November 9, 2008


I go off on vacation for just a couple of days and look at what happens!

You might have thought the first few rounds of the year-end Sony-Ericsson WTA Championships in Doha would go off without a hitch, but the surprises started from the get-go.

The original eight women began in Qatar as planned -- the round-robin draws looked as you'd expect if you've followed women's tennis this year. In one half the two Serbians, top-seeded Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic were randomly grouped with Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva; on the other side the two Williams sisters were to take on two more Russians who've seen their own stars rise this year, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva.

But before the semifinals even began there were some big changes. Third seed Serena Williams pulled out after splitting her first two matches with a stomach muscle injury -- the second year in a row she had to withdraw -- and Ana Ivanovic was forced out with a viral infection. Alternates Aggie Radwanska, the nineteen-year-old from Poland, and Nadia Petrova, the fifth Russian in the draw, took their spots.

Ultimately the field was whittled down to Jelena, Elena, Venus and Vera -- the latter two players advanced to the semis with impressive 3-0 round-robin records. Given their stellar performances over the last several days, it's really no surprise that Venus and Vera were the ones who made it through to the finals.

On paper the final was one that few would have called. They were the last two to qualify for the tournament and held the seventh and eighth seeds going in. Neither had seen quite the success of Jankovic, who won three straight titles after her final appearance in Flushing Meadows, or Safina, whose triumphs during the summer gave her the U.S. Open Series. Vera has never made it past the quarterfinals of a major tournament, and Venus, who hasn't qualified for the year-end tournament since 2004, has recently notched some surprising losses to Flavia Panetta (twice this year!), Na Li and a relatively unknown Petra Kvitova, among others.

But aren't these two really some of the best women's tennis had to offer this year? Vera has had a great 2008, earning titles in Prague and Guangzhou, as well as Olympic Bronze, on her way to a career-high #9 ranking. Venus, too, despite her defeats has seen some real victories, winning in Zurich and of course Wimbledon -- her third straight championship there.

Williams and Zvonareva have met six times before their Doha final, with Vera only winning the first match-up at 2003's French Open where Venus was ranked #3. The stage this time may have been too much for her, and Venus eventually took the title after three long sets. But I'm optimistic that we haven't heard the last of the spunky Russian.

As the Doha Championships come to a close, the final standings look quite a bit different than they did last year (with 2007's year-end ranking in paren):

  1. Jelena Jankovic (3)

  2. Serena Williams (7)

  3. Dinara Safina (15)

  4. Elena Dementieva (11)

  5. Ana Ivanovic (4)

  6. Venus Williams (8)

  7. Vera Zvonareva (22)

  8. Svetlana Kuznetsova (2)

  9. Maria Sharapova (5)

  10. Aggie Radwanska (25)

Ostensibly missing from the list are Justine Henin, of course, Anna Chakvetadze, unfortunately, Daniela Huntuchova and Marion Bartoli -- maybe next year!

Congrats on a great 2008!

And, with the women's matches decided, we're off to China where the men have already started their year-end championships.

See you in Shanghai!

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