October 20, 2008

The Importance of Being Anna

In my very first blog post I mentioned how, after every tournament, I inevitably come away with a few new favorite players -- either a resurging name like Mardy Fish who found new success on a well-trod court or someone who seemingly came out of nowhere and notched a series of upsets and shockers like Juan Martin Del Potro.

Last year that player was Anna Chakvetadze.

From a distance the tiny Russian (she stands only 5'7") resembles the other Anna of tennis -- she shares Kournikova's difficult-to-pronounce surname, cute face and blonde hair, which is so long it once got caught in her racquet on a backswing.

But Chakvetadze was quick to prove that the similarities to her namesake ended there.

While Kournikova never won a singles title, this Anna was more successful from the start. She finished 2006 with two tournament wins -- one in Guangzhou, China where she beat Jelena Jankovic in the semis, and the other at Moscow's Tier I Kremlin Cup, where she scored victories against four compatriots: Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova -- and brought the momentum with her into the new year.

She started 2007 with her highest career ranking, lucky number thirteen, and won the first tournament she played in Hobart, Australia. But that was just the start of what was a winning year. She made it to the quarterfinals at the Australian and French Opens, but really hit her stride during the summer's U.S. Open Series. She won titles in Cincinnati and Stanford and even beat Venus Williams in San Diego before making it all the way to the semis in Flushing Meadows, sending her to a career high #5 ranking.

Then things took a turn for the worse. In December a robber broke into her home outside Moscow, tied up the tennis star, and walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods. Anna wasn't hurt, thankfully, but I'm sure the incident was far from pleasant. It also couldn't have helped her start 2008 on the right foot.

She lost in the first round in Sydney and was upset at the Australian Open by Maria Kirilenko. She followed up a win in Paris with first round exits in Antwerp and Doha. Since then she's lost her first match at six other tournaments this year, her second match in eight more. She's doubled her ranking from #6 to #12.

This week Anna's back on the court at Luxembourg's Fortis Championships where she was given the second seed. On Monday she made it through her first round match against France's Mathilde Johansson in straight sets, but she still faces a tough road. The draw includes Dementieva as the top seed as well as Daniela Hantuchova and Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish teenager who's already beaten Anna twice in the last two months and has had her own breakthrough year.

I'm hoping Anna's able to pull off a end-of-year surge, maybe take one or two of the few remaining titles. She has an unmistakable spunk that helps bring excitement to women's tennis, and certainly no one can argue against that.

So good luck this week! Here's to a great 2009!

1 comment:

Kavitha said...

I feel like I'm cursed...or maybe I am the curse. First James Blake loses hours after I post my adoration of him, and now Anna loses in her second round match at Luxembourg against the surprisingly high ranked Iveta Benesova.

I think I'm going to start rooting for Andy Murray and Marat Safin now -- maybe then the ones I want to win actually will!

See you next time!