Sunday, August 28, 2005

Wk.34-Sowing the (Open) Seeds of Doubt

Quick, what was the highest seed to win the women's title at the last six grand slam events?

Buzzzzz.... time's up! The answer: amazingly, SIXTH-seeded Anastasia Myskina, at Roland Garros in 2004, is the highest-seeded slam champ since #1 Justine Henin-Hardenne defeated Kim Clijsters in the 2004 Australian Open final. When Le Petit Taureau knocked off Nice Kim nineteen long months ago, it marked the twelfth consecutive slam (going back to '01) in which the eventual champion was culled from the tournament's top four seeds. Betcha didn't realize that when the Czarina ushered in the Russian "slam revolution" last year that she'd also kicked off an under-the-radar wacky trend, as well, did you?

Chronilogically, the last six women's slam champs have been seeded #6, #13, #9, #7, #10 and #14. So what's going on here, you ask?

Well, the Horde's long-awaited breakthrough, for one. Big steps have occurred at the biggest events over the last fourteen months, and the sport has been all the better for it. But, in 2005, the Horde's slam supremacy has been quelled somewhat by the return to health of some of the game's biggest stars. All three '05 slam titlists missed significant time during '04, only to spark up their play this season and reclaim some of their past glory (and raise their rankings & seeds).

Ah, the injuries. Even if the WTA won't admit to the problem actually being a legitimate "problem," health concerns have wreaked havoc with the U.S. Open tuneup circuit in North America as most of the top players have been out of part, most or all of the nearly two months that have passed since Venus Williams raised the Wimbledon plate (she did do that in between her "happy dances", right?). It makes getting a true read on the Open contenders a bit difficult this time around.

Which is why I'm falling back on recent history. History which says it won't be one of the top four seeds who emerges victorious:

#1 Maria Sharapova
#2 Lindsay Davenport
#3 Amelie Mauresmo
#4 Kim Clijsters

So should we rule out these four ladies, all of whom have been ranked #1 (with Sharapova & Davenport flip-flopping the top spot the last three weeks... though the Supernova gained the honor just in time to sneak into Flushing Meadows as the #1 seed)? Of course, two (Mauresmo & Clijsters) of this year's Top 4 seeds have never won a slam title, the only pair of the fifteen women's #1's since the computer rankings were started in 1975 to fail to do so. Davenport hasn't won one since the Australian in January '00. And Sharapova is a real question mark after struggling with a pulled muscle in her chest in recent weeks... and with Eleni Daniilidou, who upset JHH in the 1st Round at Wimbledon in June, awaiting her on Night 1 of action at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Thing is, at least two of the Top 4 SHOULD be the logical favorites to win the tournament. Davenport just won in New Haven; and Clijsters is really the only player coming into the Open with a full head of steam after a super-successful, three title-winning North American stint. But did Nice Kim peak too early, much like Davenport did a year ago after winning four events before the Open and then falling in the semifinals in the big event?

So, will it be logic or history that rules the day in the Big Apple? Stay tuned for my picks in the "Battle Royale" update section. First, a quick look back at last week's action...


==========================
New Haven, Ct. (II-HO)
S: Lindsay Davenport d. Amelie Mauresmo 6-4/6-4
D: Raymond/Stosur d. Dulko/Kirilenko
==========================
Forest Hills, NY (IV-HO)
S: Lucie Safarova d. Sania Mirza 3-6/7-5/6-4

==========================


==PLAYER AWARDS==
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Lindsay Davenport
...so is Lindsay back, or will her back injury be, well, back, come this week? Either way, New Haven was her 48th career title and her week's work returned her to #1 on the WTA computer after one week out. Wither the Supernova.
============================
RISERS: Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Tiantian Sun
...AMG is generally thought of as a clay courter, but she had a nice run at Wimbledon in June, then on hard court last week she knocked off the likes of Razzano, Dulko and Dementieva in New Haven (and pushed Mauresmo to three sets in the SF, after nearly winning the match in straights). Sun has mostly been the Cookie who's made the most strides in doubles, but the 23-year old from China managed to qualify in singles play for the U.S. Open last week with wins over Marlene Weingartner and Ludmila Cervanova.
============================
SURPRISE: Alexa Glatch
...American youngsters aren't exactly popping out of the woodwork on the women's tour, but the #460-ranked 15-year old from Newport Beach, California managed to slide through to the Forest Hills SF with big-time wins over Akiko Morigami and Martina Sucha.
============================
VETERANS: Lindsay Davenport & Virginia Ruano-Pascual
...the respective #1's in both singles and doubles going into the U.S. Open. VRP, though, managed to find some success in the other discipline last week, qualifying all by her lonesome for the U.S. Open singles main draw.
============================
FRESH FACES: Lucie Safarova & Sania Mirza
...Forest Hills featured a clash of 18-year olds in the final, with Czech Maiden Safarova outmanuevering the Indian Princess in their battle to become the first of the two to claim their second WTA singles title in '05.
============================
DOWN: Elena Dementieva
...the '04 U.S. Open finalists aren't making anyone think they're going to be making a return trip to the deciding match this time around. Svetlana Kuznetsova has been stumbling around for weeks, and now Dementieva was dumped out of New Haven in the 2nd Round by Medina-Garrigues.
============================

==MATCHES==
1.NH Final - Davenport d. Mauresmo
...6-4/6-4. New Haven was one of the few Open tuneup titles that Davenport didn't win in 2004.
============================
2.FH Final - Safarova d. Mirza
...3-6/7-5/6-4. Is Safarova starting to move past Vaidisova as the most promising of the teenage Czech Maidens?
============================
3.NH 1st - Dulko d. Molik
...6-2/6-4. The Steamer's inner ear problem, and long layoff, has really turned what looked like a potentially spectacular season for her back in January into an upside down mess that she'll likely be glad to forget.
============================
HM--NH 2nd - Medina-Garrigues d. Dementieva
...6-4/6-3. Will the last Russian standing please turn off the lights? Hey! Why's is so dark in here?
============================


==LINK OF THE WEEK==
...well, you're already here. The Link of the Week is the Backspin Blogtown, where all the citizens of Backspinville come to meet. Check back each night during the Open for daily musings on the day's action and events (a new feature that'll accompany each grand slam event). Pierre should continue to post alerts to new postings on the Tennisrulz.com front page, but you can still check back here in case I manage to beat him to the punch (something I haven't done of late in the "Battle Royale"... but more on that in a moment) and have to talk about something amazing that just occurred in Flushing Meadows.


==U.S. OPEN LISTS==

**LAST 5 U.S. OPEN FIANLS**
2000 V.Williams d. Davenport
2001 V.Williams d. S.Williams
2002 S.Williams d. V.Williams
2003 Henin-Hardenne d. Clijsters
2004 Kuznetsova d. Dementieva


**IN U.S. OPEN FINALS**
[players in '05 main draw]
4...V.Williams (2-2)
3...S.Williams (2-1)
2...Davenport (1-1)
1...Henin-Hardenne (1-0)
1...Clijsters (0-1)
1...Dementieva (0-1)


=="BATTLE ROYALE 2" UPDATE
...two weeks ago, I had visions of a victory parade and second consecutive diamond-encrusted Battle Royale championship belt dancing in my head. So, what happened? I mean, I had Mauresmo & Mirza (my picks last week) in the finals on Saturday and had a shot to put 'ol Holy Webmaster Pierre Cantin away... but then they both lost, and PC grabbed the Davenport bus to the New Haven title while I tripped over the sidewalk and fell into a big puddle of water. Now, Pierre has a slight lead on me in the BR2 standings. But I still have an outside shot to pull this out (or at least get a tie), as long as he goes with the "logic" and picks a champion from the top four seeds. Come on, Pierre... do it... do it... do it (did my mind-control tactics work? See his picks on Tennisrulz.com to find out... and read his on-site reports from the National Tennis Center and beyond!). (Oh, and Frank Riley's Tennisrulz preview can be found here.)

Anyway, the current Royale standings can be found in the sidebar to the left (Pierre has 23 SF/8 F/3 W, while I'm lagging behind at 16 SF/8 F/2 W).

Now, on with the Open odds & ends:

**SOMETHING TO WATCH**
...the last three slam winners have faced down match points during the tournament (and four of the past six, going back to Myskina at RG '04). So, if someone teeters on the edge of defeat this week it could mean they'll end up winning the whole thing in the end.


**3 MOST LIKELY FIRST SEEDS OUT?**
#14 Molik vs. Shenay Perry
#23 Golovin vs. V.Ruano-Pascual
#26 Vaidisova vs. Kveta Peschke


**EARLY TESTS**
1st - Davenport vs. Na Li
...New Haven hangover? What if Lindsay's back acts up?
--------------------------
1st - Kuznetsova vs. Ekaterina Bychkova
...the Contessova would have trouble with anyone at this point, let alone one of the young Russians looking to make a name for herself.
--------------------------
1st - Schnyder vs. Martinez
...bad blood here, baby. REAL bad blood. Conchita had better watch her back, in case Sneaky Patty gets perturbed.
--------------------------
1st - Dementieva vs. Safarova
...could be the first huge upset of the tournament.
--------------------------
1st - Sharapova vs. Daniilidou
...Eleni the Greek upset JHH at Wimbledon, and would love to get a little Supernova blood on her racquet.
--------------------------


**"(MISS) OPPORTUNITY" KNOCKS?**
...keep an eye on these gals, they could be the BIG stories of the first week:

Sania Mirza
Ana Ivanovic
Anna-Lena Groenefeld
Anna Chakvetadze



==PICKS==

ROUND OF 16
#1 Sharapova d. Mirza
#9 Petrova d. #26 Vaidisova
#4 Clijsters d. #18 Ivanovic
#10 V.Williams d. #8 S.Williams
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #12 Pierce
#3 Mauresmo d. #13 Myskina
#29 Chakvetadze d. #11 Schnyder
#2 Davenport d. #15 Dechy

QUARTERFINALS
#1 Sharapova d. #9 Petrova
#4 Clijsters d. #10 V.Williams
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #3 Mauresmo
#2 Davenport d. #29 Chakvetadze

SEMIFINALS
#4 Clijsters d. #1 Sharapova
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #2 Davenport

FINAL
#7 Henin-Hardenne d. #4 Clijsters

...history wins out in the end.


As for the men:

=QF=
#1 Federer d. Srichaphan
#3 Hewitt d. Monfils
#4 Roddick d. #26 Lopez
#7 Agassi d. #14 T.Johansson
=SF=
#1 Federer d. #3 Hewitt
#4 Roddick d. #7 Agassi
=FINAL=
#1 Federer d. #4 Roddick

...was there really any doubt?


Again, check back all tournament for nightly Backspin Blogtown ruminations on the day's events (including the progress toward presenting the "Upset Queens" and "Miss Opportunity" awards). All for now.

2 Comments:

Blogger thesupernova said...

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your column. I look forward to it every week! Keep up the great work!!!

Tue Aug 30, 02:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Thanks. Hmmm, who could your username be referring to. I wonder... :)

Tue Aug 30, 06:59:00 PM EDT  

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