Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wimbledon Preview: A Decade's Best... ever?

Six of one... half a dozen of another?

Occasionally, what you see at Wimbledon isn't really so. Take this year, for example. Court Two is there, but it's not REALLY Court 2, the old "graveyard of champions." What was that structure is now Court THREE, while what's being called Court TWO this year is a new construction, and is in name only (so far) the infamous court where so many monumental upsets have occurred over the years.

Venus Williams, though, is just what she appears to be -- one of the most accomplished grass court players in Wimbledon history. And if she lifts the (naturally-named) Venus Rosewater dish for the sixth time in her career at the end of this fortnight she'd cement her legend as possibly THE most dominant woman in any decade at Wimbledon. Ever. If she wins the title again this year she will have claimed six Ladies Championships in the 2000's, tying Martina Navratilova's (six in the 1980's) best-ever women's Wimbledon decade.

Here are the women who've won multiple titles each decade since the abolishment of the "challenge round" (the defending champion automatically advanced to the final the next year) in 1922:

1920's: 3-Suzanne Lenglen (won 2 more under "challenge" system), 3-Helen Wills-Moody, 2-Kitty McKane
1930's: 5-Helen Wills-Moody, 2-Dorothy Round
1940's: 2-Louise Brough
1950's: 3-Maureen Connolly, 2-Louise Brough, 2-Althea Gibson
1960's: 3-Billie Jean King, 2-Margaret Court
1970's: 3-Billie Jean King, 2-Martina Navratilova, 2-Chris Evert
1980's: 6-Martina Navratilova, 2-Steffi Graf
1990's: 5-Steffi Graf
2000's: 5-Venus Williams, 2-Serena Williams

Navratilova reached eight finals (all consecutive) during her decade of dominance. Through nine years, Venus has now reached seven (losing twice to Serena). While Martina's success in the Singles, Doubles and Mixed competitions at Wimbledon has her tied with Billie Jean King with a record twenty career titles at SW19, Venus (who has three doubles crowns) is at least edging ever so close to the Czech-born American's all-time record of nine singles titles at the All-England Club.

Steffi Graf threatened the mark, but ultimately came up two short. As of today, Venus has stated no desire to be going away anytime soon. If she manages to one day tie Navratilova, as someone has speculated about in the past, the "big debate" could officially begin.

As it is, in 2009, Venus has the opportunity to finally put herself on par with Navratilova, Wimbledon's greatest player ever, in ONE category... and it would be an important one on which to build the foundation on which any argument in her favor would be based a few years from today.

All right, that takes care of this year's Wimbledon history lesson. What about the actual tournament that's about to begin? Here's a quick breakdown of the draw, quarter-by-quarter:

(1)SAFINA QUARTER: So much for getting an advantage by being the #1 seed. Safina's quarter is loaded (Mauresmo, Wozniacki, Kuznetsova), and it'll likely be her undoing. Had she landed in an easier section (say, like Elena Dementieva's), one might be able to talk someone into believing that Safina could play her way through and, with a little luck, reach the SF. Not here, though. RANKS: 1. Mauresmo... 2.Wozniacki... 3.Kuznetsova... 4.Safina... 5.Szavay

(3)V.WILLIAMS QUARTER: Venus' section isn't INCREDIBLY tough, but there is the potential for an early-round slip-up for a player who has been upset or nearly so by the likes of a pre-Chaos Jelena Jankovic, Karolina Sprem, Lisa Raymond, Akiko Morigami and Alla Kudryavtseva in recent years. Some potential traps: Kateryna Bondarenko in the 2nd Round and Ekaterina Makarova in the 3rd. Will a big upset happen? Probably not. Will Venus' fate be decided in either the semis or final? It's likely, though it's not as sure of a bet to all work in her favor in the end as it seemed a year ago at this time. RANKINGS: 1.V.Williams... 2.Stosur/Dokic... 3.Li... 4.A.Radwanska... 5.Jankovic

(4)DEMENTIEVA QUARTER: Talk about a crap shoot of a quarter, and a dream draw for Punch-Sober. Still, something says she won't be able to take advantage of the gift the draw Gods have bestowed upon her. Logic said in recent weeks that Dementieva would have no chance to repeat her SF result from a year ago, but it's conceivable that she might be able to reach the QF without facing a seed (and maybe even the semis if the dominoes fall just right, and Vera Zvonareva isn't up to snuff just yet, and the war-of-words between Marion Bartoli and Virginie Razzano ends up seeing both dumped out early). Still, as I said, I can't see Dementieva pulling it out. In fact, she might just be ousted by Alla Kudryavteva -- conqueror of Sharapova in '08, and nearly of Venus in '07 -- in the 1st Round. I'm expecting a "stunner" semifinalist out of this quarter. RANKS: 1.(vacant)... 2.Dementieva (by default)... 3.Bartoli/Razzano... 4.Wickmayer... 5.Zvonareva

(2)S.WILLIAMS QUARTER: The semifinal berth is Serena's to win or lose, but a potential major QF meeting with a player with whom Williams has a past will be eyed throughout the first week. If everything holds to form, the Round of 16 meeting between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka will provide Serena with an opponent with which she has a score to settle -- and whoever it is, they might be tired after surviving what could be a long 4th Round match. In other words, no matter whether it'd be Sharapova or Azarenka (one still on the comeback trail, and the other battling niggling injuries of late), the advantage would still be with Williams. RANKS: 1.S.Williams... 2.Sharapova... 3.Azarenka... 4.Petrova... 5.Zheng

Let the mind games begin.

TOP PLAYER: Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR keeping with recent tradition, in lieu of another obvious choice, the award goes to the #1 Q-seed who lived up to the part.
RISERS: Tatjana Malek/GER & Aiko Nakamura/JPN
...Nakamura has never lived up to her early promise. Malek consistently surprises.
SURPRISES: Neuza Silva/POR, Vesna Manasieva/RUS & Regina Kulikova/RUS
...two Hordettes and a Portugese player not named Michelle.
VETERANS: Klara Zakopalova/CZE & Alberta Brianti/ITA usual, it wouldn't be slam qualifying if a Czech didn't make it through. Brianti tied for Last Qualifier Standing in Oz.
FRESH FACES: Melanie Oudin/USA & Anastaija Sevastova/LAT
...her RG qualifying debacle aside, Oudin has been a bit on fire the last few months. Just how much of a "world sport" is tennis? Well, we've got a Latvian in the draw -- and it's the second time in a row she's qualified for a slam this season.
DOWN: Julia Vakulenko/UKR' hard luck woman falls short yet again (but at least she wasn't injured in the process this time).
COMEBACKS: Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ & Arantxa Parra-Santonja/ESP
...ah, Sesil is in the main draw. Joy to the world. Parra-Santonja looked as if she might amount to something a few years ago. But that was a few years ago, and she's pretty much been A.W.O.L. since then.
WILD CARDS: Elena Baltacha/GBR, Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN, Alexa Glatch/USA, Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR, Katie O'Brien/GBR, Laura Robson/GBR, Melanie South/GBR, Georgie Stoop/GR

Q1: Manasieva d. Lertcheewakarn 6-7/6-4/6-1
...Tanasugarn will have to make due as the only Thai woman in the main draw.

2 - Alberta Brianti, ITA (AO/WI)
2 - Sesil Karatantcheva, ex-BUL/KAZ (AO/WI)
2 - Victoriya Kutuzova, UKR (AO/WI)
2 - Melanie Oudin, USA (AO/WI)
2 - Anastasija Sevastova, LAT (RG/WI)
2 - Chanelle Scheepers, RSA (AO/RG)

#20 Medina-Garrigues vs. Domachowska
...well, at least we know AMG won't reach the QF.
#29 Bammer vs. Oudin meets Austrian ice... on grass.
#32 Chakvetadze vs. Lisicki
...there's as good a chance (or better?) that it'll be her as anyone else.
#22 Cornet vs. Dushevina
...I think I'll mark this one down.
#4 Dementieva vs. Kudryavtseva caveat -- Kudryavtseva retired from her last match.
#21 Schnyder vs. Sugiyama
...Sugiyama is aging as a singles player. But, then again, so is Sneaky Patty at this point.
#28 Cirstea vs. Gallovits
...I'll go with the Romanian.
#14 Cibulkova d. Coin
...the French vet has taken down bigger -- literally and figurately -- foes in grand slam action than Cibulkova.
#27 Kleybanova vs. Karatantcheva
...if only to prevent Sesil from wreaking havoc on London with a lot of free time on her hands.

1. Alberta Brianti, ITA
2. Melanie Oudin, USA
3. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
4. Vesna Manasieva, RUS
5. Aiko Nakamura, JPN
HM- Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ
1. Melanie South, GBR
2. Katie O'Brien, GBR

Wozniacki vs. Dokic, Wickmayer (as close to Henin as I can get, I guess) vs. Petrova
...the All-Your Friendly Neighborhood Backspinner's Faves Final Four.
Safina vs. Jankovic, Dementieva vs. Petrova
...the All Slam-Less Final Four.

1st Rd. - #5 Kuznetsova vs. Morigami
...the Japanese vet served for the match against Venus in the 3rd Round in '07.
1st Rd. - #18 Stosur vs. Mattek-Sands
...does Stosur's looked-forward-to grass season go poof this soon?
1st Rd. - #23 Wozniak vs. Schiavone
...A-Woz has been an all-surface revelation, but veteran guile often wins out in early-round slam meetings.
1st Rd. - (WC) Larcher de Brito vs. (Q) Zakopalova
...get ready for the Shriek-o-Meter, and a field day for the London tabloids if The Kid sticks around for a few rounds.
1st Rd. - Hantuchova vs. (WC) Robson
...the cheeky British 15-year old is the youngest in the Ladies' main draw since Martina Hingis in 1995.
2nd Rd. - #1 Safina vs. Vaidisova
...can the Czech find herself at the slam where she's reached the QF the last two years?
2nd Rd. - #18 Stosur vs. Dokic
...both Aussies have made slam runs in '09. So, naturally, the draw Gods deign them to possibly meet to battle in out at SW19. Could Dokic catch a Wimbledon wave again ten years after her first wild ride? Plus, putting off that post-tournament trip to see dad for a few days probably wouldn't be a bad thing, either.
2nd Rd. - #11 A.Radwanska vs. (WC) Glatch
...the American has made a habit of taking down "name" players of late.
3rd Rd. - #1 Safina vs. #30 Szavay
...Szavay took out Venus on her worst surface in Paris. Might she pull a two-fer on Safina's worst in London?
3rd Rd. - #3 V.Williams vs. (Q) Makarova
...might the "unknown" X-Factor Russian make a name for herself right here?

#17 Mauresmo d. #1 Safina
#9 Wozniacki d. #5 Kuznetsova
#3 V.Williams d. Dokic
#19 Li d. #6 Jankovic
#12 Bartoli d. #26 Razzano
Wickmayer d. #4 Dementieva
#24 Sharapova d. #8 Azarenka
#2 S.Williams d. Tanasugarn

...Amelie's last stand? C-Woz's first? Jelena gets her chance. The Fightin' Frenchies face off. Punch-Sober goes home, with Chaos by her side. And the Serena vs. take-your-pick showdown is set.

#17 Mauresmo d. #9 Wozniacki
#3 V.Williams d. #19 Li
Wickmayer d. #12 Bartoli
#2 S.Williams d. #24 Sharapova

...Serena will never let Maria forget about 2004. Wickmayer is a real long shot, but I've been stuck in a predict-her-to-do-well rut the last few weeks (and she's improved each week, so far, with QF and RU results) and don't seem to be able to get out of it. The lacking Dementieva section of the draw leaves the spot open to more than a half dozen fairly equal players on grass.

#3 V.Williams d. #17 Mauresmo
#2 S.Williams d. Wickmayer

...hmmm, looks a little familiar, doesn't it?

#3 V.Williams d. #2 S.Williams

...if this is the matchup, Venus is the pick on history's side. But Serena's recently P.O.'ed attitude makes me wonder if I should reconsider and go with her to grab SW19 title #3 rather than Venus getting #6. Too late now, though.

2004 Serena Williams, USA
2005 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
NOTE: During the same 2004-09 span, with Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from this year's Wimbledon, Roger Federer has been the tournament's top seed every year

2000 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2001 Venus Williams d. Justine Henin
2002 Serena Williams d. Venus Willaims
2003 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2004 Maria Sharapova d. Serena Williams
2005 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Amelie Mauresmo d. Justine Henin
2007 Venus Williams d. Marion Bartoli
2008 Venus Williams d. Serena Williams

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


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