Category Archives: WTA Tournaments

2007 Tennis Wayback Machine

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between and the hugely popular S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

WTA Championships Live Blog Broadcast

1830’s: Louis Daguerre and several others invent the process known as photography. We could now freeze time and hold the portrait of a loved one in our hand.
1844: Samuel Morse sends the first message by telegraph from Annapolis Junction (near Baltimore) to Washington. We could now send a message instantaneously.
1869: The last spike is driven as the Union Pacific tracks joined the Central Pacific Railroad to create the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. We could now travel from east to west in six days instead of three months.
1877: Leland Stanford, one of the four principals in the transcontinental railroad, pays Edweard Muybridge to take images of his celebrated trotter Occident to see if the horse ever lifted all four hooves at once. Muybridge’s system of tripwires and fast shutters gave us the stop motion images that pre-dated the the modern world of movies and television.
1891: Stanford founds Stanford University on the former site of his horse farm. Stanford researchers go on to start a number of pioneering Silicon Valley companies and host part of the ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet.

(Timeline courtesy of Motion Studies: Time, Space and Edward Muybridge, a fantastic investigation into time-shifting and the origins of cinema and the internet by Rebecca Solnit.)

2007: Please join us as we live blog the tape delayed final of the WTA Championships which took place earlier today in Madrid. Join Pat and me as we re-crown the champion in our own good time using our own version of time-shifting, television and the internet. Please join in by leaving comments so we can include you in the broadcast.

Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova are our finalists and one of those is a big surprise. Sharapova has played only 49 matches this year due to recurring shoulder problems. There’s wisdom in resting before the championships. Henin missed the last two months of the season last year’s season with a knee injury then turned up at the championships and won it handily.

Pat: Good afternoon everyone, we are nearly ready to start. I really like Sharapova’s chances today, I think it is important for her to win this match, more so than for Justine. I think Maria has more to prove today. She will be ready. Three sets do you think?

Nina: The way Maria is serving, three sets is a good guess. But I’m going with Justine. Not to be a stathead or anything but Justine is 5-2 lifetime against Maria and Justine played the fall indoor season whereas Maria did not.

Pat: I did not check their head to head, really, Justine is 5-2, eh?

Sharapova 1-1

Nina: Yep, and I agree with Tracy Austin: Justine is much more athletic. Any fashion comments by the way :0)

Henin: 2-1 (Henin breaks)

Pat: So Justine draws first blood with the break. She’s returning well, and I like how Maria moved into net even though she chipped the volley wide for the break.

Sharapova 2-2 (Sharapova breaks back)

Nina: Justine can move Maria around but she can’t win without a strong first serve. As Justine’s serve goes, her chances will follow. Not because she has a big serve, she doesn’t, but she can’t dictate a point with a second serve.

Sharapova 4-3

Nina: I suppose I agree that this event is more grueling than a two week grand slam event because it’s more compressed and you play more top players. But the conditions are much easier. There is nowhere near the pressure because the event has not been a big event on the calendar for some time. Not that many people turn up. Also, it’s round robin. If you lose a match, you’re o.k. You can play another day.

Pat: Somehow this week does not strike me as grueling for the players. The top players had way too easy a time. Maybe they will make up for that today, huh? Wow, how often do we see Justine netting two backhands in a row? That was an intense game 7. This is good stuff, wonder who will blink first?

Henin 4-4

Nina: Justine was the Backhand That Couldn’t for a while there. She almost blinked but the battle continues and I am so happy that this is a tough, competitive match. We’re due. By the way, Michael Joyce is beginning to look like Yuri Sharapov’s brother. They’ve been spending too much time together!

Sharapova 5-4

Pat: Hey, Michael is probably the Second Father Figure by now, you wonder how the guy does it(?!) We need a slam bang match after this week, these two girls have a lot of sins to atone for, if you will.

Sharapova 6-5

Nina: Yep, it’s Maria, Michael and Yuri – a trinity in it’s own right. I don’t understand why they don’t just give Michael his due and call him coach. As for the game, I’ve missed Maria smashing the ball for the past few months, all year long in fact. You can see how hard she hits the ball, Justine barely has time to get halfway to the net. Wow, what a fantastic Maria backhand on the deep corner for game point and another one to win the game.

Pat: Well Nina, she certainly smashed that backhand up the line! You’d have thought Maria had match point on that the way she reacted. Great stuff! Tiriac can come out of the shadows now and feel proud of his brood.

Sharapova 7-5 (breaks Henin, wins first set)

Nina: What was it, four double faults and how many second serves for Justine? Eight set points for Maria and I lost track of the number of deuces – wait, ten deuces. What a game! It was a combination of brilliant shots and ineptitude. If Maria had played the fall indoor season, she’d probably be up a break in the second set by now, she’d never let eight set points go by without putting the game away. I’m wondering if conditioning will be an issue for her in the second and (possibly) third set.

Okay, Pat, so what caused Justine’s problems: the pressure of expectations or ongoing problems with her serve? Love the trophies by the way but that cheap Rubbermaid trophy stand kinda takes away from the beauty and grandeur of the event.

Sharapova 7-5, 2-1

Pat: I think the pressure got to Justine there on her serve, but it got to Maria too, letting all those set points go by!

We’ve got a great one going, and I like Maria’s nerve fighting to hold serve there in the second set first game. Nice work, Justine had chances but Maria was there to slam the door.

Henin 5-7, 2-2

Nina: As close as the match is and as close as I think it will be, I predict that if and when Justine gets some firs serves in and Maria wilts just the slightest bit, Justine will pull it out. This match does make me wonder, though, how Maria has lost so many matches to Justine. Also, I wonder if her shoulder really is healed. And, while I’m at it, one more question: how much havoc can Lindsay Davenport wreak at the Australian Open. I am so looking forward to the Australian Open for lots of reasons

Sharapova 7-5, 3-2

Pat: That’s a big if, Nina, and also Justine has made a very high number of errors for her. So if her serve isn’t working right, and the errors are too many, I think her chances of winning are slight. I don’t think Maria will wilt, she took care of things when she had to so far.

Henin 5-7, 3-3

Nina: Right about now, Pat, you are definitely looking prophetic. Notice that little bit of star power there? Sharapova threw up her arms and started to move to the service line as if to say that Henin’s serve was an obvious fault and that moved the chair umpire to overrule a good serve and make it a fault. I don’t think that would have happened if the 100th ranked player on tour pulled that. That serve could have won Justine the game a few points earlier.

Pat: I did not notice that, but I get caught between typing/watching, which is why I am recording the TV also so I can see the match later.

Sharapova 5-7, 4-5 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Pat: Ooohh, maybe I spoke too soon Nina, Justine just got her break. Let’s see how Maria responds, if she can.

Nina: Yeah, I can’t wait for infallible voice recognition software so I don’t have to type. Whoa, that inside out forehand return by Henin was over the top. The woman has, um, cojones. It’s the only way she’s gonna get anywhere today because Sharapova is not losing her serve easily. And that could be the shot of the second set because Sharapova followed it up with a double fault. Those small things can make a huge difference. Henin breaks Sharapova to go up 5-4.

Sharapova 5-7, 5-6 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Can we say turning point :0) Three games and three breaks but Justine is starting to get some first serves in and Sharapova has played about as well as she can. I could, of course, be very wrong but either way, I love these marathon games. Three break points for Justine before she finally got the break. Definitely one of the best matches of the year. I’m scratching my head to think of another one. Pat, help me out – other good matches this year?

Henin 5-7, 7-5

Pat: Well, my tape is filled! This is going to be a very looonnnnggg match, since Justine is about to hold at luv it looks like, and off we go into a third set.

These two are going to interfere with our Shanghai men, who are about to come on Tennis Channel at 5 p.m. west coast time. Quel horreur! I think we should stay with the women though, what do you say? Can they make a match of it? lol

Henin 5-7, 7-5, 1-1

Nina: Time to get a DVR Pat. A match longer than three hours for a women’s championship, how cool is that? We haven’t had a competitive grand slam final all year. Marion Bartoli got five games off Venus Williams at Wimbledon at that was the most competitive slam final of the year.

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7. 1-2 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Hi Maria, thanks for joining us but you know the results already :0) (Maria lives in Madrid). You even know the results of the men’s matches! Keep commenting though, we’ll patch you in. In this part of the world, Maria (Sharapova) is indeed looking just the smallest bit tired and that was enough for Henin to break her. What do you think Pat, does Maria come back?

Pat: OK, Justine with the early break in the third. She really wailed on that backhand crosscourt, seems like she’s hitting the ball harder now than in the beginning.

Tracy Austin just uttered the “T” word about Maria, as in “tired.” We shall see.

Where’s that banana??

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7, 3-2

Nina: Maria is hanging in there but it’s sheer will on her part and now she’s called for the trainer. She’s having trouble breathing. It’s something to remember that Madrid is at altitude, all the more amazing that Sharapova has come this far. On the other hand, my guess is that this is a “convenient” time out to get her breath.

Pat: I am feeling whipped, I know how Maria feels. Uhoh, the trainer is out there, we may need more than a banana, huh? (I have a cocktail, nah nah ne nah nah).

You see what these women do? They lead me to drink!

Hi Maria, looks like you guys all got your money’s worth in Madrid today(!)

Sharapova 7-5, 5-7, 3-4 (Henin breaks Sharapova)

Nina: Wow, what a difference a break makes. Maria breaks Justine to get even then give the break right back. Maria doesn’t seem to have quite enough energy to keep up the good serving and that’s critical.(Don’t worry Pat, it’s the men’s doubles from Shanghai, not the singles)

Pat: That was a tired looking double fault from Maria, I don’t know if she can come back Nina. But then she broke Henin in the last game, so who knows?

This is nervewracking. Tennis waterboarding, anyone?

Henin breaks Sharapova to win the title, 5-7, 7-5, 6-3

Nina: Wow, good to the very last drop. A marathon game at the end of the first set and another one here. Five match points and tons of grit from Maria and Justine finally does it. That Justine, she’s a killer and Maria is not far behind. Join us for the Shanghai event and see if it can be anywhere near as exciting as this.

Pat: It really did not turn out to be a battle of “One Serves, the Other Doesn’t.” It really came down to the superior athleticism of Henin, her conditioning and nerves. But Maria is no loser here either, she had a great week, it was a great match for her, considering how little prep/match play she had coming in.

Now the ball is in the men’s court: can they deliver a final as good as this? Whew!

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WTA Championships: Can Anyone Here Play The Game?

Join us for the WTA Championships final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 11th, 2:00pm Los Angeles/5pm New York.

Performance enhancing drugs, match fixing, and now poisoning (I’ll get to those in my next post). There’s too much going on in tennis so I’m a day late in catching up with the WTA Championships. I hope to get back on track tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s look at the second evening of round robin matches.

I was looking forward to some good tennis as I settled in to watch the evening’s fare at the WTA Championships in Madrid. The top eight women in the world are here – minus Venus Williams – so it seemed like a safe bet.

It wasn’t. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or just plain nervousness but I had to wait until the very end of the last match before anything exciting happened.

Justine Henin started the evening off by swatting Jelena Jankovic, 6-2, 6-2. Jelena was completely out of rhythm. Here forehand went long, her backhand went into the net, and her return of serve was all over the place. Except for the serve and volley – which weren’t working so well either – that’s pretty much all there is to the game of tennis.

Jelena is 0-8 against Henin. Part of the problem is psychological and that’s fixable. Part of the problem is firepower and that may not be fixable. Jelena is a wonderful defensive player and a very smart strategist but she doesn’t have any big weapons short of her quicksilver feet. It worked for Lleyton Hewitt round about the turn of the millennium but it doesn’t work today.

Here’s an example. Jelena lost the first set 6-2 and was down 0-1 in the second set when Henin served her way through an interminable nine deuce game. Out of those nine deuces, Jankovic had only three break points. Jelena can hang with Henin but she can’t apply enough pressure to beat her.

After the match, Henin understandably said “I was feeling tired on my serve” in the game and yet Jelena still couldn’t take advantage of it.

Jankovic is the number three player in the world. Her fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic is right behind her at number four, and Ana has two big weapons: serve and forehand. Jelena should stay around the top ten for some time if she wants to, but I can’t see her getting to number one. Given her quirky self, that might be enough reason for her to ride off into the sunset sooner than another player might because she has a life outside of tennis.

Serena Williams is actually in Shanghai and I was really excited about that. I figured she’d dust off Ana Chakvetadze in her first match and then I hoped she’d exact revenge on Henin for beating her at the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open this year. No doubt Serena is pissed off by that.

Serena has eight slams, one WTA Championship and an Olympic gold medal in doubles. Henin has seven slams, one WTA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in singles. I’m sure Serena does not care to fall behind in that race. Watch this youtube video to gauge Serena’s true feelings about the matter.

When Serena’s match with Chakvetadze started, she looked pretty bad too. First of all Serena came out with athletic tape that wandered down her thighs then circled both knees. She looked like she had on a skeleton suit and was on her way to the nearest Halloween party. What was all that tape for? “Prevention,” she said, “just prevention.”

Yeah right. Serena had trouble getting her serve into the court and she was spraying the ball. She asked for new rackets because the tension wasn’t right. To be fair, Madrid is at altitude and the ball carries further in thinner air.

By the time Serena was down 3-5 in the first set, she looked like she was going to cry. The trainer came out and Serena told her, “I can’t move. I’m really in a lot of pain.” The pain was in her left knee. Her surgically repaired left knee.

The professional tennis injury charade continues. Two and a half weeks ago Serena retired from her first round match with Patty Schyder in Zurich. Schnyder was ahead at the time, 6-0, 3-0. Players never divulge the extent or nature of their injuries until they can’t hide it anymore.

Clearly Serena wanted to play in Shanghai but the tape job gave the game away. No doubt the double leg tape job was designed to confuse the issue. She gets so much crap for not playing enough tournaments that it’s hard to give her crap about trying to play. But now that she’s withdrawn, her substitute, Marion Bartoli, is in a very tough position because she only gets to play Serena’s two remaining matches and that’ll make it very difficult for her to advance to the semifinals.

And I’m bummed because now I have to wait until the Australian Open to see Serena go at Henin. Actually, I think I should stop looking forward to anything and just prepare myself for a Serenaless Australian.

I was lying when I said I had to wait until the end of the third match to see some tennis. Daniela Hantuchova pulled herself together after losing the first set to Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, and played an excellent second set. It was the second set tiebreaker, though, that redeemed the evening.

Hantuchova twice challenged calls and got both points replayed. Ivanovic hit a killer serve to get her first set point at 6-5 then Hantuchova fought off an excellent return of serve to save the set point. Ivanovic hit a superb running passing shot that clanked off Hantuchova’s racket to get to 8-7 and it went on like this.

Ivanovic kept getting set points and Hantuchova kept saving them then getting her own set point. Every single time. In fact, when Hantuchova finally hit an approach shot into the net to lose the tiebreaker 11-9, it was the first time in the entire tiebreaker that the server lost a point.

How often do you see that happen?

Someone here really can play this game.

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Hingis Retires After Positive Test for Cocaine

Join us for the Paris Masters final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 4th, 7:30am Los Angeles/10:30am New York/3:30pm London (remember to set your clock back one hour Saturday night if you live in the U.S.).

Martina Hingis tested positive for cocaine and Roger Federer lost to David Nalbandian twice in a row. What is the world coming to?

A friend sent me an email invitation to an event at a local S&M parlor this weekend. I’m pretty vanilla so I didn’t accept the invitation but I was interested in the title of one of the workshops: Crack Addict. What’s crack got to do with S&M I wondered? Is that a new kind of kink I’ve never heard of before?

There are no doubt plenty of kinky acts I’ve never heard of but this one refers to whips. As in cracking a whip. Get it?

Crack is also connected to cocaine – it’s a diluted cocaine in the form of a rock – and I was even more surprised to hear it connected with Martina Hingis. I’m not naïve enough to think that rich athletes don’t try cocaine now and then and more power to them. I did enough acid and marijuana in my youth to get my fill, let others do it too. How else will they know what they’re missing?

Martina, however, tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon and that’s bit of a problem because cocaine is a stimulant which makes it a banned substance. Her response? I didn’t do it.

Here we go again. In the famous words of Rafael Palmeiro who sat in front of a congressional hearing on steroids, pointed his finger and said:

I have never used steroids. Period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.

Five months later he tested positive for the steroid stanozolol and suggested that the positive test had come from a liquid B-12 vitamin given him by a teammate. Later that season Palmeiro went home and he hasn’t played since.

Hingis is doing the retiring thing too and she’s denying that she ever used cocaine. This is her stated reason for retiring: “I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities.” I can sympathize with that. I’ve written about the unfair balance of power held by anti-doping organizations over athletes and you have to wonder why it takes them four months to process a positive test.

But Martina, you can’t have it both ways. If you didn’t do cocaine, retiring sends a decidedly mixed message. The positive test result will stand if you don’t challenge it.

Does this taint Martina’s career? Not in the least. Party on girl, just be smarter about it. It’s not like cocaine is helpful in a tennis match. It’s a short lived high.

Martina’s return to tennis in 2006 after a three year layoff has been pretty cool. She’s done about what I expected. She got into the top ten, reached the quarterfinals at three slams, and won three titles. She can be proud of that.

Still, if she doesn’t fight the cocaine thing, she’ll go down as just one more big fat denier in a long line of deniers. And that’s really unfortunate because a huge part of Martina’s appeal was her unedited mouth. If she didn’t think much of an opponent’s game, she’d say so. If she was mad at the WTA, she’d say so.

And now she’s giving up because the case could drag on for years? Where’s your sense of outrage, Martina? It just doesn’t wash.

I’m hoping my co-writer Pat Davis will write one of her wonderful remembrances on the occasion of Martina’s retirement. How about it Pat?

Nalbandian Beats Federer Again

David Nalbandian beat Roger Federer again today in Paris. I don’t have time to write about it tonight but I’ll weigh in tomorrow.

I will say one thing. I expected Federer to lose early since he needs to get his rest for Shanghai – this is his third straight tournament – but I didn’t expect Nalbandian to keep rolling and how wrong I was.

Okay, I’ll say two things. Federer was beaten by Guillermo Canas in two consecutive tournaments earlier this year and now he’s been beaten twice by Nalbandian within three weeks. Federer’s hallmark is his ability to figure out an opponent’s game so we can assume the problem is not strategy. And as far as we know, he’s not losing brain cells.

That means Federer is not able to execute his strategy. It’s a very slight drop, he still won three slams this year, but it’s a clear indication of slippage in his game.

That brings us to today’s poll because Federer is also losing his grip on the number one ranking.


The year end rankings for 2007 will have Federer as the number one player, Rafael Nadal as number two, and Novak Djokovic as number three. Here’s the question:

Exactly one year from today, who will be the number one ranked player in the ATP?
Roger Federer? Rafael Nadal? Novak Djokovic? None of the above?

Go to the poll on the right of the screen and to vote.

Tennis Diary TV Feature

Some of my favorite shows of all time are the Looney Tunes cartoons featuring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. The hapless coyote Wile E. repeatedly tries to trap the annoying little Road Runner for dinner and Road Runner repeatedly escapes, usually leaving Wile E. to suffer in a contraption of his own making that has backfired on him.

It’s all very simple, stupid, and hilarious. Just my style.

In that vein, I bring you this week’s Tennis Diary TV Feature: Tennis Funnies (If Tennis Funnies is not currently playing, click on Channel Guide and select it.)

It’s simple, sometimes crude, stupid, and really funny. Have a laugh. Why not? The world is falling apart.

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Serena Does Moscow

Serena Williams met Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Moscow semifinals and warfare broke out.

I look at Serena Williams and Roger Federer as our part-time professional tennis players. Federer plays the slams, the Masters events and his two home town tournaments: Dubai, his current home base, and Basel, his home town. That’s it. That’s all he needs to get enough points for his number one ranking.

Serena likes to drop into slams with little preparation and snatch them away. The difference between the two is that Federer is fanatical about staying in shape and practicing. One of the advantages of living in Dubai is the opportunity to train in brutal heat.

You can play part time if you’re that good and tennis is your all-consuming passion, otherwise you’ll suffer injuries at critical times because you’re not in match shape.

Serena has been playing much more this year and that may have something to do with her sister Venus. Venus came out and won Wimbledon this year and Serena does not want to be left behind. Serena currently has eight slams and Venus has six.

That may be why Serena could be found in Moscow this week for the first time since 1997. That and the year end championships. Only the top eight players get into the championships. Serena is currently ranked number six so she should get in but Venus is number eight, she’s in more peril.

Given the situation, I’m not sure why big sister Venus didn’t get to play the Kremlin Open instead of Serena. Kremlin is a Tier I tournament which means it has more points while Venus is toiling away at a Tier III tournament in Bangkok. And that’s after Serena played Stuttgart last week which is Tier II while Venus played a Tier III tournament in Tokyo.

The sisters don’t like to play each other – too bad for us but there’s not much we can do about it – but the way they divvied up the tournaments hasn’t helped Venus and she lost to 49th ranked Flavia Pennetta in the Bangkok semifinals.

I wonder how the sisters decided who would play which tournament. Did they flip a coin; have a pillow fight; play rock, paper, scissors? I’d love to know.

Serena’s opponent in the semifinals at Moscow was Svetlana Kuznetsova and it was a rip-roaring affair despite the misleading final score in Serena’s favor: 7-6(2), 6-1.

Kuznetsova started slowly and went down a break early in the first set. From then on it was a slugfest between the two hardest hitters in the women’s game. Kuznetsova is one of the few players whose best strategy is to go toe to toe with Serena and she did.

With Serena serving at 3-4, Kuznetsova got a break point to get back on serve. Serena gave Kuznetsova another break point with an overhead into the net but it took one more break point and a smart play before Kuznetsova finally won the game: she mixed a high looping shot into the middle of the warfare and it threw Serena’s timing off.

This match was as close to a men’s match as you’ll see. Of course, Serena and Venus playing each other would be close too if they were willing to take each other on but, well, never mind.

The battle continued in the next game. Williams returned a second serve too hard for Kuznetsova to handle and got a break point. On the next point Serena hit a short ball and after Kuznetsova hammered it for a winner, she screamed like a victorious predator. She looked only slightly less primal than Serena looks in this image..

Kuznetsova has the desire and the game to be as intimidating as Serena but she’s not mean enough or imperious enough. Serena, and Maria Sharapova for the that matter, have been raised to rule the kingdom, to expect domination. They take names and kick ass.

And they’re most aggressive on the big points. In the first set tiebreaker, Serena went to the net right away and got out to a 3-0 lead. Kuznetsova hit a double fault and added an error and Serena won the tiebreaker and the first set.

At the beginning of the second set, Kuznetsova attacked the net herself but failed mostly because Serena was hitting the ball too hard. Serena went up an early break and she was ahead 4-1 but it was closer than the score indicated. Kuznetsova had failed to convert two break points.

By this time, though, Kuznetsova was worn out and she didn’t win another game. Serena had been hitting hard, serving hard, and returning hard and it had finally taken its toll.

Kuznetsova is up to a career high ranking of number two and she beat Serena in Stuttgart last week for the first time. She has a career record of 2-15 against the number one ranked Justine Henin, however, and she hasn’t beaten her since 2004.

Henin, Serena and Sharapova are the most competitive women tennis players on the planet. Kuznetsova is in the second tier of the most competitive players on the planet. Not bad, but not good enough to be number one.

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