Saturday, January 14, 2006

Waltzing Mathilda Australian Open Preview

Grab some Tim Tams! Get out a spreadin' knife and some Vegemite! The Aussie Open is almost here!

The Australian Open has always been situated in an odd position on the WTA schedule. In the old days (before 1987), it was the fourth slam of the year, taking place in December. It was often overlooked, and some players decided against making the long trip at the end of a tiring season. The move to January alleviated much of that problem, since an elusive "Grand Slam" couldn't occur without a player first getting the Aussie Open under their belt.

But the move has brought a whole new set of difficulties when it comes to forecasting what will happen over the tournament's two weeks. Taking place at the start of the season after a likely too short offseason, it's still a feat for a player to be well-rested and on their game quickly enough to perform at a top level in the sometimes debilitating heat of Melbourne. Some players play several tuneups to get ready. Some play none. What works will change from year to year. It's a crap shoot, really (which makes Martina Hingis' six-year run of finals from 1997-02 all the more impressive).

2006 is no different. Already, the likes of Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters are nursing injuries as play begins Monday. Meanwhile, two players who've experience health problems over the past few years -- Justine Henin-Hardenne and Mary Pierce -- might enter Oz as among the most healthy.

Go figure...

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**2006 AUSSIE QUALIFYING RECAP**
==PLAYER AWARDS==
"DOROTHY" OF THE WEEK: Ashley Harkleroad
...the 20-year old American continues her road back to respectability in Oz. Plus, husband Alex Bogolomov Jr. qualified, as well.
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SHEILA (RISER): Cara Black
...the 26-year doubles #1 from Zimbabwe, ranked #202 (the lowest of the qualifiers), made it into the singles draw with a dominating third match win over Kateryna Bondarenko.
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GOBSMACKER (SURPRISE): Meng Yuan
...one of the youngest of the Cookies, the 19-year from China defeated Elena Baltacha and Bethanie Mattek en route to the main draw.
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AUNTIE EM (VETERAN): Tzipora Obziler
...the 32-year old Israeli vet already had wins over Jamea Jackson and Katarina Srebotnik before qualifying for Melbourne.
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MUNCHKIN (FRESH FACE): Victoria Azarenka
...the 16-year old Belarussian, the '05 Aussie Open Girls champ, knocked off Aleksandra Wozniak in the third round of qualifying.
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WALKABOUT (DOWN): Clarisa Fernandez
...it's been ages since the Argentine made the 2002 Roland Garros SF. She went down to Obziler in the first round of qualifying last week.
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==2006 QUALIFIERS==
[by age]
16...Victoria Azarenka (Belarus, #155)
18...Olga Savchuk (Ukraine, #191)
18...Jarmila Gajdosova (Slovakia, #129)
19...Meng Yuan (China, #152)
19...Anastasia Bohmova (Belarus, #115)
20...Ashley Harkleroad (USA, #155)
21...Kathrin Woerle (Germany, #172)
22...Yvonne Meusburger (Austria, #135)
26...Cara Black (Zimbabwe, #202)
26...Ting Li (China, #197)
28...Tamarine Tanasugarn (Thailand, #128)
32...Tzipora Obziler (Israel, #118)


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...it's hard to gauge how much what happens on the "Dorothy Tour" will mean anything as the season goes on. Remember, a year ago Serena Williams survived some struggles and ultimately won in Melbourne, then pretty much melted like butter in a skillet over the next ten months due to ankle and knee injuries.

Who'll be the season-long phantoms that only come to life over the next few weeks in 2006? Maybe Pierce, whose history makes one wonder if she'll be able to stay healthy all year. This might be her best slam chance this season.

A breakthrough youngster, maybe? Hingis and Amelie Mauresmo have had career breakthroughs at the Australian in the past. Last year, Alicia Molik steamed into the QF. Could the likes of a Nicole Vaidisova, Dinara Safina or some other teen do it this time around?

Maybe Svetlana Kuznetsova's good early season results will mean she'll belatedly live up to the 2004 U.S. Open title. And what of the sideshows, the Oz returns of Hingis and Jelena Dokic? Neither might last long, as Hingis faces Vera Zvonareva in the 1st Round, and Dokic goes up against Virginie Razzano...

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**FIRST SEEDS OUT???**
=MONDAY=
#29 Klara Koukalova (vs. Ekaterina Bychkova)
#25 Maria Kirilenko (vs. Evgenia Linetskaya)
#18 Elena Likhovtseva (vs. Lisa Raymond)
#19 Elena Dementieva (vs. Julia Schruff)
#13 Serena Williams (vs. Na Li)
=TUESDAY=
#20 Vera Zvonareva (vs. Martina Hingis)
#7 Patty Schnyder (vs. Eleni Daniilidou)
#32 Sania Mirza (vs. Victoria Azarenka)
#11 Nathalie Dechy (vs. Zi Yan)

**MISS OPPORTUNITY???**
(five possibilities)
Dinara Safina
Lucie Safarova
Nadia Petrova
Samantha Stosur
Svetlana Kuznetsova

**AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINALS 1997-05**
1997 Hingis def. Pierce
1998 Hingis def. Martinez
1999 Hingis def. Mauresmo
2000 Davenport def. Hingis
2001 Capriati def. Hingis
2002 Capriati def. Hingis
2003 S.Williams def. V.Williams
2004 Henin-Hardenne def. Clijsters
2005 S.Williams def. Davenport

**AUSTRALIAN OPEN GIRLS FINALS**
2001 Jelena Jankovic d. Sofia Arvidsson
2002 Barbora Strycova d. Maria Sharapova
2003 Barbora Strycova d. Viktoriya Kutuzova
2004 Shahar Peer d. Nicole Vaidisova
2005 Victoria Azarenka d. Agnes Szavay


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...2nd week predictions:

=4th Round=
#1 Davenport d. #14 Kuznetsova
#8 Henin-Hardenne d. #10 V.Williams
#4 Sharapova d. #13 S.Williams
#6 Petrova d. #9 Dementieva
#19 Safina d. Peer
#16 Vaidisova d. #3 Mauresmo
#5 Pierce d. Stosur
#2 Clijsters d. Safarova

=Quarterfinals=
#8 Henin-Hardenne d. #1 Davenport
#4 Sharapova d. #6 Petrova
#16 Vaidisova d. #19 Safina
#5 Pierce d. #2 Clijsters

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There have been some odd happenings in slams the last few years. Ever since Serena Williams won four straight slams in 2002-03, followed up by Justine Henin-Hardenne's 3-of-4 run, there have been seven different slam winners in the past seven slams, and only one of the seven was seeded in the top four:

2004 Roland Garros: #6 Anastasia Myskina
2004 Wimbledon: #13 Maria Sharapova
2004 U.S. Open: #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova
2005 Australian: #7 Serena Williams
2005 Roland Garros: #10 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2005 Wimbledon: #14 Venus Williams
2005 U.S. Open: #4 Kim Clijsters

So what does that say for the chances of this year's top three seeds -- Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo? Tennisrulz head honcho Pierre Cantin predicted eight different finalists in the eight slam finals slots this year. Certainly, two lower-seeded finalists in Melbourne would go a long way towards making that oddity possible. The last time it happened? In 1977, when there were actually 10 different slam finalists, since two versions of the Australian Open were held in both January, as well as December.


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**AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINAL HISTORY**
[players in 2006 draw]
3-3...Martina Hingis
2-0...Serena Williams
1-0...Justine Henin-Hardenne
1-1...Lindsay Davenport
1-1...Mary Pierce
0-1...Kim Clijsters
0-1...Venus Williams
0-1...Amelie Mauresmo

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**FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS**

=SEMIFINALS=
#8 Henin-Hardenne d. #4 Sharapova
#5 Pierce d. #16 Vaidisova

...JHH the healthiest top player? Wonders never cease. When was the last time we said that? Oh, yeah -- last year's Roland Garros. Even with possibly Venus, Davenport and Sharapova in her path, it's hard to go against her. Pierce, for her part, ended 2005 with four straight finals. We haven't seen her play yet in 2006, but that means she's had time to prepare and might be able to carry over her momentum. She could be the biggest beneficiery if Clijsters' hip injury hampers her movement.

=FINAL=


#8 Henin-Hardenne d. #5 Pierce

...as I said after Sydney, I won't make the mistake of underestimating JHH again. Another slam in Melbourne wouldn't mean 2006 will be another dream season for Le Petit Taureau, but when she's healthy you go against her at your own peril. I'm just not prepared to do that, so I'll say that it'll be Queen Justine who'll be the last Mathilda waltzing in Melbourne.


All for now.

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ALSO: Men's draw picks at ATP Backspin

AND: "The Daily Backspin" makes its return after Day 1's action

6 Comments:

Anonymous pra said...

After I saw the draw and made my precitions I wrote my preview and then now I am checking Pierre Cantin's predictions and it matches almost same. I thought I was crazy making impossible predictions but found it can happen beacuse someone else too thinks that.

Sun Jan 15, 04:38:00 AM EST  
Anonymous pra said...

I am sorry......... instead of Todd I wrote Pierre by mistake.

Sun Jan 15, 05:49:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Pierre should be making predictions, too, I think. Actually, I'm not sure what he's doing, considering he's in Melbourne this week for the tournament.

By the way, Jon Wertheim's SI.com predictions were:

SF: JHH d. Sharapova; Clisjters d. Vaidisova

FINAL: JHH d. Clijsters

Sun Jan 15, 10:41:00 AM EST  
Anonymous pra said...

I too had sent my article on this week's Oz Open but after waiting for long hours, i still haven't found it on the site, i think Pierre is on his jet plane!
Todd's prediction are great but I think we should not forget Davenport though Henin-Hardenne has been my favorite player since 2001.

Sun Jan 15, 01:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

By the way, Pierre's predictions are up on the site now.

SF: Davenport d. Sharapova; Mauresmo d. Clijsters

FINAL: Davenport d. Mauresmo


I'll have a link to each of his Melbourne reports in the "Links of the Week" section. Just click on the little mouse. By the way, the mouse is no commentary on Pierre or his picks. I just wanted an image to represent his reports and that was all I could find. :)

I might just keep changing it. :)

Sun Jan 15, 02:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm... now that I look at it, I'm not even sure that is a mouse. Some kind of critter, though.

Sun Jan 15, 02:37:00 PM EST  

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