Monday, May 23, 2005

Wk.20 - Witness to a Coronation...again?

The ol' Holy Webmaster crossed the big pond to Europe this weekend. Destination: Paris, of course. But what will he witness there? Will it be the early stages of a very familiar coronation story that will conclude the first weekend of June? Or will something else totally unexpected, as has been the case at the last four grand slams, once again transpire? Stay tuned for more on that later.

First, a quick recap of this week's results:
S: Venus Williams d. Nicole Vaidisova 6-3/6-2
D: Marrero/Ant.Serra-Zanetti d. D.Klemenschits/S.Klemenschits ===============================
S: Anabel Medina-Garrigues d. Marta Domachowska 6-4/6-3
D: Andres-Rodriguez/Vanc d. Domachowska/Weingartner ===============================

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Venus Williams ...she lived up to her seed in Istanbul and defeated Nicole Vaidisova in the final on Saturday. It had to be because she played on that bridge, right? Will her first '05 title give her momentum heading into Roland Garros, where she could potentially face both of last year's RG finalists (Myskina & Dementieva) before reaching the SF? Well, she was certainly in form this past week, bageling Marta Marrero (her 1r opponent again in Paris) and handling Anna Chakvetadze. Her place in the draw could be quite fortunate for Venus, especially if she carries over a lingering confidence from Istanbul, as (excluding Patty Schnyder, a potential SF opponent) most of the top players with good clay credentials AND a healthy month behind are no where to be found in Williams' immediate neighborhood. ===================================RISER: Anabel Medina-Garrigues ...Garrigues, who knocked out the last Pastry in the field (Nathalie Dechy) in a Friday semifinal, continued to gather some French momentum by claiming her third career title with a straight sets win over Marta Domachowska in the Strasbourg final. Her next goal: to produce her best-ever RG result (the probable glass ceiling: a 3rd Round matchup with Henin-Hardenne). ===================================SURPRISES: Tzvetana Pironkova & Clarisa Fernandez ...Pironkova, a 17-year old from Bulgaria ranked #216, raced to her first career WTA SF in Istanbul with wins over Yuliana Fedak and Meghann Shaughnessy. Fernandez qualified for the main draw in Paris, knocking off Laura Pous Tio and Emma Laine. She made the RG SF in '02, but her best slam result since then was a single 3r result at the Australian in '03. Last year, Fernandez failed to even qualify in Paris, and she's currently ranked #214. ===================================VETERAN: Dally Randriantefy ...the 28-year old from Madagascar (and, no, I don't mean the upcoming animated movie) reached the Strasbourg SF -- her second of '05 -- with wins over Silvia Farina Elia (who had the "pleasure" to be picked to win the tournament by a pair of "witless" prognosticators last week) in the 1st Round before finally putting an end to Karolina Sprem's minor resurgence in the 3rd. ===================================FRESH FACES: Vera Douchevina & Shuai Peng ...Douchevina warmed up for her 1st Round match in Paris against Mary Pierce with wins in Strasbourg over Shinobu Asagoe and Emilie Loit. Peng, who could face Davenport in the 2nd Round next week, defeated Tamarine Tanasugarn and the disappointing Tatiana Golovin. ===================================DOWN: Claudine Schaul & Tatiana Golovin ...a year ago, Luxembourg's Schaul won the Strasbourg title with a win in the final over Lindsay Davenport. It was one of the biggest upsets of the season. In 2005, the planets re-aligned as Schaul lost 2 & 3 to Amy Frazier in the 1st Round. Golovin, the #2 seed in Strasbourg, is 0-2 on red clay after losing to Peng. At least now she won't have to deal with any of those pesky expectations in Paris. ===================================

1.Stras 1r - Frazier d. Schaul ...6-2/6-3. '04 champ Schaul hits the red dirt with a loud thud. ===================================2.Ist F - V.Williams d. Vaidisova ...6-3/6-2. Finally, Venus didn't have to think of an excuse for a loss. But what will it mean for her in Paris, where she can't be overshadowed by the absent Serena? ===================================3.Stras 2r - Peng d. Golovin ...6-4/3-6/7-5. Hmmm... maybe Mauresmo does have a better shot in Paris than the Frussian Pastry. Just a rather obvious "hunch." ===================================4.Stras F - Garrigues d. Domachowska ...6-4/6-3. In 2005, with this title following Llagostera-Vives' a few weeks ago, the Spaniards are starting to assert themselves a bit more on clay. It's not like the old "glory days" of ASV and Martinez, but it's something. ===================================5.Istanbul 2r - V.Williams d. Marrero ...6-0/6-0. Marrero's booby prize? A "rematch" with Venus in the RG 1st Round next week. What's the opposite of winning the lottery? ===================================6.Stras 1r - Zheng d. Rubin; RG Q1 - Mattek d. Rubin ...Rubin went 0-for-France. it wasn't a good week for the returning Chanda. ===================================7.RG Q3 - Fernandez d. Laine ...a nice welcome back for a player who's seemed to drop off the face of the earth the last few years (though she did win a Backspin weekly honor back in February). ===================================


==RG SF SEEDS - last 5 years== [winner-runnerup-semifinalists] 2000...6-5-1-8 2001...4-12-1-14 2002...3-2-1-unseeded 2003...4-2-1-unseeded 2004...6-9-7-14

W: Myskina 2004, JHH 2003, Pierce 2000
RU: Dementieva 2004, Clijsters 2001 & 2003, V.Williams 2002, Martinez 2000, Pierce 1994
SF: Suarez 2004, Petrova 2003, Fernandez 2002, JHH 2001, Davenport 1998, Martinez 1994-96

#5 Myskina (1r vs. Sanchez Lorenzo)
#20 Hantuchova (1r vs. Krajicek) #16 Likhovtseva (1r vs. Fedak)
#25 Safina (1r vs. Razzano)
#27 Frazier (1r vs. Shaughnessy) #31 Sprem (1r vs. Camerin)
#15 Jankovic (1r vs. Smashnova) #22 Schiavone (1r vs. Zheng)
#23 Sugiyama (1r vs. Llagostera-Vives)
#28 Bartoli (1r vs. Peer)

#10 Henin-Hardenne vs. Martinez

==1st Round "FUTURES" MATCH== Nicole Vaidisova vs. Lucie Safarova (LL)

==DARK HORSE (to get a few wins)== Qualifier Clarisa Fernandez

==DARK HORSE (to win it all)== Nadia Petrova, from here on out in Backspin known as "The Scarlett Empress" (for the old Marlene Dietrich movie about czarina Catherine the Great, and Petrova's favorite book -- Gone With the Wind, hence the "extra t"). That is, if her Rome walkover was just a precautionary move by the '03 RG semifinalist.

...the players with the seeming best shots to win Backspin's regular slam honor for the player who takes the most advantage of "soft" spots in the draw: Top Half/1st quarter: Patty Schnyder, Vera Zvonareva (longshot: Dinara Safina)
Top Half/2nd quarter: Karolina Sprem, Venus Williams (longshot: Maria Sanchez-Lorenzo)
----------------------------------Bottom Half/1st quarter: Jie Zheng, Ana Ivanovic (longshot: Nicole Vaidisova)
----------------------------------Bottom Half/2nd quarter: Gisela Dulko (longshot: Paola Suarez - she'd likely have to upset the Supernova in the 3r, but she already beat her at RG in '04)

==BACKSPIN'S DREAM FINALS== 1.Henin-Hardenne vs. Clijsters ...Waffle vs. Waffle Redux, though highly unlikely what with Nice Kim's knee trouble.
-----------------------------------2.Sharapova vs. Myskina ...all-grudge match. Winner gets a veto on the other's Fed Cup team spot?
-----------------------------------3.Myskina vs. Dementieva ...all-Rematch, and the Czarina's season-saver
-----------------------------------4.Henin-Hardenne vs. Schnyder ...Spy vs. Spy. Maybe this time, Battlin' Patty would actually hit the Queen with a tennis ball before she ducks just in time
-----------------------------------5.Mauresmo vs. Clijsters'd be a great "mind" game -- to see who'd be the first to fold

1r--Krajicek(Q) def. #20 Hantuchova
1r--Zheng def. #22 Schiavone
1r--Peer def. #28 Bartoli
3r--Dulko def. #6 Kuznetsova

1r--#5 Myskina def. Sanchez-Lorenzo
3r--#2 Sharapova def. #26 Suarez 3r--#3 Mauresmo def. Ivanovic ================================== ==================================

**WEEK 21/22 ATTEMPT AT RESPECTABILITY** ...another week of picks, another set of mediocre results. Venus' win on Saturday, though, at least made Pierre and my hit-and-miss predictions of a week ago more than worthwhile. As for the "Battle Royale," here are the updated standings:

Semifinalists...9 Finalists...5 Champions...2
==CANTIN== Semifinalists...10 Finalists...2 Champions...1

On to the Roland Garros picks:

04 F: Myskina d. Dementieva
05 TOP 4: Davenport, Mauresmo, Sharapova, Dementieva ===================================...last year's Roland Garros was as close to completely wide open as a slam is likely to get, as the four semifinalists' average seed was #9. As it turned out, the all-Russian final was a portent of things to come. Could the same "wild on" activity take place again in '05? Of course. After all, Serena isn't in Paris, opening up one spot deep into the draw. But that's not all, as defending champ Myskina's head hasn't been on tour all season, Russian contenders' chances are dicey because of injuries (Dementieva, Kuznetsova & Petrova) or inconsistency (Zvonareva), the Supernova is still finding her way on clay, Clijsters is a huge question mark and might not even play a match, Mauresmo is Mauresmo, etc. The odds-on favorite -- by an insanely wide margin -- has to be Queen Justine, and any other result than her lifting her fourth slam title will be a phenomenal upset at this point. Seven more victories would stretch her tour season-best winning streak to 24 matches. As usual over the past year, Sharapova might get a say in the matter. JHH's RG could hinge on her QF matchup with Sharapova, who JHH handled on clay just a few weeks ago (but is also the only player to defeat the Belgian in '05, albeit on a hardcourt). Has Maria become fast friends with the red dirt in the interim? If not, she could meet her maker in the 3r against Paola Suarez, who defeated the Supernova in the QF in Paris last year. Still, the Supernova made the Rome SF last week, and had a lead against Schnyder there, so progress has been made. But will it be enough to derail Henin-Hardenne's re-coronation as the WTA's reigning lady? Let's see...

==4th Round==
#1 Davenport d. #14 Clijsters
#8 Schnyder d. #9 Zvonareva
#4 Dementieva d. #18 Farina Elia #11 V.Williams d. #5 Myskina
#7 Petrova d. #12 Bovina
#3 Mauresmo d. Zheng
#10 Henin-Hardenne d. #30 Dulko
#2 Sharapova d. #13 Dechy
...this is depending a great deal on a healthy Clijsters. If she doesn't even make it to the main draw, and she's said any twinge in the knee will result in her bowing out, consider Davenport over a surprise pick here (say, qualifier Michaella Krajicek).

#8 Schnyder d. #1 Davenport
#4 Dementieva d. #11 V.Williams
#7 Petrova d. #3 Mauresmo
#10 Henin-Hardenne d. #2 Sharapova, baby! The Supernova is still no match for Justine on clay. Can JHH be stopped?

#4 Dementieva d. #8 Schnyder
#10 Henin-Hardenne d. #7 Petrova more shot.

#10 Henin-Hardenne d. #4 Dementieva
...she reigns supreme once again. Was there any other appropriate ending to this clay season?

As for the men's side, picking up a few rounds after what might end up being the match of the tournament (3r - Nadal vs. Gasquet):

#4 Nadal def. #1 Federer
#8 Coria def. #13 Ljubicic
#4 Nadal def. #8 Coria

Look for Pierre's Roland Garros take on Tennisrulz this weekend. Hmmm, let's see if he has the gall to do what I think he was trying to "dare" me to do with his front page introduction to last week's "backwards Backspin" -- namely, to pick Mauresmo to win this thing. Of course, we know that'll never happen, and he won't pick it, either. Pierre's not that crazy... is he? Let the games begin.

SF: Henin-Hardenne d. Mauresmo; V.Williams d. Clijsters
FINAL: Henin-Hardenne d. V.Williams


All for now.


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