most recent update... August 16, 2010

DINARA SAFINA: "The (Russian) Cat" finally got a nickname after she showed off her many lives during the 2008 Roland Garros, coming back from big deficits -- and two match points -- twice against fellow Hordettes Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.) and Elena Dementieva (QF) en route to her first grand slam singles final.

MONICA SELES: "The American Grand Dame of Yugoslavian Tennis." Seles rose to the top of the game as a Yugoslavian in the early 1990s, then later became an American citizen as her former country went to war and broke up into several individual nations.

THE SERBS: "The Fantastics" (or "Fantastovics"). Originally, I dubbed the Serbian women the "Rakija Girls" after the Serbian language name for fruit brandy, apparently often viewed as the nation's national drink. The Serbian woman have developed much like the Belgian "Waffles." That is, with two top players leading the way over a group of other countrywomen who have yet to make any dent on tour. Without question, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic form the two-headed, one-nation monster that is Serbian women's tennis. After the "Rakija Girls" moniker didn't stick, I tried again with the superhero-themed "Fantastics" or "Fantastovics," to incorporate the common ending of Serbian surnames. Following along the lines of the Marvel Comics superhero group known as the "Fantastic Four," the Fantastic Three Serbians also included Top 10 men's player Novak Djokovic (team member #4 might have been Janko Tipsarevic). The new nickname allows for a great variety of usage in association with the comic book characters, tying them into whatever condition the sometimes moody and inconsistent, but always exciting and fun, Serbian players happen to be on a particular day. Djokovic, of course, assumes the "Mr.Fantastic" role by default, while Jankovic and Ivanovic might be referred to as "The Invisible Girl/Woman" on a day or set when their game just isn't there. All can interchangably inhabit the other team member roles: the unstoppable force that is "The Thing," or the on-fire (and fun-loving) "Human Torch." I called Jankovic and Ivanovic "Laverne & Shirley," after the old ABC television series, during the '08 Roland Garros.

SELIMA SFAR: "The Tunisian Tornado." I don't get many opportunities to use this one, but it's alliterative flair makes me wish I could. Youngster Ons Jabeur could soon inherit the moniker.

MARIA SHARAPOVA: "The Supernova" is probably the queen of all Backspin nicknames, not to mention the most appropriate of the bunch. And it's all because of the Russian's explosion into international superstardom with her Wimbledon title in 2004. While born in Siberia, Sharapova has spent most of her life in the U.S... so, occasionally, she's referred to as an "AmeRussian." In August 2005, she became the first Russian female to be ranked #1 in the WTA singles rankings.

MEGHANN SHAUGHNESSY: "The Stick"/"Shillelagh." The skinny American earned her first nickname on sight alone, but the moniker was upgraded to conform to her Irish heritage (a shillelagh is an Irish walking stick).

VALERIA SOLOVYEVA: "The Pocket Hordette." Hey, the Russian is only five-foot-nothing, so...

SAMANTHA STOSUR: Aussie Stosur rose to career heights in singles and doubles in 2005, and thus earned the "Slingin' Sammy" moniker. It's somewhat of an homage to 1930s/40s American football star "Slingin' Sammy" Baugh of the Washington Redskins, who showed Stosur-like versatility by leading the NFL in passing, punting and defensive interceptions.

AGNES SZAVAY: "The Valkyrie." A little flight of Norse mythology whimsy where the Hungarian is compared to a one of the god Odin's handmaids hovering over the battlefield, picking heroes (her opponents) to be slain (defeated), then conducting their souls to Valhalla (the locker room, without a win).

NICOLE VAIDISOVA: On the leading edge of teenaged "Czech Maidens," Vaidisova's early nicknames ("Darth Vaidisova"/"The Darthette") obviously owed a great deal to the imagination of George Lucas. After tiring of the odd "Star Wars" connection, Vaidisova's penchant for angry outbursts (usually at herself, particularly at the 2005 U.S. Open) led her volcanic personality to help create a "Vesuvius" moniker. Then, at Roland Garros in 2006, Vaidisova's upset win over world #1 Amelie Mauresmo in the Round of 16 -- on the same day that Maria "The Supernova" Sharapova blew a 5-1 3rd set -- finally provided her with a fitful nicknames, as "The Dynamova" was born on the terre battue. She retired from the sport in 2010.

MARLENE WEINGARTNER: "The Blue Angel" was lovingly applied to the German to link her to German movie great Marlene Dietrich and her most famous film.

THE WILLIAMSES: "The Family"/"The Sisters." Venus & Serena are so linked in tennis history, no one ever first mentions the Maleeva clan when the sport's top familial links are discussed.

SERENA WILLIAMS: "The Catsuit" was temporarily pegged on Serena for her black skin-tight leathery outfit debuted at the U.S. Open in 2003. "Hollywood Wannabe," too, has been used as a Backspin nickname due to Williams' acting ambitions. But, really, when everything is measured up, simply calling her "Serena" is as good as any nickname could ever be. After all, who's in possession of a more singular presence on the WTA tour than this particular Miss Williams? Also, I doubt if I was the first to coin the phrase, but speculating on Serena's potential four consecutive, non-calendar year slam crowns following the 2002 U.S. Open (the third of the four), I dubbed the possible feat the "Serena Slam," taking a cue from the similar feat accomplished in golf with Tiger Woods' "Tiger Slam" just a bit earlier. Over the next few months, the phrase became a part of the overall sport's lexicon (and history books, when Williams won the Australian Open in January '03), much like Steffi Graf's "Golden Slam" (four majors, plus Olympic Gold) in 1988. It was a pretty obvious act to think up "Serena Slam," so it sort of sprang up everywhere at the time... but when I first used it in September 2002, I always like to note that I'd never heard or seen "Serena Slam" used anywhere else.

VENUS WILLIAMS: "Ferris" -- for Venus' amazing ability to come up with a new excuse for every loss she suffers. It comes from the Matthew Broderick character named Ferris Bueller from the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), in which he says, after skipping another day of school, "This is my ninth sick day this semester. It's getting hard to think of new excuses. It I go for ten, I'm probably going to have to barf up a lung. " See... there's always at least one more option when Venus can't think of anything realistic on which to blame a defeat. Occasionally, before her comeback slam title at the 2005 Wimbledon, Venus was referred to as "Forever Fragile." Later, she was referred to as "The Grass Queen" due to her afinity and superior play at Wimbledon.

ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK & CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: "A-Woz" & "C-Woz." A shorthand abbreviation of the similar names of the two players from Canada and Denmark, respectively.

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: "Princess Charming," "The Princess of Charm," & "The Princess of Harm." With her winning personality, any play on the word "charm" and Wozniacki was a natural fit, but her cramping/crying comebacks to win matches in the '09 SEC in Doha showed she has a bit of "harm" in her, as well. Not a bad combination.

Z-Girls: So many young up-and-comers have names with a "Z" in them that I thought it'd be nice to have a group to round them up in. Hence, the "Z-Girls" for the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Tamira Paszek, Agnes Szavay and others. A case can be made that this is the second generation of "Z-Girls," following in the footsteps of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze, Sania Mirza and many more.

VERA ZVONAREVA: "Queen Z" was a desperate attempt to come up with another nickname for one of the Horde. "Vera the Almost," as it turned out, was made possible by Zvonareva herself as, for so long, she was never quite able to match her fellow countrywomen's on-court exploits... and generally looked like she was about to have an emotional meltdown during a match when things weren't going her way. Starting in 2007, she began to right her game and her own emotional stability, leading to the birth of the "Czarinette." Finally, though, word that Zvonareva was enrolled in diplomat's school in Russia in hopes of one day working at the United Nations, "The Diplomat" moniker finally fit like a glove after so many false starts.



LAUREN ALBANESE: "Ms. Wolf." The American teenager popped up in the 2006 U.S. Open draw as a wild card, and didn't seem to be anything resembling a strong contender for success so early in her career. Oh, she didn't win the title or even reach the second week, but she did get a 1st Round win over Olga Savchuk (and reached the Girls Singles SF, too). After joking in a preview that she wouldn't last long, unless everyone is fooled by the fact that she's something of "a wolf in sheep's clothing," the nickname seemed an obvious fit... plus, it lends itself to all sorts of sly references to Harvey Keitel's "Mr. Wolf" cleaner character from "Pulp Fiction."

THE YOUNG AMERICANS: "The (Star-Spangled) Bannerettes." After pretty much a "lost" generation of non-stars following in the wake of the success of the Williamses, Davenport and Capriati, a good crop of young players finally began to emerge just as the 2000's came to a close. Whether the "next American star" is named Oudin, Vandeweghe, Brengle, Embree, Muhammad, McHale, Stephens or something else, there at least finally appears to be a talent pool wide and deep enough for SOMEONE to emerge as a possible threat soon.

THE AMERICANS: "The Americanas." Mostly the "B-Team" American ladies not named Williams, Davenport or Capriati. As the period of American dominance in women's tennis enters its final, last-gasp chapter, the immediate future will center around the group of unheralded "B-Teamers" with names such as Jackson, Perry, Glatch, etc.

THE AUSSIES: "The Shielas." Nicknaming the gals from Down Under after Aussie slang for those of the female persuasion was pretty much a no-brainer. Led by Top 10er Alicia Molik in singles, and Samantha Stosur in doubles, the Aussies are poised to finally reassume their former role as a force in women's tennis. In 2006, former world-#4 Jelena Dokic returned to Australia after nearly five years in self-imposed exile to attempt to reclaim her former glory under an Aussie flag and, in 2009, reached the QF of the Australian Open. The likes of Jessica Moore, Olivia Rogowska and Casey Dellacqua give the Aussies a nice band of young players to nurse to future success, as well.

THE AUSTRALIAN/NEW ZEALAND CIRCUIT: "The Dorothy Tour." Originally used on Jelena-Dokic.com in my Jelena Corner columns, The Dorothy Tour refers to the season's opening month on the calendar that takes place in New Zealand and Australia, sometimes referred to as "Oz." Dorothy... The Wizard of Oz... get it? It provides a great opportunity to use all sorts of (hopefully) clever Oz puns and references -- yellow brick road, the Emerald City, ruby slippers, etc. -- for a few weeks.

VICTORIA AZARENKA: "Star-Renka," "A-Star-Renka." The Belarusan has always seemed ready to become a star, as long as she can control her temper and be the best that she can be.

TAMIRA BACSINSZKY: "The Swiss Missy." If Martina Hingis is the "Swiss Miss," then...

MARION BARTOLI: After often confusing Bartoli's French nationality with Italian in several editions of Backspin (it had to be the name), Wimbledon '07 put an end to any non-descript aspects of the young lady with the Selesian two-handed-on-both-sides gameplan. After she upset #1-ranked Justine Henin in the SF, all of Bartoli's quirks came pouring out. When she was little, her father would tempt her with a reward of candies for good shots. Later, his sometimes-odd training techniques would lead her to walk around tournaments with tennis balls taped to her feet in order to remind her to always play on her toes. After a slow start against Henin, Bartoli looked into the stands and saw one of her favorite actors, the "beautiful" Pierce Brosnan, Agent 007 (or at least he used to be) himself. Not wanting to look bad in front of him, Bartoli upped the level of her game and later credited his presence for her turnaround in the match. She may not yet be a "Bond Girl," but "La Trufflette" (hey, I was trying to link the candy angle with something that would forever be a reminder that she's French, and nothing else) has indeed been born.

THE BELGIANS: "The Waffles" -- Belgian waffles, get it? It was either that or think of something that had to do with chocolate, I guess. This, of course, is an easy shorthand for the likes of Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters, Els Callens and "mini-waffle" Kirsten Flipkens. After Clijsters and Henin retired, young Yanina Wickmayer emerged as "The Wafflette," reaching the U.S. Open SF in '09. A returned Clijsters won the title, while Henin announced her comeback soon afterward.

THE BONDARENKOS: The Ukrainian sisterly pair of Alona and Kateryna have come under the "letter umbrella," often differentiated by the shorthand that has them going by "A-Bond" and "K-Bond."

SEVERINE BREMOND (BELTRAME): "The Counselor." The Frenchwoman formerly known as Severine Beltrame gets her nickname from having attended the University of Law of Montpellier.

MADISON BRENGLE: "BrengleFly/The Fly." The teenager from Delaware made a surprise run to the '07 Australian Open junior final, and her name lends itself rather nicely to the reference to "Brundlefly" from the Jeff Goldblum movie "The Fly," a personal favorite of mind. Plus, I just like saying "BrengleFly."

EKATERINA BYCHKOVA: "Queen B." With a name like this Russian's, no matter the actual native pronounciation, it begs to be spoken with a snicker by tennis fans from the West. No matter Bychkova's disposition, don't call her bitchy.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI: "The Petulant One." For the former wild child's singular ability to be cranky and difficult in post-match press conferences.

ANNA CHAKVETADZE: "The Porcelain Doll," "The Russian Doll," "The Doll." Yet another Russian, the teenager's fierce heart belied her somewhat fragile-looking outward appearance when she went to Moscow and wiped out three Top 10-ranked Russians to win her first career Tier I crown and put herself into the Top 20 for the first time. "The Doll" nickname comes from those famous Russian nesting dolls (also called Babushka, Matryoshka or stacking dolls) that reveal smaller, sometimes surprising, new dolls inside as each outer shell is removed. With Chakvetadze, after winning her maiden tour title two weeks prior to Moscow in Guangzhou, what was underneath the first shell was quite a revelation.

THE CHINESE: "The (Fortune) Cookies." With the 2008 Beijing Olympics quickly approaching, the Chinese have kick-started the tennis machine in the world's most populous nation. With the new emphasis, Chinese stars such as Na Li, Jie Zheng and Shuai Peng emerged in the early 2000s. Though fortune cookies are largely a Western phenomenon, it felt appropriate to co-opt the idea in this case. Ever after the Olympics, it looks like the Cookies will be here to stay.

KIM CLIJSTERS: Clijsters had several short-lived nicknames, none of which ever really stuck. One of the first --"The Wattle" -- was a variation on "Waffle," chosen for a golden-colored flower native to Australia, and used only during Clijsters' trips Down Under during the wayward period of time during which she was engaged to Aussie hothead Lleyton Hewitt. Another was "Kim C. Clijsters" -- the "C" standing for "choke," which Clijsters tended to do in big-time matches on big-time stages versus big-time players. "Easy-Bake Kim," a more colorful variation on the previous theme, was for Kim's propensity to cook herself when under pressure. "FilaKim" came from Clijsters decision to skip the Athens Olympics because the Belgian team would have to wear outfits made by a company other than her clothing sponsor, Fila. "Nice Kim" became the standard in early '05. Yes, I finally gave in (a little) and handed Clijsters a nickname referring to her famous congeniality... but I at least TRIED to have a little sarcasm dripping from the letters when I used it (and still do). But, of course, Clijsters' long-overdue grand slam title at the '05 U.S. Open meant something had to change, so "Nice Kim" was joined by dual moniker "Killer Kim" to signify that she'd finally destroyed the albatross that had lived on her career's shoulder until her reality finally caught up with her ability. In 2007, the season after which Clijsters announced that she would retire, I went against usual form and picked the Belgian to have a much better season than Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin in our annual prediction contest. Thus, for her final season, Clijsters' success was essentially MY success, as well. Hence, for one year she was to be "my gal" Kim. Well, sort of... I could be swayed at any moment. That moment came when Clijsters announced that she would miss her final Roland Garros because she had a wedding party to plan, and probably her final U.S. Open (the only slam she won in her career) because her honeymoon would end too close to the start of the tournament. To the end, "The Party Planner's" career was a aggravating disappointment on the tennis court. So much so, in fact, that I simply settled on referring to her as ... ........ for the last half of her final season, since she had voluntarily decided to make herself the "Soon-to-be Mrs. Invisible." Then, just days after her new moniker was first used, she announced her retirement -- effective immediately -- after losing her opening match in Warsaw to Julia Vakulenko, ending her career six months before she had originally stated she would. A week later, the disappearing act was complete as Clijsters' name was removed from the WTA computer's rankings. In an odd way, there was at least some sense of dignity in her finally calling it a day rather than act out a six-month long charade that her heart obviously was not into pulling off. Kim will be missed... but maybe not for all the right reasons.

As it turned out, she wasn't missed for long. She returned to the tour in 2009, winning a second slam at the U.S. Open in just her third tournament back. In 2010, she and her daughter Jada were immortalized in Barbie doll form by Mattel. Naturally, "Barbie" (or "Belgian Barbie," or "Barbiella") became Clijsters' first KC II nickname (other than being dubbed "Jada's Mama," "Brian's Wifey," "Elke's Sister," "Leo & Els' Devoted Daughter," "Justine's Countrywoman" or any other way to describe her without ever having to actually type her actual name during the bulk of the '10 season).

THE CZECHS: "Czech Maidens." The glory days of Czech-born stars was during the 1980s, with the likes of Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, Hana Mandlikova & Helena Sukova making huge strides (in the 1990s, it was Jana Novotna). After a lull of top stars, and the splitting of Czechoslovakia into two distinct republics, the 2000s have shown a resurgence of Czech power, led by the likes of Iveta Benesova and Klara Koukalova, as well as teen stars Nicole Vaidisova and Lucie Safarova (and the new career-heights climbed by veteran Kveta Peschke). Much like the Russians, the Czech contingent of players-on-the-rise seems to grow with each passing month.

ELENA DEMENTIEVA: "Punch-Drunk" might be my all-time favorite moniker. Dementieva earned this less-than-complimentary nickname with her wobbly-knee style of play (like a punch-drunk boxer) when under pressure during a period when she made a habit of winning the 1st set against lesser-ranked opponents... then went on to lose in three sets. "Punch-Sober" came about when I vowed to change Dementieva's nickname whenever she finally won her long-overdue first WTA title, which she did at Amelia Island in 2003.

JULIE DITTY: "J-Ditty." With such a great surname, why mess with success?

JELENA DOKIC: "The Fair One"/"The Debutante"/"The Debutante of Drama"/"The ex-Debutante"/"Sister Jelena"/"Jelena the Fair"/"The Fair One (again)." Dokic has led an off-court life that so resembles a soap opera-esque merry-go-round that it's often seemed fictional. Still, her fans remember the 16-year old teenager who upset Martina Hingis at Wimbledon in 1999... hence, her being dubbed "The Fair One" in my Jelena Corner columns on Jelena-Dokic.com. Later, as her career flagged, I ditched the affectionate "Debutante" moniker and went with "Sister Jelena," so chosen because of the late '06 story about former 1970's teen tennis star Andrea Jaeger becoming a nun. With Dokic's career seemingly about as over as Jaeger's, "Sister Jelena" seemed to fit rather nicely. Well, until Dokic's attempt at a comeback in 2008 led to a bow to the "last ditch effort" to resurrect her career as "The Ex-Debutante." In 2009, she completed a remarkable comeback by reaching the QF of the Australian Open, her best slam result in nearly six years. With that, she re-earned her original "The Fair One" tag, or "Jelena the Fair" to differentiate her from Jelena Jankovic in casual Backspin conversation.

MARTA DOMACHOWSKA: "Poland's Pride." For a while, there were no another candidates for the honor of being considered the best Polish tennis player in the world... then the Radwanska sisters usurped Domachowska's role.

VERA DUSHEVINA: "Elle Dolce" is an odd take on, first, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ("Il Duce"), though Dushevina is Russian (I said it was odd), and something about making sweet music with a tennis racquet. I've never really liked this one.

KIRSTEN FLIPKENS: "Flipper." Pretty self-explanatory, which is probably why this one rarely ever appears in Backspin.

THE FRENCH: "The French Pastries" is a collective term that refers to the likes of Mary Pierce, Tatiana Golovin, Nathalie Dechy, Marion Bartoli, etc. Oddly enough, France's best player, Amelie Mauresmo, was never really been considered a member of this group in Backspin until later in her career.

TATIANA GOLOVIN: "The Frussian Pastry." Golovin was born in Moscow, then she and her family moved to France when she was just eight months old. With the Frenchwomen as a whole dubbed "The Pastries," Golovin's complimentary French and Russian history was combined to form one unique moniker just for her. Her penchant to produce either very good or very bad results led to her being dubbed both "Good Tatiana" and "Bad Tatiana," with "The Two Tatianas" somehow combining to produce the "real" Golovin.

ANNA-LENA GROENEFELD: "Girl Friday." Backspin has it's favorites, and ALG has quickly become the latest Girl Friday with shocking swiftness, providing the service of bridging the gap between two tennis eras, with an appropriately German twist. While ALG has the potential to be the best German female player since Hall of Famer Steffi Graf, the rangy hard-hitter with a killer serve fell on difficult times from 2006-07 while involved in dueling lawsuits with her former coach, a situation that greatly hurt her performance on the court. For a while, ALG earned her chops playing some doubles with Martina Navratilova. She physically resembles some odd combination of Elena Bovina and Jelena Dokic.

CARLY & CHELSEY GULLICKSON: "The Naturals." The American teens' father Bill was a professional baseball pitcher, maybe most notably with the old Montreal Expos. Hence, a nod to the Robert Redford baseball classic of the same name. A perfect fit, I think. Originally, Carly was simply "The Natural," but the improvement of her younger sister has made this nickname a plural one. Who knows, maybe they'll be an all-sister doubles team soon.



DANIELA HANTUCHOVA: "Wonder Girl." At first glance, this would seem to be a laudatory nickname. But it didn't start out that way. It was actually a sarcastic Backspin jab precipitated by the intense (and overdone) fawning over Hantuchova after she won a single title a few years ago. In the pre-Sharapova/post-Kournikova era of a few seasons ago, the WTA was openly desirous for a young "hotty" to take the Russian's place as the sex symbol of the tour... but, this time, the "it" girl was to be one who actually was able to win singles titles, as well. Hantuchova seemed the perfect fit, and she tried to fill Kournikova's large shoes. But the tour marketers' desperate act of propping up Hantuchova as the "new and improved Anna" was a bit hasty, for she was no superhero-like "Wonder Girl." She's still searching for her second career title, and has fought through weight (namely, a lack of it) and emotional issues, not to mention poor play. Only now is she making real strides toward reclaiming her former position near the top of the women's game and, as a result, her eye-rolling "Wonder Girl" moniker has softened a bit over time. It'll never completely lose the cynacism with which it was intitially imbued, but there's certainly more "winks and smiles" in play now when it's used in Backspin. In March 2007, Hantuchova seemed to shed ALL the cynacism of "Wonder Girl" when she won her second career title in Indian Wells, exactly five years after her first. I suppose one day "Wonder Girl" should become "Wonder Woman," but the correct moment for the transformation has yet to feel "right."

ASHLEY HARKLEROAD: "American Splendor." Just watching her play with joy in her heart, something which disappeared in 2004, makes this one self-explanatory. Currently, Harkleroad's on the comeback trail. When she announced in May 2008 that she'd posed nude for Playboy magazine, "American Splendor" took on a whole different meaning.

ANGELA HAYNES: "The Compton Sequel." Haynes earned this by making strides as the first professional player not named Williams to come from the rough L.A. area neighborhood. Haynes was re-christened "The Compton Comet" after her heroic, though ultimately star-crossed, battle against Serena Williams in the 1st Round at the 2005 Wimbledon.

JUSTINE HENIN: Henin has her fair share of nicknames in constant use in Backspin. "Queen Justine" was earned while moving to #1 and claiming three out of four slam titles in 2003-04. "Le Petit Taureau"/"The Little Bull" signifies that despite her small stature, JHH, the three-letter shorthand during her married days as "Henin-Hardenne," has made a name for herself by being at her most dangerous precisely when her opponents, and everyone watching, thinks she's finished. Instead, that's when she's only beginning to fight. In 2007, while "Le Petit Taureau" is actually gramatically correct, I pulled a "Douchevina to Dushevina" move and amended my favorite Backspin to be "La Petit Taureau" for aesthetic purposes. Plus, maybe an alteration was in order considering the "new" peaceful Justine that debuted during the season. Unfortunately, the "new" Justine didn't last long, as she retired in May 2008 while ranked #1 in the world at age 25. She returned to tennis in 2010.

THE HUNGARIANS: "The Mad Hungarians" were so dubbed for the knack Hungarian women have for pulling off "mad" upsets in the early rounds of grand slams. Some who have pulled whoppers in the past have been Petra Mandula, Rita Kuti Kis, Aniko Kapros and Melinda Czink. The "little Hungarian" to watch now might be teenager Agnes Szavay.

THE ITALIANS: "The Noodles" is the Italian cuisine-inspired collective name for the growing number of Italian (title-stingy) contenders on tour, from Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, to Mara Santangelo and Maria Elena Camerin.

ANA IVANOVIC: "AnaIvo" feels almost too slight a nickname for the first Serbian woman to rise to #1 and win a grand slam singles title. Maybe her nickname will change in the future, but right now the sense of familiarity bred from using "AnaIvo" makes her one of Backspin's favorites.

JAMEA JACKSON: "The Georgia Peach," for her Atlanta, Georgia birthplace. Of some additional interest, Jackson's dad Ernest was an NFL corneback in the 1970s who played for the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions.

JELENA JANKOVIC: Once stuck with "The Other Jelena" moniker during the brief run near the top of women's tennis by former countrywoman Jelena Dokic, Jankovic came into her own in 2006-07, reaching the U.S. Open SF and claiming Tier I titles while rising into the Top 5 in the rankings. The only thing seemingly stopping her from even bigger things was her inability to defeat Justine Henin. With Henin serving as Moby Dick to Jankovic's peg-legged Captain Ahab, "Peggy" had to overcome the specter of her personal "white whale" in order to reach her full potential... but then Henin retired. Without Henin, Jankovic rose to #1 in the world in August '08 without having ever reached a slam final. Of course, her propensity to push her (oft-injured) body to the brink of exhaustion or worse leads one to believe that Jelena should just be called "Crazy" to cut right to the heart of the matter... but things are beginning to change. Thus, her oft-overly dramatic, always entertaining persona deserves a "more fun" nickname -- "The Whirling Dervish."

Whirling Dervish (wurl-ing dur-vish) n. 1. A mystical dancer who stands between the material and cosmic worlds, representing the earth revolving on its axis while orbiting the sun in a ritual ceremony. The purpose of the ritual whirling is for the dervish to be emptied of all distracting thoughts, then going into a trance. Released from the body, the dervish conquers dizziness. 2. A figure of speech used in reference to one who exhibits vigorous energy.

Close enough, I'd say.

Continuing to sprout new nicknames on a regular basis, Jankovic has since come to be known as "Queen Chaos," as well... for self-explanatory reasons. The "Jankobot-5200," or "J-bot," as well as "The Divine Miss J."

THE JAPANESE: "The Rising Daughters"... from the land of the rising sun. Or, the "Risings Sunners."

SESIL KARATANTCHEVA: The bubbly, talkative teenager from Bulgaria just positively begs for a good nickname. I've had a difficult time pinning one on her, though. Amongst the temporary tags have been "Miss Independent," "Bulgarian Bluster" (for her one-time threat to "kick the ass off" of Maria Sharapova on the court), "Miss Mouth," and "Little Big Mouth." Most recently, "Bulgarian Spice" captured the Backspin imagination once it was revealed that Karatantcheva learned English from listening to the music of the Spice Girls. She received a two-year drug suspension covering the 2006-07 seasons for failed tests during the summer of 2005, which she tried to explain away as being false because the then 15-year old was pregnant. She returned to tennis in 2008.

VANIA KING: "Your American Idol." The American teenager fashions herself a singer, and she even sang for the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium before a night session during the 2006 U.S. Open (just hours after losing in the 2nd Round to Justine Henin-Hardenne, by the way). In October '06, King won her first tour doubles title in Tokyo, then a week later swept the singles and doubles in Bangkok, becoming the first American 17-year old to win a tour singles crown since Serena Williams at the '99 U.S. Open.

MARIA KIRILENKO: Ironically, Kirilenko is actually a few months older than Maria Sharapova, but it seems she'll always be thought of as "the other Maria." Her Backspin nicknames have followed suit, from "Maria v2.0" to "The Supernovette."

KLARA KOUKALOVA (ZAKOPALOVA): "Kooky." It was just to easy too pass up. Koukalova changed her name to Zakopalova after getting married.

ANNA KOURNIKOVA: "The Ex-Mrs. Fedorov," for her brief "marriage" to long-time "friend," hockey star Sergei Fedorov. "The Reporter," for Anna's thankfully-even-more-brief stint as a TV reporter on American television during the U.S. Open... back when she announced her plans to foster a career as a television award presenter. In 2010, Kournikova was the inspiration for a "What If..." Backspin Special focusing on "Citizen Anna."

SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA: "The Contessova." The third Russian woman to win a slam in the 2004 season, U.S. Open champ Kuznetsova immediately took her place in the pantheon of Backspin's Russian nicknames. "The Supernova" and "The Czarina" were joined by another Horde member of royal extraction, as Kuznetsova's nickname came from taking "The Contessa" and giving it a Russian-sounding spin. Hence, "The Contessova" was born. Maybe the most talented of all the Russians, Kuznetsova's prospects led to both myself and Tennisrulz.com head honcho Pierre Cantin picking her to finish the 2005 season at #1... an occurrence which, of course, pretty much jinxed her chances of success for the year. After reports of a failed drug test greeted her at the Australian Open, she suffered through a less-than-compelling "year after," becoming the first defending U.S. Open champ to lose in the opening round, and finished the season at #18. Just call it "the Kuznetsova Curse."

EMMA LAINE: "Penny" is Backspin's pet name for Finland's Laine, as in the Beatles' classic "Penny Lane." I know the actual pronounciation of Laine isn't the same as Lane, but it still looks good.

MICHELLE LARCHER de BRITO: "The Kid." The Portugese teenager has the looks of a potential future star, but she's still just a... well, you know.

PETRA MANDULA: "Great Mandula's Ghost," for her 2001 upset of Jelena Dokic in the 3rd Round of the Roland Garros (in the Jelena Corner columns on JD.com). The haunting loss stands as a warning to any top player who overlooks a "lesser" early-round opponent. Now retired.

AMELIE MAURESMO: For quite a while, Mauresmo steadfastly fought against having a Backspin nickname. I tried to pin "Scream" (for the Eduard Munch painting) on her because of her frustrating inability to commandeer her immense talent long enough to grab a slam title, but the name just didn't prove to be habit-forming. Then, Kim Clijsters won the 2005 U.S. Open, removing the albatross from her career's shoulder... and leaving Mauresmo as the only women's #1 to have never won a grand slam. Thus, Amelie finally garnered a legit Backspin nickname -- "Albie." Of course, then Mauresmo won the Australian Open a few months later to become "nickname-less" all over again. She retired in 2009.

SANIA MIRZA: "The (Indian) Princess"/"Princess Sania." Many of Backspin's favorites are rewarded with royal monikers, and India's Mirza is no exception. The teenager, breaking down barriers back home for young girls, won her first WTA title in her hometown of Hyderabad in early '05, and has only shown more and more promise ever since. Beautiful as well as talented, Mirza rivals Sharapova in endorsement deals back home, and sometimes is even referred to in Backspin as "The Indian Supernova."

ALICIA MOLIK: "The Aussie Steamer." Molik's crowd-pleasing run at the 2005 Australian Open begged for a nickname. Watching her glide around the court in some form of locomotive-like athletic bliss, "The Steamer" just worked for Molik.

ANASTASIA MYSKINA: While struggling to reach her potential in 2003, Myskina was dubbed "Anastasia the (Near) Great." Once she claimed the Roland Garros title in 2004, though, she took her place on the throne as the Russian "Czarina," a perfect fit for a player who was always generally looked upon as the leader of the Horde contingent that emerged from Moscow's Spartak Club. In 2010, another Anastasia (Pavlyuchenkova), assumed the "Czarina" nickname as the leader of the second wave of Hordettes in the post-Anna era.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: "Methuselah"/"The Legend"/"Mother Time." Pushing 50 (the big day was October 18, 2006), the greatest female player in tennis history continued to press on as an active competitor on the tour. Still, nickname or no nickname, and no offense to Miss Hingis, but all you have to say is "Martina" and everyone knows who you're talking about. True to form, Navratilova closed out her career at the '06 U.S. Open by winning the Mixed Doubles title with Bob Bryan.

MELANIE OUDIN: "Little MO/Little O." The American, with "Believe" on the sides of her shoes, made a spectacular run to the U.S. Open QF as a 17-year old in 2009.

ANASTASIA PAVLYUCHENKOVA: "The Czarina." Or, to be specific, the NEW Czarina. Pavlyuchenkova finally earned a nickname as it became apparent that she was on the leading edge of the second wave of Hordette stars in the post-Anna era. The original "Czarina," by the way, was fittingly also named Anastasia... as in Myskina, the first Russian woman to win a slam singles title.

SHAHAR PEER: "The Corporal." Peer is a Corporal in the Israeli army. Voila!

FLAVIA PENNETTA: "Madame Butterfly." It took quite a while, but the Italian veteran Pennetta finally had a nickname bestowed upon her in 2010. Largely because of her "rough-and-tumble grace" -- in other words, she often looks smooth during play, but can break out a curse word or obscene gesture when the moods fits -- she was named for the classic Italian opera that has been adapted over the years into movie and ballet forms inspired by the original story. Pennetta herself might not resemble anything in the story but, at least on the surface, referring to her by the title "Madame Butterfly" has a nice ring to it.

NADIA PETROVA: "Scarlett"/"The (Scarlett) Empress." Another Russian, another royal nickname. This one, though, has a convoluted background. "The Scarlet Empress" -- one "t" -- refers to Russian czarina Catherine the Great. In her WTA bio, Petrova says that Gone With the Wind is her favorite novel (it's a "great history of a woman and what she went through and how hard she fought," says Nadia). So, with a nod to Scarlett O'Hara, Petrova is officially nicknamed "The Scarlett Empress" -- with two "t's," though the singular "Scarlett" and "The Empress" will often do in a pinch.

MARY PIERCE: "Prideful Mary." Kind of an obvious one with a musical heritage... but with a slight twist that prevents the too-cliched "Proud Mary" from being the nickname of choice.

THE RADWANSKAS: "A-Rad" & "U-Rad." The Polish sister team of Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska were in dire need of a shorthand way to refer to them. So, taking a cue from the prevalent act of using a player's first initial and first three letters of their surname (Alex Rodriguez is "A-Rod,", while Ivan Rodriguez is "I-Rod"), two very easy nicknames were born.

ARAVANE REZAI: "The Opinionated Pastry." Rezai got this one almost by accident, as I once referred to her as this after another of her more opinionated/controversial comments about something or other.

THE ROMANIANS: The gathering storm of young Romanian players is currently being referred to as "The Swarm."

THE RUSSIANS: "The Horde." The Russian Horde of female stars arrived as an international force in the early 2000s, in the wake of Kournikova's rise in the 1990s, and have proceeded (often successfully) to attempt to "overwhelm" the tour. Years later, the waves of Hordettes are still arriving season after season.


"Tennis Gods" Thumbnail Sketches

most recent update... June 28, 2008

The "Tennis Gods" are nine immortal and all-powerful beings who oversee and direct with a sometimes-invisible hand all aspects of professional tennis in the past, present and future from their seats on the Supreme Court of Tennis. Anything that happens in the sport is because of them. If it does not happen, it is because they wish it to not be so. The Gods have often been referenced in Backspin through the years, so here is an exclusive thumbnail sketch about each of their personalities:

GOOLAGONGIS: The female Goddess who oversees the happenings at the Australian Open. She has a touch of an imperial, condescending attitude toward "mortals." as well as a hot-blooded temper. Although, She WAS the first of the Gods to guest author an edition of WTA Backspin. Australian great Evonne Goolagong was named after Her.

The Goddess Goolagongis (authenticity unconfirmed)

BORGUESE: The very proper God who handles things at Wimbledon. He has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, though... which sometimes leads to very odd occurrences throughout the two weeks of play at the All-England Club. Of course, Bjorn Borg was given his name as a way to honor this God.

CONNORSICAN: A bit of a rogue character. He's a known cut-up who likes to keep his fellow Supreme Court of Tennis Gods members up late into the night discussing humorously nonsensical issues... but He can be a tough guy, too, if the mood strikes Him. His specialty is U.S. Open heroics... hence Jimmy Connors' string of memorable performances there.

LENDL: The most antagonistic, arrogant God on the Court. He holds vendettas against players He doesn't like for whatever reason he deems important that day, and sometimes gets revenge by having things happen to people/players close to the individual He has a problem with... just to be a S.O.B. about it all. The other Gods don't like or care about Him, but are forced to live with Him anyway... at least until His age forces Him to retire from the bench. They snidely call Him "Scalia" behind His back, something which He typically views as a compliment. Czech great Ivan Lendl was given his name by Lendl... and he must have done something wrong along the way, since he was never able to win Wimbledon and was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover that called him "The Champion Nobody Cares About."

EVERTIENNE: The calm but cutting Goddess who looks after things every year at Roland Garros. She cuts a striking, breezy figure in God public, but Her private opinions are often downright bloodless, if only because She cannot help but speak the truth. Wanting a champion in Paris that She could take pride in, She made sure Chris Evert was the tournament's all-time champion during her playing days.