Seeing as this blog started life as a study of two players in particular it’s high time to summarise the last year or so, starting with Daniela Hantuchova and an article i wrote for Sportingo: ‘From breaking point to title glory – Daniela Hantuchova’s 2007’.
The former top-five youngster from Slovakia has shown more steady progress with wins at Indian Wells and Linz to banish the despair of recent years.
The career of Daniela Hantuchova has been well documented – a breakthrough year in 2002 , with that Indian Wells triumph, followed by the stark contrast of 2003. The sudden fame and fortune of being a star player forced the fragile 20-year-old to crumble, often in heartbreaking fashion.
The four years since have seen a very slow but increasingly steady comeback to the top flight. A series of progressively more steady seasons have banished (most) of the nerves that held her back for so long and, with it, the self confidence has flooded back, seen this year with her first titles since 2002.
The year started in much the same way as 2006 had ended – some solid wins, including victories which were anything but straightforward, providing further proof to herself that such matches were winnable. An uninspiring second- and first-round set of losses in January proved adequate build-up for the first Slam of the year. As has become the normality for Hantuchova, Australia 2007 was the usual fourth-round loss to a top 10 regular.
This time it was a determined and soon to be retired Kim Clijsters who would despatch the Slovak in straight sets. February offered more solid results in Japan and Dubai, but it was March where Hantuchova’s best results and high level of consistency first appeared. A semi-final appearance in Doha (beating Martina Hingis en route before losing tamely to Svetlana Kuznetsova) was followed by a long overdue tournament win.
Hantuchova’s second triumph at Indian Wells is ironic, considering the five-year hiatus and the enormity of the event. Arguably the biggest tournament outside of the slams and the season-ending championships, Indian Wells in California saw an impressive field in ’07. With her rather paltry 14th seed placing, Hantuchova’s path to the title was far from straightforward. A fading Francesca Schiavone in the third round preceded hard-fought wins over several of the year’s form players. A straight sets win over 2002 victim Hingis and then two tough three-set battles with rising star Shahar Peer and China’s Na Li were followed by a dominant straight sets win over Kuznetsova, who herself enjoyed a stellar ’07.
Richly deserved plaudits followed.
A popular champion, the relieved Slovak was on a high: “I think its even sweeter, being able to win the same tournament again … I just went out there and enjoyed every moment on the court.” But three tournaments would pass before she would reach another semi-final in Rome on clay (by far her worse surface) beating Anna Chakvetadze on the way to a loss at the hands of Kuznetsova again. This period also signified two rare Federation cup losses for Hantcuhova at the hands of Nicole Vaidisova and Lucie Safarova.
A disappointing French Open was followed by the grass season and, with it, more steadiness – a quarter-final in Birmingham, losing to Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, and a semi-final in S’Hertogenbosch, beating Ana Ivanovic in the quarters.
The green stuff also produced controversy.
At Wimbledon, the Slovak’s form was getting better with every round and an upset looked likely against a Serena Williams who, despite an amazing comeback victory at the Australian Open, was experiencing another frustrating year of injuries and lack of match play. After blowing away her opponent in the first set, Williams’ “spasm induced calf strain” was becoming visibly more painful to the point where the American collapsed dramatically on the grass of Centre Court. After trying to play through the pain, Williams was down 2-4 in the second set tiebreaker. The rain came, however, and saved the American who came out after the showers and wrapped up the third after Hantuchova seemingly allowed herself to be overwhelmed by Williams’ presence once more.
A rather tame American hardcourt season (including a poor first-round defeat by Julia Vakulenko at the US Open) was followed by Hantuchova’s strongest indoor season form of her career. September saw Lindsay Davenport’s comeback at its most impressive – in Bali the American would scythe her way through the field, including the Slovak in an entertaining final. Two tournaments followed Bali: a semi-final showing in Kolkata (losing to Maria Kirilenko in three) and a run to the final in Luxembourg (falling to Ivanovic, also in three). These were tournaments that Hantuchova should have and could have won.
With time running out to secure a place in the season-ending championships and two lukewarm showings in Stuttgart and Zurich, Hantuchova produced a timely second title of the year. In Linz she recorded victories over Nicole Vaidisova and long-time nemesis Patty Schnyder in the semi-final and final respectively. The championships provided some of the year’s finest tennis and ended in a thrilling final which saw an inspired Maria Sharapova lose narrowly to 2007’s queen of the courts, Justine Henin. Hantuchova’s group, which contained Maria Sharapova, Ivanovic and Kuznetsova was never generous. Just one win over the tired Kuznetsova was all Hantuchova had to show for a season of comparative success after four years in the wilderness.
With some players returning stronger in 2008 – including Davenport, Vaidisova, Amelie Mauresmo and Elena Dementieva – plus a horde of young stars it will be interesting to see if Hantuchova can raise her game once more.
First image from: http://www.pacificlifeopen.com/
Second image from: mira12.over-blog.com/article-7214382.html