Monday, March 19, 2018

Wk.11- The Unusual Suspects

Two weeks ago, everybody came to the west coast desert version of Rick's Cafe Americain Californian. The conversations over the first few days of action were all about the likes of players named Serena, Vika, Maria and the rest. No one was "shocked, shocked" that the goings on at *this* establishment were swirling around the "usual suspects."

But that would soon change.

"I came to Indian Wells for the waters."
"Waters?! We're in a DESERT!"
"I was misinformed."

No one should make plans too far ahead, but it didn't take long for the subjects of long-time, familiar headlines to fill them once again. It was about as "stunning" as the result of a Russian presidential election. (Vlad won big? Hard.To.Believe.) But then something else started to happen. While the "regular" customers at Rick's still intermittently filled the tables for most of the next two weeks, they were joined by other "unusual" patrons with names like Amanda, Sofya, Caroline (but not *that* Caroline), Maria (not *that* one, either), Danielle, Marketa and Sachia. They demanded service. And they got it, too.

But *two* were the most "unusual" new patrons of them all. Of all the tournaments in all the towns in all the world, they walked into this one.

Naomi and Dasha were their names. They won't soon be forgotten. They'd met to discuss "other matters" before taking their seats at opposite ends of Rick's, surely never knowing that they'd be sitting at the *same* table at the final diner a few weeks later. Hmmm, or did they? Suffice to say, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

After both took turns being the life of the party, only one could stand atop the bar when it was closing time, while the other had to settle for a simple stool reserved for the "second-best." Sigh. It's still the same old story. A fight for love and glory.

Once the desert dust had settled, it wouldn't be an easy day to forget. Dasha wore pink with racing stripes, Naomi wore light blue and yellow. But it doesn't take much to know that those details don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. What does is that as time goes by, new names -- new champions -- will announce themselves, and they'll flourish. While tennis generations are not forgotten, one will assuredly supplant the last, as it will be replaced by the next. Each will shine in their own particular way. What happened at Rick's, as it did so recently in similar establishments in Paris, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Biel, Beijing and elsewhere, is but a sign of what is to come. Of the comfort, and inevitability, that the future holds. Welcome back to the fight. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Here's looking at you, kids. Even as you take off for the next stop along the line...

Remember... you'll always have Indian Wells.

(Until next time.)

INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA USA (Prem.Mandaotry/Hard Outdoor)
S: Naomi Osaka/JPN def. Dasha Kasatkina/RUS 6-3/6-2
D: Hsieh Su-Wei/Barbora Strycova (TPE/CZE) def. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS/RUS) 6-4/6-4

...finally, Osaka (and coach Sascha Bajin) are part of the general WTA conversation. As I noted in the Prediction Blowout before the season, "If Osaka can 'pinish' (Bajin's favored expression, a combination of "punish" and "finish" and he used to motivate Vika Azarenka in '15) their teaming could prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2018." Well, so far, so good. To say the least.

Honestly, while I trusted that the combination would produce great gains for Osaka in '18 as she learned to be more consistent, less negative, got into better condition and improved her footwork, allowing her huge shots to be something more than just lethal weapons that could set just about *any* opponent back on her heels, I was thinking more along the lines of a slower growing process, eventually culminating in her first tour title (check), a Top 20 ranking (almost, she's #22 this week) and a slam QF (she had her first Round of 16 in Melbourne), the rewards of a more polished pro and a "starting point" for greater things in '19 and beyond. But, I guess, in the age of Alona-in-Paris and "Generation PDQ," patience is no longer required.

Apparently, it is still a virtue,though. To Osaka's credit, she refused to take the bait with questions about whether she'd now re-write her "goal" list for 2018. While the shy, but charming, Florida native's life will surely be turned upside down by her two weeks in the desert, and she may have to take a step back (hmmm, vs. Serena in the 1st Round in Miami, huh?) before her next big leap forward, she doesn't seem to be the sort to be drastically changed (in a bad way) by success. That's where the presence of Bajin, what with his history with Serena, Vika and Caro providing a background on how things are supposed to be done (or not done), could be key to keeping Osaka on the sort of straight path that will make this I.W. run a "good" canary-in-the-coal-mine moment that proves to be a sign of even bigger things down the line, even if *they* don't come as quickly as *this* one did.

As events picked up speed with Osaka in the desert, it was difficult not to wonder if she'd finally hit a wall. After all, she has a history of showing promise and *almost* getting a big win (she led Madison Keys 5-1 in the 3rd set at the '16 U.S. Open 3rd Round only to lose). But maybe that narrative should be thrown away. After staving off successful comebacks by Maria Sharapova in *both* sets of her straight sets 1st Round win over the Russian it was clear that this Osaka was different from the one we've seen so often before. Her quick follow-up dispatching of Aga Radwanska provided more proof, as did her love closing set against Sachia vickery, 6-1 3rd over Maria Sakkari and 2 & 3 win over Karolina Pliskova to reach her first SF since reaching the Tokyo final in '16 (losing to Wozniacki). The ability to emphatically close out those wins was impressive. While Simona Halep wasn't quite *all* there in the semis, Osaka's nine-game run to finish the match showed that she wasn't too small for the moment. Her 3 & 2 win over Dasha Kasatkina in the final was pulled off in an almost frighteningly casual way. Osaka, as one might expect given her low-key (but often hilarious) reaction to most things, didn't even explode in celebration once she'd finished off the match to claim her maiden singles crown, and a *very* big one at that. If she had, I'm sure she'd soon after expressed how embarrassed she was by it.

Her giggling post-match speech, where she thanked so many "super-nice" people and self-deprecatingly predicted hers would be the "worst acceptance speech ever," turned out to be a marvel all it's own, oozing with an unaffected charm that, reminiscent of some from Li Na in the past, almost dared you *not* to like her.

The youngest I.W. champ since (new mom) Ana Ivanovic in 2008, and the first unseeded winner since Kim Clijsters in '05 (the only other one was Serena in '99), Osaka is also the first Japanese player to reach a Premier Mandatory final, and the lowest-ranked (#44) Premier Mandatory champion since the schedule reorganization made that "a thing" in 2009 (replacing the old "Tier I" designation).
RISERS: Dasha Kasatkina/RUS and Sachia Vickery/USA
...Kasatkina will simply not be ignored. Showing nearly every shot in the book, as well as an "eye of the tiger" (or maybe bear?) competitive edge, the Hordette staged yet another value-your-lives run that saw a handful of top-ranked players made to look anything but when placed on the opposite side of the net from the Russian. After an opening win over Katerina Siniakova, Kasatkina proceeded to knock off four straight previous slam champions in Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber (acing the German to end both sets, she won love & 2!) and Venus Williams (in 2:48) before finally seeming to hit the wall against the consistent power of Osaka. Since the start of the 2017 season, Kasatkina's top-level "hit list" looks like this: #1 Kerber, #1 Wozniacki, #2 Kerber, #2 Halep, #2 Wozniacki and #3 Muguruza. Her win over Venus gives her five Top 20 victories in '18 alone, and eight Top 10 wins in her career (3 in '18).

This marks the second consecutive (after Dubai, where she saved 5 MP in two matches en route to the final) ticker-tape style run from the Russian that ultimately ended with her holding the runner-up trophy rather than the big hardware. The one from three weeks ago lifted Kasatkina into the Top 20 for the first time, and her Indian Wells result nearly accomplished the feat of making her the fourteenth Russian (but just the third since '07) to make her Top 10 debut. She's at #11 this week, but would have been #9 with the title. The Dubai marathon week ended with a 4 & love loss to Elina Svitolina not demonstrably different from the defeat at the hands of Osaka, coming after a marathon semifinal win over Venus Williams that may have left Kasatkina a bit too physically and mentally drained to continue her roll. With an acknowledged affinity for the game of Rafa Nadal, the influence of the Spaniard's style on her own is evident, from her reliance on spins, drop shots, big forehands and even the occasional jumping backhand or two. But the physically grinding style that Nadal utilizes to win grand slams isn't easy to copy all the way to the end of an event, as Kasatkina's brilliant-but-coming-up-just-short performances of recent weeks have shown. Before the start of this season, regarding Kasatkina, I said, "the Russian's game means she generally has to work very hard to reach her top level, but she has the will to do it. She produced some of her best results in '17, but sacrificed consistency along the way. Bridging the gap between the two will tell the difference between whether she'll be a player who can contend for deep slam runs, or if she'll simply be a constant 'regular tour' threat who spends her career ranked between #11-20." As of today, she's shown the ability to bridge that gap, but one final step must be taken. If she takes it, to "Fear the Kasatkina" might turn out to be a futile warning for a large portion of the WTA tour. Some very big names can *already* attest to the potential for Dasha's game to develop into quite the monstrous opponent.

Riding a "Wakanda Forever" wave, Vickery made her first event as a Top 100 player a memorable one. After qualifying (def. Rebecca Peterson), the Bannerette knocked out Genie Bouchard and staged a comeback from a set and 3-0, 40/love down against #3 Garbine Muguruza to notch the biggest win of her career. She was ultimately the 3rd Round victim of eventual champ Osaka, but she now climbs into the Top 90 for the first time, having compiled an overall record of 16-7 in '18 (21-9 since November).

SURPRISES: Danielle Collins/USA and Wang Qiang/CHN
...Collins' wild card berth in the I.W. draw was a well utilized selection, as the former NCAA champ put together her first big event run with wins over Taylor Townsend, Madison Keys and Sofya Zhuk. After finishing 2017 with a 9-2 stretch that included a $25K title and final, Collins has put together a 12-4 overall mark in '18, winning her biggest career title at the WTA 125 event in Newport Beach in January (when she also upended Zhuk in the final). The former U-Va. star jumps twenty-four spots to a new career high of #93 this week.

Last year in Indian Wells, Wang nearly upset Elina Svitolina, falling in a 3rd set TB in the 2nd Round after having been on serve and in the lead at 5-4. This year, Wang ultimately fell in straight sets in the I.W. Round of 16 to Simona Halep, but only after giving the world #1 some trouble in a 7-5 opening set. Still, her impressive week included victories over Timea Bacsinszky, Elise Mertens and Kristina Mladenovic, giving her multiple MD wins outside of Asia for the first time since Madrid last year. The 26-year old's 2017 4Q results included multi-win MD results in Tokyo, Wuhan and Hong Kong. Earlier this season, she qualified in Dubai and posted a 1st Round upset of Kiki Bertens.

VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA and Petra Martic/CRO
...the return of Serena was the leading first week story in Indian Wells, and the Draw Gods (or whatever) saw fit to make sure that her path was likely to cross that of Venus' just seventeen "short" years after their scheduled semifinal in the desert had resulted in ugliness, a long-term (2002-15) boycott and, finally, in recent years, a heralded return by *both* Sisters. Venus came into the tournament seeking her first WTA MD win of the year (0-2, but 2-0 in FC), and after getting a win over Sorana Cirstea, Venus defeated Serena in straight sets in their 29th meeting (her 12th win in the series, but first since 2014) and then followed up with additional victories over Anastasija Sevastova and Carla Suarez-Navarro to reach her first I.W. semi since *that* one in 2001. A title run at the event remained elusive, though, as Williams battled seventeen-years-her-junior Dasha Kasatkina for nearly three hours, finally losing in three sets when the Russian put on a late rush just as Venus was starting to tire (her back-to-back DF to break herself in the match's penultimate game proved too much to overcome). Williams' I.W. results now read like this: 1r-QF-SF from 1996-98, the '01 SF, and 2r-QF-SF finishes since her '16 return to the event. Now, it's on to Miami, where Venus' last final came in 2010. She won the event three times in four years between 1998-01.

It's been less than a year since Martic returned in Week 14 of 2017 from a back injury that had kept her out of action Wimbledon '16. She found immediate success, winning her first ten matches, claiming a $25K title in her initial outing, then following up with SF-SF-RU results in her next three challenger events. It set the stage for a pretty remarkable, "second tier," 12-month comeback. In her fifth event back, she qualified for Roland Garros and reached her first slam Round of 16 since 2012 (she hadn't posted a MD slam win since '13), then did it *again* at Wimbledon a few weeks later. Her third slam 4th Round in less than a year came in January in Melbourne. In Indian Wells, the 27-year old was at it again, putting together another Round of 16 run in the desert with wins over Tatjana Maria, Barbora Strycova, Alona Ostapenko and Marketa Vondrousova. Against Simona Halep, Martic led 3-1 in the 3rd in windy conditions before the Romanian turned up the aggression and surged ahead. Unfortunately, Martic's deep runs have sometimes ended with such near misses. She led Elina Svitolina 5-2 (up love/30 on the Ukrainian's serve) in last year's RG 4th Round, only to lose 20 of 23 points to end the match. Nevertheless, Martic's I.W. result will push her into the Top 40 for the first time in her career, topping the previous career high (#42) she attained six years ago.

COMEBACKS: Serena Williams/USA and Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...404 days after winning her Australian Open title in 2017, Serena returned to the tour with a 1st Round win over Zarina Diyas. She followed up by knocking off Kiki Bertens, then fell to sister Venus in the siblings' 29th career meeting. While hardly a slam-winning version of herself, it was easy to see Williams getting progressively better with each match, if not with each pressure moment. A "full" comeback to her previous form won't be a project completed overnight, but Serena gave every indication in Indian Wells that she'll be taking large steps forward each and every day until that moment *does* arrive. Just how much better will she be in Miami? Well, we may get a good idea pretty darn quickly, as she's drawn I.W. champ Naomi Osaka in the 1st Round. Of course she did.

After four consecutive Top 20 seasons, Suarez-Navarro slipped to #40 in 2017. After winning her biggest career title in Doha in '16, CSN's best results last season were a pair of SF results. After starting her '18 season with back-to-back defeats (her 5th and 6th consecutive losses overall), the Spaniard reached the Australian Open QF (her second such result in Melbourne in three years), losing in three sets to eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki. After pushing Karolina Pliskova to three sets in Dubai, CSN (sporting a new, longer hairstyle) recaptured some of her usual under-the-radar effectiveness in Indian Wells. She notched wins over Hsieh Su-wei, Elina Svitolina (her first Top 5 win since Birmingham '16 vs. Kerber) and Danielle Collins before going out to Venus Williams in the 4th Round. The results pushes CSN back within sight of the Top 20, as she'll come in at #23 this week, just one spot behind new #22 Osaka.

FRESH FACES: Amanda Anisimova/USA, Caroline Dolehide/USA and Maria Sakkari/GRE
...the desert was overflowing with "fresh faces," not the least of which may have been the two finalists. But the first week offered up a slew of even deeper "deep cuts," from qualifying Bannerettes Sonya Kenin and Taylor Townsend to Hordette Sofya Zhuk (who notched her first career MD win over Alize Cornet). But I'll go with three others.

16-year old wild card Anisimova, the reigning U.S. Open junior champ, took down "the mountain," aka Mt.Petra, finally ending the Czech's 14-match winning streak to become the first Sweet Sixteener in the Round of 16 in I.W. since Vikoriya Kutuzova in 2005. Even before that win, she'd already notched a pair of previous victories over Pauline Parmentier and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Anisimova finally went down in straight sets to Karolina Pliskova in the 4th Round, though only after forcing a TB in the 2nd set. The teenager, who hadn't even yet been born when that much-talked about all-Williams semi didn't happen in the desert back in 2001, jumps to a new career high of #130 this week.

Wild card Dolehide, 19, knocked off both Shelby Rogers and Dominika Cibulkova before her big shots gave #1 Simona Halep all she could handle for most of their 3rd Round encounter. She eventually ran out of gas in the 3rd set, but not until she'd earned some gushing praise from no less than Martina Navratilova during coverage on Tennis Channel, as well as causing Simona to (briefly) quite possibly have her entire life flash before her eyes.

Interestingly, Dolehide lost to Anisimova in the QF of the recent WTA 125 Series event held in Indian Wells. Still, she rises from #165 to #141 this week, just four spots off her career high.

Meanwhile, Sakkari got far less attention than either Anisimova or Dolehide, but the Greek did something in the desert that no one else did -- she took a set off Naomi Osaka in their Round of 16 match-up. Before that, after having been on a six-match losing as recently as mid-February, she'd strung together I.W. wins over the likes of Donna Vekic, Ash Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe en route to her first multiple-win MD run since she reached the semis of the Premier 5 Wuhan event in October as a qualifier (def. Putintseva/Wozniacki/Vesnina/Cornet). At #52 this week, Sakkari is closing in on the career high rank (#48) she achieved last fall.

Onto the fourth round!! @bnpparibasopen !! ?? ????#cobrateam ?? @jimmie48tennis

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Sakkari even got a post-match shout-out for her sportswomanship from the coach of the player who knocked her out of the draw.

DOWN: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
...hmmm, so many choices. I already touched on Garbine Muguruza and Maria Sharapova last week, and Latvian Thunder has been discussed of late, as well (though, hey, she's at another career high of #5 this week). There's a temptation to single out Simona Halep, I suppose, but I'm not an ESPN commentator, so I won't bop her on the head just because it was easy that particular hour (instead, I'll note that she's now secured the #1 ranking for at least two more weeks and will tie Kim Clijsters' career total of 20 weeks on Monday, then Sharapova and Tracy Austin's 21 half-way through Miami).

I suppose it's time to look toward Vandeweghe, whose slow '18 start continued in the desert. After playing Hopman Cup in Week 1 (she went 1-1), CoCo developed an illness and lost in the 1st Round of the Australian Open to Timea Babos (then dropped her only doubles match, as well). She followed up by extending her Fed Cup winning streak by one match, but struggled to do so vs. Richel Hogenkamp. Until I.W., she hadn't played since. The California native did manage to notch a 2nd Round win over Kaia Kanepi, her first tour-level match win of the year, but then lost 2 & 4 to Maria Sakkari. After ending '17 at #10, and rising as high as #9 heading into Melbourne, Vandeweghe has slipped to #16 over the season's opening two and a half months. She doesn't have her next significant points defense until May (Madrid QF), though, and then not again until late summer, when she'll need to be on her game as she closes in on having to back up a QF at SW19, Stanford/San Jose final and U.S. Open semi.
ITF PLAYER: Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK
...the 19-year old's breakthrough season continued in Shenzhen. Kuzmova's 2018 campaign has already seen her qualify and make her AO debut, clinch an historic Fed Cup victory for SVK over Russia and reach her maiden tour-level SF in Budapest. This week, she picked up her biggest career title, taking the $60K challenger's singles (her twelfth) and doubles (fifth) titles, defeating the likes of Zheng Saisai (QF), Anna Blinkova (SF) and Anna Kalinskaya (F). She combined with Kalinskaya for the doubles win. Well on her way toward making her name known, Kuzmova will make her Top 100 debut in the new rankings on Monday.

JUNIOR STARS: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL, Naho Sato/JPN and Maria Lourdes Carle/ARG junior has been more in form in '18 than Osorio. I didn't point out the Colombian's most resent results last weekend, so I'll do it now, as the 16-year old picked up her fifth event title of the season at the closed B1 South American event (Copa Paineiras) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The #1 seed swept the singles and doubles, with her wins over #4-seed Ana Geller (SF) and #2 Maria Lourdes Carle (Final), both from a set down, improving her season record to 29-1. She's 31-1 extending back to her final event of 2017. The win moves her into the Top 5 in the rankings, making her the first Colombian girl to ever climb so high, and just the third Colombian junior (after boys Alejandro Falla and Juan Sebastian Gomez) to ever do it.

This week, Japanese tennis added a junior Grade 1 champ to the WTA title run put together by Osaka, with Sato sweeping the singles and doubles titles at the Grade 1 Sarawak Chief Minister's Cup in Malaysia. The 17-year old #12-ranked girl, who reached this year's AO singles QF and doubles semis, this week took the doubles crown with fellow Japanese junior Anri Nagata, and defeated another, #18 Yuki Naito, in the singles final. Sato & Naito won the doubles as a pair last year at this same tournament, where Sato was also a singles semifinalist. Naito, the #5 seed, has defeated the #2 (Lulu Sun) and #4 (Zheng Qinwen, who'd defeated her in the Nonthaburi G1 final a week ago) seeds en route to the final before falling to #1 Sato.

On the ITF challenger level, the South American junior surge continued as '17 U.S. Open girls semifinalist Carle (one of two S.A.'s in the final four, along with Colombia's Emiliana Arango) won her second career pro singles crown in the $15K event in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil. The 18-year old #11-ranked girl defeated fellow Argentine Victoria Bosio (23) in a 7-5/1-6/6-2 final.

DOUBLES: Hsieh Su-wei/Barbora Strycova, TPE/CZE a first-time, last-second, pairing, the "Spare Parts Crew" proved to be better than the other regular doubles teams that made up the majority of the doubles draw in Indian Wells. The veteran pair of Hsieh, recently broken up (again) with Peng Shuai, and Strycova, a great doubles player but almost always a "fill-in/part-time" partner and never half of a long-term, let's-run-with-this partnership (Hsieh is the Czech's seventeenth different partner in thirty-four career WTA WD finals), proved that two players who don't fill any sort of traditional "power" role *can* be a successful doubles combo. They took out established pairs in the desert, including the top three seeds (#2 Chan/Chan, #3 Dabrowski/Xu and #1 Makarova/Vesnina), the defending champ (Latisha Chan, who won in '17 w/ Hingis), as well as another first-time vet duo of King/Srebotnik while sweeping through their QF-SF-F matches in straight sets. For 32-year old Hsieh, in her second straight final after finishing as a runner-up in Dubai with Peng, it's her 20th career title. She won I.W. four years ago with Peng. Strycova, 31, now has 21 career titles, but this is her first since winning Birmingham with Sania Mirza in 2016.

Hsieh is set to play with Monica Niculescu (her initial I.W. partner) in Miami, while Strycova is going with Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova (her *second* I.W. doubles mate, after having originally planned to play with Svetlana Kuznetsova). Incidentally, Hlavackova & Niculescu played together in I.W., falling in the QF, so there will be a full partner swap this week as Hsieh and Strycova try to go about winning a "Sunshine Double" from different positions in the Miami Open draw. Yep, you can't identify the weekly WTA duos without a very intricate diagram.


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1. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Amanda Anisimova def. Petra Kvitova
The recipe for eliminating a Petra with a 14-match head of steam included, other than (understandable) fatigue on the Czech's side of the net, a big-hitting 16-year old wild card thoroughly enjoying her first experiences on a big stage. Anisimova failed to serve out the match at 5-3 in the 2nd, but then broke Kvitova to close the door.

2. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Simona Halep def. Caroline Dolehide 1-6/7-6(3)/6-2
Indian Wells QF - Simona Halep def. Petra Martic 6-4/6-7(5)/6-3
even before her loss to Osaka, Halep's trip to the desert after little pre-tournament preparation due to her foot injury didn't always include her best tennis. But she battled and found a way, outlasting Dolehide as the teenager eventually ran out of gas and her huge groundstrokes began missing their mark, and then surviving Martic leading 3-1 in the 3rd and holding a BP for two-break lead. Halep upped her her aggression pulled away on a windy day.

3. Indian Wells 4th Rd. - Dasha Kasatkina def. Caroline Wozniacki
Prior to Venus, the Dane provided the most opposition to Kasatkina's roll, though she still lost in straight sets. But when the Hordette is pulling off shots like this...

The 2nd set was a momentum-shifting contest, as Kasatkina was up an early break, then found herself down a break as Wozniacki served for the set at 5-3. Kasatkina got the break lead back, and ultimately served out the match, winning the final three points from love/15 down.

4. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Sloane Stephens def. Victoria Azarenka
Stephens had never won a set off Vika in three meetings, all in Melbourne between 2013-15, including that memorable semifinal five years ago which wasn't really as close a contest as some wish to remember it as. Stephens lost a round later to Kasatkina, but she's clearly escaped her post-U.S. Open funk.
5. Indian Wells QF - Dasha Kasatkina def. Angelique Kerber
Kerber can attest to the rise of the Russian over the past fifteen months, having lost to her in January '17 in her first Top 3 victory, then her second a month later (as #2), and her ninth Top 10 win (as #10) here. Even with this loss, it was still a good tournament for Kerber, as she defeated in singles both halves of the doubles duo of Makarova (from a set down and over two days) & Vesnina (the defending champ), and allowed just two games to Caroline Garcia, as the Pastry could never get the German off her favored position on top of the baseline.
6. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Petra Martic def. Alona Ostapenko
Ostapenko is on the wrong side of another "vs. a Top 10er" stat, as the Croat had lost six straight vs. players in the Top 10.
7. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro def. Elina Svitolina
The Ukrainian still has yet to advance into the QF of either Indian Wells or Miami. While Svitolina won three Premier 5 event titles in '17, she has just one SF and QF result each (both in Beijing) in her nineteen career Premier Mandatory event appearances. The To-Do list is still missing a big (but do-able) check mark...

8. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Marketa Vondrousova def. Aryna Sabalenka
A future slam QF (or SF?) match-up in the next 3-4 years?
9. $25K Gwadior Final - Ankita Raina def. Amandine Hesse
The recent Indian Fed Cup star claims her first ITF title since 2015.

10. $15K Tampa Final - Katerina Stewart def. Jessica Pegula
Her military service now a thing of the past, Stewart picks up her tenth career challenger win. Pegula had been seeking her maiden crown.
11. $25K Santa Margharita di Pula 1st Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Tena Lukas 6-1/6-2
$25K Santa Margharita di Pula 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Ekaterine Gorgodze 6-2/6-3
ten months after her knee injury, Siegemund returns as the #1 seed in a $25K challenger and posts two victories before losing in the QF to Michaela Honcova. She's the reigning champ of next month's tour-level event in Stuttgart.

12. $15K Kazan Final - Elena Rybakina def. Daria Nazarkina
The 18-year old Russian picks up her first pro singles title, and added her third in doubles, as well (w/ Alena Fomina).
HM- $15K Heraklion Final - Reka-Luca Jani def. Rosa Vicens Mas
A career-long ITF achiever, the Hungarian wins her 21st career challenger singles title (just her second since April '15), and went home with her 26th doubles title, too.


1. Indian Wells SF - Dasha Kasatkina def. VENUS WILLIAMS
In their third three-setter in three career matches (this one went 2:48), Kasatkina physically wore down Venus (17 years her senior) beneath the nighttime desert sky in an instant "Match of the Year" nominee. After dropping the 1st set, the Russian led 3-1 in the 2nd, but had to hold a key 13-minute, 22-point game for 5-3 to avoid giving Venus true hope that she could finish things off in two. Despite showing pretty much all the shots in her arsenal -- slices, solid forehands, jumping backhands, drop shots, backhand flicks down the line and into the corner -- Kasatkina found herself down 4-5 in the 3rd, and love/30 when she flubbed a shot into the net on a short ball. But rather than have her night be defined in a negative way by the moment, she made it a foundation from which to build a winning exit strategy in the match. She won the next four points to hold, and 8/9 to close out the match. Venus contributed with back-to-back DF to break herself to give the Hordette a 6-5 lead that she didn't relinquish. In the end, Williams' 49/63 winner/UE stats didn't hold up against Kasatkina's (33/35), and the Russian's seventh break (on her 19th BP) to her own six (12 BP) proved to be just enough to get the victory.


2. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - VENUS WILLIAMS def. SERENA WILLIAMS
Seventeen years after the controversial semifinal walkover, the Sisters finally meet in Indian Wells in the 29th edition of their historic on-court series. Though by the end of the summer it might be a different story once Serena has a few months under her belt, it should hardly come as a surprise that Venus would prevail over her little sister for the first time in nearly four years (Montreal '14) at this point in Serena's comeback. Of course, Serena *did* manage to delay the "inevitable" a little bit, as Venus failed to serve things out at 5-2 (w/ a MP), stringing together a Serena passing shot/Venus missed sitter/DF stretch to drop serve, then had to stave off another BP in the 5-4 game before finally closing things out.


3. Indian Wells Final - NAOMI OSAKA def. Dasha Kasatkina
It all turned out to be a bit anticlimactic in the final, the first on tour between two players age 20 or younger since Kasatkina defeated Ostapenko last spring in Charleston, as the Hordette's forehand went awry late in the 1st set and never fully recovered against a consistently solid Osaka (that those words *can* be used to describe one of many of her performances over the past two weeks speaks to her improvement nearly as much as her trophy, big check and rankings jump).
...6-4/5-7 [10-7].
With Makarova & Vesnina getting closer and closer to taking away her #1 ranking, Latisha's reuniting with her sister didn't change the course of her '18 season. She's 9-6 so far, with three consecutive 2nd Round exits (2 w/ Hlavackova, 1 w/ Angel).
5. Indian Wells SF - NAOMI OSAKA def. Simona Halep
Halep was fine through the first seven games, then saw her game fall off precipitously after that, as Osaka noted in her post-match interview that she'd wanted "to make her irritated" during the match. Osaka fired an ace to win the 1st, then Halep went into "rush" mode in the 2nd, DF'ing to fall down 1-0. Coach Darren Cahill was met with silence during a changeover visit after game #3 as he tried to determine what had happened to send her into a spiral. Of course, this isn't something we haven't seen from Halep (or others) before. It's moments like this why she's hired a sports psychologist, was the basis for the "Miami Ultimatum," and is something she has acknowledged and talked about her ongoing efforts to change. Afterward, Halep gave an explanation:

That said, there was really still no call for the ESPN commentators' unmitigated thrashing of her in the 2nd set. Patrick McEnroe and Chris Evert, with a few toss-ins from Pam Shriver (though she at least managed to remember Halep's great fight at the AO, though not her battles in recent I.W. rounds), labeled her performance an "embarrassment" and "unprofessional," said that "she doesn't care," that this was something "that a #1 doesn't do" and that "Venus and Serena wouldn't do this."

In truth, if anything, Halep might care TOO much and the frustration overwhelms her. We've seen worse get-me-out-of-here play from the Romanian in the past than what she showed vs. Osaka, too. Also, we *have* seen such moments with #1's on the losing side in the past, and I seem to remember a few "what-the-fork?" losses from Serena in the past, as well, though they're WAY outnumbered by epic comebacks and dominating title runs over the course of her career.

But I suspect such poorly-commentated matches are to be expected from ESPN. Osaka's performance was often short-shrifted on the night (she'd made other frustrated opponents fall down a mental hole during the event, too), and it shouldn't have taken a title run in the desert for the group to finally acknowledge new coach Sascha Bajin's vast experience with champions having a positive influence on Osaka. I think I spent the stretch of her entire 4th Round run at the AO (def. seeded Vesnina and Barty) griping as I waited for ESPN to even mention it, but had to wait two months for it to actually happen. And, even then, they only seemed to remember his past working relationships with Serena and Vika Azarenka, leaving out the '17 stretch with Wozniacki during which the Dane's style of play and increasing level of relevance seemed to benefit greatly before Bajin was ejected from the storyline at the conclusion of what had been arguably Caro's best season (which then carried over to her maiden slam win).

The "fun" thing now is watching the ESPNers try to spin a tale about why Osaka is representing Japan, when she really *should* have been brought in under the "USA" banner by the USTA long ago. It doesn't take long to recognize that Osaka is as "Americanized" as any just-barely-out-of-her-teens player could be. The daughter of a Haitian-American father, she grew up in Boca Raton, in the backyard of Evert and home state of at-the-time Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (who has strangely gone silent the last six months or so, coinciding with her FC exit and the U.S. team's improved success without her at the helm -- it'll be interesting to see if she's back on ESPN's airwaves in Miami, her hometown). Osaka still trains there. She was unofficially under the wing of the USTA for a while, and Patrick McEnroe was the GM of Player Development when Osaka's family attempted to get support from the organization, something which apparently broke down (based on the ESPNers' conversation Sunday) when the family wanted funds to be able to travel with their daughter. Japan (where Naomi's mom is from) came to the table with the support, and the rest is history. McEnroe was eventually "forced out of his job" (according to SI's Jon Wertheim) in 2014, and the organization has seemed to be all the better for it. Ditto for the exit of MJF as FC Captain.

But the "what could have been..." with Osaka might just linger on the USTA's ledger for quite some time.

Simona calming the fevered (overly protective) fan hordes, just in case they turn on her again (like they did last year when the tour had the temerity to note the simple fact that SHE had the longest Top 10 streak when Serena dropped out)?

I think I like Alona even more now she's shown that soccer maybe isn't her game...

Hanging with my son!??@indianwellstennisgarden @ovvooptics

A post shared by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

It has a familiar ring to it...

[since January 2012, when Azarenka first #1]
2012 Miami (Champion: Radwanska)
2013 Wimbledon (Bartoli)
2014 Australian Open (Li)
2014 Wimbledon (Kvitova)
2014 Montreal (Radwanska)
2015 Indian Wells (Halep)
2015 Madrid (Kvitova)
2016 Australian Open (Kerber)
2018 Indian Wells (Osaka)

20 - NAOMI OSAKA (I.WELLS-W) - 20,5m
20 - Dasha Kasatkina (Dubai-L) - 20,9m,2w
20 - DASHA KASATKINA (I.WELLS-L) - 20,10m,1w
[WTA 125]
18 - Sofya Zhuk (Newport Beach-L)

Brisbane - Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR (0-1) + L
Hobart - Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU (0-0) + L
Taipei City - Kateryna Kozlova/UKR (0-0) + L
Acapulco - Stefanie Voegele/SUI (0-0) + L
[WTA 125]
Newport Beach - Danielle Collins/USA (W)
Newport Beach - Sofya Zhuk/RUS (L)

**SELECTED CAREER TOP 5 WINS (w/ #1 wins)**
14 - Svitolina (5)
7 - Bencic (0)
6 - Kasatkina (2)
6 - Mladenovic (0)
5 - Keys (0)
4 - Garcia (0)
4 - Ostapenko (0)
4 - Stephens (1)
3 - Bouchard (0)
3 - Osaka (1)
[Top 10 wins]
23 - Svitolina
13 - Garcia
13 - Keys
12 - Bencic
12 - Bouchard
11 - Mladenovic
10 - Kasatkina
9 - Stephens
6 - Ostapenko
4 - Osaka

2016 (2) #7 Venus, #8 Vinci
2017 (3) #1 Kerber, #2 Kerber, #2 Halep
2018 (5) #1 Wozniacki, #2 Wozniacki, #3 Muguruza, #8 Venus, #10 Kerber

**2018 WTA FINALS**
2 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (2-0)
2 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (2-0)
2 - Simona Halep, ROU (1-1)
2 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1-1)

2 - Simona Halep (Shenzhen-W,AO-L)
2 - Caroline Wozniacki (Brisbane-L,AO-W)
2 - Petra Kvitova (St.P-W,Doha-W)
2 - Demi Schuurs (Brisbane-W,Hobart-W)
2 - HSIEH SU-WEI (Dubai-L,IW-W)

**2018 WTA SF**
3 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (2-1)
3 - Angelique Kerber, GER (1-2)

2...Gaby Dabrowski, CAN (2-0)
2...Demi Schuurs, NED (2-0)
2...HSIEH SU-WEI, TPE (1-1)
2...Andreja Klepac, SLO (0-2)
2...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (0-2)

[reached IW-Miami Finals]
1991 Monica Seles (L-W)
1994 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1996 Steffi Graf (W-W)
1999 Serena Williams (W-L)
2000 Lindsay Davenport (W-L)
2000 Martina Hingis (L-W)
2005 Kim Clijsters (W-W)
2006 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
2012 Maria Sharapova (L-L)
2013 Maria Sharapova (W-L)
2016 Victoria Azarenka (W-W)
[reached AO-IW-Miami Finals]
1991 Monica Seles (W-L-W)
1994 Steffi Graf (W-W-W)
2000 Lindsay Davenport (W-W-L)
2000 Martina Hingis (L-L-W)
2012 Maria Sharapova (L-L-L)

Coffee Bowl G1: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL
Copa Barranquilla G1: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL
Traralgon G1: Liang En-shou/TPE
Prague G1: Maria Timofeeva/RUS
Australian Open GA: Liang En-shuo/TPE
Mundial Juvenil G1: Gabriella Price/USA
Asuncion Bowl G1: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL
Banana Bowl G1: Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL
Yeltsin Cup G1: Lenka Stara/SVK
Porto Alegre GA: Leylah Annie Fernandez/CAN
Nonthaburi G1: Zheng Qinwen/CHN
Sarawak Chief Minister's Cup G1: Naho Sato/JPN
Perin Memorial G1: (March)
Trofeo JCF G1: (March)

Jamie Hampton always retweets cool stuff, and this was one of her picks last week...

Here's another...

MIAMI, FLORIDA USA (Premier Mandatory/Hard)
1985 Martina Navratilova d. Chris Evert 6–2, 6–4
1986 Chris Evert d. Steffi Graf 6–4, 6–2
1987 Steffi Graf d. Chris Evert 6–1, 6–2
1988 Steffi Graf d. Chris Evert 6–4, 6–4
1989 Gabriela Sabatini d. Chris Evert 6–1, 4–6, 6–2
1990 Monica Seles d. Judith Wiesner 6–1, 6–2
1991 Monica Seles d. Gabriela Sabatini 6–3, 7–5
1992 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario d. Gabriela Sabatini 6–1, 6–4
1993 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario d. Steffi Graf 6–4, 3–6, 6–3
1994 Steffi Graf d. Natasha Zvereva 4–6, 6–1, 6–2
1995 Steffi Graf d. Kimiko Date 6–1, 6–4
1996 Steffi Graf d. Chanda Rubin 6–1, 6–3
1997 Martina Hingis d. Monica Seles 6–2, 6–1
1998 Venus Williams d. Anna Kournikova 2–6, 6–4, 6–1
1999 Venus Williams d. Serena Williams 6–1, 4–6, 6–4
2000 Martina Hingis d. Lindsay Davenport 6–3, 6–2
2001 Venus Williams d. Jennifer Capriati 4–6, 6–1, 7–6(4)
2002 Serena Williams d. Jennifer Capriati 7–5, 7–6(4)
2003 Serena Williams d. Jennifer Capriati 4–6, 6–4, 6–1
2004 Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva 6–1, 6–1
2005 Kim Clijsters d. Maria Sharapova 6–3, 7–5
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Maria Sharapova 6–4, 6–3
2007 Serena Williams d. Justine Henin 0–6, 7–5, 6–3
2008 Serena Williams d. Jelena Jankovic 6–1, 5–7, 6–3
2009 Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams 6–3, 6–1
2010 Kim Clijsters d. Venus Williams 6–2, 6–1
2011 Victoria Azarenka d. Maria Sharapova 6–1, 6–4
2012 Agnieszka Radwanska d. Maria Sharapova 7–5, 6–4
2013 Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova 4–6, 6–3, 6–0
2014 Serena Williams d. Li Na 7–5, 6–1
2015 Serena Williams d. Carla Suarez Navarro 6–2, 6–0
2016 Victoria Azarenka d. Svetlana Kuznetsova 6–3, 6–2
2017 Johanna Konta d. Caroline Wozniacki 6–4, 6–3
4th: Kerber d. Ozaki
4th: V.Williams d. Kuznetsova
4th: Halep d. Stosur
4th: Konta d. Arruabarrena
4th: Wozniacki d. Muguruza
4th: Safarova d. Cibulkova
4th: Lucic-Baroni d. Mattek-Sands
4th: Ka.Pliskova d. Strycova
QF: V.Williams d. Kerber
QF: Konta d. Halep
QF: Wozniacki d. Safarova
QF: Ka.Pliskova d. Lucic-Baroni
SF: Konta d. V.Williams
SF: Wozniacki d. Ka.Pliskova
F: Konta d. Wozniacki
1985 G.Fernandez/Navratilova d. Jordan/Mandlikova
1986 Shriver/Sukova d. Evert/Turnbull
1987 Navratilova/Shriver d. Kohde-Kilsch/Sukova
1988 Graf/Sabatini d. G.Fernandez/Garrison
1989 Novotna/Sukova d. G.Fernandez/McNeil
1990 Novotna/Sukova d. Nagelsen/White
1991 MJ.Fernandez/Garrison-Jackson d. G.Fernandez/Novotna
1992 Sanchez Vicario/Savchenko-Neiland d. Hetherington/Rinaldi
1993 Novotna/Savchenko Neiland d. Hetherington/Rinaldi
1994 G.Fernandez/Zvereva d. Fendick/McGrath
1995 Novotna/Sanchez Vicario d. G.Fernandez/Zvereva
1996 Novotna/Sanchez Vicario d. McGrath/Savchenko Neiland
1997 Sanchez Vicario/Zvereva d. Appelmans/Oremans
1998 Hingis/Novotna d. Sanchez Vicario/Zvereva
1999 Hingis/Novotna d. MJ.Fernandez/Seles
2000 Halard-Decugis/Sugiyama d. Arendt/Bollegraf
2001 Sanchez Vicario/Tauziat d. Raymond/Stubbs
2002 Raymond/Stubbs d. Ruano Pascual/Suarez
2003 Huber/Mag.Maleeva d. Asagoe/Miyagi
2004 Petrova/Shaughnessy d. Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva
2005 Kuznetsova/Molik d. Raymond/Stubbs
2006 Raymond/Stosur d. Huber/Navratilova
2007 Raymond/Stosur d. C.Black/Huber
2008 Srebotnik/Sugiyama d. C.Black/Huber
2009 Kuznetsova/Mauresmo d. Peschke/Raymond
2010 Dulko/Pennetta d. Petrova/Stosur
2011 Hantuchova/A.Radwanska d. Huber/Petrova
2012 Kirilenko/Petrova d. Errani/Vinci
2013 Petrova/Srebotnik d. Raymond/Robson
2014 Hingis/Lisicki d. Makarova/Vesnina
2015 Hingis/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina
2016 Mattek-Sands/Safarova d. Babos/Shvedova
2017 Dabrowski/Xu Yifan d. Mirza/Strycova
SF: MIrza/Strycova d. L.Chan/Hingis
SF: Dabrowski/Xu d. Hlavackova/Peng
F: Dabrowski/Xu d. Mirza/Strycova
WS: #1 Halep, #2 Wozniacki

=Round of 16=
#1 Halep d. (WC) Azarenka
#5 Ka.Pliskova d. #12 Goerges
#13 Stephens d. #3 Muguruza
#10 Kerber d. #2 Garcia
#19 Kasatkina d. #6 Ostapenko
#4 Svitolina d. Martic
#8 V.Williams d. #22 Mertens
#2 Wozniacki d. #16 Vandeweghe
#1 Halep d. #5 Ka.Pliskova
#13 Stephens d. #10 Kerber
#19 Kasatkina d. #4 Svitolina
#8 V.Williams d. #2 Wozniacki
#1 Halep d. #13 Stephens
#8 V.Williams d. #19 Kasatkina
#1 Halep d. #8 V.Williams year ago, the Cahill/Halep "Miami Ultimatum" gambit took place after the Romanian's less-than-competitive loss to eventual champion Konta. With possibly something still to prove (to herself and others), Miami would seem like a nice place for Halep to do it. If Venus were to win, we could once again make a list of all the players in the draw now yet born when she last won in Miami (2001).

And, finally, a brief sign of hope in the middle of the storm?

All for now.