WTA Montreal – Rogers Cup Preview

Draw

Tamira Paszek or Julia Goerges drew the short straw with the winner going on to face the No.1 Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka started the season off 26-0 on hard courts and was defeated just once (Marion Bartoli, Miami) after picking up four straight titles including the Australian Open. Despite an embarrassing defeat to Serena Williams in the tennis, she will be full of confidence having earned the bronze medal in Singles to go with her Mixed Doubles title with Max Mirnyi. Azarenka made the semi final last year where she was defeated by Serena Williams and will be happy that the American has skipped the tournament this year. If fully fit, she will be a huge threat for the title here but has the tougher half of the draw. Sabine Lisicki is a potential third round opponent but her inconsistencies have been shown all season, including a shocking defeat to Lourdes Dominguez-Lino on the hard courts of Miami. Her grass court form has improved though, and she should have too much for Carla Suarez Navarro or Maria-Jose Martinez Sanchez. Navarro leads the head to head between the Spaniards 3-1.

Azarenka’s quarter also contains the only player to defeat her on hard courts this year in Marion Bartoli. Bartoli has been fairly inconsistent this year and is yet to take a title this year but in her last outing made the final in Carlsbad where she was defeated in straight sets by Dominika Cibulkova. Her first opponent will be either Shuai Peng or Aravane Rezai, the latter of which has finally shown some sort of form recently. The former No.15 qualified for the tournament after defeating Galina Voskoboeva in three sets and will hope to build on last weeks result at the Citi Open where she made the second round as a qualifier. While Petra Kvitova is notoriously poor on North American courts having not got past the third round on any in the last two years, it gives slight hope to Ksenia Pervak or qualifier Anna Tatishvili.

Maria Sharapova will be hoping for a quick return to form having been annihilated by Serena Williams in her last match in the Olympic Final. Potential round two opponent Arantxa Rus has very little hard court experience and qualified in a long match against Vera Dushevina. More likely though is Christina Mchale, the American has big potential and owns victories over Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Marion Bartoli in North America. In probably her last week as a seed at big tournaments before her Cincinnati points come off, Jelena Jankovic will hope to go far. Jankovic is unbeaten against four encounters against wildcard Aleksandra Wozniak while other potential opponent Daniela Hantuchova showed improvements in London as she took out Na Li in a three set encounter.

The top half of the draw is rounded off with Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane has not took one title this year and dropped out of the top five after starting the season as No.1 in the WTA rankings. Qualifier Kiki Bertens is yet to play a main tour match on hard court this year but does possess one more title than Wozniacki on the year, having taken Fes as a qualifier also. More likely though is that she will face Nadia Petrova. Wozniacki has won their last four encounters but Petrova is in much improved form over the past two months and should really have done better against Dominika Cibulkova in Carlsbad having been in a great position to take the first set of their semi final on a number of occasions. Cibulkova is a potential third round opponent who could cause trouble for Wozniacki, having taken two of their last four matches including Wimbledon 2011. She faces either Varvara Lepchenko or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Pavlyuchenkova was a finalist in Washington D.C. last week but took just two games in a lopsided final against Magdalena Rybarikova while Lepchenko exited early in the Olympics and was also took to three sets by an opponent whose only grass court experience was a 2012 Wimbledon qualifier.

On paper,Agnieszka Radwanska again seems to be the recipient of a softer draw, with the other side looks decidedly more stacked than this side. Two of the youngest top 100 players battle it out for the chance to play the Pole. Monterrey champion Timea Babos qualified after getting through two three set matches and has shown glimpses of her talent throughout the year while Mona Barthel has been decidedly shaky after her good start to the year where she twice threatened the unbeaten streak of Victoria Azarenka. Fourteenth seed Flavia Pennetta has lost her last three encounters with Radwanska but should have a chance to try and turn her luck around as Chanelle Scheepers has been fairly disappointing recently while Stephanie Dubois was a recent retiree in the Granby Challenger final so injury questions may hang over the wildcards fitness.

Sara Errani is the surprise eighth seed thanks to her clay court exploits but when it comes hard courts it is somewhat of a false ranking. She has suffered disappointing defeats to the likes of Vania King, Sloane Stephens and Timea Babos earlier in the year in North America. Sofia Arvidsson is already a winner this year having taken the Memphis title and takes on the qualifier Jana Cepelova first. Cepelova is fairly new to the tour but gave a good account of herself at Wimbledon when she made the third round and was defeated 6-3 6-3 by Victoria Azarenka.

Another highly touted youngster follows in Eugenie Bouchard, the young Canadian wildcard has had a great month or so, taking the Wimbledon Girls’ title and also an ITF in Granby. She has an extremely winnable match as she takes on Shahar Pe’er. Pe’er has had a fairly quiet year and failed to get past the third round at any tournament this year. The winner will face Na Li in the second round. Although Li has not took a title this year, most of her defeats have not been surprising having been taken out by Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska amongst others.

Another player glad to get off the grass will be Samantha Stosur. The Aussie yet again had a horror grass season, excelling herself this time by getting defeated by Carla Suarez Navarro in London. Michelle Larcher de Brito takes on Simona Halep for the chance to take on Stosur. Larcher de Brito has been impressive in qualifying for the past three WTA events but fell at the first hurdle in three set encounters both times. Meanwhile, Halep is on a five match losing streak and could be there for the taking. Lucie Safarova has had an up and down season but most recently there has only been negatives as she we nt down in straights to Kiki Bertens and Laura Robson on the Wimbledon grass. She can redeem herself when she takes on either Sorana Cirstea or qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva. Cirstea looked excellent in Stanford before one Serena Williams halted her charge while Karatantcheva did not drop more than three games in any set that she played on her way to qualifying.

Angelique Kerber rounds of the top seeds in the draw and first up is either Ekaterina Makarova or “Lucky Loser” Urszula Radwanska. Kerber has found a whole new consistency in the past year since her shock US Open run and has two titles to show for her efforts. Much like Na Li, a lot of Kerber’s defeats are against the top players and she rarely suffers shocks. Urszula Radwanska made the draw as the highest ranked seed not to qualify directly, after a suspect defeat to Anna Tatishvili. Recently, she was notable for taking the most games off Serena Williams in her amazing Olympic win. Ekaterina Makarova will be hoping for third time lucky if she makes it through to the second round – her last two defeats have been to Angelique Kerber. Ana Ivanovic will be hoping to avoid Roberta Vinci in the second round. The Italian defeated her in the same tournament last year in straight sets but first faces Yanina Wickmayer.

Finals PredictionAgnieszka Radwanska defeats Maria Sharapova in three sets

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Olympics Tennis Roundup

This weekend saw the conclusion of the Olympics tennis tournaments and it was a good weekend for the United States – who took three of the gold medals up for grabs – while Great Britain and Belarus took the other two. Argentina and Switzerland also picked up their first and second medals respectively of the Games.

Singles

Andy Murray took gold for Great Britain with an astonishing performance over Roger Federer. Murray saved all 9 break opportunities in an incredibly dominant performance while breaking Federer five times in a straight sets victory. In the first and second set Murray took 9 games in a row from 2-2 to 6-2 5-0 as Federer just could not deal with the Brit’s play. Murray could not seal the bagel in the end but served out for the breadstick after saving a break point. After breaking for 3-2 in the third set, Murray did not let up on serve and finished off in style serving an ace to take the match 6-2 6-1 6-4 to earn his first Gold Medal and his first best of five sets victory over Roger Federer.

Juan Martin Del Potro recovered from Friday’s gruelling encounter to take the Bronze Medal defeating Novak Djokovic. After failing to make any headway on the Djokovic serve for most of the first set, Del Potro broke at 5-5 to serve for the set. Djokovic hit back in the next service game bringing up multiple break points but Del Potro stood strong to save them and eventually take the set 7-5. An early break in the second for the Argentinian was never reclaimed by Djokovic who only had one break point in the set. Del Potro went down 15-30 serving for the match but as with most occasions where his service games looked in danger, Del Potro brought out the big serves to close out the match for a 7-5 6-4 victory and earn his first Olympic medal.

Olympic Mens Singles Medalists

Source: Getty Images/Paul Gilham

Serena Williams continued her complete dominance of the Women’s circuit with a thrashing of Maria Sharapova in the Women’s Singles final 6-0 6-1 in only 63 minutes. Serena quickly rushed into a 5-0 lead but it looked like Sharapova would avoid the bagel when she took a 40-0 lead in game six. Unfortunately, she was pegged back to deuce and eventually broken to drop the first set without winning a game. It looked like there was a chance of a double bagel as Serena quickly rushed into a 3-0 lead in the second to make it nine games in a row. However, Sharapova eventually held for 3-1 and even had chances to get back on serve in the second but could not take advantage of her only two break points in the match. After holding for 4-1, Williams broke once more and served it out to complete the humiliation of the World’s No.3 player. Victoria Azarenka took the Bronze with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, Azarenka had taken 3-0 leads in both sets before being pegged back on both occasions to 3-3 only to push on and win the last 3 games of both sets without reply.

Source: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Doubles

Serena Williams and Venus Williams became the first four-times Olympic gold medalists in Tennis as they dominated the Women’s Doubles once more, dropping just two service games in the whole tournament on their way to a third Gold in the doubles tournament. They defeated the Czech pairing of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-4 6-4 saving all four break points faced in the match and breaking the Czechs in one game in each set to seal the victory. The Bronze Medal was taken by Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova who came from a set down to beat the top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. The victory will be especially sweet for Kirilenko who failed to take a medal in the Singles after making the semi final. The Russians took both their break point opportunities in the final set to pull away and seal a 4-6 6-4 6-1 victory.

Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan joined Serena Williams in completing a career golden slam after defeating the French pair of Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets in the Men’s Doubles final. The brothers were not broken once on their way to a 6-4 7-6 victory. In an incredibly serve-dominant second set, they took 27 of 29 points on the serve giving Llodra and Tsonga no chance at all. The French doubled their medal haul in the doubles as Richard Gasquet and Julien Benneteau took Bronze with a 7-6 6-2 victory over the Spanish team of David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez. Ferrer and Lopez failed to make any inroads into the French serve and dropped their serve twice in the second set in their defeat.

Andy Murray failed to join Serena Williams in becoming a double gold medalist this year as he and Laura Robson were defeated in the Mixed Doubles final. After in an impressive first set, Murray and Robson could not hold off the pairing of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka who were too strong in the end. Robson’s double faults in the final set tiebreak did not help as the Belarussian’s sealed the victory with a huge serve from Max Mirnyi on their third match point to win 2-6 6-3 10-8. After defeat in the Bronze Medal match in Women’s Doubles, Lisa Raymond was more fortunate as she and Mike Bryan overcame the German pair of Sabine Lisicki and Christopher Kas. Serve was fairly dominant in this as the pair traded sets with just one break the difference in both. The Germans had no chance in the final set tiebreaker though, losing the first seven points before Raymond and Bryan took their third championship point for a 6-3 4-6 10-4 victory.

Olympics Preview – Women’s Singles

After a 64 year break, Tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 as a medal sport (returned in 1984 as a ‘demonstration sport’) and the list of female singles winners makes for some impressive reading. The likes of Steffi Graf, Venus Williams and Justine Henin have won since the sport’s revival in the Olympics and only 2008 winner Elena Dementieva is not a multiple grand slam winner.

Draw

Quarter 1  (1) Victoria Azarenka – Angelique Kerber (7) 

The new World No.1 Victoria Azarenka should have no issues on her way to making the quarter final, facing first Irina-Camelia Begu. The Romanian is far more comfortable on clay and has very little experience on the grass, most recently exiting Wimbledon in the 1st round and throwing away a 6-0 lead in a final set tie break against Francesca Schiavone in their match in S’hertogenbosch. A second round tie will be with another clay courter, be it Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez or the in-form Polona Hercog who took the title in Bastad last week. Potential third round opponents Jie Zheng or Nadia Petrova both have had impressive runs at Wimbledon in the past and have decent grass court credentials – Zheng pushing eventual winner Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year to 3 sets stands out, along with her Semi Final appearance a while back. Petrova took the S’hertogenbosch title this year but appeared to be carrying an injury in her defeat to Dominika Cibulkova in Carlsbad last week.

Perhaps the most appealing seeded player to draw for the unseeded is Sara Errani, the French Open finalist is far less comfortable on the grass and even suffered the humiliation of the golden set in her defeat to Yaroslava Shvedova last month. Errani has drawn five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. Although she was incredibly disappointing at Wimbledon this year, winning only four games against Elena Vesnina, I don’t think you can write her off completely. She may feel her medal chances are much better in the doubles with sister Serena where they are favourites for the gold medal. Timea Babos has shown great potential this year, winning the title in Monterrey and earning a surprise victory over Birmingham champion Melanie Oudin. Angelique Kerber should be the favourite to come through the other side of this quarter, and potentially has the chance to exert revenge over Errani who defeated her in the French Open. She faces Petra Cetkovska in the first round.

My Quarter Final Prediction –  Victoria Azarenka defeats Angelique Kerber in 3 sets

Must Watch Match – Venus Williams vs Sara Errani

Did You Know…?

Nadia Petrova owns a 7-1 head to head record over first round opponent Jie Zheng

Venus Williams is the only female tennis player to win three gold medals (1x Singles, 2x Doubles)

Quarter 2 (4) Serena Williams-Caroline Wozniacki (8)

Serena Williams will be very happy with her section of the draw. The Wimbledon champion is on an 11-match winning streak after taking the title in Stanford. She looked ominous at Wimbledon and her serve is one of the best of all time, meaning that she is almost unbreakable if it is working. Her first round tie will be a battle of the former World No.1’s as she takes on Jelena Jankovic. The Serb has been on a very bad run of form of late with a string of first round exits to her name, although she did make the final in Birmingham (though perhaps more due to a favourable draw). Jankovic appears to be lacking motivation at times but if there is an opponent that can inspire her to play well, it has to be Serena. Young hopefuls Mona Barthel and Urszula Radwanska will battle for the presumed second round match-up with Serena, both can cause a lot of trouble but inconsistency is likely to be their downfall. Klara Zakapolova will be looking to improve on her 0-3 head to head against Francesca Schiavone, and was mostly recently defeated by the Italian this year at Wimbledon. 2010 Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva still looks to be suffering slightly from a number of injuries but she has potential to be a surprise medalist if she can recover sufficiently.

Serena’s potential quarter-final opponent could be Caroline Wozniacki, whom she has a 4-1 head to head record over. The Dane faces British hopeful Anne Keothavong first up – who was embarrassed by college star Mallory Burdette at Stanford a few weeks back. Many more eyes will be on Daniela Hantuchova, who is enjoying new found fame after posing for the ESPN Body Issue. The Slovakian has been disappointing in the middle part of this year, not helped by a foot injury that left her out for almost two months.  She suffered a poor straight sets defeat to Jamie Hampton at Wimbledon this year and will have a big job on her hands here, facing Na Li. Li has not quite hit the heights of last year, but is still a very dangerous player on all surfaces. Tamira Paszek will be confident with her position in the draw here, possessing recent grass court wins over Hantuchova and more famously under the roof against Wozniacki this year.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Serena Williams defeats Tamira Paszek in 2 sets

Must Watch Match – Serena Williams vs Jelena Jankovic

Did You Know…?

With victory here, Serena can equal her sisters gold medal haul of three.

This quarter of the draw contains five former, or current top 5 players.

Quarter 3 (5) Samantha Stosur-Maria Sharapova (3)

While Samantha Stosur is notoriously poor on grass, she will be happy with her first round draw against a clay specialist in Carla Suarez Navarro who she beat fairly comfortable in Wimbledon this year. The second round is much more likely to be where she departs – Roberta Vinci can be a threat and only made the fourth round of Wimbledon while Kim Clijsters is still a class act even if recent form has been sketchy. The Belgian will want to finish off in style at her last visit to SW19 before she retires. She holds a 2-0 head to head over Vinci, but both are a long time ago so not much should be made of that. Agnes Szavay makes her return after a long time out with injury and has a winnable match against Great Britain’s Elena Baltacha, but her fitness is a huge question mark after so much time out. Ana Ivanovic is the other stand out name in this section, she takes on the highly rated Christina Mchale. This is a wide-open quarter where someone has the potential to make a name for themselves.

Whoever takes the previous section is more than likely just waiting for a quarter final with Maria Sharapova. The Russian disappointed at Wimbledon, losing to Sabine Lisicki and has the chance for revenge here in the third round. A first round tie with a slumping Shahar Pe’er should pose no issues at all. Lefties Laura Robson and Lucie Safarova could trouble her in the second round but Sharapova should progress with little trouble. Yaroslava Shvedova could disturb the balance in this section here, two good Grand Slam runs have seen her ranking improve greatly over the past two months and she has begun to show the potential of a few years ago again. She takes on Simona Halep in an interesting first round tie for the chance to take on Lisicki, who should dispatch of youngster Ons Jabeur with ease. Although losing the most recent meeting, Sharapova has a 3-1 head to head over Lisicki including the previous two slam meetings between the pair – Australian Open 12, Wimbledon 11.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Maria Sharapova defeats Ana Ivanovic in 2 sets

Must Watch Match – Ana Ivanovic vs Christina Mchale

Did You Know…?

Samantha Stosur is a three times semi-finalist at Eastbourne but has never got past the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Against the 3 seeds in her section she has faced, Kim Clijsters has a 17-3 record (6-3 Sharapova, 5-0 Stosur, 6-0 Ivanovic)

Quarter 4 (6) Petra Kvitova-Agnieszka Radwanska (2)

2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova opens her account against Kateryna Bondarenko – the Ukrainian will have full attention on the Singles event now after he sister withdrew from the doubles but it is unlikely she can trouble the Czech here while Shuai Peng or Su-Wei Hsieh will ensure an Asian presence in the next round. Bulgarian grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova is probably the biggest danger to Kvitova here, she excels on grass and is a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon – where she was defeated by Vera Zvonareva in 2010. She also reached the quarters in 2009, losing to potential opponent Kvitova. Pironkova takes on the in-from Dominika Cibulkova, who recently took the Carlsbad title.

When talking about Agnieszka Radwanska, she is always accused of having the easy draws in tournaments and it is hard to argue with people on this showing. She faces an out-form Julia Gorges in the first round with a potential second round tie against either a very poor wildcard choice in Veronica Cepede Royg or an inferior version of herself in Varvara Lepchenko. A third round tie is likely to be against Maria Kirilenko. Radwanska has proved recently she can beat her, even if the weather conditions were not suitable the Pole’s playing style. Heather Watson was dispatched off with ease at Wimbledon while Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Mariana Duque Marino are both most at home on the clay and will pose little threat.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Agnieszka Radwanska defeats Petra Kvitova  in 3 sets

Must Watch Match – Tsvetana Pironkova vs Dominika Cibulkova

Did You Know…?

South Americans Mariana Duque Marino and Veronica Cepede Royg have not won a main draw match on Grass courts between them. Mariano has one in Wimbledon qualifying 2008.

Tsvetana Pironkova’s difference in results off and on a grass court are staggering – other than her Wimbledon QF and SF’s in 2009 and 2010, she has never made the 3rd round in a slam.

Medal Predictions

Gold Serena Williams 

Silver Maria Sharapova

Bronze Victoria Azarenka

Who are your medal predictions for the tourney? Who do you think can spring a surprise here? Feel free to leave your comments below!

Azarenka Tops Poll

Victoria Azarenka has come out on top as the player most likely to win their first Grand Slam this year. The Ace of Baseline public poll ran from the end of the 2011 season to the start of the 2012 Australian Open and the 22-year-old Belarusian won with 37.5% of the vote.

It had been a two horse race for a long while with Azarenka sharing the lead with current world number one Caroline Wozniacki until a flurry of late votes following her title success in Sydney swayed things her way.

The poll result in full was:

Caroline Wozniacki: 25%
Victoria Azarenka: 37.5%
Vera Zvonareva: 6.25%
Agnieszka Radwanska: 12.5%
Marion Bartoli: 0%
Andrea Petkovic: 18.75%
No new winners in 2012: 0%
Others: 0%

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) In 2009, a 19-year-old Belarussian by the name of Victoria Azarenka emerged at the French Open as a quarter-finalist.

Her opponent in that match was Dinara Safina who, at the time, was the world number one in women’s tennis. Azarenka won the first set 6-1 before losing in three.

It was the first of four Grand Slam last eight spots she’d go on to reach and as we skip to the present day she has a very good chance of a semi-final place and potentially winning the tournament outright.

Today Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova played in her first Grand Slam quarter-final. She too is 19 and won the first set 6-1 before ultimately losing to Francesca Schiavone who, at this time, is the only player left to have won at Roland Garros.

The similarities between the pair don’t just stop there. Both had marvelous junior careers and they have good records on all surfaces but particularly hard courts where the bulk of their WTA titles have come.

In many ways though Pavlyuchenkova has a great chance of bettering Azarenka let alone matching her.

The Minsk-born player may not have won a Grand Slam title yet but she’s closed the gap considerably this year. She currently sits at number four in the world rankings after winning the Premier Mandatory event in Miami and reaching the final of the same tier tournament in Madrid.

Yet she could have made it there quicker if her body hadn’t let her down at key moments and her head was screwed on during and just after her teenage years.

Pavlyuchenkova possesses the same power as Azarenka and looks more stable. She’s further down the rankings than Azarenka was in 2009 (#14 compared to #9) but a top 10 place is beckoning after her performance this year.

She did choke the match at a set and 4-1 up but it happens to many young talents against the experienced players. Fitness is an area for her to work on as she did look tired, and compared to the rest of the ladies, a little weighty.

Another problem, or it could be deemed a help, is the instability of the WTA tour. The consistent Grand Slam winners are either ageing or have retired and it’s allowed names like Li Na and Vera Zvonareva to enjoy a renaissance whilst opening the door for Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and other top 10-20 players to break through.

Pavlyuchenkova, like the rest of the aforementioned, will soon be listed as a potential Grand Slam winner. It’s up to the older players in and around the top 10 to hold on to their positions as the likes of Pavlyuchenkova chase them down with Azarenka potentially being the main person to beat out of the rising batch of tennis players from this generation.

Strong Is Beautiful…

What do you make of this video?

This is the WTA’s new advertising campaign, which you may have guessed is called Strong Is Beautiful.

Along with this sensual slow mo of Victoria Azarenka, there are 37 other female tennis players who have been photographed looking glammed up to accompany further videos of high-profile names such as Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic.

I wanted you to take a look yourself and make your own judgement before I tell you my thoughts.

Firstly, I don’t really get it. What is it advertising exactly? I had to read the related article to fully understand what the impact this campaign was meant to be having and even then I was skeptical.

This is how they put it anyway:

Drawing upon athleticism and grace – a unique combination that has turned the stars of the WTA into the most recognizable and followed female athletes on the planet – the campaign places the personal stories, pressures and dreams of the players front of stage. The creative is designed to support the WTA’s efforts to establish a deeper engagement with fans around the world and to promote both the sport’s next generation of players along with current established names.

To me that’s just a polite way of saying it’s a massive sexualisation of female athletes. Admittedly it has a good chance of working but is that really how they want to attract more fans?

I’m all up for having Ivanovic tell me about how she’s come through war-torn Belgrade and made it big as well as how Clijsters deals with the issues surrounding her children as I find that to be more inspiring than sweaty athletes in low-cut outfits.

If you pay attention to my blog then you may have noticed I have a soft spot for women’s tennis. As of yet I haven’t quite figured out why I prefer it to the ATP Tour but, believe it or not, it isn’t so I can perv on the competitors.

In fairness, some of the clips try to fight for equality both sexually and racially. They’re fine and well done to them on that count. Also I understand to encourage young girls to pick up a racquet they’re trying to target them so having Serena Williams talk about clothes might do that.

But it just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I look at the message “Strong Is Beautiful”. That conveys girls can do and look how they want and feel good about themselves. Putting the players in fancy dresses and make-up is a bit contradictory.

Judge for yourself though. All the images and videos are available on the WTA website. Please comment and tell me what you think; I’d love to know your thoughts.

Kvitova Controversy

Petra Kvitova at Brisbane International 2011 After beating Victoria Azarenka in the third WTA Premier Mandatory event of the year, Petra Kvitova will next be seen on the clay at Prague’s $100,000 ITF tournament.

Instead of facing opposition such as Vera Zvonareva or Australian Open finalist Li Na, the Czech will play a first round tie against Anne Keothavong and come across several players around the brink of the top 100.

Is this really going to aid the new member of the world’s top ten? Yes it’s her home tournament, but you can expect fellow Czechs Klara Zakopalova (world #34) and Lucie Hradecka (#45) to partake as these ranking points mean more to them.

If Kvitova is going to progress then surely she must continue playing high-class opposition whilst on her best form since the semi-final run at last year’s Wimbledon. That would be at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome where Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur and other high-quality clay court specialists will be present.

Plus the expectation of her to easily win the tournament in Prague could be off-putting. Should she somehow lose, it could affect her confidence.

But there are some advantages for her however. She gets to enjoy the warmth of her home crowd who probably knew very little of her this time last year. It should be a gentle experience for her going into the French Open which could aid her performance in Paris.

On the other side of the court in the Mutua Madrid Open, Azarenka lost but will find herself at number four in the world after three wins and a final appearance from her last four tournaments.

With both currently being 21, they have a great chance at winning a Grand Slam in the future. The worrying thing is the lack of a crowd at the final.

I watched it on Eurosport and it took something out of the occasion. It felt like a first round tie against two mid-50 ranked players rather than two of the WTA’s best athletes.

One can only hope the crowds pick up for the rest of the tournaments no matter who is playing the final but particularly so as these two could be in a lot more finals to come.

The lack of atmosphere did allow us to hear Kvitova’s trademark celebratory scream; just another part of the Mutua Madrid Open final highlights.

Irina-Camelia Begu

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) Having never won a main draw match at a WTA event, many will be surprised to see Irina-Camelia Begu facing Victoria Azarenka in today’s Andalucia Tennis Experience final in Marbella.

The 20-year-old Romanian is ranked sixth in her country, even lower than the free-falling Sorana Cirstea which should indicate how much of a shock her win over Svetlana Kuznetsova was in the semi-finals.

It was by no means easy. The final score read 3-6, 7-6(3), 6–4 but it’s without doubt her biggest win on the tour to date. A fan of Martina Hingis, according to Begu her aim isn’t matching her idol’s great heights but reaching the top 10. So is there any chance she’ll make it there?

Beating Azarenka would be a start. It’s fine having her seven ITF titles in the bag (14 in doubles) but the WTA events, even if they’re the lower-rated internationals, hold the key to the golden gates she wants to walk through.

The danger is she’ll come out against the recently crowned Sony Ericsson Open champion and completely fold, losing in straight sets and we’ll never hear from her again. Even if she beats Azarenka she can’t let that be the only significant achievement of her career.

Whatever happens in Marbella her next aim should be becoming number one in Romania and harbouring the experience gained from that to potentially mount a top 10 challenge.

If she’s to do that then the ranking points she amasses over the next two months will be pivotal. Clay is her favourite surface, clearly proven by the sight of former French Open champion Kuznetsova’s falling to the youngster.

That was the only match of the tournament where she lost a set. En route to the final she beat world #34 Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 6-3 but the other results were against opposition she’s used to facing on the ITF circuit.

More victories over the world’s top 50 are needed and if we’re to see her more often she should accompany that with improvements on the other surfaces. Of course, more main draw wins would be nice too.

Who knows, today’s result could be the springboard she needs.

If you’d like to know more about Irina-Camelia Begu, a Q&A session with her is featured on the WTA website.

Victorious Azarenka?

Azarenka_0007 There’s no doubt Victoria Azarenka is a global superstar.

Belarus’ greatest export has been in the world’s top 10 for some time now and has just recently won her second title at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami matching the feats of Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters.

But the question still remains: Will Azarenka ever win a Grand Slam? That’s surely the difference between being a good player and a member of the elite, as Dinara Safina would testify.

Well, history is on her side at least. Everyone who’s won in Miami has gone on to claim a major.

So far she’s yet to go beyond the quarter-final stage of a Slam with 2009 being her best year to date earning Wimbledon and French Open last eight spots. That was also the year of her last triumph in Miami but she’s now matured and improved significantly.

At the age of 21, there’s also plenty of time for her to succeed. The retirement of Justine Henin plus the current void left by the injured Williams sisters has opened up a window too, not just for Azarenka but for the whole WTA Tour.

It’s no surprise Clijsters is winning most of the Slams right now as she’s the best non-injured player to have actually lifted one. Francecsa Schiavone is unlikely to regain her trophy at Roland Garros so the unpredictable clay could help Azarenka, especially with her decent record on the surface.

What Azarenka needs to improve is her consistency. Too many times she’s been broken or suffered defeats when in controlling positions. In the fourth round of Indian Wells against Agnieszka Radwanska, she forced a tie-break after saving four match points with the break of serve exchanging hands in every game.

Even in this year’s Miami final she could have choked away the second set from holding a 4-0 lead. Although she did play some outstanding tennis, her opponent Maria Sharapova’s shocking serving as well as some lucky bounces pulled her through.

Another aspect which could transform her into a world beater is her own service game. Often criticized for double faulting on numerous occasions she also failed to register an ace against Sharapova.

But on her run to the final she took out world numbers two and three in Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva so the title was well deserved. It now takes her to her equal-highest ranking position of no.6 in the world.

She’s proven she can beat the world’s best but so can the rest of the top 10. It’s all about putting in a run of results and staying focused all the way through a match. Then she could be remembered for being a great player today as well as a great player after her retirement.