Sunday, January 16, 2011

AO Preview, Pt.2: To ♥ Kim, or Not To ♥ Kim

The match-ups are set. The Belgian-fashioned Doomsday Device is plugged in. So, start the countdown.


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

(1)WOZNIACKI QUARTER: This is the quarter of the draw that might just answer a few of the "Did We Really See What We Just Saw?" questions that have already popped up concerning this fledgling '11 season. Such as, was that really Caroline Wozniacki following up her near double-bagel exhibition loss to Vera Zvonareva by losing in straight sets to Dominika Cibulkova in Sydney? They could meet again in the 3rd Round. Also, is Bethanie Mattek-Sands REALLY as close in her level of play to Justine Henin as she appeared in Perth? A potential 3rd Round match-up between the two could give us the answer. C-Woz and La Petit Taureau could meet in the QF, but getting there won't be a cakewalk. Especially for Wozniacki, the draw will test her early and often. If the Dane isn't on her game, she could easily be upended in the first week by the likes of Gisela Dulko (1st), Tamira Paszek (2nd) or Cibulkova. If she survives those rounds, Marion Bartoli or the Yanina Wickmayer/Jarmila Groth 1st Round survivor should be waiting. While Henin's match-up with the winner of a possible 2nd Rounder between Mattek-Sands and Svetlana Kuznetsova awaits, she could face a pair of qualifiers in her opening two matches. Joined at the hip as they were in the latter stages of 2010, North American stars-(maybe)-in-the-making Rebecca Marino (vs. Schiavone in 2nd Rd.?) and Alison Riske (Kuznetsova in the 1st) are both in this quarter, and could either exit early or continue their upward progression by knocking off one or more of the tournament's bigger names in the first few days. In the end, though, I'd count on the two favorites to regain some measure of consistency in Melbourne and wind their way to the eventual QF meeting that will determine this quarter's semifinal representative.
POWER RANKS: 1.Henin... 2.Wozniacki... 3.Kuznetsova... 4.Wickmayer
UNSEEDED & DANGEROUS: Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Jarmila Groth

(4)WILLIAMS QUARTER: At first glance, one gets the sense that someone in this quarter could be about to get very lucky. The section's former slam champs -- Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova -- have tough roads and, coming to Melbourne in questionable form, could both be ousted early. Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka finally doesn't see Serena Williams waiting for her down the road in Melbourne, nor the likes of a Belgian, Zvonareva or Wozniacki, either. Maybe this slam WILL be her breakout moment, after all. And although she's generally a hit-or-miss player in the slams, streaky Li Na's chances to repeat her '10 semifinal result on the heels of her multiple rising-from-the-ashes title in Sydney (coming back from big holes to defeat both Kuznetsova and Clijsters) suddenly look far better than might have been the case a week ago. If Kaia Kanepi were in good form and had totally gotten past her late '10 injury break, she might be a factor here, too. More than likely, though, it'll be at another slam where she'll get a second shot to reach the semis. Too bad. Meanwhile, hiding in the shadows and hoping to catch a break is Jelena Dokic, a surprise Oz quarterfinalist in '09 who could gain momentum with each win with the crowd behind her. We're probably not going to see the eventual champion, or even finalist, emerge from this quarter. But the path to a semifinal berth might be the most entertaining of any section of the draw.
POWER RANKS: 1.Li... 2.Azarenka... 3.Sharapova... 4.V.Williams
UNSEEDED & DANGEROUS: Andrea Petkovic & Jelena Dokic

(3)CLIJSTERS QUARTER: It's difficult not to like the path drawn out for Clijsters to glide through to the semifinals out of this quarter. Of the seemingly "major" obstacles, all have glaring questions when it comes to thriving in the Melbourne environment. Even more so than the Belgian, who hasn't reached an Oz final since 2004 and was nearly served a pair a double-bagels on her way out the door a year ago. Her first big test will come in the 1st Round against Dinara Safina, but unless the "old" Dinara shows up Clijsters should pretty much have the quiz answers written on her palm for that match. Who else is here who could take her out? Jelena Jankovic? Uh, no. Ana Ivanovic? Her abdominal injury in Perth makes her more of a question, and she'll likely have to get past Nadia Petrova (the player who beat KC 6-0/6-1 a year ago) to even reach Clijsters in the Round of 16. To me, Alisa Kleybanova is the biggest threat here and, right on schedule, the Russian could end up coming face-to-face with one of the stories of the tournament once again this year. So far, she's failed to take out the likes the Jelena Dokic and Justine Henin the last two AO's although she HAD managed to put herself in winning position in both matches. She got a crack at Clijsters last week in Sydney, and the script didn't change. She led 4-2 in the 3rd set, but tired down the stretch and was outclassed by the more accomplished player in the important final moments. If they do meet again in the quarterfinals, there's really no reason to think the same thing won't happen this time around, as well.
POWER RANKS: 1.Clijsters... 2.Kleybanova... 3.Ivanovic... 4.Petrova
UNSEEDED & DANGEROUS: Peng Shuai & Patty Schnyder

(2)ZVONAREVA QUARTER: This is Zvonareva's quarter to lose. Sure, Sam Stosur might be able to slip through the draw to make a QF date to meet the Russian, but it's hard to escape the thought that the pressure of succeeding in her home nation's slam will at some point cut her down before she gets that far. There are a few players in this section who have risen in slams in the past, such as Petra Kvitova, Flavia Pennetta and Shahar Peer. Wimbledon semifinalist Kvitova just won a title in Brisbane, Pennetta actually knocked off Zvonareva last week in Sydney (and, of course, was the victor in that knee-slapping comeback against the VZ under the lights at the U.S. Open a few years ago) and Peer is within sight of climbing into the Top 10 for the very first time after her under-the-radar very good '10 season (though she hasn't been on her game thus far in Dorothy Tour action). But Zvonareva can only face one of them, as they'll battle it out with Stosur for one of the two QF berths from this section. In my eyes, Zvonareva's biggest upsets to avoid will come before the QF round. Bojana Jovanovski has been getting better with every tournament since the closing months of '10, and might be Zvonareva's 2nd Round opponent. If the Serb handles the pressure of the moment, watch that one very closely. Fellow Hordette Maria Kirilenko, a 2010 AO quarterfinalist, could be a Round of 16 opponent, too. But Zvonareva has been in top form in recent slams, and would seem to be positioned to at least PLAY in the semis for a spot in a third straight slam final.
POWER RANKS: 1.Zvonareva... 2.Kirilenko... 3.Peer... 4.Stosur
UNSEEDED & DANGEROUS: Bojana Jovanovski & Anastasia Rodionova


TOP PLAYER: Vesna Manasieva/RUS
...she knocked out probably the most talented, but star-crossed, player (Lisicki) in the Q-draw, as well as the highest-seeded (#3 Chan) woman not to qualify.
RISERS: #1 Coco Vandeweghe/USA & #19 Petra Martic/CRO
SURPRISES: Lesya Tsurenko/UKR, Arina Rodionova/RUS & Kathrin Woerle/GER
VETERANS: Anne Kremer/LUX & #2 Anne Keothavong/GBR
COMEBACK: #24 Sania Mirza/IND
FRESH FACES: Irina Falconi/USA, #14 Jamie Hampton/USA & #18 Arantxa Rus/NED
DOWN: #5 Anastasiya Yakimova/BLR (1q), Sabine Lisicki/GER (2q) & #3 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (3q)
WILD CARDS: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (won TA playoff), Lauren Davis/USA (won USTA playoff), Chang Kai-Chen/TPE, Jelena Dokic/AUS, Sophie Ferguson/AUS, Caroline Garcia/FRA, Alicia Molik/AUS, Sally Peers/AUS
LUCKY LOSERS: none so far
OLDEST QUALIFIERS: Kremer (35), Keothavong (27), Woerle (26)
YOUNGEST QUALIFIERS: Vangeweghe (19), Martic (19), Falconi (20), Rus (20)
OLDEST WILD CARD: Molik (29), Dokic (27)
YOUNGEST WILD CARD: Davis (17), Garcia (17), Rogowska (19), Peers (19)

Q1: Sloane Stephens/USA d. Liana-Gabriela Ungur/ROU 7-6/1-6/8-6
Q2: Corinna Dentoni/ITA d. Cagla Buyakakcay/TUR 3-6/6-0/9-7
Q3: Irina Falconi/USA d. Zarina Diyas/KAZ 7-6/6-3

2006 Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2007 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
2008 Julia Schruff, GER
2009 Elena Baltacha,GBR
2010 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2011 Vesna Manasieva, RUS

#32 Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL vs. Pauline Parmentier/FRA
...Pironkova doesn't weather the storm of being a favorite very well.
#21 Yanina Wickmayer/BEL vs. Jarmila Groth/AUS
...a bad draw for two players who might have harbored hopes for playing into the second week. Only one will even last beyond a single day.
#4 Venus Williams/USA vs. Sara Errani/ITA
...Venus is susceptible to upsets in Melbourne, and Errani is capable of pulling off one.
#23 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS vs. Alison Riske/USA
...Kuznetsova is going to have to IMMEDIATELY have both her head and heart in things.
#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. Gisela Dulko/ARG
...the singles #1 vs. the doubles #1. But I doubt if Dulko will see her favored opponent pass out at THIS slam.
#14 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. Tamarine Tanasguarn/THA
...Sharapova's lost to 40-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm and 31-year old Greta Arn in recent outings, so 33-year old Tanasugarn has to like her chances.
#12 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL vs. Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN
...A-Rad wasn't even supposed to be healthy enough to play this event.
#7 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS
...uhhh, must I make another "she might not like her outfit" crack? No, I will not do it.
#19 Ana Ivanovic/SRB vs. Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
...the Russian has shown an ability to knock off Top 20 players before, although AnaIvo did drop out of the Top 20 last week.
#26 Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP vs. Greta Arn/HUN thirtysomething Arn still feeling like the little girl who won in Auckland?

1. Coco Vandeweghe/USA... if she plays her cards right, she might get a shot at KC in the 3rd Rd.
2. Petra Martic/CRO... she faces wild card Ferguson in the 1st Rd.
3. Vesna Manasieva/RUS... might face Bartoli in Round 2
4. Anne Keothavong/GBR... faces fellow qualifier Arina Rodionova in 1st
1. Jelena Dokic/AUS... but Ondraskova won't be easy in 1st, nor would Rezai in 2nd
2. Olivia Rogowska/AUS... she'd benefit if Li "pulls a Na" and follows up a title with a 1st Round exit
3. Sophie Ferguson/AUS... she upset Kvitova at Roland Garros last year
4. Sally Peers/AUS... SHE gets Kvitova in the 1st Rd. at this slam
1. Samantha Stosur... I still don't like her final/title chances, though.
2. Jarmila Groth... she's playing the best.
3. Anastasia Rodionova... improving all the time.
4. Jelena Dokic (WC)... can lightning strike twice?


1st Rd. - #3 Kim Ciljsters vs. Dinara Safina
...this one will get a lot of attention, but it probaby won't amount to much.
1st Rd. - #20 Kaia Kanepi vs. Magdalena Rybarikova the Estonian ready to take advantage of the opportunity that could fall into her lap if Sharapova loses early?
1st Rd. - Peng Shuai vs. Kateryna Bondarenko
...will Peng's surge continue? She has to deal with a potentially tough player in the middle of a comeback bid right off the bat.
1st Rd. - #5 Samantha Stosur vs. (WC) Lauren Davis
...the turning-pro American has won a combined twenty-eight straight matches in junior and pro action.
1st Rd. - #22 Flavia Pennetta vs. Anastasia Rodionova recent years, at least one Aussie woman has made waves in Melbourne. If Rodionova can tell herself this isn't the Australian Open, but is instead the Commonwealth Games, maybe it'll be her.
1st Rd. - Alize Cornet vs. (Q) Coco Vandeweghe
...remember when it was Cornet who was the player of the rise? Ah, memories.
1st Rd. - (Q) Anne Keothavong vs. (Q) Arina Rodionova
...will the Aussie crowd back Arina just because she's Anastasia's little sister, even though she's representing Russia?
2nd Rd. - #14 Maria Sharapova vs. Elena Vesnina
...Russians have sometimes tripped up Sharapova in the slams, but Vesnina would likely be her own worst enemy should an upset become possible.
2nd Rd. - #17 Aravane Rezai vs. (WC) Jelena Dokic
...while looking across the net at Rezai, Jelena could probably squint and make out an Iranian-French version of HERSELF from a few years ago.
2nd Rd. - #2 Vera Zvonareva vs. Bojana Jovanovski
...BoJo is going to upset quite a few players this season.
3rd Rd. - #1 Caroline Wozniacki vs. #29 Dominika Cibulkova's never won a tour title in the 1st Quarter. The other has never won a tour title (but she HAS reached a slam SF).
3rd Rd. - #11 Justine Henin vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/#23 Svetlana Kuznetsova
...Justine's first big test in Melbourne.
3rd Rd. - #5 Samantha Stosur vs. #25 Petra Kvitova
...who'll feel the pressure first?
3rd Rd. - #19 Ana Ivanovic vs. #13 Nadia Petrova
...winner gets Barbie.
3rd Rd. - #3 Kim Clijsters vs. (Q) Coco Vandeweghe
...would Mary Joe Fernandez's decision about Coco's role in Team USA's 1st Rd. Fed Cup tie with Belgium rest on her performance here?
4th Rd. - #8 Victoria Azarenka vs. #9 Li Na
...both lost tight matches against Serena at last year's Australian Open.
4th Rd. - #4 Venus Williams vs. #14 Maria Sharapova
...a big-time "name" match-up, but the odds are probably more likely that NEITHER will get this far than that BOTH of them will.
4th Rd. - #3 Kim Clijsters vs. #13 Nadia Petrova
..."Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?"

*PREVIEW NOTES* Caroline Wozniacki is the sixth different woman to be seeded #1 in Melbourne over the last six years, thereby matching the six-in-six run that has occurred at each of the other three slams from 2005-10 (and will likely continue in Paris and London, where either the Dane, Vera Zvonareva or Kim Clijsters will probably become a seventh straight different face at the top of the draw due to Serena Williams' absence).

By comparison, either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal has been the top seed (this year it's Rafa) at the last twenty-eight men's slams. Federer, for his part, was seeded #1 at eighteen straight slams from 2004-08. least one Russian woman has reached the semifinals at twenty-four of the last twenty-seven slams.

...if Kim Clijsters were to win her second straight slam crown in two weeks, she'd be the first to do so since Serena won at the '08 U.S. Open and '09 AO. Before that, you'd have to go back to Justine Henin winning the same U.S./Australian combo in 2003-04. The last woman to win back-to-back slams in the same season, though, occurred when Williams won the first three legs of her "Serena Slam" in Paris, London and New York in 2002. least one Aussie woman has reached at least the Round of 16 in each of the last three Australian Opens. In 2008, Casey Dellacqua wowed her grandmother and the Melbourne crowds with a surprise trip the 4th Round. A year later, Jelena Dokic's comeback quarterfinal run was the story of the tournament. In 2010, Sam Stosur gave the locals cause for hope by reaching the final sixteen. Who will it be this year? Possibly Stosur again, but maybe Jarmila Groth is the real one to watch. Already with a 2011 win (in Brisbane) over Stosur and a title in Hobart, Groth reached the Round of 16 at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon last season.

...what's this? American tennis slam coverage without Mary Carillo? Hard to believe, but it's true. Carillo opted out of her ESPN2 contract a year early after last season, so she won't appear on the network this year. With no over-the-air-network coverage of the event on NBC or CBS, and with Carillo not part of the Tennis Channel announcing lineup, the most ever-present voice in North American tennis television will be silent over the next two weeks. Instead, TC will be offering the likes of Martina Navratilova (yay!) and Lindsay Davenport (so, so... but occasionally engaging, I suppose) as lead match commentators. There is some speculation that Carillo decided to depart due to a possible ESPN directive for their commentators to be less opinionated. Great, just what American tennis commentary needs, more banal voices like Hannah "I'll Stoop to Cover Sports Again Only After Failing to Become Successful in REAL News" Storm or virtually any of the nameless, personality-less match callers we usually see on outlets such as Tennis Channel. Carillo was actually one of the few announcers on ESPN2's tennis coverage that I DIDN'T find annoying. Maybe I didn't always agree with what she said, but I never questioned nor argued her right or ability to hold or fully express her point without sounding as if she was occasionally out of their mind (oh, Pammy?) or without any ability to NOT sound condescending (TC's Mr. Courier, I presume?).

Speaking of...

Unfortunately, or fortunately if you enjoy the edge-of-your-seat, you-never-know-what-calamity-might-occur before-your-eyes-and-ears that is OH SO PAM (which I now sort of do), Carillo's absence likely means even more moments for Ms. Shriver to dance of the edge of tennis commentating oblivion and YouTube infamy. Oh, joy. No, really. Of course, if ESPN's "change of direction" rumor has any validity, then Shriver will be neutered. And what fun would that be? Actually, it would be no surprise if James Blake's blatant overreaction to Shriver's off-court commentary while he was careening off the road at last year's Wimbledon was at the heart of any scared-of-it's-own-shadow moves within ESPN's production. But, really, what about the network's otherwise milquetoast and occasionally lame-brained and nearly incompetant tennis coverage last year actually caused you to "light up" even the slightest bit DIDN'T involve either Carillo or Shriver?

It's hard to believe that ESPN2's coverage could get worse, but it seems impossible that it won't.

#1 Wozniacki d. Groth
#11 Henin d. Marino
#30 Petkovic d. #14 Sharapova
#9 Li d. #8 Azarenka
#24 Kleybanova d. #27 Dulgheru
#3 Clijsters d. #19 Ivanovic
#25 Kvitova d. #10 Peer
#2 Zvonareva d. #18 Kirilenko

#11 Henin d. #1 Wozniacki
#9 Li d. #30 Petkovic
#3 Clijsters d. #24 Kleybanova
#2 Zvonareva d. #25 Kvitova

#11 Henin d. #9 Li
#3 Clijsters d. #2 Zvonareva


#3 Clijsters d. #11 Henin

...sorry, Justine. (Psst... but you know I'll STILL be rooting for YOU.)

Well, here we go again, right? Another Roger/Rafa showdown surely LOOKS like it'll happen in Melbourne. And if it happens, it'll be yet another high-stakes historical day in their great rivarly. One of the few things that Federer never accomplished in his long stretch of dominance was the feat of winning four consecutive slam titles. Not for a true Grand Slam, four in one calendar year, nor even for a RogerSlam of four over the course of two seasons.

Nadal could do it in Melbourne, though. Already entrenched at #1, if the Spaniard were to win his second Oz title, dethroning defending champ Federer in the process, those who might wish to one day toss around HIS name in the "Greatest of All Time" argument would suddenly have a major talking point. The last man to win four straight slams was none other than Rod Laver, when he completed his second career Grand Slam in 1969.

For Nadal to accomplish his RafaSlam, or Federer to prevent it from occurring, at Rod Laver Arena, with the ol' redhead likely in attendence? Well, that would be one ANOTHER moment between these friendly rivals destined for immortality.

#1 Nadal d. #15 Cilic
#10 Youzhny d. #7 Ferrer
#4 Soderling d. #13 Tsonga
#5 Murray d. #11 Melzer
#23 Davydenko d. #6 Berdych
#3 Djokovic d. #17 Ljubicic
#19 Wawrinka d. #8 Roddick
#2 Federer d. #16 Fish

#1 Nadal d. #10 Youzhny
#5 Murray d. #4 Soderling
#3 Djokovic d. #23 Davydenko
#2 Federer d. #19 Wawrinka

#1 Nadal d. #5 Murray
#2 Federer d. #3 Djokovic

#2 Federer d. #1 Nadal

...Federer, perhaps healthier than he was a season ago, seems to have gotten his old edge back. But even when he was dominating the rest of the tour a few years ago, Federer had troubles with Nadal. Was his win over Rafa in last year's ATP World Finals championship match a sign that this rivalry still has some great swings left in it? Here's hoping so... because it would make the rest of 2011 REALLY interesting.

[since Williams won '99 U.S. Open]
2000 Roland Garros - Mary Pierce
2002 Australian Open - Jennifer Capriati
2003 U.S. Open -- Justine Henin
2004 Australian Open - Justine Henin
2005 Roland Garros - Justine Henin
2006 Roland Garros - Justine Henin
2006 Wimbledon - Amelie Mauresmo
2010 U.S. Open - Kim Clijsters
2011 Australian Open - ???

2003 Serena Williams (W)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (W)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (RU)
2006 Lindsay Davenport (QF)
2007 Maria Sharapova (RU)
2008 Justine Henin (QF)
2009 Jelena Jankovic (4th)
2010 Serena Williams (W)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki

3 - Justine Henin (1-2)
2 - Maria Sharapova (1-1)
1 - Kim Clijsters (0-1)
1 - Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
1 - Dinara Safina (0-1)
1 - Venus Williams (0-1)

2006: Mauresmo (W) - Henin-Hardenne (RU) - Sharapova/Clijsters
2007: S.Williams (W) - Sharapova (RU) - Clijsters/Vaidisova
2008: Sharapova (W) - Ivanovic (RU) - Jankovic/Hantuchova
2009: S.Williams (W) - Safina (RU) - Zvonareva/Dementieva
2010: S.Williams (W) - Henin (RU) - Li/Zheng

wild card/unranked...Justine Henin, BEL - 2010 (RU)
unseeded...Jennifer Capriati, USA - 2000
unseeded...Serena Williams, USA - 2007 (W)
unseeded...Zheng Jie, CHN - 2010
#32...Fabiola Zuluaga, COL - 2004
#22...Patty Schnyder, SUI - 2004
#19...Nathalie Dechy, FRA - 2005
#16...Li Na, CHN - 2010

2000 Aniko Kapros/HUN def. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP
2001 Jelena Jankovic/SRB def. Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
2002 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2003 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE def. Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
2004 Shahar Peer/ISR def. Nicole Vaidisova/CZE
2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Agnes Szavay/HUN
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Arantxa Rus/NED def. Jessica Moore/AUS
2009 Ksenia Pervak/RUS def. Laura Robson/GBR
2010 Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Laura Robson/GBR

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


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