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
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.