by Karen and Master Ace

The BNP Paribas Open is over and I for one could not be happier.  Of the 2 spring hard court events, I have always preferred the Miami event, for the simple reason that 2 of my favourite players play this event, while they do not play the tournament now being touted as the Fifth Slam.

It was not too long ago that the Sony Open was touted as the Fifth Slam.  A few million dollars thrown around, a new stadium facility, a sushi restaurant, and bloggers and journalists alike telling us every day just how beautiful Indian Wells is has made this tournament, previously a blip on the landscape, now being shouted from the rooftops as the Fifth Slam.  Frankly, when you can’t do anything to have the 2 of the best female players ever to come out of the United States to play your tournament, then you are not the Fifth Slam.  There is a quote attributed to Shakespeare that goes “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. For the entire 2 weeks of the BNP Open, the message that was being delivered was just how awesome this tournament is.  We get it.  Your tournament is fantastic.  That does not, however, take away from the fact that while everyone was exceptionally happy for Flavia’s win over Radwanska, the tournament does seem to lose a bit of its luster each year with the continued non-parrticpation of either of the Williams Sisters at this event. 

In addition to the fact that neither  Williams Sister was a part of the event, the event never seems to bring out memorable tennis from the women.  The last time the women’s final was filled with any sense of anticipation was the 2012 final between Sharapova and Azarenka.  Last year’s blowout by Sharapova over Wozniacki and this year’s win by Pennetta over an injured Radwanska brought the tournament to a bit of anti-climatic finish on the women’s side. 

The women’s draw has now been completed, and with the exception of the placing of the qualifiers in the draw, there are some blockbuster matches scheduled to be in the draw.  If you, like me, forgot to do your WTA Bracket Challenge, remember to go the WTA website and fill out your bracket challenge. Master Ace has looked at the draw for Miami and below are his thoughts on what could happen.

Thanks Karen.  The Miami draw was done on Sunday March 16 and it features the return of Serena Williams, who will be going for her 7th title and Venus Williams, who is turning back the clock like a certain person on the ATP tour but not getting much press as him. Between the Williams Sisters, Venus has played the better tennis in 2014 capturing the title in Dubai, where she extended her winning streak to 15. However, Serena has a knack for jump starting her season in Miami. Also, in the draw, is Flavia Pennetta, who won Indian Wells. Will Pennetta be able to win Indian Wells and Miami? The last person to achieve that feat was Kim Clijsters in 2005. What made that feat more interesting is Clijsters won 14 matches as she was coming back on the tour from wrist injury. 

Serena Williams as the No. 1 seed is on the top half of the draw, while Na Li, the Indian Wells’ semifinalist anchors the bottom half as the No. 2 seed.  Li did not play well at Indian Wells so making the semifinals was a good accomplishment and most people believe that Li may play better in Miami. Agnieszka Radwanska is the 3rd seed here but is word that she may withdraw as she got injured practicing a day before the final at Indian Wells. In the top half of that quarter, we have V Williams, Simona Halep and Dominika Cibulkova where only one player may potentially survive to the quarterfinals. If we get the Halep vs V Williams in third round, it will be interesting to see how Halep will fare against V Williams’ power and athleticism. Another daunting task for the players is they will have to play in humid conditions unlike Indian Wells where the conditions were dry.
Q1: S Williams vs Kerber
Q2: Sharapova vs Pennetta
Q3: V Williams vs Bouchard
Q4: Stephens vs Li
S1: S Williams vs Sharapova
S2: V Williams vs Li
F: S Williams vs Li
W: S Williams

Odds and Ends

Apparently ESPN, that paragon of sports broadcasting has a poll on its website asking if Serena Williams deserves to be No. 1.  I don’t know even know where to start with the questions that this poll raises in me.  If not Serena, who?  Let us look at the top 10 and their performance over the last 52 weeks and then we can say, with a straight face that someone else other than Serena Williams deserves to be No.1. 

Of the other 9 women who currently occupy the top 10, only Azarenka won a Grand Slam within the last 52 weeks.  Sharapova was a non-starter for most of the events that she played last year, finishing the year with 2 titles. Petra Kvitova did her usual no-show for most of the year and Simona Halep, even though I love her and her game, was the anti-Serena, winning titles in many International events without, for the most part, facing a top 10 player.  Sara Errani, less said the better. Na Li, she was MIA for most of 2013, showing up now and again. She finished the year with a title in Shenzhen, her only title of the season. If not Serena, then who does ESPN think should be No.1.  Would be good if they had asked us for recommendations.  

WTA Big 3

The WTA Tour has been riding on the shoulders of 3 women since 2012.  These 3 women have brought life to a  Tour that was in the death throes of the Wozniacki Era.  Day to day, tournament to tournament, Grand Slam to Grand Slam, 3 women have shown what competition is.  They have fought hard, played hard, thrown barbs at each other and competed with a ferocity that has not been seen in a long time. Since 2012, they have won almost every  Grand Slam, barring Bartoli’s win at Wimbledon last year.  This year, the WTA Big 3 have been plagued by injuries.  Sharapova’s shoulder injury seems to have reoccurred.  Azarenka is having serious foot problems, failing to defend her Australian Open title and losing in her opening round match against Lauren Davis.  Azarenka has now withdrawn from the Sony Open event in Miami.  Serena Williams, who lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open, lost in the semifinals to Alize Cornet in Dubai.  Serena makes her return to the Tour at the Sony Open as the top seed.  One can only hope that her back is feeling much better. 

In as much as people talk about the Big 4 in men’s tennis, it would have been good if folks also spoke about the Big 3 in women’s tennis. 3 women who together have brought about relevancy to women’s tennis.  The Spin hopes that all 3 women will regain full strength once again.


by Karen 

Simona HALEP (ROU) [6] vs Agnieszka RADWANSKA (POL) [2]
Today is the semi-finals of the Premier Mandatory BNP Paribas Open.  Opening proceedings will be Simona Halep (6) going up against No. 2 seed, Agnieska Radwanska.  Of the 2 women, Halep has played the better tennis.  She has been extremely aggressive off the ground and has remained mentally tough in the hard parts of her matches, especially in her match against Eugenie Bouchard of Canada.  This will be a real test of Halep’s rise to the top 10 in the WTA rankings.  Does she have what it takes to figure out the wily game of Radwanska.  I believe she does and I think she will reach her first Premier Mandatory final.
Radwanska if she hopes to win this match cannot have a moment like she did in her match against Alize Cornet when she went on a 16 point losing streak after being up 4-1 in the first set.  Granted she did come back and take that set 7-5 in the first, but that will not work against Halep who seems to be much more focused and determined than Cornet.
Na LI (CHN) [1] vs Flavia PENNETTA (ITA) [20]
In the other semifinal, this puts the current Australian Open champion and No.1 seed, Na Li up against No. 20 Flavia Pennetta.  Pennetta has been playing some no holds barred tennis, apart from the debacle that was her match against Sloane Stephens yesterday.  I am looking for her to come out a bit more focused and steady and improve her first serve stats from the woeful average 42% of first serve that she hit against Sloane Stephens yesterday.  In the first set her serve stats were a paltry 36%.Against Li she will have to improve as Li has been quite dominant on her return of serve, standing up on the baseline to receive second serves and ripping winners off the return. 
For Li, if she wants to add a Premier Mandatory title to her cache of titles, she will have to improve on taking advantage of her opportunities on break points.  In her match yesterday against Cibulkova, her return of serve points on second serves were 36% but what was even worse was the fact that she allowed so many break points to go begging.  She was 6/20 on break points which is a 30% conversion rate.  Cibulkova did not fare much better, going 4/12 (33%).
This is a real pick em but I think that Li will take this one, if only because as the tournament progresses she has grown more confident in her game. 
Odds and Ends
Is Sloane afraid of winning?  On the day that I wrote about the improvements in her footwork, movement and backhand, it is as if she decided that she was going to revert to old Sloane, and she went from immaculate footwork and good decision making on court to just hitting the ball everywhere but where it was supposed to go.  Her footwork was non-existent during her match and it seemed as if she could not figure out why that was the case.  It was an embarrassing display of tennis.  I got absolutely frustrated and left the match after she won the third set.  I had hoped that I would return to see a victory, but it was not to be.  The fact that her opponent did not even wish to see highlights of the match says it all. 
Fifth Slam
I am a tennis traditionalist.  I don’t like change. Maybe that is the reason why I still root for Venus and Federer to continue winning Wimbledon.  I hate on court coaching.  I like that when the tennis season starts, I can look forward to the 4 Majors (Grand Slams) and the anticipation and excitement that each Slam brings to the table.  To start the season there is the Australian Open.  It gives tennis fans who have been waiting in cold climes something to look forward to.  It announces the start of the tennis season and tries to answer all the questions that arise during the tennis “off season”.  By the time the Australian Open is finished, we start asking questions about the French Open.  Will there be a new champion.  All of a sudden we want to see players who have never won a Slam actually win one, and where better than at the French Open.
The run up to the French Open always brings a change of pace to our tennis watching.  Maybe it is the slow clay, the laid back attitude, the fact that tennis is on early in the morning so those of us on the East Coast can enjoy some tennis before we head out for work or maybe it is just seeing red clay, but there is a transition and it not only happens on the court but in your mind as well.
Once the French Open is over and champions crowned, the talk inevitably turns to the green grass of Wimbledon.  People become overnight weather experts and the discussion starts about who will win and the conditions of players entering the Championships and by the time the Championships are over, we are ready for the blue clay and discussions of hurricanes, rain and the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium.  This heralds the start of the US Open.  By the time that is over and players take a break, we have to look at Davis Cup and Fed Cup, then the year end championships. 
I don’t know about you guys, but by the time the Year End Championships for both tours roll around, I can’t even find the strength to blog much more pay attention to tennis. I am tired and from social media, many fans are tired as well. 

At what point does tennis find time to insert a so-called Fifth Slam?  The calendar is full as it is.  Why is there a need to insert some rich man’s event into the tennis calendar and call it something that it is not.  I like the 4 Grand Slams. I like that there is order to my tennis season.  I like that I know what I need to look for and when.  I say keep the calendar the way it is.  Tennis is overloaded now as it is, we really don’t need or want a Fifth Slam. 


by Karen
Ever since the debacle of the now infamous ESPN article, Sloane Stephens has been making headlines, but ultimately for the wrong reasons. The Spin will not attempt to recap the words spoken by Sloane, but suffice it to say, we are sure that going forward she will think long and hard before giving her views on matters that are outside of tennis.
Usually, when a player from whom much is expected has regressed, the media is quick to jump on the reasons why.  Tennis fans however are ultimately fans of the game, and for a lot of us who play the game at a recreational level, we can usually see the flaws in the games of the pros, even more so than those who cover the sport.  Tennis fans can be brutal and they will take to social media like the Monday morning quarterbacks that they are analysing a player’s game and deconstructing what went wrong and what said player should have been doing in order to win a particular match.
However, with Sloane there is one thing (or is it more than one) that tennis fans have all agreed on, her backhand is awful, her footwork is non-existent (especially on the back hand side), she prefers to use her athleticism to win points rather than going after her shots and she has a really poor attitude on court when things are not going her way.
When news broke that Sloane had hired Paul Annacone to coach her, many tennis fans wondered why such a high profile coach, and why someone who was more known for coaching players who already had an attacking style of game.  Well, I think our questions have been answered during this BNP Paribas Open.
I watched Sloane’s match against Ana Ivanovic, and it is amazing what a new coach can bring to the table in a short time.  Sloane’s backhand will never be a thing of beauty and she will always continue to use her athleticism to win points, but it was great to hear squeaky shoes coming from Sloane’s side of the court.  Squeaky shoes on a hard court is a sure sign that a player is taking adjustment steps and this can only be achieved if said player has been working diligently on footwork and movement during practice sessions.  In addition, I like that Sloane is now hitting more top spin shots, as against moonballs to keep herself in points.  Her volleys need a lot of work (as do most people who play tennis), but it was good to see her take the initiative during points and move forward with authority to put away volleys. I am also very happy with her on court demeanour.  In her match against Ivanovic when she faced multiple break points that I was sure that I would start to see slumping shoulders and the defeatist look in her eyes.  These were nowhere to be seen, and even though she would get broken on a few occasions, her play on the big points made me realise just how much I want her to succeed.  
I want Sloane to succeed not because she has been anointed the heir apparent to the Williams Sisters, but because it will be good for American tennis if young children of colour realise that the Williams Sisters were not an anomaly, and that they too, with a bit of hard work and dedication can become the next best thing.
I am really looking forward to Sloane’match against Pennetta later today.  Sloane does not tend to do well against players who make their living with their movement and foot speed.  It will be interesting to see whether she will come out aggressively against Pennetta and maintain that aggressiveness throughout the match or whether she will have ebbs and flows.  This is a perfect opportunity for Sloane to get to her first Tour final and I for one will be very happy if she does that. 

Odds and Ends

Has someone complained to Tennis Channel that their commentary team does not reflect the viewing public?  Why else is Lisa Leslie, she of WNBA (basketball for those who don’t know) fame doing commentary at the BNP Open.  Ever since I got Tennis Channel in 2006 or thereabouts I have often wondered why were there no persons of colour as part of its commentary team. I have always wondered what went into decisions to have someone in the commentary booth.  Is it someone’s knowledge of the game, did they have to have prior experience as a player or what.   During the Grand Slams, tennis fans are always happy to hear the dulcet tones of Chanda Rubin in the commentary box.  She is flawless, never talks during the points, does not Monday morning quarterback, and she always has inciteful comments to make about the game.  Compare that to Justin Gimelstob whose every comment is one where viewers have to have opened in order to figure out just what it is he is meaning to say, and can we please get away from the “linear shots” comment. 

I know I am in the minority, but I don’t like Mary Carillo doing tennis commentary.  I dislike her even more when she is paired with Lindsay Davenport.  It always seems to me that they are calling the matches especially of today’s women players with something amounting to disdain.  Capture that with Carillo’s commentary during the 2005 Australian Open final when Lindsay would lose 6-0 in the third to Serena Williams.  The tone of her voice was almost as if she was about to cry for poor Lindsay, and don’t get me started on her comments during the 2005 Wimbledon Championships. 

Camila Giorgi is a player to watch.  She has been a player to watch for quite some time.  If she could only learn the meaning of the word consistency and apply it to her game, she would never have to qualify for a tournament ever again.  That being said, tennis fans (and that means those of us who follow the lowly ITF events) know Giorgi because of her tennis.  The rest of the tennis watching public came to know her because of an article written by Jon Wertheim which spoke about her alleged debts to alleged sponsors.  This week at the BNP Open a reporter (and that term is used loosely) went in on Giorgi about her alleged debts.  I thought it was a bullying tactic and something that Giorgi did not earn.  Her play against Pennetta in my view was a reflection of what she had to endure the previous day and may have impacted her play.  I am hopeful that if the allegations about her debt situation are true that at some point it will be dealt with and in private. 

Finally, Carillo said something recently that was quite illuminating (yes she does that from time to time).  She asked the question why was more not being made about Halep’s rise to the top 10.  She said that if Halep was a US player, tennis would have been throwing money at her just for even getting to a final.  She asked Lindsay, what gives.  I can’t recall the response that Lindsay gave, because it was more of a non-response, but the question needs to be asked, why is Halep who has achieved so much not being given the recognition that someone like Bouchard, Stephens and Robson, who together have 0 titles and 2 WTA finals amongst them.  


by Master Ace 

Na Li vs Dominika Cibulkova – This is a rematch of the Australian Open final where their first set was a tightly contested affair before Li took the tiebreak and ran away with the second to win her 2nd Slam. Since that match, Li has not been playing well losing to Cetkovska in Doha and not playing her A game at Indian Wells. Meanwhile, after a 4 match losing streak, Cibulkova won her 4th career title at Acapulco defeating Christina McHale and has continued her good play capped off by defeating Petra Kvitova in two easier than expected sets.
Prediction : Dominika Cibulkova
Flavia Pennetta vs Sloane Stephens – Pennetta is continuing her good play in the big events making the semifinals at United States Open, quarterfinals at Australian Open and now the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. Since making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Stephens has not made a deep run in a tournament until this week and in an impressive fashion by winning all of her matches in straight sets.
Prediction : Sloane Stephens
Simona Halep vs Casey Dellacqua – Halep won the battle of the future champions in three sets over Eugenie Bouchard. Halep has not played her best tennis but when the going gets tough, Halep makes the crucial plays. Dellacqua is making another impressive run and this one is coming after she had to qualify for the main draw. Earlier this year, she made the 4th round at Australian Open after being given a wildcard.
Prediction : Simona Halep
Jelena Jankovic vs Agnieszka Radwanska – Jankovic is playing well again in the desert by winning all matches in straight sets capped off by a comprehensive display against Caroline Wozniacki breaking a 5 match losing streak against her. Radwanska had a tougher match than expected against Alize Cornet but managed to win in striaght sets like her other two matches with one being a double bagel against Annika Beck
Prediction : Jelena Jankovic
Did I mention doubles? Yes, I did as there are 4 blockbuster matchups with one of them being played yesterday.
Hsieh/Peng vs Barty/Dellacqua – Hsieh/Peng
Kuznetsova/Stosur vs Date-Krumm/Zahlavova Strycova – Kuznetsova/Stosur
Black/Mirza vs Makarova/Vesnina – Black/Mirza(my pick to win the title when draw was made)
Hradecka/Zheng won their match in a Super Tie Break against Peschke/Stebotnik


by Karen and Master Ace 

Day 6 Review 

What a day, Day 6 turned out to be.   The highlight for me was the win by Camila Giorgi over Maria Sharapova.  Despite the fact that  both players had a horrible winners to unforced error ratio, Giorgi was able to win the baseline battle and was not afraid to go for her shots. When Giorgi failed to serve out the match set at 5-4 in the third set, I as well as many others thought for sure that Sharapova’s winning mentality would win the match  at 7-5 or 7-6 but Giorgi hung tough and got another break at which point, the fight and belief seemed to go out of Sharapova.  

Na Li struggled in her match against Karolina Pliskova but managed to win in straight sets despite not playing her best. Aleksandra Wozniak tried to rally in the second set to win in straights against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova but lost the tiebreak. In the decider, Wozniak ended up serving a bagel. Flavia Pennetta has proven to be a tough matchup for Samantha Stosur as she won in 3 sets to improve the H2H to 5-0. 
I did not see any of the Stephens/Ivanovic match as I had to get some sleep 🙂

Round of 16 Preview 

Today’s Round of 16 Order of Play reads like the Fourth Round of a Grand Slam.  There are some intriguing matches on the schedule and I for one cannot wait to see who will come out on top and into the quarters.
There are 2 former champions of this event and both of them will be going up against each other (Wozniacki/Jankovic).  We have a player who is returning from a serious illness (Kleybanova) who usually plays very well in the desert up against a player from whom much is expected from her home country (Stephens).  We have 2 youngsters who have had exceptional junior careers going up against each other (Halep/Bouchard) and we have what may become a marathon battle and is sure to be filled with drama from oen side of the court (Cornet/Radwanska). 
In this round of 16 there are the wild cards, players who you never thought would get that far (Wozniak/Giorgi), they are going up against tried and true champions in Li and Pennetta respectively.  Giorgi pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament when she took out the defending champion, Sharapova in 3 very tough sets.  Casey Dellacqua, a journeywoman who had actually given up on tennis and got her beautician’s licence will be going up against another giant killer in Lauren Davis.  I confess that I was of the view that Davis would have been happy with her big win over Azarenka but kudos to her for taking out her countrywoman Lepchenko in the next round.  I can actually see her using her wheels to good effect against Dellacqua and making it through to the quarters.
Finally, we come to a match that will be either a testament to big hitting or a testament to what can happen when a player has no idea how to reign in their game  (Cibulkova/Kvitova).  Cibulkova has been literally flying under the radar here in the desert and it is good to see that her confidence seems to have returned after that loss in the Australian Open final.  Kvitova steadied the ship against Kuznetsova in the previous round, serving up a bagel in the third set against the 2 time Grand Slam champion. 
Jelena Jankovic v Caroline Wozniacki (Match of the Day) 
Alize Cornet v Agnieszka Radwanska (Must see Match of the Day) 
Na Li v Aleksandra Wozniak
Simona Halep v Eugenie Bouchard
Sloane Stephens v Alisa Kleybanova
Casey  Dellacqua v Lauren Davis
Camila Giorgi v Flavia Pennetta
Dominika Cibulkova v Petra Kvitova 


by Karen and Master Ace

I have to say that coverage of the women’s event at Indian Wells has been amazing.  TennisTV has proven to be a very good investment as not only can I rewatch matches that I missed during the day, but whenever Tennis Channel chooses to showcase a boring men’s match, interviews or anything else that is not tennis related, I can just tune out and tune in to TennisTv. I have had a few issues with the service, but none that would make me stop my subscription.  If you are an avid tennis fan, and don’t have a subscription to TennisTv.  Get on it folks. The only drawback is that I understand that this service is not available during the Grand Slams.  I will no doubt have to find a way around that.  

ESPN does have a platform on which they showcase the Grand Slam events.  The problem with that is that if you are outside the United States you cannot get it, which in my view, is a disservice to the millions of fans all over the world who rely on ESPN to get their tennis. 

I don’t know about you but it always seems to me that tennis fans who attend Indian Wells are more interested in roaming the grounds taking pictures of players practising than actually watching the tennis.  The stands in the “Stadiums” have been scant, but I am sure as the weekend gets here we will see more and more fans in the stands. 

Day 2 Recap – Master Ace 

Day 2 was a very interesting day around the grounds. Will start off with doubles as SvetlanaKuznetsova/Samantha Stosur defeating Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci. Martina Hingis/Sabine Lisicki played a tough match but lost in the supertiebreak to Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua while Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina barely advanced as they defeated Chan/Liezel Huber 10-8 in the supertiebreak. 

USA ladies went 2-3 (6-6 overall round 1). Taylor Townsend pulled off the upset of the day as she won in straight sets over Karin Knapp, who defeated Christina McHale and Alison Riske in Fed Cup back in February. First set was very ugly as both ladies had 53 unforced errors compared to less than 15 winners. Francesca Schiavone won her first match of 2014 defeating Mona Barthel, who is off to a slow start compared to her last 2 years. Victoria Duval played very well in her match but lost in three sets to Alisa Kleybanova, who was a tad better on the big points. Duval had 33 winners and 34 unforced errors. Jie Zheng won a thriller over Paula Ormaechea in almost 3 hours to set up a date with Na Li.

There is a lot to like about Duval’s game.  I like that she is quite self reliant and does not use the on court coaching that some of her fellow players seem to rely on all the time. 

Today’s Matches feature some blockbusters.  I am hopeful that they will live up to their potential billing. The matches that are featured today could very well be the latter rounds of a Grand Slam.  The return of Sharapova to the women’s tour is good and Georges, who could not seem to win matches last season, seems poised to at least move forward from her usual first round losses.  

Li, for the first time in her career is the top seed at a Premier Mandatory event.  This is a huge undertaking and one hopes that she can live up to her billing.  Zheng played a fantastic match against Ormachea in the first round and one hopes that she can take this form into her match against her fellow countrywoman.  

The 2010 French Open finalists are at it again with Stosur and Schiavone doing battle.  The young upstarts in Tomljanovic and Stephens complete the night session and hot to trot Muguruza continues her good form against Kleybanova.   
Li vs Zheng – Li
Ka. Pliskova vs Zakopalova – Ka. Pliskova
Pavlyuchenkova vs Garcia – Pavlyuchenkova
Wozniak vs Lisicki – Lisicki
Cibulkova vs Vekic – Cibulkova
Niculescu vs Makarova – Niculescu
Kuznetsova vs Zahlavova Strycova – Kuznetsova
Vandeweghe vs Kvitova – Kvitova
Sharapova vs Goerges(match of day) – Sharapova
Giorgi vs Cirstea – Giorgi
Pennetta vs Townsend – Pennetta
Schiavone vs Stosur – Schiavone
Ivanovic vs Svitolina – Ivanovic
Tomljanovic vs Stephens – Tomljanovic
Muguruza vs Kleybanova – Muguruza
Torro-Flor vs Kerber – Kerber

Play begins at 2:00 P.M. EST (11:00 PST) on Tennis Channel with live streaming on ESPN3 and TennisTv


by Karen

First of all huge apologies for abandoning you during the month of February.  So many wonderful things happened during that month that I have been cursed out to no ends by our many readers for not providing updates.  Most of this has been because Venus Williams has won a title.  At the young age of 33 years old, Venus delivered a bagel in the final to Alize Cornet, who took down World No. 1, Serena Williams in straight sets in the semi-finals.  Many of us Venus fans have now taken to calling Dubai the New Wimbledon.
I promised a pictorial of Venus to celebrate her win in Dubai and I always live up to my promises.

Pictures are courtesy of ESPN, and CNN.

The beginning of March marks the return of March Madness in tennis. This is when there are 2 big Premier tournaments on the agenda for the women.  These are the BNP Paribas Open and the Sony Open. There was some amount of speculation that World No.1, Serena Williams would return to the BNP Paribas Open this year having regard to her comments after Nelson Mandela’s death and the fact that her name appeared on the list of entries.  For the first time in awhile though Serena actually issued a statement that she woudl not be participating in this year’s BNP Paribas Open.  This makes the Spin team believe that there may have been discussions on both sides for Serena’s participation in this year’s tourney.  I have mixed feelings about Serena’s participation.  I am sure that at some level she did think seriously about participating, but it must have been terrifically hard for her to think to herself, what if I step out on the court and the booing starts again.  I think in this case she felt it would be better to err on the side of caution and just not participate in the event. 
That being said Master Ace has provided his picks on the draw and while he has not fleshed out the draw just yet, it is interesting what he has come up with in terms of the quarters onwards.  I have not had a chance to look at the draw but I am going to say that perhaps Master Ace has a point. I doubt however that Halep will get to the final and I don’t think that Sharapova will defend her title. 

Ace’s WTA Singles Predictions

QF 1: Li vs Cibulkova
QF 2: Sharapova vs Ivanovic
QF 3: Halep vs Azarenka
QF 4: Jankovic vs A Radwanska

SF 1: Cibulkova vs Sharapova
SF 2: Halep vs Jankovic

F: Sharapova vs Halep

W: Sharapova

Ace’s WTA Doubles Predictions

Martina Hingis is trying to make another comeback in doubles after her efforts with Daniela Hantuchova in 2013. This time, she is playing with Sabine Lisicki, whom she coaches in singles for the moment. This draw is full of good teams led by the new number 1 team Su-Wei Hsieh and Shuai Peng. The defending champions, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, are in the draw as the number 2 seeds. There are two teams that have won two titles so far but most people will not guess them. Teams are Monica Niculescu/Klara Zakopalova (both players won the first two singles events in Florianopolis – Niculescu 2013 and Zakopalova 2014) and Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Rodionova. The reigning Australian Open champions are the 3rd seeds in Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, Besides Hingis/Lisicki, the other wildcards are Svetlana Kuznetsova/Samantha Stosur, Andrea Petkovic/Sloane Stephens amd Madison Keys/Alison Riske. For some reason on both tours, Indian Wells has a tendency to get some good pairings.
Ace’s Predictions

SF 1: Hsieh/Peng vs Kristina Mladenovic/Flavia Pennetta
SF 2: Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik vs Cara Black/Sania Mirza
F: Hsieh/Peng vs Black/Mirza
W: Black and Mirza will win the title to jump start their year after getting off to a slow start. This team won Tokyo and Beijing in 2013
The WTA finally has a Draw Challenge and the first one is now up and running for the BNP Paribas Open.  Feel free to make your picks.  I think this is an excellent venture for the WTA as it should encourage fans to not only watch more tennis but to root for their favourite players in the draw. 
I am hopeful that I will get to see lots of matches during the next 10 days and I hope everyone will participate in the WTA Draw Challenge.