Sunday October 30th, 2011

Petra Kvitova

Petra Kvitova's 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win over Victoria Azarenka marked her sixth title of the year. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

ISTANBUL --  Observations from the final day of the WTA Championships, where Petra Kvitova punctuated her breakthrough season with yet another title Sunday:

Player of the Year: Let the accolades rain down on Kvitova, who defeated Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to win the WTA Championships, clinch the No. 2 spot in the year-end rankings and cement her case for the Player of the Year award.

Even the soft-spoken Kvitova was finally ready to accept that last honor. She refused to entertain the thought when asked about it earlier in the tournament, but her tune changed as she stared in wide-eyed wonderment at the gleaming Championships trophy now sitting before her.

"I mean, [it's] after the tournament. OK, I can say it," she said.

Not convinced? Here's a snapshot of Kvitova's 2011: She started the year at No. 34 and ended second; won Wimbledon for her first major title; collected six titles -- Brisbane, Paris, Madrid, Wimbledon, Linz and the WTA Championships -- and won on four different surfaces; finished 12-5 against top-1o players and 6-2 against the top five; and was 19-0 indoors, including 5-0 this week, when she joined Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams as the only players to take this event in her debut.

So what's the next mountain to climb for Kvitova? She's off to help the Czech Republic try to win its first Fed Cup title in more than 20 years next weekend at Russia, and then after a break she'll begin her preseason training by climbing actual mountains back home. She'll head into the 2012 season only 115 points behind No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, and a change atop the rankings by the spring seems inevitable (Azarenka and Sharapova are also within 1,000 points of the top spot).

One question I have is whether Kvitova will be able to solve her virtual allergy to the North American hardcourts, where a significant number of points are up for grabs. Kvitova suffers from asthma, which is agitated in hot conditions. That may explain her lack of success in the North American heat and her domination indoors. Whether she finds a way to manage that will go a long way in determining her ability to capture the No. 1 ranking next year, let alone stay in the top five over time.

The most exciting thing about Kvitova, and why so many around the sport find her so compelling, is that she's still very much a work in progress. While her game has matured, it can still go off the rails in an instant. (On Sunday, she led 5-0 in the first set, lost the next five games and recovered to win 7-5.)  We've seen glimpses of her best, and there's still more untapped potential there.

But what's with that screech?: Kvitova's high-pitched yelping celebration after she wins a point is startling when you watch her on television, but it's downright frightening when you see her in person. There have been times when I've thought she's severely injured herself and her cry was one of anguish.

Contrary to what some people think, Kvitova is not screaming nonsense. She's saying "Pojd!" which means "Come on!" in Czech.It's no different than Ana Ivanovic's "Ajde!" fist-pumping celebration except in its ear-piercing tone. I agree that it's a horrible noise, but it certainly doesn't violate the hindrance rule and Kvitova has no plans to stop.

"Sometimes I need it because I have to say something at important points, and otherwise when I'm mentally a little bit down I have to be fighting again," she said. "It's important for me, really."

So there you go.

 Grunting: The Liezel Huber solution: Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber captured their first WTA Championships doubles title together with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Katareyna Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke. With a combined age of 73, the duo has won four of its last six tournaments.

They were asked afterward about the issue of grunting (yes, we're still talking about it), and Huber said the onus is on an opponent to call out a grunter.

"If I played against Azarenka and she grunted, it's my responsibility to tell the umpire," Huber said. "It's not the umpire's responsibility.  It's my responsibility to tell the umpire, and I would. As long as the players don't stand up and say, 'Hey, this bugs me,' then it's the player's fault.

"So if I play against that player, whether it's out of bad sportsmanship or whether I'm just having a bad day or if it's really bugging me ‑‑ because I have played with Martina Navratilova before and we played against (Francesca) Schiavone, and she complained on the very first point about Schiavone.  She kind of grunts, and when you're just about to hit, then she does the grunt and it is distracting.

"I think if anything, the WTA needs to tell the umpire, 'If a player complains about it, then you've got to enforce it.  But I truly believe it's the player's responsibility to say something about it." Huber's comments seem to be in line with WTA CEO Stacey Allaster's remarks on the issue earlier in the day. Allaster repeated her intention to take a look at the issue, but pointed out that no player had ever come to her directly to complain about it. That's fine and good, but the complaints are coming from fans, not players. That's why something needs to be done (if it can be done at all) to stop it.

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