Championships Profile: Dinara Safina

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Dinara Safina
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Championships Profile: Dinara Safina

DOHA, Qatar – Dinara Safina didn’t just shift gears in 2008; she graduated to a whole new league. Although the Russian’s natural talent was never in doubt – how could it be, with former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Marat for a brother – the mental side of her game had sometimes let her down. But that all changed on a spring day in Berlin, when a patient and composed Safina upset the world’s best player, Justine Henin, in the third round. Henin duly announced her retirement while Safina went on to beat Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva to claim her first Tier I title.

Since then, “Marat’s little sister” has been busy proving her exploits that week were no fluke. Although the 22-year-old would finish the main playing season with a far-from-shabby win-loss record of 55-17; her figures from Berlin onwards are rather more telling: 45-7; more than enough to ensure the Russian qualified for the Sony Ericsson Championships for the first time in her career.

New-model Safina’s first test post-Berlin was the French Open, where she marched all the way to her first Grand Slam final as the No.13 seed, collecting the scalps of Maria Sharapova, who had replaced Henin as No.1, Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova before falling to Ana Ivanovic in the championship match.

In the ensuing five months, Safina lost just two matches that, on paper at least, might be considered an upset. The first was at the hands of Thai veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn in the final of the Ordina Open, a grasscourt event held in the Netherlands as a lead-in to Wimbledon. The second came at Wimbledon itself, with a third round loss to fellow seed Shahar Peer, after an epic match that left both players on the point of collapse.

That disappointment failed to snap the magic as Safina crossed the Atlantic to the hardcourts of North America. As the jostling for position at the top of the rankings heated up, Safina beat Jelena Jankovic in the semis at Los Angeles, then Flavia Pennetta in the final, for a second title of the year; the following week a second Tier I title was collected at the Rogers Cup in Montréal. At the Olympics, Safina again beat Jankovic on her way to the final, where it took a particularly determined Dementieva to stop her. Safina nonetheless went home with a silver medal – something her brother doesn’t have.

Notwithstanding a semifinal loss to Vera Zvonareva at Moscow, since the Olympics it has taken a Williams sister to stop Safina in her tracks, and there is never shame in that. In Safina’s first US Open semifinal she fell to Serena – clearly a woman on a mission that week. At Stuttgart, Safina played Venus – perhaps surprisingly, for the first time – and the American won in straight sets. But Safina won the third Tier I title of her year and career at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, easily beating Kuznetsova in the final, for another 430 Championships Race points.

Indeed, as far as Race to Doha points go, winning a Tier I tournament rates about the same as reaching the semis of a Slam, which earns a player 450 points. Not only did Safina’s three Tier I victories earn her 1,290 points out of her eventual total of 3,832, she was also the most successful player at that level; Jankovic won two, at Rome and Moscow; Serena also won two, at Miami and Charleston.

Safina’s qualification for Doha was announced at the same time as Serena’s, after both had reached the semis at Flushing Meadows. As Serena had 3,130 points, seven more than the Russian, Safina was technically the fourth to make the cut. But by the time the Race had ended she was easily in second place behind Jankovic, on 3,823 points.

“I am really happy about qualifying for the Sony Ericsson Championships,” Safina said at the time. “I think this is the goal for every player, to reach the Championships at the end of the year, and finally my dream has come true.”

In May she was ranked No.14, but she arrives at Doha as the world No.2. She can’t catch Jankovic this week, but she can set the scene for even greater achievements in 2009. It is worth noting that the old Safina lost in the first round at both Sydney and the Australian Open last January, so she has little in the way of points to defend early in the New Year. And who knows, a certain Marat may yet come to be known as “Dinara’s older brother.”

Championships Profile: Serena Williams

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Serena Williams
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Championships Profile: Serena Williams

DOHA, Qatar – Serena Williams might not have been at her most dominating in 2008, but she would surely agree it has been one of the most rewarding years of her career.

Playing one of her busier schedules, the now 27-year-old collected three titles in the first half of the season, including the Tier II Canara Bank Bangalore Open in India and two Tier I titles, on the hardcourts of Miami and Charleston’s clay. Although she merely justified her seventh seeding by reaching the quarters at the Australian Open, and fell to Katarina Srebotnik in the third round at Roland Garros, it became increasingly clear the spark was still there, and that a certain kind of momentum was building.

Indeed, by the time Serena had finished runner-up to sister Venus at Wimbledon – in a match widely regarded as one of the best shows ever put on by the two – the younger Williams had just about done enough to ensure her place at the Sony Ericsson Championships for the eighth time.

“It’s always an honor to play at the year-end Championships, and I’m looking forward to playing in Doha where I can hopefully show my best tennis,” said Williams when her qualification was officially announced six weeks later after the quarterfinals of the US Open, along with that of Dinara Safina.

And yet the best was yet to come. The pain of the loss at Wimbledon had been plain to see, and it ignited the proverbial fire in this champion’s belly. Not that it was immediately obvious: first there was a retirement against Aleksandra Wozniak in the semifinals at Stanford, and a three set loss to Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals of the Olympics. But despite these setbacks Williams arrived at Flushing Meadows in The Zone, where in quick succession and spectacular fashion she beat three of the form players of the season – Venus, Safina and Jelena Jankovic – to capture her third US Open title, and the ninth Grand Slam overall.

Entering the US Open, five players had a chance to overtake Ana Ivanovic atop the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Rankings – Dementieva, Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Safina and Serena. Suddenly and somewhat improbably it was Serena who had managed it, more than five years after she last held the No.1 spot. It was the biggest gap between stints at the top; the first time around, the American was No.1 for 57 weeks from July 8 2002 until August 10, 2003, around the heady days of the so-called Serena Slam.

Had women’s tennis found a durable No.1, albeit by turning back the clock? Alas, Serena’s second run was to be short-lived. A few weeks later she lost to Li Na in the second round at Stuttgart and was subsequently forced to withdraw from the Kremlin Cup due to injury, paving the way for Jankovic to re-ascend.

All this means Serena arrives in Doha with just one match under her belt since her triumph in New York, and so she will be something of an unknown quantity. In usual circumstances that would be good news for other players, but not when a Williams sister is involved – her rivals know only too well Serena could show up and perform better than ever. She’ll need to be fit and healthy, however. Indeed, while Serena has now qualified for the Championships eight times – winning in 2001 – she has been forced to withdraw from the actual event three times, in 1999 (with a back injury), in 2000 (left foot) and 2003 (right knee). Her fans, and the player herself, can only hope history doesn’t repeat in this instance.

Doha TV Schedule: Tennis Channel, ESPN2


The draw for the YEC will be held at 1:30pm local time on Sunday.

Doha TV Schedule: Tennis Channel, ESPN2

Tennis Channel and ESPN2 will cover the 2008 Sony Ericsson Championships – the prestigious season-ending competition in women’s professional tennis, featuring the world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams – in their entirety Tuesday-Sunday, November 4-9. More than 30 live hours are planned from the event’s inaugural run in Doha, Qatar, almost all of which will be telecast in high definition.

Sony Ericsson Championships on Tennis Channel and ESPN2, viewers can keep up with the season-ending competition online at espn360.com, which offers 24 hours of live, round-robin coverage November 4-7, and tennischannel.com, which will feature tournament draws, scores and news, as well as a veteran reporter’s previews in Steve Flink on Tennis and updates at popular fan blog LaRosa’s Sweet Spot.

Tennis Channel’s and ESPN2’s 2008 Sony Ericsson Championships Schedule (all times US ET):

Tuesday, November 4
09.00hrs – 15.00hrs: Round-Robin Action (Tennis Channel)

Wednesday, November 5
09.00hrs – 15.00hrs: Round-Robin Action (Tennis Channel)

Thursday, November 6
09.00hrs – 15.00hrs: Round-Robin Action (Tennis Channel)

Friday, November 7
09.00hrs – 15.00hrs: Round-Robin Action (Tennis Channel)

Saturday, November 8
05.00hrs – 08.00hrs: Doubles Semifinals (Tennis Channel)
09.30hrs – 13.30hrs: Singles Semifinals (Tennis Channel)

Sunday, November 9
07.00hrs – 08.30hrs: Doubles Final (Tennis Channel)
12.00hrs – 14.00hrs: Singles Final (ESPN2)

Tennis Channel will also offer same-day replays of the singles and doubles finals on Sunday, November 9: Doubles Final (15.00hrs – 16.30hrs and 23.00hrs – 00.30hrs); Singles Final (19.00hrs – 21.00hrs).

Photo and Info, from WTA

Tennis Channel, ESPN

© Tennis Channel, ESPN

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Challenge Your Hero Winner

Challenge Your Hero – We Have A Winner!

Congratulations to Yodhi Soemardjan from Singapore, winner of the 2008 Challenge Your Hero contest! Yodhi won a trip for two to Doha for next week’s Sony Ericsson Championships.

Its kind a funny, but hey he win and he’s going to Doha…

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The Last Woman Standing – On the Baseline Tennis News

I found this article (Full Stories) much interesting about the season ending No. 1 ranking.

This is the best explanation you can find why Jelena Jankovic deserve to be the TOP spot.

…….

Jelena Jankovic captured the season ending No. 1 ranking last week without winning a Grand Slam title, much to the surprise of many tennis fans.

But does the hardworking Serbian really deserve the top spot?

The season-ending No. 1 ranking has generally been recognized as an accomplishment awarded only to the most consistent player of the year. For the first time since Lindsay Davenport in 2005, a player will finish in the top spot without winning a Grand Slam in that calendar year. But unlike Davenport three years past, Jankovic has yet to win a career Grand Slam title.

Twelve months ago, everyone expected a new year filled with continued dominance by Justine Henin. But Henin knocked the tennis world off its groove by retiring in May. After Henin requested to have her name removed from the charts, the No. 1 ranking bounced around like a hot potato before resting in the hands of the most unlikely of contenders, Jelena Jankovic.

But on closer inspection is Jankovic actually an unlikely contender? Her resume is glaringly devoid of a major title, but does that matter right now?

……………………………….

But match win/loss records do count significantly toward the
season-ending ranking, something that Jelena Jankovic aced in 2008.

Regular season match records:
Venus Williams: 35-11
Serena Williams: 43-7
Jelena Jankovic: 63-17

Ironically, Jankovic will end the regular season with nearly twice
as many wins as Wimbledon champion Venus Williams and only six more
losses.

With these facts—and the shortcomings of the four major champions—in mind, Jankovic’s record stands up proudly.

Serena, Venus, and Maria could not have possibly finished the year
at No. 1 based upon their injuries and calendar choices, and Ana
Ivanovic could barely string three wins together for much of the summer.

Only one woman has the credentials worthy of the season-ending No. 1
ranking, and the computer was accurate when it determined Jankovic as
the number one player in the world for 2008.

Being the last woman left standing after a grueling year of
competition is an achievement in itself, and one that makes Jelena
Jankovic the only woman who deserved to end the season as No. 1.

…………………

I want you to take a look at : The Last Woman Standing – On the Baseline Tennis News

Championships Profile: Ana Ivanovic

Profile from WTA

Ana Ivanovic
© Getty Images

Championships Profile: Ana Ivanovic

DOHA, Qatar – When the brilliant Justine Henin retired in May, women’s tennis needed to find a new, triumphant No.1. So when Ana Ivanovic captured her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros a few weeks later, building on her runner-up finish to Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, it seemed all prayers had been answered.

Not only did the vivacious 20-year-old Serb present like a dream from central casting – not unlike Wonder Woman without the headband – she had the results to reinforce the hype. As well as impressing in the majors Ivanovic had won the Tier I title at Indian Wells and reached the semis at Berlin and Sydney and quarters at Dubai, all of it done with a smile.

But after winning the French Open and assuming the top ranking – becoming the 17th woman to achieve the feat – Ivanovic’s season began to unravel. Having survived match points against Nathalie Dechy in the second round at Wimbledon she was subsequently dispatched by Zheng Jie, which precipitated a startling reversal of fortune. A thumb injury certainly didn’t help – it forced Ivanovic to withdraw from what should have been her first Olympics – but it seemed there was an attendant crisis in confidence as well.

And the early losses mounted: Montréal, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow. Indeed, up to and including the Kremlin Cup, Ivanovic did not win back-to-back matches at five tournaments in a row, the nadir coming in the second round at the US Open against Julie Coin, a qualifier ranked No.188 in the world. The slump was surely all the more frustrating given each loss had been in three sets.

Nonetheless, Ivanovic’s results from the first half of the year were enough to see her qualification for the Sony Ericsson Championships announced on July 30, at the same time as her compatriot Jelena Jankovic, who stood just nine points ahead.

“I am proud to have already qualified for the Sony Ericsson Championships,” said Ivanovic, who didn’t yet know things would get worse before they got better. “During 2008 I achieved two of my life’s goals by winning my first Grand Slam and reaching No.1 in the rankings. To win the tournament in Doha would be the perfect end to a season that I will never forget.”

And there was, indeed, light at the end of the tunnel for the younger Serb, who in the space of a couple of weeks has re-established herself as a genuine contender at Doha, for which she finished fifth in the Race, on 3,353 points.

Encouraging signs of a return to top form came at the Tennis.com Zürich Open, where Ivanovic made the last four for the first time since the French Open. It took eventual champion Venus Williams to beat her in a tight three-setter but the Serb carried her newfound momentum to the Generali Ladies Linz the following week. As the top seed on a ranking of No.4, she defeated home favorite Sybille Bammer and in-form Italian Flavia Pennetta before coming back from a break down in the third set against Agnieszka Radwanska. Ivanovic then crushed Vera Zvonareva in the final for her third title of the year.

“Especially after coming back from an injury and putting in a lot of hard work, it’s great to see the results,” said Ivanovic, not without understatement, having improved her 2008 singles record to 37-13.

Last year, on her debut at the Tour championships, Ivanovic beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daniela Hantuchova in her round robin pool to advance to the semifinals. On that occasion it required none other than Henin to halt her progress. The Belgian won’t be back, but now is Ivanovic’s chance to re-stake her claim as the genuine successor.

Championships Profile: Jelena Jankovic

Profile from WTA

Jelena Jankovic
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Championships Profile: Jelena Jankovic

DOHA, Qatar – It is testimony to Jelena Jankovic’s amazing consistency throughout 2008 that she was the first to qualify for the Sony Ericsson Championships, even before she achieved her best ever Grand Slam result as the US Open. Grand Slam success is, after all, the quickest way for a player to propel herself in the Race to the season-ending showcase. But while Jankovic’s efforts this year at the majors – including two semis and that final at Flushing Meadows – are not to be sneered at, the real story was the way she delivered week in, week out at the events that are the backbone of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

The superbly skilled baseliner’s qualification for the Sony Ericsson Championships – her second – was announced in July, the same day as that of fellow Serb, Ana Ivanovic. At that point Jankovic owned 2,770 points, nine more than her compatriot. But by the time her finals run at Flushing Meadows and a three-tournament winning streak late in the season was added to the calculations, the 23-year-old had left all rivals in the dust. Jankovic finished the Race with 4,786 points, ahead of Russia’s Dinara Safina, at 3,823 points.

Although Jankovic collected four titles – matching Safina and Serena Williams – the first didn’t come until May, with successful defense of her Tier I crown at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. However she made a strong start to the year by reaching the semis at the Australian Open, only to be beaten by eventual champion Maria Sharapova, and by the time Roland Garros (and a grueling semifinal loss to Ivanovic) rolled around, had never failed to reach the quarterfinals. As well as reaching the last eight five times Jankovic made the semis at Dubai and Indian Wells, and was a finalist at Miami – the latter two tournaments both at the Tier I level.

In this context, a fourth round loss to Tamarine Tanasugarn at Wimbledon was a disappointment; not only was Jankovic the No.2 seed, she was a contender for the No.1 ranking following the retirement of Justine Henin. But after a few weeks off it was back to business on the summer’s hardcourt swing. Even then, Jankovic wasn’t the one stealing the headlines though – that had become the job of Safina, who beat her in the semis at Los Angeles and the quarters of the Olympics, and was being talked of as the revelation of the season.

The computer doesn’t lie, however, and on August 11 – on the back of yet another quarterfinal run at Montréal – Jankovic became, at 23 years, 5 months and 13 days, the 18th woman to ascend to the top ranking. “Since I was a young girl it’s been my dream to become No.1 in the world,” she commented at the time. “When you get older, at least one day you can say you were No.1 and no one can take that away from you. You are in the history books and it’s a great achievement.”

Although Ivanovic reclaimed the top spot back a week later, and Serena Williams duly took it after her US Open triumph, Jankovic got it back in early October after winning her second and third titles of year, at the Tier II China Open in Beijing and Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Victory at the Tier I Kremlin Cup in Moscow the very next week served to underline the charismatic Serb’s growing stature, which an uncharacteristic second round loss to in-form Flavia Pennetta at Zürich could do little to undermine.

If tennis players can be heroes, Jankovic rides into Doha like a character in the John Wayne western, True Grit. She has won more matches this year than any other competitor, compiling a 63-17 record in 21 tournaments, while registering 10 wins against Top 10 ranked opponents. She reached the quarters or better 19 times, and the semis or better 11 times. Regardless of results at the round robin event, she has ensured she’ll finish 2008 as No.1. Indeed, last year at Madrid a worn-out Jankovic failed to win a single match at the season finale. That simply means she now has little in the way of points to defend in Doha – and more to play for than ever before.