Monday, July 17, 2006

The Blessed and the Cursed (2Q Edition)

With 3Q tour action starting this week in Cincinnati and Palermo, it's time to take the temperature for "Player of the Year" (so far), and to remember what Pierre and I THOUGHT was going to happen back in January.

Here are some of the highs and lows of our pre-season predictions, looked upon in light of what occurred during the 2nd Quarter. First, the highlights:

**BACKSPIN said...**

...that Samantha Stosur would be the #1-ranked doubles player. After taking over the position during the 1st Quarter, she's still there (though she now shares the top ranking with partner Lisa Raymond).

...that Nicole Vaidisova would qualify for the YEC (as of now, she's #12 in the points race, about 400 behind #8 Elena Dementieva), reach the Top 10 (she's #12, a little more than 100 points behind #10 Lindsay Davenport), and reach a slam final (she made the Roland Garros SF, and blew a sure-fire lead to Svetlana Kuznetsova). On balance, not too shabby.

...Anna-Lena Groenefeld would reach a slam QF (bingo -- in Paris!), reach the Top 10 in singles (she's currently #16, but just 300 points behind #10 Davenport), and win three titles (one so far). Right now, Girl Friday needs to forget about her stumbles in Eastbourne and Wimbledon and focus on the North American hard court season, where her game could thrive.

...Nadia Petrova would have a breakthrough year in 2006 and at some point be the top-ranked Russian. She was the dominant player during the pre-Roland Garros clay season, and briefly moved ahead of Maria Sharapova to top all the Russians in the rankings.

...Ai Sugiyama would have a late-career resurgence. The Japanese vet just recently moved back into the singles Top 20.

...Kim Clijsters wouldn't win a slam title in 2006. Three-quarters of the way there (thanks to JHH). American under the age of 25 would win a WTA singles title. None have done so to date, but 19-year old Jamea Jackson nearly did in Birmingham and is worth keeping an eye on the rest of the season.

...two British women would reach the Wimbledon 3rd Round. Yeah, I said it'd be Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, and it was Sarah Borwell and Melanie South. But still.

...there'd be at least twenty-five Russian singles finalists (there's been 18 so far), and ten different women would win titles (five through the 2nd Quarter), but Maria Sharapova wouldn't win a slam (yep). I thought Elena Dementieva would win a Tier I (she did that in the 1Q), but would have a poor season in the slams (she's reached a QF, but also lost in the 1st and 3rd Rounds).

**Pierre said...**

...that Vera Zvonareva would return to the winner's circle (she won Birmingham, over Jackson in the final). Just two weeks after her fourth career singles title, she won the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles title with Andy Ram.

...Nicole Vaidisova would reach the Top 10 and make a deep run at a slam.

...Martina Hingis' ranking would climb into the Top 20 (she's #13).

...that Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters would team up on the Belgian Fed Cup team (they did so in the QF) in 2006, and that the Waffles would win their first Fed Cup title since 2001. On September 16-17, the Belgians play the Italians with the winner claiming this year's FC crown.

...Amelie Mauresmo would reach a slam QF and two SF, and win her first ever slam championship. We both thought he was reaching high on this one but, as it's turned out, he actually UNDERestimated Mauresmo since she's already won the Australian Open and Wimbledon. But that's about as close as anyone could have gotten with a pre-Melbourne Mauresmo prediction.

And now the lowlights...

**BACKSPIN said...**

...the nadir of my prediction season probably didn't occur before play began in Week 1, it's occurred pretty much every week since, especially when Justine Henin-Hardenne and Nadia Petrova are involved. I stand more consistently behind these players than any others, but somehow I didn't pick them to win any of the eight titles they've won between them this season. Not only that, I've gone 0-for-6 when I DID pick them to win titles in '06, including three times when I picked one (JHH in Charleston, Petrova in Berlin and Roland Garros) only to see the other holding up the trophy on the weekend. Sheesh.

...Sania Mirza would win two singles titles. So far, the Indian Princess has been more of a pauper in 2006. But the hard court season is beginning, and she needs to have a good one to avoid all the "year-after" talk.

...that Venus Williams would win Wimbledon, not only before the tournament but way back in January. I should have known.

...that Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce would finish back-to-back in the Top 10 rankings. That's where they stand right now, but I predicted them to be #1 and #2, not their current #9 and #10.

...and last, but not least, I said that Amelie Mauresmo wouldn't reach a slam final this year. She's won two of them. (Even so, it was still a legit pick seven months ago... just a very inaccurate one.)

**Pierre said...**

...Kim Clijsters would dominate the rankings, play more matches than any other Top 10 player and finish #1 at season's end. Well, she's holding onto the #2 ranking, but probably not for much longer with all the North American hard court points she has to defend the rest of the summer. She won nine titles in 2005, but has only one so far this year. As the 3Q begins, seven Top 10ers have played more matches than Clijsters. Still, if she catches fire again on hard courts, she might just turn around her season yet.

...four Americans would reside in the Top 50. As of today, only Venus and the absent Davenport meet the criteria, with Shenay Perry at #51. But with Jamea Jackson standing at #67, and Serena Williams (#139 - Pierre had her finishing #4) returning to action this week, Pierre might move this prediction up to the "highlights" section by the end of the 3rd Quarter.

...the Chinese, though, would have a hard time reaching and staying in the Top 50. Right now, the Cookies are continuing to rise, with three solidly in the Top 50 and three more in the Top 100.

...Maria Sharapova would win Wimbledon. Pierre stuck with this one when the tournament began, too. Could be he was just a year early, right?


Belgian Fed Cup Team (Pierre)
Anna-Lena Groenefeld (Backspin)
Martina Hingis (Pierre)
Amelie Mauresmo (Pierre)
Nadia Petrova (Backspin)
Samantha Stosur (Backspin)
Ai Sugiyama (Backspin)
Nicole Vaidisova (Backspin/Pierre)

==and THE CURSED==
Kim Clijsters (Pierre)
Lindsay Davenport (Backspin)
Jelena Dokic (Pierre)
Sania Mirza (Backspin)
Mary Pierce (Backspin)
Maria Sharapova (Pierre)
Serena Williams (Pierre)
Venus Williams (Backspin)

Thankfully, we both kept a respectful distance from Svetlana Kuznetsova after learning our lesson in 2005. Worked pretty well for the Contessova, as she's back up to #7.


1.Amelie Mauresmo...she's had a bad stretch bookended by brilliance Down Under and at SW19. Still, JHH is hot on her tail and Mauresmo might need to make the U.S. Open final or defend her YEC title to assure herself of finishing the season at #1. In truth, as impressive as her All-England Club run was, winning in the raucous environs of New York might be an even more impressive feat. It won't likely happen. But after Wimbledon, who knows?
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne...after winning Wimbledon, Mauresmo finally went public with her displeasure about how things went down in Melbourne in January, with JHH's retirement not being "a champion's behavior." Like JHH and her drive to win or not, I think it's interesting to note a quote from famed coach Robert Lansdorp from page 142 of "The Rivals." He said, "Diva, diva... I do not know this word 'diva' -- but I know the word "bitch." Well... so be it. And I'm telling you, it's almost the bigger the bitches (they are), the better they play." JHH has had the steadier season compared to Mauresmo, but been trumped twice by her in slam finals. With Clijsters likely losing many points from her '05 hard court run, Henin-Hardenne should soon be #2 in the world behind Mauresmo. Hopefully, Federer-Nadal won't be the only match-up successfully rooted for down the stretch of this season.
3.Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur... they've had great consistency, but the co-#1's in the doubles rankings have claimed just one of the three slams this season.
4.Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
...the Chinese team, though, has claimed two slams in '06. While Raymond and Stosur are co-#1's, Yan and Zheng are ranked #3 and #4.
5.Nadia Petrova... things were moving along so well for Scarlett. She was the hottest on the tour on the clay and had become the Russian #1. Then she was injured, bombed out of Paris and skipped London. Thankfully, there's still a large chunk of the season left to get back some of what she's lost over the past month and a half.
6.Svetlana Kuznetsova... the Contessova is on her way back to reclaiming her '04 form. She reached the RG final, then was a disappointment at Wimbledon. But the North American hard court season is where she made her name two years ago. Can she do it again?
7.Kim Clijsters... she's only won one title (after taking nine in '05), and had two less-than-sterling slam SF losses to JHH. Can she boost her confidence enough to think she can win in New York again? If not, maybe she should just go ahead and walk away now rather than waiting another year.
8.Martina Hingis... the Swiss Miss has had a greater amount of success than one would have expected at this point in her comeback, and did win a Tier I title. But after her QF in Melbourne, her slam results haven't lived up to the expectations she set so high.
9.Maria Sharapova... ditto for the Supernova, who only has one title in '06 and SF losses in four of the last five slams. With so much "almost there" frustration, the next twelve months should prove to be very important for Sharapova. Going back to a note from "The Rivals" again, it's interesting to remember that Navratilova had only won two slam titles by age 24, and in 1981 went into the WTA Championships with a shot at year-end #1. She failed to take the title, and finished #3 behind Tracy Austin and Chris Evert instead. Said Navratilova, "I was mad, not sad." Angry enough to dedicate herself more than ever. Over the next five years, she went 427-14, won twelve slams and finished #1 every season. Sharapova's not going to do THAT, but she can do better than what she has. If losing yet another slam SF at Wimbledon isn't the impetus for a career revolution, then maybe losing another in New York will be.
10.The combination of youngsters coming of age fills out the final slot in this list after two quarters. Amongst the group: Nicole Vaidisova (RG SF), Anna-Lena Groenefeld (1st title, RG QF), Shahar Peer (first three titles), Dinara Safina (finally emerging) and Michaella Krajicek (titles on hard court and grass).

**WEEKS IN 2006 TOP 20**
[through end of 2Q - 27 weeks]

Mauresmo(#1), Clijsters(#2), Henin-Hardenne(#3), Sharapova(#4), Petrova(#5), Dementieva(#6), Kuznetsova(#7), Schnyder(#8), Pierce(#9), Davenport(#10), Myskina(#11), Vaidisova(#12), Schiavone(#14), Hantuchova(#17), Pennetta(#18)
26...V.Williams (#23)
25...Safina (#15)
22...Likhovtseva (#30)
20...Groenefeld (#16)
17...Ivanovic (#20)
9....Dechy (#28)
8....Hingis (#13)
4....Kirilenko (#21)
3....S.Williams (#139)
1....Sugiyama (#19)
(current rank in parenthesis)

All for now.


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