1. Ward Shocks
A week of Davis Cup tennis was marked by Great Britain’s first win over the United States since 1935, helped by James Ward’s stunning upset of American Sam Querrey.
Having had relatively little success on the main Tour (save for a semi-final run in Queens in 2011), British number three Ward was a huge underdog against Querrey, a former ATP number 17 with seven career titles to his name. The match looked for the most part to be heading the Californian’s way as he won the first set convincingly, taking it 6-1, before Ward upped his game to take the second in a tiebreak. Querrey won the third 6-3, and was leading 4-2 in the fourth set before Ward rattled off 10 out of the final 11 games of the match to claim victory, giving Team GB a 2-0 lead over their American rivals.
It was good to see Ward adapt to his opponent, giving himself more time on Querrey’s formidable serve and cutting down the tall American’s free points, involving him in more rallies. Perhaps it helped that Ward had beaten Querrey before, during his great Queens run in 2011, but it was still a shock given Ward had only won one competitive match all year, against Stephane Robert in a Brisbane qualifier. Captain Leon Smith took a huge risk in picking Ward, but with his team striding to their first DC win over USA in nearly 80 years, it proved a risk worth taking.
2. Makarova Shines
Another winner this week was Ekaterina Makarova, who won her second career title at the PTT Pattaya Open in Thailand. Having failed to win on the WTA Tour since her 2010 win at Eastbourne, she dominated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-6 to seal victory on Sunday.
Seeded fourth for the tournament, big hitter Makarova had a tough run to the final in Pattaya. She put on a fine performance in her second round match to defeat former Wimbledon and US Open finalist Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-2, a solid result in spite of Zvonareva’s long absence from the Tour. She then dispatched tenacious veteran Kimiko Date Krumm in three sets in the quarter-finals before repeating the feat against Andrea Hlavackova to reach the final. The penultimate match proved to be more straightforward, with some top-class returning from dominant Makarova giving her her first title in nearly four years.
From my point of view, Makarova is an obvious talent. At 25 years old, she has already cracked the top 20 and reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam three times, in Australia in 2012 and 2013 and at the US Open, also last year. She has put on some great shows against the top players too, beating Victoria Azarenka in Madrid last year, defeating Agnieszka Radwanska in the US Open and also taking Li Na to three sets in the same tournament. I don’t think there is a potential GS winner in her, but with more time she can be a top 10-15 player for sure.
3. Pliskova Potential
Makarova’s opponent in the final in Pattaya, Karolina Pliskova, can also be very proud of her achievements this week. The Czech’s run to the final saw her reach her second career final at the age of just 21, and sees her achieve her best ever ranking of 53 this week.
While she didn’t come home with a second title (her first came at the 2013 Malaysian Open), Pliskova had an arguably more difficult route to the final than Makarova. Coming in to the tournament unseeded, Makarova stunned world top 50 player Bethanie Mattek-Sands in straight sets, before defeating established qualifier Alla Kudryavtseva in the second round. Her finest hour came in the quarter-finals, where she outmuscled world number 26 and former French Open quarter-finalist Sorana Cirstea in three sets, taking the third 6-0.
At such an early stage of her career, it is impossible to tell how Pliskova will turn out. However, she has already won a title and also reached the second round of a Grand Slam in this year’s Australian Open, so the signs bode well for the future. She will have to keep on developing her game in order to move up the rankings (her process so far dwarfs that of her twin sister Kristyna, who is currently world number 145), and Czech Republic fans will hope she can add to their success with players like Tomas Berdych in the years to come.
4. Pavlyuchenkova Triumphs
Despite the good results of the above players, I think the true golden performance of the week was that of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Not only did the Russian win the Open GDF Suez in Paris, she knocked out a string of top players on her way to the win.
After first knocking out Francesca Schiavone and seventh seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the first two rounds, Pavlyuchenkova caused a massive upset in the quarter-finals by beating number four seed and former WTA number 5 Angelique Kerber in a third set tiebreak. Pavlyuchenkova played with confidence throughout, not surprising given she had beaten the German before, in the final of Monterrey last year.
Arguably the biggest shock came in the semi-final, when the 22-year old recovered from a set down to defeat top seed and four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach her ninth career final. She benefited from an erratic Sharapova serve to come from behind and set up a matchup with third seed Sara Errani. Many players struggle in tournaments following a big win, but Pavlyuchenkova was not to suffer that fate; she again came from behind to beat Italian Errani 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to win her first WTA Premier title.
With six titles, Pavlyuchenkova has achieved a considerable amount for such a young women, and has also proved she can beat the top players on her day. However, her Grand Slam results need improvement, and beating those type of players regularly is another matter altogether.
5. Sharapova Struggles
Finally, this week’s big loser has to be Maria Sharapova. The year has been, by the former number one’s own standards, underwhelming, and her performance in Paris last week served only to heap more misery on the American-Russian.
Having been ousted by Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round of the Australian Open, Sharapova would have wanted to put things right in her third tournament back from a recurring shoulder problem. She did get off to a flying start, beating Daniela Hantuchova with the loss of just one game, before another straight sets victory over Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens sent her into her second semi-final of the year.
Coming up against a player like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, one would have expected Sharapova to have come through relatively unscathed. She started well, using her aggressive groundstrokes to pummel her opponent, taking the first set 6-4. From this point on, Sharapova seemed to crumble, throwing in double faults at inopportune moments, helping Pavlyuchenkova to victory.
Having lost comfortably to Serena Williams in Brisbane earlier this year, I think Sharapova will be disappointed to miss out on what was an easier route to a first title of the year. It’s clear she hasn’t fully recovered from her shoulder injury though, and I have no doubt we will see a continuously improving Maria Sharapova over the coming weeks and months.
Pundit Arena, Ryan O’ Neill.
Featured Image By David Jones (Flickr: ATP Tennis Finals at The O2) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.