Saturday, May 23, 2009

RG Preview: LPT+2 = #1 for #1?



This 2009 version of the slam at Roland Garros is all about Dinara Safina... or at least it should be.

In the second straight French Open to be held in Paris without La Petit Taureau, the draw looked to be a wide open free-for-all a few weeks ago. But that was before the new #1-ranked player in the world turned up the intensity and reached three straight tournament finals, winning the final two and arriving in France as the proverbial "bride" of this shindig. If Safina plays up to her potential, the rest of the women's field should perform the functions equivalent to a very large pack of "maids of honor."

Now we'll see how Safina handles the pressure.

She's already shown that she can make her way through a slam draw, having reached the final in both Paris and Melbourne over the past year. She didn't win either title, though, which Serena Williams made sure to note a few weeks ago when the Russian overtook her on the WTA computer. Safina has played a bit like a woman possessed ever since, but we'll likely have to wait two weeks to find out just how much those doubting words might have fueled her.

If Safina trips up, though, the entire complexion of this tournament changes dramatically. The free-for-all mentality will be in full effect, and the mad scramble for the Russian's discarded Paris bouquet will begin. If that happens, hopefully everyone will look out for all the flying elbows... because things could get really crazy out there.

Of course, how fitting would that be on the twentieth anniversary of a 17-year old Arantxa Sanchez's stunning title run in 1989? History does have a tendency to repeat itself, after all.

Here's a quick breakdown of the draw, quarter-by-quarter:

(1)SAFINA QUARTER: If the tournament is Safina's to lose, then obviously so is the quarter. Defending champion, and finalist the last two years, Ana Ivanovic is in the mix, but she's been out of form, lacks match play and hasn't been the same player who won this title a year ago ever since. Maybe she can recapture lightning in a bottle, but it's unlikely. An intriguing match-up might be a potential 3rd Rounder between Victoria Azarenka and Carla Suarez-Navarro. Azarenka has recently had shoulder problems, and didn't have a great red clay season of preparation; CSN was a surprise quarterfinalist in '08. The winner there could be Safina's biggest, and maybe only, obstacle to a spot in the semis.

(3)V.WILLIAMS QUARTER: Venus CAN play well on red clay, but she rarely does so in Paris. A year ago, Pennetta took her out in the 3rd Round, and she hasn't been past the QF since she reached the final in 2002. But if not Venus, then who? As expected, Vera Zvonareva withdraw after the draw the made. Behind Venus are a group of good players who could do quite well, but the likes of Amelie Mauresmo (lacking confidence in Paris), Nadia Petrova (I love her, but she can be a basket case on any given day), Agnes Szavay (is she ALL the way back, though?), Li Na (usually disappoints), Sabine Lisicki (injured), Maria Sharapova (now that would be a stunner) and Alona Bondarenko (don't even get me started) could just as easily lose early on a bad day. One option to consider: Kaia Kanepi, a quarterfinalist at RG a season ago.

(4)DEMENTIEVA QUARTER: This is probably the toughest-to-call of all the quarters. Not only is '04 finalist Dementieva here, but so is ex-#1 Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, who's had possibly the biggest breakthrough on clay of all the young players this spring. Five months ago, I'd have said Jankovic (who could face a slightly-resurgent Anna Chakvetadze in the 3rd Round). Four months ago, I'd have said Dementieva. Now, I'm likin' me some C-Woz.

(2)S.WILLIAMS QUARTER: It feels like ages -- and it HAS been -- since Serena actually won a match. In fact, she'll face a player, Klara Zakopalova, in the 1st Round who's already beaten her on clay this spring. But this is a slam, and Serena has NEVER lost in a slam 1st Round (and her only 2nd Round loss was in her slam debut in Oz in 1998). So, she should last a little while. Look out for a potential Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez match-up in the 3rd Round, a year after Serena went out at the hands of Katarina Srebotnik in the very same round. It's hard to see Williams winning this quarter, so Svetlana Kuznetsova has to be the favorite, with Flavia Pennetta a potential spoiler. Of course, there's always Patty Schnyder, too. But she usually bows out in the Round of 16 (though she did reach a rare QF a year ago).

Let the mind games begin.




=QUALIFYING ROUNDS=
TOP PLAYER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
...she held up her #1 Q-seed.
RISERS: Arantxa Rus/NED & Polona Hercog/SLO
...filling the void left by Krajicek and Srebotnik.
SURPRISES: Carly Gullickson/USA & Corinna Dentoni/ITA
...Carly did this while her sister Chelsey was making her way through the NCAA Championships singles draw (on Saturday, she defeated the top seed to reach the SF).
VETERANS: Yvonne Meusburger/AUT & Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
...these two are always qualifying for something.
FRESH FACES: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR & Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...The Kid continues to rise, as does another Hordette.
DOWN: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN & Elena Bovina/RUS
...Bovina keeps plugging away, with little to show for it. Date-Krumm retired in the 1st Round of qualifying against Romina Oprandi.
COMEBACK: Zuzana Ondraskova, CZE
...slam qualifying HAS to include a Czech Maiden, or something is wrong.
OTHER QUALIFIERS: Petra Martic/CRO, Anastaja Sevastova/LAT
WILD CARDS: Lauren Embree/USA, Claire Feuerstein/FRA, Kinnie Laisne/FRA, Emilie Loit/FRA, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Irena Pavlovic/FRA, Olivia Rogowska/AUS, Olivia Sanchez/FRA
LUCKY LOSERS: Mariana Duque-Marino/COL, Katie O'Brien/GBR

=QUALIFYING MATCHES=
Q1: Ondraska d. Oudin 6-0/6-1
...ouch. I guess winning back-to-back ITF titles can get a girl tired. At least that should be Melanie's story, and she should stick to it.
Q2: Dentoni d. Karatantcheva 4-6/6-3/6-2
...Sesil IS finally representing Kazakhstan, though.
Q3: Hercog d. Duque-Marino 6-7/6-4/6-1
...no worries for the '07 junior RG runner-up, as she made the draw as a lucky loser.

*YOUNGEST QUALIFIERS*
16...Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
18...Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
18...Polona Hercog, SLO
18...Petra Martic, CRO
18...Arantxa Rus, NED
*OLDEST QUALIFIERS*
29...Zuzana Ondraskova, CZE
25...Yvonne Meusburger, AUT
25...Chanelle Scheepers, RSA



=POTENTIAL FIRST SEEDS OUT?=
#32 Benesova vs. Goerges
...it's just hard to get that Fed Cup collapse out of your mind.
#30 Wozniack vs. Niculescu
...A-Woz's clay season has only gone downhill since her Ponte Vedra Beach RU result.
#21 Cornet vs. Ani
...no real reason, other than that Cornet has generally had pretty crappy results all clay season. So why not end it on a bad note, too?
#31 Peng vs. Martinez-Sanchez
...MJMS is a dangerous floater, but she's 0-2 in RG main draws in her career. Well, maybe she'll be his tournament's Julie Coin?
#20 Cibulkova vs. A.Bondarenko
...of course, Alona might still be thinking about that lost final set at love in the Warsaw final today, and decide not to mentally post for this one.
OTHER POTENTIALLY STICKY OPENING ROUND MATCHES: #27 Pavlyuchenkova vs. Olaru, #9 Azarenka vs. Vinci, #8 Ivanovic vs. Errani, #16 Mauresmo vs. Groenefeld, #25 Li vs. Domachowska, #13 Bartoli vs. Parmentier, #30 Stosur vs. Schiavone, #28 Bammer vs. Dechy, #2 S.Williams vs. Zakopalova

=LAST QUALIFIER STANDING?=
1. Petra Martic, CRO
2. Arantxa Rus, NED
3. Zuzana Ondraskova, CZE
4. Yvonne Meusburger, AUT
5. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
HM- Polona Hercog, SLO

...but a year after CSN qualified and reached the QF, it's hard to see any Q's lasting into the 3rd Round this time around. With a nice draw, Martic MIGHT have a shot, though.
[LAST PASTRY]
Amelie Mauresmo

=BIZARRO SEMIFINALS?=
Safina, Petrova, Dokic, Vaidisova
...someone would surely quiet at least a few doubters.

=TEN INTRIGUING EARLY-ROUND MATCHES... with built-in sometimes-snide comments at the ready=
1st Rd. - Mauresmo vs. Groenefeld
...Amelie surely wouldn't follow up her nice clay season with a 1st Round exit, would she? WOULD SHE? Yikes.
1st Rd. - Lisicki d. Safarova
...the German deserves better than the tough times she's had dished out to her since Charleston.
1st Rd. - Dokic vs. Sprem
...remember when these two were young players on the rise?
2nd Rd. - Mauresmo vs. Dulko/Paszek
...see above (and substitute "2nd" match for "1st").
2nd Rd. - Sharapova vs. Petrova
...Nadia gets a break and faces an unseeded countrywoman. Oh... wait. Can she EVER catch a break?
3rd Rd. - Azarenka vs. Suarez-Navarro
...I want to see this one.
3rd Rd. - Safina vs. Pavlyuchenkova
...Anastasia wouldn't do that to Dinara, would she?
3rd Rd. - V.Williams vs. Szavay
...Agnes, here's your chance to erase all those bad memories for good.
3rd Rd. - Jankovic vs. Chakvetadze
...it might be a great one, or a painful one to watch. Or, more likely, both... in alternate games, and sometimes even alternate points.
3rd Rd. - S.Williams vs. Martinez-Sanchez
...again, when does Wimbledon start?




=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 Safina d. #15 Zheng
#22 Suarez-Navarro d. 8 Ivanovic
#29 Szavay d. #16 Mauresmo
#19 Kanepi d. #25 Li
#10 Wozniacki d. #5 Jankovic
#4 Dementieva d. Hantuchova
#7 Kuznetsova d. #17 Schnyder
#14 Pennetta d. Martinez-Sanchez


...CSN seems to come up big at the slams (she reached the QF in her RG debut, then did it again in Oz). Oh-no, Amelie. Kanepi was a quarterfinalist a year ago, and now finds herself in the quarter where Zvonareva never really existed. Oh-no, Queen Chaos. Don't mess with the Woz. Patty in her customary 4th Round bow-out. No Serena here... but who knows?

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Safina d. #22 Suarez-Navarro
#19 Kanepi d. #29 Szavay
#10 Wozniacki d. #4 Dementieva
#7 Kuznetsova d. #14 Pennetta


...Dinara keeps rolling along, although there's always the chance that the ghosts of Arantxa's '89 title run might propel another Spaniard to a stunning result (CSN was just eight months old when Sanchez shocked the world in Paris). Kanepi finds herself keeping company with the 2nd Quarter's top three claycourters.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Safina d. #19 Kanepi
#10 Wozniacki d. #7 Kuznetsova


...I know I said I'd likely go with the final I was talking about in my early, early Paris sort-of-preview, but I've changed my mind. The bats might have returned to Kuznetsova's belfry.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#1 Safina d. #10 Wozniacki

...this title was Safina's to win or lose from the start. If she pulls off her first slam, one wonders how much Serena's words of skepticism might have spurred her on. And Dinara being Dinara, she likely won't let that stone go unturned. Of course, I come into Roland Garros having picked three straight correct women's slam champions... what are the odds I'll go a whole twelve months without missing one? Maybe I should be congratulating the Great Dane?




*CAREER SLAM TOP SEEDS - ACTIVE*
5...Serena Williams
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Ana Ivanovic
1...Venus Williams
1...Kim Clijsters
1...Jelena Jankovic
1...DINARA SAFINA
--
ALSO: 5-Davenport

*RECENT ROLAND GARROS FINALS*
2002 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2003 Justine Henin d. Kim Clijsters
2004 Anastasia Myskina d. Elena Dementieva
2005 Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Mary Pierce
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2007 Justine Henin d. Ana Ivanovic
2008 Ana Ivanovic d. Dinara Safina


*ROLAND GARROS FINALS - ACTIVE*
2...Ana Ivanovic (1-1)
2...Kim Clijsters (0-2)
1...Serena Williams (1-0)
1...Elena Dementieva (0-1)
1...Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-1)
1...Dinara Safina (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)






All for now. Day 1 -- along with an abbreviated "Bare Bones Backspin" for Week 20 -- awaits.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kutta said...

I need to get the Pepto-Bismol out for tomorrow's match between Amelie and Groenefeld. What a nightmare draw for her. I personally don't see her beating Bondarenko in the 3rd round but if she makes it to the potential 4th round match vs. Venus Williams (yes, I am picking Venus to get to the 4th round this year) I will be relieved.

ALLEZ!

Sun May 24, 12:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kutta said...

Oh BTW I was there at this year's IW match between Amelie & Groenefeld. The only time Anna-Lena ever got a set off of Amelie (the first set!!) and I was there, in person, live, watching from front row seats on Center Court. I almost had a heart attack right there. Thankfully Amelie won in 3 and I got her autograph. Yay! But still...after that experience, you can see why I am soooooooo nervous about tomorrow's match on Phillippe Chatrier!!

Sun May 24, 12:24:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Pierre said...

Here are my adjusted picks following Vera's withdrawl:

4th round

Dinara Safina(1) def Jie Zheng(15)
Victoria Azarenka(9) def Ana Ivanovic(8)
Venus Williams(3) def Alona Bondarenko
Nadia Petrova(11) def Na Li
Caroline Wozniacki(10) def Jelena Jankovic(5)
Elena Dementieva(4) def Marion Bartoli(13)
Patty Schnyder(17) def Svetlana Kuznetsoa(7)
Flavia Pennetta(14) def Serena Williams(2)

QF:

Dinara Safina(1) def Victoria Azarenka(9)
Venus Williams(3) def Nadia Petrova
Elena Dementieva(4) def Caroline Wozniacki(10)
Flavia Pennetta(14) def Patty Schnyder(17)

SF:

Dinara Safina(1) def Venus Williams
Elena Dementieva(4) def Flavia Pennetta(14)

F:

Dinara Safina(1) def Elena Dementieva(4)

Sun May 24, 09:56:00 AM EDT  

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