Sunday, January 17, 2010

Australian Open Preview: What're the Odds on Evens?

When it comes to the women, there are too many stories to count going into this Australian Open.

Can Justine win a slam in just her second event back? Is Kim a different person in KC2 (on the court, since we know she's still addicted to adulation off it)? Will Venus finally emerge from the Australian Outback and not have a walkabout day that sends her packing? Is the Supernova about to be reborn? Will Elena ever win a slam? Can lightning strike the Original Jelena twice? Will Dinara's desire to win still be enough to put her into position to triumph, or collapse, when her big moment arrives? Are the Serbs still relevant?

Hmmm, who am I leaving out?

Oh, yeah. The DEFENDING CHAMPION and #1 player in the world. Serena seems to be playing second fiddle is this chocked-full-of-stories Oz Open, and when she IS mentioned it's usually her slam return following her U.S. Open "incident" that takes center stage. Hmmm, Serena with something to prove and an urge to quiet her detractors and remind them that she is who she is because of what she does ON the court with her racket, not just off it while she's making "threatening" gestures with one.

I know what that USUALLY means in Melbourne, but Serena's four titles have all come in odd-numbered years, and this is 2010. Well, it IS rare that Williams gets the chance to do something she's NEVER done in her career. There's a reason why she very well might be the best player to ever take the court in women's tennis history -- because, even if it doesn't ALWAYS happen, when she IS at HER best there's no one who can, or probably ever could, beat her. If she rises to that level once again during the next two weeks, she'll win. If not, she still might emerge with the title... but it'd be far more difficult in this maybe-the-best-ever field of women. As usual, it's up to her.

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

(1)S.WILLIAMS QUARTER: Serena's quarter is filled with "could" and "might" players, but very few players who can be counted on to "do it" at this tournament. Victoria Azarenka can beat anyone, but she often beats herself up too much to do it (and, last year, her body let her down in her match against Serena). Ana Ivanovic did it once Paris, and might need to come close to doing it again somewhere in '10 if she's EVER going to do it again. Sabine Lisicki is a slam semifinal waiting to happen, but she's just as likely to get injured or gum up the works with an ungodly number of errors. Vera Zvonareva reached the SF here a year ago, but her ankle injury from last spring is still hampering her. Meanwhile, Sam Stosur could have great crowd support if she could get on a run. Too bad her recent words make one wonder if she's quite ready HERSELF to support her Top 10 quest. It's hard to see Serena doing anything but win this quarter.
RANKS: 1.S.Williams... 2.Azarenka... 3.Ivanovic... 4.Lisicki & Zvonareva

(4)WOZNIACKI QUARTER: This could be the wildest quarter of the draw. Caroline Wozniacki's U.S. Open final run proved she's capable of raising her game at a slam, but she's carrying no momentum into this tournament. As usual, Venus Williams is playing pretty well heading into Melbourne, but that hasn't stopped her from being an early upset victim in past seasons. After those two, it's a pretty "motley" crew trying to reach a slam SF. Daniela Hantuchova has done it before, but no one else has. Maybe another Aussie (Alicia Molik, Jarmila Groth or Casey Dellacqua) will carry on recent Oz tradition and last into the second week, or even Melanie Oudin will once again show her ability to seize a golden opportunity at a slam. If Venus and/or C-Woz fall, we might see a slam semifinalist even more shocking to Pam Shriver than Yanina Wickmayer was in NYC last year (and, seriously, how funny is it that Pam is now going around talking about how Yanina is her "under-the-radar" pick to do damange now?).
RANKS: 1. Wozniacki... 2.V.Williams... 3.Hantuchova or Peer... 4.An Aussie?

(3)KUZNETSOVA QUARTER: Tennis Australia gets the last laugh here -- only one Belgian can possibly reach the semis, because all of them are in this single quarter. Such an unbalanced set-up is likely good for the top players in the other three quarters, but horrific luck for everyone in this one. Pity poor Elena Dementieva, who'll probably have to face Justine Henin in the 2nd Round. Well, so much for matching Jana Novotna's record with a slam title in her 45th appearance, I guess. Even if Punch-Sober got the win there, she might have to defeat Aussie crowd favorite Jelena Dokic ((under the lights on Rod, no doubt) and "Citizen Kim" just to reach the SF. Of course, the match-up everyone will key on here will be the possible sequel to the Clijsters/Henin match from Brisbane. Clijsters should walk to the QF round, while Henin will have to work (her possible path could read like this -- Flipkens, Dementieva, Dokic, Wickmayer). If we get it, it'd be great... but, man, it's hard to NOT want to see Miss Jelena Dokic become the story of the tournament for a second year in a row.
RANKS: 1.Clijsters... 2.Henin/Dementieva... 3.Wickmayer... 4.Kuznetsova (& Dokic, too... just because)

(2)SAFINA QUARTER: Has a #2 seed and recent #1-ranked player been overlooked at a slam more than Dinara Safina is here? It could work in her favor, but probably not. Last year's RU enters this Australian Open as a virtual carbon copy of her brother just before his final seasons -- a question mark, with a back injury, who could bomb out in the 1st Round or reach the final depending on her state of mind on any particular day. This is really Maria Sharapova's quarter to win. Unlike the packed Belgian/Russian quarter, there's only one player here who has any right to have some confidence that she can win the title. Oh, Marion Bartoli will likely last into the second week, and Jelena Jankovic will probably spin a few yarns before she exits, lamenting her "lost opportunity" in '09, but as long as Sharapova's shoulder is sound -- and it appears it is -- she's the odds-on favorite to reach the SF. And maybe even the final, really.
RANKS: 1.Sharapova... 2.Bartoli... 3.Jankovic... 4.Safina

Hmmm, a semifinal combination that'll likely include some combination of Williamses, Russians and Belgians. After a decade that was dominated by those three groups of players, what are the odds that their stories will continue? Umm, probably pretty good.

TOP PLAYER: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
...after going to 7-5 in the 3rd in her first qualifying match, Wickmayer won twenty-four of her next twenty-five games to qualify for a slam main draw that she should have been granted entrance into from the start. For good measure, the same can be said for fellow Belgian WADA target Xavier Malisse, who was also forced to qualify for the men's draw.
RISERS: Valerie Tetreault/CAN & Angelique Kerber/GER
SURPRISES: Kathrin Woerle/GER & Yuliana Fedak/UKR
VETERANS: Yvonne Meusburger/AUT & Zuzana Kucova/SVK
FRESH FACES: Han Xinyun/CHN & Regina Kulikova/RUS
COMEBACK: Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
DOWN: Jessica Moore/AUS (1q), Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR (1q), Julia Vakulenko/UKR (1q), Laura Robson/GBR (2q) & Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (3q)
OTHER QUALIFIERS: Shenay Perry/USA & Renata Voracova/CZE
WILD CARDS: Justine Henin/BEL, Alicia Molik/AUS, Casey Dellacqua/AUS, Jarmila Groth/AUS, Olivia Rogowska/AUS, Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ, Stephanie Cohen Aloro/FRA & Coco Vandeweghe/USA
OLDEST QUALIFIERS: Kucova (27), Fedak (26), Meusburger (26) & Voracova (26)
YOUNGEST QUALIFIERS: Xan (19), Kulikova (20) & Wickmayer (20)

Q1: Wickmayer d. Sema 4-6/6-0/7-5
Q2: Krajicek d. Robson 6-4/7-6
...not a very "convenient" loss.
Q3: Woerle d. Jovanovski 6-2/4-6/9-7
...there are four Belgians in the main draw, but one less Serb than there almost turned out to be.

2006 Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2007 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
2008 Julia Schruff, GER
2009 Elena Baltacha, GBR
2010 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL

(Q) Yanina Wickmayer d. Alexandra Dulgheru (Day 1, first match, Margaret Court Arena)
...she deserves to be the first take a breath, no?
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Anastasija Sevastova (Day 1, first match, Court 21) the past year, the Russian has almost always been one of the first matches up on Day 1's of slams.
Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova d. (Q) Regina Kulikova (Day 1, first match, Court 11)
...First Qualifier Out?

[BOTTOM HALF - playing on Day 1]
#18 Virginie Razzano vs. Ekaterina Makarova
...Makarova has pulled an upset or two before.
#2 Dinara Safina vs. Magdalena Rybarikova
...just how ready is Dinara, anyway?
#5 Elena Dementieva vs. Vera Dushevina
...Dementieva's draw makes slam #45 (the most consecutive on the women's tour, now that Schnyder's 52-slam streak has been snapped) a difficult road to travel. She wins here and she likely gets Justine.
#3 Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Anastasia Rodionova
...Rodionova was Last Qualifier Standing at last year's U.S. Open, and Kuznetsova has an awful lot going on off the court of late.
#27 Alisa Kleybanova vs. Jelena Dokic
...I'd have put this one at the top of the list, but it's the scheduled night match on Day 1, so the "First Seed" ticket will have probably already been punched by then.
[TOP HALF - playing on Day 2]
#9 Vera Zvonareva vs. Kristina Kucova
...far more because of the condition condition Zvonareva's ankle than Kucova's ability to upset her.
#13 Samantha Stosur vs. (Q) Han Xinyun's not a good early-season sign when Sammy HERSELF is questioning her ability to handle her new pressure. Unlike the other Aussies, she's probably better off playing anywhere BUT Down Under. Sort of like Mauresmo at Roland Garros.
#4 Caroline Wozniacki vs. Aleksandra Wozniak pains me to think it, but Caroline might not be around this tournament long. Even if she wins this one. Hopefully, it's a wrongheaded assumption.
#16 Li Na vs. Marina Erakovic
...probably not, but you never know with Li.
#25 Anabel Medina-Garrigues vs. Karolina Sprem AMG's slam QF quest an impossible dream?
#22 Daniela Hantuchova vs. Victoriya Kutuzova
...Hantuchova could lose here, or ride a nice draw deep into the tournament. She reached the SF in '08.
#17 Francesca Schiavone vs. Alize Cornet'd be a big lift for a potential '10 resurgence for Cornet.
#6 Venus Williams vs. Lucie Safarova
...not a good 1st Rounder for Venus, who's often fallen early in Melbourne against players who have the ability to rise up and conquer anyone on any given day. That's pretty much the first line in the bio of Safarova's oft-frustrating career.

1. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2. Angelique Kerber, GER
3. Sofia Arvidsson, SWE
4. Han Xinyun, CHN
5. Yuliana Fedak, UKR
1. Justine Henin, BEL
2. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
3. Alicia Molik, AUS
1. Jelena Dokic, AUS
2. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
3. Alicia Molik, AUS
1. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB

Stosur vs. Molik, Dokic vs. Jankovic
...Queen Chaos vs. a continent
S.Williams vs. Peer, Wickmayer vs. Jankovic
...a Final Four perfectly designed to tick off the most people, whether the upset feelings would be warrented or not. Plus, Pam Shriver could take credit for having "discovered" Wickmayer.
anyone vs. anyone, Henin vs. Jankovic
...hey, any slam SF with Henin playing her old doormat JJ would have the potential to be major CRAZY, right?

1st Rd. - #14 Sharapova vs. Kirilenko
...The Battle of the Marias. The Battle of Russia. Hmmm, the Battle of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models?
1st Rd. - #4 Wozniacki vs. Wozniak
...always fun. (That's one item checked off my '10 Christmas list.)
1st Rd. - Oudin vs Kudryavtseva's slam time again. Does Little MO still believe?
2nd Rd. - #10 A.Radwanska vs. Oudin
...see above.
2nd Rd. - #3 Kuznetsova vs. Pavlychenkova
...Old Russia vs. New Russia?
2nd Rd. - #12 Pennetta vs. (Q) Wickmayer
...just how much does Yanina want to embarrass Tennis Australia, anyway? Hmmm, SOME Belgians really thrive on "In Your Eye" tennis.
3rd Rd. - #1 S.Williams vs. #32 Suarez-Navarro
...does Serena know that CSN took out Venus here last year?
3rd Rd. - #6 V.Williams vs. (WC) Dellacqua
...Casey's grandmother would shed tears here, one way or the other.
3rd Rd. - #7 Azarenka vs. #28 Vesnina
...there'd have to be an anger management seminar in the locker room afterward.
3rd Rd. - #8 Jankovic vs. #31 A.Bondarenko
...crazy. Crazy for feeling...
3rd Rd. - #9 Zvonareva vs. #20 Ivanovic
...SOMEONE would attain some measure of redemption.
3rd Rd. - #14 Sharapova vs. #23 Cibulkova
...Cibulkova defeated Sharapova in the QF to reach her first slam SF last year at Roland Garros.

1st Rd. - Dokic vs. #27 Kleybanova
...the rematch of the '09 AO battle is already scheduled as the concluding act on Night 1. Is Jelena ready to Rock the Rod all over again?
2nd Rd. - (WC) Molik vs. #17 Schiavone
...The Steamer rocked The Rod before Dokic did.
2nd Rd. - #15 Clijsters vs. (WC) Karatantcheva
...Sesil at Night. The possibilites (and innuendo-laden jokes) are endless.
2nd Rd. - #5 Dementieva vs. (WC) Henin
...Question: Seriously, how great a SECOND ROUND match is this?
3rd Rd. - Dokic vs. Dementieva/Henin winner
...Answer: Great, but not as good as this one would be. Dokic vs. Henin... the only time I'd be have to be squarely on the side opposite Justine.

#1 S.Williams d. #21 Lisicki
#20 Ivanovic d. #7 Azarenka
#4 Wozniacki d. #22 Hantuchova
#6 V.Williams d. Oudin
(WC) Henin d. (Q) Yanina Wickmayer
#15 Clijsters d. #26 Rezai
#11 Bartoli d. #8 Jankovic
#14 Sharapova d. #30 K.Bondarenko

...can AnaIvo get it together to produce this result? If so, will it stoke her confidence enough to put her back into the already-crowded mix for major titles? Jankovic isn't coming to Melbourne with nearly the expectations she had a year ago as the #1 seed. Hmmm, I'm not sure if that's good or bad when it comes to Queen Chaos' mindset. I do know that JJ is so far winless in 2010, though. I worry that C-Woz won't make it to next weekend, either. I wonder, if I asked nicely, if Kim would donate her prize money to me? I'd applaud, if that would help.

#1 S.Williams d. #20 Ivanovic
#6 V.Williams d. #4 Wozniacki
(WC) Henin d. #15 Clijsters
#14 Sharapova d. #11 Bartoli

...I'm really not keen on Venus reaching the SF of a hard court slam, especially one where she's so often fallen victim in surprising early upsets. But the draw is in her favor, and if not her or a not-on-her-game-so-far Princess Charming, then who?

#1 S.Williams d. #6 V.Williams
(WC) Justine Henin d. #14 Sharapova

...the Henin pick is largely "heart"-related, since if Sharapova is really on her game she could win here and beyond. The AO is probably Henin's third-best slam, while it's likely Sharapova's second-best (after the U.S. Open, not Wimbledon). Hey, I picked a Serena/Henin final three weeks ago, so why change now?

#1 S.Williams d. (WC) Henin

...even Justine has her limits. Her wild card road to the final is so loaded with potential land mines that even if she makes it this far, one wonders if she'll have enough left to take down Serena so early in her comeback (if she won, that'd make two consecutive unranked slam champs). For a while, Henin dominated Serena in the slams a few years ago. I doubt that Serena has forgotten that, and if she makes it to another final, no matter who she might play (Justine, Kim, Maria or the mysterious person behind Door #4), it'll be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent her from lifting the Daphne Akers Trophy for a fifth time (but the first time in an "even" year).

1996 Monica Seles, USA
1997 Steffi Graf, GER
1998 Martina Hingis, SUI
1999 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2000 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Martina Hingis, SUI
2002 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2003 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2005 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2006 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Justine Henin, BEL
2009 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2010 Serena Williams, USA

2003 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Kim Clijsters
2005 Serena Williams d. Lindsay Davenport
2006 Amelie Mauresmo d. Justine Henin-Hardenne
2007 Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
2008 Maria Sharapova d. Ana Ivanovic
2009 Serena Williams d. Dinara Safina

2004 Shahar Peer d. Nicole Vaidisova
2005 Victoria Azarenka d. Agnes Szavay
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Caroline Wozniacki
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Madison Brengle
2008 Arantxa Rus d. Jessica Moore
2009 Ksenia Pervak d. Laura Robson

7...Justine Henin
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Dinara Safina
2...Ana Ivanovic
1...Kim Clijsters
1...Jelena Jankovic
1...Venus Williams

1995 U.S. Open - Monica Seles
2002 Roland Garros - Mary Pierce
2006 Australian Open - Martina Hingis
2008 Wimbledon - Zheng Jie
2009 Australian Open - Jelena Dokic
2009 U.S. Open - Kim Clijsters (W)

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


Blogger ZoĆ© said...

Well Todd, if Justine is to face Serena in final, she'll have a unique opportunity to complete a "justinator slam against Serena"
By the way, Justine has beaten Serena the last 3 times they've met in Grand Slams... if that could be a "sign"....

Tue Jan 26, 04:41:00 PM EST  

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