Saturday, March 31, 2007

BV: On Second Thought

Three months into the season, and it's time to attempt to correct a few past wrongs... from, um, three months ago.

Remember those Top 10 predictions Pierre Cantin and I made at the start of the season? Well, forget about them. Or at least allow us to hit the post-1st Quarter reset button and try again (you know, until we hit the reset again after Wimbledon this summer). So, in this latest edition of "Backspin Volley" we revise our Top 10 (and throw in a few more for a "baker's dozen") and take a stab at a few predictions for the WTA's 2nd Quarter.

(Todd/Pierre original predictions in parenthesis)

11. Chakvetadze(-)
12. Jankovic(-)
13. Hantuchova(-)

11. Peer(-)
12. Hantuchova(-)
13. Dementieva(-)

PIERRE CANTIN: Daniela has continued to improve, she's been getting more and more confident and the top 10 is certainly still a possibility.

TODD SPIKER: I agree. How Wonder Girl handles her second round of success will be one of the more intriguing stories for the rest of this season. I'm keen to move her up 2-3 more spots if she's learned from her past mistakes. I'm not sure Miami was really a good gauge, though. I see you're drinking the Kool-Aid on Peer just as I am.

PC: Shahar has been making big improvements in the past 12 months or so and her do-or-die attitude will help her inch closer to the top 10 although her lack of great shots will make it difficult to make a move towards the top 5.

TS: I actually moved Peer a little higher than you did after her second straight solid Tier I performance this month. Oh, how different things would look now had Shahar pulled out those two winnable matches against Serena (in Oz) and Hantuchova (I.W.). I didn't follow in your footsteps on Dementieva, though.

PC: Yeah, Elena has been out of action and out of sync for a while now, but I think she will fight back, especially on clay and in the US hardcourt season.

TS: Maybe, but she's too unpredictable for me to pick her in the Top 10 at this point. It's the same for me with Jankovic. After her quick start, I was prepared to concede Jelena a Top 10 spot. But then Hantuchova won I.W., while Peer and Chakvetadze maintained their admirable consistency as Jankovic's results fell off and... poof! Maybe Kim will play enough hide-and-seek the rest of the season to let Jelena back into the Top 10 club, though. But she'll be hard-pressed to defend those US Open SF points.

PC: Ah well you forget how Jelena has really been playing so far this year. I've been through many stats for some of your "protege" players such as the obvious Nadia Petrova. Well look through Jelena's year, she has one loss to a player outside the top 20 and that was Serena. And Jelena not deserving to be in the top 10? Well she does have a 3-3 record against top 10 players this year.

TS: Hmm, well, Jankovic did lose to Santangelo in Miami this past week, and unless something wild has happened in the rankings Miss Mara isn't yet a Top 20 gal. Really, though, moving JJ out of my Top 10 was a last second move after Peer had another great tournament and will soon be heading into the clay season where she really made her first big strides a year ago. So it came down to Jelena or Corporal Peer, and I had to go with Shahar.

7. Hingis(6)
8. Vaidisova(9)
9. Peer(-)
10. Clijsters(4)

7. Hingis(4)
8. Jankovic(8)
9. Petrova(10)
10. Clijsters(-)

TS: So we finally come together on a prediction for Kim "I'd Be There, But I Have a Party To Plan" Clijsters -- a Top 10er by default in '07?

PC: I think that despite not playing more than I expected, Kim will make the top 10...barely.

TS: Here's to hoping someone will talk some sense into her and get her to show up in New York. I'm sure neither of us will hold our breath on that one now, though. Otherwise, she might as well have officially retired after Melbourne. Meanwhile, you're down on Hingis.

PC: Yep. She's still struggling against those top 5 players.

TS: Not to mention the Hantuchovas and Radwanskas of the world, too. Of course, she'll play enough to maintain a high ranking even if she can't fight through the waves of big hitters on the court. Ah, just like old times.

4. Kuznetsova(7)
5. Mauresmo(5)
6. Petrova(3)

4. Mauresmo(5)
5. Vaidisova(6)
6. S.Williams(-)

PC: I actually have Kuznetsova a little higher at #3. A distant #3, but she still has a lot more upside than downside. As for Vaidisova, there's a timer somewhere until she breaks out big time.

TS: Maybe 2008? Those RG semifinal points are going to have to be replaced by a big title or another slam run. If Henin and/or Serena are healthy, and Sharapova gets her serve right, that might be hard for Nicole to pull off until after the summer.

PC: Ah you seem to discount grass pretty easily, I really think her game could prove pretty solid on grass... and there's no way you can discount her chances on clay. She had a great run last year but it's not like the draw's very deep on clay on the ladies side. There's Justine... and, well, Justine.

TS: Oh, I totally know that Vaidisova could explode (in a good way) at any moment, in Paris or London (though if the sisters and Mauresmo are healthy, combined with an in form Henin and Sharapova, there'll be a lot of people to fight through at SW19). I think you picked Nicole to reach the US Open final in your original picks, though, so maybe it'll be NYC. Speaking of Amelie, we're both pretty much in agreement on Mauresmo at this point. She's stuck somewhere after the big 2-3, and above all the rest. She really needs to at least get back to the SF at Wimbledon.

PC: She has missed significant action but she'll be back in time for her best time of the year, clay and grass.

TS: Sounds like the Sharapova refrain, except replace "clay" with "hard court." Okay, now for the Petrova portion of our Volley.

PC: Nadia, Nadia, Nadia... what to say really?

TS: You'll notice I DID drop her a bit, but if she survives her pressure-filled clay season and has a decent run at Roland Garros I'll put her back in my year-end Top 5 after Wimbledon. She needs to get in a bit better condition for the long haul of the clay season, but her QF in Miami was identical to her QF there last year before her great clay run. So... well, we'll just see what happens.

PC: Is it me or is their a little tendancy here -- you adjusting your picks towards mine. There was Kim, now Nadia.

TS: Well, you could also say that you've adjusted Clijsters closer to my pick since you didn't have her in the Top 10 originally (and I won't mention that you also dropped Hingis down to where I had her, and moved Petrova up one place... whoops, did I actually type that?). It sort of brings to mind the wild notion that we're just the same person posing as two -- there are still no pictures of us in the same room, you know.

PC: Haha.

TS: Not that I take any credit for you now including Clijsters. I guess I should have known better than to think that in the final stretch of her career she'd suddenly morph into a player who really and truly wanted to accomplish something great. But, really, even in my wildest dreams I wouldn't have thought that she'd decide to plan a wedding party and schedule a honeymoon that would preclude her from attending two of her final three grand slams.

PC: Kim's playing her only clay court event in Warsaw? Seriously? No RG?

TS: At first I wanted to be angry at her, but now I figure why bother when the eye-rolling timing of the acts only prove pretty much everything I've ever said about her in the past.

PC: I know one difference that proves we're two people -- I think deep down you know that Nadia will once more let you down.

TS: Either way, I'm heartened a bit by the fact that she got a grand total of one victory at RG and Wimbledon in '06, and took all summer before she collected herself at the very end of the US Open Series. So even a dip in her pre-Paris results could be somewhat made up for with respectable results at the two 2Q slams and hardcourt season. Hmmm, I'm almost talking myself into putting her back up a few spots... but I'll hold off.

PC: Are we talking about good results in slams for Nadia? Seriously? So what are you hoping for here? When is the last time she posted 2 or 3 straight big wins?

TS: Come now, Pierre. Petrova has reached two slam SF and four QF, and had a run of seven straight slams with Round-of-16 or better results before she got hurt at Roland Garros last year and didn't really recover until around US Open time. She lost in the 3rd Round in Melbourne in January, but that was to Serena so it's nothing to be ashamed of. After the Party Planner's antics, Nadia would have to commit several high crimes to be the most disappointing slam player in '07.

1. Henin(2)
2. S.Williams(-)
3. Sharapova(1)

1. Henin(2)
2. Sharapova(1)
3. Kuznetsova(3)

TS: Umm, the Curse doesn't count for revised Top 10/13 picks, right?

PC: Haha, at this point. I'm scared to even consider that the curse could have extended effects.

TS: I think Justine will be fine. Maria, though... whew! You'd be hard-pressed to doubt the power of the Curse at this point in the season. Is year-end #1 a pipe dream for the Supernova, meaning that we did indeed trip up yet another one.

PC: Maria's troubles against Serena and health problems could make things a bit more complicated. No matter how good Serena is, it's not normal to see her roll past Maria this easily. Either Maria is not 100% there physically or she now has some confidence issues when playing Serena.

TS: Or some combination of both. The England-to-New York portion of the schedule is really all that Sharapova would care about if she was forced to choose, though. She might not win either Wimbledon or the U.S., but she'll probably get close in both.

PC: I still think she has a great game for Wimbledon and it's hard not to pick her.

TS: Who knows? By late June, maybe she WILL be the odds-on pick at Wimbledon. So much can happen between now and then that it's easy to think that Maria will collect herself and rise to the occasion. Unlike some player who shall remain nameless, Justine also takes advantage of her slam opportunities. It took her personal life falling to pieces for her to skip the Australian.

PC: Well despite not playing in Australia, it seems like Justine has been a lot more convincing than Sharapova.

TS: There's really no one more deserving of #1 than Henin.... I mean, unless Serena manages to play a nearly-full schedule (but what're the odds of that?).

PC: Will she play enough? Seems like the only question these days.

TS: But does she HAVE to? Melbourne. Miami. Wimbledon. The Open. If she has great results at all the top stops, she can play a relatively light schedule and be ranked very high.

PC: Indeed, with the Sharapova mini-debacle, doesn't seem like the race to #1 will bring that much excitement.

TS: Maybe it won't be Maria vs. Justine, but Justine vs. Serena could be interesting, too... maybe Miami was just a preview of things to come.

--missing from our preseason Top 10's--
Golovin(8), Safina(10)
Ivanovic(8), Myskina(9)

Okay, we'll conclude this Volley with a few predictions for the upcoming 2nd Quarter.


Justine Henin
Justine Henin

...if it's taking place on clay, the Queen is going to be the favorite.
...this event just brings out the best in Justine, no one seems even close to matching her on clay these days .
Shahar Peer
Shahar Peer

...she won Prague a year ago, and got her first career Top 10 win over Dementieva during her Round of 16 run at RG.
...Shahar certainly has a good game for clay if she can generate enough power by herself, she'll be a tough one to play against.
Julia Vakulenko
Vera Zvonareva

...Vakulenko's the best slam qualifying ace around, and her best slam main draw results (3rd Rd) have come in Paris.
...Zvonareva will make big waves, especially in RG.
Tathiana Garbin
Amelie Mauresmo

...Garbin upset Henin at RG in '04, and has started '07 with a RU in Bogota (plus a hardcourt SF). Of course, there's always Hingis, too...but I thought I'd be a bit more adventurous.
...we pretty much know Amelie will have a good clay season, the question is how it will end. My bet is better than usual.
Agnieszka Radwanska
Na Li

...A-Rad won the RG junior crown in '06 (and then reached the main draw Round of 16 at Wimbledon).
...Li's been very slowly making her way through the rankings, will make semifinals in Paris.
Nadia Petrova
Martina Hingis

...Nadia was the star of the clay circuit before RG last year, but went down in Parisian flames with an injury. Here's her second chance.
...Martina might not make the final, but will come very close.
Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters

...a semifinalist there last year, she just can't bring herself to make a final appearance at RG because she has to order paper plates, balloons and noisemakers that week. Seriously... well, kind of (I'm allowed a little license to exaggerate on this one, aren't I?).
...hmmm, playing her only clay court event in Warsaw? Seriously? Seriously? No RG?


a Williams sister
Maria Sharapova

...take your pick, since the winner of Wimbledon is obviously the grass court season star. And since I'm still playing Sister Roulette and saying either Venus or Serena will win at SW19, this pick has "major disaster potential" written all over it. If pressed, I'd say Serena.
...this tournament is built for Maria, she needs some confidence and to be healthy, that's it.
Daniela Hantuchova
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

...grass is Wonder Girl's favorite surface, and for the first time since -- well, maybe ever -- her game might be in fine enough form to put together that Wimbledon run people used to talk about. Of course, Wimbledon is still three months away.
...could this be the moment when the junior world #1 takes a big step?
Sybille Bammer
Nicole Vaidisova of the tour's rare playing moms has been the surprise of the 1Q. Bammer made the Wimbledon 3rd Round a year ago, but she'll likely enter with a seed this time around.
...a semifinal or final for the Czech phenom?
Alicia Molik
Amelie Mauresmo

...the Steamer's game always seemed like it'd work well on the grass, but even before the illness the best she'd pulled off at Wimbledon was a 3rd Round result. Maybe things will be different now. Here's to hoping.
...Amelie seems to be getting better and better in Wimbledon.
Yaroslava Shvedova
Lucie Safarova

...the young Russian qualified for the Wimbledon main draw a year ago, and is coming off having won her first career title this season. Caroline Wozniacki, meanwhile, was the '06 Wimbledon junior champ, so keep an eye on her, too.
...many now know Lucie after her success in Australia, but she'll open a lot more eyes in Wimby.
Mirjana Lucic
Venus Williams

...the '99 Wimbledon semifinalist got her first tour main draw win in years in Indian Wells, so just showing up at the All England Club would be a nice sight.
...Venus has been on and off so much throughout her career, but it always seems to click when Wimbledon comes around.
Amelie Mauresmo
Kim Clijsters

...I'm tempted to say Sharapova to, you know, do the ol' reverse psychology bit on the Curse. But after winning the title a year ago, Mauresmo would have to repeat as champion to avoid taking at least a small step back this time around. So I'll play it safe on this one. her final slam, when all eyes will be on the second week, Kim will be surprised early on.

Hmmm, I wonder how different our Top 10's will look after Wimbledon?

All for now.


Blogger Todd Spiker said...

You know, Justine was going fine and on her way to a title in Miami when I posted this Volley. Then, well, Pierre and I put the double-whammy on her with our #1 prediction and... well, you know the rest. :(

Sat Mar 31, 03:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Miami Final: S.Williams def. Henin 0-6/7-5/6-3, overcoming two matchpoints at 5-4 in the 2nd set.

On behalf of Pierre, let me offer a joint apology to Justine for what we have done to her. (This is becoming a common refrain -- maybe I should come up with a form letter of some kind.)

Sorry, Justine... but what can ya do?

Sat Mar 31, 03:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger tennisfan said...

lay off kim and shut the fuck up

Sat Mar 31, 04:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Watch the language. Totally unnecessary.

Sat Mar 31, 11:00:00 PM EDT  

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