BV '08: #6-10
Well, we did it again. At about this time last year Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin and I had the audacity to agree on our preseason pick for 2007's #1-ranked player.
Then, just as had occurred in 2005 when we both wrong-headedly chose Svetlana Kuznetsova (on the heels of her '04 US Open win) as our top-ranked woman, our selection -- Maria Sharapova -- suffered through a frustrating season littered with pitfalls and disappointments. "The Kuznetsova Curse" had struck again.
After twice was most definitely NOT very nice, will there be a third time that won't be a charm, as well? Will we now place the target on the back of another unsuspecting player for 2008, making her the focus of the ire of the tennis gods who seek to trample her hopes and dreams simply because they're offended by the notion of us thinking we're SO SMART that we can predict the outcome of the season before it has even begun?
Well, it's time to begin the process of finding out:
Todd = gold
Pierre = green
9. Agnes Szavay, HUN
10. Shahar Peer, ISR
TODD SPIKER: Szavay (2008 IQ Girl herself) went from outside the Top 200 to inside the Top 20 in 2007, showing big-point gutsiness and a belief that she belonged (winning two titles and making the final of another, then reaching the US Open QF as an unseeded player). Like managing to survive the trip DOWN Mt. Everest after reaching the summit, it's perhaps a tougher challenge to make the comparatively shorter leap from the Top 20 to the Top 10 over the course of a WTA season that is essentially a war of attrition. But Backspin is going all in on the season plot point about "The Valkyrie" being a szensation in '08, so her appearance here is practically "contractually obligated."
PIERRE CANTIN: Hmmm very optimistic, Todd. I agree Agnes Szavay is an up-and-comer and will be a force to be reckoned with... but I'm not sure who you did not include in your top 10 to have her in there.
TS: Oh, I'm sure I'll miss on many of these picks, but I like going with the young potential newcomers for the tail end of the Top 10.
Speaking of, "The Corporal" is sort of in the same situation as Szavay, trying to make the leap into the Top 10 from her #17 position. But at least Peer proved over the course of the '07 season that she could maintain the Top 20 ranking she earned at the end of '06. She came within one held service game of reaching the Australian Open SF last year, and if not for some untimely meetings with the Williams sisters she might already be situated in the Top 10. I'm thinking the odds are with her this season.
PC: Again Todd, not sure I disagree about how Peer "could" be in the top 10... but you had to take out a better player in my opinion to fit Peer in. Actually, I could understand Szavay a bit more, she's a young talent, will be better in 2008 than 2007 for sure... but Peer? What improvement are you counting on exactly?
TS: Well, hopefully not having to play Serena in Australia, Venus in Memphis or Serena in Miami as she did last year in three of the five tournaments the sisters won. That'd help a little. Haha.
9. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
10. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
PC: Wow, what a drop I've predicted for Jelena Jankovic and keep in mind that I've got nothing against her. I mean, she was probably my best pick last year (if you exclude that "lucky" Clijsters outside the top 10 pick... right Todd?? hahaha).
TS: Might I add here that the most recent edition of Tennis magazine cracked wise that Clijsters' 2005 US Open win was "one of the sport's great monuments to underachievement." I was a bit jealous of that line, I must say.
PC: Haha, again you are changing subjects a bit though, I'm talking about the prediction which you had so much fun laughing at last year, the one not having Kim in the top 10. :) But yes, you were in on that line...I agree. :)
TS: I just wanted to get that in now since I won't be able to have as much fun with Kim during '08. And as far as that pick, I guess I should have known that giving Clijsters the benefit of the doubt -- I picked her #4, remember -- probably wouldn't work out all that well for me since it was such an unusual act on my part. But, as I said then, I won't apologize for saying nice things about her at the time, since it was probably about time that I did it at that point before she was gone. Not that it got me anywhere, of course. Oh, well.
PC: Well, while we're trying to get that in, I'm anxious to get a question in... where will you spot Nadia Petrova this year? She was the subject of many heated debates as well, I think I was pretty much right on there too. :)
TS: You'll have to wait on that one. Though I still maintain that her '07 season wasn't as bad as it seemed on the surface, and it was only her slam results that let her down and cost her her Top 10 spot (of course, those ARE the most important ones, huh?).
I'm not sure we're going to be working up quite as much of a lather about any of our picks this year, but I could be wrong. The Serbs don't have as long a "paper trail" as the Belgians, at least not yet, so it's difficult to get too worked up about possible disagreements about where their careers are going at this point.
PC: So anyway, this is nothing against Jelena. She just showed me a few scarier aspects of her game last year, mostly in her mental game as well as her patience against tougher players. I also think competition will be a lot stronger in 2008 for the top 10 spots and thus a few of the players will be more in action in 2008 than in 2007. This will surely hurt Jelena Jankovic the most since you could argue the best part of her profile is how much more she plays than anyone else on tour!
TS: It'll be interesting to see if she holds to her word and cuts back her schedule.
PC: Hmmm I see her cutting it a bit, but I think she'll be looking at all the points she needs to gain to stay in the top 10 and will remain one of the most active players on tour, although yes, a little less active.
TS: By the way, rather than defending her Auckland title this week, Jankovic is playing in Perth. I'm sure if that's a hint about her '08 priorities or not, though.
PC: Hmmm what to say about Amelie? She had a very tough season and will need to forget all about it and rebuild her confidence. She had many injuries and will need to play a lot more in 2008. But let's not forget, she is the girl who (if we exclude RG...) is about #2 in the world on clay, arguably can beat anyone on grass and is very decent on hard courts... how could I NOT put her in the top 10, right?
TS: You know, even while you've included her at #9, I have a bad feeling that we both might be underestimating Mauresmo simply because she's been so out of sight, out of mind for most of the past year. How quickly we forget, huh?
PC: True... but at least I put her on my list! From the way you're talking, you put Szavay and Peer in front of her???
TS: Like I said, new blood, baby. New blood.
6. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
7. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
8. Lindsay Davenport, USA
TS: And here I thought I was going to be the one marking Jankovic down in these picks. Jelena wore herself out last season and vows not to do it again this time around. We'll see, but it's important to note that many of Jankovic's worst results in '07 came after she uncharacteristically took some extra time off. Guess she's going to have to learn to love practice just a little bit more, huh? It should be quite an intriguing balancing act, and I'm thinking she'll take a small step back before she can go forward again.
PC: Yes, I agree with you, I think she has the talent to be top 3 or top 5... but will just run into a bit of a wall in 2008.
TS: We agree... I'm not sure I like the sound of that. But, considering our history, Jelena might be ready to have a super season. Haha.
Oh, yeah... "Mrs. Stepanek?" While we get used to that potential prospect, let's just choose not to ponder what happened to the last Czech-born player who was Radek's fiancee? Vaidisova has been on the cusp of something very good for a while now, and 2008 is as good a time as any for her to finally put those grand slam attacks of nerves in her past.
Lindsay's back, but will she be as good as ever? It's one thing to be fully healthy after not playing for nearly a year, as she was during her 13-1, two-title run at the end of 2007. But can her body hold up over the course of an entire season? Intelligent scheduling will be more key to her season than any other player this side of Jankovic, and the thought here is that her veteran sensibility will enable her to find a way to be right in the thick of things again as she tries to get that elusive twilight-of-her-career grand slam title before she hangs up the rackets for good.
PC: Well looks like we agree on Vaidisova. Maybe this could be a reversed curse and she could end up being in the top 3-4 players? Think that's possible?
TS: Too much agreeing going on here, I say.
PC: Lindsay has impressed me ever since joining the tour, I think she has always been a fairly balanced person and tennis was always a part of who she is... so seeing her go 13-1 last year was proof enough for me that she would be a force to be reckoned with in 2008... I think you have underestimated her body.
TS: Maybe, though I said that because of what she said last year about being completely healthy for the first time in almost too long for her to remember. That's one of those that I hope I AM wrong about, actually. It'd be a great story.
6. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
7. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
8. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
PC: Steady, steady... Chakvetadze's been compared to Martina Hingis, and I think in a way, that's correct, mostly in terms of her controlled agression. She has a very steady game and will rarely lose to lower ranked players in 2008. The big thing for Anna will be to take more chances against the top players. She's had chances in some matches, and had less of a chance in others. She's got the game, but can she work on a few more weapons to really have a shot with the top 10 players? I'm saying yes.
TS: Should we mention the incident at the family home here? You know, just to get a head start on it since I'm sure it'll be talked to death in Melbourne.
PC: Hmm yes, I guess it's a good thing she's in Singapore and will have the chance to clear things up a little before even heading towards Australia hey? But yeah, just a terrible incident. She did lose 6-0, 7-6 against Sharapova in her exhibition but for some reason she does not seem to be able to push Sharapova around as much as she could, so I don't draw much of a conclusion here.
TS: If all the Big Babes stay healthy this year, Anna's going to have her work cut out staying in the Top 10.
PC: Ahh... Nicole, the girl who's been disapointing me for a couple of years now. I am still a believer, I do think it will all come down to how well she can serve and return in 2008. She needs to start points as the aggressor as her defence has not progressed as much as hoped, especially when you compare her to Ana Ivanovic who I thought was even further along from Nicole about one year ago.
TS: So we've now both come to the conclusion that AnaIvo is the best of the Serbs then, at least at this moment in time?
PC: Hahaha, yes, I think it's fair to say that we agree on something else, although who knows how that will turn out hey?
Speaking of Ana, I think she'll have a tough time in 2008, well not that tough... but it will not be easy to continue her progression that has been simply spectacular over the past 12-18 months. I think Ana will have a little more success in slams than she did in 2007, but surfaces like clay will be a challenge, especially defending her RU in Roland-Garros.
TS: Hmmm, so far no Maria, Justine or Williamses from either of us. (No Nadia, either, as I'm sure you've no doubt noticed... you don't think I'll be playing Russian Roulette with her predicted ranking again, do you?) I'd make some conclusions now about that, but after you didn't include Clijsters in your Top 10 last year I'll reserve any comments until after everything is official.
PC: Prudent yes... but I think it's fair to say Nadia will not be part of my top 5. If she is in your's I'll be a bit shocked honestly. She got you in such a defensive point for the whole 2007 season. :) I think it's fair to assume that Justine and Maria will make the top 5 on both of our lists... Williams sisters are less clear...we'll find out soon enough though.
TS: Well, that's the end of Part One of this year's Volley. So, I guess we'll have to wait for Part Two to see whether or not the "Kuznetsova Curse" is donning a hockey mask and carrying a bloody axe for yet another season. I'm predicting that we'll put another target on someone's back. How about you?
PC: Hmmm yes, although I think most tennis followers have the same girl on the top of their lists for 2008... but who knows right?
TS: Maybe that will protect us... err, I mean her.
Next time we'll be releasing our #1-5 picks, as well as a "Second Ten" and a handful of "outsiders" who didn't make either list, but might end up there at the end of 2008 (mostly, I think, I suggested we do this just so that we don't look TOO stupid when we swing-and-miss on some of our Top 10 picks... we can say, "hey, at least I had her in my INSERT APPROPRIATE LIST HERE"). Plus, I had an unusually large number of players under consideration for these picks this year.
PC: Risky move though... can you imagine if a player makes the top 10 and she wasn't anywhere on our lists??? Embarassing to say the least... Maybe I'm just feeling a bit cautious?
TS: Well, the only year-end Top 10 players last season who weren't at least in the Top 20 the season before were both named Williams, so they won't be climbing the ladder in such a way again. The year before, the only one was Hingis.
PC: I'm also looking forward to the list of outsiders... is it me or does 2008 seem like it could be the most exciting year in a long time? If not at the top 2-3 spots, then from 3-4 to 15-20.
TS: Especially if the Williams sisters stay healthy, and Davenport comes back strong.
PC: Should be a great year!!!
TS: Curse or no Curse.
PC: I'm already thinking about the reverse curse on Vaidisova... could she be offended we only picked her at #7? Anyway, let's keep this discussion going in the next column. :)
TS: All for now.
...and we walk the plank for the first time in '08.
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA (III-Hard)
07 FINAL: Safina d. Hingis
08 TOP: Vaidisova/Petrova
SF: Vaidisova d. Mauresmo; Szavay d. Peer
FINAL: Szavay d. Vaidisova
...again, I'm "contractually obligated" to take Szavay in Week 1.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (IV-Hard)
07 FINAL: Jankovic d. Zvonareva
08 TOP: Zvonareva/Kirilenko
SF: Zvonareva d. Daniilidou; Davenport d. Paszek
FINAL: Davenport d. Zvonareva
...Lindsay would be 18-1 in her comeback with a title here.
HONG KONG, CHINA (exhibition)
07 FINAL: Clijsters d. Sharapova
08 TOP: Ivanovic/Sharapova
FINAL: Sharapova d. Ivanovic
SF: Vaidisova d. Mauresmo; Azarenka d. Peer
FINAL: Vaidisova d. Azarenka
SF: Zvonareva d. Rezai; Davenport d. Kirilenko
FINAL: Davenport d. Zvonareva
Sharapova d. V.Williams
HOPMAN CUP XX; PERTH, AUSTRALIA (Hard)
07 FINAL: Russia d. Spain
08 TOP GROUP SEEDS: Serbia/USA
NEXT UP: The Rest of Europe & Volley, Part 2