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Steve's Weblog

An incurable tennis addict, Steve Flink has been following the game since 1965, the year he first went to Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships. Flink is a Senior Correspondent for Tennis Week Magazine, a publication he joined in 1992. From 1972-82, he put his photographic memory to use as a statistician for CBS, NBC and ABC. He has been a consultant and writer for the International Tennis Hall of Fame since 1994 and is a member of their Nominating Committee. Steve is the author of The Greatest Tennis Matches of the 20th Century. Flink's recall of match history is unsurpassed.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Thoughts on the Sony Ericsson(WTA Tour)Championships, Madrid

1) What a remarkable week it was for Justine Henin-Hardenne, who came away with the No. 1 world ranking for the year. She thoroughly deserved that honor after reaching all four Grand Slam tournament finals, and winning at Roland Garros for the third time. And then she capped her season with an impressive triumph in Madrid, defeating Nadia Petrova and Martina Hingis in the round robin, then clinching her second year-end No. 1 ranking by taking apart Maria Sharapova 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the semifinals. That set the stage for a straight set win over Amelie Mauresmo, which was no mean feat. Mauresmo had beaten Henin-Hardenne in the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and then had come through in a hard fought three set contest over Justine in the round robin at Madrid.
Coming back after a long layoff after a serious knee injury suffered during the Fed Cup in September and overcoming her foremost rivals in the season ending event featuring only the top eight players in the world was an admirable achievement. Henin-Hardenne is the grittiest player in the women’s game, the most versatile competitor, the one with the largest will to win. And she demonstrated in this event that her capacity to come forward and volley with authority has improved decidedly over the past year. If she can keep exploiting that aspect of her game, she will remain a big force for at least two more years.

2) Maria Sharapova could have garnered the year-end No. 1 ranking herself had she toppled Henin-Hardenne and gone on to win the final in Madrid. The fact remains that she has nothing to be ashamed about despite a less than stellar performance in her loss to the determined Belgian. Sharapova had not lost a match since before the U.S. Open and managed to record five tournament triumphs in 2006, a record that far surpassed anything she had done before. She has an excellent chance to finish 2007 as the world’s top ranked woman player if she keeps up the hard work that has been her trademark all through 2006. Her forehand can still let her down at times, as was the case against Henin-Hardenne in Madrid. But she has the finest first serve in the women’s game and her mobility has improved markedly in recent months. The big question surrounding Sharapova will be whether or not she can make her big game work as effectively on clay as it does on faster surfaces. But no matter how she fares on the dirt, she will be very tough to beat at the three other majors and elsewhere. She made major strides in 2006, and her disappointing loss in Madrid will not diminish her spirit or her drive. The feeling grows that she will be the best woman player in the world at the end of 2007.

3) Amelie Mauresmo did a terrific job to make the final in Madrid. She was dismal in dropping her first round robin match to Petrova but bounced back emphatically to hold back Hingis and Henin-Hardenne in tough three set matches. Then, in the semifinals, she stopped Kim Clijsters in three sets, displaying considerable composure against a player who has the consistency and durability to beat her. It was Clijsters, after all, who routed a much less impressive Mauresmo 6-2, 6-0 in the final of the 2003 WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles. Her backcourt acumen always tests Mauresmo, forcing the Frenchwoman to come up with the right shot selection at crucial stages. Mauresmo did just that in defeating Clijsters in a three set semifinal victory. She was not up to the task of beating Henin-Hardenne in the final after staging a terrific comeback in her round robin win over the Belgian two days earlier. In the championship match, Henin-Hardenne turned the tables with a confident 6-4, 6-3 triumph. But Mauresmo could hardly have asked more of herself in 2006, winning the first two majors of her career, reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open and surging into the final of Madrid. She is an enormously gifted shot maker who should remain in the thick of things in 2007.

4) Martina Hingis lost two of three matches in Madrid, defeating Petrova but falling short against Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo. But both losses were honorable efforts. From 0-4 down in the final set against Mauresmo, Hingis battled back valiantly to 4-5 and even had a point for 5-5 before she bowed. In her Henin-Hardenne encounter, Martina was behind by a set and 5-2 but struck back to take the second set before her exit. The mere fact that she even qualified as one of the top eight players in Madrid was an extraordinary accomplishment. Hingis had been gone from the game for three years before making her spectacular comeback at the start of 2006. She wasted no time making her presence known again with a run to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. She advanced to the last eight again at the French Open. Both times Clijsters overpowered her. Hingis did suffer disappointing defeats against Ai Sugiyama at Wimbledon and Virginie Razzano at the U.S. Open but she won the Italian Open and captured another event in the autumn. The guess here is that she will not manage to take her game to another level and reside again at No. 1 in the world as she did at the end of 1997, 1999, and 2000. But with her match playing acuity and her magnificent ball control there is no reason why she should not remain a top ten player for three more years.


At November 15, 2006 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At November 22, 2006 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with your wrap up assessment of the women's tour ending championships. H-H, Sharapova and Mauresmo have proven that they are the top 3 this year and it will be interesting to see which of the 3 comes out on top down under!


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