Monday, June 20, 2005

Wk.24 - Another Astral Occurrence at SW19?

With Wimbledon set to begin on Monday, here are a few quick preview notes designed to whet the appetite for action (the predictions will come later):

#1 Lindsay Davenport - time is running out, and this Wimbledon might be her "now-or-never" moment. If she can get past Clijsters in the 4th Round, an appearance in the final might just be her's for the taking.
#2 Maria Sharapova - the defending champ has a fortnight to build upon each win and improve on her recent up & down form. If she makes it to the semifinals, a Supernovian encore is possible. If she reaches the final, a "possible" repeat is upgraded to "probable."
#3 Amelie Mauresmo - she might have the best draw to the semifinals of any top player. Don't think she doesn't know it, too -- so expect an early exit and another year of "if only" ponderings.
#4 Serena Williams - Serena hasn't really put her heart and body into tennis since Melbourne, but she won the title there when she did. Venus might get a shot at her sister in the 4th Round, as might JHH in the quarterfinals and the Supernova in a semis. It'd be impossible to rule her out as being the eventual champion here, but it'd be a huge risk to think she can just "flip the switch" and blitz the field, too. Picking her to win is a sucker's bet... that could ultimately pay off big time.
#5 Svetlana Kuznetsova - she'd have to get over her mental block against the top players to win, and her loss to Clijsters in the Eastbourne SF did nothing to make one think she's ready to win career slam #2.
#6 Elena Dementieva - she was hurt last week in Eastbourne, and her goal at SW19 might be just to outlast Myskina in her section of the draw in an event where her best result has been a Round of 16 appearance in '02 & '03. Punch-Sober could end up putting in a shockingly short work week.
#7 Justine Henin-Hardenne - with her potentially tough draw, she'll be running on fumes by the final weekend... but that's when the Queen usually manages to reach deeper for even more.
#8 Nadia Petrova - she couldn't make it through a Netherlands draw that seemed set up for her triumphant run to a first WTA title. If the Empress can avoid an early upset (say, Razzano in the 3rd?), Petrova's glass ceiling is likely playing in a QF match with Sharapova.

Anna Chakvetadze - if you're looking for a Russian to keep an eye on, why not follow the #43-ranked 18-year old? She was the Wimbledon Girls RU in '03 (after making the final as a qualifier), and last week in Eastbourne took Kuznetsova to a 3rd set tie-break. Sure, she faces #17-seed Jelena Jankovic in the 1st Round, but if she can pull the upset there the draw could open up wide in her section. The two high seeds in her vicinity are fellow Russians Myskina & Dementieva...neither a grass court queen. She could face Mauresmo in the QF for the right to meet the Davenport/Kuznetsova section's survivor in the semfinals. But since Mauresmo's slam history says she could very well bail out before the quarters, Chakvetadze might see a Tanasugarn, Farina Elia or Shaughnessy in her path instead. If so, we'll soon be officially welcoming a new Hordette -- one who lists grass as her favorite surface -- into the big-time WTA fold.

Since it'd be redundant to pick Mauresmo here, let's skip over her and say it'll be at least one of the Williams sisters. With Venus seeded all the way down at #14, she could meet Serena in the 4th Round -- so one is assured to not make it out of the first week (unless it rains every day, that is). And with Venus possibly facing either Daniela Hantuchova or Evgenia Linetskaya before the 4th, a year after going out to Karolina Sprem in the 2nd, it's no lock that big sis will even have an on-court say in whether she outlasts Serena and her bum ankle. Speaking of which, Serena's body might not hold up long enough to make anything other than a cameo performance at the All England Club, either. Geez... weren't these two dominating the tour just a short time ago?

2000 V.Williams d. L.Davenport
2001 V.Williams d. J.Henin
2002 S.Williams d. V.Williams
2003 S.Williams d. V.Williams
2004 M.Sharapova d. S.Williams

2002 V.Douchevina d. M.Sharapova
2003 K.Flipkens d. A.Chakvetadze
2004 K.Bondarenko d. A.Ivanovic


Last unseeded semifinalist: Dokic '00
Last qualifier semifinalist: Dokic '99
...Dokic, by the way, will not have a presence in the Wimbledon action this year for the first time since she debuted there in the junior draw in 1998

#12 Pierce (1r vs. Safarova)
...Safarova was RU in the Netherlands. Emotionally spent Pierce hasn't played a match on grass since dropping the Roland Garros final.
#17 Jankovic (1r vs. Chakvetadze)
...Anna C might be the "Russian-most-likely" this SW19, if she wins here.
#23 Sugiyama (1r vs. Vinci)
...Vinci had an eye-opening SF run in Eastbourne last week.
#25 Sprem (1r vs. Tanasugarn)
...where's Ted Watts and his Cheshire cat grin when Karolina might need him?
#28 Frazier (1r vs. Washington)
...clash of the American vets

#7 JHH vs. Daniilidou early test for the Queen
#19 Ivanovic vs. Douchevina
...young guns. Too bad one has to go home early.
#20 Hantuchova vs. Linetskaya
...another chance for Wonder Girl to stop the slide.

1r...vs. Eleni Daniilidou
2r...vs. Klara Koukalova
3r...vs. Gisela Dulko
4r...vs. Ana Ivanovic
QF...vs. Serena Williams
SF...vs. Maria Sharapova
F....vs. Lindsay Davenport

2nd - #2 Sharapova vs. Karatantcheva
...Sesil will either be the Bulgarian ass-kicker, or get her Bulgarian ass kicked.
3rd - #5 Kuznetsova vs. #27 Vaidisova
...a Contessova loss would be sweet music to Davenport's ears
3rd - #3 Mauresmo vs. Tanasugarn
...if Mauresmo goes down in the early stages, this is the most likely spot it'll happen
3rd - #6 Dementieva vs. Washington
...Washington showed she could defeat a top 10 player (Sharapova) last year at New Haven.
3rd - #14 V.Williams vs. #20 Hantuchova
...or Linetskaya, or Pierce. Take your pick. If Venus is in the same trance she was last year and at the most recent Roland Garros, Ted Watts won't be necessary to turn this one in her opponent's favor.
3rd - #19 Ivanovic vs. Safarova
...two of 2005's breakthrough stars
4th - #2 Sharapova vs. #18 Golovin
...the Frussian Pastry could catch Sharapova looking ahead
4th - #4 S.Williams vs. #14 V.Williams
...but what are the chances that BOTH make it this far?

The Backspin Wimbledon predictions come at the end of this week's column.



S: Kim Clijsters d. Vera Douchevina 7-5/6-0
D: Likhovtseva/Zvonareva d. Raymond/Stubbs
S: Klara Koukalova d. Lucie Safarova 3-6/6-2/6-2
D: Benesova/Llagostera-Vives d. Medina Garrigues/Safina

...her body held up for the entire week in Eastbourne as she grabbed career title #24, one more than Belgian battlemate JHH. Now it's on to Wimbledon with an eye on some vengeance against Davenport (in the 4th Round) for that loss at Roland Garros.
RISER: Klara Koukalova
...the 23-year old Czech Maiden earned her first career WTA title in the Netherlands, going one better than her RU performance there a year ago. She's the sixth first-time champ on tour this season, and the second of the group to hail from the Czech Republic. The other? Lucie Safarova, who Koukalova defeated in the final.
SURPRISES: Roberta Vinci & Ashley Harkleroad
...Italy's Vinci, 22, made a surprising semifinal appearance in Eastbourne after wins over Sprem, Zvonareva and Myskina. Meanwhile, Harkleroad (still just 20!) continued her so-far-successful comeback by making it through the Wimbledon qualifying, reaching the main draw with a win over Kirsten Flipkens. Two more wins and she could face Serena in the 3rd Round (hello, Centre Court?).
VETERAN: Els Callens
...the veteran Belgian qualified for the Wimbledon main draw. With Martina (& Andre Agassi) sitting this year out in singles, the 34-year old Callens will be the oldest player in the main singles draw.
FRESH FACES: Vera Douchevina & Lucie Safarova
...Douchevina, 18, qualifed and reached the Eastbourne final (her first!) on the strength of a big upset over Mauresmo. Safarova, already a WTA champ this season, narrowly missed out on title #2 in the Netherlands, knocking out Safina and Dulko before losing in a three-set final against Koukalova.
DOWN: Daniela Hantuchova
...a week ago, Wonder Girl lost a tight three-setter to Parra-Santonja. This week, Vento-Kabchi took her out in her opening match in Eastbourne. A year ago, Hantuchova was looking at the bright side of things as she travelled to Wimbledon. This year, she carries with her a season record that is decidedly mediocre (13-13). After a 9-4 start to 2005, she's gone 4-9 since.

Hmmm... is the article that appeared on the Wimbledon website about the same Venus Williams as the one that Backspin has chronicled this season? The players think she's back to her previous top form? Yeah, she won a title -- but it was a lower-tier event that she might as well have retired immediately after had she NOT won (so, for once, she didn't need to come up with a creative excuse for why she lost). And, yes, she defeated Serena this year -- but Silvia Farina Elia has defeated both Williams sisters, and she didn't get a kiss-up article like this one. Check it out HERE.

1.East SF - Clijsters d. Kuznetsova
...6-4/3-6/6-4. This might say a great deal -- both good and bad --about what these two are capable of pulling off at SW19.
2.East 2nd - Douchevina d. Mauresmo
...6-4/6-4. This was a dead-on impression by Amelie of what it'll look like when she chokes at Wimbledon. Practice makes perfect, right?
3.East F - Clijsters d. Douchevina
...7-5/6-0. Elle Douche is still looking for that first title (and Backspin is still waiting for that January prediction to pay off).
4.Neth F - Koukalova d. Safarova
...3-6/6-2/6-2. Battles between Czech Maidens are almost becoming as common as Russian vs. Russian ones. I said, "almost."
5.Neth 1st - Schaul d. Navratilova
...4-6/6-1/6-4. At 48, Martina still battled back from 0-3 and 2-5 holes in the 3rd to make Schaul sweat a little. She said she won't rule out playing singles again in the future, either. So does that mean she's already decided to play in 2006 at age 49?
6.East QF - Vinci d. Myskina
...6-4/7-6. Vinci was the Russian killer last week, also knocking off Zvonareva.
7.Wimb.Q3 - Harkleroad d. Flipkens
...7-5/6-2. Welcome back, Ashley!
8.Allentown $10K F - Varvara Lepchenko d. L.Lee-Waters
...7-6/6-4. The 19-year old from Uzbekistan, an intriguing up-and-comer, won her second ITF crown of 2005. But it's her personal backstory, which includes seeking political asylum in the U.S. along with her father (leaving her mother behind, and having not seen her for three and a half years), that's of keen interest. At this point, she can't even leave the U.S., so she won't have a chance to make her slam debut until Flushing Meadows in August.
9.East 1st - Vento-Kabchi d. Hantuchova
...6-2/4-6/6-3. Wonder Girl has gone one-and-out in four of her last five events.
10.East 1st - Vinci d. Sprem
...6-3/4-6/6-3. Wimbledon '04 is FINALLY a long year behind Sprem, though it's FELT like far longer ago than that for quite a while now.
HM- East 1st - Clijsters d. Jankovic
...6-1/7-6. A typically underwhelming follow up to Jankovic's RU in Birmingham.
HM- East 2nd - Kuznetsova d. Chakvetadze
...1-6/6-4/7-6. Could this be the sign that Chakvetadze is "this close" to making some very loud noise?
HM- Wimb.Q3 - Jamea Jackson d. Kutuzova
...a week after upsetting Kirilenko in Birmingham, the American qualified for the Wimbledon draw. She might face Davenport in the 2nd Round.



**2005 TITLES**

**2005 WTA FINALS**
5...Davenport (2-3)
4...Henin-Hardenne (4-0)
4...Sharapova (3-1)
3...Clijsters (3-0)
3...Mauresmo (2-1)

11...Russia (6 wins)
9....United States (4)
7....Belgium (7)
5....Czech Republic (2)

Australian - Sharapova (SF)
R.Garros - Petrova/Likhovtseva (SF)

Australian: #19 Dechy (SF)
R.Garros: #21 Pierce (RU)
Australian: The Russians
R.Garros: The French
Australian: #16 Sugiyama (Sucha)
R.Garros: #25 Safina (Razzano)



...ah, we finally reach the final stage of the Backspin Battle Royale I (we'll see if Pierre is up for a sequel during the hard court season). As of now, it looks like the ol' Holy Webmaster has gone down in defeat, though there's still enough wiggle room for an eleventh hour "save" at Wimbledon:

Slam 4r: tied 10-10
Slam QF: Backspin leads 7-5
Semifinalists: Backspin leads 18-17
Finalists: Backspin leads 9-5
Champions: Backspin leads 6-4

As we enter Wimbledon, everyone's wondering whether we'll witness another case of the tennis equivalent of "sygyzy" ruling the day. Will everything line up perfectly once again to allow another astral occurrence at SW19? Does the Supernova have everything moving into place for another world-shaking (but much more pressure-filled) performance?

Well, Sharapova generally handles pressure well. She already defended her '04 precursor Birmingham title a week ago. But things get a little bit cloudier after that. She's got a niggling thigh injury, and has been allowing players to push her to three sets often of late thanks to her own in-and-out form. Also, she's on the decidedly tougher side of the draw, with maybe the three "co-favorites" -- herself, JHH and Serena, if she's healthy -- bunched up so that only one could reach the final. It'd be a tougher road to repeat.

On the other side of the draw, Davenport or Kuznetsova (or maybe Clijsters, if her head could be trusted) would seem to be sitting pretty, with the winner of their three-way battle fairly well assured of one of the spots in the final. But will an easier road mean a fresher (and more successful) finalist, or will the rough-and-tumble road travelled by either Sharapova, JHH or Serena make them more battle-ready and prepared to lift the big plate?

Here's Backspin's take... with a big part of the glass pyramid resting firmly on the hopefully-not-too-fragile shoulders of Miss Chakvetadze:

==4th Round==
#1 Davenport d. #15 Clijsters
#5 Kuznetsova d. #24 Asagoe
Tanasugarn d. #22 Farina Elia
Chakvetadze d. Washington
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #19 Ivanovic
#4 S.Williams d. #14 V.Williams
#8 Petrova d. K.Bondarenko
#2 Sharapova d. #18 Golovin

#1 Davenport d. #5 Kuznetsova
Chakvetadze d. Tanasugarn
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #4 S.Williams
#2 Sharapova d. #8 Petrova

#1 Davenport d. Chakvetadze
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #2 Sharapova

#1 Davenprot d. #7 Henin-Hardenne

...blasphemous, I know. But JHH has to lose sometime, and Davenport's gritty play in Paris tricked me into thinking she might be capable of something here. Remember, she should have beaten Sharapova in the semifinals last year, and this is her second (and maybe last best)

As for the men, here are predictions guaranteed to either make me look really good... or horribly bad (that'll happen with two unranked players picked to reach the SF):

==4th Round==
#1 Federer d. Mayer
#11 J.Johansson d. Baghdatis
#3 Hewitt d. #24 Dent
Philippoussis d. #10 Ancic
#12 T.Johansson d. #33 O.Rochus
#23 Gasquet d. #14 Stepanek
#6 Henman d. #17 Ferrer
Karlovic d. #20 Ljubicic

#1 Federer d. #11 J.Johansson
Philippoussis d. #3 Hewitt
#23 Gasquet d. #12 T.Johansson
Karlovic d. #6 Henman

#1 Federer d. Philippoussis
Karlovic d. #23 Gasquet

#1 Federer d. Karlovic

...Ivo's bludgeoning serve had better be working early, though, since he could face Roddick in the 2nd Round (like I said, this prediction could go very bad very quickly). At least I picked Federer to win.
read Pierre's picks on Tennisrulz in "Can They Repeat? The Road to the 2005 Wimbledon Championship."

All for now.


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