Sunday, January 18, 2009

Oz Preview: Odds or Evens?

Trying to forecast events at the Australian Open, the season's first slam, is often akin to trying your luck in Vegas. Sometimes you win big, sometimes you lose even bigger.

Card-counting isn't allowed, so all you're really able to do is register and evaluate the minimal information available and then go with your gut. For with just two weeks of "official" play so far in a season, recent prior results often mean very little. "Preparation" sometimes means even less, as top players often rely on their offseason training and on-site practice in Melbourne to get them ready, hoping that they'll play themselves into match shape during the tournament rather than risk tiring themselves out before they've even played their 1st Round AO match.

Only three times in the past decade have Week 1-2 winners gone on to win in Oz, and none since Justine Henin followed up a Sydney title with a championship run in Melbourne in '04. In fact, during the span, the Belgian is the ONLY eventual champ to claim one of the spare tour titles preceding her slam win, as Serena Williams ('03 Hopman) and Jennifer Capriati's ('02 Hong Kong) trophy-winner performances came in one of the annual first-week exhibition events.

In other words, Elena D, don't be clearing space on your mantle for a new prize quite yet.

In the absence of any real evidence to go on, instinct is the only recourse that remains when it comes to trying to predict a winner in Oz. So, in 2009, that means this:

1) I won't go with a young first-time slam champ, as the only first-timers to win in Melbourne in recent years -- Capriati and Amelie Mauresmo -- had to go through the drama mill for years before finding relief Down Under. Okay, out goes Wozniacki, Azarenka, Cornet, Bartoli, Cibulkova and Radwanska and potential winners... not that I'd have picked any of them anyway.

2) I won't pick a flighty, head case-type who could just as easily lose in an early-round meltdown as battle deep into the draw, either. Alas, Dinara, a 1st Round loser in Oz in '08, you'll have to wait until Paris. Miss Zvonareva, same with you. Anna C, don't get too depressed. Patty and Daniela, you know the drill. Nadia.... well, you weren't really going to be a factor anyway.

3) Unless the player's name is Serena, up-front questions about health and preparation make the pick of a woman with question marks floating around her as she arrives and exits the practice courts make her too risky a pick. Amelie? Sorry. Queen Chaos? Sorry, kid... though if you show me up in two weeks time, I'll still be happy. As for Nadia... well, I guess I've already covered you, haven't I?

So, who's that leave, barring something wild results the next two weeks? Let's see:

Elena Dementieva: She fits the Mauresmo/Capriati first-timer-after-career-drama mold, but those two early-season titles raise more questions than answers.

Flavia Pennetta??????: Looking at the Top 20 seeds, the Italian was the only one who didn't really fit into any of the above categories, nor this one, really. But she HAS shown an ability to defeat the best player (Venus) in her section. Her last slam was her best (QF at the U.S. Open), too. Does she have a shot? No, probably not. But if she were to get past Venus in the Round of 16, assuming she makes it that far in the first place (she lost her only tune-up match), she might be confident enough to pull another slam-best result.

Ana Ivanovic: She's won a slam, and reached the Oz final a year ago. Bu it's hard to go with her with a "gut reaction," considering how many times she's essentially thrown up all over herself on the court over the last six months.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: Ditto.

The Williams sisters: They've won the last two slams. Venus claimed a share of the team title in Hong Kong, but only had to play two singles and two doubles matches to do it. She's never won in Melbourne, but she's reached the final -- and won -- the last three events she's entered going back to the end of '08. Meanwhile, as far as Serena goes, who can forget her "Soul Survivor" and "Soul Survivor: The Sequel" wins in '05 and '07, respectively? Plus, she "wisely" didn't use up her reserves winning Sydney last week.

Hmmm, Serena won this tournament in '03, too. Hey, and she defeated Venus in her only Oz final appearance that year, as well. 2003, 2005, 2007... 2009? If we're going to make this a game of chance, "odds" would seem to be the way to go... as in, in years ending in odd numbers, it's an even bet to go with a Williams.

They could meet in the semifinals...

(to be continued)

TOP PLAYER: Elena Baltacha/GBR

...when the Brit is healthy, she's always capable of stringing together some wins. Her third qualifying victim was #1 Q-seed Jelena Kostanic-Tosic.
RISER: Alberta Brianti/ITA
...she thwarted Michelle Larcher de Brito's attempt to reach the main draw.
...yep, there are FOUR Brits in the main draw, and none of them are named Robson. And this isn't Wimbledon, either.
VETERAN: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN

...showing the youngsters how to do it, and appearing in her first slam MD in a baker's dozen years.
FRESH FACE: Melanie Oudin/USA 17, the youngest qualifier. Not to mention being the American teenager most likely to reach the Top 100 in 2009.
DOWN: Jelena Kostanic-Tosic/CRO
...#1 seed in the draw, one of the last players out in the end.
COMEBACK: Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL (KAZ?)
...after everything, do you realize she's STILL only 19 years old?
OTHER QUALIFIERS: Stephanie Dubois/CAN, Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR, Chanelle Scheepers/RSA, Julia Schruff/GER, Karolina Sprem/CRO, Kathrin Woerle/GER
WILD CARDS: Jelena Dokic/AUS, Isabella Holland/AUS, Christina McHale/USA, Jessica Moore/AUS, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Olivia Rogowska/AUS, Monika Wejnert/AUS, Yuan Meng/CHN

Q1: Date-Krumm def. Pervak 6-3/6-3
...from afar, it must have looked a little like a mother-and-daughter mid-week tennis outing.
Q2: Brianti def. Larcher de Brito 6-2/6-3
...shocking the world will have to wait.
Q3: Dubois def. U.Radwanska 6-4/6-4
...U-Rad is developing a knack for losing in the final round of qualifying at a slam.

#23 Szavay vs. Voskoboeva
...speaking of odds, history says they're pretty good for Voskoboeva.
#30 Wozniack vs. Lisicki
...the German took out Safina in the 1st Round last year.
#27 Kirilenko vs. Errani
...there's a reason Kirilenko has never reached a slam QF.
#19 Hantuchova vs. Dellacqua
...the Aussie pulled off multiple slam upsets in '08.
#24 Bammer vs. Safarova
...occasionally, Safarova plays as well as she should.
#17 Chakvetadze vs. Keothavong
...unfortunately, for Anna.
#10 Petrova vs. Shvedova
...Nadia just might not be ready to play so soon.
OTHER POTENTIALLY STICKY OPENING MATCHES: #11 Wozniacki vs. Peer, #29 Kleybanova vs. Arvidsson, #28 Schiavone vs. Peng, #15 Cornet vs. Koryttseva, #13 Azarenka vs. Kvitova, #7 Zvonareva vs. Rybarikova, #20 Mauresmo vs. Govortsova, #12 Pennetta vs. Santangelo

1. Melanie Oudin, USA
2. Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL/KAZ
1. Jessica Moore, AUS or Christina McHale, USA (1st Round opponents)
2. Jelena Dokic, AUS (really? Nah.)
1. Casey Dellacqua
2. Samantha Stosur
3. Jarmila Gajdosova
4. Jelena Dokic (in Bizarro Melbourne)

Jankovic vs. Dementieva; Wozniacki vs. Azarenka slam winners allowed, apparently.

Zvonareva vs. Safina; Dementieva vs. Kuznetsova
...who needs Sharapova?

Petrova vs. Dokic; Schnyder vs. Mauresmo
...I fear the end would be near. For all of us.

=INTRIGUING EARLY-ROUND MATCHES... with built-in sometimes-snide comments at the ready=
1st Rd. - Paszek vs. Dokic
...Dokic either wins or bursts into flames on the court, possibly never to be heard from again.
1st Rd. - Hsieh vs. Chan
...does someone have something against the only two Taiwanese players in the 128-draw. They made darn sure that only one could possibly reach the 2nd Round.
1st Rd. - Llagostera-Vives vs. Karatantcheva
...Can Sesil win and avoid getting pregnant at the same time? That's one of those conundrums they talk about, huh?
1st Rd. - Safina vs. Kudryavtseva
...I wonder if Alla will approve of Dinara's attire?
1st Rd. - A.Radwanska vs. A.Bondarenko
...a sister-vs-sister prelude to a possible Williams-vs-Williams semi?
2nd Rd. - Azarenka vs. Pavlyuchenkova
...might this be a slam final in a few years?
2nd Rd. - Schiavone vs. Karatantcheva
...can Sesil win and avoid getting pregnant at the same time? The saga continues.
3rd Rd. - Jankovic vs. Sugiyama
...JJ's Waterloo? (And no, that's not a bathroom break joke.)
3rd Rd. - S.Williams vs. Karatantcheva
...hey, if Sesil made it this far and won she'd deserve a celebratory party and the accompanying pregnancy. Then, the real fun would begin.

#1 Jankovic d. Safarova
#7 Zvonareva d. Knapp
#3 Safina d. Dellacqua
#11 Wozniacki d. #5 Ivanovic
#6 V.Williams d. #12 Pennetta
#4 Dementieva d. #18 Cibulkova
#9 A.Radwanska d. #8 Kuznetsova
#2 S.Williams d. #13 Azarenka

...a wild-and-wooly top half, and a veteran-laden bottom. A year after Hantuchova reached her first slam SF, one of the youngsters might follow suit this time around.

#1 Jankovic d. #7 Zvonareva
#3 Safina d. #11 Wozniacki
#6 V.Williams d. #4 Dementieva
#2 S.Williams d. #9 A.Radwanska

...Safina based on form, but I like the slow-build opening two weeks of C-Woz's season.

#3 Safina d. #1 Jankovic
#2 S.Williams d. #6 V.Williams

...there'd hardly be a bad final matchup possible if these ARE the final four.

#2 S.Williams d. #3 Safina

...hey, this was my pre-season pick for the Oz final, so there's reason to travel off-base now. Many people are afraid to pick Serena here (as they were in NYC last August), but I'm going to do it again. She'd be the first woman to win back-to-back slams since Henin won the '03 U.S. and '04 Australian, ending a tour-record run without a player taking two in a row. Of course, the last player to win three straight (and four) was Williams during Serena Slam.

2003. 2005. 2007. The odds say Serena in 2009, and the gut concurs. Underestimate her at your own risk. Go ahead, I dare you.

What happens in Melbourne stays in Melbourne, after all.

ALSO: Pierre Cantin's Oz Picks

5...Serena Williams
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Ana Ivanovic
1...Venus Williams
ALSO: 5-Davenport

2003 S.Williams def. V.Williams
2004 J.Henin-Hardenne def. K.Clijsters
2005 S.Williams def. L.Davenport
2006 A.Mauresmo def. J.Henin-Hardenne
2007 S.Williams def. M.Sharapova
2008 M.Sharapova def. A.Ivanovic

3...Serena Williams (3-0)
2...Maria Sharapova (1-1)
2...Amelie Mauresmo (1-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
1...Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
ALSO: Davenport (1-1), Pierce (1-1)

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


Blogger jamatthews said...

Nope, there are 4 brits, you've forgotten Melanie.

Sun Jan 18, 02:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Pierre said...

Well Todd...gutsy pick with Serena, all the best.. I'm thinking your finalist will come out on top but we'll see won't we?

Sun Jan 18, 04:13:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

jamatthews -- wow, you're right. I forgot about South. This IS a weird slam, isn't it?

Sun Jan 18, 06:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger mjgrace22 said...

"Petrova vs. Dokic; Schnyder vs. Mauresmo
...I fear the end would be near. For all of us."

This is the most laugh inducing post you've had Todd. I literally laughed out loud when I read that quote above. Those four are extremely talented but the idea of them reaching the semis all at once, in your own words, is bizarro.

Not that they don't have the ability to do so, but if they all do at the same time, the world might implode. LOL.

Sun Jan 18, 08:46:00 PM EST  

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