Monday, July 07, 2008

Odds & Ends Between London and New York

It's time to take care of a few post-Wimbledon/pre-3Q loose ends. Say, a "Ms. Backspin" Player-of-the-Year update, a (mostly) North American hard court season and Olympics preview, and a few other odds and ends:

1 (tie). Ana Ivanovic, SRB & Maria Sharapova/RUS
...they met in the Australian Open final, which Sharapova won during her dominant 1Q stretch. Ivanovic won Roland Garros, then bombed out at Wimbledon, while Sharapova didn't reach the QF at either of the last two slams. They've both held the #1 ranking since Justine Henin's retirement, and one or the other will likely be the year-end #1. As of now, though, it's difficult to separate their seasons and say which one's has so far been the "best" -- though since AnaIvo has notched two slam finals and is the current #1, it's safe to say that she's serving for the set at mid-season.
3. Serena Williams, USA
..still absent from the slam champion's winning circle since the 2007 Australian, she's got some frustration buildng up after losing the Wimbledon final to Venus. Is it too early to mark her as the early favorite to win the U.S. Open?
4. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
...if there was an "Entertainer of the Year" category, JJ would win it hands-down. "Last Comic Standing." "Pimp Her Helicopter Ride." "Survivor: Belgrade." She's a reality show all to herself. But she's the #2 Serb, the#2-ranked player in the world and the only woman ranked in the Top 7 who has never reached a grand slam final. She has two more chances in Beijing and New York to supercharge her season, rather than having to rely on the oddities of the WTA rankings system to dub her a rather dubious top-ranked player.
5. Venus Williams, USA
...Venus' season is now complete. See you next June, V. Oh, wait. There is that little event in China that might get your attention, though. If she can pull off another Medal run, there's a slight chance we might see the first Summer of Venus since 2001.
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
...hmmm, is there a British junior who wants HER to take HIM to the Champions Ball? Oh, well. Dinara's Wimbledon ended in pain and frustration, but she leaves the grass season having proven that her recent heroics need not be reserved for the clay courts.
7. Elena Dementieva, RUS
..."lost in translation" comments or not, Punch-Sober is having a great season. Even her serve isn't quite as embarrassing as it used to be. Well, either that or we've come to expect far less than we should.
8. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
...the best part of A-Rad's year may be yet to come, and she's already won three titles and earned a Top 10 ranking. She showed she could compete with even Serena at Wimbledon, and might be ready to play the young-star-with-a-shot-at-the-title role at the Open.
9. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
...the world's best doubles team cleaned up on the grass before Wimbledon, then fell to the resurgent (and healthy) Raymond/Stosur duo in the SF at SW19. Still, none of the top doubles teams have been all that consistent this season.
10. Nuria Llagosterra-Vives, ESP
...still THE Fed Cup heroine of '08 to this point. But the Russians await in the final.
Flavia Pennetta/ITA, Maria Kirilenko/RUS & Lindsay Davenport/USA
...all the other players with two titles, except for a certain Belgian.
Vera Zvonareva
...she's tied with Serena with four finals, the most on tour this season.
Bondarenko/Bondarenko (UKR/UKR), Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual (ESP/ESP)
...the '08 slam champions, not counting the cameo by the sisters at Wimbledon.


*(Mostly) HARD COURTS* the final year before the U.S. Open is ESPN-ized, which will either be the best or the worst thing to ever happen to the American coverage of the event (there will be no in between come 2009), the U.S. Open Series will be ignored more than usual, considering there's this little sporting event in China smack dab in the middle of the North American circuit.

MOST IMPORTANT: Maria Sharapova/USA & Ana Ivanovic/SRB
of course, who won't be looking at the 3Q as the section of the '08 schedule where her season will take a turn for either the better or the worse? Such is life on the WTA tour without Justine Henin, where everything is STILL up for grabs. The most interesting question that'll be answered during the upcoming quarter, though, will be which of the many versions of Maria and Ana we've seen this season is the REAL Sharapova and/or Ivanovic? The hard courts level the playing field for most of the tour players, as the finer points of grass and clay court tennis that are lost on certain players are thrown out the window. Luckily for the Supernova and AnaIvo, though, their games should be raised by the switch to hard courts. But both will have to solve the serve (Sharapova) and head (both) problems that prematurely ended their Wimbledon '08 experiences. It's a real question whether or not the hubbub that surrounds the Open will suit Ivanovic, but she's a former U.S. Open Series champ. Sharapova, though, is right at home in the Big Apple. She'll have a good shot to make her season a "slam sandwich" with two slices of Melbourne and NYC surrounding a fairly lean middle.

ALSO: Serena Williams -- again, is it too early to call Serena the favorite to take out her frustrations on the field at the U.S. Open? Seven weeks is such a long time from now, though... so much can happen in the Land of Williams between now and then.
she's already accomplished her 2008 mission. That doesn't mean she won't have a Second Act to her summer, though, especially with Beijing and an Henin-less U.S. Open on the schedule. But if the remainder of her season produces little of "value" it won't be a surprise, or a disappointment.

ALSO: Tamarine Tanasugarn -- when does the grass court season start again? Tammy's ready. Let's play.
POISED FOR GREATNESS?: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
she's a far better player than she was when she won a title in Stockholm and upset Sharapova at the Open last year. Now, the other players will see her coming, though. Of course, that didn't stop her from knocking off Kuznetsova at Wimbledon or giving Serena a nice run, either.

ALSO: Jelena Jankovic -- hey, there's always a shot. Of course, how much of Jelena's body and emotions will still be functional after Beijing will determine whether or not she's a factor in New York.
READY TO TURN HEADS: The Next Young Star to Watch
last 3Q, Agnes Szavay burst onto the scene and marked herself as a player to watch during the Szummer of Szavay. One will likely do so again this time around, both before and after the Olympics. Maybe Victoria Azarenka? Caroline Wozniacki? Tamira Paszek, if she can rediscover the magic she had in her racket in '07. In other words, look out for any player with a "z" in her name.

ALSO: Bethanie Mattek/USA -- it'd be nice if her success in Europe could be carried over back home in front of the American fans. I know I'd like to see her on Ashe in a night match, if the draw serves up a marquee player for Mattek to test herself against.
LURCHING TOWARD DISASTER?: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA & Anna Chakvetadze/RUS
we couldn't be about to see Mauresmo's grand slam swan song at the end of this quarter, could we? As for Chakvetadze, her 3Q hard court results -- wins in Cincinnati and Stanford, and SF in San Diego and the US Open -- lent a great helping hand to her reaching the Top 5 late last summer, and since she won't be in Beijing she'll have a shot to set her season straight over the next two months. If she doesn't, she'll leave New York not being able to get to the end of the '08 season fast enough -- no player is more in need of the mental relief she'll get seeing the calendar turn over to 2009.

ALSO: Daniela Hantuchova/SVK & Tatiana Golovin/FRA -- even when these two start to turn the corner, they're soon struck down by injuries. Unfortunately, there isn't likely to be any season-altering moment this summer for either.

...of course, the Olympics are most important for the Chinese, but what are their chances to medal?

Well, at least in Doubles, pretty good. Li Ting & Sun Tiantian won the Gold in Athens in '04, and the teams of Yan Zi/Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai/Sun (the latter going for a second Gold) might have an even better shot to medal, considering most regular tour duos are made up of players from different countries... other than a few pairs of sisters who'll be in action in Beijing, of course.

As for singles, well, maybe Zheng's Wimbledon SF run will spark something with either her or Li Na. Home crowd support could play a big part in a drive for a spot in the top three (remember, a young Jelena Dokic played in the Bronze Medal match in Sydney in '00, though Eleni Daniilidou wasn't much of a factor in Athens).

Now, as for everyone else:

MOST IMPORTANT: Lindsay Davenport/USA
Davenport has stated that her comeback came about largely because she wanted to play at Wimbledon at the start of this summer, then the Olympics and the U.S. Open at the end. Well, Wimbledon turned out to be nothing to write home about. Beijing is up next. The '96 Gold Medalist is scheduled to play both singles and doubles. If she's healthy enough to play in either, her comeback will have been worth it.

ALSO: Venus Williams -- she won the Gold in Sydney, but fell to Mary Pierce in the Round of 16 in Athens. She could be the first to win double Gold in singles, but she might have a shot in 2012 to do that, too. In four years, the Olympics will be in London -- and the tennis will be played at the All-England Club.
LEAST IMPORTANT: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA & the "other" Russians
of course, any player taking part in the Olympics would never say they aren't important, so the only people who might fit in this category are the players who were unceremoniously removed from their nation's teams. Like Mauresmo, who was oddly replaced by Mary "How's that Knee, Considering We Haven't Seen You in Ages?") Pierce, and the Russians (such as Chakvetadze and Nadia Petrova) who weren't able to secure a spot on the loaded-to-the-gills team of Hordettes being sent to China.
Jankovic might just discover her Shangri-La at the Olympic Games. There, all her emotional decisions (her Hopman Cup ridiculousness would find an heroic home in Olympic competition) could work in her favor, and she might be able to ride a wave of success while representing Serbia that she might not to able to accomplish without self-destructing in a grand slam. Of course, by wringing herself out in China, she'd probably be worth little more than a wet rag in New York. But, hey, I'm sure she'd sacrifice the Open for a Gold, or even a medal of any color. At this one tournament, finishing second or third will still have its intense rewards for her. This could be fun, as usual.

ALSO: Serena & Venus Williams -- as they did at Wimbledon, they might just make the Doubles competition all about them. They won the Gold in 2000, so Venus might have a shot to pick up her THIRD and FOURTH Gold Medals.
with rare exceptions, though many have tried to team up more often this season in preparation for Beijing, most of the best doubles teams in the world are made up of players from different countries. So the Women's Doubles competition could be wide open... at least as far as the races for the Silver & Bronze are concerned. Keep an eye on the Ukrainian Bondarenko sisters, Taiwan's Chan/Chuang (talk about ultimate spoilers in China) or the Huber/Davenport combo in the former South African Olympian's first Olympic stint as an American.
fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, the Steamer got a wild card to enter the Beijing singles draw. The '04 Bronze Medalist seemed to be ready to make a bold move on tour four years ago, but things haven't worked out so swimmingly. She's glad to be back, saying the Olympics have been the highlight of her career, but the experience might turn out to be a painful reminder of what she lost and will probably never have the opportunity to regain.

07 FINAL: Dulko d. Cirstea
08 TOP: Szavay/Cornet

Szavay d. Pironkova
Cornet d. Benesova

Szavay d. Cornet
...this is the week the 3Q run by Szavay began last year (with a title in Palermo). Anyone up for an encore, starting back at home this time?

07 FINAL: Szavay d. Muller
08 TOP: Pennetta/Medina-Garrigues

Suarez-Navarro d. Pennetta
Medina-Garrigues d. Rezai

Suarez-Navarro d. Medina-Garrigues
...Pennetta or AMG might be the smarter pick, but I've still got an itch to try to mentally will CSN to her first tour title. Now, everyone concentrate real hard on Carla this week and make it happen. If she doesn't win, it's all your fault.

All for now.

NEXT: Grass Court Awards


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