Sunday, May 27, 2007

RG Preview: Thar She Blows?

Call her Ishmael?

"Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!" - Moby Dick (1948), by Herman Melville

It is said that it is futile and often fatal to try to interpret the White Whale's moves and motives. One can only chase, and hope to survive.

The same can rightly be said about those who choose to take up the mission of hunting down Justine Henin at Roland Garros. Le Petit Taureau comes to Paris as the two-time defending RG champion, the trophy-holder three of the last four years, the #1 seed and the #1-ranked played in the world by a fairly wide margin at the moment (considering the clay-averse and confident serve-deprived jigsaw puzzle that is the '07 version of the Supernova currently stands at #2).

Of course, the driving story of this Roland Garros before the start of play is whether the seemingly destined meeting of the world's best clay courter, Henin, and the star of the '07 clay court season, Jelena Jankovic, will actually become a reality. The perfect structure of this tournament would have allowed for an Henin-Jankovic final, but in keeping with the Serb's Ahab-like existence when it comes to the Queen, even if she does indeed meet and defeat her own personal White Whale it will come in the semifinals... and she'd still need to win ANOTHER pressure-filled match to claim her first grand slam crown.

Poor Ahab, err, I mean Jelena. She just can't win for winning. Not that she will do THAT if the Jankovic-captained Pequod gets the face-to-face battle with her own version of Moby Dick, the Belgian who she's never been able to find a way to defeat in five career meetings. Even when she recently won in Rome, Jankovic still had Henin on her mind... probably only half-jokingly saying she was only able to win because the Queen didn't show up that week.

I wonder if Jelena sees Justine in her dreams?

Still, after being the star of the pre-Paris clay season (of course, go ask Nadia Petova how much that'll buy her in a sidewalk cafe on her off-day), Jankovic WILL pursue Henin to that possible semifinal battleground. What happens then is anyone's guess.

Hey, what's that sound? Is it Queequeg carving out his own coffin? Ahh, no... it's just Jelena with a box of tools.

Does she know something that we don't?

Timea Bacsinszky & Ioana-Raluca Olaru
RISERS: Andrea Petkovic & Olga Savchuk
SURPRISES: Mariya Koryttseva & Alla Kudryavtseva
VETERANS: Kveta Peschke & Rossana De Los Rios
FRESH FACES Agnes Szavay & Dominika Cibulkova
DOWN: Klara Zakopalova & Virginia Ruano-Pascual


17...Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
18...Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
18...Ioana-Raluca Olaru (ROU)
18...Agnes Szavay (HUN)
19...Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS)
19...Andrea Petkovic (GER)
19...Olga Savchuk (UKR)
21...Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE)
22...Mariya Koryttseva (UKR)
22...Akgul Amanmuradova (UZB)
31...Rossana De Los Rios (POR)
31...Kveta Peschke (CZE)
(lucky losers)
21...Emma Laine (FIN)
23...Sofia Arvidsson (SWE)

#101...Agnes Szavay
#104...Alla Kudryavtseva
#117...Timea Bacsinszky
#122...Ioana-Raluca Olaru
#124...Dominika Cibulkova
#125...Su-Wei Hsieh
#136...Olga Savchuk
#151...Andrea Petkovic
#181...Kveta Peschke
#206...Akgul Amanmuradova
#210...Rossana De Los Rios
#255...Mariya Koryttseva
(lucky losers)
#121...Sofia Arvidsson
#141...Emma Laine

Love-Love...for the second time, singles play begins on Sunday this year. Remember last year's big match on Day 1? Maria Sharapova looked to be ready to be ridden out of town on a rail by Mashona Washington, only to see a party of pigeons land on the Russian's side of the court just as the American was about to serve for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd set. The pigeons flew off with Washington's mojo, she failed to convert three match points, and the Supernova survived... but only for a few more rounds. What will be this year's big story?
Love-15...potential first seeds out? How about:

#2 Sharapova (vs. Emilie Loit)
#12 Daniela Hantuchova (vs. Jelena Kostanic-Tosic)
#18 Marion Bartoli (vs. Aravane Rezai)
#26 Venus Williams (vs. Alize Cornet)
#23 Francesca Schiavone (vs. Yvonne Meusburger)
#28 Mara Santangelo (vs. Agnieszka Radwanska)

Love-30...potential last qualifer standing? Well, since Julia Vakulenko actually got a seed this time around, how about:

Timea Bacsinszky
Dominika Cibulkova
Alla Kudryavtseva
Love-40...potential 3rd Round grudge (re)match: Amelie Mauresmo vs. Lucie Safarova, who upset the Frenchwoman en route to a QF in Melbourne in January.
MATCH, "if she can do it again, she'll earn a spot in Backspin's heart forever"...Julia Vakulenko, a long-time fave of the ol' Backspinner, ended Kim Clijsters' career and upset Amelie Mauresmo in the weeks preceding Roland Garros. If she's over her litany of recent injuries, the #30-seed could get a shot at Berlin champ Ana Ivanovic in the 3rd Round. Can she continue her upward climb, and actually complete a tournament without a "ret." at the end of a scoreline?

#1 Henin d. #16 Li
#10 Safina d. #8 S.Williams
#4 Jankovic d. #13 Dementieva
#11 Petrova d. #6 Vaidisova
#12 Hantuchova d. #30 Vakulenko
#3 Kuznetsova d. #15 Peer
#9 Chakvetadze d. #3 Mauresmo
Azarenka d. #2 Sharapova

...question Serena at your own peril. Question Maria at Roland Garros and feel pretty good about it.

#1 Henin d. #10 Safina
#4 Jankovic d. #11 Petrova
#3 Kuznetsova d. #12 Hantuchova
#9 Chakvetadze d. Azarenka's where Pierre sends me an e-mail "casually" noting how Nadia Petrova lost. I can't hear him laughing as he does so, but I think I can sense a giggle in his typing fingers. Meanwhile, Jankovic jokes about how difficult it will be for her to take down the world #1, hardening herself for the possibility of going 0-6. As a perusal of the current Tennis Magazine article might attest, Henin may be trying to be more of a likable "dolphin" now rather than the extreme "White Whale" she's been up till now. Will the idea make her soft?

#1 Henin d. #4 Jankovic
#3 Kuznetsova d. #9 Chakvetadze, it won't. Not yet, anyway. If Jankovic is going to upend Justine, look for it to happen in North America, not Paris. The Pequod is sinking, and Jelena disappears below the sea's surface, attached to her White Whale by the harpoon she had hidden in her racket bag. Justine heads to the area of the ocean where only she can breathe. Meanwhile, Serena, Venus and Maria catch a ride on the Rachel to England.

#1 Henin d. #3 Kuznetsova

...hmmm, could it be that Justine is both the White Whale to Jankovic, AND Ahab in her own mind? Single-minded, driven to maniacal lengths to achieve her goals no matter the price? She's not evil, she's just drawn that way. While a nice Kim might have worked for Clijsters, Backspin fears that a Justine who wants to be perceived as "nice" might cause the entire house to come tumbling down around her, opening her up to all the demons of mental fragility that her well-built walls have previously kept at bay in moments of crisis. "Le Petit Justine" may not have the edge of "Le Petit Taureau." Thus, maybe this title, should it come, may need to be could signal the end of an era.

But maybe I'm just being cynical.

"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!" Moby Dick (1948), by Herman Melville

Here's a second opinion from Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin:

=Round of 16=
Justine Henin(1) def Sybille Bammer(20)
Serena Williams(8) def Dinara Safina(10)
Jelena Jankovic(4) def Marion Bartoli(18)
Nicole Vaidisova(6) def Nadia Petrova(11)
A. Medina-Guarrigues(24) def Julia Vakulenko(30)
Svetlana Kuznetsova(3) def Shahar Peer(15)
Amelie Mauresmo(5) def Anna Chakvetadze(9)
Maria Sharapova(2) def Alona Bondarenko(22)

Justine Henin(1) def Serena Williams(8)
Jelena Jankovic(4) def Nicole Vaidisova(6)
Svetlana Kuznetsova(3) def A. Medina-Guarrigues(24)
Amelie Mauresmo(5) def Maria Sharapova(2)

Justine Henin(1) def Jelena Jankovic(4)
Svetlana Kuznetsova(3) def Amelie Mauresmo(5)

Justine Henin(1) def Svetlana Kuznetsova(3)

Hmmm, looks like we'll be linked either by our combined brilliance... or our ignorance. Considering how these things have gone in the past, I have to say I don't like our odds.

All for now.


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