Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009's Intriguing Questions




The new year has arrived. What better time to look at 100 of the upcoming season's most intriguing questions (not to mention make a few predictions, region-by-region).

*NORTH AMERICA*
1. Venus Williams, USA: last year's SEC title was a career first, but does it mean she's still capable of winning big outside London?
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2. Serena Williams, USA: was her '08 reclaiming of a portion of the sport's mantle the starting of something new, or a last reminder?
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3. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN: was Stanford's first-title-for-a-Canadian-in-20-years a once-in-a-career flash for A-Woz?
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4. Melanie Oudin, USA: is she about to become the first Top 100 U.S. teen who truly bears watching since the Sisters?

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5. USA Fed Cup Team: who'll actually show up to play?
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6. Lindsay Davenport, USA: all right, is it finally over now?
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7. Bethanie Mattek, USA: is she the last to salvage something -- anything -- from America's "lost generation" of women's non-stars?
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8. Alexa Glatch, USA: did those $100K titles late last season signal that she's ready to reassume her pre-injury role as "the one to watch" from the new crop of Bannerettes?
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9. The Gullicksons, USA: are Carly & Chelsey in the on-deck circle, waiting to become the next all-sisters doubles team to leave a trail of tour accomplishments?
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10. Kristie Haerim Ahn, USA: does the good head on her shoulders she showed in '08 means she's headed for a productive career, or just an honorable one?
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11. Lisa Raymond, USA: will Kveta Peschke prove to be the more reliable (healthy) doubles partner that will make Raymond relevant again?
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12. Julie Ditty, USA: does racking up USTA challenger title make you celebrated, or even more anonymous?
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13. Lauren Embree, USA: will the 17-year old be the latest Eddie Herr champ destined for pro success?
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14. Meghann Shaughnessy, USA: after seeing her '08 season go down in flames (and knee surgery) soon after subbing for Serena at the Hopman Cup, does Meghann NOT believe in deja vu?
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15. Jamea Jackson, USA: does anyone remember that before her hip surgery she defeated Sharapova on grass in 2006?
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16. Sachia Vickery, USA: are the Bollettieri training grounds harboring something special is the Miramar, Florida native, the highest-ranked 13-year old junior in the world?
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17. Ashley Harkleroad, USA: is her Playboy spread going to end up being the most notable "accomplishment" of the post-Williams/Davenport/Capriati "lost generation?" (See Bethanie Mattek.)
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18. Sloane Stephens, USA: might the 15-year old lurking the less-publicized shadows end up being the best of the American lot?
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19. Julia Boserup, USA: does her Orange Bowl title mean "she's got next?"
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20. Christina McHale, USA: is she going to take her Australian Open American wild card tournament win and use the exposure to grow her game, or false start and drift back into the pack? (See Madison Brengle.)
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21. Coco Vandeweghe, USA: seriously, is that the best name ever, or what? (And she can actually play, too... imagine that.)
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22. The Lost Generation/Generation Next, USA: sometimes statistics lie and sometimes they put the blunt truth on display, so should the perceived notion that American women's tennis might finally have a worthy pool from which to find a post-Williams star be declared legitimate based on this one? From the late 1990's to 2004, only Harkleroad (in 2001) appeared in any season-ending Top 10 junior singles rankings, but the last four seasons has produced a total of six Top 10 American girls -- Alexa Glatch, Julia Cohen, Madison Brengle, Lauren Embree and Melanie Oudin (twice) -- and a 2008 junior slam winner in Coco Vandeweghe. Time will tell.
=============================

FIRST WTA SINGLES TITLE: Jamea Jackson (since '06), Bethanie Mattek
FIRST WTA SF: Melanie Oudin
FIRST WTA QF: Kristie Haerim Ahn, Coco Vandeweghe
FIRST ITF TITLE: Jamea Jackson (since '04), Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens
ALSO: at least three Williams/Williams match-ups in singles finals

*SOUTH AMERICA*
23. Mariana Duque Marino, COL: is she now ready to become the best player in South America?
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24. Gisela Dulko, ARG: so, she IS going to essentially be a career-long tease, huh?
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25. Gabriela Paz, VEN: the next hope?
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FIRST WTA SINGLES FINAL: Mariana Duque Marino
FIRST WTA SINGLES SF: Mariana Duque Marino
FIRST WTA SINGLES QF: Gabriela Paz

*EUROPE*
26. Jelena Jankovic, SRB: all right, is this going to be the year?
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27. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN: will C-Woz be THE mover-and-shaker in '09 (maybe starting in Week 1)?
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28. Ana Ivanovic, SRB: did she REALLY break out of her funk in the closing weeks of 2008?
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29. Fernando Verdasco, ESP: is he going to be to AnaIvo what Radek Stepanek was to Vaidisova?
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30. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER: has the time machine finally managed to take her back to 2007 and give her a "do-over?"
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31. Victoria Azarenka, BLR: like the chicken or the egg dilemma, can a player become a "champion" without first actually spending some time perfecting how to BE a champion? (See Anna Kournikova.)
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32. Tamira Paszek, AUT: is she going to once again resemble the player who once so impressed Henin?
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33. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE: does she want it badly enough, and is she really going to blame her zoned-out losses in '08 on a wrist injury?
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34. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK: will she get bogged down in the mud while constantly trying to scale the often much bigger mountains on the other side of the net? (Sorry, that was too hard to resist, considering the picture.)

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35. Agnes Szavay, HUN: 2008 was just a bad dream, right?
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36. Flavia Pennetta, ITA: is the Top 10 her only real goal, and if it is is she selling herself short?
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37. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK: is there any bigger enigma in tennis not named Safin than Hantuchova?
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38. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL: is she capable of putting enough sting in her game to avoid drowning in the rising tide?
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39. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA: will a new coach forestall the end of the line, or at least make it a little less soul-crushing?
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40. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR: will she shock a top player to her foundation with a mind-blowing big stage upset before the end of 2009?
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41. Julia Vakulenko, UKR: truthfully, shouldn't I be afraid to even bring up the "i" word for fear that Julia might get hurt avoiding the question that she doesn't even know was just posed?
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42. Michaella Krajicek, NED: did that Jankovic-like losing streak damage her for good?
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43. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP: is a nice one-handed backhand in a landscape without La Petit Taureau enough to make her uniquely interesting?
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44. Petra Kvitova, CZE: soon to be the top-rated Czech Maiden?
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45. Sorana Cirstea, ROU: soon to be the first of the Swarm to break out in the open?
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46. Laura Robson, GBR: delightfully cheeky to the core, but is she really as good as she seemed last summer?
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47. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL: is the quiet(er) Bulgarian really the best one, and ready for her long overdue breakthrough after all those early-career flashes?
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48. Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL: is she going to provide enough on-court news to remove her past from the first paragraph of every conversation in which she's the topic?
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49. Alize Cornet, FRA: is working hard enough to conquer hard courts the only thing preventing her from joining the elite, or at least the Top 10?
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50. Tatiana Golovin, FRA: it can't possibly be over, right?
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51. Mary Pierce, FRA: it has to finally be over, right?
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52. Anne Keothavong, GBR: is she a late-blooming Henman (or Bammer, if you want to cross national boundary lines to find a proper equivalent) to Robson's on-the-move Murray?
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53. Czech Republic Fed Cup Team: could the opening round matchup with 2008 RU Spain be the start of the Czechs' re-emergence as a team power?
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54. Pauline Parmentier, FRA: is the most unknown champion from both 2007 and 2008 going to become the most unknown titlist of 2009, too?
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55. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP: she's two singles titles without an accompanying career slam QF from joining Anna Smashnova as the only player to ever win so often with so little slam success, but does her doubles success prevent her from truly joining the Israeli in the "worst good player" Underachiever Honor Roll?
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56. Patty Schnyder, SUI: you can't have an intriguing list without Sneaky, no matter how hard you try... or can you? (After all, the Sisters Bondarenko narrowly missed the cut.)
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57. Marta Domachowska, POL: has time run out?
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58. Julie Coin, FRA: does the late-bloomer have anything in her back pocket for an encore? (See Sybille Bammer.)
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59. Marion Bartoli, FRA: was her year-after 2008 season a moderate success or a disappointment and, depending on which, what should her expectations be for 2009?
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60. The Romanians: with three of 2008's Top 6 juniors, is the Swarm finally going to get noticed?
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61. Justine Henin, BEL: Miss you... and are you SURE?
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62. Kim Clijsters, BEL: Don't miss you QUITE as much... but the sentiment is still the same -- are you SURE?
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FIRST WTA SINGLES TITLE: Victoria Azarenka, Dominika Cibulkova, Karin Knapp, Mariya Koryttseva, Petra Kvitova, Sabine Lisicki, Yanina Wickmayer
FIRST WTA SINGLES FINAL: Michelle Larcher de Brito, Monica Niculescu, Arantxa Rus, Magdalena Rybarikova, Carla Suarez-Navarro
FIRST WTA SINGLES SF: Petra Cetkovska, Julie Coin, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Monica Niculescu, Urszula Radwanska, Arantxa Rus
FIRST WTA SINGLES QF: Irina Begu, Klaudia Boczova, Ana Bogdan, Julie Coin, Simona Halep, Ksenia Milevskaya
ALSO: Medina-Garrigues will win two titles, but not reach a slam QF, joining Anna Smashnova as the only 10+ title winner to never advance to the final eight in a slam; Larcher de Brito will reach a slam Round of 16 after upsetting a Top 8 seed; one of the Romanian Bogdan's will win a junior slam title, and a member of the Swarm will be 2009's #1-ranked junior

*AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST*
63. Shahar Peer, ISR: won't the will win out in the end?
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64. Marinne Giraud, MRI: would it be cheating to say she'll be the only player from Mauritius to do anything of note in 2009?
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65. Cara Black, ZIM: did you realize that Black's holding of a portion of the #1 ranking since July '07 is the second-longest streak in WTA history, behind Martina Navratilova's stint from August '86 to February '90?
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66. Nadia Lalami, MAR: it's a pretty safe bet that the teenager is the best player from Morocco you've never heard of, huh? (Well, at least one of them.)
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PREDICTION: Nadia Lalami will win at least three ITF titles

*ASIA/PACIFIC*
67. Jelena Dokic, AUS: is this the second, third or fourth comeback attempt?
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68. Sania Mirza, IND: has all the off-court turmoil taken the joy out of the Indian Princess' game/persona?
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69. Samantha Stosur, AUS: will her new focus on singles finally allow her to fulfill her potential, or will it be like cutting off the limb of an ill-prepared tree?
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70. Zheng Jie, CHN: just what will new-found respect, a higher ranking and her freedom from the state-run Chinese federation do for her nation's previously most underappreciated player's immediate future?
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71. Li Na, CHN: can she ever stay healthy enough for an entire season to truly show how good she can be?
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72. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN: just how much can a 38-year old tennis player accomplish? (See Martina Navratilova... well, let's not get carried away now.)
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73. Casey Dellacqua, AUS: will she make her grandma smile in Melbourne again/
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74. Chinese Fed Cup Team: hmm, vs. Russia in the 1st Round... I guess it'll be another disappointing season, huh?
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75. Peng Shuai, CHN: will she ever capture lightning in a bottle long enough to escape her underachiever label?
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76. Marina Erakovic, NZL: should her nation's best player have had to prove herself so often in '08 to get noticed, but since she DID will the whole situation prove to be the best thing that ever happened to her career?
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77. Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS/SVK: will she be "Australia's" highest-ranked player by season's end?
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78. Ayumi Morita, JPN: can she make Date-Krumm the "second-biggest" story in Japanese women's tennis in '09?
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79. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA: could Thai tennis have better timing than to see a junior become the #1-ranked girl in the world just as Tammy Tanasugarn's career reaches its final chapters?
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80. Sandy & Beatrice Gumulya, INA: did you know that Venus and Serena weren't the only sisters to meet in a singles final last season?

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FIRST WTA SINGLES TITLE: Peng Shuai, Samantha Stosur
FIRST WTA SINGLES SF: Marina Erakovic, Jarmila Gajdosova
FIRST WTA SINGLES QF: Kimiko Date-Krumm (since 1996)
ALSO: Jelena Dokic will win her first slam main draw match since 2003

*RUSSIA*
81. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS: is she about to explode (in a good way)?
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82. Maria Sharapova, RUS: have the doctors been sufficiently punished, is the shoulder REALLY sound, is her '09 "false start" something to worry about and are we about to witness one of the most depressing stories in recent women's tennis history spool out over the next few seasons?
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83. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS: come on, she can't waste her talent for much longer, can she?
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84. Olga Morozova: hey, if she was able to harness Dementieva's game enough for her to reach multiple slam finals, Kuznetsova should be "easy," right?
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85. Dinara Safina, RUS: can she keep her head over the course of a full season?
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86. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS: is her head right now? (At the very least, she has a new hairdo.)
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87. Vera Zvonareva, RUS: am I right to raise an eyebrow over whether those on-court antics in the SEC final were a bad sign?
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88. Elena Dementieva, RUS: will everything seem so much "less" after Beijing?
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89. Nadia Petrova, RUS: oh, Nadia... contracting an illness and being hospitalized before the season even begins can't be a good omen, can it?
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90. Russian Fed Cup Team: five titles in six years, anyone?
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91. Maria Kirilenko, RUS: so talented, but she's always seemed to be missing something that keeps her from taking "the next step," hasn't she?
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92. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS: is she the Hordette not named Anastasia most set to make a splash in '09?
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93. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS: was that near-miss upset of Sharapova just a once-in-a-career big moment squandered?
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94. Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS: will she ever try to crack a joke in English again?
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95. Alisa Kleybanova, RUS: will all that ITF success (10 singles and 12 doubles titles while still a teenager) finally pay off on the big tour?
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96. Vera Dushevina, RUS: will the last best title-less player from the first post-Anna generation ever rectify that situation?
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97. Anastasia Pivovarova, RUS: is she more Maria S. (big on and off the court), Anna (bigger off it) or Maria K. (perpetually stuck somewhere in the middle)? (See Olga Puchkova.)

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98. The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?: after an up-and-down year from the top-ranked Russians that saw incredible highs (Dementieva in Beijing, Safina's summer) leavened by unexpected lows (Sharapova's shoulder, Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova's slides), is the Horde's hegemony losing some of it's upward movement... or is Pavlyuchenkova about to help kick-off the NEXT Russian Revolution?
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FIRST WTA SINGLES TITLE: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
FIRST WTA SINGLES FINAL: Alla Kudryavtseva, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
FIRST WTA SINGLES SF: Alisa Kleybanova, Alla Kudryavtseva, Ekaterina Makarova, Vesna Manasieva, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Evgeniya Rodina
FIRST WTA SINGLES QF: Anastasia Pivovarova
ALSO: Pavlyuchenkova will finish 2009 ranked in the Top 20

*ALSO*
99. ESPN at the U.S. Open: will it be the best thing to ever happen to American tennis coverage, or the worst?
=============================
100. The Wimbledon Centre Court Roof: not that they need the assistance, but won't the Centre Court-worthy players be helped greatly since they won't have to experience the same interminable delays and rescheduled matches (which lead to matches on consecutive days during a rainy fortnight) that their "lesser" counterparts -- you know, the ones who need helicopters to get to the outside courts -- will still be forced to endure?
=============================


All for now.



2009 PREVIEW SERIES:
...All-Decade Nominations
...Most Intriguing Question
...ATP Top 10 Picks
...Prediction Blowout
...Volley #8-10
...Volley #5-7
...Intriguing 100
...Volley #1-4
...1st Qtr. Preview/Week 1 Picks
...What If?

10 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

Whew! You covered a lot of territory there. I don't know where to begin. But here are a few random responses:

Yes, I think this will be the year for QC. Not so much for her countrywoman (that may be wishful thinking, I know).

I, too, think that Mattek will win a tournament in 2009. I also think that Patty will win one of those tournaments in which she is always the finalist and never the winner. It will come as a surprise to everyone, including Patty.

My gut feeling is that Serena will not have as big a year in 2009 as she had in 2008. And if 'Pova's shoulder is really healed, I believe she will knock the crown off of Venus's head. Otherwise, Venus could very well win another Wimbledon title.

If Nadia makes a quick recovery (people often do), I think she will have a very good year and return to the top 10. If her meningitis recovery is slow, though, it could completely do her in psychologically. Poor Nadia.

A name not on your list is Kai Kanepi, who I think will have a pretty good year.

Sat Jan 03, 12:26:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, Kanepi is always one of those under-the-radar players that doesn't always spring first to mind. But I agree. :)

Hopefully, the tennis Gods are off doing something else this weekend and weren't listening when you mentioned that scenario for Nadia. It'd be nice, for once, if a single thing didn't become an ordeal that lingered for months on end, either physically or mentally.

I don't think Ana would want to run into you in a dark alley, would she, Diane? :D

Sat Jan 03, 09:50:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

No chance of that--I somehow don't think we frequent the same alleys!

Off-court irritations aside, Ivanovic still seems inconsistent to me. Given that the forehand is wonderful, I also have seen some quick thinking and beautiful net play from her. But just when I think she is going to dominate some other top players, she just seems to mentally fade away. But Ivanovic is still young, and that inconsistency is likely to go away. If it does, she will be pretty hard to beat. That 2008 French Open semifinal was Ivanovic at her best.

Sat Jan 03, 10:00:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I still wonder if she would have defeated Jankovic in that match had she known she was playing for the #1 ranking.

Sat Jan 03, 11:20:00 AM EST  
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