One of the things that makes tennis so unique is the ability to categorize periods in the sport by generations; the struggle of the “new guard” to take control from the “old guard” is a constantly recurring narrative. With the news Wednesday that Agnes Szavay has officially retired from professional tennis due to lingering back issues, it’s only right to take a look at the highest-profile players in what can be dubbed “The Lost Generation” of the WTA; each of these women, fairly close in age, all found success over a short period of time that all went away in an instant due to injuries, personal problems or both.
It all began with Nicole Vaidisova.
In 2004, her first full season as a professional, Vaidisova became the sixth-youngest champion in WTA at the Tier V event in Vancouver, aged 15 years, three months and 23 days. Behind her strong serve and attacking baseline game, Vaidisova looked to be the next champion who had been groomed of the courts of the Bollettieri academy.
Despite being born in 1989, Vaidisova was a force on the senior circuit while her contemporaries were still playing juniors. When she made the semifinals of Roland Garros in 2006, defeating Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Williams along the way, Caroline Wozniacki was the second seed in the junior event, players including Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova were unseeded there, and Agnieszka Radwanska won the title; in addition, Victoria Azarenka was the 2005 ITF Junior World Champion. Vaidisova reached her second Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in 2007, and peaked at No. 7 in May of that year.
Also in 2007, the trio of Anna Chakvetadze, Tatiana Golovin and Szavay arrived.
Golovin burst on to the scene very early in her professional career, reaching the fourth round in her debut at the 2004 Australian Open and winning the mixed doubles with Richard Gasquet at their home slam in Paris later that year. She boasted an impressive all court game, also highlighted by a lethal forehand. Inconsistency followed, but Golovin found form late in 2006, when she reached her first, and only, Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open. She captured her two career WTA titles in 2007, finished runner-up to Justine Henin in two big events in the fall indoor season, and ended that year as World No. 13.
At her peak, Chakvetadze was perhaps the only player with legitimate claim to the (oft-misguided) comparison to Martina Hingis; Hingis herself affirmed the comparisons, once stating, “She’s very smart around the court and she has good vision. You don’t see anything specific that she’s winning matches [with] so I definitely see some similarities.” The Russian burst on the scene in 2004 as well, when she qualified and defeated reigning Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina in the first round of the US Open. Following a steady rise, she won her biggest career title at the Tier I event in Moscow in late 2006; on the back of a quarterfinal in Australia in 2007, she made her top 10 debut in February. Another quarterfinal at Roland Garros, a semifinal at the US Open and four titles put her among the elite at the 2007 Year-End Championships in Madrid. She is one of only a handful of players who can boast a win over both Williams sisters.
Possessed with a strong serve and elegant two-handed backhand, Szavay rose from obscurity to “destined for stardom” in a matter of a few months in 2007. As a qualifier at the Tier II event in New Haven, she reached the final, where she was forced to retire against Svetlana Kuznetsova up a set due to…a lower back injury; looking back, an injury which had originally been attributed to a taxing week may have been a sign of things to come. Nonetheless, Szavay reached the quarterfinals of the US Open, where she was again stopped by Kuznetsova. The Hungarian pulled off a lot of upsets in 2007, but perhaps greatest of these was her 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Jelena Jankovic in the Tier II event in Beijing; at a set and 5-1 down, Szavay hit a second serve ace down match point en route to one of the greatest WTA comebacks in recent memory.
After starting the season ranked No. 189, Szavay ended it ranked No. 20. For her efforts, she was named the 2007 WTA Newcomer of the Year.
With the good, sadly, came all the bad. Vaidisova suffered from mononucleosis in late 2007 and her form took a nosedive; she officially retired in 2010, as her stepfather stated she was “fed up with tennis” and that it was “understandable” because “she started so young.” Chakvetadze, after being tied up and robbed in 2007, dealt with a whole host of injuries; she too is currently sidelined with a recurring back injury. Having made a foray into Russian politics in 2011 with the Right Cause Party, and being a featured commentator on Russian Eurosport for the 2013 Australian Open, it’s unclear when or if she will return to competition. After reaching a career-high ranking of No. 12 in early 2008, Golovin has been inactive since due to chronic lower back inflammation, and has ruled out a return. Whilst still being troubled by her back, Szavay showed only flashes of her best form in the seasons since, including upsetting then-World No. 3 Venus Williams 6-0, 6-4 in the third round at Roland Garros in 2009. 2010 was her last full season; a failed comeback in 2012 concluded with a retirement loss to countrywoman Greta Arn in the first round of the US Open, her last professional match.
It’s hard to say if this quartet could’ve taken the next step into legitimate slam contenders, or even champions, more than five years removed from their days in the sun. But largely due to matters outside their control, we’ll never even know.
NEW YORK – Maybe the number one ranking was too heavy. If so, top-seeded Ana Ivanovic doesn’t have to worry any more. Her US Open is over in what is being called the biggest upset in the history of women’s tennis.
Julie Coin of France, ranked 188th in the world and playing in her first WTA Tour event, calmly kept her poise as she overpowered Ivanovic 6-3 4-6 6-3 in a second-round match on the hard courts of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.
It was the earliest exit for the top-seeded woman in US Open history since 1973 and the first time the number one seed has lost in the second round of a major tournament since Justine Henin fell to Tathiana Garbin at Roland Garros four years ago. It also was the worst loss by a top-ranked player since Ivanovic lost to 133rd-ranked Zheng Jie at Wimbledon earlier this summer.
While Ivanovic struggled in her first-round victory, Thursday’s loss came as a huge shock. After all, Coin had never played in a WTA Tour event before and had failed to even qualify at the other three Grand Slam tournaments this year: the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She didn’t do any better at the smaller tournaments, losing in qualifying at Estoril, Birmingham, Stanford and Los Angeles.
On Thursday, though, Coin was more than Ivanovic could handle.
“She made a lot of errors, so I got a lot of free points,” Coin said. “I thought maybe she was nervous, more than I was.”
It wasn’t all errors, however.
Coin powered five aces and finished with 19 winners and only 27 unforced errors, seven fewer than her opponent. But it was her nerves – actually the lack of them – that carried the Clemson University graduate to victory.
“Today I felt nervous at the beginning. Then it went away,” Coin said. “I was just playing on the court in a normal match for me. At match point, it (the nerves) came back. To win the last point a lot of pressure came back.”
Ivanovic has been hobbled by injuries since winning the French Open and gaining the number one ranking earlier this year. A right thumb injury caused her to withdraw from the tennis event at the Beijing Olympics earlier this month and she was unable to practice until just before the Open began.
Time and again it was Coin coming out a winner on their baseline battles. The 25-year-old showed a quickness that was more than a match for the top seed, and a power game that produced winners throughout the battle.
Coin double-faulted on her first match point. Two points later, Ivanovic saved the next match point when her cross-court forehand skipped off the sideline. Victory was Coins when, on the third match point, Ivanovic sailed a forehand wide.
“Today was just, like, perfect,” Coin said.
Closer to perfection were the Williams sisters as they both grabbed spots in the third round. Venus routed Rossana De Los Rios 6-0 6-3 before Serena opened the night session with a 6-1 6-1 romp over Elena Vesnina.
Venus needed just 28 minutes to rip through the opening set, and she never faced a break point on her serve. In fact, she was taken to deuce just twice in the match, both times as she was serving out the victory.
“I think I just had a lot more power than she did today,” Venus said. “She plays a game where she hits a lot of high balls, which at my height doesn’t, you know – I think it would be effective against a lot of players, but with my height and my reach, it doesn’t phase me as much. I think that helped me.”
Serena also was much too powerful for her Russian opponent, who tried unsuccessfully to trade ground strokes with the two-time US Open winner. Serena pounded out six aces and won 57 points to just 32 for Vesnina.
“I was disappointed I lost my serve,” Serena said. It was the lone game Vesnina won in the second set.
Two other seeded players in the women’s draw were eliminated Thursday. Italy’s Tathiana Garbin upset 13th-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary 5-7 6-2 6-3, and Severine Bremond of France ousted 20th-seeded Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic 7-5 6-3.
In the men’s second round, American Mardy Fish upset 24th-seeded Paul-Henri Mathieu of France 6-2 3-6 6-3 6-4. In the next round, Fish will play his best friend on the tour, ninth-seeded James Blake, who advanced when Belgium’s Steve Darcis retired while trailing 4-6 6-3 1-0.
None of the upsets had the impact of the one by Coin, a former college All-American.
“I was nervous going onto the court because I never saw her play before so I didn’t know what to expect,” Ivanovic said. “I thought I can slowly get into the match, and she played completely different than I expected. She was serving extremely well and hitting very powerful shots.
“I really struggled and made too many unforced errors, and my serve was not working really well. Obviously, it’s very frustrating, because I know I can play so much better.
“This was very, very disappointing loss for me.”
31 March 2008
Qualifier Kevin Anderson upset defending champion Novak Djokovic in the Serb’s opening match at the Sony Ericsson Open 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-4.
Lindsay Davenport continued her comeback by knocking off world number two Ana Ivanovic 6-4 6-2 in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open.
Roger Federer is at least still winning off the court. While the world’s number one player has yet to capture a tournament in 2008, for the fourth straight year he won both the ATP Tour’s Player of the Year and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award. Additionally, fans voted Federer as their favorite player for the fifth consecutive year.
SAME FOR JUSTINE
For the second time in her career, Justine Henin has been named the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s Player of the Year. She also won in 2003. Last year Henin won 10 of the 14 events she entered, became the first WTA Tour player to win over $5 million (USD) in a single year and finished as world number one.
Other ATP Tour honors went to brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, Doubles Team of the Year for the third straight year; Novak Djokovic, Most Improved; Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Newcomer; Igor Andreev, Comeback Player; and Ivan Ljubicic, Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year.
Other Sony Ericsson WTA Tour winners were: Cara Black and Liezel Huber, Doubles Team; Ana Ivanovic, Most Improved; Lindsay Davenport, Comeback Player; and Agnes Szavay (photo) , Newcomer.
Novak Djokovic’s habit of repeatedly bouncing the ball ad nauseum before each serve, caught the attention of the umpire during his Sony Ericsson Open match against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. Serving at 2-0, 30-40, Djokovic bounced the ball so many times that he received a time violation from the umpire. Although he won that point, Djokovic ended up losing the match 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-4.
Svetlana Kuznetsova won off the final 11 games to overcome a 5-2 second-set deficit and a match point to beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6 7-5 6-0 in a third-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open.
One week after they won singles titles at the Pacific Life Open, Serbian stars Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic were ousted from the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. South African qualifier Kevin Anderson eliminated Djokovic 7-6 (7-1) 3-6, 6-4 and former world number one Lindsay Davenport crushed Ivanovic 6-4 6-2.
“I can compete with the best in the world. I proved that to myself, whether he was on form or off form.” – Qualifier Kevin Anderson after knocking defending champion Novak Djokovic out of the Sony Ericsson Open 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-4.
“On the last point my shoelace was broken, but I’m not trying to find excuses.” – Novak Djokovic, after losing to Kevin Anderson.
“Obviously the first time you play against someone, you try to get to know them and try to get rhythm in the beginning. But against her you just don’t get it.” – Ana Ivanovic, who fell to Lindsay Davenport 6-4 6-2 in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open.
“In this comeback, for lack of better words, I’ve not made a fool of myself. I’ve done pretty well for my age and for what I’ve been through. Obviously days like today just give me more incentive to keep going.” – Lindsay Davenport, who has returned to the women’s tour after becoming a mother, following her victory over world number two Ana Ivanovic.
“For that to happen, he must maintain his hunger for victory, for records, and that is not easy.” – Bjorn Borg, when asked if Roger Federer can become the greatest player in history.
James Blake and Sam Querrey switched sports when they showed up at an exhibition baseball game in Miami, Florida, between the Florida Marlins and the New York Yankees. Facing batting-practice pitches from Marlins hitting coach Jim Presley, Querrey hit consecutive home runs over the scoreboard in left field. Not to be left out, Blake also cleared the fence.
Shahar Peer was honored by Beth David Congregation in Miami, Florida, for making political history when she became the first Israeli athlete to compete in the Arab world, participating in the Qatar Total Open in Doha in February. Also honored were the men’s doubles team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, who became the first Israeli duo to win a Grand Slam title, capturing the crown at the Australian Open in January.
Justine Henin says she considered having surgery on her right knee earlier this year. Instead, the world number one chose a more conservative approach and received a cortisone injection after the Australian Open. She also rested last week, skipping the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, California.
When the United States takes on Russia in a Fed Cup semifinal in April, sisters Venus and Serena Williams will not be on the squad. Lindsay Davenport, who will play for the Americans, said she had been turned down by both sisters when she approached them about playing. Russia will field a strong squad consisting of Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze, Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina.
STILL ON BBC
The BBC will continue to televise Wimbledon through 2014. The new five-year contract stretches the British Broadcasting Corp.’s association with the world’s premier grass court tournament to 87 years. Neither the All England Club nor the BBC disclosed the amount paid for the rights.
SITES TO SURF
- Miami: www.sonyericssonopen.com
- Estoril: www.estorilopen.net
- Valencia: www.open-comunidad-valencia.com
- Houston: www.riveroaksinternational.com
- Amelia Island: www.blchamps.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
ATP and WTA Tours
$3,770,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Key Biscayene, Florida, hard court
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$370,000 Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal, clay
$370,000 Open de Tenis Comunidad Valencia, Valencia, Spain, clay
$436,000 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, Houston, Texas, clay
$600,000 Bausch & Lomb Championships, Amelia Island, Florida, clay
After the fine form she showed in Australia – disregarding that wasteful semi final loss – even her biggest critics would have expected Daniela Hantuchova to continue such form at least in the short term. It was clear however that the Slovak has slumped back into the days of losing to players she really shouldn’t, and when she does win, it is far from easy. Now, this may seem harsh after just two matches since the first slam of the year, but although I am a huge fan of Daniela, these types of results have been going on for too long now.
A first round bye – never an advantage for Hantuchova who tends more often than not to play herself into form during a tournament, was followed by a second round match up with Katarina Srebotnik a wily and consistent player who has never beaten Hantuchova in their previous six meetings. A fine first set from both players was followed by a 6-1 drubbing by the Slovenian Srebotnik. Hantuchova’s game had deserted her and all of the mental frailties and clueless shot-making which has dirtied her game for the past few years reared its head once more. Daniela regained her composure and her winners, to seal the third but it was a tough game.
Agnes Szavay yet another ‘wonderkid’ this time from Hungary is a difficult player as Hantuchova herself, Jelena Jankovic and Nadia Petrova all found out last year but her form has been indifferent in 2008 so far. Another huge lead was blown by Hantuchova in the first set (points for 5-1) and after losing the tiebreak it was a repeat of the Srebotnik second set drubbing 6-1.
Is the Slovak a little complacent now after cementing herself solidly in the worlds top 10? Perhaps, and if that is the case then the hope will be that over the years she has matured enough to conquer such feelings which no doubt contributed to her downfall in 2003 when she was at a similarly lofty ranking.