Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wimbledon Preview: The Deep End of the Court

Ah, Wimbledon. The Big W. SW19. Both the King and Queen of the slams, if for no other reason than the novelty of being the last remaining major grass court tournament in the world. The All-England Club is steeped in tradition and history, so why not apply a little of that to this year's action?

Yeah, I know I tried to work that angle before Roland Garros, too. It didn't work then, so much so that the injury that contributed to Nadia Petrova's 1st Round exit in Paris has knocked her from the draw for this slam, as well. But, undaunted, Backspin presses forward with the "every broken clock is right twice a day" philosophy, and takes another stab at it (and, no, that's not a Guenter Parche reference... well, at least not until right now).

With Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams, winners of a combined three Wimbledon titles and runners-up three additional times since 1999, are both on the sidelines this year, leaving the door ajar for some fresh meat to stake a claim to the big plate... or the most consistently successful grass court player of the decade to add another chapter to her SW19 history.

2000 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2001 Venus Williams d. Justine Henin
2002 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2003 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2004 Maria Sharapova d. Serena Williams
2005 Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport

See any sort of pattern there? The 2000's have yet to experience a Wimbledon final that didn't include a Williams, even with all the sisters' ups-and-downs over that time span. Obviously, there's only one player who can continue this grass-stained 21st century march.

Sometimes we forget just how superior Venus has been at Wimbledon. As a three-time winner and defending champ, she's appeared in five of the last six Wimbledon finals. If not for that umpire who couldn't keep score in '04, she might have been in six straight... and if not for her little sister, might be carrying on a Samprasian tradition on Centre Court.

After a long layoff following the Australian Open, Venus rejoined the tour just before Roland Garros. She faired pretty well, too, on the surface least suited to her style of play. She reached the QF, and seemed to be on her way to peaking during the forthcoming fortnight. I said as much at the time, and now find myself itching to do a 180 on my less than enthusiastic reaction to Venus' coming-up-for-air championship of a year ago. You know, the one where she jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped for...

...well, you get the idea. She might STILL be jumping in some alternate universe, for all we know.

Wimbledon does sometimes make for strange bedfellows, and Backspin and Venus might be fit to be tied over the next two weeks.

But how can Justine be ignored?

Here I was, moving forward with the idea of Venus, if you will, bringing a little title for Backspin to thrill and -- wham! -- Henin-Hardenne is magnificent in Eastbourne, looking better on grass than ever and stepping forward as the only top player emerging from the tune-up events with any sort of sustainable momentum. Oh, and JHH has some history she's chasing, too. The only slam she's yet to win is SW19, and a title there would add her name to this illustrious list of "Career Slam" winners:

[Aust-RG-Wimb-US titles]
Doris Hart (1-2-1-2, 1949-55)
Maureen Connelly (1-2-3-3, 1951-54)
Shirley Fry (1-1-1-1, 1951-57)
Margaret Court (11-5-3-5, 1960-73)
Billie Jean King (1-1-6-4, 1966-75)
Chris Evert (2-7-3-6, 1974-86)
Martina Navratilova (3-2-9-4, 1978-90)
Steffi Graf (4-6-7-5, 1987-99)
Serena Williams (2-1-2-2, 1999-05)

An SW19 win would cement Henin-Hardenne's place in tennis history, and would officially reinstall her atop the women's game, circa 2006.

No matter how much I'd enjoy shining a spotlight on the likes of Maria Sharapova, Nicole Vaidisova or Nadia Pe- (whoops, force of habit, I guess) as one of my picks to take this year's title, I simply can't escape the Venus/Justine vortex of power. It's completely sucked me in. I have my two finalists.

Now, picking someone to WIN the title? That's an entirely different story.

[3 youngest]
16...Yung-Jan Chan, TPE
18...Vasilisa Bardina, RUS
18...Yaroslava Shvedova, RUS
[3 oldest]
33...Nicole Pratt, AUS
29...Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
28...Meilen Tu, USA
[lucky loser]
Julia Vakulenko
[last qualifier standing?]
Bardina or Tanasugarn

#17 Maria Kirilenko (vs. Asagoe)
#24 Marion Bartoli (vs. Pin)
#27 Na Li (vs. Razzano)
#30 Anna Chakvetadze (vs. Yan)
#32 Mara Santangelo (vs. Frazier)
[maybe, but probably not]
#2 Kim Clijsters (vs. Zvonareva)
#5 Svetlana Kuznesova (vs. Oprandi)
#7 Elena Dementieva (vs. Mirza)
#9 Anastasia Myskina (vs. Black)
#10 Nicole Vaidisova (vs. Koukalova)
[first Top 10 player out?]
#1 Amelie Mauresmo
#7 Elena Dementieva

...Sheesh. I'm still in a pickle about which way to go. With the player I've been mentally pointing toward since Roland Garros, or the one that I'd probably WANT to win more (and who picking against has been anathema to me successfully making predictions in this woeful season for prognostication... in case you've lost count, last week's 0-for-2 puts me in a wake-me-when-it's-over 21-tournament tailspin)?

Venus or Justine? Such a dilemma. Well, I'll go ahead with the rounds preceding the final.

*Round of 16*
#14 Safina d. #1 Mauresmo
#6 V.Williams d. #9 Myskina
#4 Sharapova d. Daniilidou
#25 Likhovtseva d. #22 Dechy
#12 Hingis d. #31 Dulko
#3 Henin-Hardenne d. Jackson
#5 Kuznetsova d. #10 Vaidisova
#13 Groenefeld d. #2 Clijsters

...the Dynamova gets to show Kuznetsova what she's learned from her loss to her in Paris. Groenefeld gets to show Clijsters what she's learned from HER loss to Kuznetsova in Eastbourne.

#6 V.Williams d. #14 Safina
#4 Sharapova d. #25 Likhovtseva
#3 Henin-Hardenne d. #12 Hingis
#5 Kuznetsova d. #13 Groenefeld

...ALG still might not have learned enough to defeat Kuznetsova this time around, either.

#6 V.Williams d. #4 Sharapova
#3 Henin-Hardenne d. #5 Kuznetsova

...I'm already mentally pencilling in a healthier and more in form Sharapova as Wimbledon champion in 2007, though.

In order to delay a final decision a little longer, let's go to Pierre (who's full Wimbledon review can be found on Tennisrulz).

4th round results:
Safina(14) def Mauresmo(1) - this would be pretty big for Dinara, but she seems to be growing in confidence fast...

VWilliams(6) def Myskina(9) - tough one to predict, a 3 set match for sure... Venus is tough to beat on grass though

Sharapova(4) def Peer(20) - no problems here... Peer is solid and a fighter, but in Wimbledon? Nope.. not gonna happen

Dementieva(7) def Dechy(22)

Hingis(12) def Schnyder(8) - battle of the Swiss, an interesting match, but Hingis will outsmart her opponent

Hantuchova(15) def Henin-Hardenne(3) - the upset of the 4th round, Daniela certainly has all the shots to do it, taking out Justine in slams is never easy, but I think Dani will pull it off...

Vaidisova(10) def Kuznetsova(5) - Wow...great match in perspective, but I think Nicole has her game going, playing on grass will be a helper here...

Clijsters(2) def Kirilenko(17) - Maria K has variety, but Kim is not the one who will be bothered by that...

QF results:
VWilliams(6) def Safina(14) - great battle but in the end Venus will win her service games a bit more easily

Sharapova(4) def Dementieva(7) - just better all-around

Hingis(12) def Hantuchova(15) - Daniela will seem to have no answers to Hingis' strategy

Vaidisova(10) def Clijsters(2) - Huge win... Nicole will have her power game going and get the British tabloids talking about her as the second Sharapova

SF results:
Sharapova(4) def VWilliams(6) - Maria admitted being still bothered by last year's loss in Wimbledon, she'll be more than ready this time around... straight set win

Hingis(12) def Vaidisova(10) - Martina will be able to bring out Nicole's weaknesses....

Final result:
Sharapova(4) def Hingis(12)... dream final... Maria comes out on top!

...whew! At least Pierre didn't pick JHH, then I knew I'd be nuts to pick against her. That combination hasn't been all too lucky for me this year in the Battle Royale. Of course, I DID pick Justine in Melbourne, and we all remember what happened there. Help, I'm spinning myself into the ground, and not in that humorous Team USA crashing out of the World Cup sort of way, either. (Seriously, how hilarious was that?)

(procrastination, thy name is Backspin Picks)

I know, I'll flip a coin on this rematch of the 2001 Wimbledon final. (Yes, conviction is my forte this time out.)

Heads for Venus. Tails for Justine.


Okay, best two out of three.

(heads... and heads)

Fine, I'll go with Venus then. Hmmm, maybe I sort of wanted to pick her all along, huh?

#6 V.Williams d. #3 Henin-Hardenne, a sixth slam title for the #6 seed. Guess I'm banking on Venus to get me out of this mess.

Did I just say that? Now I know I've gone off the deep end.

All for now. More tomorrow.


Blogger Topaz said...

Every broken clock is right twice a day!!! I love it, I'm going to steal that!

Wow, some nervy picks you've got going there. That is one thing I love about the women's game right now...there are so many ways to go and some many to choose from. I have a feeling we are in for some great matches, regardless.

We had pigeons in Paris, seagulls in Eastbourne...what will be flying around in London I wonder!

Sun Jun 25, 10:35:00 PM EDT  

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