Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wimbledon Preview: A Battle of the Old, New and Everything In-Between

In Paris, it was useless to categorize the line forming around the block. Without Justine Henin to kick them around anymore, the entire field breathed a sigh of relief and was involved in a no-holds-barred free-for-all for the title, a WIDE OPEN battle that ANYONE could win.

Of course, in the end, the new world #1 ended up with the title. Go figure.

At Wimbledon, the lines -- or should I say "queues?" -- are more distinct. You've got the "old," the "new" and a vast army of "in-betweens."

Even with the All-England Club courts slowing down and playing a bit more to the strengths of the baseliners in recent years than in past, grass is still a "specialty" surface. Well, at least it is when you've got a handful of veterans around who've had SW19 success. There are a few "old guard" ex-champions who'll have -- or should have, all things being equal, which they rarely are -- a distinct advantage over the course of the fortnight:

VENUS WILLIAMS: over the last eight years, she's reached six Wimbledon finals and won four titles, including last year's. She hasn't had much of a season, and even took a break before Roland Garros. But the more times she plays on Centre Court, the worse it is for everyone else in the draw.

SERENA WILLIAMS: it's been five years since she won, and four years since she reached a Wimbledon final. But if the two-time champion is "on," only her sister might be able to stop her. And maybe not even her. After bombing out in Paris after expecting so much from herself there, a rebound might be in order.

AMELIE MAURESMO: she's a magician on the grass, but has been in dive-bomb mode all season long. Since winning the title in '06, very little has gone right for Mauresmo since early last season. In Eastbourne, she barely survived the 1st Round, then retired in the 2nd with a torn quad muscle. Even if she manages to play this tournament, she's probably not long for it. So, I guess there's little advantage here, huh?

LINDSAY DAVENPORT: she hasn't played in months, and last won Wimbledon in 1999. Her best shot at a comeback slam title is probably in New York or Oz, but if things fall her way she could be dangerous. She held match point in the '05 final. Again, back and knee injuries have hampered her season after a quick start.

The "new" includes the growing group of top players looking for a Wimbledon breakthrough that will either change their careers or solidify their new perch at or near the top of the sport:

ANA IVANOVIC & JELENA JANKOVIC: they're the top two ranked players in the world, but they still have something to prove at SW19. Ivanovic reached the SF last year, while Jankovic reached two grass event finals in' 07, defeating Maria Sharapova in Birmingham. They're on opposite ends of the draw, but would likely have to go through multiple Sisters and Sharapova to create another all-Serb matchup. Ivanovic, even with a possible Serena SF match, has the far easier road.

DINARA SAFINA & AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: A-Rad's game looks better at every slam. She's so much better now than she was when she knocked Sharapova out of the U.S. Open last season. She even won Eastbourne this weekend. Safina carried over her clay momentum to the grass... but then possibly realized she wasn't playing on the old green U.S. Open courts in the Netherlands final and proceeded to lose in straights to Tamarine Tanasugarn.

And, then, of course, there are the "In-Betweens," one of which could win the tournament, while the others might just be looking to make an impact:

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Queen of the group, but not really old enough to be considered "old guard" just yet. She's known for having grass success, but it should be noted that she hasn't reached a Wimbledon final since winning the title in '04, and hasn't won a grass title of any kind since '05 (of course, she plays only one or two events a season, so take that for what it's worth). Balance that with the fact that since she defeated Serena in the final in '04, the women who have beaten the Supernova at SW19 have all gone on to win the title -- Venus in '05 and '07, and Mauresmo in '06. She could face Williams again in the SF.

SOME YOUNGSTER, OR A VET MAKING A SURPRISE RUN: there's almost always one young player that makes an impact. Once or twice it was Jelena Dokic. Last year it was surprise quarterfinalist Michaella Krajicek and runner-up Marion Bartoli. This year, could it be an Agnes Szavay, Victoria Azarenka or Yanina Wickmayer? How about even Krajicek and/or Bartoli again? Among recent quarterfinalists to keep an eye on: Li Na and Nadia Petrova. And maybe even a finally-rounding-into-form Sammy Stosur.

The lines are forming on the left, right and in-between.

TOP PLAYERS: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, ESP & Eva Hrdinova, CZE
RISERS: Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
SURPRISES: Mathilde Johansson, FRA & Rika Fujiwara, JPN
VETERANS: Stephanie Foretz, FRA & Maria Elena Camerin, ITA
FRESH FACES Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS & Viktoriya Kutuzova, UKR
DOWN: Alicia Molik, AUS
COMEBACKS: Severine Bremond, FRA & Zuzana Ondraskova, CZE

Q1: Woerle d. #1 O.Sanchez 7-6/6-1; Ondraskova d. #2 Morita 6-1/6-4 much for that.
Q2: Rybarikova d. Karatantcheva 6-3/6-3
...the tabloid photographers weep.
Q3: Kutuzova d. Barrois 5-7/6-2/7-5
...last qualifier in under the wire.

28...Severine Bremond, FRA
28...Zuzana Ondraskova, CZE
27...Stephanie Foretz, FRA
26...Maria Elena Camerin, ITA
26...Rika Fujiwara, JPN
25...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
24...Eva Hrdinova, CZE
23...Mathilde Johansson, FRA
22...Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
19...Viktoriya Kutuzova, UKR
19...Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
16...Anastasia Pavlyuchenova, RUS
24...Elena Baltacha, GBR
24...Samantha Stosur, AUS
24...Zheng Jie, CHN
22...Katie O'Brien, GBR
22...Melanie South, GBR
19...Naomi Cavaday, GBR
19...Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
17...Urszula Radwanska, POL

*BY RANKING - 6/16*
#100...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
#104...Stephanie Foretz
#109...Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova
#111...Severine Bremond
#114...Magdalena Rybarikova
#124...Mathilde Johansson
#136...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#140...Maria Elena Camerin
#156...Victoriya Kutuzova
#185...Eva Hrdinova
#186...Zuzana Ondraskova
#200...Rika Fujiwara
#53...Carla Suarez-Navarro
#106...Katie O'Brien
#132...Zheng Jie
#139...Melanie South
#144...Elena Baltacha
#157...Samantha Stosur
#191...Urszula Radwanska
#199...Naomi Cavaday

4...Czech Republic
1...Romania (+1 LL)
1...United States

2...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP (R/W)
2...Anastasia Pavluchenkova, RUS (R/W)
2...Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (R/W)

*WIMBLEDON #1 SEEDS - 2000-08*
2000 Martina Hingis (QF)
2001 Martina Hingis (1st Rd.)
2002 Venus Williams (RU)
2003 Serena Williams (W)
2004 Serena Williams (RU)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (RU)
2006 Amelie Mauresmo (W)
2007 Justine Henin (SF)
2008 Ana Ivanovic

6...Venus Williams (4-2)
3...Serena Williams (2-1)
2...Lindsay Davenport (0-2)
2...Justine Henin (0-2)
1...Amelie Mauresmo (1-0)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Marion Bartoli (0-1)

#29 Mauresmo vs. Harkleroad
...if she is able to play at all.
#18 Vaidisova vs. Ondraskova
...but she won't lose to a qualifier. Right????
#26 Bammer vs. Arvidsson
...not the player of '07.
#30 Cibulkova vs. Zheng
...experience vs. youth.
#28 A.Bondarenko vs. South
...the Brits usually knock one seed out in the 1st Round.
#20 Schiavone vs. Paszek
...would be more likely if the Austrian was playing better.
#11 Bartoli vs. Lisicki
...would be a near-certainty if not for La Trufflette's resurgent play this past week.
#16 Azarenka vs. Pironkova
...what's the extent of Azarenka's injury?
#12 Schnyder vs. Dellacqua's a slam. so watch out for Casey.
#19 Kirilenko vs. Dushevina
...shouldn't happen, but Kirilenko was playing a clay event a week ago. So...
#22 Pennetta vs. Vakulenko
...oh, for Julia's sake.
#17 Cornet vs. Pavlyuchenkova
...either way, a very interesting matchup with "the future" written all over it.

1. Victoriya Kutuzova, UKR
2. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
3. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
4. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
Samantha Stosur, AUS
1. Anne Keothavong
2. Elena Baltacha
3. Melanie South
4. Katie O'Brien
5. Naomi Cavaday (vs. Venus...yikes)

Stosur vs. #11 Bartoli
#21 Petrova vs. Wickmayer

...all played well this or last week, after all.

=2013 SEMIFINALS, in 2008?=
#1 Ivanovic vs. (Q)Pavlyuchenkova
#16 Azarenka vs. #7 V.Williams

Some interesting early-round matchups, or potential ones:

1st Rd. - Krajicek vs. Erakovic
...they just won a doubles title together in the Netherlands.

2nd Rd. - Kuznetsova vs. K.Bondarenko
...does K-Bond have the upset in her?

2nd Rd. - Vaidisova vs. Stosur
...ditto fo Sammy.

2nd Rd. - Wozniacki vs. Wozniak
...C-Woz vs. A-Woz.

3rd Rd. - Bondarenko vs. Bondarenko
...but you know it'll never happen.

4th Rd. - Safina/Davenport vs. Dementieva
...whisper into Dinara's ear that it's all an optical illusion -- it's actually a clay court.

...this is the last year for the fabled "graveyard" on Court 2. So, the watch is on for its last victims. year before the roof arrives at Centre Court, the overhang is back. Oddly enough, I came to really enjoy the "open" Centre Court of '07. At first it seemed "naked," then it seemed "natural." Staid is back.

#1 Ivanovic d. #15 Szavay
(WC)Stosur d. #8 Chakvetadze
#14 A.Radwanska d. #4 Kuznetsova
#6 S.Williams d. #11 Bartoli
#9 Safina d. #25 Davenport
#3 Sharapova d. #21 Petrova
#7 V.Williams d. Wickmayer
#2 Jankovic d. Krajicek

...probably thinking too much of Stosur here. Maybe Safina, Wickmayer and Krajicek, too. After seeing her in Eastbourne, though, I AM liking A-Rad. Nadia couldn't pull the upset, right?

#1 Ivanovic d. (WC)Stosur
#6 S.Williams d. #14 A.Radwanska
#3 Sharapova d. #9 Safina
#7 V.Williams d. #2 Jankovic

...Ivanovic and Serena really look like locks to reach the SF with their draws. Sharapova has been dedeviled by Safina in a slam before. More than once, actually.

#6 S.Williams d. #1 Ivanovic
#7 V.Williams d. #3 Sharapova

...I've been wanting to pick this SW19 final since January, and since the draw made it possible I can't pass it up now.

#7 V.Williams d. #6 S.Williams

...hey, if she's going to win #9 in 2015, she needs to get #5 either this year or next.

All for now.

ALSO THIS WEEKEND: "Bare Bones Backspin" for Week 25
ON THE MIDDLE SUNDAY: Backspin Time Capsule: 1990 Wimbledon


Blogger Diane said...

Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but I kind of like Szavay to upset Ivanovic, if there is going to be one of those really big upsets. I also think Schnyder will get past Dellacqua, but she may run into trouble against Stosur.

I don't expect Vaidisova to last long (again, no tears here). I also think a second round upset of Chakvetadze by Gallovits is quite probable: Anna is having a terrible season, and Gallovits is really under-rated.

Sat Jun 21, 11:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

One never knows with Schnyder, as you know, Diane. ;)

I'd really like to see Stosur do well (and not just because I picked her to do so, either).

Sun Jun 22, 01:14:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like how no one is looking at jankovic as the great favorite here. that can only mean she is the one to spoil your party with the williams final... i really think venus will be out by 4R and serena will not go further then QF.

Sun Jun 22, 01:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

That's the thing with the Williams sisters -- they could just as easily lose early as win the whole thing. Remember, Venus nearly lost twice (1st Rd/3rd Rd) last year before she ended up taking the title.

The key for her is to have most/all of her matches scheduled for Centre Court (as defending champion, that should be the case). Once she started to play there last season, her entire tournament turned around.

Sun Jun 22, 03:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Milos, Jankovic is always favored over Venus--her record against her is solid--but on grass, Venus has more of a chance. I would love for JJ to win the whole thing.

So, Todd, I see that Patty's Evil Twin showed up to hit all the second serves.

Tue Jun 24, 09:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, I guess she's the neighbor from hell who lives in the house at end of the White Mile. :)

Wed Jun 25, 08:59:00 AM EDT  

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