Sunday, June 24, 2007

SW19 Preview: Reasons Why, Reasons Why Not

Justine Henin and the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club... it doesn't appear to be a match made in tennis heaven.

The Club hosts a tournament on a surface that's not supposed to fit her game like a glove. She's not big, and she doesn't possess one of those SuperServes that have enabled Big Babes to win the title with regularity. Le Petit Taureau doesn't exactly fit the classic model of what a Wimbledon champion is supposed to look like.

But when has that ever stopped her before?

After emerging from Roland Garros with her family by her side and expressing her belief that she's "at peace," has Henin ever entered a slam on more of a high than she enters the 2007 Wimbledon? On Saturday, she even put up a result, outlasting Amelie Mauresmo in the Eastbourne final, that can only stoke her belief even more that this could be her year to hold up the big plate. A season ago, after all, it was Mauresmo who defeated Henin on the final Saturday in London SW19.

Queen Justine comes to Wimbledon having reached at least the final of the last five grand slams she's played. Her first career slam final was in 2001... at SW19, where she pushed an in-her-prime Venus Williams to three sets. Two semifinals and last year's RU result (after another three-setter) later, Henin sports a 40-9 career mark on grass and begins this tournament not only being able to clearly see the reasons why she can finally win it, but also why so many of the other contenders might have a tougher time of it than herself.

Are the Williams sisters ready for a big result here, having not been at their best for weeks or months? Okay, so that one's a little suspect... of course they could be, but they'll still have to raise their games from recent efforts to do so. Is Maria Sharapova's serve steady or her confidence strong enough to survive a monster draw? Could Svetlana Kuznetsova, 0-4 in '07 finals but the last player to beat Henin, actually get herself together for a title run NOW, of all times? Did Mauresmo's late-match semi-meltdown signal that she's already nervous about defending her title? And what about the Serbs? Jelena Jankovic tends to peak right BEFORE the slams, and has never beaten Henin; while Ana Ivanovic was taken out by Daniela Hantuchova in a QF match in the Netherlands last week in her only grass court tune-up.

Meanwhile, Henin has won eleven straight matches, and eighteen of her last nineteen overall. She's confident after Eastbourne, and reached the Wimbledon final a year ago. Plus, she's sniffing around the career slam, as well, as she's one SW19 title away from becoming the tenth woman to win all four titles.

[AO-RG-W-US... completed slam/age]
Doris Hart [1-2-1-2]...1949 AO / 24
Mo Connolly [1-2-3-3]...1953 AO / 20
Shirley Fry [1-1-1-1]...1957 AO / 30
Margaret Smith-Court [11-5-3-5]...1963 Wimb / 20
Billie Jean King [1-1-6-4]...1972 RG / 28
Chris Evert [2-7-3-6]...1982 AO / 27
Martina Navratilova [3-2-9-4]...1983 US / 26
Steffi Graf [4-6-7-5]...1988 US / 19
Serena Williams [3-1-2-2]...2003 AO / 21
Justine Henin? [1-4-0-1]...2007 Wimb? / 25

Of course, there's that potential QF meeting with Serena Williams that looms on the horizon, and this isn't the same clay court the two met on in Paris a few weeks ago. But if Henin survives that match, she's suddenly the unquestioned favorite even with the possibility of mutliple former Wimbledon champs still in the draw at that point.

1970 Margaret Smith-Court
1971 Evonne Goolagong
1972 Billie Jean King
1982 Martina Navratilova
1984 Martina Navratilova
1988 Steffi Graf
1993 Steffi Graf
1995 Steffi Graf
1996 Steffi Graf
2002 Serena Williams
2007 Justine Henin??

There's a great deal to play for, and a "peaceful" Queen might just be up to the task. Hmmm, the Queen winning in England... concidence? Hey, maybe there's something going on here, after all.

Su-Wei Hsieh & Olga Govortsova
RISERS: Jorgelina Cravero & Zi Yan
SURPRISES: Nika Ozegovic & Casey Dellacqua
VETERANS: Kristina Brandi & Hana Sromova
FRESH FACES Agnes Szavay & Ayumi Morita
DOWN: Brenda Schultz-McCarthy
COMEBACK: Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova & Tatiana Perebiynis

Q1: Anda Perianu d. #2 Dominika Cibulkova 7-6/1-6/10-8
Q2: Nika Ozegovic d. #4 Stephanie Cohen-Aloro 6-1/1-6/8-6
Q3: Jorgelina Cravero d. Klara Zakopalova 5-7/7-5/7-5


17...Ayumi Morita (JPN)
18...Olga Govortsova (BLR)
18...Agnes Szavay (HUN)
21...Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
21...Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE)
22...Nika Ozegovic (CRO)
22...Casey Dellacqua (AUS)
22...Zi Yan (CHN)
24...Tatiana Perebiynis (UKR)
25...Jorgelina Cravero (ARG)
29...Hana Sromova (CZE)
30...Kristina Brandi (PUR)
(lucky loser)
17...Alize Cornet (FRA)

#70....Agnes Szavay
#113...Casey Dellacqua
#119...Jorgelina Cravero
#127...Su-Wei Hsieh
#145...Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
#154...Olga Govortsova
#169...Hana Sromova
#174...Ayumi Morita
#189...Nika Ozegovic
#192...Zi Yan
#202...Tatiana Perebiynis
#206...Kristina Brandi
(lucky loser)
#140...Alize Cornet

2...Jorgelina Cravero (AO/W)
2...Su-Wei Hsieh (RG/W)
2...Agnes Szavay (RG/W)
6...Czech Republic

2000 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2001 Venus Williams d. Justine Henin
2002 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2003 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2004 Maria Sharapoav d. Serena Williams
2005 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Amelie Mauresmo d. Justine Henin-Hardenne

2002 Vera Dushevina d. Maria Sharapova
2003 Kirsten Flipkens d. Anna Chakvetadze
2004 Kateryna Bondarenko d. Ana Ivanovic
2005 Agnieszka Radwanska d. Tamira Paszek
2006 Caroline Wozniacki d. Magdalena Rybarikova

3...Venus Williams (2000-01,05)
2...Serena Williams (2002-03)
1...Maria Sharapova (2004)
1...Amelie Mauresmo (2006)
1...Martina Hingis (1997)

Love-Love... Wimbledon won't be the same come 2009, which will be the first year Centre Court will have a retractable roof that'll end those rainy, match-less days for all eternity. But, as a result of the construction, Centre Court won't be quite the same in 2007, either. See, for the first time since 1922, play there this year will take place without any roof at all. It'll return in 2008, but this time around the roof that usually covers much of the attending crowd, and gives the court its uniquely intimate feel, won't be there. Windy conditions could truly serve up an interesting concoction on the already sometimes-unpredicable grass court surface. Yes, winning Wimbledon this season will take a little extra doing... and even the arrival of the Hawk-Eye replay system won't provide a place to hide.
Love-15... in the final round of qualifying on Thursday, Taiwan's Su-Wei Hsieh put in extra duty, not only reaching the main draw in singles, but doing so in doubles, as well, by qualifying with partner Alla Kudryavtseva.
Love-30...potential first seeds out? How about:

#22 Medina-Garrigues (vs. Ruano-Pascual)
#29 Schiavone (vs. Kremer)
#32 Poutchkova (vs. Vesnina)
#11 Petrova (vs. King)
#12 Dementieva (vs. Dechy)
#16 Peer (vs. Tanasugarn)
#17 Golovin (vs. Hsieh)
#24 A.Bondarenko (vs. Craybas)
#31 Krajicek (vs. Obziler)
#10 Hantuchova (vs. Pavlyuchenkova)
#13 Safina (vs. K.Bondarenko)
#21 Garbin (vs. Yan)
#26 Sugiyama (vs. South)
#28 Santangelo (vs. Morigami)
=THE LONG SHOTS... or are they?=
#2 Sharapova (vs. Chan)
#4 Mauresmo (vs. Jackson)
#5 Kuznetsova (vs. Vakulenko)
#8 Chakvetadze (vs. Kerber)
#9 Hingis (vs. Cavady)

15-30...potential last qualifer standing? In order...

Agnes Szavay, HUN
Tatiana Perebiynis, UKR
Nika Ozegovic, CRO

As for the wild card's:

Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
Katie O'Brien, GBR

15-40... what about the men's side? Well, here's the ATP Backspin take.
MATCH, "just like old times... and they could actually meet in the final, too"...Venus and Serena are set to become the center of attention again at SW19. They'll play doubles there for the first time since 2003, and they'll debut special gold rackets with inlaid jewels, too. Wonder if Roger Federer will be able to top that one year after his rather sharp cream-colored blazer immediately made it's mark in grand (slam) entrance history?=============================

#1 Henin d. (Q)Szavay
#7 S.Williams d. #10 Hantuchova
#3 Jankovic d. #16 Peer
#8 Chakvetadze d. #20 Bammer
#6 Ivanovic d. (Q)Perebiynis
#4 Mauresmo d. #14 Vaidisova
#5 Kuznetsova d. Paszek
#23 V.Williams d. #2 Sharapova

...someone is likely going to be left bloodied and beaten after this round, for BOTH Venus and Maria cannot advance into the QF.

#1 Henin d. #7 S.Williams
#3 Jankovic d. #8 Chakvetadze
#4 Mauresmo d. #6 Ivanovic
#23 V.Williams d. #5 Kuznetsova

...Henin vs. Serena, a rematch of the Roland Garros QF, might be as close to a pre-weekend final as you'll likely to find in any slam.

#1 Henin d. #3 Jankovic
#4 Mauresmo d. #23 V.Williams

...Ahab is hoping the White Whale doesn't make it this far. Of course, if it doesn't, then the peg-legged one would likely face Serena. Neither scenario is what dreams are made of for the Serb.

#1 Henin d. #4 Mauresmo

...if Amelie had won in Eastbourne, I very well might have gone the other way here. But, instead, the Queen reigns at the All-England Club.

For a second opinion, from Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin, read his Wimbledon preview blog.

All for now.


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