There’s little rest for the weary in the world of tennis. Barely one month following the conclusion of the Australian Open, the WTA has already hosted four events, with last week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships marking the third Premier tournament since Melbourne
The BNP Paribas Open, the next marquee event on the WTA schedule, kicks off in a week and while the events between Australia and Indian Wells don’t usually shake things up too much, last week’s tournament provided some interesting fodder for conversation looking forward to the American hard-court swing starting early next month.
Here are five players that generated buzz (both good and bad) at last week’s tournament in Dubai.
What To Make of Venus Williams’ Win
A name once synonymous with “champion,” the elder Williams sister has struggled to put together wins over the last few years, particularly after she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011. At 33, there’s little shame in Williams’ now-No. 29 ranking, though the five-time Wimbledon champion has looked to be on her way out for the last season or two.
But a stunning win in Dubai showed there might be some life in her yet. Coming into the tournament as a wild card, Williams defeated a host of formidable opponents and in dominant fashion, taking out former-No. 1 Ana Ivanovic (who upset Serena in Melbourne last month), Flavia Pennetta and Caroline Wozniacki all in straight sets.
How does one not smile at this result? (WC) Venus Williams (USA) d. Alizé Cornet (FRA) 63 60 in Dubai for her 45th career title— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) February 22, 2014
Only Pennetta showed any real resistance, pushing Williams to 7-5 in the second set. Through the first four rounds, Williams dropped no more than three games in seven of eight sets. In the final, Williams clobbered Alize Cornet (once a promising player in her own right) 6-3, 6-0 to win her third title in Dubai.
So what can we make of Williams’ win? As long as her sister is still playing, Venus likely won’t be hoisting many more trophies anytime soon, but for someone who has had such a disappointing few seasons (Williams has not made it out of the first week of a major since 2011), the Dubai title is not insignificant. Williams said after the match (via Sandra Harwitt of the Associated Press, via ABC News):
"When things got tough, I definitely got going this week. If I was down break point, when push came to shove, I was pushing and shoving, I guess."
While the Dubai title may not have heralded a career revival for Williams, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. The 33-year-old has long since proven her talent, and for the elder Williams to start rising in the rankings even more, she’ll need to regain her match confidence, something she showed improvement in last week.
Venus Williams launches herself back into the Top 30 - wins Dubai over Alize Cornet 63 60 pic.twitter.com/5VyVE1haGG— Live Tennis (@livetennis) February 22, 2014
Can Alize Cornet Build on Her Dubai Result?
The Frenchwoman has made the transition from fresh-faced upstart to seasoned veteran with little fanfare on the WTA Tour and in her trademark style, had one of her sporadic, dramatic deep runs at a tournament. Once ranked as high as No. 11, Cornet has only made it out of the third round in a major once (in 2009) and has yet to win a tour title, despite playing in four finals.
Incredible scenes. We live in a world where Serena's last two losses are to Alize Cornet and Ana Ivanovic.— Tumaini (@tumcarayol) February 21, 2014
She followed it up with a surprisingly sub-par performance in the final against Venus, breaking down in tears during a changeover at the end of the first set.
Cornet is a player who has demonstrated potential throughout her career, but has failed to sustain any kind of momentum beyond irregular streaks at fairly low-level tournaments. A win over Serena is an impressive achievement for any player and while Cornet can certainly take confidence in that, Serena was far from her best last week.
Unfortunately for Cornet, she hasn’t shown much ability to create repeated opportunities for herself throughout her career, and it’s hard to see her run in Dubai extending much beyond that.
Jelena Jankovic, Up To Her Old Tricks
Jankovic has always had a flair for the dramatic and her propensity for theater surfaced again in her match against Serena in Dubai.
This is not the first time these two have butted heads in a match over this exact issue—Jankovic has expressed frustration about Williams’ speed of play on the return multiple times—and Jankovic has come away looking foolish both times.
Jankovic was the year-end No. 1 in 2008, only to fall back outside the top 20 in 2012, but the Serb has been experiencing a mini career renaissance over the last 12 months, winning the title in Bogota and advancing to the the semifinals or better in five Premier events last year.
But the on-court histrionics are getting old. It is perhaps one of the sad contradictions of tennis, but in order to be an annoyance on court, you have to win. Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase (not to mention Andy Roddick and Marat Safin) were all barely tolerable with their on-court antics, and they are some of the greatest in the sport.
Jankovic has the game to be a strong presence on the tour, and when she’s playing well, few are eager to see her in their section of the draw. As the episode in Dubai proved yet again, Jankovic would be better served keeping her head down and focusing on the tennis.
Serena Williams' Upset—Cause for Concern?
In short, no. At least not yet. Williams’ season has hardly been problematic, but she hasn’t started 2014 in quite the way many anticipated she would, coming into the Australian Open on a 25-match winning streak.
Like in her match against Ivanovic in Australia, Williams was simply outclassed by Cornet in the semifinals, losing to the Frenchwoman 6-4, 6-4. Williams, who took a wild card into the event because she was bored, was far from her best, telling reporters after the match (via Beyond The Baseline):
"I think out of a 10, I was at like a negative 283, so … wow."
Because Williams will not be playing in Indian Wells next month, continuing the sisters’ 13-year boycott of the event, we will have to wait until Charleston to reevaluate her form (unless she decides to play Miami). Rumors about a possible split with coach/boyfriend Patrick Mouratoglou have been making the rounds and strictly from a tennis point of view, this would be a very interesting development in the Williams’ camp.
Me. Mine. Alone. Myself. I. One. Solo. Unaccompanied.— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) February 25, 2014
Mouratoglou, since partnering with Williams in the spring of 2012, has been an enormously beneficial influence, coaching Williams to four Grand Slam titles. He is also credited with improving Williams’ fitness and footwork, the latter long thought to be one of her weaknesses.
Until Williams officially hangs up her racquet, it will probably never be safe to count her out, and her two losses this year are hardly cause for concern. If anything, defeats at the hands of lower players only seem to motivate Williams more.
What Has Happened to Sam Stosur?
Stosur has had one of the more up-and-down careers on the WTA, punctuated by a win in the 2011 final of the U.S. Open over Serena. But since then, the Australian has done very little, advancing to the second week of a major just once since her first and only major title to date.
Currently ranked No. 17, Stosur lost in three sets to qualifier Annika Beck in Dubai last week, despite winning the first set 6-1.
The loss taken on its own is not particularly problematic, but Stosur’s game right now does not appear to be trending upward. Three of her four losses this year have come at the hands of much lower-ranked players, coming on the heels of a highly disappointing 2013 season in which Stosur beat only three top-10 players (Petra Kvitova in Rome and Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka in Carlsbad).
While the match against Beck may not portend disaster in its own right, the loss is yet another disappointing result from Stosur over the last two seasons.