Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fed Cup II Preview: Dancing with History in the Pale Moonlight

Well, another Fed Cup weekend is here. So it's time to nitpick rosters, the "gut instinct" of captains, and consider all the soon-to-happen moments upon which national fates will rest.

Let's have a closer look at the semifinals and playoff ties to be contested...


United States at France (Aux-en-Provence, FRA - RCI)
USA: Stephens,Keys,Vandeweghe,Mattek-Sands
(Capt: Kathy Rinaldi)
FRA: Mladenovic,Parmentier,Hesse (Capt: Yannick Noah)
...CoCo Vandeweghe, as is her style, is confident as the Bannerettes head into France seeking back-to-back appearances in the FC final for the first time since 2009-10 (the last consecutive U.S. titles came in 1999-00). But should she be? This tie comes down to a battle between surface/site vs. depth. The Pastries are loaded up on the former, while Kathy Rinaldi's bunch can rightfully boast of a huge advantage when it comes to the ladder. 11-2 vs. France in Fed Cup play, though the French won in the last encounter in 2014 (w/ Caroline Garcia having a hand in all three points during the French team's "former life"), the U.S. has numerous options in singles, though none are "sure things." Clay isn't Vandeweghe's best surface, but she's been clutch for Rinaldi, as well as actually quite good on the surface (3-1 ws/3-1 wd) for Team USA. Keys reached the semis in Charleston two weeks ago, while Stephens is probably the most reliable on clay of the three singles players on the roster. Still in her post-U.S. Open trance, Sloane nearly single-handedly brought on the Fall of the House of Rinaldi in last year's final with her struggling-with-the-pressure 0-2 performance vs. Belarus. But Future Sloane returned in Miami. Still, she hasn't played a match on clay since Roland Garros '16. French Captain Yannick Noah has an easy hand to play: straight Kiki. If France is going to reach a second FC final in three years, Mladenovic (8-6 ws/10-2 wd) will likely have to be part of all three wins this weekend, just as she was in February against Belgium. She was Backspin's overall weekend "MVP" for her 3-for-3, jump-on-my-back-and-I'll-bring-us-all-home performance. Her key match three months ago was winning a head-to-head contest with AO semifinalist Elise Mertens, allowing her deciding doubles win with Amandine Hesse to even be possible. With a singles win by another French player (Pauline Parmentier -- LOL, that had *better* not happen, or this weekend's FC goat -- and not G.O.A.T. -- will be wearing stars with her red, white and blue colors) is as close to a "no hope" scenario as any tie played outside of Wollongong, Mladenovic again has zero margin for error, and this time she'll have to knock off a combination of *two* players from a group that includes a slam winner, slam finalist and two-time slam semifinalist, *then* also win in doubles vs. 7-time slam title winner Bethanie Mattek-Sands (probably w/ CoCo) with everything on the line. Even with the crowd on their side, the Pastries wouldn't likely be the favorites in that one.
PICK: USA def. FRA 3-2
...this was the best match-up that the Bannerettes, who were fortunate to avoid the Czech "A"-team in last year's semis, could have hoped for this time around. The Czechs or Germans might be favored against the U.S. if they were on the opposing sideline. If one of the Bannerette singles players can knock off Mladenovic this one will be wrapped up early, but it's safe to assume (but hardly a certainty) that this could go to the doubles. Rinaldi was smart to include the back-from-injury BMS as the veteran/doubles specialist on this roster rather than going with another singles player, something that former captain Mary Joe Fernandez rarely had the forethought to pull off during her time at the helm. It gives the U.S. a final, last ditch chance to lock away a sixth consecutive win (and keep Rinaldi's record spotless at 4-0) if no one can get a win over Kiki in singles. With three opportunities to get this done, it's hard to imagine an 0-for-3 strikeout scenario playing out.

Czech Republic at Germany (Stuttgart, GER - RCI)
CZE: Kvitova,Ka.Pliskova,Strycova,Siniakova
(Capt: Petr Pala)
GER: Goerges,Kerber,Maria,Groenefeld
(Capt: Jans Gerlach)

...are the Czechs, playing in their tenth straight semi and looking to advance to a sixth final in eight years (they're 5-0 in championship ties during the stretch), vulnerable? (Pause.) Well, I wasn't suddenly struck by lightning for even suggesting such a thing, so let's run with it. Since 2011, the Maidens have been forced to the deciding doubles on eight occasions, including in three straight road ties during their last title run in '16. They've gone 7-1. The loss came in last year's semi vs. the U.S. without the usual star-stubbed collection of talent from top to bottom being at the hands of Petr Pala. A roster that would be considered the Czech "A"-team is 7-0 in deciding doubles matches during this run of dominance. The last time such a squad lost at all came in a 2013 SF vs. Italy (3-1). But rarely have they played a German squad like this one. Germany, with new Captain Jans Gerlach, perfectly played the "Cinderella" role in February vs. defending finalist Belarus, with the likes of Tatjana Maria (getting her first FC wins in seven years) taking the lead role, then joining with longtime roster member Anna-Lena Groenefeld in doubles for a 3-2 win. THIS German team is loaded, sporting two Top 12 players, Julia Goerges and Angelique Kerber, as well as the returning Maria and ALG. That's a formidable group, playing at home (though CZE is 9-2 in road ties since '11), on a clay surface that doesn't play into the favor of the top two Maidens (Top 10ers Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova). Kvitova, though she's gone 2-0 vs. Goerges in '18, has gone just 2-3 since her career-best 14-match winning streak earlier this season, which included her turning around her surprising FC slump (she went 0-4 in' 16) with a 2-0 mark in February vs. Switzerland. While Kvitova's match-up with Kerber will be this tie's headline-grabber, the one against Goerges may be the key match. While Kvitova leads 4-1 in their head-to-head, three of the matches have gone three sets, including a 10-8 3rd in FC play claimed by the Czech in 2012. 25-8 in FC play on hard court and carpet surfaces, Petra is just 3-2 on clay. Meanwhile, Pliskova, consistently good but unspectacular in '18, has never played a FC match on the surface. Still, the Czech Republic is 7-1 vs. Germany, having nearly always "found a way" (def. GER in the '14 final) for almost every one of the last seven Fed Cup seasons.
PICK: GER def. CZE 3-2
I'm not sure of the scenario that may play out, but I'm going with the end result. (Don't rule out a Strycova star-turn here, though, possibly in a two-win Sunday performance to pull the Czech hopes away from the ledge and carry the squad to another final.) That's not a hedge, by the way, just an "alternate" possibility.

Slovakia at Belarus (Minsk, BLR - HCI)
SVK: AK.Schmiedlova,Kuzmova,Cepelova,Sramkova (Capt: Matej Liptak)
BLR: Sasnovich,Sabalenka,Lapko,Marozava
(Capt: Tatiana Poutchek)

...last weekend's WTA result turned up the intrigue in this one, though the change in surface from the tour's red clay to an indoor hard court would seem to boost '17 finalist Belarus' possibilities of returning to the World Group for '19. No matter how hard Aryna Sabalenka tried to save the day in February, Belarus still fell hard vs. a Cinderella German team led by a player who hadn't posted a Fed Cup win since 2011 (Tatjana Maria) and another (Antonia Lottner) making her debut. In the tie-turning moment, Lottner shockingly took down '17 FC heroine Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The Belarusians never really recovered, and ultimately lost in the deciding doubles. In their fifth straight home tie, Belarus is led by new/old captain, Tatiana Poutchek. After having the role from 2012-15, during which the team won ten of fourteen ties to get into position for the 2016-17 run under Eduard Dubrov, Poutchek is back to try to add more successful entries to her FC resume. As a player, she leads the nation in ties (45), total wins (37), doubles wins (28) and years on the team (15). Last week, on clay, Sabalenka reached the Lugano final, while she and Vera Lapko (who pushed Maria to three sets in February) were also the doubles runners-up. That experience together could prove valuable if things go to the doubles. Sasnovich will need to rebound for that to happen, though. The Slovaks notched an historic first ever win over Russia three months ago, with Viktoria Kuzmova's maiden career FC victory providing the clinching point. She's back, though it's teammate Anna Karolina Schmiedlova who'll have the most eyes on her. AKS ended her three-year title drought last week in Bogota, winning the crown on the clay. If this one had been played on the dirt, last week's momentum-driven results might provide some real insight into what will happen in Minsk. As it is, though, they could turn out to mean absolutely nothing.
PICK: BLR def. SVK 3-1 of the four (of 10 in WG) FC ties on hard court this weekend, the surface (and on-site support) seems to point to Belarus getting back in the game for 2019. Still waiting for Vika Azarenka's return, if it finally comes next season, a win here might just propel BLR back into another final.

Switzerland at Romania (Cluj-Napoca, ROU - RCI)
SUI: Bacsinszky,Golubic,Teichmann,Schnyder
(Capt: Heinz Gunthardt)
ROU: Halep,Begu,Cirstea,Buzarnescu
(Capt: Florin Segarceanu) front of the oh-so-supportive Romanian crowds, #1 Simona Halep makes her '18 Fed Cup *and* clay court debut. While her Melbourne injuries prevented her from joining her teammates on the court in February's win over Canada, she was courtside in her role as team leader, cheering everyone on. 14-5 in FC play, Halep heads a veteran team vs. the Swiss, with everyone -- Cirstea (11), Begu (7) and Buzarnescu (2, though this is her first tie since '12) -- having notched singles wins for the national team. The Swarmettes are looking to return to FC title contention in '19, having slipped back after falling in the deciding doubles vs. CZE in the 2016 1st Round. After losing three straight ties, Romania seeks a third straight win here to get back into the Top 8. While the Romanians are preparing for another FC run, one wonders if the Swiss missed *their* chance. With Martina Hingis retired, and Belinda Bencic injured *again*, the "dream team" roster potential of the last two seasons may be finished for good (even junior Swiss star Rebeka Masarova is gone, now representing ESP). With the "Big 4" of Bacsinszky, Bencic, Hingis and Viktorija Golubic (2-0 vs. the Czechs in the '16), Switzerland reached back-to-back semifinals in 2016-17, losing to CZE in the deciding doubles and then Belarus a year ago (though Bencic wasn't available in singles that weekend). Captain Heinz Gunthardt had to reach back into history to grab Patty Schnyder (at 39, the oldest roster player in FC this week) to just fill the #4 spot on the squad behind Bacsinszky (20-16/8-5, but 0-3 in '18 and without a singles win of any kind since last year's Wimbledon after a career-threatening hand injury), Golubic and Jill Teichmann.
PICK: ROU def. SUI 4-1
...two years ago this could have been for a spot in the finals. Now, only one will get another chance to aim for a maiden FC title next season. Romania seems far more equipped to dream big.

Netherlands at Australia (Wollongong, AUS - HCI)
NED: Kerkhove,Lemoine,Schuurs,de Vroome
(Capt: Paul Haarhuis)
AUS: Barty,Gavrilova,Stosur,Aiava (Capt: Alicia Molik)
...sometimes the notion of Australia playing at home would be enough to make you nervous. But not here. This tie is unequivocally the biggest mistmatch on the board this weekend. Without their usual FC roster making the trek Down Under for this tie, the Dutch (the '16 semifinalists) have constructed a roster that has a "grand total" of ZERO career singles victories in Fed Cup play. Two players are making their debuts for the national team, while Lesley Kherkove (3-0 doubles) and Demi Schuurs (2-0 doubles) "lead" the team vs. an Aussie team headed up by Ash Barty. In February, Barty joined Kiki Mladenovic as the only players in WG play to have a hand in all three of her team's points. With Barty at the top of the roster, for as long as she commits, this is a different era for Australian Fed Cup. Finally, the women have the fiery equivalent to what Lleyton Hewitt was for AUS Davis Cup. Veteran Sam Stosur is back. While her FC numbers (29-17 s/7-0 d) are impressive, few top players make you as nervous in pressure situations on home soil as she. Now that she doesn't have to be the lead runner, much of that pressure may be off. Dasha Gavrilova has been excitable, but also sometimes shaky, in her short FC career for Australia. She went 0-2 in February's 3-2 win over Ukraine. But she didn't lose to the likes of Svitolina and/or Tsurenko, it was to 16-year old Marta Kostyuk (in her FC debut) and Nadia Kichenok. She can't really be relied upon. Barty can be, though. 'Nuff said.
PICK: AUS def. NED 4-0 it turned out, Casey Dellacqua's final match *was* in Fed Cup play, but it *would* have been nice had she ended it here, likely topping off a dominant, feel-good weekend for Aussie tennis with a final victory lap win over the Dutch. Oh, well.

Belgium at Italy (Genoa, ITA - RCO)
BEL: Mertens,Van Uytvanck,Flipkens,Bonaventure
(Capt: Ivo Van Aken)
ITA: Errani,Paolini,Chiesa,Pieri (Capt: Tathiana Garbin) soon as you think they're out, the Italians pull themselves back in. The funeral dirge has been prepared to play for a while now for the Italian Fed Cup team, now a shadow of its former dominant self, with just one of the original Quartet still in the mix. But it's not as easy to put down Team Italia as it appeared as if it might be sometime last year. Still, fresh off a win over Spain in February in which Sara Errani was strong and newcomer Deborah Chiesa pulled off the sort of gutsy win (saving MP vs. Lara Arruabarrena to clinch) that used to be common for the green-white-and-red, Italy needs yet another win to avoid falling into World Group II in 2019. Standing in their way are the Belgians, the very definition of a team in flux, at least at the top. After losing to the underwomaned French team in February, Captain Dominique Monami was dumped by the Belgian Federation. Replacing her, but only for this one tie, is Ivo Van Aken, the 66-year-old technical director and top sport coordinator of Tennis Vlaanderen. He's stated that he only agreed to lead the team if it was for this one tie, and has stated the need for the Federation to find a "long-term solution." (Hmmm, it's too bad Belgium doesn't have any Hall of Fame former players to take a shot at luring... oh, wait.) Thing is, Belgium's FC prospects look better now than they have since the days of Kim & Justine. Elise Mertens, fresh off claiming singles and doubles (w/ fellow Waffle and teammate Kirsten Flipkens) titles on clay in Lugano, could be a Top 10 player by year's end. Alison Van Uytvanck has won a tour title this year, as well. This might not be a team that could challenge for a title, but it could be a consistent World Group competitor for a few years, with the potential for a one-year run in any given year should Mertens continue to climb the WTA ladder at the rate she has over the past year. She lost the big singles match vs. Kiki Mladenovic on the road vs. France three months ago, and now she'll likely need to correct that misstep here vs. Errani. Again, it's likely the key to victory. Belgium would have the edge should things go to the doubles, but getting there isn't a given now that Chiesa has proven capable of winning big in front of a home crowd.
PICK: BEL def. ITA 3-2
...Italy is 7-0 vs. Belgium in FC play, so this would be another case of history being overturned. It's probably time (overdue) for Italy to begin to fall away. But *someone* has said that before and been wrong. It could happen again, too. But, before the first ball is struck, I'll still go with the "most likely" outcome.

Latvia at Russia (Khanty-Mansiysk, RUS - RCI)
LAT: Ostapenko,Sevastova,Marcinkevica,Vismane
(Capt: Andis Juska)
RUS: Pavlyuchenkova,Makarova,Vesnina,Vikhlyantseva (Capt: Igor Andreev)
...the Czarina Era is over. Don't shed a tear, though. As wonderful as she was as a player, Anastasia Myskina's captaincy of the Russian team in the aftermath of swirling controversy regarding the Russian Tennis Federation's relationship with the nation's WTA players a few years ago often left much to be desired on FC game days. Two weeks ago, after one too many what-is-she-thinking? decisions (or, ahem, for "family reasons"), it was announced that Myskina was out as the Hordette captain, and Igor Andreev was in. Whether it will make a difference in this tie is debatable. Three months after losing for the first time to Slovakia, the Russian women hope to avoid losing for the first time to Latvia, which is trying to win a fifth straight tie and reach World Group II for the first time. It wasn't easy for Latvia to get here, as Alona Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevstova both suffered singles losses in Europe/Africa zone play in February and were forced to combine to win a pair of deciding doubles matches to save the day, including in the Promotional Playoff against Serbia. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to avoid falling into zone play in '19 for the first time since 1997. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Myskina's misplaced faith in *her* played a large part in her demise) is here again, lugging along her 4-8 FC singles record and 1-7 mark since 2012. Will Andreev make the same mistake as Myskina and depend on her to carry Russia's hope on her shoulders in pressure situations? If so, might there be a *third* Russian captain in three ties come next February? He'd be better off to hang the team's fate on the likes of Ekaterina Makrarova, Elena Vesnina or Natalia Viklyantseva (notched a singles win in February loss to SVK). If things go to the doubles, Makarova/Vesnina could be called upon to play their first FC match together since the 2013 semifinals. Overall, they're 3-0 as a duo, with their first match coming a dull decade ago in 2008.

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PICK: LAT def. RUS 3-1
...Sevastova aside, as Latvian Thunder goes in this tie, so goes that of the Latvians. Ostapenko's clay court trek toward her attempt to defend her Roland Garros title two months from now begins this weekend. One would think she'll want to get rolling early.

Paraguay at Spain (Cartagena, ESP - RCO)
PAR: Cepede Royg,M.Gonzalez,Giangreco Campiz,Escauriza (Capt: Ramon Delgado)
ESP: Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro,Arruabarrena,Martinez-Sanchez (Capt: Anabel Medina-Garrigues)
...for the first time since 2016, Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez-Navarro are side-by-side representing Spain. The top two ranked Spanish players went undefeated in singles that year, sweeping both Serbia and Italy by 4-0 score. Without both in attendance, Spain has gone on to lose three straight ties. Finally, though, new(ish) ESP Captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues will get the benefit against a game, though likely overmatched, Paraguayan squad looking to secure a World Group II spot in '19 for the first time in its history. The team is led by longtime FC stalwart Veronica Cepede Royg (32-10 s/19-10 dd), whose epic Promotional Playoff win over Beatriz Haddad in Americas zone play made this third attempt to reach the next level of FC play possible, after having lost in similar situations in 1995 and 2015. VCR is backed up by Montserrat Gonzalez (19-12/19-3). Still, if Muguruza (7-1) and CSN (12-8) are and/or remain fully healthy, the Spanish should roll. Third singles option Lara Arruabarrena, the Bogota runner-up last weekend, is riding a four-match FC losing streak (including a nightmare 0-2 mark vs. Italy in February) after going 2-0 in 2015 vs. Argentina in her FC debut.
PICK: ESP def. PAR 4-0
...AMG's Mauresmo-like whispering abilities would be interesting to watch if Muguruza and CSN were a consistent FC combo, possibly joined by 21-year old Sara Sorribes Tormo and, in the near future, by new ESP player (ex-SUI) Rebeka Masarova. The 18-year old the '16 RG junior champ and '17 AO girls runner-up is currently in the middle of rehabbing an knee injury incurred when she slipped on a wet court during a January practice. If the Fed Cup format changes to a single site event in the next season or two, Spain may benefit as much or more than any other contending nation.

Great Britain at Japan (Miki, JPN - HCI)
GBR: Konta,Watson,A.Smith,Taylor
(Capt: Anne Keothavong)
JPN: Osaka,Nara,Kato,Ninomiya
(Capt: Toshihisa Tsuchihashi)
...for the first time since her career-changing run in Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka will play tennis in Japan. She'll slide into the #1 singles slot (February #2 Nao Hibino is out) following Japan's great, four-contributing-members-strong teamwork in Asia/Oceania action three months ago. Osaka is 4-0 in her FC singles career, but her matches this weekend will be her first outside of zone play. She's got back-up, as Kurumi Nara went undefeated in February (and should have won the Fed Cup Heart Award for her efforts, losing out to the more popular Yulia Putintseva in truly dumb fan voting for the honor more than a month after the matches were played), and Miyu Kato/Makoto Ninomiya won a deciding doubles match over Kazakhstan to get Japan into this tie. The Brits, meanwhile, are trying to end a 25-year stretch of being excluded from the Fed Cup's Top 16 teams. A win here to reach the '19 World Group II would do the trick. Johanna Konta has had a truly disappointing '18 season, but she's been golden of late in FC play. 2-0 in February, she's won four straight singles matches. Heather Watson, too, has been a good team player, going 20-7 in singles (3 con. wins) and 8-2 in doubles for her career.
PICK: JPN def. GBR 3-2
...if Konta can knock off Osaka, the Brits might be able to take this tie before it gets to the deciding doubles. If not, Kato/Ninomiya will get the chance to close out another tie. This one could come down to the wire, with some tense 3rd set action deciding the fate of both nations.

Ukraine at Canada (Montreal, CAN - HCI)
UKR: Tsurenko,K.Bondarenko,Savchuk
(Capt: Mikhail Filima)
CAN: Bouchard,Abanda,Andreescu,Dabrowski
(Capt: Sylvain Bruneau)
...oh, boy. Here we go again? The last time Genie Bouchard showed up for a Fed Cup tie in Montreal, she uttered the "I'll pass" line when Alexandra Dulgheru attempted to shake her hand in a pre-tie press event, leading to a disastrous weekend that saw her go 0-2, including a loss to a fired-up Dulgheru, who promptly advanced down a line of her Romanian teammates, mocking Bouchard by pulling a "fake handshake" with each and every one. That weekend was precisely the moment that first exposed the "dark side" of the sudden star who'd been pumped up by marketers as the "next Kournikova/Sharapova" following her breakout '14 season. Of course, much has gone wrong for Bouchard since then, including a lockerroom concussion and protracted (and finally settled) legal battle with the USTA, many childish and ill-informed interviews, struggles to keep sponsers, and a so far bottomless fall down the rankings. In the immediate aftermath of her '14 AO semifinal, the newly-annointed Bouchard played a pair of FC ties in Montreal, going 4-0 in singles. Since then, though, she's gone just 3-7 in matches on Canadian soil. As it's difficult to pass over, Bouchard's presence on this roster will likely overshadow the rest of the story: that Canada's is the youngest roster in action this weekend, with Franckie Abanda (5-4, with FC wins over the likes of Shvedova, Putintseva, Cepelova and Begu, as well as three-setters vs. Cibulkova, Sasnovich and Dulgheru) and Bianca Andreescu (5-2 s/2-0 d, and coming off a pair of ITF singles finals in recent weeks) having been solid performers in their young FC careers. Captain Sylvain Bruneau would probably be wise to lean on them, if nothing else than for the team's future. But with Bouchard, somehow still the highest-ranked Canadian (though likely not for long once her points for a SF in Madrid fall off this spring, as she's gone just 7-17 since that run), on board, she could be given the opporutnity to take on two singles matches on the weekend. Unless something suddenly "clicks," that could take down the entire team. Still, Ukraine is playing shorthanded in Montreal. The team was listed as having just a three-player roster at mid-week (might ITF achiever Anhelina Kalinia, who has played exclusively in North America this season, be a late option to fill out the roster?). Elina Svitolina is absent, while teenagers Marta Kostyuk and Dayana Yastremska are scheduled for Stuttgart qualifying. It leaves Acapulco champ Lesia Tsurenko in the key role, but she recently was forced to retire in Monterrey. If she can't make it through the weekend, veteran Kateryna Bondarenko might have to take up the singles slack. Olga Savchuk is there, too, but likely just for doubles. Needless to say, there's much intrigue in this one, as very little is set in stone.

PICK: CAN def. UKR 3-2
...this is a case of me seeing a sensible scenario playing out in Montreal, with Bruneau handing the tie over to the youngsters, who have just enough success to get things to the deciding doubles, where Gaby Dabrowski (two MX slams and four WD titles since last spring) and maybe Bouchard might combine to produce the final point in a win for the hosts. We'll see how long that possibly hangs on as a possible reality.

Europe/Africa II (Athens, Greece - RCO)
Europe/Africa III (Tunis, Tunisia & Ulcinj, Montenegro - RCO)
Zone play has been going on at various sites the last few days, with mostly lower-level players/teams.

Names to watch: the host nation teams sporting the best players in action in zone play -- Tunisia's Ons Jabeur and Montenegro's Danka Kovinic -- and Dane Clara Tauson, the youngest player in action this weekend at just under 15 years and 4 months of age.

Of course, I'll have a full wrap-up of the entire Fed Cup event in the regular weekly post following all the weekend action, as well as the full "Fed Cup Captain Threat Level Chart."

All for now.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wk.15- Schmiedy Is As Schmiedy Does

My, what a long, strange trip back it's been for Schmiedy. But she made it. Finally.

Three seasons ago, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova was one of the NextGen "players to watch." She reached the 2012 Roland Garros girls final in 2012, then quickly became a Top 75 pro player in '13 and '14. In 2015 she was challenging for the WTA Top 20. That season the Slovak, just 20 years old for most of the year, reached six tour singles semifinals, played in three finals, winning two (on hard and clay courts), advanced to her second career slam 3rd Round (U.S. Open), defeated four Top 20 players, posted her first Top 10 win (then-#6 Wozniacki), and attained her highest ranking (#26 in October) late in the year.

And then things went bad. Real bad.

Showing just how much of a role confidence plays in the (sometimes) wild swings of fortune of up-and-coming tennis stars, AKS's "would-be breakthrough" 2016 season started slowly, then snowballed in a hurry. A near double-bagel loss to Monica Puig in Sydney, 6-1/6-0, sent her down the steep slope. She didn't win a tour-level match between mid-January and July, dropping sixteen consecutive matches in WTA/WTA 125 events, all but three of them in straight sets. While she found some measure of hope during the stretch with a 2-2 record in Fed Cup play, the die was cast for a season that would forever be known for what it wasn't rather than what it had been hoped it would be. She ended the year in which she was *supposed* to crack the Top 20 ranked outside the *Top 200*. After a brief stretch of mediocrity in the early summer, AKS had another four match losing streak, which included a 3rd set TB loss to Alona Ostapenko in Cincinnati nine months before the Latvian would win Roland Garros. She finished '16 on a 2-9 bender, finishing her season a combined 6-28 in pro events (aside from her four FC matches) even while her two tour-level singles trophies had barely had time to collect a layer of dust on her mantle back home.

But Schmiedy didn't give up, or give in, no matter how easy it may have been to do so.

Seeking to rebuild her confidence from the ground up, she gradually found her way plying her trade on the lower levels of the ITF challenger circuit last season. She reached a QF in the $100K event in Midland in February, but mostly rediscovered her footing in $25K events. She followed up Midland with a semifinal in her next event on hard court, then did it again on clay in the Wiesbaden $25K in early May, even as her ranking slipped outside the Top 250. She finally broke through in June, winning back-to-back $25K titles, and reaching another final during the summer. She fell one set short of qualifying at Flushing Meadows, but soon after reached a $60K semi, and won an $80K in late October to get her season-ending ranking up to #133.

With perhaps a new lease on her tennis life, Schmiedlova made it through qualifying in Melbourne. She lost a 1st Rounder to Dasha Kasatkina, but it was still her first slam MD match since the '16 U.S. Open. A SF result at a $60K challenger in Zhuhai (she lost to superteen Marta Kostyuk) set the stage for her April attempt to reestablish a foothold on the WTA tour. Last week in Monterrey, she nearly recorded her first WTA MD win since October '16, falling to Ajla Tomljanovic after having led 6-3 in the deciding TB. After failing to convert three MP, she saw the Aussie win the match's final five points to get the win.

Still, she was *close." All she needed was for a few things to go her way in Bogota. And they did.

Coming in ranked #132, Schmiedlova drew 2016 tournament champ Irina Falconi in the 1st Round. After winning a tight 1st set, her game fell apart in the 2nd. She lost the set a love, committing six double-faults, winning just 43% of her service points, and going 0-for-3 on break points chances. But AKS surged back to claim the 3rd 6-1 to get her first WTA win in a year and a half. It wasn't easy, and she needed some extra support. But the proverbial hump had finally been traversed.

Other than having to clear one last hurdle on Sunday, she never looked back.

Down went Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua in straight sets, then on-fire Colombian teen Emiliana Arango was hobbled and forced to retire in the 2nd set of their QF match-up as AKS reached her first tour-level semi since Seoul in September '15. #7-seed Ana Bogdan, playing in her second tour SF in two weeks, was sent out 3 & 2, placing Schmiedlova in her first final in thirty-three months.

Against #5 seed Lara Arruabarrena, another former Bogota champion (2012, and the '17 runner-up), the Slovak was broken in her first serve game. But the two traded breaks of serve over the first four games, after which AKS got the first hold to lead 3-2. Soon, she led 6-2/5-1, with the Spaniard having yet to hold serve all day, and held a MP on her own serve. She didn't get the win there, then likely had her amazing comeback week flash before her eyes as she failed to serve out the match again two games later. But with things back on serve at 5-4, she broke the Spaniard to seal the win and claim her first tour title since winning #2 in Bucharest in July '15.

So, add another entry to the tour's ever expanding 2018 "storytime hour," as perseverance finally paid off for Schmiedlova, as did the loyalty of her coach, Milan Martinec, who stuck with her through the bad times. The Slovak offered her thanks in her post-match acceptance speech. "He was with me in the bad times, now he's with me in the better times," she said.

Having reached four tour finals, with a 3-1 record in them, since 2015, as well as having seven SF-plus results over that span and winning three ITF titles, Schmiedlova's career top-level numbers in recent seasons don't look too bad on the surface.

But numbers can sometimes be oh so deceiving.

Schmiedlova has earned her warrior stripes the last three seasons. Hail the conquering (again) Slovak. It's nice to have ol' Schmiedy back.

S: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK def. Lara Arruabarrena/ESP 6-2/6-4
D: Dalila Jakupovic/Irina Khromacheva (SLO/RUS) d. Mariana Duque/Nadia Podoroska (COL/ARG) 6-3/6-4
S: Elise Mertens/BEL def. Aryna Sabalenka/BLR 7-5/6-2
D: Kirsten Flipkens/Elise Mertens (BEL/BEL) d. Vera Lapko/Aryna Sabalenka (BLR/BLR) 6-1/6-3

...well, Mertens is truly one of this season's movers-and-shakers, isn't she?

Through the first three and a half months of 2018, the Waffle has defended her maiden tour singles title in Hobart, and swept to the doubles championship in the event, as well. She notched her first career Top 5 win (Svitolina) in Melbourne on her way to her first slam semifinal in just her fifth appearance in the MD of a major. It all got her her first Top 20 ranking. While she slumped a bit after the Australian Open, going 2-4 in MD tour matches, she returned to her "Belgian Rumble" form on the clay in Lugano. After an opening win over Mandy Minella, Mertens took down defending champion Marketa Vondrousova (though, to be fair, that was when the tournament was an indoor hardcourt event), then managed to survive a pair of three-setters on Saturday (due to numerous rain-outs during the week) against both Mona Barthel and Vera Lapko. In the singles final, she defeated Aryna Sabalenka 7-5/6-2 to win her third career title, and will climb to another new career high (#17) this week. Oh, but that wasn't all -- Mertens swept both titles AGAIN, claiming the WD with countrywoman Kirsten Flipkens in a straight sets win over two of the players Elise defeated in singles, Sabalenka & Lapko.

It was a long, mostly-backloaded, week. But it was surely worth the effort.

RISERS: Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Lara Arruabarrena/ESP and Ana Bogdan/ROU
...Sabalenka may eventually be the Top 10 player that her talent and competitiveness say she might be, but the 19-year old will have to remain content with a gradual climb up the WTA ranking ladder. At least for this week. The Belarusian put together her second career WTA singles final run (w/ Tianjin '17) in Lugano, knocking off Mihaela Buzarnescu, Polona Hercog, Camila Giorgi and Stefanie Voegele (she played both matches, as well as one in doubles, on Saturday after a week of rain delays), as well as reaching her maiden WD final with countrywoman Vera Lapko. In both matches, Sabalenka lost to Elise Mertens. The Belgian defeated her 7-5/6-2 in singles, then (w/ Kirsten Flipkens) 1 & 3 in doubles. Sabalenko and Lapko had defeated the #4 seeded Knoll/Adamczak before losing to the #1 Waffles. Still, Sabalenka will make her Top 50 singles debut on Monday as she heads into the big World Group Playoff match-up with Slovakia next weekend in Minsk as the '17 FC runner-up Belarusians try to stay in the World Group for 2019.

On red clay in Bogota, one week after her hard court semi in Monterrey, Bogdan reached a second consecutive final four stage in a tour-level event. Wins over Mariana Duque, Anna Blinkova (saving a MP) and Daniela Seguel set the Swarmette up for what was an unsuccessful encounter with eventual champion Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, but her week will lift her to a new career high of #66 on Monday.

Arruabarrena hasn't exactly been burning up the courts over the past year. The 26-year old Spaniard arrived in Bogota having not won multiple MD matches in a tour-level event since Eastbourne last summer, and was just 3-8 in such contests in the season's first fourteen weeks. Not only that, but she had a horrific Fed Cup weekend back in February, being on the wrong side of the worst scoreline in World Group play (winning just two games vs. Sara Errani) and being bested by FC newbie Deborah Chiesa in the resurgent Italian squad's win over Team Espana. But Bogota has always been friendly to Arruabarrena. She picked up her maiden WTA singles title there in 2012, returned to the final a year ago, and won a pair of doubles crowns at the event in 2014 and '16. Wins over Victoria Rodriguez, Sara Sorribes Tormo, Johanna Larsson and Dalila Jakupovic got the #79-ranked Spaniard into her third Bogota final this weekend, and she had the chance to become the first '18 WTA singles champ to win a title without dropping a set. It didn't happen for her in the final, though, as Anna Karolina Schmiedlova picked up her first crown in three years via a 6-2/6-4 score, though only after Arruabarrena made things interesting after trailing 6-2/5-1 and facing a MP before *finally* holding serve for the first (and only) time in the entire match.

SURPRISES: Daniela Seguel/CHI and Tamara Korpatsch/GER
...there were almost too many potential players for this category to count, but let's go with these two (and another, Dalila Jakupovic, who is actually listed in the DOUBLES category) because they managed to string together multiple MD wins while some of the other contenders were held to just one.

Seguel, 25, has racked up fourteen ITF titles in her career, and been a member of Chile's Fed Cup team as far back as 2010. But nothing compares to her week in Bogota. Spurred on by the memory of her father, who died in 2016 watching her play an ITF final, the #191st-ranked woman on tour made it through qualifying and then became the first Chilean to notch a WTA MD win since 1980 (Silvana Urroz in Nagoya) with her 1st Round win over Nicole Gibbs, then followed up to reach the QF after defeating top-seeded Tatjana Maria. Since showing a new commitment to improve her fortunes in the middle of last season, Seguel had already claimed the biggest title of her career ($60K Barcelona last summer), reached a new career high (#189 last summer), and won her first slam qualifying match (AO '18, after saving 3 MP vs. Jamie Loeb). She'll rise to *another* new career-high of #175 this week.

Korpatsch, 22, has made her mark in recent seasons on the ITF circuit, going 6-0 in singles finals from 2015-17. Before this past week, though, she hadn't recorded a tour-level MD win since reaching the QF in Gstaad last July. Back in Switzerland, this time in Lugano, the German reached her second career WTA QF by following up a qualifying run with a win over a retiring #1 seeded Kristina Mladenovic, then fellow qualifier Kathinka von Deichmann. She lost to wild card Stefanie Voegele a round later, but will rise over thirty spots in the new rankings into the Top 145.

VETERAN: Kirsten Flipkens/BEL
...the 32-year old Waffle had a full week. She began things by shining in singles, winning a pair of three-set matches in Lugano over Carina Witthoeft and Aliaksandra Sasnovich, then ended it by joining forces with countrywoman Elise Mertens to win the doubles title. After winning a 10-1 3rd set TB in the 1st Round over Dzalamidze/Kudermetova, the duo swept the next six sets to claim the crown, defeating Sabalenka/Lapko in the final (Mertens also defeated Sabalenka in the singles final, while Flipkens lost to Lapko in the QF). They're the first #1-seeded doubles team to actually *win* a WTA title this year. Flipkens now has three tour-level WD crowns, with all of them coming since she turned 30 ('16 Seoul w/ Johanna Larsson, and '17 at Rosmalen w/ Cibulkova) in January 2016.

COMEBACKS: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK, Stefanie Voegele/SUI and Allie Kiick/USA
...aside from her triumph over her own personal story of recent seasons, AKS three-years-in-the-making return to the winner's circle has made her, at #132, the lowest-ranked tour singles champion of 2018 and the 10th-lowest since the 2012 season. Two of those who were ranked lower than her over that span were also crowned champions in Bogota -- #174 Lara Arruabarrena (AKS' final opponent) in '12 and #168 Francesca Schiavone last year.

She'll be at #84 on Monday, her highest position since her 1st Round U.S. Open loss (to Anastasija Sevastova) in 2016.

Voegele's comeback from her '17 wrist injury added another deep '18 run in Lugano. A first-time tour singles finalist in Acapulco earlier this season, a tournament in which she posted her first Top 20 win (over Sloane Stephens) since 2013, the Swiss posted wins last week over Magdalena Frech, Alize Cornet (saving 2 MP) and Tamara Korpatsch en route the semifinals, where she fell to Aryna Sabalenka. A former Top 50 player (#42 in '13), 28-year old Voegele will jump twenty-three spots into the Top 100 on Monday.

In Pelham, Alabama, 22-year old Bannerette Kiick reached her first final since her return to the court last summer following a two-year break during which she dealt with a bout with mononucleosis, the diagnosis of a rare skin cancer, four knee surgeries and the public acknowledgement of the early-onset Alzheimer's condition of her father Jim, a former running back for the Miami Dolphins. Last summer, while ranked #633, Kiick made headlines with her successful qualifying run at the U.S. Open, when her reached the MD by taking a Q3 match-up with fellow cancer survivor Vicky Duval when she retired in the 2nd set. This past week, Kiick dropped just one set en route to the final, where she lost 2 & love to 16-year old would-be Polish superstar Iga Swiatek.


FRESH FACES: Vera Lapko/BLR and Renata Zarazua/MEX
...with the tour's high-level Belarusian contingent already three strong, Lapko has gone about securing her spot as #4 in the rotation. The 19-year old's week in Lugano included a qualifying run, her biggest career win over #28 (and '17 finalist) Anett Kontaveit, and additional victories over Danka Kovinic and Kirsten Flipkens to reach her first WTA singles semifinal. Playing with countrywoman Aryna Sabalenka (in what might be a Fed Cup doubles pairing next weekend), Lapko advanced to her second career WTA WD final (the first was with another Belarusian, Olga Govortsova, in Guangzhou in '16), where Flipkens got some measure of revenge, and Mertens served herself up a second helping of Vera, as the Belgian Waffles defeated the Belarusians in straights. The Australian Open junior champ just two seasons ago, Lapko has nearly raised her WTA ranking into the Top 100. She'll be at #111 on Monday.

Weeks after posting her first career tour MD win in Acapulco (over Kristyna Pliskova), 20-year old Zarazua got her second in Bogota. She did it the hard way, too. After winning two matches to qualify, her 1st Round match with Ajla Tomljanovic was one of the many contests played havoc with by the rain. The Mexican was serving while trailing the Aussie 4-5, 15/30 in the 3rd when play was stopped, then returned (eventually) the next day on a back court and somehow found a way to win. The chaos the rain played with the schedule, along with the placement and conclusion of matches, even made her victory, at first, seem to only be an online rumor, as there was debate whether it was an actual result, a hoax or maybe even some sort of Colombian myth. All right, I made that last one up. There really were questions, though, but Zarazua's victory was indeed a fact (even if, as of this weekend, the WTA site's list of up-to-the-minute results still listed Zarazua/Tomljanovic under "Playing" -- with Ajla up 5-4 -- along with the qualifying matches taking place in Zhenghou for this coming week's WTA 125 event). She lost in the 2nd Round to AKS, but Zarazua's name is surely circulating in the suddenly swirling Mexican tennis scene that has seen herself, Victoria Rodriguez, Ana Sofia Sanchez and Giuliana Olmos all playing significant matches in recent weeks. Now, maybe one of them can find a way to make my preseason prediction of a Mexican woman in a 2018 slam singles MD a reality in the coming months. (Crossing fingers.)

Meanwhile, if Poland's top WTA cheer will soon switch over from "Go Aga!" to "Go Iga!" then 16-year old Swiatek is now officially traveling back down that path following an unscheduled timeout last season. After missing six months (June-February) with ankle surgery, Swiatek has quickly found her form since she's returned. Her dominating run to the title in the $25K challenger in Pelham, Alabama this week gives her her two titles in '18 (she's 21-2 overall), biggest career title and a so far spotless (5-0) mark in pro singles finals. She defeated Allie Kiick 6-2/6-0 in a 49-minute Sunday afternoon final, meaning the most games the Pole gave up in any of her five matches this week was six (to Louisa Chirico).
DOWN: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
...Vondrousova's April trip to Switzerland this week was very different from the one she undertook exactly one year ago. After having missed the back half of 2016 with an elbow injury, the then 17-year old hit the ground running in '17, winning her first twenty matches on all levels, claiming a pair of ITF titles and reaching two more finals. Her momentum carried over to the tour-level event in Biel, where the #233-ranked qualifier pulled upsets over countrywomen Kristyna Pliskova and Barbora Strycova en route to her maiden tour title in just her second career appearance in a WTA main draw. Looking for all the world like "Czech Lefty, version 2.0," Vondrousova was the lowest-ranked WTA champ in a decade, the youngest on tour in nearly two years, and stood at a frighteningly good 40-4 overall just four and a half months into the season. She'd make her Fed Cup debut a week later, win a $100K title in May, then added a slam debut after a Q-run at Roland Garros, where she posted a 1st Round win. While the Czech ultimately finished the season at #67, a rise of 309 spots over the course of a year, she failed to follow up her Biel success with another run in a tour-level event. After winning five MD matches that week (8 overall), Vondrousova won just three in WTA events the rest of the season. While she briefly rose into the Top 50 for the first time last month, her three MD wins in Indian Wells (including victories over the likes of Konta and Sabalenka) made that outing her only multiple-win tour-level since Biel.

When she returned to attempt to defend her title this week, *everything* was different. The tournament had a new name, was being held in a new Swiss city (Lugano), and had switched from an indoor hardcourt event to one played on outdoor red clay. The change in venue was most noticeable in the large number of rain delays and match suspensions that plagued the event, so much so that some matches were forced onto indoor courts to keep the schedule on course for a weekend finish. In her 1st Round match, Vondrousova faced Yulia Putintseva. She fell behind 6-4/5-2 and staved off three MP. Putintseva served for the match at 5-2, 5-4 and 6-5. She didn't finish it off, Vondrousova won the 2nd set TB, and then weather delays prevented the two from resuming the match until two days later. Vondrousova immediately fell behind 3-0 lead in the 3rd, but rallied to win the final six games to claim victory. She was greeted by the Kazakh at the net with a handshake hardly worthy of a Fed Cup Heart Award recipient (but that's okay, since Putintseva really didn't deserve to win that recent honor for February's action, anyway).

A round later, the Czech fell to Elise Mertens in three sets, with the final games being played in a consistent rain after matches on other courts had been stopped.

In the end, Vondrousova ended up with twenty-eight combined DF in her two matches in Lugano. She'll drop twenty-one spots in the new rankings, outside the Top 70. After being 40-4 at this point a year ago, in 2018 the 18-year old is 9-8.
ITF PLAYERS: Caroline Dolehide/USA, Tamara Zidansek/SLO and Varvara Flink/RUS
...after notching wins in March over the likes of Shelby Rogers and Dominika Cibulkova, and pushing #1 Simona Halep in a three-set loss in Indian Wells, 19-year old Dolehide brought her big game to the first battlefield in the USTA's Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. She picked up her fourth -- and biggest -- pro title at the $60K, not dropping a set all week while posting wins over Vicky Duval, Jana Cepelova and Irina Maria Bara in the final (she got a SF w/o from Madison Brengle, whose week began with the announcement of her lawsuit against the ITF and WTA over drug testing procedures). Last April, Dolehide had lost to Brengle in an ITF singles final.

In the $25K in Pula, Italy it was Slovenia's Zidansek, 20, who picked up her third ITF title of the season, winning her second title in the city in the last two weeks with a straight sets win in the final over Pastry Myrtille Georges. She didn't drop a set all week, and now has a ten match winning streak. Zidansek is 24-2 since mid-February.

21-year old Russian Flink also won her second straight challenger title this weekend, defeating Gozal Ainitdinova in front of a home crowd in Shymkent, Kazakhstan by a 6-0/2-6/6-0 score. She's now reached three straight ITF finals, going 14-1 in recent weeks, and has picked up three circuit titles (in four finals) in 2017-18 after going 0-4 in her first four career finals in 2016.

JUNIOR STAR: Emiliana Arango/COL
...ranked #510 on the WTA computer, the 17-year old Colombian who was half of the two-teenager (along w/ Argentine Maria Lourdes Carle) South American infiltration of the U.S. Open girls singles semis last summer, took a wild card into this week's tour-level event in Bogota and ended up being one of the stories of the tournament. Even before backing up the notion at Flushing Meadows and the past week, the avowed fan of Maria Sharapova was already catching eyes a few years ago...

Showing guts galore and exhibiting a memorable image uncommon on the women's tour -- tall and slight, with a signature backwards cap -- Arango notched her first career WTA MD win with an upset of the second-ranked South American on tour, Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg, in three sets, then knocked off Italian Jasmine Paolini to reach her first quarterfinal before eventually having to make the disappointing decision to retire with an injury in her final eight match with Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. She'll jump a whopping 165 spots to #345 on Monday.

DOUBLES: Dalila Jakupovic/SLO and Irina Khromacheva/RUS
...finally, here's Jakupovic (and partner Khromacheva), with Lugano champs Flipkens/Mertens already listed previously.

The 27-year old from Slovenia arrived in Bogota as the #141-ranked singles player in the world, fresh off her career-best $60K title in Canberra during the final week of March (where she also won the doubles), as well as a successful Q-run in Monterrey. She got MD wins this week over Alison Riske, Elitsa Kostova and #2 seed Magda Linette to reach her first tour semifinal, where she fell to Lara Arruabarrena. She's 11-2 in her last twelve matches. She ended her week by teaming with Hordette Khromacheva to claim her second career WTA doubles title ('17 Istanbul) with a win in the final over the all-South American duo of Duque/Podoroska (the latter was attempting to defend her Bogota win from last year). The 22-year old Russian gets her maiden tour-level title after having picked up 22 crowns on the ITF circuit during her career, including a $25K in Playford, Australia with Jakupovic in January.

1. Lugano Final - Elise Mertens def. Aryna Sabalenka
Mertens and Sabalenka become the fourth and fifth players this season to reach the singles and doubles finals of the same event, and the second pair (Shenzhen: Halep vs. Siniakova) to face off against each other for both titles. Mertens joined Halep and herself (Hobart) as a double-title winner in the same week in 2018. As far as singles finals only, Mertens is the ninth player this year to reach two, and she's the third to pick up a second title on the season (Svitolina & Kvitova). So far, Sabalenka is the youngest singles finalist of '18.
2. Lugano 1st Rd. - Marketa Vondrousova def. Yulia Putintseva
Three days, three unconverted match points, a blown 3-0 3rd set lead = a sportswomanlike handshake brief moment at the net before the losing player begins the internal debate about whether to go "full rock star" on the tournament lockerroom.

3. Bogota 1st Round - Renata Zarazua def. Ajla Tomljanovic
Tomljanovic led 5-4, 30/15 in the 3rd, with Zarazura serving, when rain stopped play. The match eventually was resumed. Somewhere. Sometime. With Zarazua staging a miraculous comeback to grab her second career WTA MD victory, though the sketchy reporting on the match left everyone wondering whether this was actually a "Believe it or Not?" test in the internet age.
4. The opening of red clay season featured a collection of firsts...

Bogota 1st Round - Maria Fernanda Herazo Gonzalez def. Tereza Martincova
The 21-year old, #443-ranked wild card plays in front of a home crowd and records her first career WTA MD victory (in her third MD event, all in Bogota), defeating the Czech who qualified at last year's U.S. Open and reached last year's Gstaad semifinals.

Lugano Q2: Kathinka von Deichmann def. Magdalena Frech
The 23-year old Liechtensteiner saves a MP at 5-3 in the 3rd set, then two more at 6-5 late on a Tuesday night (yes, the qualifying was STILL going on due to all the rain) on her way to reaching her first tour-level MD in her sixth career qualifying attempt.

Lugano 1st Round - Kathinka von Deichmann def. Laura Siegemund
...7-6(5)/2-3 ret.
This one was forced indoors to the backed-up schedule. von Deichmann got her first career WTA win, while Siegemund's comeback hit a speed bump.

Bogota 1st Round - Daniela Seguel def. Nicole Gibbs 6-2/6-2
Bogota 2nd Round - Daniela Seguel def. Tatjana Maria 6-3/6-1
no Chilean player had won a tour-level MD match since 1980(!!). Seguel won two.

Bogota 1st Round - Anna Blinkova def. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano
MCOS, the junior star who earlier this season became the first Colombian girl ranked in the junior Top 5, makes her WTA MD debut. She didn't get a win, but another step has been taken. Next big moment in the sun (which was most AWOL in Bogota): Roland Garros?

Bogota 1st Round - Valentini Grammatikopoulou def. Miyu Kato
The 21-year old, #183-ranked Greek's... (altogether now) "first WTA MD win."

Bogota 1st Round - Emiliana Arango def. Veronica Cepede Royg
The 17-year old wild card's first (of many, one suspects) WTA wins.

5. Lugano 1st Round - Tamara Korpatsch def. Kristina Mladenovic
...7-6(5)/3-2 ret.
Consider Kiki's body and energy "saved up" for what will surely be a labor-intensive Fed Cup semifinal tie vs. the Bannerettes next weekend.
6. Lugano Q1 - Kathinka von Deichmann def. Roberta Vinci
Vinci was barely the ranking "favorite" -- #163 vs. #184 -- here, as the Italian's final stretch of events looks to be ending with a regrettable whimper.
7. Lugano 2nd Round - Stefanie Voegele def. Alize Cornet
Cornet had a 6-2/5-3 lead and held two MP. And, no, she wasn't preparing for next weekend's Fed Cup tie. With her future still unknown after her March hearing on a possible suspension, she won't be joining her fellow Pastries in Aix-en-Provence.

3rd 25k title in Osaka??

A post shared by DESTANEE AIAVA (@desaiava) on

8. $25K Osaka Final - Destanee Aiava def. Rebecca Marino
The 17-year old Aussie picks up her third career challenger title, but it's just as noteworthy that Marino has compiled a 30-4 record thus far in her comeback after a five-year sabbatical from the sport.


Introducing... the 2035 U.S. Open champion?

1. Bogota Final - ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA def. Lara Arruabarrena
Hmmm, the reigning "Best Championship Trophy" on tour, now "new and improved" to appear slightly more lifelife? Here's last year's version.

Coming in 2019: feathers!!
2. Bogota 1st Round - ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA def. Irina Falconi
If you're going to get your first title in three years you have to first get your first WTA MD win in a year and a half. Why not make it against a former champion?

3. Bogota QF - ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA def. Emiliana Arango
...6-1/1-0 ret.
A little bit of good fortune -- even at the expense of an exciting teenager who'd been thrilling the home crowds all week -- doesn't hurt, either.

Now, it wouldn't be a Schmiedy week without showing one of Anna Karolina's bulging-eyes-on-the-ball shots, would it?


Elena Vesnina with her verly lifelike stuffed dog... just kidding, it's actually real. I think.

Jabeur is one of Kasatkina's offseason training partners, so...

7 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (5/2)
3 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (1/2)
3 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (2/1)
3 - Julia Goerges, GER (2/1)
3 - Kiki Bertens, NED (2/1)
3 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (3/0)
3 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (3/0)

#80 - Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL (Budapest)
#45 - Timea Babos, HUN (Taipei City)
#44 - Naomi Osaka, JPN (Indian Wells)
#40 - Lesia Tsurenko, UKR (Acapulco)
[since 2012]
#233 - Marketa Vondrousova (2017 Biel)
#208 - Melanie Oudin (2012 Birmingham)
#182 - Peng Shuai (2016 Tianjin)
#174 - Lara Arruabarrena (2012 Bogota)
#168 - Francesca Schiavone (2017 Bogota)
#163 - Duan Yingying (2016 Nanchang)
#158 - Ash Barty (2017 Kuala Lumpur)
#149 - Kiki Bertens (2012 Fes)
#133 - Kateryna Bondarenko (2017 Tashkent)
#132 - Francesca Schiavone (2016 Rio)
#132 - Oceane Dodin (2016 Quebec City)
#130 - Teliana Pereira (2015 Bogota)
#127 - Karolina Pliskova (2013 Kuala Lumpur)
#127 - Elise Mertens (2017 Hobart)

ELISE MERTENS, BEL = Hard (Hobart), Red Clay (Lugano)
2 - Julia Goerges, GER = Hard,Green Clay
2 - ELISE MERTENS, BEL = Hard,Red Clay

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
Ind.Wells: Naomi Osaka/JPN (0-1) + W

19 - ARYNA SABALENKA, BLR (LUGO-L) - 19,11m,1w
20 - Naomi Osaka, JPN (I.W.-W) - 20,5m
20 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS (Dubai-L) - 20,9m,2w
20 - Alona Ostapenko, LAT (Miami-L) - 20,9m,3w
20 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS (I.W.-L) - 20,10m,1w
19 - Fanny Stollar, HUN (Budapest-W)
20 - Alona Ostapenko, LAT (Doha-W)

#183 - Stefanie Voegele, SUI (Acapulco-L)
[WTA 125s]
#180 - Sofya Zhuk, RUS (Newport Beach-L)
#162 - Danielle Collins, USA (Newport Beach-W)
#125 - Sara Errani, ITA (Indian Wells-W)

Shenzhen: Simona Halep, ROU (F-Siniakova)
Brisbane: Elina Svitolina, UKR (SF-Ka.Pliskova)
Saint Petersburg: Petra Kvitova, CZE (F-Mladenovic)

#246 Sabine Lisicki/GER (Taipei City)
#186 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (Miami)
#183 Stefanie Voegele/SUI (Acapulco)-RU
#152 Wang Yafan/CHN (Taipei City)
#139 Rebecca Peterson/SWE (Acapuclo)
#122 Sachia Vickery/USA (Auckland)
#121 Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK (Budapest)

Shenzhen - Simona Halep/ROU (WW)
Shenzhen - Katerina Siniakova/CZE (LL)
Hobart - Elise Mertens/BEL (WW)

Naomi Broady, GBR (Monterrey)
Georgina Garcia Perez, ESP (Budapest)
Simona Halep, ROU (Shenzhen)
Bibiane Schoofs, NED (Auckland)
Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP (Monterrey)
Fanny Stollar, HUN (Budapest)

4...Andreea Amalia Rosca, ROU
3...Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
3...Nastja Kolar, SLO
3...Rebecca Marino, CAN
3...Gabriella Taylor, GBR

2013 Shelby Rogers
2014 Taylor Townsend
2015 Louisa Chirico
2016 Taylor Townsend
2017 Amanda Anisimova
2018 ??

Nobody puts Sania in the corner...


2014 Zhang Kailin/CHN def. Xu Yifan/CHN 7-5/6-4 (ITF)
2015 Wang Yafan/CHN def. Duan Yingying/CHN 6-4/6-4 (ITF)
2016 Anastasia Pivovarova/RUS def. Lu Jingjng/CHN 6-4/6-4 (ITF)
2017 Wang Qiang/CHN def. Peng Shuai/CHN 3-6/7-6(3)/1-1 ret. (WTA 125)
QF: Peng Shuai d. Diyas
QF: Zheng Saisai d. Hibino
QF: Duan Yingying d. Jang Su-jeong
QF: Wang Qiang d. Liu Fangzhou
SF: Peng Shuai d. Zheng Saisai
SF: Wang Qiang d. Duan Yingying
F: Wang Qiang d. Peng Shuai
2014 Chan Chin-wei/Liang Chen d. Han Xinyun/Zhang Kailin (ITF)
2015 Han Na-lae/Jang Su-jeong d. Liu Chang/Zhang Ling (ITF)
2016 Xun Fangying/You Xiaodi d. Amanmuradova/Honcova (ITF)
2017 Han Xinyun/Zhu Lin d. Cako/Glushko (WTA 125)
SF: Han Xinyun/Zhu Lin d. Ar.Rodionova/Valeria Savinykh
SF: Cako/Glushko d. Adamczak/Chan Chin-wei
F: Han Xinyun/Zhu Lin d. Cako/Glushko
WS: #1 Zhang Shuai, #2 Peng Shuai
WD: #1 Hozumi/Yang Zhaoxuan, #2 Hibino/Zheng Saisai

#1 Zhang Shuai d. #5 Duan Yingying
#3 Broady/Wickmayer d. #4 Duan Yingying/Wang Yafan

NOTE: well, Zhang has now pulled out of the event. Another reason why I don't pick every week.


...I'll be back later in the week with the Fed Cup preview and picks post, which will surely include an opinion about whether or not "In Rinaldi We Trust" still applies.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands *could* have a say (and CoCo, too)...

All for now.