Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Blowout: Imperfect 10's

Just how different will the WTA landscape appear one year from now?

However the 2010 women's year-end Top 10 shakes out, it promises to be a fascinating tale getting there. Considering the list of who's currently NOT in the Top 10 includes the names of players like Henin, Clijsters and Sharapova, it's safe to assume that after only two of the Top 10 faces changed between the end of '08 and the close of the '09 season (when Wozniacki and Azarenka replaced Sharapova and Ivanovic), we're going to be seeing quite a bit more change over the next eleven months of action.

Here's an early prediction for the ten best players of 2010 (with '09 rank in parenthesis). You'll notice I didn't say "Top 10 Predictions," since I'm not actually ranking them #1-10 this year. After Maria Sharapova became the latest victim of the ol' "Kuznetsova Curse" after being predicted #1 a year ago, I'm "pulling a Waffle" and "retiring" the official Top 10 predictions for now. I figure I can't put a hex on ALL TEN women, right? Of course, as is the case with any retiring Waffle, this isn't likely a final goodbye to the Top 10 picks... it's just a brief sabbatical.

Hmmm, since there's no actual #1 pick for the women, I wonder if that means I've doomed Juan Martin del Potro to a season's worth of trouble?

Anyway (in alphabetical order), with Top 10 Repeats & Top 10 Climbers highlighted accordingly:

Victoria Azarenka, BLR (7): it could be the Belarusian who slips off this list in '10, considering her results slid a bit as the '09 season wore on, and she recently split with her coach. My two lasting images of Azarenka from last year are the maniacal look on her face as she charged back to defeat Carla Suarez-Navarro at Roland Garros, and then her frustration after blowing that SEC match against Wozniacki. There's a lot of desire there, but so much pressure to succeed could prove to be counterproductive if she doesn't make quick progress this season. Azarenka won't be boring. That could mean she follows C-Woz into a slam final, or tumbles down to #20 or so as she struggles to keep her head screwed on straight.
Kim Clijsters, BEL (18): yeah, yeah, yeah. I DID contemplate not putting Clijsters on this list, thinking that MAYBE she'll be bothered by injuries once she tries to play a full schedule, or that MAYBE the old underachieving Clijsters will return with Henin having rejoined the mix, etc. But, I figured, I have to establish a base line on which to judge KC this season, and assuming she'll be back in the Top 10 is a good place to start. Plus, it'll be easier to toss darts at her party balloons later if I give her credit now.
Elena Dementieva, RUS (5): every season you think this might be the year that Punch-Sober finally starts to slip down the rankings. But there she was a season ago, starting her season Down Under liker her hair was on fire and beating everyone in her path. She didn't really get much traction in the slams, then fumbled away that SF at Wimbledon, but she still finished the year in the Top 5. Outside of the Sisters, she's the oldest player in the Top 10 and will likely see her fortunes turn for the worse soon. I'm guessing it won't be this year, though.
Justine Henin, BEL (NR): hasn't everyone already penciled in La Petit Taureau II for the Top 10? Top 5? Top 2, maybe? Probably so. The real question is whether she'll be able to regain her slam prowess in a WTA that is dominated by the force that is Serena, not whether she'll outclass Clijsters & Co. over the course of a full season.
Jelena Jankovic, SRB (8): will the whirl return to Queen Chaos' dervish? Hopefully, a more thoughtful offseason conditioning program will allow JJ to start the season as herself rather than whoever that was who began '09. Jankovic edged out Kuznetsova for this list of ten players largely because even though she didn't have a great season last time out, she STILL managed to finish in the Top 10. So, assuming she'll be better off in '10, I'll leave her there.
Maria Sharapova, RUS (14): if her shoulder is healthy and her serve back to its old self, might she be ready to pick up where she left off early in '08? Remember, she easily took out Henin in the Australian Open final almost two years ago and looked like she was ready to take flight and fully live up to the promise of the young Supernova who knocked off Serena at Wimbledon in '04. Of course, now Serena is playing like the Serena of old and Henin says she wants to be even better than before. There will be no easy paths on the WTA in 2010.
Samantha Stosur, AUS (13): Slingin' Sammy's improvement has been increasing seemingly exponentially every few months over the last year or so, and after reaching a slam SF in Paris and winning her first career title in '09, she's carrying a whole new brand of confidence into 2010. Success in Melbourne could act as rocket fuel for her season.
Serena Williams, USA (1): all Serena did last season was win two slams and finish the season at #1, but those thirty seconds on Ashe continue to dog her all these months later. Of course, refusing to play along with the prevailing "pure as the driven snow is the only way to go" sentiment (hereby known as doing the "Clijsters Tango"), by ranting in website prose about how much she ISN'T all that sorry about the incident only stirs the pot. Not that it should bother her much. When Serena gets ticked off, it's usually the rest of the WTA that pays the price.
Venus Williams, USA (6): truthfully, what she does at Wimbledon is all that really matters when it comes to her continuing legacy in the sport, but since her career continues to be an open-ended affair that, judging from her recent comments, could continue on for quite a few more seasons, one would like to see her make a slam mark again somewhere other than just in London.
Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (4): I fear she might take a step back in '10 as she adjusts to playing a (hopefully) less heavy schedule and maybe tries to add a few important facets (second serve, a bit more pop) to her game over the course of the season. But I don't have the heart to leave Princess Charming off this list.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3): the jury is still out about whether Kuznetsova's Roland Garros title without Henin in the field REALLY changed her career, or whether is was just another tease.
Dinara Safina, RUS (2): hmmm, a year that came crashing down around her. A back injury that ended her season, and could linger into 2010. A psyche that can't be helped by a returning Henin, full-season Clijsters, healthy Sharapova, peeved Serena and not-overtrained Jankovic (or Ivanovic, if we're to believe her recent comments that that might have been the cause of her fall... hmmm, can you "overtrain" your brain?) makes one worry a bit for the Russian.
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (16): things could go either way with her this season. But, I must say, I like her chances of continuing her upward mobility more after her comments the other day slamming the Belgian officials who tried to have her banned (saying she passed drug tests during the time frame in question, wasn't informed of the severity of her infractions until it was too late, and was participating in a televised event if the panel was wondering about her "whereabouts" when she failed to check in). She's been known to have a temper in the past. If she can focus it, she might just be able to work this whole thing to her advantage. I guess I just have a terminal case of "soft spot" for any Belgian with an "in your eye" attitude.
Vera Zvonareva, RUS (9): I SO WANTED to put Zvoanreva in the Top 10, as she's seemed on the verge of something great in recent seasons, only to be felled by either injury (see Charleston) or her own emotions (see the U.S. Open). If she could just put everything together, she could very well end the year as the top-ranked Russian.

*10 for '10*
Who's the teenager ranked outside the Top 25 who's most likely to finish there in 2010? Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Who are three slam contenders who definitely won't win a slam title in '10? Dinara Safina, Kim Clijsters & Jelena Jankovic

Who'll win a junior Girls slam championship? Sloane Stephens & Yulia Putintseva

Which nation will win the Fed Cup? Russia

Who'll be the Most Surprising Players? Olga Govortsova & Chang Kai-Chen (veteran: Anne Keothavong)

Who'll be the Most Improved Players? Urszula Radwanska & Ekaterina Makarova (veteran: Jelena Dokic)

Who'll be the Comeback Players of the Year? Justine Henin (naturally) & Alize Cornet

Who'll be the highest-ranked players without a career tour singles title? Melanie Oudin & Elena Vesnina

Who'll be the two youngest players in the Top 100? Kristina Mladenovic (May 14, 1993) & Michelle Larcher de Brito (January 29, 1993)

In what 5-position range will Dinara Safina's year-end ranking fall? #11-15

AO: S.Williams d. Henin (SF's???: Wozniacki, Stosur, Azarenka, Sharapova)
...Serena has owned the field in Melbourne, but after continuing to be the focus of time-filling criticism about whether or not she should have collected all the "Athlete of the Year" and Best of the 2000's honors that she has in recent weeks the defending champion actually has something to prove. At least in her mind. That's probably not good news for everyone else. I was going to put C-Woz, inspired by the SEC performance, in her second straight slam final, but Justine sounds very focused in her pre-season comments and might just "pull a Clijsters" and win another slam before the flowers in any of her "welcome back" bouquets start to wilt.

RG: Henin d. Zvonareva (SF???: Jankovic, Kuznetsova, Wozniacki, Ivanovic)
...Queen Justine returns, and all the "Mademoiselle Opportunity" moments probably go out the window. If Zvonareva can just stay healthy, she's poised to be the next mainstream breakout Hordette. It's a big "if," though. Maybe if Safina slips, ala AnaIvo, then the Serb will pop up a bit at the one slam she's won. Again, that's a big "if," though.

W: Williams d. Williams (SF???: Henin, Stosur, Lisicki, Wickmayer)
...which Williams defeats which Williams here likely depends on whether or not Venus is healthy, and whether Serena gets some revenge against her nay-sayers by winning Melbourne. If she doesn't, she'll turn her laser focus on London. Henin wants to win SW19 very badly, but as long as the Sisters are in the draw they're going to be the odds-on favorites here.

US: Henin d. Clijsters (SF???: S.Williams, Sharapova, Wozniacki, V.Williams)
...the odds are that Venus is going to reach a final here sometime soon, considering she almost always ends up losing to the eventual champion. But the field, barring injury, is going to be pretty packed come later summer. After ignoring Clijsters so far, I'll insert her into the field of potential champions here. She surely COULD reach the SF of a slam at least once before NYC, but, hey, I'm not going to out on a limb trying to predict it.

All for now.

2010 Preview Series Links: Wozniacki: Charm, with a Side of Harm, ATP Top 10 Predictions
TOMORROW: The Intriguing 100 (with '10 first-timer predictions)
...yep, with the season-opening matches having sort of crept up on me (by Sunday night, the opening round salvos will have been fired), I'm delaying the "What If?" until next week so that the preview series is completed in time.


Blogger Zidane said...

One mistake: Sharapova, I think, beat Henin in the quarterfinals in the '07 Australian Open, surely not in the final (Ivanovic).

And I really can't see Stosur in the year-end top 10. Kuznet should remain in it, I believe. And I'm quite sure Sharapova will win a Slam this year. At first I had a good feeling for the Australian, but now I'm thinking it might be the US Open instead.

Thu Dec 31, 12:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, I got the U.S. Open '06 final (Sharapova d. Henin 6-4/6-4) and Australian '08 QF (Sharapova d. Henin 6-4/6-0) criss-crossed.

Thu Dec 31, 03:41:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

It's too late now, but if I was having second thoughts about Kuznetsova (which I am, just a little) I think I'd put her in the Top 10 and take Azarenka out.

Thu Dec 31, 03:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm not so sure about Vesnina--I think she could finally win one in 2010. I hope so.

Thu Dec 31, 08:27:00 PM EST  
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