Monthly Archives: December 2012

Melbourne interest to give chasing pack Brisbane chance

Petra Kvitova at BrisbanePhoto: tripletrouble

Petra Kvitova at Brisbane
Photo: tripletrouble

The Brisbane International marks the start of WTA season when it gets underway on 30 December. Many of the world’s top-ranked players are already down to compete in the tournament that acts as the ultimate precursor to the Australian Open, yet one major competitor may not be fit to contribute.

Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and home favourite Sam Stosur will all compete in Brisbane, but one woman the fans will be desperate to see take part is Serena Williams, who recently revealed she’s had surgery to her big toes over the past week.

Williams has pulled out of an exhibition event in Thailand on 29 December and will instead rest her feet before the big clash Down Under. She expects to be “fit and ready” for the event and we all hope she will make the $1,000,000 tournament.

With Williams potentially not fully fit for Brisbane there is a real opportunity for her rivals to claim an early lead in the race for 2013 ranking points. World number one Azarenka will defend her Australian Open title in January and must be hoping for a good result in Brisbane to kick-start her campaign.

Sharapova, meanwhile, could do with an early win. She’s made the quarter-finals or better in each tournament since Wimbledon yet wasn’t able to secure a tour title in the second half of the 2012 season before the winter break last month. Yet we all know of Sharapova’s brilliance and if Williams feels the effect of that minor surgery the Russian could swoop down and claim the top prize.

However, we must be careful not to ‘over talk’ the top three in the world. Their sole mission this winter is the win the Australian Open and as nice as the Brisbane trophy would be, they won’t risk their bodies and energy levels with a Grand Slam just around the corner.

The books are therefore slightly more balanced and we could see another face lift the Brisbane title this season. Petra Kvitova has now fully recovered from her illness problems that blighted the back-end of the 2012 season while Sara Errani looks set to kick on after last year’s impressive season.

Wozniacki also has a chancePhoto: Haruneskar

Wozniacki also has a chance
Photo: Haruneskar

Sam Stosur has the home crowd for support yet one player who really could turn up trumps is Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane finished 2011 as world number one yet slumped down the ranks this year after a number of disappointing outings. The old adage that form is temporary and class permanent should be applied here, however, for 2012 is over and done with and the 22-year-old can start her tennis afresh after a decent winter break.

The draw hasn’t been made yet but if Wozniacki can avoid one of the top three until the quarters she could provide an upset in the Pat Rafter Arena. Not that a Wozniacki title would be an upset – she’s 10th in the world for goodness sake – but the eyes of Brisbane will be on Williams, Sharapova and Azarenka, meaning this Dane could slip through and thrive without the pressure of last year.

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Past and Present – Clijsters retires

Clisters in the 2010 US OpenPhoto: Edwin Martinez1, flickr

Clisters in the 2010 US Open
Photo: Edwin Martinez1, flickr

Introducing our new ‘Past and Present’ series, where we take a look at some of the greats of our game – from the present day and the past. What more fitting player could there be to start the ball rolling than legend Kim Clijsters, who retired this week for a second time at the age of 29.

Clijsters was always going to be a special player. In 1998, just months after turning pro, she won two singles titles and three doubles tittles on the ITF circuit. This success was quickly followed the next year when, at 16, she broke into the world’s top 50 after winning Luxembourg: her first WTA title.

1999 also saw Clijsters make her name on the Grand Slam circuit. She lost in the fourth round of Wimbledon to tennis legend Steffi Graf and in the third round of the US Open to future adversary Serena Williams.

Yet it was in 2001 that Clijsters’ career really kicked on. She finished the year fifth in the rankings, won her fourth to sixth singles title and reached her first major final – Roland Garros – where she fell to the impervious Jenifer Cipriati.

A year later she won her 10th WTA title yet still couldn’t pin down a major. That would come in 2005, however, where the Belgian finally lived up to her potential and took the US Open 6-3 6-1 over Mary Pierce.

On clayPhoto: Destination Europe, flickr

On clay
Photo: Destination Europe, flickr

From then on her life changed, yet her tennis failed to improve as she again found major victories hard to come by. By the end of 2006 she had won her 33rd WTA title, in Warsaw, yet fell in the semi-finals at Melbourne, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the WTA Championships. Things just weren’t going quite right for the Belgian.

Retirement

Despite her consistent yet not emphatic trophy haul, Clijsters still shocked the tennis world when she decided to retire to start a family. Naturally she got the support of the tennis world and fans were happy, if not disappointed she was leaving, that Clijsters had gone out on her own terms.

Swift comeback

Yet one pregnancy later and the right-hander just couldn’t stay away. She announced her comeback to tennis in 2009 – more determined than ever. It was clear there was business still left to complete on the court and Clijsters headed into her first major tournament since retirement as a wildcard in the US Open.

Round after round she faced tough opponents yet breezed past them as though she’d been playing all season. Against world number three Venus Williams, she needed three sets to progress to the quarters 6-0 0-6 6-4 in one of the most unpredictable matches in the modern age.

Digging out a shot in New YorkPhoto: Edwin Martinez1, flickr

Digging out a shot in New York
Photo: Edwin Martinez1, flickr

She scalped Serena Williams in the semi final after two close sets and suddenly found herself in a position almost alien to her: a Grand Slam final. Yet Clijsters showed little fear and dispatched a young Caroline Wozniacki with consummate ease, taking the match 7-5 6-3 to become the first ever wildcard to win the US Open.

Out of nowhere she was back at the pinnacle of the women’s game and her popularity grew still further when she successfully defended her New York title just 12 months later. That period of her career is hailed as one of the greatest by any Belgian player and Clijsters went on to win the 2010 WTA Championships before the Australian Open in January the next year.

Now 29, Clijsters has made her point and is determined to retire. She played her final exhibition match in Belgium this week, defeating old adversary Venus Williams 6-3 6-3 in front of 13,000 people on the Antwerp court. On the WTA tour, she boasts a 7-6 record over Williams, of which very few others can claim the same, and throughout her career dazzled fans with her spectacular shot selection and personable approach to the game.

Singles tour titles: 41

Doubles tour titles: 11

Grand Slams:

Australia – W 2011

France – F 2001 & 2003

Wimbledon – SF 2003 & 2006

US – W 2005, 2009 & 2010

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Brisbane will prove Azarenka level for 2013

Is that a sweatband I see Victoria?

Is that a sweatband I see Victoria?

Has anyone seen Victoria Azarenka’s new television advert for a well-known timepiece company? Numerous shots of the 23-year-old gliding across the Melbourne court en route to her first ever Grand Slam victory last year provide intense watching as a smooth voiceover explains just how perfect she is.

Apparently a watch that ‘never runs out’ makes all the difference to her game – its so good that its actually invisible on her wrist during the match. the comparison between an ‘unstoppable’ timepiece and Azarenka is justifiable when considering her 2012 Australian Open triumph. For Azarenka was unstoppable that fortnight in Melbourne and the world number one’s performance rightly suggested she ‘shows no sign of slowing down’.

Yet Azarenka has not been completely infallible this season, despite what her expensive wristwatch suggests. For the Belarusian has suffered somewhat since that Australian triumph and failed to capitalise on her early-season form that saw her win the first four tournaments of the year.

2012 season, (almost) all downhill since Melbourne

Azarenka played to watch-like precision between January and early March. She claimed the Sydney title in emphatic fashion – dropping just two sets all week – before powerhousing to the final in Melbourne where she consummately outplayed Maria Sharapova 6-3 6-0.

Shorty after came Doha, where she didn’t drop a single set despite playing Agnieszka Radwanska and Sam Stosur in the semis and final; before Indian Wells, where the Belarusian conquered Sharapova yet again to pick up four WTA titles in two months.

Yet since then Azarenka’s season has not gone to plan and as we enter the winter offseason she must be wondering how that momentum from Melbourne did not conspire domination on the WTA circuit. Two final losses came before a disastrous Rome, where she withdrew in the third round because of a shoulder injury.

Serving at Roland GarrosPhoto: Création CARAVEO

Serving at Roland Garros
Photo: Création CARAVEO

This problem persisted and she made just the fourth round of Roland Garros, skipping all competition before Wimbledon where she gracefully fell in the semis to a new adversary: Serena Williams.

Unfortunately for Azarenka, her 2012 summer decline began at the same time Williams’ rose. She lost to the American 6-1 6-2 in the semis at the Olympics and over three sets at the final of the US Open. Those two major defeats effectively cut 2012 short and Azarenka, although winning a couple more tour titles, went into the end-of-season comforted only by her world number one ranking.

Building for Australia and beyond

So what now for Azarenka as she heads into 2013? She must have learnt a lot from this major breakthrough season yet her early schedule for 2013 suggests preparations for Australia will be a lot different from last year. For instead of Sydney she is down to play Brisbane, a tournament that finishes closer to Melbourne but is played with greater intensity, with eight of the world top 10 in the event.

Her decision to play Brisbane expresses a new stance in Azarenka’s game. She could just play Sydney again, pick up a lower-ranked title and go into Melbourne on a high. However, in opting to face her fellow title rivals Azarenka is testing the water before the first major of the year.

Australia Open 2011Photo: n.hewson

Australia Open 2011
Photo: n.hewson

This is a good move on her part. The WTA tour success of last year has made her a good player but to become great she must claim Slams this campaign.

As the world number one she must show her face, her mettle and her confidence at Brisbane. Playing Sydney would have been seen as boycotting her competitors and mean heading into the Australian Open without being fully tested.

Azarenka will witness at Brisbane what she must do to maintain her status across 2013, with four or five serious competitors chasing that coveted crown. Can she achieve that watch-like perfection and keep on going over the early season? Brisbane should give us a good idea.

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Hats off to newcomer Robson

Robson has had a remarkable season.Photo: Dacoucou

Robson has had a remarkable season.
Photo: Dacoucou

Laura Robson capped off an emphatic 2012 season this week after the Women’s Tennis Association crowned her the Newcomer of the Year.

Robson, 18, has enjoyed a breakthrough season that saw her rise in the rankings from 131 to 53. She became the first British woman in 22 years to make a WTA tour final, in Guangzhou, and reached the second week of the US Open, scalping Kim Clijsters and Li Na on the way.

“I looked at the list of past winners and it’s certainly a very impressive line-up that includes many of my idols growing up,” Robson told BBC Sport.

“I hope that I can go on to achieve close to what many of the past winners have achieved in their careers.”

Indeed, Robson is right to look at past names that have won the newcomer of the year award and feel confident she will make it at the top of the women’s game. The list includes Maria Sharapova (2003), Clijsters (1999) and Serena Williams (1998), all of whom have risen to become major players on the WTA circuit.

While Robson’s Guangzhou final achievement was somewhat overshadowed by fellow Brit Heather Watson’s triumph at the Japan Open a few days later, the 18-year-old will still be delighted with how her season has panned out. The pinnacle of her career so far is that coveted silver medal earned at London 2012 where Robson, partnered by Andy Murray, surged to the final on Centre Court before falling at the last hurdle.

2013 promises to be a huge year for Britain’s two brightest young talents and Robson will be hoping to break into the top 20 or even 10 by this time next year. Hats off to Laura for her WTA award and long may her success continue.

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