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Sunday, April 7, 2024

Wk.14- Total Eclipse of Danielle

While the earth has the impending solar eclipse, at the moment, the WTA has Danielle Collins.

(Maybe she'll even distract everyone from Saudi Arabia.)


S: Danielle Collins/USA def. Dasha Kasatkina/RUS 6-2/6-1
D: Ashlyn Krueger/Sloane Stephens (USA/USA) def. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok (UKR/UKR) 1-6/6-3 [10-7]
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (WTA 250/Red Clay Outdoor)
S: Camila Osorio/COL def. Marie Bouzkova/CZE 6-3/7-6(5)
D: Cristina Bucsa/Kamilla Rakhimova (ESP/RUS) def. Anna Bondar/Irina Khromacheva (HUN/RUS) 7-6(5)/3-6 [10-8]
LA BISBAL d'EMPORDA, SPAIN (WTA 125 Event/Red Clay Outdoor)
S: Maria Carle/ARG def. Rebeka Masarova/ESP 3-6/6-1/6-2
D: Miriam Kolodziejova/Anna Siskova (CZE/CZE) w/o Timea Babos/Dalma Galfi (HUN/HUN)


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Danielle Collins/USA
...of course, Collins should know that now she's just going to get the "Are you sure?" question a *whole lot* more often (even Sloane Stephens promised to press the issue on Sunday). Not that she cares.

Just when you thought that Collins couldn't top her title run in Miami in her farewell WTA season, well, she goes to Charleston and wins there, too. Her Miami/Charleston combo (aka "The Danielle Double") is rare (it's been done just three times... of course, there are some "yeah but" details in the mix, see below), but so is winning hard and clay court tour-level titles in consecutive weeks. It's just the fifth time *that* has happened this century (not counting her own "almost" feat in 2021, when only the Olympics -- which she didn't play, unlike what may be the case *this* year -- prevented it), the last time being in 2013.

This week's run from Collins saw her lose just one set -- to defending champ Ons Jabeur, meaning she's now won 26 of her last 27 -- while extending her career-best winning streak to 13 matches. After opening with a victory over Paula Badosa, Collins collected two wins on Thursday alone over former Charleston champs (Jabeur and Stephens), then knocked off Elise Mertens and Maria Sakkari (her third Top 10 win in this streak) to reach her fifth career WTA final. Dasha Kasatkina, who had to battle in almost every match while Collins was cruising, notched just three games in a 6-2/6-1 match, and might have been fortunate to even get that many.

Having in January announced her upcoming retirement at the conclusion of her '24 season after making her way through a career which has seen her reach a slam final *and* deal with both rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis diagnoses, Collins is now 26-7 on the year and is back in the Top 20 at #15. She was ranked #71 in early February.

Also, not that Collins is in need of another entry in her career bio after the past few weeks, it's worth noting that her fourth WTA win ties her with Lisa Raymond for the most tour singles titles won by a former NCAA women's singles champion. Raymond (ex-Univ. of Florida) has held that record since 2003, eleven years before Collins won her first of two NCAA crowns while playing at Virginia.


RISERS: Camila Osorio/COL and Dasha Kasatkina/RUS don't need to wear ruby red slippers to say, "There's no place like home." Just ask Osorio.

Three years ago, the former U.S. Open girls' champ (2019) reached and won her maiden tour final in her home event in Bogota, Colombia. After failing to pick up title #2 in two other WTA finals since, the 22-year old returned -- following a '22 Bogota SF and missing the event in '23 with injury -- to claim her second tournament crown on familiar ground.

After wins over teenagers Marina Stakusic and Anca Todoni, Osorio took out two-time defending champ Tatjana Maria in the QF and Sara Errani in the semis. In her fourth tour final, she defeated Marie Bouzkova in straights, avoiding a 3rd set after failing to serve out the match at 6-5 in the 2nd but winning on her second MP in the tie-breaker.

Osorio will jump 22 spots in the rankings on Monday, coming in at #63.

Kasatkina doesn't have any hardware to show for it, but she's having a pretty good season. With her final in Charleston, her first since winning her maiden tour title their in 2017, only Elena Rybakina has played for more titles than the Hordette in '24. Her win over #5 Jessie Pegula in the semis (via a 3rd set TB after having rallied to win the 1st set from 4-2 back, and trailing the deciding TB by 3-1) is her 22nd career Top 10 win (15 of those vs. Top 5 foes).

It was long week for Kasatkina, as before her three-setter vs. Pegula she'd had to go the distance vs. Ashlyn Krueger and Jaqueline Cristian, as well. Only Anhelina Kalinina went down in straights. Such work hours did her no favors in the final vs. Danielle Collins, as she was only able to get three games. But with Collins' current form, Kasatakina at 100% likely wouldn't have gotten too many more.

The Russian is putting herself in good ranking position heading into the heart of the season, stationed at #11 and with a great chance to climb back into the Top 10 (or better) this spring or summer with only one SF+ result to defend from '23 (Eastbourne RU) until the fall Asian swing (though she does have Round of 16 defenses at RG and the U.S. Open).

Kasatkina's one problem at the moment is that she needs to *win* a few (one?) of these finals. Since she claimed two crowns in '22, she's now lost five straight finals since the start of '23.

SURPRISES: Jaqueline Cristian/ROU and Maria Lourdes Carle/ARG
...Cristian. In the tennis news. And it's not at the Transylvania Open.

In Charleston, the Romanian had one of the best weeks of her career just weeks after installing Javier Marti as her new coach. Her QF run included wins over three Bannerettes, Sachia Vickery and (in two of her biggest wins ever) a pair of Top 20 foes in Madison Keys and Emma Navarro (in her home event). She fell in three sets to Dasha Kasatkina, but the run set up a non-Romanian island for her '24 season.

Coming into Charleston, Cristian's year had seen her start 0-3 and go 6-10 (even w/ a 3-1 stretch en route to the Cluj SF) over the first three months.

This week also gave us an answer to "the question of the cape." Cristian told Tennis Channel that she doesn't have it anymore (or at least doesn't carry it around), and decided to stop wearing it in Transylvania when the schedule moved the event from close to Halloween (it was a vibe) to early in the year.

Meanwhile, in La Bisbal d'Empordà (ESP), Argentina's Carle continued her under-the-radar climb up the rankings, grabbing her biggest title and rising to yet another career high.

24-year old Carle ended the official WTA season at #153 (in November) in 2023, briefly dropping outside the Top 170 before a late year playing stint pushed her to a career high #122 before the flip of the calendar to '24. In the year's closing weeks, she reached a 125 final (a career first) and semifinal. Carle came into the Week 14 WTA 125 event having recently cracked the Top 100, and this season had already won a $75K title, reached a 125 SF and played in QF at $100K and $75K tournaments. She also qualified in Miami to make her 1000 MD debut.

This week she ran off wins over Sara Bejlek, Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, Oksana Selekmeteva and Dalma Galfi to reach the final, where she outlasted Spain's Rebeka Masarova to win 3-6/6-1/6-2. The win improves the Argentine's record in pro singles finals to 14-3 (1-1 125, 13-2 in ITF).

Now 19-6 on the season, Carle will rise to #84. She's the South American #4 behind Haddad Maria, Osorio and Podoroska.


...twelve of Errani's nineteen career WTA singles finals have come in clay events, but she'd never reached the title match in Bogota. The Italian didn't this time around, either, but her SF run was her first in a tour event in almost seven years (Tianjin '17).

The 36-year old posted wins over Yulia Starodubtseva and Sara Sorribes Tormo (naturally, in 3 hours) to reach the QF, her second this year. A three-set win over Irina Maria Bara ended Errani's seven-match QF losing streak, but she dropped a 7-6/6-4 decision to Camila Osorio one victory short of a shot at the title.

Errani's last singles final (and title run) at tour-level was in Dubai in 2016.

She'll still climb 16 spots in the rankings, not quite returning to the Top 100 (#101).

...Romanian tennis could use a young player to watch. Aside from #217-ranked Todoni, 19, the other eleven Romanians ranked in the Top 325 heading into Week 14 averaged 29.6 years of age (w/ 6 being 31+), and that's not counting 32-year old Simona Halep. The youngest Top 325 ranked countrywomen other than Todoni are Jaqueline Cristian and Miriam Bulgharu, both 25. A full "tennis generation" of early twentysomethings are entirely absent from the mix.

In Bogota, Todoni made it through qualifying, her first earned tour-level MD appearance after making her WTA debut earlier this year as a WC in Cluj-Napoca. She recorded her first win with a 1st Round victory over Lucrezia Stefanini before losing a close 7-6/6-4 match in the 2nd Round vs. home favorite (and former/eventual champ) Camila Osorio.

Todoni will make her Top 200 debut on Monday.

The next youngest Romanian in the rankings is 18-year old Maria Sara Popa in the #430 range. Ilinca Amariel, 21, is around #330.

FOOTNOTE: Is Todoni the first "Anca" of note in tennis since Anca Barna (who retired 19 years ago)? I think so.
DOWN: Ons Jabeur/TUN and Ana Bogdan/ROU
...the success of Jabeur's 2024 season (and any she plays after this year) really comes down to whether or not she completes her slam quest. But if the lead-up means anything when it comes to that goal, things aren't looking good.

The Tunisian, as always, played at something less than 100% through the first part of the season. But it's now time for the spring clay season, so things are starting to "get serious." The good news: in her last two losses, to Elina Avanesyan in Miami and Danielle Collins this week in Charleston, Jabeur managed to get through a pair of three-setters. None of her first six matches of the year, the majority of which she also lost, lasted that long.

The bad news: Jabeur is 2-6 on the season, with five straight losses and six in her last seven matches. A year ago, she *won* the Charleston title, collecting more than twice as many wins on the week than she has through the first thirteen weeks of '24.

Now in the "Sakkari role," Jabeur will continue to hold onto her Top 10 ranking, clinging to the bottom of the list at #9 with some big points set to come off in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Bogdan experienced one of the best moments of her career this season when the Romanian reached the Cluj-Napoca final on home soil. Thing is, she's gone 2-7 outside of that event in '24 and hasn't won a match since Cluj. Bogdan dropped her fourth straight match in Charleston, losing a 5-3 3rd set lead and failing to serve out a win vs. Elisabetta Cocciaretto despite getting as close as 5-4, 30/15.

Clay has traditionally been Bogdan's best surface, though. She's gone 37-15 the last two years on the surface, so she'll likely work it out soon.

Until then...

ITF PLAYERS: Jana Fett/CRO and Raluca Serban/CYP
...don't look away, because here comes Fett. Hey, where's Caro?

The 27-year old Croat won the Split, Croatia $75K challenger this week, dominating Turkey's Ipek Oz in a 6-0/6-4 final to match her previous biggest career crown from a tournament back in 2015. She lost just one set in five matches on the week, delivering a trio of bagels and only losing as many as four games twice in her ten sets won.

Fett ended '23 in good form, reaching a $60K final (her biggest at the time since '15) and then another in a WTA 125 event (the biggest so far) to close out her season. 12-6 on the year, and 19-8 going back to last season, Fett will return to the Top 150 on Monday.

In Florianopolis (BRA), Romanian-born Cypriot Serban picked up her 14th and biggest challenger crown (and first since October '22) with a 7-5/6-2 win in the $75K final over Pastry Séléna Janicijevic, dropping the French woman to 10-3 in career finals.

Serban, 26, jumps nearly 40 spots in the rankings to around #180 and within sight of her career high of #152 (now less than 70 points away),
DOUBLES: Ashlyn Krueger/Sloane Stephens (USA/USA)'s not often that a 31-year old former slam singles champion gets to do something on tour that she's never done before, but that's just what Stephens did in Charleston in winning her maiden tour-level doubles crown. Actually, it's her first WD win as a pro, as she never won one on the ITF circuit despite winning three junior doubles slams (all w/ Timea Babos) back in 2010.

A wild card entrant with Krueger, 19, Stephens and the all-Bannerette duo won a pair of MTB en route to the final, then defeated Lyudmyla & Nadiia Kichenok in a another MTB (10-7) in the final. It's also Krueger's first WTA doubles title (in her first final), after winning her maiden singles crown last fall in Osaka.

Stephens, who won the Charleston singles title in 2016, had reached just one tour doubles final before this week, with the pickleballer herself -- Genie Bouchard -- in Washington in 2017.

...the veteran Dutch roller has had a good few weeks. After reaching a singles final a week ago (a loss to Yui Kamiji), Van Koot reached another in the Seoul Korean Open and this time walked away with a Series 1 title, just her second singles win over the past two seasons.

Van Koot, 33, lost no sets and finished off Wang Xiying by a 7-6/6-2 score in the final.

Wang is a new name in these sort of finals, and her biggest career win is a Series 2 crown in 2016. Wang is 25, ranked #15, and this week defeated #1 seed Zhu Zhenzhen and #3 Manami Tanaka en route to the final. She also won the doubles titles with Li Xiaohui (def. Shuker/Zhu).


1. Charleston QF - Jessie Pegula def. Victoria Azarenka
...6-4/3-6/7-6(7). For Vika, this one had to hurt.

Azarenka had managed to pull this match out of the fire, rallying from 6-4/3-1 back (w/ Pegula having 3 BP for 4-1), and then from love/40 down while serving to stay in the match in the 3rd set. She saved four BP in that game, holding for 5-5.

In the TB, Azarenka held three MP of her own, two on serve at 6-3. Pegula saved all three, then a fourth (again on Vika's serve). Pegula reached MP for a fifth time at 8-7, and Azarenka's long return forehand sealed the deal. As expected would happen (and should have... even if it'd been Rybakina on the losing end in this one), Vika slammed her racket into the clay as the ball sailed long.

Had Azarenka reached the SF it'd been her first on clay since 2013 in Rome. Since then, she's reached four other clay QF, three times in Rome (2015, '19 and '20) and once in Acapulco ('19).

2. Charleston 1st Rd. - Katie Volynets def. Arantxa Rus
...6-2/6-7(6)/7-6(6). In the longest match of the year so far (of course, we *are* just at the start of the clay season), Volynets both squanders a big lead *and* stages a miraculous comeback in the span of 3:43.

The Bannerette led 6-2/3-1, and served for the match at 5-4. Volynets led the 2nd set TB 5-4, only to see Rus claim it 8-6.

At 4-4 in the 3rd, Volynets held from love/40 down, but broke Rus as the Dutch vet served for the match at 6-5. In the TB, Rus again got close, taking a 5-2 lead and holding double MP at 6-4. Volynets swept the final four points to get the win.

Of course, as has been Volynets' pattern, she wasn't able to follow up the big win, and fell in the 2nd Round to Charleston native Emma Navarro (who then went out in the 3rd Round to Jaqueline Cristian).

3. Charleston SF - Dasha Kasatkina def. Jessie Pegula
...6-4/4-6/7-6(5). In a week full of three-setters for both, Kasatkina takes the victory over the #1 seed to reach her third '24 final (second only to Rybakina's four).

Pegula led 4-2 in the 1st, only to see Kasatkina win four straight games to take the match lead. Up 4-2 again in the 2nd, a set with six breaks of serve, Pegula ultimately needed 6 SP to knot the match.

In the 3rd set TB, Pegula once again took the lead, up 3-1. But the Russian rallied to lead 5-3, reached MP at 6-4 and put away her second MP to win 7-5.

Kasatkina also advanced past Pegula in another SF in '24, though it was a draw-only "meeting" in Adelaide, where the Hordette received a walkover into the final.


4. Charleston Final - Danielle Collins def. Dasha Kasatkina
...6-2/6-1. A Collins victory seem destined here after her continued roll into the final and Kasatkina's physical struggle to get through a series of long matches. Reality didn't change a thing.

Collins' Miami/Charleston season combo is the third in tour history. The others were in 2008 and '13 by, well, you can probably guess...

Although, using the phrase "back-to-back" makes this tweet a bit misleading.

If we're just going to forget that the (now) Charleston-hosted event was once played in Hilton Head, this is just the second time a woman has won in both cities in consecutive weeks (Collins and Serena's '13 win). Serena's 2008 combo came with the Amelia Island event sandwiched between the two on the schedule (though Williams didn't play A.I.).

Meanwhile, Martina Hingis won the pair in *consecutive* weeks in 1997 when Hilton Head played host to the tournament. In 1987, Steffi Graf won Miami/Hilton Head in non-consecutive weeks.

5. Bogota Final - Camila Osorio def. Marie Bouzkova
...6-3/7-6(5). Osorio picks up her second event title in her native Colombia (w/ Bogota '21), overcoming being broken while serving for the match at 6-5 in the 2nd. Up 5-4 with two serves coming in the TB, Osorio reached double MP at 6-4 but had to get the mini-break on MP #2 on the Czech's serve to win 7-5.

Bouzkova falls to 1-5 in tour singles final (she's reached one every season since 2020).

Osorio's win upholds the tradition of Colombian champions in Bogota, as she's the seventh local champ (thus COL puts some distance between itself and Spain, from which five winners have hailed). Osorio's two titles are half-way to record holder Fabiola Zuluaga's 20-year old mark of four.

Other multiple title winners hav been Paola Suarez (2), Lourdes Dominguez Lino (2) and Tatjana Maria (2, in 2022-23).
6. Charleston 1st Rd. - Elisabetta Cocciaretto def. Ana Bogdan
...2-6/6-1/7-6(6). Cocciaretto has dropped quite a few matches that were within her grasp in '24 (two in WTA MD matches in which she had MP, and another last week when she served for the match in a 125 SF). She almost did it here, too.

Bogdan led 5-3 in the 3rd, and the Romanian served at 5-4, 30/15. She couldn't put the match away, and soon was forced to save a Cocciaretto MP down 5-6. In the deciding breaker, the Italian led 3-0, but Bogdan took a 5-4 lead before Cocciaretto's final surge handed the Cluj finalist her fourth straight defeat.

7. Bogota 2nd Rd. - Irina Bara def. Laura Pigossi
...3-6/7-6(3)/6-4. Bara trailed 6-3/5-3, and saw a rain delay postpone Pigossi's opportunity to serve for the match a game prior to the Brazilian attempting to do so at 5-4. Pigossi held a MP, couldn't convert, and dropped serve. She broke back and got another chance at 6-5, but couldn't do it then, either.

The Romanian took things to a TB, which she won and then claimed the 3rd to oust the '22 Bogota finalist in 3:22.

8. Charleston 2nd Rd. - Jessie Pegula def. Amanda Anisimova
...3-6/6-4/7-6(3). After seeing things immediately run into a ditch (down 0-5 in the 1st), Pegula gradually righted the proverbial ship. She led Anisimova 4-2 in the 3rd, holding a MP at 5-4 on return, before being forced to win a TB to advance.

9. Charleston 2nd Rd. - Anhelina Kalinina def. Caroline Wozniacki
...6-2/6-3. A week after losing in three sets on hard court in Miami to Kalinina, the Dane goes far more quietly on green clay in Charleston.

10. Bogota 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Francesca Jones
...6-7(4)/6-4/6-2. Siegemund stages a comeback from 7-6/4-2 down, winning 10 of the last 12 games.

Though the 36-year old German lost in the next round to Marie Bouzkova, the QF was her best result on clay since 2022, and completes a nice 5-2 Miami/Bogota combo the last few weeks.

Siegemund has reached a pair of QF in '24 (w/ Adelaide), after last year playing in her first tour-level singles final (Warsaw) in six years and reaching a pair of late season QF in Chinese events.

11. Bogota Final - Cristina Bucsa/Kamilla Rakhimova def. Anna Bondar/Irina Khromacheva
...7-6(5)/3-6 [10-8]. The #4 seeds defeat two other Top 4 seeds to take the title, ousting #1 Bouzkova/Sorribes Tormo in the SF, then taking down #3 Bondar/Khromacheva in the final.

Rakhimova, who missed out on her maiden singles final with a SF loss, wins WTA title #3. It's #2 for Bucsa.

12. Charleston SF - Danielle Collins def. Maria Sakkari
...6-3/6-3. Collins reaches her second final, on a secord surface, in two weeks.

For Sakkari, who runs into another hard out in her recent string of otherwise good results (I.W. RU vs. Swiatek, Miami QF vs. Rybakina), drops to 10-24 in career SF, but can be heartened by her 11-4 mark since teaming up with coach David Witt (whose previous charge, Jessie Pegula, also fell in the Charleston semis).
13. Charleston 1st Rd. - Taylor Townsend def. Sofia Kenin
...6-3/6-3. While the Miami champion's doubles success is thriving, Kenin has now dropped eight straight in singles. She's 1-9 on the year, and has gone 2-13 since finally seemingly "returning to her prior level" by reaching the Guadalajara 1000 SF last September.
14. Bogota QF - Camila Osorio def. Tatjana Maria
...1-6/6-3/6-3. Osorio wins the battle of the last three Bogota champs (Osorio 2021, Maria 2022-23), as Osorio improves to 31-11 in career three-setters in WTA Q/MD play.

Check that... make that the last *four* Bogota champs now.
15. Bogota SF - Marie Bouzkova def. Kamilla Rakhimova
...6-4/7-6(2). Rakhimova reaches her third career tour-level SF, all in Bogota over the past three years. She's yet to reach her maiden tour final, though.
16. $35K Hammamet TUN Final - Sara Cakarevic def. Carson Branstine
...6-3/6-1. Branstine fails to sweep the titles in Hammamet (she won the WD), but reaches the singles final. The Canadian is 27-5 this season, and 38-6 since returning last October after hip surgery.
HM- $35K Jackson (MS) USA Final - Katrina Scott def. Jamie Loeb
...7-6(9)/7-6(6). Not *all* former NCAA singles champions took full advantage of title opportunities this weekend. While Collins was winning in Charleston, 2015 college champ Loeb was playing a few states to the west in Mississippi, and falling to 19-year old countrywoman Scott, who picked up career challenger win #3.


1. Charleston Final - Ashlyn Krueger/Sloane Stephens def. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok
...1-6/6-3 [10-7]. The Bannerettes both win maiden WTA WD crowns, while the Kichenok sisters -- who'd beaten top seeds Melichar-Martinez/Perez in a 13-11 MTB in the semis, one of what would be *four* MTB for the duo this week -- fall to 4-4 in WTA finals together.

2. Charleston 1st Rd. - Astra Sharma def. Arina Rodionova
...6-4/6-1. In an all-Aussie battle, lucky loser Sharma hands Rodionova her ninth loss in thirteen matches since becoming the oldest woman (34) to make her Top 100 singles debut back in February.

When Rodionova made history, she'd been coming off a QF run in Hua Hin, was 4-3 in 2024, and 29-10 going back to October.. Since then she's had four and three-match losing streaks and stands at just 8-12 on the season. She came into Charleston having dropped out of the Top 100 at #101, and will continue to head in the wrong direction in the next rankings release.
3. $35K Santa Margherita di Pula ITA SF - Diletta Cherubini def. Jessica Pieri 6-4/5-7/6-3
$35K Santa Margherita di Pula ITA SF - Anastasiya Soboleva def. Tatiana Pieri 6-3/5-7/6-2
...the Italian Pieri sisters nearly saw a huge upgrade when it comes to their professional meetings in singles, but it didn't ultimately happen.

The scorelines of their losses were remarkably similar.

Ths sisters (Jessica is 26, Tatiana 25) have never faced off in a pro singles final, and the most recent of their three solo meetings came last July. Tatiana won when Jessica retired after losing a love 1st set, moving to 2-1 in their head-in-head. Actually, *all three* of their meetings have ended via retirement, in 1st Round matches in 2019 and '22, and last year's Q1 match-up.

Would the retirement trend have continued with so much more on the line? Who knows. Maybe next time?

And there it is. It's not really a surprise, of course. Blood money -- whether it be from the Saudis or gambling -- seems to make the sports world so 'round these days, doesn't it?

As noted here earlier that it would be the case, this move officially ends (if it doesn't, the tour should just write "hypocrite" on its collective forehead with a black marker) the era of the WTA attempting to stand for anything other than attempting to be a money-making sports organization. We already know that it doesn't have any idea about how to market itself, anyway, so this shouldn't be too hard for anyone involved who has "WTA" in their job description.

It terms of remaining economically viable and getting to a desired place that might not be possible without such financial input, it's a legitimate business decision, one can suppose. But it's also one that *should* remove the WTA from *ever* making official or unofficial statements about any sort of discrimination, advocating for women's or gay rights, support of similar causes or anything of the sort (i.e. no plastering different colored flags on things, be it belonging to a country, cause or community, such as using rainbow themes during Pride Month). Those things won't likely stop, but they won't really *mean* anything. The support will be clearly hollow, blatantly unserious, and remarkably performative.

When it comes to the people who run the WTA, though, at this point do we *really* expect anything different?

One shouldn't really anticipate any (or much) pushback from the players, either. I'm sure they've been briefed, as we already saw a bit of the "talking points" being pulled out late last year on the subject of the possbility of the WTA and Saudi money linking up. Expect a lot of, "We're trying to foster change," "We're trying to inspire young women," and "You can't make a difference by staying out of the fray." You know, that sort of thing.

It'll mean nothing, of course.

Except for a handful of individuals, aside from the usual grandstanding and "outreach," it's become clear in recent years that most players don't *really* care about the plight of others as long as they get their share, anyway. They're not that different from the majority of walking humans on that front, but after the tour designed that beautiful little soapbox on which to pontificate while taking various public "stands" (Peng Shuai, celebrating the Original 9 and basking in what they stood for, supporting Ukraine, etc.) and choosing to wear a "We Have Principles" label like a virtual Hello-My-Name-Is tag on its chest in recent years it's amazing how quickly such things were tossed away once the immediate "look-at-me" time period of such issues passed.

The WTA has always liked to bathe itself in the proverbial glow of supporting various issues, and then often breaking its arm patting itself on the back for taking a stand against oppression without also having the will to see things through (take the Peng situation, which never *really* resolved itself before the tour returned to China despite strong statements from the tour that such a thing would be required).

It'll be interesting to see how it handles such things going forward. Actions (and money, we see) speak louder than platitudes, and the tour (and many of its players) long ago revealed itself/themselves to be a selective hypocrites (like most all of us, honestly) over the course of the last year or two, especially (ironically) during the 50th anniversary season of the tour's founding on the principles of equality and fairness.

Fact is, what the WTA "stood for" pretty much died a very public, lamentable death *during* that anniversary season in '23, from the top of the tour pyramid on down to the ground (i.e. player) level.

The latest WTAF announcement only serves as the official last rites. It was a good run. Pity it's over.







1987 Steffi Graf
1997 Martina Hingis
2008 Serena Williams
2013 Serena Williams
2024 Danielle Collins

2009 Venus Williams - Dubai/HC, Acapulco/RC (2 continents)
2010 Venus Williams - Dubai/HC, Acapulco/RC (2 continents)
2011 Victoria Azarenka - Miami/HC, Marbella/RC (2 continents)
2013 Serena Williams - Miami/HC, Charleston/GC
2024 Danielle Collins - Miami/HC, Charleston/GC
NOTE: 2021 - Collins won Palermo/RC + San Jose/HC (2 diff. continents), DNP Olympics between

4 - Elena Rybakina (2-2)
2 - Alona Ostapenko (2-0)
2 - Iga Swiatek (2-0)
2 - Aryna Sabalenka (1-1)

=[w/ NCAA title year]=
4 - DANIELLE COLLINS (2014,2016)
4 - Lisa Raymond (1992,1993)
3 - Patty Fendick (1986-87)
3 - Kathy Jordan (1979)
2 - Alycia Moulton (1982)
1 - Emma Navarro (2021)
1 - Jill Craybas (1996)
1 - Shaun Stafford (1988)
1 - Beth Herr (1983)
1 - Wendy White (1980)
1 - Stacy Margolin (1978)
1 - Barbara Hallquist (1976-77)
1 - Janice Metcalf (1972-73)

7 - Iga Swiatek (1/1/3/2/0)
2 - DANIELLE COLLINS (0/1/0/0/1)
2 - Simona Halep (2/0/0/-/0)
2 - Ons Jabeur (0/0/1/1/0)
2 - Barbora Krejcikova (0/2/0/0/0)
2 - Bernarda Pera (0/0/2/0/0)
2 - Tatjana Maria (0/0/1/1/0)
2 - CAMILA OSORIO (0/1/0/0/1)
2 - Aryna Sabalenka (0/1/0/1/0)
2 - Elina Svitolina (1/0/0/1/0)

49 - Venus Williams
7 - Coco Gauff
7 - Madison Keys
7 - Sloane Stephens
5 - Sofia Kenin
4 - Jessica Pegula

Hobart - Emma Navarro, USA (22/#31)
Hua Hin - Diana Shnaider, RUS (19/#108)
Austin - Yuan Yue, CHN (25/#68)
Austin - Olivia Gadecki, AUS (21)
Charleston - ASHLYN KRUEGER, USA (19)
Charleston - SLOANE STEPHENS, USA (31)
Australian Open - Hsieh Su-wei, TPE (38)

19 - Diana Shnaider, RUS (Hua Hin - W)
19 - Coco Gauff, USA (Auckland - W)
19 - Linda Noskova, CZE (Abu Dhabi - L)
19 - ASHLYN KRUEGER, USA (Charleston - W)

3 (2-1) = Bethanie Mattek-Sands
3 (1-2) = Nicole Melichar-Martinez
3 (1-2) = Ellen Perez







All for now.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

2024 1Q Backspin Awards

The 2024 women's tennis 1st Quarter is in the books. Who wore the best hats?


1. Diede de Groot, NED (WC) ...without a loss in singles or doubles in '24, de Groot won her 13th consecutive slam singles title and extended her overall winning streak to 142 matches (w/ 37 straight singles titles)
2. Hsieh/TPE & Mertens/BEL ...the winners of the doubles titles at the two biggest events on the 1Q schedule, the Australian Open and Indian Wells. Hsieh Su-wei also won the AO mixed crown.
3. Iga Swiatek, POL ...though her three 1Q losses recreated her '23 lack of success vs. big-hitting opponents, and her AO 3r exit was the earliest by a #1 seed in Melbourne since 1979, Swiatek still won a pair of 1000 titles (Doha/I.W.) and improved to 34-4 since last year's U.S. Open
4. Aryna Sabalenka, BLR ...Sabalenka opened the season at 11-1 with a final in Brisbane and successful defense of her Australian Open crown. Since then, she's gone 3-3 and ended the 1Q on a tragic note with the death of her former BF in Miami.
5. Elena Rybakina, KAZ ...has again lost time due to illness, missing I.W. and having occasional uncharacteristic bouts with UE. But even with a 2r AO exit via a 42-point MTB, Rybakina nonetheless starred by reaching a tour-best four finals (winning two, and reaching a second straight in Miami).
6. Alona Ostapenko, LAT ...Ostapenko burst out of the '24 gate with a 13-3 run (13-0 vs. everyone not named Vika), becoming the first player to claim two titles (Adelaide/Linz). Of course, still being Alona, she ended the 1Q with a 3-4 downturn.
7. Danielle Collins, USA her final season on tour, Collins looked good through January/February, then hit the gas pedal and crushed the field (winning 14 straight sets) en route to her biggest career title in Miami
8. Coco Gauff, USA ...Gauff defended her Auckland title and reached her second straight slam semifinal at the AO. She also played in her first I.W. semi.
9. Karolina Pliskova, CZE ...resurrected her tour standing with a banner February that saw her win nine straight matches (8 on 8 consecutive days), grabbing the Cluj crown and reaching the Doha SF before finally saying no mas and withdrawing with a sore back.
10. Zheng Qinwen, CHN ...In Melbourne, Zheng joined Li Na (on the 10th anniversary of her AO win) as just the second Chinese woman to play in a slam singles final *and* the first since Li to reach the Top 10. Her Dubai QF is so far her only other multi-win MD event in '24, though.
HM- Jasmine Paolini, ITA ...the Italian had the week of her career in Dubai, winning her first 1000 title and climbing into the Top 15. Then again, Paolini was 7-7 in her other seven events.

Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Victoria Azarenka/BLR, Katie Boulter/GBR, de Groot/Griffioen (NED/NED)(WC), Guo/Jiang (CHN/CHN), Hunter/Siniakova (AUS/CZE), Anna Kalinskaya/RUS, Yui Kamiji/JPN (WC), Kenin/Mattek-Sands (USA/USA), L.Kichenok/Ostapenko (UKR/LAT), Marta Kostyuk/UKR, Desirae Krawczyk/USA, Melichar-Martinez/Perez (USA/AUS), Emma Navarro/USA, Dayana Yastremska/UKR


#1 - THE SABALENKA SEQUEL Aryna Sabalenka claims a second straight Australian Open title, doing so without losing a set. Along with her 14-match winning streak in Melbourne, she's won 28 of 29 sets over two years.
#2 - DIEDE THE GREAT... THE STORY CONTINUES Diede de Groot wins the wheelchair singles and doubles at the Australian Open, her 14th career slam title sweep and her fourth in a row in Melbourne. The Dutch great has won 13 slam singles titles in a row (career crown #21 ties Esther Vergeer for the most in women's WC history), and 44 straight singles matches at that level.
#3 - DANIMAL DOMINATION Two months after announcing that 2024 would be her final season, Danielle Collins win her biggest career title at the Miami 1000 event in her native Florida. After dropping the opening set in the 1st Round, she won 14 straight sets, ending with a two-set win over Elena Rybakina in the final to become the tournament's lowest-ranked women's champ (#53).
#4 - UNDOING THE TOP BUTTON Elena Rybakina takes Brisbane without dropping a set, losing just 15 games through nine complete sets over the five-match run. She dominated a soon-to-be-crowned(again) AO champ Sabalenka 6-0/6-3 in the final.
#5 - INDOOR THUNDER Alona Ostapenko is the first to win *two* singles titles on tour in '24, taking Linz despite barely escaping Clara Tauson in her opening match (she saved 2 MP). Ostapenko lost just 13 games in the final three rounds, channeling her old 2017 RG self as she racked up 123 winners in all (85 alone in the last three contests that included no more than 15 games each).
#6 - 3-GA Iga Swiatek completes her third straight title run in Doha, becoming the first woman to lift the falcon trophy so many times. She didn't drop a set all week, ending her three-match losing streak vs. Elena Rybakina with a straight sets victory in the final.
#7 - TWO TICKETS TO TENNIS PARADISE Iga Swiatek wins her second title in Indian Wells in the last three years, dropping just 21 games en route (the lowest for a champion in the desert since 1999).
#8 - THE HARDEST WORKING WOMAN IN FEBRUARY Karolina Pliskova returns to the winner's circle for the first time since early 2020, taking the Cluj-Napoca crown and running off nine straight wins there and the following week in Doha (she w/d in the SF). The Czech's streak included eight wins in an eight-day stretch thanks to the usual -- even *more* so than usual -- brutal WTA tournament scheduling practices.
#9 - ONE SU-WEI IS NEVER ENOUGH At the Australian Open, Hsieh Su-wei sweeps the WD and MX titles, making them her third and fourth slam crowns won since her return last spring after sitting out the entire 2022 season. In March, Hsieh and Elise Mertens added the Indian Wells title to their win at the AO in January.
#10 - THE PAO-ER OF POSITIVE THINKING Jasmine Paolini claims her first WTA 1000 title in Dubai, cracking the Top 20 after rallying in a classic final vs. Anna Kalinskaya (down 6-4/3-1, then again 5-3 in the 3rd)
#11 - ANNA'S ASCENT Anna Kalinskaya reaches her maiden WTA singles final in the Dubai 1000, winning eight matches in nine days as she goes from qualifying to posting three Top 10 wins (def. Ostapenko, Gauff & Swiatak). She's the second qualifier to defeat two Top 3 players in an event over the last 40 years (w/ Mauresmo '98).
#12 - A QUEEN-IN-WAITING On the 10th anniversary of countrywoman Li Na's AO title run in 2014, Zheng Qinwen re-christens Melbourne by becoming the second Chinese woman to reach a slam singles final
#13 - CALIFORNIA KATIE'S DAYS IN THE SUN Katie Boulter, who'd never won multiple matches vs. Top 50 foes in an event in her career, reels off five straight over Top 40 opponents in San Diego to take her biggest (500) tour title. The Brit came into the week without multiple MD tour wins in an event since the U.S. Open.
#14 - UKRAINIAN DELIGHT DOWN UNDER Dayana Yastremska reaches her first slam singles semifinal at the Australian Open, becoming the fifth qualifier to do so in women's slam history
#15 - ANOTHER AFRICAN TRAILBLAZER Make room, Ons Jabeur, 20-year old Angella Okutoyi is the latest African breaker of barriers. Already with a handful of "First ever..." feats as a junior, the Kenyan took African Games Gold in singles (and doubles Silver), claiming the first tennis Gold for her nation in 46 years in the event. Her run was highlighted by a 4:27 win over defending champ Mayar Sherif in the semis, which was also Okutoyi's first career Top 100 victory.


*BEST TROPHY RE-DESIGN (Linz singles)*

The recent version of the Linz trophy was pretty bad...

So this was a welcome improvement...

Umm... hello, GERMAN OPEN. (Cough-cough, tapping foot.)

After last year's embarrassing trophy effort... surely *your* trophy change is coming next, right? Right?

Last year's, hmmm, "effort"...

Alona Ostapenko would surely take either. But this one made a better photo companion (whether or not mom was behind the camera)...

*LIGHTEST TROPHY (Hua Hin... especially considering how heavy it *looks*)*

Whilte the Linz singles trophy got a major (and much needed) upgrade this year, it's not the same for this event. But what the Hua Hin piece is missing in glitz it makes up for in character. But, really, as easily as Diana Shnaider lifts that big thing, I mean, it *has* to be made out of styrofoam, right?

*HEAVIEST TROPHY (Dubai... also, smallest champion to biggest trophy ratio)*

Meanwhile, Jasmine Paolini may have found a stoic doubles partner, if she so chooses.

*WORST TROPHY non-REDESIGN (Linz doubles, and singles runner-up)*

Alona had to close her eyes, or else burst out laughing.


And in 2024...



*2022 HEADLINE -- FINALLY! -- in 2024*


Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova earned the early season honor for the best pre-match moment of '24, as she sweetly didn't allow a young fan to be embarrassed in what could have been an awkward moment and simply went along with the Ask a Question/Get an Answer pact with an even better response than anyone could have anticipated.

And you would be...?






*ANNUAL TOUR ARTISTIC EMBARRASSMENT: Indian Wells champion mural reveal (aka "Who she?")*

Some have said that it more resembles Camila Osorio. Maybe, but I also see Danka Kovinic.

*FAVORITE OUTFIT (shockingly... Alona Ostapenko's pastel faux tuxedo look)*





Along with all her other heavy workload in February, Karolina Pliskova also had to teach how a sun-blocking umbrella needs to, ummm, actually be positioned to create shade from the sun.



1. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Anna Blinkova def. Elena Rybakina
...6-4/4-6/7-6(22-20). A 42-point tie-break? Lesia Tsurenko and Ana Bogdan weep, for there but for the grace of the Tennis Gods even they did not go.

But it looked good on Anna Blinkova, though.

The 25-year old Hordette has been positioned at the center of things before during a slam. Last year in Paris, she knocked off a #5-seeded Caroline Garcia in the 2nd Round. It took her 9 match points to do it. Then, a round later in a spirited contest with Elina Svitolina (who'd defeated her in straight sets in the Strasbourg final the prior week), she went three with the Ukrainian, forcing her to serve for the match twice, staving off a pair of MP (one on a 17-shot rally) before finally going out on a third.

So I guess it's just the Blinkova way.

What had been a good match, with Blinkova and #3-seeded Elena Rybakina exchanging 6-4 sets, turned epic in its third Act as Rybakina, who'd opened 2024 like a house afire in Brisbane, was stressed with trying to stay alive in the 2nd Round a year after reaching her maiden AO final. The Kazakh valiantly fought back as Blinkova twice served for the match in the 3rd, saving two MP in game #12 to send things to a deciding match tie-break.

Little did we know that what would commence would be a tie-break of historic proportions, lasting more than half an hour and with both players combining to save 13 MP, often with deliriously brilliant shotmaking and eye-popping defense. Rybakina was the first to find herself in a heap of trouble, only to hit her way out. Then Blinkova took a few turns of her own. Nothing was given, and everything earned.

Rybakina saved 7 MP in the TB alone (giving her 9 for the match), while Blinkova swatted away 6 MP chances on the other side of the net. The battle extended for 42 points, making it the longest women's tie-break in slam history. No matter how hard she tried, though, Rybakina couldn't make Blinkova go away. The Hordette -- whose name makes this way too easy, to the point of almost painful cliche -- would not blink (hey, you're obliged to say it *once*, right?). Finally, on MP #10, things went her way and Blinkova was on the right side of history in a 6-4/4-6/7-6(22-20) victory that sent her into her first AO 3rd Round, and third at the last four slams.

While it's sad to see Rybakina go, it was a welcome moment for Blinkova to finally receive the accolades she deserves this time, and not have to deal with various dirty backwash that have come with her other highlight moments from the past year.

When Blinkova, universally recognized as one of the nicest players on tour, made the Strasbourg final she wasn't even acknowledged by her opponent in the aftermath. When she upset Garcia at RG she had to contend with the bitter French fans as she tossed out one of their home favorites. A round later, when she lost to Svitolina again in a much tougher affair she had at least "earned" a nod and a modicum of consideration for a well-fought battle, but still had to deal with unwarrented boos and ill-informed accusations that she was somehow at fault.

This time, though, Blinkova got her just rewards. A big win vs. a major opponent on a big stage, and the adulation that should come with such perseverance and success.

Occasionally, the planets do align in this sport. And what reasonable person can't find solace and maybe even a touch of delight in that?


2. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Aryna Sabalenka def. Peyton Stearns
...6-7(2)/6-2/7-6(6). The world #2 prevails in one of best, most intense battles of the year so far, winning on MP #4 after having previously saved four.

Stearns took the 1st set in a TB, but it was the 3rd where this one lived its truth.

Sabalenka seemed to have missed a huge opportunity at 3-2, when she led 15/40 but saw the fiery Stearns get the hold, then even more miraculously hold again two games later with a series of remarkable winners that turned multiple Sabalenka-controlled rallies in her favor.

Stearns then quickly went up love/30 on Sabalenka in the next game. A Sabalenka DF handed Stearns a BP and she converted with a Sabalenka error. Serving for the match at 5-4, the former NCAA champ took a 40/love lead, but failed to put away four MP in the game as Sabalenka broke to get back on serve. Stearns again grabbed the lead at 15/40 in game 11, but a game Sabalenka didn't give up easily in a game in which she slid and nearly turned her ankle, and reached GP twice (on the first going big on both 1st and 2nd serves, but missing both) before Stearns broke on her fifth BP to lead 6-5. But again Stearns couldn't put the match away.

In the deciding TB, Sabalenka (now playing w/ a bloody knee wound) finally edged ahead with a crosscourt second serve return winner to lead 4-2. She went up 6-3, but Stearns again surged back, saving two MP on her own serve and another on Sabalenka's. Finally, on MP #4, Sabalenka put away the nearly three-hour thriller to get her first win since claiming her second AO crown.


3. Miami 2nd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka def. Peyton Stearns
...7-5/3-6/6-4. And with this, after her similar clash with Sabalenka in the desert two weeks earlier, Stearns completed a matching 2nd Round thriller vs. a Belarusian on *both* ends of the Sunshine swing. Just like the first time, though, she didn't come out on top.

It wasn't *quite* at the level of the Match of the Year Nominee in Indian Wells (though it was maybe one more late break from being just that), but it was surely dripping with familiar drama (as well as the odd sight of Vika's long-ago ex Redfoo in Stearns' players box).

As vs. Sabalenka, it all came to a head in the 3rd. Stearns led 2-0. Azarenka battled back to level the score, then built a love/40 lead on Stearns' serve in game 5. Stearns ultimately held three GP, but dropped serve on Azarenka's fourth BP. Holding a 4-2 edge, a commanding lead remained just out of reach of Vika, as she couldn't put away the game despite going up love/40. After the hold, Stearns broke Azarenka to knot the set at 4-4.

As Stearns tried to play through a shoulder injury (shaking it out between points, dealing with pain on her forehand swings and often grabbing her arm at the conclusion of a rally), she conducted a 7-deuce service game that highlighted her grit and determination. She staved off five BP and held a pair GP, but Azarenka finally got the break on her sixth BP (she had a low conversion rate with just 3-of-16 numbers in the 3rd, but it was enough to claw her way to the edge of victory).

Serving for the win at 5-4, Azarenka fell behind love/30, pushed back to reach MP, but then still had to knock off a Stearns BP before finally putting away MP #2 after the Bannerette fired a forehand long to end the two and three-quarter hour affair.

Even with all her fight quite apparent, Stearns fell to 1-7 in three-set matches on the year.
4. Dubai Final - Jasmine Paolini def. Anna Kalinskaya
...4-6/7-5/7-5. The second of Paolini's pair of bookend comebacks in her career week in the desert.

The Italian trailed 6-4/4-2, then reeled off the last ten games in the 1st Round vs. Beatriz Haddad Maia. In the final, Kalinskaya led 6-4/3-1 before losing her lead and then failing to serve out game 12 to force a TB.

In the 3rd, the Hordette led 5-3, and served for the title at 5-4. Again, Paolini battled back to take the lead and, again, Kalinskaya failed to serve out game 12 to force a TB.

She finally succumbed to the pressure in the final game, falling behind love/40 after a UE/DF combo, then UE-ing again on MP.

5. African Games SF - Angella Okutoyi/KEN def. Mayar Sherif/EGY
...5-7/7-5/7-6. Okutoyi's path to the Gold medal in Accra was paved by a miraculous 4:27 marathon victory over defending AG Gold medalist Mayar Sherif, which accounted for the 20-year old Kenyan's first career Top 100 win.


HM- Abu Dhabi SF - Dasha Kasatkina def. Beatriz Haddad Maia
...6-3/4-6/7-6(2). En route to her other '24 final in Adelaide, Kasatkina coasted to the final match on the back of consecutive walkovers in the QF/SF. She made up for it here, winning an exhausting three-hour battle with the Brazilian.

The match took so much out of both that the two combined to lose their next seven matches, and went a combined 5-11 the rest of the 1Q. Kasatkina lost her next three (3-5 the rest of the 1Q) and Haddad Maia her next four (2-6).



Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Alona Ostapenko 5-7/6-3/6-3
Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Caroline Wozniacki def. Donna Vekic 7-6(5)/6-3
...suddenly, it was 2018 again as Kerber, Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka were winning matches in a 1000 event, while Simona Halep was set to return less than two weeks later in Miami.

Kerber's comeback from 7-5/2-0 down vs. Ostapenko was just the third victory in her '24 return after becoming a mom, but it's also her first Top 10 victory since November 2021.

The win over Vekic was Wozniacki's third Top 50 win since her un-retirement last summer.

The last time both Kerber and Wozniacki were in the 3rd Round in Indian Wells was six years ago in 2018.

Wozniacki eventually defeated Kerber in the Round of 16 this time around, then lost to Iga Swiatek in the QF.


Miami 2nd Rd. - Aryna Sabalenka def. Paula Badosa
...6-4/6-3. A nice display of focus by Sabalenka in her first match since her former boyfriend's tragic death in Miami at the start of the week. The match had already been pushed back a day to Friday, then they had to wait out a long rain delay, as well, finally hitting the court about six hours later than what had been the scheduled start time.

Sabalenka now leads the head-to-head 3-2, with three straight wins the last three seasons.

1. Melbourne Wheelchair Open Final - Diede de Groot def. Yui Kamiji
...6-1/3-6/7-6(0). Occasionally, de Groot is a bit slow out of the box in January. Her last loss came then, in the 2021 Melbourne Open final vs. Kamiji. Last year, she dropped a set in the final of the same event against Kamiji before then going on to complete her second straight undefeated season. In the final of this year's version of the event, it happened again. But it was more than that.

Last year in the French Riviera Open, de Groot dropped the opening set against Kgothatso Montjane, then had to take a 7-5 2nd set TB before winning in three. Up till now, that had been the closest the Dutch #1 has come to losing in her three-year winning run. Until this match, that is.

Kamiji led de Groot 5-1 in the 3rd set, up a double-break. She twice served for the match. De Groot broke Kamiji's serve at love to pull within 5-2, but the Japanese world #2 held a MP at 5-3 (de Groot saved it with a clean forehand winner and got the hold). De Groot continued to surge, winning five straight games to lead 6-5, but was unable to serve out the win in game 12 after taking a 30/love lead.

With everything on the line, though, de Groot -- playing through an injury and a cold, it was later revealed -- dominated a 7-0 TB to win her 131st straight match, and 25th in a row over Kamiji, with a 6-1/3-6/7-6(0) victory.
2. Doha 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Anna Kalinskaya 2-6/7-6(3)/6-4
Doha 2nd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Anastasia Potapova 6-1/5-7/6-4
Doha 3rd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Linda Noskova 3-6/7-5/6-1
...Pliskova's wild-and-woolly week in the desert, which began less than 24 hours after picking up a title in Cluj, included three early escapes.

She trailed Kalinskaya 6-2, and love/40 on serve in the opening game of the 2nd. The Czech rallied to hold, saved 13/16 BP on the day and served up 19 aces.

Pliskova led Potapova 6-1/4-1, and had a GP for 5-1. She served for the match at 6-5. But then Potapova forced a 3rd set, where she led 4-2 and held 3 GP for a 5-2 edge. Pliskova swept the final four games.

Against countrywoman Noskova, Pliskova trailed 6-3/4-2 in her seventh match in seven days. Noskova served at 5-4, but again Pliskova swept the closing games and then ran away with the 3rd.

Doha QF - Karolina Pliskova def. Naomi Osaka
...7-6(6)/7-6(5). In her eighth match in eight days, Pliskova overcame an early break deficit in both the 1st and 2nd sets (2-0 in each) to get her second win over Osaka this season, and her ninth straight overall.

Doha SF - Iga Swiatek walkover Karolina Pliskova
...Pliskova finally calls "uncle!" to avoid playing for a *ninth* straight day, going out with a lower back injury (though it was probably a "take your pick" situation).

It's the second walkover she's handed Swiatek since losing that 6-0/6-0 final in Rome to the Pole back in 2021. Pliskova has yet to beat her in three actual matches, though she did force a 3rd set last year in Stuttgart (on indoor clay) and they played a 1st set TB set last summer in Montreal.
3. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Mirra Andreeva def. Diane Parry
...1-6/6-1/7-6(10-5). 16-year old Mirra Andreeva continued to show signs of being "Her," rallying from a 5-1 deficit in the 3rd set vs. Pastry Diane Parry, saving a MP at 5-2, in what turned out to be a furious comeback.

With the tide turning, Parry could sense that she was losing control of a match that she seemed to have in her back pocket. Still up 5-3, after dropping the opening point of game 9 she slammed and cracked her racket. Parry was soon broken and things were back on serve. Her first DF of the match put her down 15/40 two games later, and Andreeva's break gave the teenager a chance to serve for the match. She failed to do so, but won a 10-5 MTB to advance to her second slam Round of 16.

4. Linz 2nd Rd. - Alona Ostapenko def. Clara Tauson
...3-6/6-4/7-6(7). Just your typical Ostapenko match. She lost the 1st set. But won the 2nd. She trailed 4-1 and 5-3 in the 3rd. But turned the tide and won a deciding TB. Alona *did* save a MP this time around, though.

Come the weekend, she was lifting the glitzy new Linz championship trophy.

5. Dubai QF - Sorana Cirstea def. Marketa Vondrousova
...2-6/7-6(1)/6-2. Vondrousova led 6-2/5-1 here, and held 6 MP over a three-game stretch (3 on Cirstea's serve at 5-1, 1 at 5-2, then two more on Cirstea's serve at 5-3). The Czech served for the win three times, at 5-2, 5-4 and again at 6-5.

Cirstea reached her third 1000 SF (second in less than a year, w/ Miami '23).




$100K Irapuato MEX 1st Rd. - Marina Melnikova def. Anna Gabric 6-7(8)/7-6(5)/6-2
...6-3/6-2. Gabric led 7-6/5-0. She never had a MP, and didn't win.

1. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Linda Noskova def. Iga Swiatek
...3-6/6-3/6-4. See Linda. See Linda crush. See Iga go home early.

Coming into their AO match-up, 19-year old Czech Linda Noskova (world #50, and a former junior slam champ) had just four career slam MD wins, compared to an opponent in #1 Swiatek who had four slam *titles* under her belt. After losing her top ranking at the U.S. Open last year, the Pole had lost just once, going an impressive 19-1 while winning the WTA Finals and reclaiming her #1 ranking. She came into the day on an 18-match winning streak, the second-longest on tour this decade behind only her own 37-match run in 2022.

But since arriving in Melbourne off a 5-0 mark in the United Cup team event, Swiatek had been almost immediately been put against it. Sofia Kenin served for the opening set in the 1st Round before Swiatek won in straights, then Danielle Collins held a 4-1, two-break 3rd set lead in the 2nd Round before the Pole escaped with her AO life intact. Against Noskova, Iga stepped back into the fire.

Swiatek led 6-3/3-3, but the young Czech began to step things up in the 2nd set, grabbing it with a late break to force a 3rd against an increasingly perplexed world #1 whose response to a harder-hitting foe who had refused to genuflect and then didn't begin to sloppily give away her edge (ala Collins two days earlier) -- once again -- was to oddly try to outhit her opponent and attempt to be more aggressive without any real plan of action.

It was a non-plan that has rarely worked well for her in the past. And it didn't this time, either.

After exchanging breaks early in the final set, Noskova nosed ahead at 4-3 and didn't look back. Serving at 5-4, the teenager fell behind love/30 but hit her way to MP and then finished off Swiatek with a 3-6/6-3/6-4 win, a first career #1 victory that sent her to her maiden slam Round of 16.

The loss is only the second before the Round of 16 in a slam for Swiatek since the start of 2021, and her exit is the earliest for a #1 seed at the AO since 1979 when Virginia Ruzici fell in 1st Round, the only other such instance in the event in the Open era.

The consistency of #1 seeds in Melbourne is quite good compared to the other slams, as this is just the third time since the first seeded draw 100 years ago (in 1924) that the top woman lost so early in the tournament. In 1939, #1 Nancy Wynne lost in the 2nd Round (which *was* the Round of 16), but no other pre-Open era #1 lost before the QF. Besides Ruzici and Swiatek, only six other Open era #1's have lost before the QF (Iga was one of those, too, with a 4th Rd. loss last year).

Swiatek met Noskova twice more in the 1Q, winning love & 4 in Indian Wells, then escaping another close one in Miami in which she again was flabbergasted about what do do vs. Noskova's hard, flat shots but bailed herself out with a final flourish, winning the last five points to dig herself out of a love/40 hole when serving for the match in a 6-7(7)/6-4/6-4 victory.
2. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Clara Burel def. Jessie Pegula
...6-4/6-2. The Pastry, a girls' finalist in Melbourne in 2018, notches her first career Top 10 victory after having previously been 0-4.

Soon after, Pegula parted ways with coach David Witt.

3. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Maria Timofeeva def. Caroline Wozniacki
...1-6/6-4/6-1. A season ago, Timofeeva won her maiden WTA title as a LL in her tour-level MD debut. In Melbourne, the qualifier knocked off former AO champ Wozniacki and ultimately reached the Round of 16 in her slam debut.

HM- Mumbai 125 1st Rd. - Sahaja Yamalapalli def. Kayla Day 6-4/1-6/6-4
Mumbai 125 1st Rd. - Shrivalli Rashmikaa Bhamidipaty def. Nao Hibino 2-6/6-1/7-6(5)
...good morning, Mumbai.

Mumbai's 125 event began with big upsets by Indian wild card Yamalapalli (#336 over #1-seeded Day) and qualifier Bhamidipaty (#520 over #2 seed Hibino).

Mumbai 125 2nd Rd. - Polina Kudermetova def. Sahaja Yamalapalli 1-6/6-3/7-5
Mumbai 125 2nd Rd. - Alina Korneeva def. Shrivalli Rashmikaa Bhamidipaty 5-7/6-4/6-4
...the two didn't just go away quietly in their follow-up matches, either. Both pushed their Russian opponents to tight 3rd sets before finally going out.

Another Indian WC, Rutuja Bhosale, also posted a 1st Round win. She pushed #8 Katie Volynets to three sets in the 2nd Round after dropping a 10-8 1st set TB.



All for now.