Saturday, March 17, 2007

BV: The Bless-ed & the Cursed

Well, we're nearing the end of the 1st Quarter of the WTA season, so this is as good a time as any to make some early assumptions about those Top 10 picks that Pierre and I made in January.

Yesiree, the Volley is back.

(our preseason Top 10's, along with their current rankings)

1. Sharapova(1)...maybe Sharapova's fate in Indian Wells (a 4th Round loss to Zvonareva) provides a clue to whether the Supernova can escape any "curse" associated with Pierre and my dual #1-ranking predictions for her in '07. A major turnaround can't be expected during the clay season, either. But when you get right down to it, her "real" season doesn't begin until she shows up at the All England Club.
2. Henin (2)...
hey, Justine is bulletproof, criticism-proof (now husband-proof?) and maybe already fated to reclaim the #1 ranking before the clay season even begins. Can I go ahead and change my season-ending #1 pick now?
3. Petrova (7)...
she has her big clay court '06 results to defend, but an inability to match them could be made up for by being healthy enough to play into the second weeks of Roland Garros and Wimbledon (she was just 0-1 in matches in last year's middle slams). #3 might be a longshot, but Top 5 at season's end is reachable.
4. Clijsters (5)...
all My Gal Kim has to do is finish in the Top 10 for my pick to trump Pierre's. She might be skipping some of the clay tour and RG, plus she's getting married in July, but I'm still thinking she'll do enough when she DOES play to at least finish her final season still ranked in the single digits.
5. Mauresmo (3)...
it's hard to see her climbing up to #1, so her season-ending ranking being in the general vicinity of #3-6 still feels about right.
6. Hingis (6)...
she won Tokyo, but she's losing to some of the players she was beating last year and has yet to produce an eye-opening win like her early one over Sharapova last year.
7. Kuznetsova (4)...
she hasn't been able to produce that one HUGE moment that'll realistically point her back toward the #1 ranking (of course, as this is being posted, she's playing in the I.W. final) that never happened after the original "Curse" was imposed in '05. But, hey, she's #4 in the world, so she must be doing SOMETHING right, even if it is an oddly quietly achieved accomplishment.
8. Golovin (19)...
we're coming up on the year anniversary of Golovin's Miami coming out party that ended with an untimely ankle injury that set back her season. It's about time for her to get movin' if she's going to challenge for the Top 10, but she's still really only one great result from getting to within shouting distance of that promised land.
9. Vaidisova (10)...
Nicole is still in the waiting room when it comes to her BIG moment in the spotlight. Give her time.
10. Safina (12)...
she's been in and out of the Top 10 so far, and needs t oget a handle on her consistency. Maybe that's too much to ask of the sister of Marat, though? But she's already got a singles title to her credit in '07, and that's more than she could say about her '06 season.
(current Top 10ers, not predicted)
Jankovic (9)...has played and played and played. But will she play herself out?
Dementieva(8)...maybe '07 is the year when Elena's four-year Top 10 streak ends. An I.W. RU in '06, she pulled out of this year's event and will lose valuable points.

1. Sharapova (1)...she's been solid, as much as I expected really. She had one bad match against Serena and was injured a bit, but still looks good for #1. It wasn't a surprise pick or anything but I'm still happy with it at this point. Of course, the early loss this week was a disapointment but overall I'm still confident. She will drop out of the top ranking temporarily for the next month but I think she'll be back shortly!
2. Henin (2)...
Justine has missed a lot of action, which at this point looks like it will help me out because she has been very solid while she has played so my 1-2 has a decent shot at the moment but if she had played in Melbourne, I would perhaps already be in trouble.
3. Kuznetsova (4)...
she's been solid so far, a lot of points to defend in the upcoming Sony Ericsson Championships but so far I stand by my pick.
4. Hingis (6)...
still confident with this one, I guess I'm hoping for a solid clay court run, getting more points than she did last year (when she did great in Rome, but could have done better in RG). Apart from Serena, she's the player who's earned the most ranking points so far this year.
5. Mauresmo (3)...
turning point for this pick is without any doubt Wimbledon, so let's wait...
6. Vaidisova (10)...
very much on pace, I'm not worried. Nicole has not played much, I'm sure there's a plan behind that whole idea. She will make it close to the top 5 in the late innings of this 2007 season:)
7. Jankovic (9)...
I'm a bit disapointed by Jelena so far, she's been solid and has improved, but has not been able to step it up enough. #7 is still very realistic, even if she was to continue to struggle against the top 5... but I'm guessing she'll turn it around.
8. Ivanovic (14)...
a bit disapointing to see Ana not improve more, this Indian Wells/Miami run will be crucial for her confidence before hitting the slow clay that will display her still lack of speed around the court.
9. Myskina (28)...
what can I say... the infamous curse I guess? Ok, it doesn't qualify as the usual curse but still...
10. Petrova (7)...
in my opinion, she still has yet to shine in big events against those top 10 players...lots of points to defend in the next month, she might go down to #10 by then.
(currently in Top 10, not predicted)
Clijsters(5)...hmm, I had based this surprise pick on a prediction that Kim would play very little this year... so far it looks a bit of a stretch that she would move outside the top 10 although I think it's still possible. We'll see.
Dementieva(8)...tough to figure out how Elena still manages to surprise us so much, she still does. Still don't think she'll end 2007 in the top 10 though.

TODD: Of course, the biggest point of contention in our original Top 10 picks (well, outside of Petrova's ranking... but I say we shelve that discussion until we get a better gauge on her season sometime this summer) was Clijsters' presence in MY Top 10, but not your's. Even without a Farewell Tour slam title, I think she'll get enough points to remain in the Top 10 no matter if she DOES skip Roland Garros (which she doesn't seem to believe she can win anyway). Are you sticking by your Kim-less Top 10 pick?

PIERRE: I do think Kim very well could stay in the top 10 but it's still not a clear cut for me so I'll maintain my pick for now.

TS: Is there a fairy tale ending in store for her in New York? I still think she could ride a wave into the final, even if an actual title is something of a long shot (though if she got that far, who knows?).

PC: So you are assuming she will for sure be playing in NYC I guess...

TS: Clijsters is certainly her own person, but I cannot allow myself to believe that even she would skip the final slam of her final season, especially when it's the only one she's won in her career. Not being there would be monumentally disappointing for all involved. Oh, and of course everyone wants to know if you'll be in NYC again this year.

PC: Yes, of course:) It's a tradition I simply could not break. Of course, I honestly hope to see Kim, especially if it's her last slam event, but I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't there.

TS: At this point, Myskina looks to be the prime candidate for your "cursed" Top 10er, having not played since getting hurt in her opening match of the season. By the way, any word on her return to action (seeing that you have that "inside source" within the Czarina's camp)?

PC: No Anastasia news on my end right now, in fact it looks like she's probably out for the whole clay season, I'd say the pick is now officially out of reach, sadly I must say.

TS: Aww, that's really too bad. I hope she doesn't start using the "r" word against when it comes to her career. If I had to label one of my picks for a "curse," I'd have to say I'm a little worried about Golovin. She hasn't had a disasterous year, though, so I'm still hoping things will begin to pick up in Miami as they did in '06.

PC: Yeah, I mean she did show some very good signs in Indian Wells. She did lose to Bammer which was a tough loss and a disppointment for sure. But given the fact that Bammer has been very surprising this year (including pushing Kuznetsova to 3 sets in the semis), I'd say it was still a very good tournament for Tatiana.

TS: And Bammer upset Ivanovic, too. Shockingly easily, at least by the scoreline, in the final two sets, as well. It's funny that you say you're "disappointed" by Jankovic so far. I'd actually list her as your potential "blessed" pick (her 4th Round I.W. loss to Li notwithstanding). She HAS won a title, and defeated Hingis twice. If nothing else, it looks like she may play so many matches that it'll be hard to keep her out of the year-end Top 10... that is, if she doesn't break down from overplaying.

PC: Ahh, well I was a bit shocked she wasn't in your top 10. To me, her improvement last year was unmatched in the players around the top 20-25... she's been more and more focused as well, she'll be a force to reckoned with.

TS: I'm going to have to concede a little on Jankovic (as you'll see when we re-pick our Top 10 during Miami), but I still doubt she'll come close to matching her '06 U.S. Open SF run this time around. You had Jelena's fellow Serbian AnaIvo in your Top 10, too. I still think Ivanovic is too inconsistent for me to think she'll stick in the Top 10 at the end of this season. In a way, I guess I sort of tied Ivanovic and Vaidisova's development together. Nicole is ahead of Ana by a decent distance at the moment, but the very best tennis from both will probably come in '08 rather than '07. That being said, I wouldn't be shocked at all if Vaidisova made a slam final run this season, either... it's just a matter of time in her case. What do you think?

PC: I see the two as being world's apart at this point... ok maybe not world's but pretty far. I think Ivanovic continues to disappoint with a few bad losses. Nicole's temper is surely still a problem but I think she'll be back on top of things shortly, she just has enjoyed a light schedule so far in 2007.

TS: I'm not sure if Petrova is "blessed" on my list (if I'd picked Shahar Peer at #10, I'd say my preseason backing of the Israeli would give her a shot at the honor after her near-SF run in Australia), with the pressure of defending her brilliant clay run of a year ago on the near horizon. But I've been pleased with her Hopman Cup win and title in Paris. She just needs to remain confident. Okay, I couldn't avoid it, here's your shot to be "Negative Nelly" where it comes to Nadia -- I know you enjoy it so much. :)

PC: Nadia, Nadia, Nadia...well, I mean she's 2-3 against top 20 players so far this year... so I think it'll be hard for you to really argue on the fact that she's playing like a #3 in the world, I mean seriously?

TS: Well, no, of course not. Other than Henin, though, no one's been consistently on top of things so far this season. I think her #7 ranking is pretty accurate at the moment. Still, she has wins over three players with '07 singles titles (Mauresmo, Safarova and Safina), one who was a RU (Zvonareva) and another (Golovin) who she'd been 1-3 against before this season. She retired against Ivanovic (and suffered heat exhaustion against Golovin in I.W.), and was up 6-1/5-3 on Serena in Melbourne (losses which speak to the notion that one of the big things that holds Petrova back in Nadia herself).

PC: She did win in her only match against a top 10, but that was against Mauresmo in Paris... we've seen time and time again that almost anyone could pull that one off. Still standing out for her as #3??? I mean you knocked Ana Ivanovic (as did I), but Ana has collected over 100 points more in the rankings than Nadia has this year... anything to say to that?

TS: Well, I should mention here that Mauresmo DID win the Paris title in '06, so...

PC: Haha, yeah but every rule has its exception...come on, please don't tell me defeating Mauresmo in France deserves comparable credit to defeating JHH or Sharapova.

TS: Well, if it was Sharapova on clay it would. And Petrova did beat Henin on clay in Berlin last year in what was maybe the Match of the Year (by my reckoning, as well as Tennis magazine's), so she's capable of it. I'd still take Petrova over Ivanovic for the course of this season. Her success generally comes in streaks. When she's on, she can reel off a few weeks of very good results (and HAS twice reached the SF at Roland Garros), and I don't think AnaIvo has shown that ability... at least not yet.

PC: Ah yes, I was expecting more of Ana, she's tough to figure out honestly, which is something I usually say of Russians. But yeah, has not improved as much as I expected... but please don't compare her to Nadia:)

TS: Well, I will say that Ivanovic does have more of a shot to compete for #1 down the road than Petrova... but it's still quite a ways off for the Serbian. Speaking of #1, Sharapova and Henin were the unquestioned stars of our preseason picks. While Henin has been stellar since her return after her divorce announcement, Sharapova had troubles with her serve in Australia, was injured in Tokyo, and this week got bounced by Zvonareva in the first week of Indian Wells despite serving for the match in the 2nd set. But, of course, the Supernova will have nothing to do with any of this "curse"nonsense, right? Neither of us want THAT on our conscience.

PC: Indeed... consulting my shrink since the Kuznetsova curse has been enough for me. I've never been able to look Sveta in the eyes ever since... thank god she doesn't know we are the ones responsible.

TS: Haha. Now,the unmentioned pink elephants in the middle of the room are the Williams sisters. Neither of us went out on a limb with them as '07 Top 10ers (at least I did say one would reach a slam final, though... call it a "covering all bets" prediction), but when they've played they've reminded us of the days of old. Is '07 going to be like '05 with Serena's success inspiring Venus to great heights, as well? Personally, I think one or both will be in the Wimbledon final and claim another slam there in July. Of course, these ARE the sisters, so practically anything (good or bad) is possible, right?

PC: Trying to predict that one or perhaps both the sisters will be in theWimbledon final is a gutsy move, I'm almost at the point of giving up trying to predict how they'll do.

TS: Hmmm.. anything else? Umm, how about whether you think Jelena Dokic will ever get her head out of her a-... well, you know, and put together something resembling a tennis career again?

PC: In contrast to many fans of Jelena, I really thought last week was a positive (she lost in qualifying in a $10K event)... of course, I expect her to play a few consecutive weeks and hopefully make progress to make it to a 25K or 50K soon. I wouldn't be in any hurry to go on the WTA tour even if offered a wild card...her level of confidence has to be at a record low.

TS: Really, though, up to a point, she only has herself to blame. Rarely has a player mismanaged their career as badly as Dokic in recent seasons. And how ironic it is that her most recent lackluster results occurred the same week that Daniela Hantchova -- a fellow Top 5 player with Jelena about half a decade back -- appears to have finally put together a rebirth five years in the making in Indian Wells.

Well, that just about wraps things up. the next Volley will come during Miami, and we'll re-set our top 10's and make a few predictions on the rising and falling fortunes of certain players throughout the season's upcoming final 3/4. Ready to be wrong (or right) again?

PC: Ahhh yeah, I'll side with being wrong... I've been having a tough time lately matching your performance... but I'll be studying all possible stats until then, I'll be more than ready.

TS: Yeah, but your Colts finally won the Super Bowl... and that kind of makes every other sporting occurrence "meaningless" until this September, right? :)

PC: (silence)

TS: Oh, I see, the Canadian is apparently too superstitious to say anything that might disrupt Peyton Manning & Co.'s chances to repeat as champions in the upcoming season. A very smart move, I'd say.

All for now.


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