Player of the week: Venus Williams

Despite being on the Tour for 16 years, Venus Williams is still hungry for titles. This week she succesfully defended her crown in Dubai and got her 42nd career title, leading active players in singles titles.

And she did in a impressive way, without losing a set throughout the tournament and dropping no more than 8 games on each match. In the early rounds, Williams defeated three promising youngsters, German Sabine Lisicki and Russians Olga Govortsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. In the semis Venus had to face a difficult match against a very motivated Shahar Peer who was having a great run, but she only awarded 5 games to the Israeli. And in the final, Williams took advance of her experience to defeat another upcoming youngster, WTA #6 Victoria Azarenka.

And just after winning in Dubai, Venus flew to Acapulco to play on a very different surface (clay) looking for a 2nd title in a row, just as she did last year.

WTA ranking as of 22-Feb-2010

Svetlana Kuznetsova climbs one to #3 as Caroline Wozniacki falls to #4, whereas Agnieszka Radwanska moves one place up to #8 thanks to her semifinalist place in Dubai. Also semifinalist in Dubai, Shahar Peer gains two places to rank at #20. Memphis champion Maria Sharapova moves from #16 to #13, whereas Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova climbs from #38 to #27. Bogota runner-up Angelique Kerber gains 19 spots up to #66 and Memphis runner-up Sofia Arvidsson climbs 23 places up to #79, although greatest gainer in Top-100 is Bogota champion Mariana Duque Marino, who gains 49 places moving from #143 to #94.

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA864518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS648018
3(4)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS593019
4(3)Caroline WozniackiDEN592524
5(5)Venus WilliamsUSA562617
6(6)Victoria AzarenkaBLR530017
7(7)Elena DementievaRUS485519
8(9)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL388023
9(8)Jelena JankovicSRB377020
10(10)Na LiCHN366519

Week #8 preview: Acapulco, Kuala Lumpur

Acapulco(MEX), International, $220,000
The 2nd tournament of the American clay mini-season takes places in Acapulco. Last year champion Venus Williams will try to defend her title as she did in Dubai last week. She is the clear favorite as she is the only Top-30 player in the draw. Hungarian Agnes Szavay, Argentinian Gisela Dulko, Romanian Sorana Cirstea, Spanish Carla Suarez and Italian Sara Errani will be her main rivals on the way to the title.

Kuala Lumpur (MAL), International, $220,000
On its debut on the Tour, this new WTA tournament in Malasya will feature two Top-10 players, Russian Elena Dementieva and Chinese Na Li who are the top seeds and big favourites for the title, although another Chinesse, Jie Zheng, and another Russian, Alisa Kleybanova, shouldn't be discarded.


Week #7: Venus retains her title in Dubai, Sharapova wins in Memphis.

Venus Williams successfully defended her title in Dubai and captured her 42nd WTA title, becoming the active player with more WTA singles titles, just ahead of Justine Henin who has 41. Williams, who didn't drop a set on the entire tournament, defeated 4th seed Victoria Azarenka in the final. Most of the attention was drawn on Israeli Shahar Peer, who this year was able to play after not being allowed last year. Peer had to play on secondary courts with high security, but was highly motivated and completed an amazing run upsetting 1st seed Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the semifinal, losing to Williams. Agnieszka Radwanska completed the semis and Russian Regina Kulikova had her breakthrough tournament, reaching the quarter-finals as a qualifier and upsetting 2nd seed Svetlana Kuznetsova on her way.

In Memphis Maria Sharapova found little opposition on her way to her 21st WTA title. She confirmed her condition of big favourite and didn't drop a set throughout the tournament, in fact she lost just 21 games in 10 sets. In the final Sharapova swept Sofia Arvidsson, who reached the final as a qualifier upsetting 2nd seed Melanie Oudin on her way. On her 2nd tournament after coming back from an injury break, British Anne Keothavong reached the semis but lost to Arvidsson. Petra Kvitova completed the semis.

Finally, in Bogota WTA #143 Mariana Duque Marino surprised everyone and captured her first WTA title in front of her home crowd. The final featured two players that had never gone further than quarter-finals in a WTA event, Duque and German Angelique Kerber. Kerber upsetted 1st seed Gisela Dulko in the semis. Spanish Arantxa Parra, who upsetted 3rd seed Sara Errani completed the semis, whereas 2nd seed Carla Suarez was upsetted in the 1st round by qualifier Kristina Antoniychuk.

Dubai (UAE), Premier, $2,000,000
Final: Venus Williams (USA) def Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 6/3 7/5

Memphis (USA), International, $220,000
Final: Maria Sharapova (RUS) def Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) 6/2 6/1

Bogota (COL), International, $220,000
Final: Mariana Duque Marino (COL) def Angelique Kerber (GER) 6/4 6/3


Hot shot: Iveta Benesova looking smoking hot in bikini pictures

I don't know where these photos are from, I just bumped into them and had to share with all readers. Iveta looks awesome in her bikini. An obvious choice for next year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Hot shot: Former WTA player Olga Barabanschikova sexy photoshoot for XXL magazine

Former WTA player Olga Barabanschikova graced the cover of Ukrainian magazine XXL last January. The Belarusian, who played in the WTA Tour between 1996 and 2003 with a career-hig ranking at #49, was better know due to her hot looks rather than her results. Her career highlights were reaching the Last-16 round in Wimbledon in 2000 and a runner-up place in Istambul in 1998. After her retirement, Barabanschikova pursued a showbussiness career as singer, model and TV host. The magazine also includes an interview and a sexy photoshoot with the 30 y.o. blonde.


Player of the week: Lucie Safarova

After her breakthrough in early 2007, when she reached the quarter-finals in the Australian Open and the final in Paris defeating Top-3 at that time Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, Czech Lucie Safarova hadn't showed that great level again. But this week she has found her game back and by coincidence it was again in the Paris indoors tournament.

After sweeping Tamira Paszek in the 1st round losing just 3 games, Safarova had to face a very tough draw as an unseeded player. 4th seed and WTA #18 Francesca Schiavone was the first victim of Safarova in the 2nd round, who also swept 6th seed Shahar Peer, one of the best players in late 2009 and early 2010 season, in the quarter-finals by 6/3 6/0. The semifinal was even more difficult, as she faced 2nd seed and WTA #12 Flavia Pennetta, but despite losing the 1st set Safarova came back to get her place in the final. And then the most difficult challenge, 1st seed and WTA #7 Elena Dementieva. Safarova took the 1st set in the tie-break, but Dementieva raised her level to take the title in a high-quality final.

Although Safarova had to content herself with the runner-up place as in 2007, recovering the best sensations on her tennis are really good news for her.

WTA ranking as of 15-Feb-2010

No changes in WTA Top-10 this week. Flavia Pennetta moves one up to #11 thanks to her semifinalist place in Paris. Runner-up in Paris Lucie Safarova goes from #46 to #39, whereas semifinalist Melanie Oudin climbs from #53 to #42. Pattaya runner-up Tamarine Tanasugarn gains 12 places up to #75, although greatest gainer in Top-100 is ITF $100,000 Midland champion Elena Baltacha who climbs 13 spots to reach her career-high ranking at #70

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA899518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS648019
3(3)Caroline WozniackiDEN599524
4(4)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS586119
5(5)Venus WilliamsUSA552617
6(6)Victoria AzarenkaBLR496017
7(7)Elena DementievaRUS485519
8(8)Jelena JankovicSRB376520
9(9)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL360523
10(10)Na LiCHN344119


Week #7 preview: Dubai, Memphis, Bogota

Dubai (UAE), Premier, $2,000,000
The big prize money and luxurious hotels of Dubai always attract many of the top players to this Premier tournament. And this year is not an exception, with 8 of the Top-10 players (only Serena Williams and Dinara Safina are missing) and 16 of the 20 world's top players. Venus Williams will try to retain her title but will find a big opposition on Russian army (Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Zvonareva) and youngsters Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka.

Memphis (USA), International, $220,000
Two are the main attractions and big favourites of this International event in Memphis, Russian Maria Sharapova and American Melanie Oudin. Sharapova will try to take revenge of her defeat to Oudin at US Open 2009. Nevertheless, there are some other dangerous players in the draw, such as Estonian Kaia Kanepi, and Czech Lucie Hradecka and Petra Kvitova.

Bogota (COL), International, $220,000

American clay mini-season starts in Bogota. The draw doesn't look very strong with many players from outside Top-100, and it would be a real surprise if the title is not for one of the Top 3 seeds: Argentinian Gisela Dulko, Spanish Carla Suarez and Italian Sara Errani. But on clay surprises should never be discarded.

Week #6: Dementieva wins in Paris 2nd title this season, Zvonareva retains Pattaya title.

Elena Dementieva captured her 16th WTA title and 2nd of the season in Paris, where she was runner-up last year. In the final she defeated 2007 runner-up Lucie Safarova, who upsetted 2nd seed Flavia Pennetta in the semifinal and reminded to the player who bursted three years ago. The crowd was able to enjoy high-level tennis specially in the decissive rounds, with both semifinals and the final decided in 3 sets. Upcoming American Melanie Oudin also enjoyed a great week and reached the semis, but there she was defeated by Dementieva, who avenged her US Open 2009 defeat.

In Pattaya, Russian Vera Zvonareva successfully defended her last year title and captured her 10th WTA title. After overcoming 4th seed Yaroslava Shvedova in a tough semifinal, Zvonareva defeated local favourite Tamarine Tanasugarn , who couldn't win her home tournament on her 2nd final appearance. Former teen sensation Sesil Karatantcheva completed the semis, in her best tournament after serving a two-year doping suspension and coming back in 2008.

Paris (FRA), Premier, $700,000
Final: Elena Dementieva (RUS) def Lucie Safarova (CZE) 6/7 6/1 6/4

Pattaya (THA), International, $220,000

Final: Vera Zvonareva (RUS) def Tamarine Tanasugarn (THA) 6/4 6/4


Player of the week: Flavia Pennetta / Melanie Oudin

With the great motivation of playing for their countries, it is usual that some players become the heroes of their Fed Cup teams. Multiple players had a remarkable performance last weekend, but we are going to highlight two of them.

With two titles in 2006 and 2009, Italy is one of the strongest Fed Cup teams. And one of the keys of their success is having a solid leader in Flavia Pennetta. This year they have the pressure of being the defending champions, and had a complicated start as they were playing in Ukraine. The tie started in the worst possible way, with Ukranian Alona Bondarenko sweeping Italian Francesca Schiavone. But Pennetta came to the rescue and eased the way of the Italian team with two straight set victories over Katerina Bondarenko and Ukranian #1 Alona Bondarenko.

With the Williams sisters skipping Fed Cup, the leadership of USA team rest on the shoulders of 18 year-old Melanie Oudin. And despite not having good results since her amazing run at the US Open 2009 and playing away against a classic Fed Cup team as France, Oudin didn't feel the pressure and led her team to the victory. Encouraged by the victory of US #2 Bethanie Mattek over French #1 Alize Cornet, Oudin sealed the tie with two straight set victories over Pauline Parmentier and Julie Coin.


Hot Shot: Ana Ivanovic on Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2010!

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2010 features again a WTA player, and this year is Serbian star Ana Ivanovic. This has been a real surprise, as no news about this were leaked until the issue has been revealed on SI's website. This photoshoot is going to have a big impact as Ana is one of the most beautiful and sexy players on WTA Tour, although she may not have the best body for a bikini photoshoot. Anyway she looks damn hot.

I encourage you to visit SI's website to watch the complete Ivanovic's photoshoot gallery, but here you can take a sneak peek.

(photos via SI.com)

By the way, SI Swimsuit Issue 2010 cover model is Brooklyn Decker, who is also related to tennis somehow as she is Andy Roddick's wife.


WTA ranking as of 8-Feb-2010

No changes in WTA ranking this week as Fed Cup ties were held.

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA919518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS648019
3(3)Caroline WozniackiDEN599525
4(4)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS586119
5(5)Venus WilliamsUSA552617
6(6)Victoria AzarenkaBLR496017
7(7)Elena DementievaRUS470519
8(8)Jelena JankovicSRB384521
9(9)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL360524
10(10)Na LiCHN350020

Week #6 preview: Paris, Pattaya

Paris (FRA), Premier, $700,000
After the withdrawal of Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva is the only Top-10 to compete at the indoor tournament in Paris. Her main opponents on the way to the title will be WTA #12 Flavia Pennetta and WTA #15 Yanina Wickmayer, although Italian Francesca Schiavone, French Aravane Rezai and Virginie Razzano and Israeli Shahar Peer should be also taken into account.

Pattaya (THA), International, $220,000

Vera Zvonareva and Sabine Lisicki are the top seeds and big favourites for the title in this International event in Thailand. Vera Dushevina, Sania Mirza, Yaroslava Shvedova, Sybille Bammer, Kimiko Date and Anna Chakvetadze are also among the candidates, while home crowd will cheer for local player Tamarine Tanasugarn.

Week #5: Italy, Czech Rep., Russia and USA through Fed Cup semifinals.

Italy vs Czech Republic and USA vs Russia will be the Fed Cup semifinals after they all won their 1st round ties this weekend. Flavia Pennetta led the current champion Italy to the victory in Ukraine, as she overcame both Bondarenko sisters. The Czech Republic found a big opposition on German Ana-Lena Groenefeld who won two singles points for Germany, but also found a hero in Lucie Hradecka, who replaced Lucie Safarova on the 2nd day to defeat Petkovic and then win the decissive doubles match partnering Kveta Peschke. The most expected tie was the one between Serbia and Russia. Serbian Jelena Jankovic put all from her side and despite not being 100% physically fit won her 2 singles matches in two 3-set dramas against Alisa Kleybanova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. But on the other hand former #1 Ana Ivanovic showed that she's in a serious slump and lost all her matches with a poor performance. The tie was also decided in the doubles match with Kleybanova and Kuznetsova defeating Jankovic and Ivanovic. Finally, the USA team with no Williams sisters and led by Melanie Oudin got a clear victory in France. In the first match Bethanie Mattek upsetted French #1 Alize Cornet, who couldn't handle the pressure and continues her Fed Cup nightmare (0-6 record). Then USA #1 Melanie Oudin secured the victory overcoming Pauline Parmentier and Julie Coin.

There was also some interesting ties in World Group II. The tie between Australia and Spain was decided in the doubles match with Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs defeating World #3 team Nuria Llagostera and Maria Jose Martinez. Stosur was the leader of the Australian team winning the 3 points. Yanina Wickmayer was also the leader of the Belgian team that defeated Poland, as she won her two single points including a key victory over WTA #9 Agnieszka Radwanska coming back form a set down and saving match points. Nevertheless, it was Kirsten Flipkens who won the decissive point defeating Marta Domachowska. The other ties were decided at 3-0 as Estonia swept a very weak Argentinian team and the Slovak Republic overcame a Chinese team weakened by the withdrawals of Jie Zheng and Shuai Peng.

Finally, Canada, Japan, Sweden and Slovenia won the zonal groups and will play-off with World Group II losers for a place in World Group II next season.

World Group, 1/4-final
Ukraine 1 - Italy 4
Czech Republic 3 - Germany 2
Serbia 2 - Russia 3
France 1 - USA 4

World Group II, 1st round

Australia 3 - Spain 2
Poland 2 - Belgium 3
Estonia 4 - Argentina 1
Slovak Republic 3 - China 2


Player of the week: Serena Williams

After the comeback of former WTA #1s Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, the Belgians seemed to threaten the leadership of Serena Williams at the WTA Tour. But at the Australian Open Williams has confirmed that she still is strongest player.

Williams stormed through the early rounds defeating Urszula Radwanska, Petra Kvitova and Carla Suarez and dropping just 3 games on each match. In the Last-16 round, 13th seed Samantha Stousr wasn't a big deal either, and Williams defeated her in straight sets. But in the quarter-final, Serena had to face a critical moment, being 6/4 4/0 down to Victoria Azarenka. She even thought she was out of the tournament, but then played her best to come back and win the match. In the semis another tough match against Chinese Na Li, who had defeated her sister Venus. But Serena avenged her and defeated the Chinese in two tie-breaks. And then the final everyone was expecting, the current #1 against the former #1 coming back to the Tour, Justine Henin. Williams was in control of the first set, which she took by 6/4. Then in the 2nd set Henin played some amazing tennis to win 5 games in a row, taking the set 6/3 and the lead in the third. But Williams got the momentum back to take the final set.

With this title Serena became the only woman to win the Australian Open 5 times in the Open Era, and with 12th Grand Slam titles tied with Billie Jean King on the all-time list just behind Court, Graf, Wills Moody, Navratilova and Evert.


WTA ranking as of 1-Feb-2010

Australian Open champion Serena Williams extends her lead as WTA #1, whereas young Caroline Wozniacki climbs one to a career-high ranking at #3. Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka also move one place up to #5 and #6 respectively, as Elena Dementieva drops to #7. Semifinalist Na Li moves from #17 to #10 and becomes the first Chinese player ever to break into Top-10, while fellow Chinese semifinalist Jie Zheng climbs from #35 to #20. Surprising quarter-finalist Maria Kirilenko climbs 21 places up to #37, although greatest gainer in Top-100 is Angelique Kerber, who moves 33 places up to #85. AO runner-up Justine Henin is still unranked, as she has to play one more tournament to get a ranking.

CurPrvNameCountryRank pts.Tours.
1(1)Serena WilliamsUSA919518
2(2)Dinara SafinaRUS648019
3(4)Caroline WozniackiDEN599525
4(3)Svetlana KuznetsovaRUS586119
5(6)Venus WilliamsUSA552617
6(7)Victoria AzarenkaBLR496017
7(5)Elena DementievaRUS470519
8(8)Jelena JankovicSRB384521
9(10)Agnieszka RadwanskaPOL360524
10(17)Na LiCHN350020