Sunday, August 27, 2006

U.S. Open Preview: She is History

"Now it's a closed chapter. I have one more to write, and then it will be done."

That was Martina Navratilova a week ago, after defending her half of the Montreal Tier I doubles title, erasing her name from the WTA record book... only to have it replaced with her own as, two months shy of her 50th birthday, she once again became the oldest WTA champion in history.

How fitting, since she IS history. Not just because she's about to close out her career at the U.S. Open, but because once upon a time she forever changed the face of her sport. After Martina broke the mold of what is "expected" in society, a strong female athlete wasn't an oxymoron.

No one has ever dominated tennis the way Navratilova did in the early 1980's, and no one managed to overcome quite so many obstacles to become a beloved legend, either. Born in Communist Czechoslovakia, with her family potentially endangered should she not follow her federation's strict rules. Gay. An early underachiever. A woman who quite literally feared for her life in New York City after announcing she had defected. "Too masculine." Not Chris Evert. Too outspoken. Too honest. And, later, too old.

In the end, Navratilova outlasted all her critics, as well as all her opponents. She's been held in awe for a quarter of a century now, and it'd be difficult to find too many who've learned -- through much trial and error -- to wear it quite as well as she.

It's perfect timing that Martina's "final chapter" will occur at the newly-named Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, for it was King who took a young Navratilova under her wing oh so many years ago. King, too, was no stranger to controversy and overcoming obstacles, having essentially created through her own guile, sweat and tears what we now identify as the WTA Tour.

Both King and Navratilova will be honored this week in Flushing, and when it happens it will remind everyone that they're the two most important figures in women's tennis in the last fifty years, and maybe ever. One helped create the sport as we know it today, while the other revolutionized it.

Perhaps the most affecting passage in "The Rivals," the book that chronicles the careers, rivalry and friendship of Navratilova and Evert is one that centers on a young Czech player named Marketa Kochta. In 1993, she entered the qualifying event of a tournament in Oakland with the seemingly far-fetched hope of playing her lifelong heroine/inspiration Navratilova. Kochta did qualify and, through the luck of the draw, met Navratilova in the 1st Round.

Kochta lost in three sets, but the real story was what happened at the net. She fulfilled her dream when she got to tell Navratilova, "You are my hero." Afterward, when asked by the press what she felt Navratilova meant to tennis, she said, "Why, she is history. She made things possible, you see?"

And she still does today. Without Martina, there would be no Maidens.

Boy, it would surely be a sweet moment if Martina could hold up a major trophy one more time before she goes, wouldn't it?

Ahh, but that's probably just a dream... but, then again, so was Kochta's wish.

...oh, to be 17 and in the U.S. Open
RISER: Kirsten Flipkens
...ready for her close-up, as she prepares to fill in for Clijsters in the Fed Cup final
SURPRISE: Stephanie Dubois
...along with Aleksandra Wozniak, Dubois is reviving Canada's tennis fortunes
VETERAN: Clarisa Fernandez
...the surprise '02 Roland Garros semifinalist is still plugging away in slam qualifying
FRESH FACES: Agnieszka Radwanska & Vasilisa Bardina
...both 17, after Chan, they're the next two youngest qualifiers
DOWN: Tamarine Tanasugarn & Alexandra Stevenson
...opening qualifying round losers

17...Yung-Jan Chan, TPE
17...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
17...Vasilisa Bardina, RUS
18...Youlia Fedossova, FRA
18...Olga Poutchkova, RUS
19...Stephanie Dubois, CAN

27...Sandra Kloesel, GER
27...Tatiana Poutchek, BLR
26...Lioudmila Skavronskaia, RUS
>>LUCKY LOSER: 33...Nicole Pratt, AUS<<

1997...Martina Hingis (W)
1998...Martina Hingis (RU)
1999...Martina Hingis (RU)
2000...Martina Hingis (SF)
2001...Martina Hingis (SF)
2002...Serena Williams (W)
2003...Kim Clijsters (RU)
2004...Justine Henin-Hardenne (4r)
2005...Maria Sharapova (SF)
2006...Amelie Mauresmo

**1st SEEDS OUT?**
#5 Petrova (vs. Fernandez)
#10 Davenport (vs. Zakopalova)
#11 Myskina (vs. Azarenka)
#17 Hantuchova (vs. Mattek)
#18 Pennetta (vs. Kutuzova)
#23 Chakvetadze (vs. Sucha)
#24 Li (vs. Sanchez-Lorenzo)
#32 Likhovtseva (vs. Sun)

**1st SEED OUT? (but don't whisper it too loudly)**
#3 Sharapova (vs. Krajicek)

Agnieszka Radwanska

2005 FINAL: Clijsters d. Pierce
2006 TOP: Mauresmo/Henin-Hardenne

FAVORITE: Amelie Mauresmo
...but Serena or Ivanovic might have something to say about that in the Round of 16
DARK HORSE: Serena Williams she fit and/or healthy enough to win seven matches? Good weather will help, since it'd mean she wouldn't have to play back-to-back days. If she gets past Hantuchova in the 2nd Round, then Ivanovic in the 3rd... watch out. Remember Melbourne '05?
TEEN TO WATCH: Ana Ivanovic
...she won the U.S. Open Series, but may have to go through Serena, Mauresmo and Hingis to reach SF.
...will probably reach Round of 16, then cross her fingers. It's worked so far, since she'll avoid the Mauresmo/Serena/AnaIvo trioka survivor until the QF.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Dinara Safina brother Marat, she could last deep into the second week or be out before the Round of 16.
AMERICAN HOPE: (other than Serena) Bethanie Mattek
...she could battle Hantuchova for fashion supremacy in Round 1, then Serena in Round 2.

FAVORITE: Maria Sharapova
...after the Krajicek bid in the 1st Round, she couldn't ask for a draw more conducive to a run to the final.
DARK HORSE: Anna Chakvetadze
...if she's healthy, that is. The same goes for Na Li.
TEEN TO WATCH: Agnieszka Radwanska
...she might not be ready, but there's reason to believe that section mates Golovin, Petrova and Chakvetadze all could crash and burn in the early going.
...the '05 RU, but she's barely played this year. Still, if her body is right, she's got just as good a chance an anyone.
...barely nudging out Anastasia Myskina, thanks mainly to her five-match losing streak that extends all the way back to May.
AMERICAN HOPE: Jamea Jackson
...she's beaten top players on several occasions this year, but has little momentum right now. Amy Frazier, in her 20th straight Open, could last a few rounds, too.

CO-FAVORITES: The Gang of 3
...this section is loaded with potential finalists, as Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nicole Vaidisova are bunched tightly together.
DARK HORSES: Jelena Jankovic & Vera Zvonareva
...but Jankovic might face Vaidisova in Round 3, while Zvonareva could battle Dementieva.
TEEN TO WATCH: Nicole Vaidisova
...the almost-finalist in Paris gets one final slam shot for '06.
...her singles have picked up again on the hard courts (just ask Davenport).
DISAPPOINTMENT: Anna-Lena Groenefeld
...for a player who's been struggling on hard courts all year, the draw did her no favors. She could exit as early as the 2nd Round against the Stosur/Safarova winner.
...really, there is no hope for the home nation in this section... unless Miss Albanese is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

FAVORITE: Justine Henin-Hardenne
...New Haven has put her in prime position, but it should be noted that she won events preceding Oz (Sydney) and SW19 (Eastbourne), only to lose in the slam finals to Mauresmo. She lost to Petrova in the Berlin final, then won Roland Garros.
DARK HORSE: Shahar Peer
...if she gets past Schiavone in the 3rd Round, she'll try to take down Justine in the Round of 16.
TEEN TO WATCH: Sania Mirza
...Sania became a New York star a year ago, but will be swallowing hard just to survive Round 1 against Sprem.
POTENTIAL SPOILER: Lindsay Davenport
...but after her New Haven shoulder injury, who knows if she'll even play at all. If not, move Katarina Srebotnik into this slot.
DISAPPOINTMENT: Patty Schnyder's a slam, so it goes with the territory.
...after Davenport being healthy enough to compete, of course. If the intriguing King gets past Molik in the 1st Round, she'd seem to be a perfect Ashe at Night opponent for JHH in the 2nd.

...coming off clocking two correct champion predictions in Week 34, I'm ready to battle the Head Honcho again. To see's Monsieur Cantin's predictions, take a hop, click and a jump over to .

As for (the unabridged) me...

*1st Round*
#1 Mauresmo d. Barrois
Shaughnessy d. Vinci
Raymond d. Santangelo
#31 Dechy d. Bammer
#17 Hantuchova d. Mattek

S.Williams d. Dominguez-Lino (might Serena be the most dangerous unseeded floater in the history of 32-seed slams?)

Nakamura d. Czink
#16 Ivanovic d. Dushevina
#13 Safina d. (Q)Beygelzimer
(Q)Poutchek d. Fedak
Gajdosova d. Glatch
Kutuzova d. #18 Pennetta
#25 Medina-Garrigues d. (Q)Fedossova
Kanepi d. Foretz
Razzano d. Ani
#8 Hingis d. Peng
#3 Sharapova d. Krajicek
Pin d. Loit
(LL)Pratt d. (Q)Sequera
#32 Likhovtseva d. Sun
#24 Li d. Sanchez-Lorenzo
Perry d. Daniilidou
Voskoboeva d. (Q)Birnerova
#13 Pierce d. Vesnina

Azarenka d. #11 Myskina (poor Czarina)
Jackson d. Pironkova (hmmm... Pironkova is '06 slam Upset Queen)

A.Bondarenko d. Rolle
#23 Chakvetadze d. Sucha
#27 Golovin d. Harkleroad
(Q)A.Radwanska d. Yan
Frazier d. Ruano-Pascual

#5 Petrova d. (Q)Fernandez (Nadia can't go 0-6... right?)

#6 Kuznetsova d. (Q)Kloesel
Savchuk d. Albanese
Rodionova d. Sromova
#29 Zheng d. Peschke
#19 Jankovic d. Dulko
(Q)Flipkens d. (Q)Chan
Jidkova d. Kirkland
#9 Vaidisova d. Rubin
#15 Groenefeld d. Rezai
Stosur d. Safarova

(Q)Dubois d. Bremond (just so Pierre can miss it and me get it right... assuming Dubois actually wins, that is)
#20 Kirilenko d. Schruff

#33 Zvonareva d. Domachowska (#33 because of Venus' withdrawal, no doubt payback from the tennis gods for Williams ridiculously stressing "trip" rather than "road" in those U.S. Open Series commercials)

Craybas d. Benesova
Laine d. Tu
#4 Dementieva d. Granville
#7 Schnyder d. Smashnova (what a matchup of slam "titans")

Arvidsson d. Martinez-Granados
(Q)Lepchenko d. Castano
#26 Bartoli d. (Q)Poutchkova
#22 Srebotnik d. Morigami
Bychkova d. (Q)Skavronskaia
#10 Davenport d. Zakopalova
#14 Schiavone d. Oprandi
Mirza d. Sprem
Yakimova d. Muller
#21 Peer d. (Q)Bardina
#28 Sugiyama d. Ondraskova
Yuan d. Garbin
King d. Molik
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. Camerin
*2nd Round*
#1 Mauresmo d. Shaughnessy
Raymond d. #31 Dechy
S.Williams d. #17 Hantuchova
#16 Ivanovic d. Nakamura
#12 Safina d. (Q)Poutchek
Kutuzova d. Gajdosova
#25 Medina-Garrigues d. Kanepi
#8 Hingis d. Razzano
#3 Sharapova d. Pin
#32 Likhovtseva d. (LL)Pratt
#24 Li d. Perry
#13 Pierce d. Voskoboeva
Jackson d. Azarenka
#23 Chakvetadze d. A.Bondarenko

(Q)A.Radwanska d. #27 Golovin (someone has to be the big surprise, so I'll go with Aggie)

Frazier d. #5 Petrova
#6 Kuznetsova d. Savchuk
#29 Zheng d. Rodionova
#19 Jankovic d. (Q)Flipkens
#9 Vaidisova d. Jidkova
Stosur d. #15 Groenefeld

#20 Kirilenko d. (Q)Dubois (Quebec is safe again)

#33 Zvonareva d. Craybas
#4 Dementieva d. Laine
#7 Schnyder d. Arvidsson
#26 Bartoli d. (Q)Lepchenko
#22 Srebotnik d. Bychkova
#10 Davenport d. Asagoe
#14 Schiavone d. Mirza
#21 Peer d. Yakimova
#28 Sugiyama d. Yuan
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. King
*3rd Round*
#1 Mauresmo d. Raymond
#16 Ivanovic d. S.Williams (moment of truth)

#12 Safina d. Kutuzova
#8 Hingis d. Medina-Garrigues
#3 Sharapova d. #32 Likhovtseva
#24 Li d. #13 Pierce
#23 Chakvetadze d. Jackson
(Q)A.Radwanska d. Frazier (last qualifier standing)

#6 Kuznetsova d. #29 Zheng
#9 Vaidisova d. #19 Jankovic
Stosur d. #20 Kirilenko
#4 Dementieva d. #33 Zvonareva

#7 Schnyder d. #26 Bartoli (I should pick Bartoli here)

#10 Davenport d. #22 Srebotnik
#21 Peer d. #14 Schiavone
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. #28 Sugiyama
#16 Ivanovic d. #1 Mauresmo (down goes Amelie)
#8 Hingis d. #12 Safina

#3 Sharapova d. #24 Li real reason to put this picture here. I just wanted an excuse to use it.

#23 Chakvetadze d. (Q)A.Radwanska
#9 Vaidisova d. #6 Kuznetova (grand slam revenge is sweet)

#4 Dementieva d. Stosur
#10 Davenport d. #7 Schnyder
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. #21 Peer
#16 Ivanovic d. #8 Hingis
#3 Sharapova d. #23 Chakvetadze
#9 Vaidisova d. #4 Dementieva
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. #10 Davenport
...youngsters abound, and Vaidisova has another shot at her first slam final. But against Justine? Ivanovic might have a better shot against Sharapova.

#3 Sharapova d. #16 Ivanovic
#2 Henin-Hardenne d. #9 Vaidisova
...Sharapova would be about a year ahead of the Scenario's schedule with a win here, which would be nothing new for her. It could happen, too. But I'm not going to let go of Le Petit Taureau. Not this time. I've learned my lesson.

#2 Henin-Hardenne d. #3 Sharapova

Picks for the men are on ATP Backspin. All for now.


The Daily Backspin starts on Monday, with occasional extra editions covering the night action on Arthur Ashe.


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