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    Kvitova Is WTA Champ


    Over the years, the season ending WTA championship event has moved from New York to Munich to Los Angeles to Madrid to Doha and this year to Istanbul (not Constantinople) — and is scheduled to be held there until at least 2013. In accommodating such an event, the ancient city wants to prove itself fit to host the 2020 Olympics. By this time of the year, a lot of the top players are tired and banged up, but up to 1500 ranking points were available and prize money ranged from $110,000 for just playing to $1,750,000 for winning the title (if undefeated in the round robin).
    [Update: The WTA and BNP Paribas, the title sponsor, announced Saturday a joint donation of $250,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent to assist victims of the earthquake in eastern Turkey that killed at least 580 people on Oct. 23.]
    Based on rankings eight top women qualified, and were divided in two round robin groups, within which each player was to play the other three players once. Winning more matches than the others got a player through to single elimination semifinals (and eventually the final), and the number of sets won and lost would break ties.
    #1 Caroline Wozniacki, #3 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, #6 Vera Zvonereva and #8 Agnieszka Radwanska comprised the Red Group, while #2 Maria Sharapova, #4 Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros Champion #5 Li Na and #7 US Open Champion Samantha Stosur were in the White Group. Australian Open Champion Kim Clijsters has been off the tour most of the year due to foot and shoulder injuries, recently falling to #11. Likewise, oft-injured Serena and Venus Williams never played enough to get near the top eight.
    In the matches I saw, the indoor hard court clearly favored the harder-hitting, attacking players, which did not bode well for steady but defensive players like Wozniacki and Na. Wozniacki barely won her first match in a tight three-setter against Radwanska, 5-7 6-2 6-4, then lost to Zvonereva 6-2 4-6 6-3 and was soundly defeated by Kvitova 6-4 6-2. Li Na took out an ailing Sharapova, but Azarenka crushed her 6-2 6-2, and Stosur embarrassed her 6-1 6-0. Stosur, an attacking player who nevertheless seems to play her best on slow clay, looked great beating Sharapova 6-1 7-5, looked tired and slow losing to Azarenka 6-2 6-2, then woke up to dominate Na. 
    In Red Group play, Kvitova, who is 18-0 on indoor courts this year, went 3-0, not losing a set, which sent her to the semifinals. The other three women each went 1-2, but all three won 3 sets and lost 5. Some other tiebreaker must have been invoked to send Zvonereva to the semis.
    In the White Group, Azarenka and Stosur both went 2-1. Victoria won 5-2 in sets and Sam only went 4-2, so Azarenka had the higher seeding into the semis. Sharapova pulled out claiming to have reinjured her bad ankle after two losses, and was replaced by #9 Marion Bartoli, who defeated Azarenka, but could not advance. During the Kremlin Cup Bartoli had had a shot at making the top eight when Radwanska lost early, but Marion fell ill and withdrew shortly afterwards. 
    I missed the semis, but Kvitova beat Stosur 5-7 6-3 6-3 while Azarenka beat Zvonareva in straight sets 6-2 6-3. Stosur did better than I expected.
    I missed most of the final, but the Washington Post wrote
    Kvitova raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set, but Azarenka rallied to level it at 5-5. The Czech player finally converted her fifth set point when Azarenka’s forehand sailed out.

    Azarenka settled into a consistent baseline game in the second set and clinched it with a forehand winner on the line. Kvitova saved three break points in the first game of the final set and then broke to take the early lead.

    I did see part of the third set, with Kvitova leading Azarenka 3-0. Azarenka fought to break back, but had no answer to Petra's lefty serve. Shrieking and fist-pumping, PK served it out, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
    Does such a poor showing mean that Caroline Wozniacki's #1 ranking is in danger next year? Maybe, but only if these hard-hitting women also learn to play this well in the sun and wind, and on clay, and week-in, week-out. And learn to go for their shots. Towards the end of her third set against Wozniacki, Radwanska stopped going for her shots and tried to rally with Woz. That didn't work.
    For her part, Wozniacki still has to find a way to win a major against players with substantially more firepower.


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