Sports organizations are often as strong as its top stars. When they play well, and in turn show up on television and other media winning championships more often, it’s a great boon for their respective tours. Sometimes in tennis, the opening weeks of the season can be hit or miss. Players are tuning up their games for the big prize, the Australian Open. So whether they win in Shenzhen or Auckland or Brisbane…it matters, but it’s not the ultimate goal early in the season. Luckily for the WTA, in back to back years the stars came out to shine on the opening week of play. The top 3 players in the tour rankings reached the finals in Brisbane (#1 Serena Williams and #2 Victoria Azarenka) and Shenzhen (#3 Li Na). Meanwhile, the final in Auckland featured two of the tour’s past #1 ranked players (Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic).
It was a terrific match between Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams in the ASB Classic final. They were ripping shots with such ferocity and skill that it was reminiscent of greater days from both players. What is especially encouraging for Ana is that she came back from a squandered opportunity. After blitzing through Venus 6-2 5-3, Ana held a match point for her first title since November of 2011. Unfortunately for Ana, she couldn’t convert. Not only did she lose that match point chance, actually championship point chance, she lost the next four games in a row to lose the set. This is normally when Ana loses control of a match and succumbs to defeat. I’ve seen it happen so many times. She’s on the verge of winning…doesn’t cash in on an opportunity, and then falls apart. But this is a new year and maybe this is a new Ana. She and Venus upped the intensity in the final set. Although Venus was broken in the first game of the last set, the specter of breaking back is always there with Ana. In fact, in the final game of the match, Venus held two break points, but Ana fought them off to win the match and emerge triumphant in Auckland, 6-2 5-7 6-4.
By the way, maybe Ana should give her fellow player and good friend, Sorana Cirstea, a bit of the first place prizemoney for convincing her to play Auckland for the first time! 🙂
The home country fans at the Shenzhen Open were treated to an all-Chinese final. In the history of the WTA, that had only happened once before, at the 2006 Estoril Open. That match also featured Li Na. However, she was forced to retire, succumbing to heat illness in Oeiras, Portugal after splitting the first two sets with Zheng Jie. There would be no such hindrance for the world #3 in Shenzhen, although she has a tendency to make things more interesting than they need to be. She had a little more trouble with the comebacking Vera Zvonareva than I thought she would in the first round. She was taken to three sets by Monica Niculescu in the quarters. In the final, She was up on Peng Shuai 6-4 4-1 before losing four straight games to fall behind 4-5 in the second set. With the possibility of a winner take all third set looming, Li Na pulled it together to battle through three consecutive winning games to end the match 6-4 7-5. It is her 8th WTA tour title. She also successfully defended her Shenzhen title from last year.
Speaking of defending champions, I saved the marquee opening week match for last as #1 Serena Williams, the defending Brisbane International champion, took on #2 Victoria Azarenka. Serena was fresh off of defeating world #4 Maria Sharapova for the 14th consecutive time. It was tight between Serena and Vika throughout, although there’s always the feeling that Serena will step on the gas when necessary. She converted the only break of the first set to take it 6-4. When she fell behind 2-4 in the second (after initially being up 2-0), she eventually squared the match and then broke in the 11th game to go up 6-5, closing it out one game later, 6-4 7-5. Azarenka is the last player to have beaten Serena, at last year’s Western & Southern Open. If Vika can’t stop the Serena Express at the Australian Open then who can? Well…maybe somebody unexpected…not a Masha or Li Na or Petra Kvitova. Two years ago, Ekaterina Makarova upset Serena in Melbourne while last year Sloane Stephens knocked off the world #1. However, with a 22 match winning streak at the moment, Serena looks primed to win again down under.
|FINALS – COMPLETED|
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