The Golden Girl: A Look At Yaroslava Shvedova

With Kazakhstan’s campaign to boost its sporting profile, a number of Russian imports have converted nationality to represent the side at international level. From Ksenia Pervak and Galina Voskoboeva to the feisty Yulia Putintseva, there is no doubt they are acquiring some very useful players. However, Yaroslava Shvedova appears to be the greatest prospect with back-to-back Grand Slam performances indicating she may be back to the form that took her into the top 30 back in June 2010.

Her performance at the French Open last month matched her best Singles performance of her career, also in Paris in 2010. As a qualifier she reached the quarter finals defeating and handing out a bagel to the reigning champion Na Li before dropping out to Petra Kvitova, but not before giving the Czech an almighty scare by taking a set and break lead.

On the back of her exploits in France, she was awarded a wildcard to Wimbledon where she continued her great form. While giving Serena Williams a big test was very impressive, she will be forever remembered for her third round match against Sara Errani. Shvedova pulled off the very rare feat of a golden set** – where no points have been dropped in the winning of a set. Shvedova hit 14 winners including four aces on her way while Errani made only one unforced error, indicating it was much more about Shvedova playing well than Errani playing badly.

Ironically, she also holds the closest attempt at this record for a female when she won the first 23 points against Amy Frazier at the Memphis tournament in 2006 before going on to lose the next 2 sets without winning a game!

Much like fellow tennis star Janko Tipsarevic, Shvedova’s prescription eyewear makes her much more identifiable. It is not coincidence that once the rain fell and she had to remove her glasses that her game suffered, losing three games in a row to fall to a 5-7 defeat including two double faults to give Serena the crucial break points that she was not going to fail to convert.

Shvedova’s power game can match up with the best and this was in full force when she matched Serena for large points and even dictated many of the points. She moves well and is impressive at the net, something she can owe to her vast doubles experience. Her serve is a big weapon too with only Sabine Lisicki and Serena Williams serving a faster individual serve at any point at Wimbledon this year. Her first serve is consistently over 100mph and her average second serve speed was faster than Serena’s in their encounter.

Although Shvedova has picked up impressive wins in her singles encounters, there is no doubt the majority of her success has lay in the doubles. Her partnership with American Vania King led to a 5-4 record in finals winning Cincinnati, Washington and Moscow as well as back-to-back Slam victories at Wimbledon and US Open. With the Olympics coming up, the pair have disbanded for the time being with Shvedova teaming up with Galina Voskoboeva to play in London.

After an impressive 2010, the next year was not so good for Shvedova. Injury had caused her to miss the Australian Open and when she returned things didn’t get any better – winning only four main draw matches before the US Open. While some success was found on the Asian swing, she resorted to playing a number of challengers to regain form having made the quarter finals in her last tournament of the year in Taipei. March 2012 saw her make two ITF finals in Mexico, losing to Kiki Bertens in Irapuato and defeating Monica Puig in Poza Rica. Upon returning to the main tour she made a small run from qualifying to make the third round before suffering defeat to Sabine Lisicki in Charleston.

I think there is no arguing Yaroslava’s talent and she can definitely be a fixture of the top 20 and possibly top 10 in future. As with many women, talent is usually not the issue but the consistency of playing level. If she can showcase the form she has shown recently on a more regular occasion then she will be going deep into slams more and more often.

** Hot on the heels of Shvedova’s golden set was one completed in Panama City Challenger qualifiers by Colombian Felipe Escobar against the local Luis Nieves.

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French Open Juniors 2011 – Semi-finals

The final line-ups for the 2011 French Open juniors have been decided with the two favourites that looked destined to meet in the girls’ singles final both losing in three set semi-final encounters.

Irina Khromacheva (RUS)

Russian second seed Irina Khromacheva had an unbeaten record stretching back to March but couldn’t keep the run going on the Grand Slam stage as Monica Puig won 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.

The Puerto Rican has been in impressive form herself on the ITF circuit and the opening set reflected the players’ current confidence as the pair broke each other several times. Puig came out on top before Khromacheva blitzed the second set despite a first serve percentage of 40%.

The decider lasted more than an hour and the Russian’s continued poor service game allowed Puig two break conversions to seal victory.

Her opponent in the final is not the one the French crowd had hoped for. Their rising homegrown star Caroline Garcia had been a set and 4-1 up against Maria Sharapova last week but she’s struggled in the junior event.

The 17-year-old came back after losing the first set to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia but 12 double faults in the match and her failure to hold serve once in the third set led to her elimination at the semi-final stage with the final score reading 6-2, 1-6, 6-2.

Both Puig and Jabeur have experience at junior Grand Slam finals. Fifth seed Puig lost the Australian Open final in January to junior world number one An-Sophie Mestach whilst ninth seed Jabeur reached the final at Roland Garros last year before losing to Elina Svitolina.

The two boys’ semi-finals also went to three sets but the bad news continued for French tennis as Tristan Lamasine bowed out.

Wildcard Lamasine had surpassed everyone’s expectations by making the last four in his home tournament having failed to make it past the first round last year.

It was a similar situation for his opponent too. American Bjorn Fratangelo had previously never won a Grand Slam match but recent good form on clay means he’s in with a chance of becoming the first US winner of the boys’ singles title at Roland Garros since John McEnroe in 1977.

Fratangelo was clinical with his break point opportunities taking three out of three to win 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 leaving Lamasine wondering what might have been had he taken his other seven break point chances.

Word is going round that Bjorn Borg is set to be in attendance for the boys’ singles match on Sunday (also the day of the girls’ singles final). Perhaps a good omen for the boy named after the Roland Garros legend.

If he’s to take the crown then he’ll have to stop 14th seed Dominic Thiem after the Austrian came back from losing the first set to beat Mate Delic 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

There was good news for Irina Khromacheva in the girls’ doubles as herself and her partner Maryna Zanevska reached the final. They’ll play Victoria Kan and Demi Schuurs whilst American pairing Mitchell Krueger and Shane Vinsant face Spanish duo Andres Artunedo Martinavarr and Roberto Carballes Baena in the boys’ doubles final.

Lost Talents

Marin Cilic’s defeat in the first round of the French Open to 33-year-old Spaniard Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo compounded what has been a tough year for the former top 10 player.

The Croatian was seeded 19th but lost in straight sets a man whose only Grand Slam victories came in the 2006 French Open, where he reached the fourth round.

Now world number 20 Cilic is likely to drop further down the rankings when only last year he sat at number nine following an impressive Australian Open semi-final run.

So what has happened to the once lauded young talent and former French Open junior champion? Well 67 unforced errors doesn’t help and certainly aided his downfall against Hidalgo but there are aspects of his game which need improving.

When looking at his only ATP final appearance this year in Marseille compared to his Australian Open quarter-final there are notable differences.

The first is the movement. Some of the shots Robin Soderling produced in Marseille were reachable but Cilic either stood still or gave up trying to make the return.

Another thing is his reading of the game. Against Andy Roddick, Cilic anticipated the ball’s placement and the American’s shot selection much better.

And also he can’t rely solely on his serve. At 6′ 6” it’s a great weapon to have, smashing in aces on your own service game but it’s not enough to win you matches against the top players. Ivo Karlovic and John Isner have yet to learn that lesson as well.

Mentality is also key. I heard American youngster Irina Falconi say after her first round defeat that tennis is “100% physical and 100% mental”.

Cilic has spoke before of feeling nervous before big matches, something I’m sure most players experience, but if it gets to you during the match then you’re more than likely going to crumble.

Marin Čilić on the receiving side

Another first round exit came in the form of Ernests Gulbis whom I’ve written about before. Back then I admit my thoughts on Gulbis’ similar ranking ‘injustice’ were sketchy but after more thorough research I’ve come to realise how important mentality is.

One thing I labelled Gulbis was a “headcase” and I stand by that. His interviews are often light-hearted and clichés are rarities, which is nice and different but some of the things he comes out with raise eyebrows over commitment issues.

Upon publication Gulbis fans hated me for saying that but he’s admitted to not enjoying practice whilst saying he loves being on the court and winning matches.

Unfortunately it’s a symbiotic relationship. If it wasn’t, I could be at Roland Garros.

In one interview Gulbis says he’s happy no matter how he wins. In contrast, women’s number one Caroline Wozniacki has said she’s a perfectionist and works on the things that didn’t please her during victories.

Perhaps that is the difference; I’m not sure. Certainly maturity on the court is something for Gulbis to improve on. One-time racket-smashers Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray have become much better players for it.

Gulbis is a player who intrigues and often confuses me. I don’t know whether to love him for his casual style or hate him for how it affects his tennis.

Him and Cilic are both currently 22 and have many years ahead of them. Although the Croat is ranked higher than the Latvian, they both have top 10 potential. Whether they’ll get there and remain there, depends on how they react to their current slumps.

French Open 2011

Over the last few days I don’t think I’ve ever wrote as much Italian before in my life, so I’m taking a break from Milan’s Trofeo Bonfiglio and looking towards the slightly wider covered French Open in Paris.

Qualifying has already finished and today the main draw was decided with help from current and former champion Rafael Nadal and Ana Ivanovic.

My blog will cover the junior tournament most prominently but with that not scheduled to start until 30th May I will pay attention to the young players coming through who have been seen here previously and even some new faces.

The thing about a Grand Slam is one good run and you’re in the top 10 or 20 in the world when before no one had heard of you unless they were the die-hard sitting-in-the-rain-for-10-hours-to-get-in-court-18 kind of fans. Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova will testify to that.

Sloane Stephens (USA)

News, so far, is good for Heather Watson and Sloane Stephens, two players who have had a mention on Ace of Baseline before and whom I track frequently.

American Stephens is a particular surprise after overcoming the top seed Anastasia Pivovarova in the last round of qualifying 6-3, 6-4.

Watson didn’t drop a set in making the main draw and joins fellow British players Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong who qualified outright based on their ranking positions.

In the men’s qualifying, Ryan Harrison lost to another youngster in Spaniard Javier Marti. The 19-year-old won the third round match 6-2, 7-5 and will face fellow countryman and qualifier Albert Ramos in the main draw.

Elsewhere in the main draw match-ups, I may have to cut down my coverage of Milos Raonic as the Canadian looks like he’s made it. Seeded 26th, he’ll face Michael Berrer in the first round and could face Andy Murray in the last 16 should all go to plan. The next step is asserting a top 10 position.

Other noteworthy matches are wildcard Bernard Tomic vs. Carlos Berlocq, Kei Nishikori vs. Lu Yen-Hsun and in the women’s draw the youngsters have it tough with Maria Kirilenko vs. Coco Vandeweghe, Andrea Petkovic vs. Bojana Jovanovski and Francesca Schiavone vs. Melanie Oudin.

For the full qualifying results and more, check out the Roland Garros website where the main draws for the men’s singles and women’s singles are also available.

Oh Clay!

The end of the Sony Ericsson Open signals the beginning of the clay court season, which could either be disastrous or very productive for tennis players trying to make their name.

Only a select few number of players find the slower surface their specialist area – Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, Francesca Schiavone, Svetlana Kutznetsova and Sam Stosur are just some of the exclusive clay club.

Therefore the results could be sporadic. Some younger players will find themselves winning matches against normally sound professionals inside the top 20 but it also works both ways as they won’t enjoy the clay either.

The first WTA clay tournaments take place tomorrow at Charleston, USA in the Family Circle Cup and the Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, Spain. Houston is hosting the US Men’s Clay Court Championship whilst Casablanca features the other ATP 250.

These types of events only benefit younger players as they split the world’s best into two tournaments rather than a larger round of 96, so seeds can range from top 10 players to just inside the top 50.

The next major ATP tournament featuring the big names is the Monte Carlo Masters on April 10th with other highlights including the Madrid Open, Rome’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia and, of course, the French Open at Roland Garros.

The second Grand Slam of the year seems to be getting more and more unpredictable to judge. Since Justine Henin’s first retirement, there have been a host of names in the women’s final of clay’s showpiece tournament.

If the men avoid Rafael Nadal over the next two months they could prosper. It will also be interesting to see if Novak Djokovic can continue his fine run of form through to the grass court season as well.

Seeds could fall, form could alter and new faces could become household names. In short, expect the unexpected.

Rafael Nadal

The King of Clay – Rafael Nadal

The main draws for the WTA premier events in Charleston and Marbella as well as the ATP 250’s in Houston and Casablanca are available to see in full.

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