Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wk.44-How Smart We Were/How Dumb We Were

Ah, now is the time of the year when we all like to remind everyone of how great some of our pre-season predictions were... and try to forget the ones that didn't turn out as planned. But there'll be no such selective memory here at Backspin. Back in January, both Tennisrulz head honcho Pierre Cantin and myself walked the plank... err, I mean went out on a limb... with some prognostications for the 2005 WTA season. Some were good. Some were bad. Some were, well, just plain unfortunate.


Backspin brilliantly predicted that...

1)Nadia Petrova, Ana Ivanovic, Klara Koukalova and Zi Yan (who was ranked #296 as '05 began -- so I'm pretty proud of that one!) would win their first WTA singles crowns this season... and that Jennifer Capriati, Chanda Rubin, Karolina Sprem and Eleni Daniliidou would go title-less
2)no American teenager would win a WTA singles title. Okay, I know that wasn't exactly a stretch... but I wanted a way to bring up the "Intriguing Question #6" that wondered whether Lindsay Davenport might be the last American woman to be ranked #1 in the 2000's. With the decade half over, it surely looks like there won't be another before 2010 (probably not even a Williams), and the next decade isn't looking very promising, either. In fact, the only American not named Davenport or Williams to claim a WTA singles title in 2005 was 33-year old Amy Frazier last week in Philadelphia. Not a good sign. 15-year old Alexa Glatch, though, did reach the U.S. Open girls final. So it looks like she might have an undue amount of pressure unfairly placed on her shoulders over the next few years.
3)no 2004 slam winners would defend their titles in 2005, Justine Henin-Hardenne would win her fourth slam title (she did it at Roland Garros), and Amelie Mauresmo's "Grand Slam Gambit" would fail in Australia, but that Wimbledon might offer her the best chance at success (her top '05 slam result was a SF at SW19)
4)Venus Williams would have a healthier season than sister Serena (Venus played 43 matches to Serena's 28, with Serena counting up two walkovers and two retirements to Venus' one premature in-tournament exit due to injury). The subject of "Intriguing Question #5," the sisters didn't provide enough evidence to reverse the thinking that "The Williams Era" is over, but they did remind everyone of their past glories by each taking a slam title this season. As predicted, Venus made a slam final (won it, in fact) and her season surpassed Serena's as the older sibling had more titles (2 to 1) and a higher ranking (#9 to #11).
5)Martina Navratilova would not retire in 2005, and that Martina Hingis would provide us with more than just an on-court cameo this season (she was the outright star of the World TeamTennis season, leading New York to the title)
6)Kveta Peschke, at 30, would have a late career surge (she's behind only Nicole Vaidisova in the rankings amongst the Czech Maidens) and garner Comeback Player of the Year consideration
7)speaking of Vesuvius, I predicted that Vaidisova would win three titles (hit that one right on the button!) and finish in the Top 25 (she's currently #16 at age 16). I also had Daniela Hantuchova finishing in the Top 30 (#19), but not winning a title in 2005.
8)Cookies Shuai Peng (#37) and Jie Zheng (#44) would finish in the Top 50
9)Serena Williams would have three great weeks in 2005. They turned out to be two in Melbourne, then the first in Miami just before she hurt her ankle at Indian Wells, an injury that plagued her the remainder of the season. Of course, I also predicted that none of her great weeks would occur consecutively... Serena's Australian Open title stuck a pin in that one. Can't win them all, I guess.
10)and, finally, I threw in a longshot prediction that a Top 100 player would pose nude ala Aussie basketball star Lauren Jackson (in the magazine B&W last year). It didn't look like this one was going to play out in my favor, then just-turned-18 Ana Ivanovic came to the rescue. I wasn't sure if this counted as a correct prediction, but Pierre assured me that it met the qualifications.

Pierre brilliantly stated that...

1)Justine Henin-Hardenne wouldn't return to the Top 2 in the rankings because she wouldn't play enough the season after her virus-plagued 2004, but...
2)...when she played, she'd be dominant. JHH played just nine tournaments in 2005, winning four and making a final in a fifth. She was 24-0 on the European clay circuit, concluding it with her Roland Garros title.
3)Nicole Vaidisova would be the "rising star" of 2005 (she might be of 2006, as well, I'd say)
4)Lindsay Davenport would be the "veteran of the year" (I'd say the #1 ranking would qualify her for that)
5)Sesil Karatantcheva would be the "fresh face" new star of 2005. She was certainly one of them... just ask Venus about her "unknown" conqueror at Roland Garros.
6)Jennifer Capriati would have a "down" season. Hmmm... this one's kind of like whether a tree would make a sound if it fell in the woods with no one around to hear it. In Capriati's case, the sound of her nonexistent season was deafening.
7)Daniela Hantuchova's results would begin to pick up during the grass season. Wonder Girl was just 14-13 heading into Wimbledon, then was 23-12 the rest of the way.
8)Serena Williams would win the Australian Open
9)Russia would easily defend its Fed Cup crown. It might not have been "easy," but the Horde surely managed to maintain their 2004 excellence with another title.


Backspin actually said that...

1)Serena wouldn't win a slam in 2005 (got that one out of the way early)
2)Anastasia Myskina would be the first Russian female #1 (it was Sharapova), and that a Russian would win in Oz (again, Serena stuck a pin in that prediction balloon mere weeks after I made it)
3)Tatiana Golovin and Vera Dushevina (well, at that time it was "Douchevina") would win their first WTA titles, and Iveta Benesova would win her second.
4)a Chinese player would make a slam QF, and that Na Li would end the year in the Top 30 (after a few injuries, she's only #58)
5)Nicole Vaidisova would reach a slam QF and pull off a big upset (this one almost happened, as she blew a lead against Nadia Petrova in the 4th Round of the U.S. Open)
6)Svetlana Kuznetsova would end the year at #1, and either Elena Dementieva or Vera Zvonareva would reach a slam final (Dementieva was up a set on Mary Pierce in the U.S. Open SF, at least)
7)Monica Seles (not yet) and Lindsay Davenport (doesn't look likely) would retire in the 2005 calendar year
8)Kim Clijsters wouldn't end her slam drought. I battled this one to the bitter end in Flushing Meadows, but "Killer Kim" ended up being born anyway. Oh, well... the tour's more interesting the way things turned out.

Pierre really did say that...

1)Jelena Dokic would get her game together in 2005. She fell from #125 to #353 in the rankings, and has essentially become "The Invisible Girl"
2)Five or six Russians would end the year in the Top 10. Right now, it's just three.
3)Maria Sharapova would be the 2005 Player of the Year after rising to #1 during the season. She did rise to #1 (she's currently #3), but even defending her WTA Championships title wouldn't allow her to wrestle away the "Top Player" honors from Kim Clijsters.
4)Svetlana Kuznetsova would be the "best all-around player" on tour this season and...
5)...finish the year at the top of the rankings. She went 29-17, reached just one final and is ranked #15. This is a truly awful prediction both Pierre and I unfortunately shared.
6)an eastern European player (possibly from the Czech Republic) would be a slam threat in 2005. The closest he came on this was one was Ana Ivanovic reaching the QF at Roland Garros. Vaidisova, though, might make this a good candidate for a similar prediction in 2006.
7)Vera Zvonareva would win a slam. She was just 22-21 on the year, though she did win a title in Memphis. She's currently #40, after going just 4-3 in 2005 slams (and missing the U.S. Open due to injury).
8)Kim Clijsters would not be able to make a successful comeback from her wrist injury and would retire before the end of the season. Whoops.

**2005 TOP 10 FORECASTS**
[]-actual rank
--BACKSPIN'S Top 10--
1.Svetlana Kuznetsova[15]
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne[6]
3.Amelie Mauresmo[4]
4.Maria Sharapova[3]
5.Anastasia Myskina[12]
6.Venus Williams[9]
7.Lindsay Davenport[1]
8.Serena Williams[11]
9.Elena Dementieva[7]
10.Tatiana Golovin[24]

--PIERRE's TOP 10--
1.Svetlana Kuznetsova[15]
2.Maria Sharapova[3]
3.Amelie Mauresmo[4]
4.Justine Henin-Hardenne[6]
5.Serena Williams[11]
6.Anastasia Myskina[12]
7.vera Zvonareva[40]
8.Elena Dementieva[7]
9.Lindsay Davenport[1]
10.Daniela Hantuchova[19]

...see, I knew back in January that we'd put the ultimate curse on Kuznetsova. All in all, a pretty decent record for both of us, I'd say. We'll have to see if we can do even better for 2006, though.

Now, onto to Week 44...

S: Amelie Mauresmo d. Elena Dementieva 7-5/2-6/7-5
D: Black/Stubbs d. Raymond/Stosur
S: Amy Frazier d. Sofia Arvidsson 6-1/7-5
D: Rodionova/Vesnina d. Dekmeijere/Harkleroad


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Amelie Mauresmo
...Albie finally stemmed the tide of her late season slide, injury-related or not. When Dementieva dropped the ball in the Philly final, Mauresmo picked it up and ran away with her third title of the season (#18 for her career) as she completed a three-peat championship run at this draw-decimated (Davenport, Sharapova and V.Williams all withdrew) event.
RISERS: Cara Black & Elena Dementieva
...world doubles #1 Black won her sixth title of the year (and third of '05 with Rennae Stubbs) in Philly, and will go to L.A. this week to try to win another. Dementieva's serve went back to its old ways in the Philly final, but she at least avenged her recent loss to Kveta Peschke. Still, she failed to win a title in 2005 (so far, at least) and was just 2-6 in eight SF. She recently said that there's really nothing preventing her from becoming the #1 player in the world, after gaining confidence from a win over Kim Clijsters in Filderstadt. Well, there might be one thing.
SURPRISE: Sofia Arvidsson
...remember when the Swedes ruled the women's tennis world? Yeah, me either. But 21-year old Arvidsson is at least making a move up as the season comes to a close. Her Quebec City RU was a career best (after three previous QF results on tour in 2005), and continued the forward mobility hinted at earlier this year with unlucky draws (she lost to both Vaidisova & Petrova en route to 4Q titles), and main draw victories at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
VETERANS: Amy Frazier & Rennae Stubbs
...hey, picking Frazier to win Quebec City last week didn't turn out to be a bad choice after all! Before recent weeks, the 33-year old American hadn't had much of a season. But an ITF tour title likely gave her the momentum she needed to carry a nice run through last week for her eighth career crown on the WTA tour. After finishing 2004 at #26, Frazier was ranked #70 before last week (she's now #55). While Frazier was the oldest singles winner on tour in 2005, 34-year old Philly champ Stubbs became the season's oldest doubles winner not named Navratilova. Liezel Huber's injury earlier this year turned out to be a boon for Stubbs, who moved into the vacant position as Black's doubles partner after having been supplanted by Huber as the lady from Zimbabwe's partner for much of the year. Now, rather than Black/Huber going to L.A. as the #1-seeded team for the season, it'll be Black/Stubbs (#5 in the season points race) on the court.
FRESH FACES: Nicole Vaidisova & Alisa Kleybanova
...Vaidisova's kind of taken up residence in this spot this quarter. She was up to her old tricks again in Philadelphia. She extended her winning streak to 18 matches before finally losing to Mauresmo in the SF by a tight 7-5/7-5 score. Just wait until 2006. Russian 16-year old Kleybanova won her third ITF title since August, taking the Sutama $25K event in Japan.
DOWN: Vera Zvonareva
...speaking of taking root in a category. Vera the Almost's singles season finally was put out of its misery by Sesil Karatantcheva in the 1st Round in Philadelphia. She'll be in L.A. this week playing doubles, though.


1.Phil F -- Mauresmo d. Dementieva
...7-5/2-6/7-5. Punch-Sober served two DF in the game and double-faulted at break point while up 5-4 in the 3rd set. Ouch. Mauresmo is now the only currently-reigning three-peat champ (2003-05) at any event as the 2005 season ends.
2.Phil SF - Mauresmo d. Vaidisova
...7-5/7-5. Look at that -- Mauresmo won four 7-5 sets out of five in the SF and Final.
3.Que F - Frazier d. Arvidsson
...6-1/7-5. Frazier's closing in on 500 career victories (she has 484), and her first title came nearly 17 years ago in 1989 (when Maria Sharapova was just 22 months old, by the way).
4.Phil 1st - Karatantcheva d. Zvonareva
...7-5/6-3. Zvonareva ends the year on a four-match losing streak.
5.Phil QF - Dementieva d. Peschke
...4-6/6-0/6-3. It wasn't easy, but Dementieva wouldn't let Peschke beat her twice within a week's time.


9...Kim Clijsters
6...Lindsay Davenport
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Amelie Mauresmo
3...Nicole Vaidisova

10..Lindsay Davenport (6-4)
9...Kim Clijsters (9-0)
6...Amelie Mauresmo (3-3)
5...Justine Henin-Hardenne (4-1)
5...Patty Schnyder (2-3)

33...Amy Frazier (Nov.-Quebec City)
32...Conchita Martinez (Feb.-Pattaya)
30...Mary Pierce (Aug.-San Diego)

48...Martina Navratilova (Toronto w/ Groenefeld)
34...Rennae Stubbs (Philadelphia w/ Black)
34...Els Callens (Antwerp w/ Black)

Lucie Safarova (2 WTA, 3 ITF)
Amy Frazier (1 WTA, 1 ITF)

7...Kristina Barrois (Germany, 23)
6...Petra Cetkovska (Czech Republic, 20)
5...Romina Oprandi (Italy, 19)
4...Madalina Gojnea (Romania, 17)
4...Monica Niculescu (Romania, 17)
4...Su-Wei Hsieh (Tapei, 19)
4...Anne Keothavong (Britain, 22)

24...Justine Henin-Hardenne (Apr-Jun)
22...Kim Clijsters (Aug-Oct)
18...Nicole Vaidisova (Sept-Nov)

0-3...Anna-Lena Groenefeld
0-3...Jelena Jankovic
0-3...Francesca Schiavone
0-2...Elena Dementieva
0-2...Samantha Stosur



...ah, the final event of 2005. Time to close out the Prediction Corner after a great 4Q that saved this year's selection record from being an embarrassment (again, big thanks to Amy for last week!).

04 F(s): Sharapova d. S.Williams
04 F(d): Petrova/Shaughnessy d. Black/Stubbs
GREEN GROUP PICKS: Davenport 3-0, Sharapova 2-1, Petrova 1-2, Schnyder 0-3
BLACK GROUP PICKS: Clijsters 2-1, Pierce 2-1, Mauresmo 2-1, Dementieva 0-3

SF: Davenport d. Pierce; Clijsters d. Sharapova
FINAL: Clijsters d. Davenport

...and Clijsters ends the season as #1. Although, things began Tuesday with Pierce upsetting Clijsters 7-6 in the 3rd set -- so it might be wise to hold onto your hats for a wild week.



All for now.


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Up next: 2005 Backspin Awards


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