Wednesday, December 24, 2008

BV '09 (#5-7): Splitting Hairs... and picks

At our last meeting, Pierre went with some new Top 10 young blood, while I went with more well-worn options in our #7-10 picks for the 2009 season.

Oh, and we agreed that Vera Zvonareva would settle somewhere in that area, too (which probaby means she'll either do far better, or far worse, than that, of course.)

In Part Two, we enter the area of the predictions where potential slam champions/finalists start to emerge, but maybe not necessarily players we think might contend for #1.

Now, while I have my own picks, I also tend to try to figure out Pierre's picks before I see them. That being the case, looking at the players we mentioned last time (and our early slam final picks in the "Prediction Blowout") I'm thinking we might have the same three players in this section of our Top 10's, or at least two of the three. (Hmmm... I'm not sure predicting predictions is a good thing to do -- but I'm feeling it on this one.)

Let's see if I'm right.

Todd = gold
Pierre = green

TODD SPIKER: Well, since I'VE already sent Nadia Petrova's season down the wrong path, let's see on whom YOU can inflict some early pain this time around, okay?

PIERRE CANTIN: Don't try to throw the blame. I think that bringing up Nadia's name is not a good argument for you. I'm certainly not the one who's been cursing her, right?

TS: I'll remember that when it comes to placing "blame" when we BOTH put the hex on a player. Well, I went first last time, so you walk the plank... err, I mean present your picks first this time. Let's see if you've got the same three players at #5-7 as I do.

5. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
7. Venus Williams, USA

TS: That's a little scary. I was actually RIGHT. Those ARE the same three -- in a different order -- that I have, too. So I'll go ahead and get my picks out of the way.

5. Dinara Safina, RUS
6. Venus Williams, USA
7. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

TS: Weird, huh?

PC: Hmmm, that cannot be a good sign, no doubt. And yes, it's scary that we have the same players, very scary. But that you actually predicted it... that is crazy, really.

TS: I thought MAYBE you'd have Safina a little higher, but you held back on her, too. So, C-Woz is your highest newcomer.

PC: Yes, Caroline is one of the most talented players to jump in for a very long time. She had a fabulous 2008 season even with her bad draws. She earned every one of her big performances and I think a lot more will come in 2009.

If you'd told me that you had Caroline at #5 or better, I'd been shocked, in dismay and very disapointed. She is my "surprise" pick of the year, and I think she will continue to improve at an incredible pace this season.

TS: If she'd done a little better against the top players last year, I might have bumped her up a spot or two, I guess.

PC: She did not have great draws in 2008 because of her ranking but if you look at her losses from mid-May, in Tier 1's and slams, her losses came to Sharapova, Ivanovic, Jankovic (2 times), Dementieva(Olympics) and Petrova... not really what you'd expect and she did not make much of a story. But as her ranking improves, I think she has tremendous potential.

TS: While her fellow "in-waiting" Star of the Future Victoria Azarenka hasn't proven she can string together victories and win titles, Wozniacki finally did it last season (three times, actually). It was only two seasons ago that she won a junior Wimbledon title and was girls RU at Australia, and I think if any player is going to produce a bombshell, out of "nowhere" slam run in '09 it might just be C-Woz. Maybe even next month in Melbourne, when many of the top players might not quite be in top form yet.

PC: Yeah, you see I would give her more of a shot at the US Open. I see your argument, but I think she'll be improving with every event and that will mean trouble when the summer comes around.

TS: She's still looking for that first major event victory over a "big name" that will kick-start the next phase of her career and ramp up expectations, not to mention bring on the media spotlight and the role of the "next blond teenager" who'll be watched like a hawk. Nicole Vaidisova hasn't faired too well in that neighborhood. Hopefully, C-Woz will be different. Maybe growing up in Denmark with a very athletic family background, rather than doing so mostly in Florida, will be a good thing when it comes to not letting things go to her head.

PC: Yeah, she seems to be very strong mentally and maybe not on as much of a roller coaster as a lot of the others (Zvonareva being the prime example, but there are many others).

TS: Again, as with Zvonareva, Dementieva and Petrova last time, I've got the Russian ranked higher than you. Though not by much.

PC: Wow. Dinara, I think she was the best player in the world for a good portion of the summer in 2008 and did not slow up much even in the later months of the season. She is solid on all surfaces and certainly could do A LOT of damage in 2009. I guess this is a prediction based on beliefs and while I think she will continue to play well and cause many upsets, there are just a few of those matches that she will not be able to pull in, and she will come up short.

TS: Yeah, while she played so well from the clay season on, she was within a few points from never having those runs happen. Now, growing confidence will probably make those back-from-match-point-down victories less necessary, but it's hard to TOTALLY overlook the Safin family genes and think that she won't have at least a few fits of disbelief and frustration over the course of a full season. That said, I could see her winning the Australian Open next month. If she did it, it'd be hard to NOT see her getting to #1 at some point before Roland Garros.

PC: Wow, you see, while that is possible, I had not even considered it a possibility when doing my picks. Quote me on this, I'll say you are a genius if it happens and she becomes #1. ;) (Even though it's not your "official prediction.)

TS: Ha. Still, at this point, I'm not picking her to win a slam in '09. Maybe 2010.

PC: Don't see why she would do it more in 2010 than 2009. I'd say now or never for Dinara.

TS: I'd like to see her get a FULL season of consistent results and an "emotional medium" before I'd say she was "destined" to win a slam. Then again, being a Safin, maybe a quick flash would be her best shot. But she might have already experienced that last season in Paris, and came up short.

And now we arrive at the first Williams chapter in our story. As usual, it's usually more fun to just sit back and watch it all rather than try to predict what'll happen. Except for Venus at Wimbledon, it's usually a loser's bet.

PC: Venus and Serena are always the toughest players to predict in my opinion. Generally I have been putting Serena in front simply because she seems to play better all around, but all of those Wimbledon points have been making me wrong over the years and I really considered picking Venus higher up but finally decided to put a wild bet on a "more healthy" season by Serena.

TS: I felt pretty good about Venus last year. I had her at #2, and she did end up with her best ranking since 2002. (Of course, I predicted Serena quite a bit lower and she finished #2.) She'll be the favorite at Wimbledon anyway, but her first career SEC title might be a sign that she could still win a big title somewhere other than London. Though, interestingly enough, she hasn't reached a non-SW19 slam final since 2003.

PC: Venus will have her great moments but will not be playing much again and will have a tougher time on clay than her sister. She could very much do a lot better and even #1 is within reach..... but I just do not see how I could predict that happening.

TS: Did you realize that Venus was only #1 for eleven weeks in her career, and not since 2002? Jankovic has been ranked #1 longer in her career than Williams. Even when Venus was at the very top, she never held the top ranking for longer than one month. I guess she's always been built for 100m, but not marathons.

PC: Very interesting stat. You always get that impression but would not have thought it was that obvious from stats.

TS: Of course, maybe that's why it looks like her body and focus is going to allow her to outlast her sister in the long run. I'm liking the scenario of that "What If" I did last year more and more all the time. Bring on 2015! Ha.

PC: Hahaha. That is way too long term for me at this point. ;) Who knows if one of them will even have interest a few years from now. :)

TS: Well, at least Venus has said she wants to play at the next Olympics (the tennis is at the All-England Club), and maybe the 2016 Games, too. At this point, I'll take her word for it.

Hmmm, let's see. This means we both have another Williams, two Serbs and a Russian that we haven't picked yet. I have a feeling we're going to end another player's season before it begins by both picking her #1. Since I'm taking "credit" for Nadia, you'll have to bear the brunt of that one.

PC: I'm still trying to believe we will have different picks at the top, but maybe I'm just bad at predicting predictions?

TS: Maybe I should just put all our Top 10ers' names in a hat and pick them out in order to get an "alternate" Top 10. In fact, I'll do that and see how it compares to our "well thought out" predictions next time.

PC: Haha, yeah. I'm not sure I want to see that result. Kind of afraid we could both be taken out by the random Top 10. :)

TS: Or it'll have the same #1 that we both do, and we'll have somone (something?) else to blame when things go wrong. After all, we'll have to come up with SOME explanation when the time comes, and the tennis authorities are knocking on the door, demanding to know the REAL truth, right?

All for now.

...All-Decade Nominations
...Most Intriguing Question
...ATP Top 10 Picks
...Prediction Blowout
...Volley #8-10
...Volley #5-7
...Intriguing 75: Region-by-Region
...Volley #1-4
...What If?
...1st Qtr. Preview
...Week 1 Picks


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