Week #5 preview: Fed Cup

2010 Fed Cup starts this weekend with current champion Italy starting their defense in Ukraine. Bondarenko sisters lead the Ukranian team that makes its debut in World Group, although the solid Italian team with Pennetta and Schiavone is still the favourite. The tie between Czech Republic and Germany looks very levelled with many Top-80 players. In their first World Group appearance, Serbia, with Jankovic and Ivanovic not at their best, could go to the semis, as Russia will miss all their 6 Top-25 players. And surprisingly the tie between France and USA is the weakest of all, without any Top-40 player and just 3 Top-100 players.

In World Group II there are also some interesting ties. Australia, led by Samantha Stosur, has a tough tie against a solid Spanish team that has 3 Top-40 players. Agnieszka Radwanska and Yanina Wickmayer will lead Poland and Belgium in a tie that could be decided in the doubles match. Estonia, led by Kanepi, is the favourite as they will receive a weak Argentinian team that will miss Dulko. And the most interesting tie is between Slovak Republic with Hantuchova and Cibulkova and China with Zheng and Peng.

World Group, 1/4-final

Ukraine (A. Bondarenko, K. Bondarenko, Kutuzova, Koryttseva)
vs Italy (Pennetta, Schiavone, Errani, Vinci)

Czech Republic (Safarova, Hradecka, Kvitova, Peschke)
vs Germany (Petkovic, Groenefeld, Malek, Barrois)

Serbia (Jankovic, Ivanovic, Jovanovic, Jovanovski)
vs Russia (Kleybanova, Pavlyuchenkova, Dushevina, Makarova)

France (Cornet, Coin, Parmentier, Cohen-Aloro)
vs USA (Oudin, Perry, Mattek-Sands, Huber)

World Group II, 1st round
Australia (Stosur, Molik, Dellacqua, Stubbs)
vs Spain (Medina, Martinez, Suarez, Llagostera)

Poland (A. Radwanska, Domachowska, Rosolska, Jans)
vs Belgium (Wickmayer, Flipkens, Mestach, Oyen)

Estonia (Kanepi, Ani, Ruutel, Schutting)
vs Argentina (Irigoyen, Auroux, Salut, Ormaechea)

Slovak Republic (Cibulkova, Hantuchova, Rybarikova, K. Kucova)
vs China (Zheng, Peng, Zhang, Lu)

Week #3-4: Serena shows that she's the strongest one despite Henin's comeback

Serena Williams made history as she became the first woman to win the Australian Open 5 times in the Open era. This was also the 12th Grand Slam title for Serena, who tied with Billie Jean King. In the final Williams overcame former #1 Justine Henin, who showed a great level on her comeback to the Tour, and the final went to 3-sets (last Grand Slam final to go to 3-sets was Wimbledon 2006). Serena was almost out of the tournament in the quarters, but survived a 6/4 4/0 down to Victoria Azarenka. On the other hand, Jie Zheng and Na Li made history for China reaching the semifinals. Li upsetted Venus Williams in the quarters and put Serena into some trouble in the semis, while Zheng enjoyed an easy way, although she was swept by Henin in the semis. Nadia Petrova, who upsetted Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Maria Kirilenko, who upsetted Maria Sharapova and Dinara Safina, completed the quarter-finals.

Serena Williams also retained the doubles title along with her sister Venus. They defeated World's #1 team Cara Black and Liezel Huber to capture their 4th Australian Open doubles title and 11th Grand Slam doubles title.

Australian Open (AUS), Grand Slam, A$21,400,000
Singles final: Serena Williams (USA) def Justine Henin (BEL) 6/4 3/6 6/2
Doubles final: S.Williams(USA)/V.Williams(USA) def C.Black(ZIM)/L.Huber(USA) 6/4 6/3
Mixed doubles final: C.Black/L.Paes def E.Makarova/J.Levinsky 7/5 6/3


Hot stuff: Australian Open fashion

As every year, the first Grand Slam of the year is a great catwalk to show new season designs. This year Maria Sharapova's dress was widely commented, with mostly negative reviews. Nevertheless she wasn't able to show it off a lot as she was defeated in the 1st round. Also controversial was Venus Williams's choice, not her outfit but her skin-coloured underwear that made the visual illusion of going commando.

And it was all yellow... Besides Venus Williams, some of the most popular players such as Ivanovic, Hantuchova and Kirilenko also picked yellow for their outfits.

By the way Kirilenko is looking much better now that she is not wearing Stella McCartney's designs. That burden is now for Caroline Wozniacki. I must admit that this time I have not found her design so unflattering, although grey was a little bit boring choice.

Thumbs up for Serena Williams and Jie Zheng.

As usual, thumbs down for Fila (Clijsters, Kuznetsova) and Yonex (Dementieva).

One of the worst outfits I've seen lately was Aravane Rezai's black and gold combination, completely inaproppiate for Australian summer. But she wasn't the worst one though. Lucie Safarova got that inglorious honor with her flashy t-shirt. Lucie, what the hell were you thinking?

And my pick for best dressed goes this time to Victoria Azarenka. Nothing special, but it really suited her (much better than her Wimbledon'09 outfit) and the pink details on her tank top, shoes, shoelaces and scrunchies perfectly matched her skirt.


Player of the week: Elena Dementieva

As last year, Elena Dementieva has started the season in the best possible way winning the first Premier event of the season at Sydney.

After a straight sets victory over dangerous Italian Francesca Schiavone in the first round, 5th seed Dementieva found bigger opposition on former Top-5 Daniela Hantuchova, who was the only player who managed to take a set from Dementieva during the whole week. But once in the quarters, Dementieva started to play her best tennis to consecutively defeat WTA #2 Dinara Safina in the quarter-final, WTA #7 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinal and WTA #1 Serena Williams in the final, dropping no more than 5 games on each match.

Now she will try to confirm her good moment in the Australian Open, although it will not be easy as she will meet former WTA #1 Justine Henin in the 2nd round and US Open champion Kim Clijsters in a potential quarter-final match-up.

WTA ranking as of 18-Jan-2009

No changes on WTA Top 10 this week. French Aravane Rezai moves from #27 to #23 after her semifinalist place in Sydney. Greatest gainer in Top-100 is Belgian Kirsten Flipkens who climbs 9 places to reach her career-high ranking at #71.

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA919518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS760019
3(3)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS608119
4(4)Caroline WozniackiDEN578525
5(5)Elena DementievaRUS550519
6(6)Venus WilliamsUSA512617
7(7)Victoria AzarenkaBLR474017
8(8)Jelena JankovicSRB396521
9(9)Vera ZvonarevaRUS356022
10(10)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL345024


Week #3-4 preview: Australian Open

Australian Open (AUS), Grand Slam, A$21,400,000
The first Grand Slam of the season is already here and this year it looks more exciting than ever after the comeback of former WTA #1s Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. Together with defending champion Serena Williams, they are the main favourites for the title. Williams is current WTA #1, defending champion and is already four-times champion at the Australian Open, although Clijsters won the last Grand Slam of 2009 (US Open) and Henin dominated the Tour before retiring and showed in Brisbane she has come back in good shape. A step behind, we should count the Russian army with Safina, Kuznetsova, Dementieva,Zvonareva and Sharapova, American Venus Williams, Serbian Jelena Jankovic and youngsters Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka. On the other hand, it will be a chance to see if former WTA #1 Ana Ivanovic has recovered from her horrible 2009 season. Darkhorses include Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, Italian Flavia Pennetta, Isaraeli Shahar Peer, French Aravane Rezai or Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko.

Both Williams sisters have been drawn in the upper half, so an all-Williams final is not possible as they would potentially meet in the semifinals, given that they overcome Azarenka and Wozniacki. An all-Belgian final is not possible either, as both Clijsters and Henin have been drawn in the lower half. In fact they are drawn in the same quarter and with opponents like Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Pennetta, Wickmayer, Rezai or Dokic in which clearly is the hardest quarter of the draw. The 2nd round will already have potential Dementieva vs Henin and Pennetta vs Wickmayer matches. Finally, the remaining quarter is more open with Safina, Jankovic and Sharapova as main candidates for a place in the semifinals, although a surprising semifinalist shouldn't be discarded on this quarter.

Week #2: Dementieva defeats Serena Williams to claim the title in Sydney.

Russian Elena Dementieva successfully defended her 2009 title at Sydney. And as in 2009, she defeated WTA #1 and #2 Serena Williams and Dinara Safina on her way to the final. Dementieva showed her best tennis in the decissive rounds, consecutively defeating Safina, Azarenka and Williams dropping no more than 5 games on each match. Unseeded French Aravane Rezai completed the semis.

In Hobart, Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko captured her 2nd WTA title after her title in Luxembourg in 2006. 4th seed Bondarenko had to come back from a set down to upset 1st seed Anabel Medina in the semifinal, and then defeated Israeli Shahar Peer in the final in straight sets. Unseeded Italian Sara Errani, who upsetted 3rd seed Katerina Bondarenko, completed the semis.

Sydney (AUS), Premier, $600,000
Final: Elena Dementieva (RUS) def Serena Williams (USA) 6/3 6/2

Hobart (AUS), International, $220,000
Final: Alona Bondarenko (UKR) def Shahar Peer (ISR) 6/2 6/4

Hot shot: Maria Sharapova, gorgeous at multiple events in Australia

WTA star Maria Sharapova showed her beauty at multiple events last week in Australia, a few days before the Australian Open starts. She modelled earrings from Tiffany's she will be wearing at the Australian Open, opened a new shop of her sponsor Tag Heuer and attended Crown's Tennis Players Party.


Latent heat: Laura Robson

Since she won Wimbledon juniors title in 2008 being just 14 years old, Laura Robson got all the attention from British media, always willing to discover potential champions from their country.

Late in 2008 she made her WTA debut in Luxembourg, taking a set from Top-50 Iveta Benesova. In 2009 she made her Grand Slam debut in Wimbledon and took a set from former Top-5 Daniela Hantuchova, who managed to comeback and win the match. After that she was just a step of going through the qualies in the US Open and Luxembourg, where she got her best victory defeating WTA #76 Julia Goerges.

This week Robson's popularity has increased as she has represented Great Britain in the Hopman Cup. Despite losing all her matches in the round robin, Robson showed that she can compete with the top players, taking a set from WTA #52 Shvedova and having a close match with WTA #22 Sabine Lisicki. Nevertheless Great Britain progressed to the final with some thrilling victories in the mixed doubles matches where Robson teamed up with Andy Murray, and this awoke the attention of the British media again. In the final Robson upsetted WTA #25 Maria Jose Martinez, but this wasn't enough to win the title as Murray lost his singles match and this time they were defeated in the mixed doubles.

15 year-old Robson has conquered the hearts of many fans this week, who describe her as cute and adorable. This week she will be competing at the Australian Open qualifying. Another chance to evaluate her potential.


Player of the week: Justine Henin

Despite not winning the title, former WTA #1 Justine Henin got most of the attention this week on her comeback to the Tour.

She started her comeback upsetting 2nd seed Nadia Petrova in straight sets in the 1st round. After overcoming Sesil Karatantcheva in the 2nd round, she found much more opposition on 7th seed Melinda Czink in the quarters and needed a third set tiebreak to defeat her. The semifinals looked a tougher test as Henin was facing 3rd seed and former WTA #1 Ana Ivanovic, and this time Henin went through with ease by 6/4 6/3 to set-up a highly expected final against fellow Belgian and former #1 Kim Clijsters, who successfully came back to the Tour last year to win the US Open. After losing the first set, Henin came back to win the 2nd set and the match was decided in a tight 3rd set tiebreak, which was won by Clijsters.

The high quality of the final is a breath of fresh air for the Tour, which lacked of real competetivity between its leaders. And, although she may not be at her best yet, Henin has shown that she's ready to compete again for the big titles with the top players.


WTA ranking as of 11-Jan-2009

No changes on WTA Top 10 as none of them played last week. Brisbane champion Kim Clijsters moves from #18 to #15, while Slovak Dominika Cibulkova climbs from #28 to #24. Greatest gainer in Top-100 is Brisbane semifinalist Andrea Petkovic, who climbs 6 places to break into the Top-50 and peak at #49.

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA907518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS780019
3(3)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS614119
4(4)Caroline WozniackiDEN587525
5(5)Elena DementievaRUS550519
6(6)Venus WilliamsUSA512617
7(7)Victoria AzarenkaBLR454116
8(8)Jelena JankovicSRB396520
9(9)Vera ZvonarevaRUS356021
10(10)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL345024

Week #2 preview: Sydney, Hobart

Sydney (AUS), Premier, $600,000
The first Premier tournament of the season features an excellent draw with 9 of the Top-10 players. Only Venus Williams is missing. This will be the first chance to watch WTA #1 Serena Williams, Safina, Kuznetsova, Wozniacki, Dementieva, etc. and evaluate their chances at the Australian Open. Unfortunately former WTA #1 Justine Henin had to withdraw with a left gluteal strain, so we will not be able to watch the highly expected Williams vs Henin confrontation.

Hobart (AUS), International, $220,000
Another preparation tournament on the way to Australian Open takes place in Hobart. Despite not having any Top-25 players, the draw is not bad at all as most of players are in the Top-60. Spanish Anabel Medina and Israeli Shahar Peer are the top seeds, but other big names include Jie Zheng, Gisela Dulko, Sania Mirza, Alize Cornet, Jelena Dokic and Alicia Molik.

Week #1: Exciting start of 2010 season with Clijsters defeating Henin in Brisbane.

In the last few years there has been a lot of critics to WTA Tour's level and lack of regularity of their leaders, so there is a big expectation this 2010 season as former WTA #1 Justine Henin is coming back to the Tour, as fellow #1 Kim Clijsters did last summer. And the season couldn't have started in a better way, with both players starring in a high-quality final in Brisbane. Clijsters took the title in an exciting third-set tiebreak, but Henin showed that she is ready to compete with the top players again. Serbian Ana Ivanovic reached the semis for the first sime since March-2009 but was defeated by Henin, while German Andrea Petkovic completed the semis.

In Auckland Belgian Yanina Wickmayer completed a dream week for Belgium that had 3 of the 4 finalists. Wickmayer showed that she hasn't lost her focus despite her 1-year ban for not reporting her whereabouts that was subsequently alleged and lifted, and didn't drop a set throughout the week, defeating 1st seed and WTA #12 Flavia Pennetta in the final. Fellow Italian Francesca Schiavone and Israeli Shahar Peer, who suffered the noise from pro-Palestinian protesters in some of her matches, completed the semis.

In Perth Spain captured its 3rd Hopman Cup title in an exciting final against Great Britain that was decided in the mixed doubles match. The Spanish team with ATP Tommy Robredo and WTA Maria Jose Martinez progressed to the final winning their 3 ties with a perfect 9-0 record in the round-robin group. On the other hand Great Britain's team progressed to the final winning their 3 ties thanks to Andy Murray, as 15 years old Laura Robson lost all her singles matches. Nevertheless, in the final Robson upsetted Maria Jose Martinez to give the lead to the British, but Robredo put Spain back in contention upsetting Murray and the Spanish secured the title in the mixed doubles match.

Brisbane (AUS), International, $220,000
Final: Kim Clijsters (BEL) def Justine Henin (BEL) 6/3 4/6 7/6

Auckland (NZL), International, $220,000
Final: Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) def Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 6/3 6/2

Hyundai Hopman Cup, Perth (AUS)
Final: Spain def Great Britain 2-1


Week #1 preview: Brisbane, Auckland, Hopman Cup, Hong Kong exhibition

Brisbane (AUS), International, $220,000
2010 season starts in Australia with this International tournament that this year has an extraordinary interest as this is the first appareance of former WTA #1 Justine Henin on her comeback. There is also a big expectation to watch fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who came back to the Tour last year to win the US Open. And it is also interesting to see former Top-10 Alicia Molik also coming back to the WTA Tour and if former #1 Ana Ivanovic has finally overcome her last season slump. Nadia Petrova, Daniela Hantuchova and Jelena Dokic are other big names featured.

Auckland (NZL), International, $220,000

As usual, this first week of the season a tournament is held in New Zealand. Italians Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, Chinese Na Li and Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, who received an invitation after her 1-year ban was lifted, are the top seeds and main favourites for the title. Other candidates for the title include Aravane Rezai, Shahar Peer, Dominika Cibulkova, Sania Mirza and Maria Kirilenko.

Hyundai Hopman Cup, Perth (AUS)
The mixed teams competition is a classic in this first week of the year. This year the teams of Australia, Spain, Romania and USA will compete for a place in the final in the group A, with Russia, Great Britain, Germany and Asian champion Kazakhstan in group B. Samantha Stosur, Maria Jose Martinez, Sorana Cirstea, Melanie Oudin, Elena Dementieva, Laura Robson, Sabine Lisicki and Yaroslava Shvedova are the WTA players representing their countries.

Hong Kong Tennis Classic, Exhibition

Some of the best world players will be in the exhibition touranment in Hong Kong, featuring a novel format with 4 teams, each one with 2 top WTA players and a retired ATP player. Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka will play for the European team, Venus Williams and Gisela Dulko for the American Team, Maria Sharapova and Vera Zvonareva for the Russian team and Jie Zheng and Ayumi Morita for the Asia-Pacific team.