Monday, August 21, 2006

Wk.33- The Shell Game

Maybe this year's U.S. Open should be subtitled, "The WTA's Version of a Shell Game."

In many respects, it seems that any attempt to forecast what will happen at the fourth and final grand slam of 2006 is nothing but a perfectly frustrating trap. No matter under which shell anyone thinks the eventual winner is hiding, the ultimate reveal appears likely to prove the notion wrong... and, with an unseen slight of hand, maybe impossible. In truth, this year's U.S. Open champion isn't under any of the shells. She'll simply be the one left standing on the court after all the others have either crashed, burned or been helped onto a trainer's table.

Last week (and Monday) in Montreal didn't clear up this picture one bit, either. In fact, in a test run for the upcoming action at the newly-named Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Open waters became even murkier. The tournament began with withdrawals (Sharapova, Henin-Hardenne and Venus), moved forward with upsets (Myskina & Petrova), retirements (Clijsters & Chakvetadze) and walkovers (Vaidisova & Jankovic), then ended with a rain-delayed day of finals on Monday that saw Martina Navratilova walk off with a title, but not Martina Hingis.

A week away from the start of 1st Round play on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the list of prospective Open winners is long, confusing, and filled with holes.

Defending champion Kim Clijsters is out, victim of the chronic wrist injury that threatens to end her already disappointing season (and maybe career?). 2005 runner-up Mary Pierce has played just three matches since mid-February. Lindsay Davenport enters this week in New Haven having not won a match since March. Venus hasn't played at all since Wimbledon, and while Serena has looked good in her American hard court return (reaching two SF) there's a question about whether she's fit enough at this point to make it through a two-week long slam.

What about the Russians? Well...

Maria Sharapova looked great in winning in San Diego, then ran out of gas a week later in L.A. Elena Dementieva won L.A., but even with all her strong points can her serve manage to not kill her chances just once over a seven-match stretch? Nadia Petrova hasn't tasted singles victory since May, and Svetlana Kuznetsova was a disappointment last week in Montreal. And while Vera Zvonareva and Anna Chakvetadze have been impressive on the hard courts, neither has any sort of slam success to build on in New York.

Patty Schnyder actually has more North American wins (9) this quarter than any other player who's spent time in the Top 10 in 2006, but she's rarely on her game in the slams and heads into New York having lost to qualifier Tiantian Sun in the 1st Round of New Haven on Monday.

Martina Hingis reached her second Tier I final of the season in Montreal, and even got a Top 10 win over Kuznetsova to usher in her own return to that hallowed ranking ground for the first time in her comeback. But her failure to put down Ana Ivanovic in the final speaks to her inability to knock out three to four major foes in back-to-back matches, something she'd likely need to do to win her sixth slam crown.

And what of Ivanovic?

Ana Ivanovic has managed some big stage upsets in the past, and is coming off her first Tier I title on Monday in Montreal, but is she really ready for a big Open run? She need only ask Nicole Vaidisova about the potholes of completing what she starts in the second week of a slam. Vaidisova is probably a more likely contender than AnaIvo at the Open, if for nothing else than the fact that she's already proven this year that she's close (but still yet so far from) reaching her first career grand slam final... and that Clijsters, the only person to beat her during the U.S. Open Series (twice in SF), won't be around to act like a brick wall against the Dynamova's ambitions.

Maybe Justine Henin-Hardenne or Amelie Mauresmo will provide a little clarity by winning this week in New Haven... but neither has set foot on a court in North America this summer as play begins in the final Open tune-up. At the very least, JHH shouldn't be in danger of playing herself out as she did leading into the Wimbledon final... and even if a rusty Mauresmo were to lose early in Connecticut, she could take solace in the fact that she did the same in Sydney before taking the Australian Open. But what are the odds of JHH reaching all four of this year's slam finals, or of Mauresmo winning three of them? They'll be the Open's top two seeds, and they've already met twice in 2006 slam finals. Could New York host a third encounter?

In an era where "wide open" draws have become the norm for the women, this year's U.S. Open will be no different.

Who'll win? Take your pick -- it'll just as likely be right (or wrong) as the next one. Believe me, I know... I'm already preparing myself for being wrong yet again.

**WEEK 32**

S: Ana Ivanovic d. Martina Hingis 6-2/6-3
D: M.Navratilova/Petrova d. Black/Groenefeld 6-1/6-2


...Ivanovic has been somewhat overshadowed this season. First, by all the other teenagers making breakthroughs (hello, Nicole, Michaella & Shahar), but also just the other week by her fellow Serbian Jelena Jankovic, who reached the Los Angeles final. Last week in Montreal, it was Ivanovic's turn to shine. The 18-year old looker was the Vaidisova of 2005 (she even upset Mauresmo at Roland Garros a year ago, just like the Czech Top 10er did in '06), the "next Sharapova" who'd combine great skill with marketing ability. But something happened on the way to the bank. After winning a title in January '05 in Canberra, it's taken nineteen months for this first truly big Tier I title to finally come her way. Sure, it was a title that no one seemed to want, judging from all the withdrawals and retirements, and the weather didn't want to finish (the final was delayed until Monday because of rain), but it'll do. In fact, wins over Tatiana Golovin, Jie Zheng, Katarina Srebotnik, Dinara Safina and Martina Hingis could end up being the prelude to a star-making turn in New York City. The door is open for someone, why can't it be AnaIvo?
RISERS: Ivanovic & Dinara Safina
...the Safin family's rollercoaster summer continued as Marat was involved in a traffic accident in Cincinnati (he suffered a concussion and a stiff neck), while Dinara reached the SF in Montreal.
SURPRISES: Stephanie Dubois & Marie-Eve Pelletier

...the unexpected rise of Canadian tennis continued in Montreal, as two homegrown products made waves. Pelletier, 24, did it all on her own, upsetting Na Li in the 1st Round to kick things off for what would be a very strange week. Later, 19-year old Dubois (#153) followed up a win over Tathiana Garbin by slipping past a 2nd Round match with Kim Clijsters when the world #2 injured that troublesome wrist again, then fell on it after reaching for a Dubois passing shot and was forced to retire from the match (not to mention skip her defense of her U.S. Open title).
VETERANS: Martina Hingis & Martina Navratilova
...Martina the Younger outgutted Daniela Hantuchova, outdueled Svetlana Kuznetova and outlasted Anna Chakvetadze. But she couldn't outrun the rain, or Ana Ivanovic. After waiting a day to play the Montreal final on Monday, she was handled by the teenager. Still, her consolation prize is a return to the Top 10. Meanwhile, Martina the Elder, just two months from 50 and with her latest retirement maybe even closer, found the time to grab yet another (final?) moment of glory on the court. Teamed with Nadia Petrova in Montreal, Navratilova won the 176th doubles title (or 177th, as her official WTA bio sports conflicting numbers) of her career, winning the Tier I after knocking off #1-seeded Zi Yan/Jie Zheng in the QF, then Cara Black/Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the final. It's her second doubles titles of the season, having also won in Strasbourg with Liezel Huber. Combined with her other WTA tour level singles and mixed titles, this was Martina's 352nd (or 353rd) career crown. Unreal.
FRESH FACES: Anna Chakvetadze & Shahar Peer
...Chakvetadze's winning summer on the hard courts continued in Montreal with a second U.S. Open Series win over Nadia Petrova, plus wins over Vera Dushevina and Nathalie Dechy en route to the SF (where she retired with a forearm injury against Hingis). Anna C also beat Peer last week in the QF, but the Israeli's wins over Anastasia Myskina and Marion Bartoli were enough to qualify her here on her own merit.
DOWN: Kim Clijsters & Anna-Lena Groenefeld
...Petrova escaped a second week here in the basement by winning the doubles title with Navratilova, but as things turned out there were more than enough players qualified for the dubious honor. Groenefeld's 2nd Round Montreal exit at the hands of Shenay Perry continued her hard court swoon, but nothing tops Clijsters' week. After battling back from a 2004 wrist injury to her off hand, she injured it again in her 2nd Round match against Dubois. After calling for a trainer twice after injuring her wrist at 2-1 in the 2nd set, she continued to play rather than be cautious with what's become a chronic injury... then two games after she should have considered calling it a night, se fell on the wrist and possibly made matters far worse. Needless to say, her U.S. Open title defense is kaput, as is her participation in the Fed Cup final for Belgium (guess Justine will be pressured to play now, no matter what happens in NYC) as she's likely out at least two months.

1.Mtl 2nd - Dubois d. Clijsters

...1-6/3-2 ret. Well, at least that prediction that Clijsters wouldn't win a slam in 2006 is going to come true. One can't help but wonder if something like this might hasten Clijsters' retirement, as well.
2.Mtl Doub. Final - Navratilova/Petrova d. Black/Groenefeld
...6-1/6-2. Petrova is 0-4 in singles since she defeated JHH in the Berlin final in May. Maybe this will spur her past the problems that she readily admits are mental ones... or maybe that's wishful thinking?
3.Mtl Final - Ivanovic d. Hingis
...6-2/6-3. Finally, a 2006 Tier I singles final without a Russian... and further proof that Hingis is not likely going to be a threat at the Open after the QF no matter how depleated and/or questionable the field.
4.Mtl 2nd - Chakvetadze d. Petrova
...6-1/6-4. It's bad enough for Petrova that Chakvetadze has now beaten her twice in a row in recent weeks, but Nadia had a 3-1 lead in the 2nd and still couldn't even put away a single set.
5.Mtl Doub. QF - Navratilova/Petrova d. Yan/Zheng
...6-4/3-6/6-4. Navratilova & Nadia will be teaming up at the Open, so maybe Navratilova can go out in grand (slam) style.
6.Mtl 3rd - Hingis d. Hantuchova
...7-5/6-4. Hantuchova led 5-4, 40-0 on Hingis' serve in the 1st set. In a blink of an eye, she was down 0-4 in the 2nd set after losing seven straight games. There are more steps backward than forward for Wonder Girl these days.
7.Mtl 2nd - Vaidisova d. Safarova
...3-6/7-5/6-1. The Dynamova got the best of her fellow Maiden, then beat a hasty retreat from Quebec without playing her 3rd Round match.
8.Mtl 2nd - Perry d. Groenefeld
...7-6/6-2. Wake up Anna-Lena when the North American hardcourt season is over. At this rate, that date will be sometime early next week.

17...Michaella Krajicek (JAN-Hobart)
17...Nicole Vaidisova (MAY-Strasbourg)
17...Michaella Krajicek (JUN-Netherlands)
18...Shahar Peer (FEB-Pattaya)
18...Lucie Safarova (JAN-Gold Coast)
18...Maria Sharapova (MAR-Indian Wells)

49...Martina Navratilova (MAY-Strasbourg)
34...Rennae Stubbs (JAN-Sydney)


...two events (one big, one tiny) this week, plus U.S. Open qualifying.

05 FINAL: Davenport d. Mauresmo
06 TOP: Mauresmo/Henin-Hardenne
SF: Davenport d. Petrova; JHH d. Kuznetsova
FINAL: JHH d. Davenport

...maybe Mauresmo will be a little rusty? An early loss in Sydney didn't hurt her in Melbourne (not that I'm about to pick Mauresmo to win a third slam in '06).

05 FINAL: Safarova d. Mirza
06 TOP: Safarova/Arvidsson
SF: Shaughnessy d. Mirza; Arvidsson d. Smashnova
FINAL: Shaughnessy d. Arvidsson a draw of sixteen, anything could happen. It'd be nice to see Mirza get back into the mix.


All for now.


THIS WEEKEND: U.S. Open Predictions (for what they're worth)


Blogger thesupernova said...

minor typo: the supernova won indian wells:)

Tue Aug 22, 07:31:00 PM EDT  

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