Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Blessed and the Cursed (1Q Edition)

At the start of the 2005 season, Backspin witnessed the dubious dual prediction of Tennisrulz head honcho Pierre Cantin and myself that '04 U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova would follow up her career year with an even better one...and finish the season at #1. As the Contessova's fortunes took a severe dip rather than an even grander upswing, the official birth announcement of the "Kuznetsova Curse" was but a mere formality.

It was a stark reality not to be overlooked nor forgotten anytime soon... and certainly not at the beginning of this season as Pierre and I, with no malice of our own, set out in January to inexplicably doom (and to be fair, also surprisingly bless) still more unwitting WTA players. Why such occurrences are seemingly unavoidable is unknown, but one learns not to question the motives of the tennis gods... and only to strive to stay on their good side. Myself and Pierre's role in this equation remains a mystery.

So, as the season's 1st Quarter comes to a close this weekend in Key Biscayne, it's time to lift the pre-season prediction rock to see which players might be this year's "victims" and/or "cherished wards."


First, to soften the blow a bit, let's examine a few of the players who've (so far) avoided the thundering power of "The Curse" by amazingly accomplishing some of the things we predicted they would.

On the Backspin side of the ledger, "blessed" players I expected big (some more so than others, of course) things from who've so far managed to achieve in spite of it all have been:

Sofia Arvidsson...she won her first WTA title in Memphis
Viktoria Azarenka...making the expected progress as she jumps from the juniors to the big tour
Nadia Petrova...she claimed her second career singles title in Doha
Samantha Stosur...the Aussie DID become the doubles #1
Ai Sugiyama...on the comeback trail after being injured in '05, she IS a "surging veteran"

Pierre's "safe" players appear to be:

Elena Dementieva...he predicted she'd win her first Tier I title, which she did in Tokyo
Marta Domachowska...a Top 50 ranking is looking good, and she almost won her first title -- losing to Arvidsson in the final -- in Memphis
Martina Hingis...she's looking mighty fine for that Top 20 -- or better -- ranking, and won a slam doubles title
Amelie Mauresmo...sticking with her until the end of days finally produced some dividends for Pierre, as Mauresmo actually won her first slam title


And what of the players who didn't know what awaited them in 2006, having been possibly doomed from the start by our overly optimistic expectations? Well, here are some of the ladies who could be destined for failure:


Lindsay Davenport & Mary Pierce...I had them finishing the year #1 and #2, but they've both either been disappointing and injured (Davenport) or largely absent (Pierce) for most of the 1st Quarter. Still, Pierce didn't really catch fire in '05 until Roland Garros, and Davenport's hardcourt and/or indoor season will largely determine whether what could be her final season on tour will be deemed a successful one.
Venus Williams...I picked Venus to finish at #6 and win a slam. So far, she's holding onto the #10 spot and still MIGHT be able to get herself together for a Wimbledon or US Open run... but, uhhh, she's got a lot of work to do if that's going to happen, considering she's yet to notch a single win in '06.

As for Pierre...

Jelena Dokic...remaining loyal, he thought the Debutante would finally right herself enough to slowly progress and finish in the Top 100. She's been AWOL (again) since Melbourne, and is currently closer to #500.
Serena Williams...hmmm, BOTH Williams sisters are candidates for "curse-dom." Another slam doesn't look to be in the cards in '06, as Serena's ranking is languishing in the #60's and no less than Chris Evert is practically begging/challenging her to rededicate herself to the game.
Vera Zvonareva...Pierre predicted a return to the Top 20. Her results HAVE improved a bit in 2006, but her consistency is still lost somewhere in 2004.


Anna-Lena Groenefeld's 2006 possibilities were a point of contention in my and Pierre's preseason predictions.

Needless to say, with ALG being dubbed Backspin's "Girl Friday" I took the optimistic view on the young German, saying she'd reach the Top 10 and win multiple singles titles. While Pierre said she wouldn't end the year in the Top 15 and would fail to win her first career singles title.

ALG, after a shudderingly slow start, won title #1 in Acapulco in February, and is currently #18 (a career high).

So, the jury is still out... but I like my chances.


Hmmm, but which player seems to have been royally jinxed by BOTH of us? Maybe it's Kim Clijsters.

I didn't pick the Belgian to win a slam in '06, but I did have her finishing the season at #3; while Pierre had Clijsters dominating the season en route to the year-end #1 ranking.

So far, Clijsters had been injury-plagued again this season and has yet to win a title of any kind, falling from her #1 ranking after skipping her Indian Wells title defense and losing her opening match in attempting to defend in Miami.

Something to keep an eye on.

**BUT WHAT OF...?**

...Svetlana Kuznetsova?

Well, after dooming the Contessova a year ago, we both "conveniently" avoided any BIG predictions for her in 2006 (tempting fate, though, I DID say she'd reach the US Open semis). To her credit, Kuznetsova HAS rebounded rather nicely this season, getting a win over Amelie Mauresmo and (this week in Miami) taking out Martina Hingis.

So, Kim -- or whichever player ultimately is this year's "lucky gal" -- shouldn't worry... being the unwilling victim of 2006's "Curse" needn't be a permanant condition.

But, for SOMEONE, it will likely be a reality.

All for now.


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