Monday, June 09, 2008

Odds & Ends Between Paris and London

It's time to do a little post-Roland Garros/pre-Wimbledon housekeeping. Say, a "Ms. Backspin" Player-of-the-Year update, a grass season preview and a few other odds and ends.

1. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
...the new #1, a grand slam champion and half-way to equaling Justine Henin's 4-for-4 slam finals feat of '06. Advantage AnaIvo. But, theoretically, it's now Sharapova and the Williams sisters' turns to serve in the merry-go-road season of '08.
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS
...she won in Oz, and even claimed her first-ever clay title before pulling out of her Rome SF and blowing match points against Dinara Safina in Paris. It can still be the Year of the Supernova, though. While she won't be the favorite at SW19, she could be in NYC. Plus, she's always played well in Asia (where, coincidentally, the Olympics will be help in August).
3. Serena Williams, USA
...she's won two Tier I titles, but only reached the QF and the 3rd Round in the slams. We're now right about at the tipping point of Serena's season where it can go either way.
4. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
...she defended her Rome title, and reached the SF in both Melbourne and Paris. She made improvements off the court and on and, since that nonsense at the Hopman Cup, seems to have become a bit smarter about managing her career. It didn't totally pay off in Paris, but she's headed in the right direction. Finally.
5. Dinara Safina, RUS
...won twelve straight matches and defeated Henin, Serena, Sharapova and a slew of other Top 10 players in the process while winning Berlin and walking a tightrope to the Roland Garros final. But can she keep the momentum going?
6. Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP
...she won her first title in three years in February, then led Spain's charge into the Fed Cup final in April.
7. Elena Dementieva, RUS
...Punch-Sober's putting together a nice season. A title in Dubai, and RU's in Berlin and Istanbul. A Round of 16 and a QF in the slams. She's up to #5, just one spot off her career-best ranking. So why does it seem like she's sneaked into the spot under the cover of darkness?
8t. Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP/ESP & Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR/UKR
...ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 grand slam Doubles champions. So far.
10. Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama, SLO/JPN
...Srebotnik finally got her BIG singles win over Serena in Roland Garros, but she's been consistently successful in doubles with the Japanese veteran. They've won two Tier I crowns in '08.
SINGLES HM- Vera Zvonareva, RUS
...she's managed to reach the grass season without a major injury or reverting back to her previous incarnation. If she can turn those two '08 Tier I's RU results into a big title (she DID bank a win in Prague), the Czarinette will be officially re-born.
DOUBLES HM- Cara Black & Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
...technically, they're the top doubles team so far this season, and lead the tour with three titles. But other teams have either won more Tier I's (Black & Huber have one) or a grand slam. They might need to grab one by the end of the season to be the year-end #1 team again.
ALSO: Victoria Azarenka/BLR, Chan Yung-Jan & Chuang Chia-Jung/TPE, Alize Cornet/FRA, Lindsay Davenport/USA, Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS, Flavia Pennetta/ITA, Agnieszka Radwanska/POL

*2008 WEEKS IN TOP 10*
[of 23 weeks]
22...Daniela Hantuchova
19...Justine Henin

Kateryna Bondarenko (2004)
Vera Dushevina (2002)
Amelie Mauresmo (1996)
Agnieszka Radwanska (2005)
Urszula Radwanksa (2007)
Maria-Emilia Salerni (2000)
Katarina Srebotnik (1998)
Caroline Wozniacki (2006)
Madison Brengle (2007)
Anna Chakvetadze (2003)
Ana Ivanovic (2004)
Tamira Paszek (2005)
Magdalena Rybarikova (2006)
Dinara Safina (2001)
Maria Sharapova (2002)

It only lasts a month, so opportunities must be quickly seized:

the best clay courter may not have been in Paris, but the best grass court player should be in London. Essentially, the two weeks at the All-England Club are pretty much Venus' entire season. Everything else is just window dressing. She's about to come out of her cocoon and again stake her claim to tennis immortality. Over the last eight years, Venus has reached the Wimbledon final six times, winning four titles, the most recent one a season ago (as the #23-seed). If her father is to be believed, and he's usually right about such things, she could compete for championships at SW19 until she turns 34 in 2014. Hey, if nothing else, it makes a good starting point for the latest Backspin "What If" special that emerges in this spot later this week.

ALSO: Serena Williams -- after her flop in Paris, Serena will surely be looking to be Venus' partner in crime at Wimbledon. She gives up a potential spotlight at one slam. She seeks to regain it at the next. I'm going with her here over the likes of Sharapova (who, while she did win the title in '04, isn't likely to beat either sister on grass on their best day) and Davenport (whose best hope for a last hurrah title would probably come in either NY or Oz). Still, it should be noted that Serena hasn't reached a SW19 final since 2004.
the Cat's clay season ended on a nearly-spectacular note. And while she's had a few good results in small grass tournaments, Safina's best Wimbledon result is only a pair of 3rd Rounds in 2005-06. Marat has continually fought a Shakespearean battle with the grass throughout his career, so maybe a little of the poison has rubbed off him and stuck to Dinara. The hard court season is where Safina will be expected to show how much she learned from her never-say-die run in Paris. Anything she achieves on the grass will be pure cake. Mmmm, cake.

ALSO: The Spaniards -- Virginia Ruano-Pascual made the Round of 16 at Wimbledon ten years ago, but there's little doubt the Spanish clay courters won't be expecting to achieve so lofty a result this year. Medina-Garrigues. Llagostera-Vives. Suarez-Navarro (though, she's new and might have something up her sleeve... even if she is playing in a clay event two weeks before Wimbledon). They're all threats on clay, and sometimes hard court. But the grass season is like a trip to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for them. Doesn't anyone remember the Golden Ticket cashed in by Conchita Martinez in 1994 against Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario's RU's in 1995-96?
AnaIvo stepped into the void left by Henin in Paris, but can she elbow her own way past the grass courters in London? Maybe. She reached the SF last year, and was a Girls RU at Wimbledon when she was a junior. She'll likely enter as the #1 seed, unless the Club gets hinky with the seedings. She'll have some pressure, but she won't be the favorite. Here's her chance to show she's a four-slam threat.

ALSO: Jelena Jankovic -- her game is better suited to the clay, but she put up some great grass results a year ago. She won in Birmingham and was RU in the Netherlands heading into SW19. Her sore forearm and bruised body, which likely precipitated her not showing up to defend her title this week, will deprive her of precious match play on the grass, but she might actually FEEL GOOD when she arrives in England. She's the odd Serb out, so maybe she'll be inspired. And, no, the "odd" wasn't intended to be a comment on Jelena's personal quirks. But it's weird how that works out, huh?
Vaidisova continues to barrel through her disappointing season, but maybe this is where she turns things around. With a lackluster draw in Birmingham, she has a shot. And, remember, she reached the QF at Wimbledon a year ago, defeated defending champ Amelie Mauresmo and held three match points against Ivanovic.

ALSO: The Brits -- there's so little action on grass, it's hard to pick out who might have a shot to suddenly shine on it. Jelena Dokic could, but she's Jelena Dokic. Enough said. The Brits, naturally, always seem to pull off a few upsets at this time of year, though. Naomi Cavaday nearly upset Martina Hingis in the 1st Round of Wimbledon last year. Katie O'Brien and Melanie South have surprised at times, too. Anna Fitzpatrick reached the Girls SF in '07.

ALSO, HOW ABOUT?: Yanina Wickmayer is now the best Belgian, so maybe she'll show it. Madison Brengle was the Wimbledon Girls RU last year. Agnes Szavay and Casey Dellacqua qualified for SW19 in '07, and both have put up even better results since last June. Oh, and Chan Yung-Jan & Chuang Chia-Jung won two grass titles heading into SW19 a year ago, but fell in the 3rd Round at Wimbledon.

the Dutch teen (0-10) is still looking for her first match win of '08, and if she doesn't get it on the grass she's going to have to take a big step back and reassess things. She was a surprise quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year. Maybe the site of her brother's greatest triumph will spur her on, but it's hard to be optimistic.

ALSO: Pastries Amelie Mauresmo & Marion Bartoli -- Mauresmo was the '06 champ at SW19, but has since fallen on hard times. Her inability to will herself forward in Paris led to her falling out of the Top 20 yet again. Bartoli upset Henin in a windy SF at Wimbledon last year and was a shocking finalist, even though she'd come to London off back-to-back Birmingham and Eastbourne grass SF. She's still ranked in the Top 10, but she's reached only three SF in her twenty-six tournaments since last Wimbledon, and is set to take a wild freefall in the rankings very soon.

07 FINAL: Jankovic d. Sharapova
08 TOP: Bartoli/Vaidisova

Stosur(Q) d. Mirza
Vaidisova d. Wickmayer

...hardly the packed draw of a year ago (check last year's final), which gives some players having disappointing years the chance to set things a little straighter (or for a young player to make a name for herself).
Vaidisova d. Stosur(Q)'s about time, or should be soon, isn't it? So maybe.

07 FINAL: Shaughnessy d. Gallovits
08 TOP: Peer/Kirilenko

Llagostera-Vives d. Parmentier
Suarez-Navarro d. Cibulkova final 2Q clay court event -- the one holding up the Clay Court Awards. I thought I'd get a little break and the potentially draw-overturning 1st Round meeting between Llagostera-Vives and #1-seeded Shahar Peer would be completed before I had to make an actual prediction. Then, of course, the match was suspended at 5-5 in the opening set on Monday. That's just not fair.
Suarez-Navarro d. Llagostera-Vives
...I said last week I wanted to pick CSN to be a first-time champion. So, here you go.

All for now.

LATER THIS WEEK: "What If Venus Williams..."


Blogger Diane said...

I agree with everything you say except that I am a little more optimistic about Maria's chances. Maria tends to run like hot and cold Seren...make that water. Down and out one tournament, practically perfect the next. I think she must want another Wimbledon title really badly.

I have my fingers crossed for Jelena, of course (it's going to take me a while to get over Roland Garros--I think I may have had JJ's drink for her), and I feel really sad about Amelie.

Realistically, I think Maria, Venus, Serena, Ana, and Jelena are the contenders, and I'll be eagerly awaiting Safina's hard court showing. I also think that one of the newer stars is going to clog things up for the tour's elite in London.

Thu Jun 12, 11:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Oh, I think Maria has a good shot to win Wimbledon... just that if either of the sisters are on their game, she'd probably be playing for second place.

It'd be great to see someone like an Azarenka, Szavay or Paszek -- someone with a "z" in her name, I guess ;) -- make a huge breakthough and reach a SF (at least).

Sat Jun 14, 01:58:00 PM EDT  

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