Monday, August 24, 2009

Wk.33- T-Minus One Week

Okay, so this isn't my U.S. Open preview, but it is something of a PRE-preview, I guess.

Four U.S. Open Series events have been completed, and four different women have won titles. Eight different players have reached singles finals. In the 3rd Quarter's hard court events, six different women have become champions, with eleven different players filling the twelve spots in tournament finals. So what exactly is supposed to be read from that? And, more importantly for your friendly neighborhood Backspinner, how will this effect and/or shape my U.S. Open prediction?

(Yep, that's what I'm thinkin' about.)

Well, when it comes to figuring out who to pick to win the season's fourth and final grand slam, there are only a handful for whom I'd even harbor passing thoughts to put the "X" on their heads (and one of them isn't Flavia Pennetta, who COULD win the U.S. Open Series but who, with her history of weird results, I'd never pick to win the big event in a million years, no matter how well she might be playing going into the event... ditto for Stanford champ Marion Bartoli):

THE HOPED-FOR BREAKOUTS...or not: One (well, I) would have hoped that one of the two youngest players in the Top 10 would put on a headline-grabbing Open run this year, but neither Victoria Azarenka nor Caroline Wozniacki has managed to get any traction to speak of in North America that might propel them to NYC runs to glory. The A-Train is but 3-3 this quarter, while C-Woz is 6-4 (with the bulk of her wins coming on red clay in Europe in July). There is still SOME hope for Wozniacki, as she's playing in New Haven, a tournament she won a year ago, this week. No matter what happens there, though, I could still see myself taking a not-so-wild stab and sticking with my early gut feeling that Azarenka could catch fire in New York and reach her first final.

THE FLASH IN THE PAN?: Ah, remember when Ana Ivanovic (2-3) was a clever pick to win a slam title? That's no longer the case. Now, it'd only elicit chuckles... if not guffaws.

THE FLASH IN THE PAN II?: Ah, remember when Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-2), circa 2004, was thought to be the best of the Russians? And remember when she won in Paris a few months ago and everyone wondered if maybe she was FINALLY ready to reclaim her position as a consistent slam threat? It's hard to believe that was less than three months ago.

THE AFTERTHOUGHT: Venus Williams (5-3) began the U.S. Open Series by reaching the Stanford final, but has since drifted and drifted and drifted so far away that she's barely even a thought in the mind of anyone trying to pick the Open champion. In Toronto, she lost in the 2nd Round to Kateryna Bondarenko. Without a rich history of Serena-esque slam-winning runs "from nowhere" at any slam outside of Wimbledon, it'd take a mini-leap to think she'll suddenly find her game in New York City and maneuver her way through the draw without throwing in a clunker performance for two weeks running. Of course, you can't overlook her, either. Not with the expected handful of night matches probably keeping her out of the summer heat for a good portion of the time. Catch you in London next June, Venus.

AMELIE: Umm, not here. And maybe no longer on the grass, either.

KIM? REALLY? KIM?: Just on principle, I'd never do it. I mean, out of respect for La Petit Taureau. But, still, without any bad slam memories or new nagging injuries weighing her down, with a good draw, a case could be made that Clijsters' (5-2) best shot at a slam crown in KC II might be now. But maybe I'm giving her too much credit... something I never really accused myself of doing during KC I.

THE NOT-QUITE-SO-SUPERNOVA: Maria Sharapova (11-3) still has the Supernova inside her, and "she" allowed her to muster enough to battle to the Toronto final despite a serve that now routinely marks up double-digit double-faults (and threatens to --and sometimes pulls off the feat -- "lap" herself by leaping into the 20's) in a single match. She may or may not be seeded at Flushing Meadows, which means her position in the draw will be ulta-important. A deep-into-the-second-week run is more than possible in the right situation, especially with her being given the additional rest time between matches that has escaped her in regular tour stops during her comeback. Still, it's hard to envision anything "Supernovian" happening with Sharapova lugging that 500-pound gorilla of a serve on her back. Hey, at least it makes ESPN's live broadcast of the draw -- a truly great first step for the network in its first year of carrying Open coverage -- must-see viewing.

THE SNAKES IN THE GRASS: Ummm, well, I don't mean it LIKE THAT. I mean, both new Toronto champ Elena Dementieva (11-2) and Cincy titlist Jelena Jankovic (9-2) are quite possibly lurking in the weeds and ready to pounce in NYC for yet another slam final run. Unlike that Russian who shall remain nameless, while they've yet to win a slam title, neither has made a habit of escaping slam grounds with their tails between their legs, either. Both have shown well for themselves in slam finals, and are legit threats at the Open if their recent tune-ups are any indication. Currently first and second in the U.S. Open Series, both showed enough mettle in Toronto to lead one to feel quite safe-from-ridicule if they were to pick them to reach the SF, or even final. Of course, that doesn't mean I'll actually do it. But I might.

THE NO-LONGER-NAMELESS RUSSIAN: Sure, Dinara Safina is the only woman who has reached two hard court finals this quarter. Sure, she's a combined 10-3 in singles play. But unless one is to fully prescribe to the less-is-better, diminished-expectations-lead-to-better-results argument, Safina is almost off the radar as a predicted Open champion at this year's tournament. After losing to Aravane Rezai in Toronto, the world #1 said, "It's my brain. I know exactly what I have to do, but I'm not using my brain. I'm not doing the things by coach is telling me... (I'm) too disappointed in myself." Doesn't exactly instill confidence, does it?

THE TRIED AND TRUE: Sure, she hasn't played great in North America. But her SF result in Toronto was a marked improvement over her previously sorry Open tune-ups. In fact, it's probably enough to secure my original thought from a few months ago that I was going to go with Serena Williams (6-3) to defend her Open title next month. When in doubt, go with the player who's currently the reigning champ at three of the four slams, I always say. Not exactly a stretch, but sometimes you injure yourself during your pre-match stretching routine. Or is that just me?

Geez, what were the past few months FOR, anyway?


TORONTO, ONTARIO CAN (Premier+ $2m/hard outdoor)
S: Elena Dementieva def. Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-3
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez d. Stosur/Stubbs

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Elena Dementieva/RUS
after previous SF results in Stanford and Cincinnati, career title #14 came at the end of an impressive week in Toronto that will almost certainly wrap up the U.S. Open Series title for Punch-Sober. Wins over Ai Sugiyama, Shahar Peer and Sam Stosur were but a prelude to a straight sets win over Serena Williams in the SF that probably took away a TINY bit of the sting of failing to put away that match at Wimbledon last month. With final opponent Sharapova a tired adversary currently without a reliable serve to help her get by, Dementieva capably weathered the storm of a still-great competitor in another straights sets victory that was really her's for the taking from the beginning. After getting off to a great start in '09, winning two titles before the Australian Open began and quite possibly burning herself out in the short term, Dementieva has finaly claimed tour-leading #3 more than seven months later. Hey, "Player of the Year" contention is but an Open title away, right?
RISERS: Jelena Jankovic/SRB & Maria Sharapova/RUS
there wasn't as much joy in Jelenaville last week as there was last Sunday, but it was still an encouraging Open lead-up for the J-bot. She battled past Kim Clijsters in a late night three-setter, then was extended to 3:16 in a three-set loss to Alisa Kleybanova in the QF. Maybe the lack of an extra match or two might just leave a little more gas in her tank for New York? If we're lucky. Meanwhile, Sharapova is making progress. In Toronto, she reached her first final during her comeback, her best result since winning Amelia Island in April '08. Wins over Vera Zvonareva, Sybille Bammer, Agnieszka Radwanska (in straight sets, showing she's finally gotten this Radwanska thing down pat after that big Open upset a few years back) and Alisa Kleybanova, though, were saddled with Kournikova-esque double-fault totals. Sharapova is almost back, but the "anti-Anna" Russian won't be the Supernova again until she cleans up her serve.
SURPRISE: Lucie Safarova/CZE
everyone knows how much talent Safarova has, but she only allows the world to see it occasionally. Last week was one of those times. The '07 Australian Open quarterfinalist made it through qualifying in Toronto with wins over Mariya Koryttseva and Urszula Radwanska, then notched main draw victories over Kai Kanepi, Ana Ivanovic and Zheng Jie before finally losing in the QF to Serena Williams.
VETERANS: Nuria Llagostera-Vives & Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
consider Black/Huber on notice. Llagostera-Vives/MJMS are now challenging the world #1's for the "Best Doubles Team" of 2009. The duo's ("Premier-Plus") Toronto title was their biggest yet, not to mention their first on hard courts, and ties Black/Huber for the tour lead with five.
FRESH FACE: Alisa Kleybanova/RUS
Kleybanova's second SF of the season came in Toronto with a wild string of gutsy victories, including wins over Aleksandra Wozniak, Aravane Rezai, Dominika Cibulkova (from six MP down!) and Jelena Jankovic (in 3:16).
DOWN: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Dinara Safina/RUS
a year ago during the U.S. Open Series, Petrova won Cincinnati. In 2009, nothing has gone right. She lost in Cincy in the 2nd Round (A.Bondarenko), then was unfortunate enough to face Sharapova in the 1st Round in Toronto last week. Yesterday, she was bounced from New Haven in an early Sunday meeting with Anna Chakvetadze. Her 3Q results? Try three 1st Round exits, a 2nd and a 3rd. Ouch. For the season, she's got just one QF-or-better result (a SF in Week 14). Oh, Nadia. Meanwhile, Safina went into Toronto as the world #1, the #1-seed and the defending champ. It all came crumbling down in a DF-laden 2nd Round match with Aravane Rezai. Well, at least she's still #1 on the computer.
ITF PLAYER: Estelle Guisard/FRA
the 20-year old Pastry won her second ITF title of the season in the $25K Westende, BEL event. After making it through qualifying, she knocked off Evgeniya Rodina, Claudine Schaul, Arantxa Rus and Eleni Daniilidiou (6-1/6-2) in the final.

1. Tor QF - Kleybanova d. Jankovic
In a 3:16 marathon, Jankovic saved five set points in the 1st and won a 10-8 tie-break. In the 2nd, it took Kleybanova six set points to finally put away the set in a 9-7 tie-break. In the end, both were probably a little worse for wear. Kleybanova at least got to play another match, though (though, after losing in the New Haven 1st Round today to qualifier Yanina Wickmayer, she's now on a two-match losing streak).
2. Tor 2nd - Kleybanova d. Cibulkova
It was quite a rollercoaster week for the Russian. She saved six match points in this one.
3. Tor SF - Dementieva d. S.Williams
Ahh, but what if the two meet up yet again at the Open? Would we see the same result on a bigger stage?
4. Tor Final - Dementieva d. Sharapova
Dementieva wasn't a rock, going up 4-1 in the 1st and serving at 5-3 in a neverending game that saw her bounce from being break point down to having set points, then ultimately double-faulting to give the game away. Against a tiring Sharapova, though, Punch-Sober prevailed in the end.
5. Tor 2nd - Rezai d. Safina
Hmmm, is Safina playing opossum? If so, throwing in seventeen double-faults is a good way to throw everyone off the scent of her being even a "possible" champ at Flushing Meadows. Genuis... or just plain worrisome.
HM- Tor 2nd - Clijsters d. Azarenka
Tor 3rd - Jankovic d. Clijsters
If Clijsters can maintain this level of play next week, recapturing her U.S. Open touch in her first action in the event since she won it in 2005, she might just unravel one spine-tingling yarn. Of course, considering the Belgian served at 5-3 in the 3rd against Jankovic but ultimately let the match slip away, there's always the possibility that THAT Clijsters (you know, the pre-'05 Open KC who never met a big-time slam match she couldn't find a way to lose) could resurface, too.

3...Dinara Safina, RUS (Rome/Madrid/Portoroz)
3...ELENA DEMENTIEVA, RUS (Auckland/Sydney/Toronto)
3...Victoria Azarneka, BLR (Brisbane/Memphis/Miami)

[as of August 23]
140...Jelena Jankovic
115...Flavia Pennetta
110...Maria Sharapova
95...Samantha Stosur
75...Serena Williams
70...Dinara Safina
70...Marion Bartoli

Dubai - Venus Williams, USA
Indian Wells - Vera Zvonareva, RUS
Miami - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Rome - Dinara Safina, RUS
Madrid - Dinara Safina, RUS
Cincinnati - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Toronto - Elena Dementieva, RUS
Tokyo - TBD
Beijing - TBD
Dubai - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Indian Wells - Azarenka/Zvonareva, BLR/RUS
Miami - Kuznetsova/Mauresmo, RUS/FRA
Rome - Hsieh/Peng, TPE/CHN
Madrid - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Cincinnati - Black/Huber, ZIM/USA
Toronto - Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
Tokyo - TBD
Beijing - TBD

**WTA SINGLES TITLES - 2008/09**
7...Dinara Safina, RUS (4/3)
6...Serena Williams, USA (4/2)
6...Jelena Jankovic, SRB (4/2)
5...Venus Williams, USA (3/2)
5...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3/2)

8...Dinara Safina (3-5)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-1)
2...Vera Zvonareva (2-0)
2...Ekaterina Makarova (0-2)
1...Vera Dushevina (1-0)
1...Maria Kirilenko (0-1)
1...Elena Vesnina (0-1)

2003: 1
2004: 5
2005: 0
2006: 4
2007: 1
2008: 5
2009: 6
8...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-4)
7...Dinara Safina (3-4)
4...Anastasia Myskina (4-0)
2...Anna Chakvetadze (2-0)
2...Nadia Petrova (0-2)

NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT USA (Premier $600K/hard outdoor)
08 Final: Wozniacki d. Chakvetadze
09 Top Seeds: Kuznetsova/Wozniacki

Stosur d. Kuznetsova
Wozniacki d. Pennetta
Wozniacki d. Stosur

...Pennetta would win the U.S. Open Series with a title here, but she's played a awful lot of late and I wonder if she might flame out a round or two before this predicted semifinal run. C-Woz is in need of some North American mojo before she heads to NYC. New Haven is her last chance. So, against a "softer" field than the one that showed up in Toronto, I'll go with her to defend her '08 title.


All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

The Jankovic-Kleybanova match was crazy! The refeering was awful. Jankovic, in a very Jankovician manner, even challenged her own serve because it was too obvious to her (and everyone who watched it) that it was out while it was first called in. And she ended up saying that it's in challenging calls that she managed to win the first set.

Sharapova's fighting really impressed me in her loss against Dementieva. She really wants to become a champion again. I really wouldn't be surprised if she manages to fix her serve in the off-season and win the Australian Open.

Mon Aug 24, 11:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, Sharapova probably just needs time. The thing with her is that just SO MUCH is expected of her. With another player who missed almost ten months and had shoulder surgery, she'd be being lauded for reaching a slam QF on her worst surface and the final of a Premier event in the first few months of her comeback. But with Sharapova, there's a tinge of disappointment in the results.

Heavy is the burden, I guess. :)

Tue Aug 25, 03:50:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Maria is seeded 29, therefore she will meet one of the top 4 seeds in the 3rd round. Who do you think, Todd? I'm guessing Serena.

Why doesn't Kim have a ranking? Hingis played one tournament and got ranking points. I think she will meet Dinara again.

Wed Aug 26, 12:38:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm, I think Sharapova might prefer another shot at Dementieva, or maybe Jankovic (whichever one is ranked #4 this week). Although, the BEST time for her to meet Serena might be in the 3rd Round, since Williams tends to gather steam as the tournament goes along.

Well, even though a player gets points for each tournament played, according to the WTA's rules a player needs to earn points in three "valid" tournaments during the twelve-month period to be included in the WTA computer rankings, and so far Clijsters has only played two. She was given a wild card into the U.S. Open draw, though, so she could end up virtually anywhere (I guess we'll find out Thursday afternoon). This is one of those weird circumstances where a HUGE meeting could conceivably take place in the first two rounds (which Sharapova at least put off for a few days since she just got into the Top 32 under the wire in time to be seeded).

Who knows, maybe it'll be Sharapova vs. Clijsters in one of the first two rounds. ESPN would surely love that... oh, say maybe on Night 1? :)

Wed Aug 26, 02:01:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see the draw. This is going to be interesting.

Sharapova vs Clijsters would be great! I like night matches. I would prefer Clijsters plays one of the Williamses. Whoever Clijsters plays will draw attention.

Do you think Henin will return?

Wed Aug 26, 12:24:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guessed it right! The 4th seed! I thnik Serena has the easiest draw, her nemesis, Bammer might beat her.

Thu Aug 27, 09:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, looks like Clijsters gets Venus. Based on recent form, I'd give her a pretty good shot.

Oh, I surely hope Henin returns. Actually, the better Clijsters does at the Open and the rest of the year could provide an even bigger incentive for La Petit Taureau to comes back. So, I guess I'll have to become a big KC supporter the rest of '09. :)

Thu Aug 27, 09:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Actually, Serena's early draw is not that easy. Glatch should give her a good warm-up, and then she'll probably get Czink, who is no walk in the park. Then, most likely, either Bammer or Martinez Sanchez is waiting, and it gets tougher after that. Serena is vulnerable in early round of majors. Working your way into the second week is fine, but it has its hazards.

Fri Aug 28, 10:42:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think so. It would be interesting if she plays both Williamses.

I guess I'll have to be a KC supporter then :) What does La Petit Taureau up to?

Sat Aug 29, 10:38:00 AM EDT  

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