April 19, 2009

Breaking the Seal

Now I've never won a professional tennis championship, but I like to believe that your first title is probably the hardest to bring home. Once you gather some momentum and establish yourself as someone to be reckoned with, numbers two, three and four should be much easier to come by.

Case(s) in point: Victoria Azarenka, who claimed her first WTA title in January and hasn't looked back, winning in both Memphis and Miami after that. And Caroline Wozniacki who broke through in Stockholm last year and has since won three more championships. And of course, on a grander scale, Rafael Nadal hasn't ceded the French Open crown since 2005, when he rose his first Grand Slam trophy over his head as the #5 seed.

Sabine Lisicki made her case to join that elite bunch this week in Charleston at the Family Circle Cup.

The nineteen-year-old German is currently ranked #63 in the world, just a hair off her career high of #49. She's had some success in the past, defeating Dinara Safina at last year's Australian Open and winning an ITF title in Jersey in 2007, where she notched victories over the six, three and one seeds.

But her career-high had to have come in her third round match in South Carolina this week, where she stunned world #5 Venus Williams in straight sets. More impressively, she didn't let the wind out of her sails and followed up with wins over Elena Vesnina and Marion Bartoli for her space in the finals. There she met Wozniacki, who was also running on the momentum from her win in Ponte Vedra Beach last week and a second consecutive win over top seed Elena Dementieva in the semis here.

But luck, strength and just a little persistance were with Sabine on Sunday. She let five match points slip by her in the second set, but eventually regrouped to bring home her first Tour title, 6-2, 6-4.

I'm hoping this is just the start of many good things to come for Sabine.

Across the ocean another group of women were battling in Barcelona where top seeds Alize Cornet, Flavia Pennetta and Kaia Kanepi all lost early. On the top half of the draw, Maria Kirilenko advanced to the finals only dropping sets to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Carla Suárrez Navarro. On the bottom Roberta Vinci followed up her upset of Pennetta with a win over former #11 Francesca Schiavone to make her second WTA final match.

Kirilenko, ranked thirty-seventh in the world to Vinci's #61 and holding the sixth seed in Spain, should have been the favorite. But Roberta steamrolled through the first set, 6-0, and outserved her opponent to take the second 6-4. In just over an hour she'd won her second title, putting her in a good position as the French Open draws closer.

Incidentally Nadal took home his third title of the year, and his fifth straight championship in Monte Carlo, by defeating Novak Djokovic in the finals. But what did you expect? We're on clay -- it would be a surprise if he didn't hold the trophy at the end of the week.

Congrats to all!

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