exceptions rather than the rule.

Since the days of Chris Evert’s baseline grinding and Martina Navratilova’s chip and charge, America’s tennis players have evolved with their sport. Aggressive “jocks” populate both tours, and they typically don’t enjoy playing much defense. Instead, they rely on the one-two punch of their serve and forehand. The prototype for American success, players in this mold have done a lot of winning for the Stars and Stripes for the better part of three decades.

It was a banner day for two of these prototypical American women on Saturday as both Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys won their first career WTA titles. Vandeweghe, who qualified and upset Muguruza and Klara Koukalova en route to the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, defeated Chinese veteran Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-4. Half a continent away in Eastbourne, Madison Keys rolled through the field before outlasting Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the final of the Premier-level event in Eastbourne.

For most of her career, you could pencil Vandeweghe, the 2008 US Open girls’ singles champion, in for one or two flashy weeks a year.   But for Keys, it’s been a matter of when, not if.  She first jumped on the radar when she became the seventh-youngest player ever to win a WTA match (14 years, 48 days) at Ponte Vedra Beach in 2009. Before this week, Vandeweghe’s career-high ranking barely passed above No. 70, while Keys has been the youngest player inside the top 50 since the end of 2013. Two players, two very different expected career trajectories. What could they have in common?

You guessed it. Massive serves and forehands.

Vandeweghe served 81 aces in eight matches en route to the title, with 59 coming in the main draw. In the final, against a woman whose  pinpoint accuracy on returns has even given Serena Williams fits, Vandeweghe lost just one point behind her first serve in the match. For all of her strengths, Zheng’s not very tall, and Vandeweghe used her kick serve and topspin forehand to keep the 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist off balance for the duration.

For a player who won just four games against noted grass-court expert Sara Errani at Wimbledon just two years ago, Vandeweghe’s performance was even more impressive.

Keys, who can match Vandeweghe’s pace on serve and then some, also possesses lethal variety on both her first and second deliveries. She cracked a 131 MPH let. She thought she held a WTA top-five record for all but a moment, and might’ve been disappointed when her 126 MPH delivery was re-calibrated to a paltry 123 MPH. Her kick serve often bounced head-high.

She hit 60 winners in her championship defeat of one of the WTA’s premier defenders, and even now, her raw brand of attacking tennis is tailor-made for the grass. Able to scorch her forehand from anywhere on the court, it’s easy to marvel at Keys’ ability to create everything out of nothing on that side.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Keys’ run to the Eastbourne title was her ability to reign in her seemingly untamable power, something she’s struggled to do in many matches so far in her fledgling career. Her backhand, the weaker of her two sides, held up throughout the week. She’s joked about her allergy to coming to the net, but found herself there often in the championship match. The next logical progression for her game, she won 14 of 19 points in the forecourt against Kerber.

Keys and Vandeweghe now set their sights on the All-England Club, where both are unseeded. Keys will take on Monica Puig in the opening round, whom she’s 0-2 against, while Vandeweghe will take on Muguruza for the second time in two weeks. While it remains to be seen how the two will perform at Wimbledon, one thing remains certain. They know their strengths.

Whatever the result, their serves and forehands will be firing.

VIDEO: Alizé Cornet Protests *Correct* Call in Eastbourne

Well-known for her flair for the dramatic arts, Alizé Cornet let two match points slip against Angelique Kerber in a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(3) third round defeat in Eastbourne on Wednesday.  Long before she even got to that point, however, this happened.

A Premier-level event, Eastbourne is one of the biggest tournaments on the WTA Tour to not have Hakweye in use. Understanding this, Cornet took it upon herself to bemoan every call that didn’t go her way for the duration of the match.

The scene: After letting two break points slip at 3-3 in the third set, Cornet yanked a forehand clearly wide early in the rally.

She didn’t think so.

Chair umpire Fiona Edwards of Great Britain grew more exasperated with Cornet as the lengthy exchange went on, finally washing her hands of it all by saying, “It was the correct call. What can I do?” It’s unclear if Edwards was actually addressing Cornet, or the bemused crowd.

You do you, Alizé.

(Approximately) Half of WTA Tour Gets Stuck on British Highway, Lives to Tweet About It

You never quite know what’s going to happen on a road trip. Just ask Britney.

On the way to Eastbourne from Birmingham on Friday, a bunch of WTA players found themselves on the struggle bus. Literally.

Because this is 2014, they took pictures and tweeted about it.

From left to right: Hao-Ching Chan, Lauren Davis, Madison Keys, Christina McHale, Gabriela Dabrowski, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (plus a baby), Olga Savchuk, Lucie Safarova, Vesna Dolonc, Oksana Kalashnikova, Tamira Paszek, Alison Riske, Varvara Lepchenko and Yung-Jan Chan.

Saturday was a mixed for the weary travelers competing in the qualifying draw as McHale and Paszek both picked up wins, while Dolonc and Lucic-Baroni (l. by retirement) bowed out.

2014 French Open - Day Six

Overruling Sexism: Is It Unstated in Tennis Officiating?

While sexism in tennis is an oft-debated topic, so rarely does the conversation delve into its role in the sport’s officiating. Great Britain’s Georgina Clark became the first woman to chair a Wimbledon women’s final just 30 years ago, but the number of female umpires at the highest level still pales in comparison to their male counterparts. Currently, the number of active men who hold a gold badge, the highest certification an official can hold in tennis, outnumber their female counterparts by a nearly 3:1 margin.

Alison Hughes (née Lang) of Great Britain has chaired 14 Grand Slam singles finals in her career. The recently-retired Lynn Welch worked a total of 15 Grand Slam finals in hers. Neither woman, possibly the two most decorated female officials of the past decade, has a men’s singles final on their resume. In fact, only one woman in tennis history has done so – Frenchwoman Sandra de Jenken chaired the men’s singles final at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2007. Since then, Eva Asderaki chaired back-to-back men’s doubles finals at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012 and became the first woman to chair a men’s final of any kind at the All-England Club. No other woman since de Jenken has been tasked with a singles final.

These issues are not exclusive to tennis, as women have struggled to break into the officiating ranks in all of the major American sports for decades. Since the inaugural National Football League (NFL) season in 1920, there has never been a permanent female official. Shannon Eastin was hired as a temporary non-union official during the controversial 2012 NFL referee lockout. In 1972, Bernice Gera sued to become the first female umpire in Major League Baseball (MLB). Pam Postema umpired a MLB spring training game in 1988, but no woman has ever featured on the diamond in a true MLB game. Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner were trailblazers in the National Basketball Association (NBA), as the two became the first female officials hired by the league in 1997. Kantner left the league in 2002, but Palmer became first woman to officiate an NBA playoff game on April 25, 2006 and worked as a referee in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.

Those select few and female umpires in tennis differ in their numbers…but it sends a strong message when you can still only count the latter on two hands. While no woman since de Jenken has chaired a men’s singles final, women do often chair men’s matches on both the ATP Tour and in Grand Slams. The reaction to their presence has been mixed. When Marija Cicak spoke with The Changeover’s Ana Mitric at the Citi Open last year, she said that she’s “personally…never felt discriminated against in any case.” At the 2008 US Open, David Ferrer told Kerrilyn Cramer  that “girls can’t do anything.” At the Monte Carlo Masters in 2011, Ernests Gulbis had a heated exchange with Mariana Alves over a double-bounce call, in which he asked if they could go out together afterwards. When Asderaki penalized Rafael Nadal with two time violations in his Australian Open match against Kei Nishikori earlier this year, Toni Nadal commented prior to the final that “they had a problem with a girl” and hoped that the umpire for the final would be “a bit better prepared.”

At Roland Garros on Friday, a female chair umpire found herself amidst controversy in a third round match between Daniela Hantuchova and Angelique Kerber. With Kerber leading 7-5, 3-1 and Hantuchova serving, the German hit a return that was called out on the baseline. Hantuchova returned the ball in play, and began walking towards her chair; chair umpire Louise Engzell came down to inspect the mark, and correctly overruled the ball as good. However, instead of ordering a replay, she instead incorrectly awarded the point to Kerber. Hantuchova, incensed, began to argue and call the supervisor to court. As the ruling was a matter of fact, not a matter of tennis law, the supervisor was forced to stick with Engzell’s decision.

A fixture in the chair, Engzell has had her share of dubious moments in recent memory; in the grand scheme of things, however, those moments have made up a small percentage of the matches in her career. Contracted by the ITF, she’s a regular at Grand Slams and in Fed and Davis Cup, while only working the occasional WTA event. As a result, the times she’s come under fire have all been on the biggest stages, perhaps none bigger than the 2011 Roland Garros final featuring Li Na and Francesca Schiavone.

Hantuchova went on to hold serve, but the entire exchange in itself proved inconsequential as Kerber still managed to win the match, 7-5, 6-3. By no means is this an attempt to defend, or explain away, the poor call Engzell made. The point should’ve been replayed without question; for whatever reason, she missed the fact that Hantuchova returned the overruled ball back into play. However, the personal vitriol Engzell received as a result of it is certainly misplaced.

A cursory Twitter and forum search of her name in the hours and days that followed Friday’s controversy  revealed not only customary phrases like “incompetence” and “unacceptable,” but also a whole host of derogatory names for women. Multiple comments also suggested that she should “go back to raising her child,” in reference to the maternity leave she took from the tour in 2013.

Despite the firestorm, tournament officials put her back in the chair early Saturday for the men’s third round match between Donald Young and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. What began as a fairly straightforward affair turned into a five-set struggle, and late in the fifth, Engzell came down from her chair to check a close call. She hesitated for a moment in finding the mark, and immediately, her competence again was called into question by many of the same voices.

She found the right mark, and got the call right.

On Monday, she was in the chair again for the fourth round match between Kiki Bertens and Andrea Petkovic on Court Philippe Chatrier. With the controversy of Friday having somewhat died down, chatter started again about her qualifications when the official tournament website made note of the fact that she recently married tournament referee Remy Azemar, calling it “anecdote-tastic.”

Late in the third set, at a critical juncture no less, Engzell overruled a linesman on the far sideline on a Bertens winner, despite Petkovic’s insistence to the contrary. Engzell was right. In the next Bertens service game, Petkovic questioned a serve from the Dutchwoman that was called an ace; Engzell insisted that it was well inside the line, and denied Petkovic’s request to look at the mark. She was right again.

Was it redemption? Probably not. But, was Engzell’s personal life responsible for her excellent officiating performance on Monday? Certainly not. Does it then become “anecdotal” because she’s a woman? Take it another way: Would any of us had known if Mohamed El Jennati, the Moroccan umpire at the center of a similar controversy and social media firestorm earlier this year at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, was married to a female USTA referee? Would it have been deemed of consequence if he was?

Most would say that de Jenken broke the glass ceiling for women in tennis officiating nearly a decade ago. The harsh truth is, she barely cracked it.

ALLEZing: Alizé Cornet, Caroline Garcia Win Things

Wherever Alizé Cornet goes, drama is sure to follow. After a storied junior career, she burst onto the WTA Tour as a teenager in 2008. She arrived with a bang both with her racket, qualifying and making the finals of the Tier I event in Rome, and in the press room. In a “Getting to Know You” interview at Roland Garros shortly after, Cornet provided this gem. 

Least favourite opponent?

Anna Chakvetadze, without a doubt. She put me down before our semi-final in Rome. She said that I was a good junior even though I was No. 30 in the world at the time. I was furious. And she doesn’t even say hello. She’s not a nice person.

(The interview has since been taken down. The world weeps.)

A year later, Cornet was one match, or more accurately, one point, from the top-10. Leading 5-2 in the final set against eventual finalist Dinara Safina at the Australian Open, the Frenchwoman failed to convert on two match points, including one on which her shot landed just centimeters wide of the sideline. 

From there, Cornet faded…and faded quickly. She ended 2009 ranked No. 50 in the world, slipped to No. 78 at the end of 2010, and ended 2011 at the wrong end of the top 100 at No. 89. She returned to the winner’s circle in Bad Gastein in 2012, in addition to finishing runner-up in Strasbourg. She took Victoria Azarenka to three sets twice at Grand Slams, and she finished the year at her highest ranking since 2008.

To start 2014, Cornet has been winning. A lot. She reached the semifinals at the Paris Indoors, stunned Serena Williams en route to a runner-up finish in Dubai and reached the second week at Indian Wells.

TL;DR: We’ve been getting plenty of reactions like this.

Last week in Katowice, Cornet’s flair for the dramatics appeared once again. After easing past Vesna Dolonc in the opening round, Cornet recorded three-set wins against Kristina Kucova, Klara Koukalova and Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the final. Undeterred by dropping a bagel set to both Koukalova and Radwanska, Cornet faced off against first-time WTA finalist Camila Giorgi in the last round. Giorgi, to her credit, had been making waves of her own on the other side of the draw.

Cornet led 5-3 in the second set before dropping four straight games as the oft-erratic Giorgi found her mark. Cornet bounced back by taking a 3-0 lead in the decider but then had another mini-slump as Giorgi won five of the next six games to take a 5-4 lead. Giorgi had a match point in the next game, but missed a backhand return long and Cornet held for 5-5. She would win the next two games to take the title, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5, in three hours and 11 minutes.

#aliz3 improved her record in three set matches to 11-2 on the year.

While her countrywoman thrives on the dramatics, Caroline Garcia is just the opposite. Despite possessing a big serve and potent groundstrokes, Garcia is decidedly “un-French” when it comes to expressiveness, histrionics or flashiness. What has plagued the younger Frenchwoman, like so many of her countrymen before her, has been mental fragility.

Up until now, Garcia’s one notable result to date came in the form of a match she lost.

You all know the story. A 17-year-old Garcia had Maria Sharapova on the ropes in the second round of Roland Garros in 2011, building a 6-3, 4-1 lead versus the eventual semifinalist.

Andy Murray sent the tweet heard ’round the world…

….and Garcia lost 11 straight games to lose the match.

Garcia stagnated in the three years since, proving yet again that tennis is more mental than physical. She languished around the lower end of the top 100, lost countless matches from winning positions, most notably failing to convert on match points in two matches against Jelena Jankovic in Kuala Lumpur (6-7(6), 6-4, 6-7(2)) in 2012 and in Charleston (7-5, 6-7(10), 3-6) in 2013. In Acapulco earlier this season, she won back-to-back main draw matches at a WTA event for the first time in her career en route to a semifinal showing. She reached the third round in Miami and gave a struggling Serena Williams all she could handle before again coming up just short, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6.

While Cornet was putting on a show in Katowice, Garcia quietly took advantage of a wide-open draw in Bogota that was made easier when Sloane Stephens lost in the opening road to hometown favorite Mariana Duque-Marino. Nothing is straight-forward with Garcia, but her big serve and groundstrokes were nearly untouchable for the week in Bogota’s high altitude. She dropped just one set en route to her first WTA final to Montenegrin Danka Kovinic, before getting a shot at defending champion Jankovic in the final. Garcia exercised her personal demons against the Serb, calmly serving out the match and the title, 6-3, 6-4.

Cornet and Garcia will lead France’s Fed Cup team against a Williams-less United States on the road this weekend. Contrast, man. Contrast.

Things That Happened Since Vera Zvonareva Last Played a Singles Match

Courtesy of a singles main draw  wildcard, and a wide-open doubles field, Vera Zvonareva has returned to us this week in Shenzhen. The former World No. 2 hadn’t played a competitive tennis match since a 61 60 loss to Serena Williams in the third round of the London Olympic Games on August 1, 2012.

Her true return to competition came on Sunday, as she and Olga Govortsova lost in the first round in the doubles event to Johanna Konta and Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, 61 26 10-8.

Her last singles match, however, was exactly 518 days ago.

Here is an [abridged] list of things that have happened since Vera Zvonareva last played a singles match.

  • Barack Obama was elected to a second term as President of the United States (Nov. 6, 2012)
  • The third official NHL lockout started (Sept. 15, 2012) and ended. (Jan. 6, 2013)
  • Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in the history of forever to resign (announced: Feb. 11, 2013 & took effect: Feb. 28, 2013) and Pope Francis was elected. (March 13, 2013)
  • THE CRONUT WAS INVENTED. Chef Dominique Ansel for Dominique Ansel Bakery copyrighted the name in May 2013.
  • St. James’ Palace announced that the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant (Dec. 3, 2012), mass world hysteria ensued, and Prince George of Cambridge was born. (July 22, 2013)
  • 30 Rock ended after seven seasons (January 31, 2013), COPS got cancelled by Fox after 25 years but moved to cable (May 2013), and people freaked out when Dexter (Sept. 22, 2013) and Breaking Bad (Sept. 29, 2013) ended simultaneously.
  • Andy Murray won Wimbledon, becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years. In case you forgot. (July 7, 2013)
  • “What Does the Fox Say?” was uploaded to YouTube (Sept. 3, 2013) and went viral.
  • The U.S. government entered the third longest shutdown in its history after Congress failed to agree on legislation for the fiscal year 2014, (Oct. 1st-16th, 2013)
  • Family Guy killed off family pet and beloved character Brian Griffin (Nov. 24, 2013)….and brought him back two episodes later. (Dec. 15, 2013)

Zvonareva used a protected ranking to enter the event, and will also be using her SR for the Australian Open. A favorite target of the tennis gods, the unranked Russian might’ve expected some compassion from her overlords after an injury-riddled 18 months.

Instead, she got this.

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 10.12.33 PM

No word on how Zvonareva reacted to her draw, but sources say it was something like this.

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/vera-zvonareva-of-russia-reacts-to-a-call-against-victoria-news-photo/111338978

Zvonareva and Li will take the court in Shenzhen later today not before 1 p.m. local time.