Archive for the ‘Masha’ Category

30 Oct 2012

1. No Number 1 Controversy This Time

Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, Serena won two majors and the Year End Championships, Azarenka only one major. But there can be little argument that week in and week out, Azarenka was the best player on tour.

Azarenka’s transformation has not been a drastic one. She has always looked a player capable of great things. Restraint, both in her attitude and her disposition in rallies has given her the extra 2% to push on to the next echelon of the game. In the past, it has been easy for us to build a narrative on why Azarenka has not done better. Her poor attitude. Her health. Her ability to come blazing out of the gates in big matches only to have those same flames consume her late into the match.

To start, the poor attitude seems all but gone. There is a fine line between cockiness and extreme confidence, and most would argue that Azarenka, at one point, fell on the wrong side of the coin. Often letting the little things get to her and being poor in losing, it looked like the type of thing that would hold her back. Suddenly those cries of frustrations have turned into healthy, self motivating leg slaps. Hair whips of determination and under the breath grunts “keep going”. It’s been turned inward in a positive way.

Her game has developed in a similar way. Vika at times appeared a ball basher who simply overwhelmed opponents with her weight of shot, with bouts of inconsistency. She has learned great constraint on the forehand, both in her regular, powerful topspin shot as well as in her more defensive, spinning forehand. When the ball isn’t in the greatest position for her, she’s become much better at finding ways to spin the ball cross court to gain time, instead of simply trying to rip it and hope for the best. Combining this with great movement, she can quickly get back into points and get back on top. She knows how to build points and she knows how to finish them off – and it’s a treat to see.

2. Serena is Here To Stay

For a time, it was hard to know if Serena would ever play tennis again. With a new lease on life, Serena is looking as fit and as calm as ever, a truly deadly combination. Wimbledon was a stroll in the park, and the US Open was straight forward outside of a very difficult final. The Year End Championship fell under a similar theme. She plans to train in Paris with her coach over the offseason, a first for her, and likely has her eye on doing another “Serena slam” and winning all four major titles in a row.

I’ve heard it noted several times, and it is hard to disagree. While Serena is “old” in tennis terms at 31, the time that she has missed through out her career, including recently, may help to considerably lengthen her career. Many players expire around 30 because after 15 years of serious grind, they burn out mentally, their bodies fall apart, and their endurance goes. None of these appear to be an issue for Serena, and she is so fit and with such natural power, it is difficult to see her dropping off any time within three to five years. Mind blowing stuff.

3. Another Year of Stability Should Await in 2013

Let’s be honest. At times, the past few years have been difficult for the WTA. We diehards don’t so much mind the top ranking being tossed around, or top 20 players winning major titles. However, sadly, it has been difficult to justify the validity of a tour with a number 1 without a slam and players coming from nowhere to win big titles. With Azarenka, Sharapova and Serena taking home all majors this year, it would be difficult to bet against them splitting all four between them again next year. While players such as Radwanska, Kvitova and Li Na will always have a chance against them, it is hard to see one of the big three not topping them in a final (much like the Williams/Radwanska Wimbledon final). A WTA “big four” sounds appealing to match it up to the ATP side of things, but in truth it is a “big three” who should continue raking in big trophies in 2013.

4. Castle Defenders

While a look at the final eight in Istanbul lends itself to a powerful baseline style, three names pop out: Radwanska, Kerber, and Errani. These players tend to be in tough against the top, hard hitting ladies (they went a combined 1-6 versus the other five, not including Stosur) they have the consistency, fitness, and creativity to consistently outmatch players outside of the top 10. I don’t like the term counterpuncher for any of them: neither of them prey on pace and turn it back on their opponent. Kerber prefers players with pace, but she specifically prefers players that open up the court for her to take advantage of – she doesn’t particularly reverse pace back on an opponent. Radwanska is an incredibly creative, instinctual player, likely with the greatest drop shot I have ever seen, men or women. And at a mere 5’5, Errani can run for days, and uses incredible wrist strength to command a longer handled racquet to cope with pace and push opponents back.

On Twitter I saw several people cry out against the Errani/Radwanska match as terrible matchup, expecting a boring match. While neither are big hitters, they have widely different styles and produced one of the matches of the year. While they may never solve the power puzzles in the way a player like Hingis managed to do, embrace and enjoy these players for all that they offer to the game.

5. The Future of Power

With that being said, it is very clear that the future of the WTA looks very much to favour those with large amounts of power, and there is likely to be more Kvitova winning Wimbledon coming out parties than Schiavone late but great Roland Garros wins. With a big three playing this well, the only way to beat them appears to be beating them at their own game, something Azarenka nearly did at the US Open this year. It’s not just the results, but the quality of results that these three tend to get against players hoping to use creativity, defense or counterpunching – it is very rarely close outside of clay.
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8 Jun 2012

Originally posted at TennisBloggers.com I typically write Week Reviews and other fun stuff over there. There are tons of excellent articles by many other fantastic writers there as well, so make sure to read. Follow along at @TennisBloggers

The headlines have already been written. Sharapova returns to the number 1 ranking after moving into the Roland Garros final, the one major title she has yet to win. In a sense, the headlines have already been written. A career slam and the number one ranking has a chance to put a book end on wild era of the WTA where players can be slam champions one week and footnotes of a draw the next. In a time when major WTA icons fade away and retire, Sharapova, still young, remains a figure of stability and dominance.

These headlines may very well be written.

Ask Ivanovic, Kuznetsova and Stosur about headlines.

Sometimes players only get one chance at their ultimate dream. Who knows what the future holds for Sara Errani, but this may be the only chance she gets. Sharapova will be the overwhelming favourite, and the spotlight will be on her for the 2012 edition of the Roland Garros final. She has come in the favourite to her past two major finals, 2011 Wimbledon and 2012 Australian Open, but was overwhelmed by big hitting Kvitova and Azarenka who looked completely unfazed as all eyes were on them.

This will give Errani hope. She has continually flown under the radar, beating three slam winners on the way (two of them having won Roland Garros) and hitting her stride at the right time. For me, she has looked less like the scrambler of old, and more a figure of consistency. I have made several allusions to Ferrer through out the week, and I stand by them. She might not have the supreme focus of Ferrer, but she is not far off. She makes incredibly smart, high percentage shots. Instead of simply getting back the ball and outlasting the opponent, she has used the surface to her advantage to push opponents off balance, and then take the necessary time it requires to finish off points. She has also alluded to a new, longer length racquet, which she feels has helped her compete at a higher level. Watching her push balls deep and go toe to toe with big hitters, it is hard not to agree.

Regardless, Sharapova must remain the overwhelming favourite. With a revamped and now effective serve she has found her confidence. With confidence has come movement, and with movement has come an increasingly impressive power game that is effective on all surfaces, even clay. She has at times ground opponents into a pulp, and the ability to use a vintage big serve and massive forehand follow up have left opponents struggling for answers.

Sharapova’s strategy will likely be the exact same as it has been all week. Crush the serve, follow it up, and push out wide to throw opponents off while moving forward with necessary. This should and will work well. Sharapova will need to continue her serving consistency, where much of her overall consistency stems from. When she is comfortable on serve, she is able to really go for it on the return, where she is particularly dangerous. With the number 1 ranking already secured, there is a real possibility that Sharapova will shrug off the pressure and run away with this final. At the same time, if the confidence and the serve go, Errani will be more than ready to pounce.

Patience is key for Errani. She has played some big hitters, but no one quite as devastating and flat as Sharapova so far. With the pressure on, Errani must find herself on serve some 6 games in. 3-3 in the first set would be a massive win for Errani. From there she must try to push Sharapova off balance and use her craft. Simply returning under the pressure of the moment will not be enough. Slices, drop shots, and fearless defense will take things to the next level and combat the overwhelming power of Sharapova. Errani is naturally the underdog, style wise, but with some doubt in Sharapova’s mind, she has a legitimate chance of dragging this match out and becoming the second Italian champion of this tournament in three years. It has to be said, it would be one of the most surprising major titles we have ever seen in the Open Era, both on the men’s and women’s side.

Two completely different storylines and two completely different styles. Enjoy the final, everyone.

7 Jun 2012

A shoulder surgery, patience, and a lot of tournaments later and Maria Sharapova has returned to the top. She’s reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals, but how fitting might it be that she could win her first slam title in years, and it would be the only one she has yet to win in her career.

The largest obstacle on Sharapova’s comeback has been her serve. Shoulder surgery forced her to relearn the shot and with such a high ball toss, it was often a struggle just to get it over the net. Combined with the fact that Sharapova is not the most natural athlete in the world and does not have amazing movement, players were able to return well and force her off balance from the word go. Power players need their serve to be solid so they can follow up off the serve and take control of the points. For Sharapova it was often more like volleyball, and she was tossed into a defensive, retrieving state on serve. Her matches tended to be highly erratic as she would go through spells of struggling on serve. Damaging her overall confidence, momentum could swing wildly.

In my opinion, Sharapova’s improved serve has made all of the difference. On serve, she is not only cutting out double faults but pummeling the ball on the first serve. This often allows her to move into the court to hit her trademark shot after the serve in which the opponent is sent scrambling. With pressure off of her on serve, she can go for it on the return. It sounds fluffy, but the large strings of dumbfounding, bonehead errors (which may also have been due to the shoulder injury) are largely gone and Sharapova has become a figure of powerful consistency, regardless of surface.

The tour has desperately missed her. Most fans tend to love her determination, and those who don’t fall on the side of those of her biggest rivals (Serena, Vika). Though she has been around since the ripe age of 17, Sharapova is not a figure of a generation gone by (Williams sisters, Clijsters, Henin) and is a player who can continue to carry the tour to bigger things, hopefully inspiring a(n Azarenka) rivalry or two on the way.

A footnote needs to be made about Petra Kvitova, who lost to Sharapova in the semifinals. We shouldn’t be panicking quite yet, but as we’ve seen with players in the past, results can be inflated by one big slam final or victory. In other words, a high ranking can help a player skip by a lot of challenges and narrowly defeat players they should be destroying, much like Kvitova. I wouldn’t say that Petra is much of a natural athlete or mover, but her ball striking and power is quite immense. That being said, there are some serious timing issues that need to be addressed, and soon. She will likely power her way through her first several rounds of Wimbledon, but if she comes up against a crafty player who can absorb pace and take advantage of the low bounces of grass, watch out.

23 May 2012

Originally posted to Tennisbloggers.com

Now the final major clay event before Roland Garros, Rome gave fans an oppurtunity to see their favourite players on a truly slow, traditional surface.

On the ATP side, the King returned to the throne as Rafael Nadal once again defeated Novak Djokovic in the final, 7-5, 6-3. Having been rained out on Sunday, the final did not get under way until noon local time on Monday. A critical point at 30-30, 4-5 in the first set was wrongly called out against Djokovic and quickly corrected. A point he likely would have won to gain a set point ended up going against him. The frustration mounted and Nadal sprang like a shark to blood, breaking Djokovic and then holding once again for the first set. Despite some trading of breaks early in the second, Nadal settled and took hold of the match to take the title.

Nadal won 12 sets and lost none, defeating Ferrer and Berdych en route to the final. Having already won titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal becomes the favourite for Roland Garros once again, if only slightly ahead of number 1 Djokovic and Federer.

The WTA final saw plenty of drama as Maria Sharapova climbed back from a 4-6, 0-4 defecit to eventually take the title from the grasp of Li Na, winning 4-6, 6-4, 7-6. The epic affair was nearly spoiled as rain delayed the third set tiebreak, but was completed later on the Sunday to crown the champion.

This gives Sharapova her second clay title of the season and was her fourth final of 2012. With Petra Kvitova struggling to be fit, Sharapova’s devastating baseline play may set her as the favourite for Roland Garros along with Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams. Roland Garros remains the only major title to alude Sharapova over her career and will be hungrier than ever with a new found success on clay.

ATP Surprise of the Week – Andreas Seppi - Home field advantage is a term often tossed around in sports around the world, but rarely mentioned in tennis. This past week, the Italian crowds of Rome were clearly behind their man, clay journeyman Andreas Seppi. Seppi needed three sets in all three of his wins including massive upsets of Isner and Wawrinka. After dropping the first set in a tiebreak against Wawrinka, Seppi rode the wave of the crowd in a momentus win over three sets, all in tiebreaks. The Italian easily fell to Federer in the quarterfinals, but the run will remain an unforgettable effort in his career.

WTA Surprise of the Week – Angelique Kerber - Perhaps the surprise is not the semifinal result on the week, but the season. Kerber continues to be a mix of Wozniacki-like consistency, both in matches and week to week, and Kvitova-like lefty power. The German has now provern herself on all surfaces, and a combination of improving movement with devastating power and placement has earned her some massive results this season. A darkhorse that could make some serious noise at Roland Garros, she is one to spot on the draw.

Glory Days

Posted by Brodie under: Flavs, Masha, USO

2 Sep 2011

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

It’s been a weird summer for Maria Sharapova. After getting blown off the court in Toronto, literally and metaphorically, by a crafty youngster, she went on to win Cincinnati. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but above all, it was effective. At the end of the match she was the better player, and at the end of the tournament she was the best player.

Unfortunately for her, it was a fine balance, and this week the scales didn’t quite tip as she would have liked them.

“I made way too many unforced errors. I fought back to get myself back in the match in the third set. I think the first three, four games on every game I had a chance to win that game, whether it was a breakpoint or it was a game point on my serve, and I didn’t win those games.” “Um, I didn’t feel comfortable with most of my game today,” said Sharapova.

Make no doubt about it, there are always two players on the court. Pennetta was incredibly consistent today, and persistent. She also overcame a huge mental hurdle in the third set, when she blew two break points to go up 4-0 and eventually found herself back on serve.

” Well, I just starting to play not too much shots in the same position to try to move her a lot and try to let her run a lot, and I think it was working really good. All the time when she move on the forehand she have a little bit of problem; with the backhand she can do whatever she want. So also I starting to be really aggressive when she was serving. I try to just let her think too much and maybe make some double fault,” said Pennetta. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s luck, but getting Maria Sharapova to over think is a wonderful strategy, and it worked.

For Masha, it’s a match in a string of frustrating up and downs since her comeback from her shoulder injury. The ability is there, but the changes to the serve still haven’t quite worked out and one could argue the mental steel isn’t quite there either. After a double fault that brought up 0-30, 4-5 on her serve in the third she looked near tears. It was as if to say “no matter how hard I push back, I just can’t quite make it.” She lost that game and the match.

Luckily for Sharapova, her year is not over and she has a chance to return to Asia, where she found success last year, and the Year End Championships. ” I’m not really looking forward to a 14 hour flight in a couple of weeks. Yeah, the year is not over. We’ve still got I think I still have three tournaments to go or so. Yeah, once they come then it will be time to play again and raise my level. Until then, I just have to, you know, keep working in order for me to go out in the match and raise it.”

Photo: Getty

2. Maria Sharapova

Posted by Brodie under: Masha, SW19

21 Jun 2011

Weapons: Massive ground strokes, supreme mental toughness, hungry for slam success
Weaknesses: Serve and double faults still an issue

After winning Rome, it was clear to all that Masha was indeed back, and a real favourite for the remaining majors of 2011. She won Wimbledon back as a wee one, but she still possesses the ability to, with ridiculous power from both wings that whizz through the grass due to her height. My favourite to win the tournament.

Lady Evil

Posted by Brodie under: Caro, Masha, USO

6 Sep 2010

It’s good to be back.

If Caro was going to beat Masha, she was going to need some heart, consistency, and a little bit of luck, and boy did she get all of those.

Caro got balls back, made few errors, showed her underrated ability to rally with big hitters, and even hit some winners and took some chances. It all equalled a frustrated and confused Masha and a crusing Caro.

To be honest, I was a bit confused by Masha’s game plan, specifrically in the second set. She wasn’t interested in getting into rallies with Caro, specifically when returning, which meant going for psycho winners off the return and making a lot of errors. When she did get into rallies, she seemed passive and didn’t attempt to open up holes, or expose the holes in Caro’s game (specifically the movement). Sure, there were some sweet drop shots and good shots, but on the whole it wasn’t going to be enough.

One key to take out of this match is Caro’s improved strength, and if you want to call it that, power. I’m not talking big serves, or flat, huge winners. I’m talking about the ability to stay with big hitters and not get flattened or blown off the court by the player on the other side of the net. A year ago, it was clear that Caro could not play her game against the monster shots of Kim. Today she showed that she could keep up and play her game against Masha. Worth noting.

All in all, a disappointing result for Masha who made a lot of goofy errors and had once again, a few too many double faults (nine total) one of which gave the key break in the second. I really thought she was going to win this match and go deep.

Anyway, I’m back guys, and I’m giving Caro the bump, obviously. Caro/Domi and Bepa/Kaia are the four players left in this half… in other words, one of them is making the final. Wut.

Hang On In There

Posted by Ana under: Cincinnati, Kimmy, Masha

16 Aug 2010

Masha Kim

First of all, let me just say tennis won this week.

I can’t put into words how happy I was to see Ana playing good tennis again. Of course the tennis gods must hate her because she ended up with a sprained ankle and it’s a race against time to be ready for the USO. Anyways, I think she might be getting back on track. Hopefully this injury won’t bring her down again. Also, Pavs had an amazing tournament. She crushed Elena and had two great wins over Peer and Wickmayer. She was only stopped by Masha, but didn’t go away without fighting. Props to her. Youngest player in the Top 25.

Back to the final. I was really excited to watch it. Two GS Champions and former #1′s. What’s not to like about it? Masha had won their three previous meetings, but they hadn’t met since Kim got back on tour.

Masha had a better start and was serving some bombs. She broke Kim twice and saved the two BP she faced. I really thought she had it. Kim’s serve was letting her down and she made a lot of unforced errors. In the 2nd set the Russian went up a break and had 3 match points, but couldn’t convert them. Then, everything changed. In the blink of an eye it went from a sunny day to darkness and pouring rain. They stopped the match with Masha leading 6-2, 5-3 (deuce).

When I got back to it, I was really surprised that not only had Kim held that crucial game but she had also broken Masha to even things up. The match eventually went to a TB that Kim won 7-6 (4). I think the rain delay somehow helped her to regroup and refocus. In the end of the 2nd set Masha called the trainer out. She had the left foot taped and it was clear that she was in pain.

You know there’s something wrong with Sharapova when she goes silent, right? That’s what happened. Huge props to her for not retiring in the 3rd set, though. You can say what you want but that girl is a fighter. She was barely moving but never gave up. Actually, when Kim was serving for the match Masha hit two return winners that blew me (and I think a lot of other tennis fans) away.

So, Kim wins the 3rd title of the year (Brisbane, Miami and Cincinnati) and is up to #4 in the rankings, the highest since her comeback.

Masha had to withdraw from Montreal due to injury. Hopefully it’s just a precautionary measure.
And last but not least, with Kim winning playing far from her best (that says a lot about her ability) and Masha crushing the ball, it’s safe to say we have two huge contenders for the US Open title, right? Bring it on.

Guns A Blazin’

Posted by Brodie under: Masha, Stanford, Vika

1 Aug 2010

That my friends, is what we call a statement.

Blasting through Morita, Mel, Wicky, Sam and Masha while only dropping one set on the way (to Wicky Bartoli), Vika picks up her fourth title, and first of 2010.

While the first set was a serious tug-of-war and battle for momentum, it was pretty clear that Vika was winning the longer rallies and staying unfazed by Maria’s big hitting or huge winners. I wasn’t quite sure if she was going to be able to close it out, but she did deserve it, and took it 6-4.

Masha pretty well disappeared in the second set, and Vika didn’t drop off for one second. It was over in a flash (though that might have been because I slept through a couple of the games…) 6-1.

Super cute trophy presentation, where Maria said that she was sure they would play “many more times, and I will get my revenge”. Vika, all choked up from her win, thanked Maria and said she was sure they would play many more matches, in which Maria let out a cheeky laugh. Not only super cute, but super classy. I think most people would be down for more clashes between the two, there was some damn good tennis in that first set.

Really fantastic tournaments for both ladies to kick off the 2010 hard court and US Open Series, and I think it’s safe to say that both are big favourites to pick up lots of points pre-USO, and possibly make a run at the big time. Both are in good shape (where did those Vika guns come from?) and fully capable. Show me what ya got.

Smasha Basha Masha

Posted by Brodie under: Masha, Stanford

1 Aug 2010

It’s been a slow process for Masha, climbing back near the top of the mountain that is the WTA. Inactivity and a new service motion will do that do a person. Despite the double faults and bouts of inconsistency, Maria has shown that she’s belonged, dismantling lesser players and simply crushing and hitting through others. She was beating the players she was supposed to beat. The problem was the players that were going to stand more of an opposition. One thinks of Birmingham, where Maria cruised to the final, seemed to be a lock for the championship… until she ran into a consistent and tough Nails and was overwhelmed.

Now with her first wins over top 20 opponents this year (Lena and A-Rad) Masha is showing that she belongs once again, and will be dangerous against any opponent.

I think slowly she’s figuring out that serve, and the confidence is falling into all other parts of her game. The aggressive play she showed in last night’s third set was pretty freaking crazy, and she’s definitely finding the right moments to pull the trigger. Am pretty damn excited for the final today, not going to lie. Should be a good one.

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap