One of the biggest thrills I get when I watch sports, particularly tennis and the LPGA, is when a player breaks through to win their first event. That’s particularly true if there was a level of expectation surrounding that player. I remember the joy in seeing Natalie Gulbis and Michelle Wie finally win their first event on the LPGA. A few years ago in 2009, Elena Vesnina was a top 25 player possibly on the verge of greater stardom. She had the game. She had the looks. If she could climb into the top 15 she would be a marketing agent’s dream. But like many before her, she slippped back to the pack. While she had a loyal following among tennis die-hards, she became more of a doubles specialist, winning titles and reaching finals in doubles. She came into Hobart with 6 singles finals under her belt, but no titles. Well, the shut-out is over. Elena broke through with her first WTA singles title, beating Mona Barthel in the final, 6-3 6-4. I hope this is the first of many.
A player on the opposite side of the spectrum is Agnieszka Radwanska, who picked up her 12th career title, and 2nd of 2013 already, at the Sydney International. And boy did she do it in emphatic fashion, thumping the dangerous Dominika Cibulkova, 6-0 6-0, the dreaded double bagel. That’s a 9 match winning streak the for the 4th ranked player in the world heading into 2013 Australian Open. If there is a nit to pick, and this would be nitpicking, it’s that the best player she’s face is Li Na in the Sydney semifinals, a great but streaky player. Everybody else, will all due respect, she should have beaten and did. How will she do at the Australian Open if the player on the other side of the net is Vika, Masha or Serena?
A couple of Americans also put a smile on my face this week. Madison Keys is a very powerful up and coming talent. She took out Lucie Safarova in the first round at Sydney. Then she followed up with another upset, this time of Zheng Jie, a former Australian Open semifinalist. And she beat both players rather handily, even dropping a bagel on Zheng in the first set. Madison also had Li Na on the ropes, winning the first set and going into a second set tie-break before Li regrouped to survive, 4-6 7-6 (2) 6-2. Keep an eye on Madison Keys.
Sloane Stephens, another up and coming American, reached the Hobart semifinals before falling to eventual champion Elena Vesnina. Sloane beat another rising star, Laura Robson, in the first round. In fact, this was the second week in a row that Sloane looked good before meeting the eventual tournament winner, as she reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane before running into Serena Williams. Already a top 30 ranked player, Sloane Stephens is on the verge of big things. She is now where Elena Vesnina was in 2009. Let’s hope Sloane stays on her upward trajectory.
|Finals – Completed|
|M. Barthel #9||3||4|
|E. Vesnina «||6||6|
|Finals – Completed|
|A. Radwanska #1 «||6||6|
ALL PICS CLICK TO ENLARGE
NADIA PETROVA and KATARINA SREBOTNIK (Sydney Doubles Champions)
GARBINE MUGURUZA and MARIA-TERESA TORRO-FLOR (Hobart Doubles Champions)