Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2006 Top 10 Picks

A year ago, both Backspin and Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin made the absolutely brilliant call of putting Svetlana Kuznetsova at the very top of our Top 10 lists. Boy, we thought we were going to be basking in the bright light our intuitive powers eleven months later... but I could sense we'd doomed the Contessova.

Within a few days, Kuznetsova was embroiled in LAST year's failed drug test rumor story. She went on to go title-less for the season, bombed out in the 1st Round of her U.S. Open championship defense and ended the year at #15. "The Kuznetsova Curse" was indeed real.

You'll notice in this year's offerings that neither of us are paying Kuznetsova much mind. Fool us once, shame on her. Fool us twice, shame on us. If we're atrociously wrong again, well, Sveltana will owe us one for initiating her turnaround (a small portion of her season winnings would do just fine, I'd say).

Seriously, though, from the looks of things we aren't going to curse anyone in 2006... there are too many stark differences in our Top 10 predictions for that.

First up is Pierre...


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==TOP 10 YOU WILL SEE ON NOVEMBER 12, 2006==

by Pierre Cantin

Ok, so this is it, the time where Todd and I face off for perhaps the most anticipated prediction of all -- the Top 10. Now I have to admit, this year I've used a crystal ball, and while I truly admire Todd's abilities, (they are famous throughout the tennis world by now), he will soon admit that his picks do not even come close. Remember last year's collapse because of the famous curse on Kuznetsova? I can finally tell you all that Todd was actually responsible for it. :)

2006 should be very interesting, as we will see. We have the veterans, like Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce who had remarkable seasons last year, and then you have those players who should be playing their best tennis. The Belgian Waffles, for example. And you have the Russians, the Williams sisters, the young prospects, etc. And also, what impact will the loss of quality points in the WTA rankings have on the players?

So without further wait, here is the top 10 you will see at the end of this year!

10-Elena Dementieva: I'm putting Elena at #10 but it hurts to do that. I think Elena still is improving her game, her serve is getting better and if she does finish considerably better than #10, I would not be surprised at all. She has as good a game as anyone once the ball is in play and it's all about putting the mental game and her serve under control. She will surely do some wonders in a few big tournaments and it's all a matter of how she can perform in those big matches that will determine if she takes that next step.
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9-Venus Williams: Venus will once again have an up and down year. The fact that she won the Wimbledon Championships last year was certainly an incredible accomplishment. And while she still has the game, two big problems will not let her enter the Top 5. First off, there are the recurring health problems that will hang over her. But also, with the increasing competition, I don't think Venus' half-time schedule can really cut it...
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8-Anastasia Myskina: The Czarina, Anastasia had a tough season on so many levels in 2005. She had those personal problems we all know about (mother's health problems) and frankly tennis was probably the last thing on her mind. And yet, after a tough start and a 1st round exit in the French Open while trying to defend her grand slam title, she recovered and by the end of the season, she seemed more happy on court and ready to play with the best. I think if we look at her game, she certainly has a game few can match and while she perhaps cannot challenge the top 3-4 players in the world on a consistent basis, I think she will certainly move way up compared to her 2005 season.
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7-Nicole Vaidisova: In this list, the only player to never have been in the top 10 is the Czech Republic's Nicole Vaidisova. I saw Nicole play on several occasions in 2005 and it was stunning to me how fast her game is improving. She appears to have the motivation, the game, and everything else needed (only her movement is questionable) to make big waves in 2006. Her decision to play smaller events at the end of last year certainly proved the right one as she won a few tournaments while accumulating wins and confidence all the while. I'm pretty sure she worked as hard as anyone in the off-season... Remember this prediction because Nicole will open lots of eyes in 2006.
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6-Amelie Mauresmo: Amelie certainly had a big breakthrough in last year's championships as she won the Year-End Championships in Los Angeles, but the thing is, as much as the tour would like to put that event in the same league as the 4 grand slam events, truth is, it's nowhere near. The last big event in tennis is the US Open and the hype by players, fans and media is at a much lower level for the L.A tournament. Amelie certainly has a good game and was pretty healthy in 2005 but I think competition will be too high and she will be unable to play her best at the slams.
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5-Lindsay Davenport: What a season Lindsay Davenport had in 2006! She will certainly have another great one this year, and will make some good runs in slams. But that's just it. I think with her career extending a bit more, Lindsay will concentrate more and more on the few slams she cares most about (Wimbledon, US Open) which could mean a bit of a slide in the rankings....
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4-Serena Williams: Serena, Serena, Serena... it's always the same story. Last year, I had chose her to win the Australian Open, which she did, but I had also expected her to play much better tennis for the whole year and injury problems still were a big concern. I'm hoping during this off-season she did some work on her body and her mechanics that will help her to play a big part of the 2006 season...
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3-Justine Henin-Hardenne: Justine certainly has lots of talent and she'll live up to it, but it would be impossible to not expect any health problems...
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2-Maria Sharapova: So Todd does not expect Maria to have such a great season, quite the contrary, my friend. Maria has kept the level of her game up and she has been improving. Let's not forget she is still very young and has been improving at a faster rate than any of the other players in last year's Top 10. She will improve her variety and consistency and will stay mentally strong... one or two more slams this year, the real test for her will be the clay court season.
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1-Kim Clijsters: The overall best player by far, Kim Clijsters will be too much to handle and with some improvement on her serve, one of her "weaknesses", I think Kim will be in shape to dominate and put off plans and talks about retirement.
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Hmmm, well anyone who's been following along with my IQ's the last few weeks knows that Pierre has "laughed in the face" of some of my biggest predictions. Tsk, tsk... when will he ever learn?

Here's my Top 10, plus a few more to watch:

1.Lindsay Davenport... booorrring, I know. But she's overdue for that last slam title, and has finished in the top spot in 2004-05 without one. Winning slam #4 could keep her from having to sweat out the computer in the closing weeks.
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2.Mary Pierce... the Top 2 will both be players over 30? Incredibly, that's what I'm going with. I love the drama of it all, when everything "old" is new again. Plus, both are half a decade younger than Agassi, so what's in an age?
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3.Kim Clijsters... she'll surely spend time at #1 in 2006, but she has so many titles to defend and I just wonder if she'll care as much about winning another slam now that she has one in hand.
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4.Amelie Mauresmo... the win at the YEC won't mean a thing, largely because Mauresmo KNOWS it wasn't as big of a deal as a slam, and because now she'll probably place even more pressure on herself to try to win her first. That spells trouble.
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5.Justine Henin-Hardenne... when she's healthy, JHH has proven to be hard to beat since 2003. She'll be healthy enough to get back into the Top 5, but not enough to challenge for #1.
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6.Venus Williams... I'll close my eyes and tell myself that Venus will be healthy enough to compete at least semi-regularly this season. Is that a "dream scenario?"
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7.Maria Sharapova... injuries will finally slow the Supernova down enough to make the first three-quarters of the year a bit of a grind. But she'll rebound late and come charging into 2007.
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8.Nicole Vaidisova... if she follows Sharapova's 2004 pattern -- when the Supernova held the IQ #1 spot seven months before her Wimbledon triumph -- Vaidisova could be even higher than this.
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9.Nadia Petrova... I'll steadfastly stand behind the Empress, who can play well on any surface and is a joy to watch when she's on. If she starts off 2006 well, she might even be the top-rated Russian come November. (Yeah, I know that's a tad blasphemous).
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10.Anna-Lena Groenefeld... this is my rolling-the-dice Top 10 pick, and #10 seems like a good spot for it. Girl Friday's not off to a very good start at the Hopman Cup this week in Perth, but this prediction was always contingent on ALG gathering steam and hitting her stride during the North American hardcourt season.
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==THE NEXT FIVE?==
11.Ana Ivanovic... I'd be remiss if I didn't mention AnaIvo, who's just seemed to miss out on all the Backspin preview columns. If there'd been eleven IQ's, she'd made the list. And, here again she's at #11. Backspin was all over AnaIvo early last season (and judging from all the recent internet polls and the teenager's willingness to court the attention, everyone else has joined in), but her results tailed off a bit in 2005's latter stages and she dropped just off my prediction radar. This is just the first step toward correcting that oversight.
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12.Elena Dementieva... I can't believe I have the Russian this far down the list, but I'm unwilling to sacrifice anyone above her.
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13.Serena Williams... if I'm dreaming that Venus will be healthy in 2006, how would it be possible for Serena to be, as well?
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14.Dinara Safina... she might be finally ready to break into the Russian upper tier.
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15.Anastasia Myskina... (see Dementieva)
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==OH, AND DON'T FORGET...==
Svetlana Kuznetsova... fool me twice, shame on me. This time, no pressure... or curse.


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All for now.

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STILL TO COME: IQ #1 (V is for Vaidisova), and one final avalanche of 2006 predictions

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Todd - Have you noticed that it appears the WTA has changed the rankings policy this year? It looks like bonus points are out of the calculation and rankings will instead be based strictly on which round a player loses. If this is correct, it would certainly favor lower ranked players who have fewer bonus points to defend; Serena won an extra 200 points in Australia last year for beating Davenport, and she won't have a chance to recoup those points.

Maybe the policy isn't different, but you wouldn't know that for this: http://www.sonyericssonwtatour.com/global/includes/TrackIt.asp?file=/global/Pdfs/rankings/howitworks.pdf

Thu Jan 05, 12:24:00 PM EST  
Blogger thesupernova said...

I'm glad to Vaidisova in both of your top tens. And I know how you both love Justine so I hesitate to say this but I feel it needs to be said......I don't think Justine will be in the top ten at the end of the year. I don't think she will be able to shake of her illness/injuries. I think she needs to pull a Molik and take a year off.
I think Petrova might be a little higher too. Now that's she got one title and knows she can do it, I think she'll win at least 5 and make really good runs at the Slams.
Here's my prediction:
1. Kim Clijsters
2. Lindsay Davenport
3. Mary Pierce
4. Venus Williams
5. Amelie Mauresmo
6. Maria Sharapova
7. Nicole Vaidisova
8. Elena Dementieva
9. Anastasia Myskina
10. Anna-Lena Groenefeld

Thu Jan 05, 04:19:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, the points system is more like the ATP's now. Personally, I don't like it. It's less convoluted and awards consistency, but, let's face it, some wins ARE better than others and a player should get a little "extra" for them... upsetting Sharapova in the 1st Round shouldn't count the same as beating a qualifier. Ultimately, it won't likely make much difference in the rankings of the top players, but the younger players trying to climb up the rankings will have a tougher time. Although, as in the case with Serena in Melbourne, even some top players won't get extra boosts from a few wins.

I'm sure by the end of the year, though, no one will even think about it.

Looks like that "How It Works" section of the tour website has been updated from last year. The 2005 WTA/ATP Guide ranking section lists the Quality Points right before the "General Rules" section. Also, looks like the ranking points awarded for the top events (Slams, YEC, $2m Tier I's) have increased slightly. For example, a slam title was worth 650 last year but is 700 now.

Fri Jan 06, 01:42:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

JHH is a tough little bugger.:)

Petrova had to retire in her Auckland SF... now I'm nervous "The Curse" might have shifted to another Russian. :o

Fri Jan 06, 01:44:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Just to clarify what I said about the quality points... yeah, the top players have a lot of quality points that they won't defend, but so will the other top players as the year goes along. It'll mostly even out as time goes by, and each player gradually loses their quality points over eleven months. Serena can't defend those Australian quality points, but it's really losing the 650 from winning last year that'll hurt if she doesn't defend the title.

A few hundred points doesn't effect a top player quite so much (take away 200 points, and Serena only drops from #11 to #13), but take Lucie Safarova, who finished #50, for example. Take away 100 (which is what a slam win over a world #5 was worth) from her total and she's #62. 100 more and she's at #77 based on the rankings at the end of '05 WTA season. The lower ranked players don't have as many quality points they can't defend, but now they won't be able to make huge leaps based on one or two big wins (like Groenefeld getting 100 for a victory over Davenport last year).

Not sure if that cleared up what I said, but it was worth a try. :)

Fri Jan 06, 01:59:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lower ranked players will still be able to make a big leap under this system. The top players point totals will come down throughout the year. Slam winners regularly accumulated more than 1,000 points for the victory, and that is now capped at 700. The gap between Davenport (#1) and Fujiwara (#100) will shrink since Fujiwara has proportionately fewer bonus points to defend, and should she replicate her wins from last year, her points will stay about the same. The top players totals will also drop if they have to count a zero for not playing at the Tier 1s (which only top players qualify for anyway). This will have the effect of squeezing the gap between all players. We see this happen in the comparable ATP system, and big leaps/drops do happen there frequently (a la James Blake's US Open run last year). This 'a win is a win' system will help the WTA explain rankings projections & movements better, but I'm skeptical whether it's beneficial to remove the quality of win component.

Fri Jan 06, 11:35:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're BOTH kidding about Vaidisova.

I watched her yesterday against Schiavone and the girl has a BAD BAD temper and she will lose a lot of matches against the top ten because of this. This temper gives her loads of double faults and errors (see Petrova Vs. Vaidisova, US Open 4th round 2005, where Vaidisova led in BOTH sets and became angry, then capitulated)

Fri Jan 13, 07:27:00 AM EST  

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