Saturday, May 21, 2011

Roland Garros Preview: Either/Or

Bar none, if anyone is going to tap any of the women in the field with an imaginary scepter of divine greatness -- i.e. pick one to win Roland Garros 2011 -- they're going to have to do so on faith alone because there is absolutely no incontrovertable evidence that says it could be done otherwise.

"I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations -- one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it -- you will regret both." - Søren Kierkegaard, from Either/Or, vol. 2, "Balance between Esthetic and Ethical" (1843)

Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (1813-55) embraced logical gaps and "leaps of faith." Truth that was apparent to an individual, regardless of evidence to the contrary, was all right with him. "Truth" is something that comes from the individual, he believed, and should not be dictated by the influences outside of that individual. Whew! It's like the dead Danish guy is rhapsodizing about this year's Roland Garros, isn't it? Just as Existentialism accepts, truth IS subjective... and it's written all over 2011's second grand slam.

The Williams Sisters aren't in Paris, but they wouldn't likely be potential champions there, anyway. Justine Henin is off doing her thing somewhere, too. Kim Clijsters' last minute decision that she's healthy enough to play means we won't have the first Sisters and Belgian Big Two-less slam since the '97 Australian Open, but it's the questions about everyone else in the field that will tell the tale of this RG, anyway. No player has been able to get the sort of foothold on the red clay this spring that makes them a legitimate odds-on favorite to win, or even contend, for that matter. I can't remember when so many players could win it all just as easily as they could flame out in the first few rounds if the "wrong" opponent shows up on the other side of the net.

"Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom." - Kierkegaard

The eleven red clay events that have crowned champions in 2011 have handed trophies to eleven different women (only Caroline Wozniacki has two clay wins, but one came on green clay). On the fast indoor clay surface of Stuttgart, Julia Goerges looked great, but she wasn't able to follow up with play as brilliant as that she showed in front of her home nation's fans. She DID beat Wozniacki twice, though, highlighting the (other) Dane's lacking ability this spring to effectively handle the games of several hard-hitting and aggressive players. Victoria Azarenka looked like the best player on tour for a few weeks, until her body once again began to let her down. Petra Kvitova won in Madrid on a surface probably better suited to her game than the terre battue in Paris, but a confident Kvitova is a threat on any surface... as her SF run at last year's Wimbledon after having entered the tournament with zero grass court match wins attests. But what of her loss in a $100K challenger to Magdalena Rybarikova? Even Maria Sharapova, the former "cow on ice" on clay, looked slam-worthy while winning Rome. But after a few seasons of struggling with her serve and consistency post-shoulder surgery, how much... ahem, FAITH... can be put in one good week in the last hundred or so when it comes to her having to weave her way through seven rounds of play at the only slam she's never won? And then there's Clijsters, who hasn't played a match in months and hasn't set foot on a court at this slam in five years. But she's in Paris because SHE REALLY WANTS TO BE THERE, so could she possibly take advantage of the current "vaccuum" again and win a third straight slam?

And I haven't even mentioned last year's finalists -- Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur -- or two former champions, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic, who have rarely looked like anything but since they lifted the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen.

As Kierkegaard wrote, though, "doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world". No matter what anyone says, thinks or has seen over the past few months, SOMEONE is going to win this tournament.

"People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood." - Kierkegaard

Somehow, I have a sneaking feeling that Søren and his little nuggets of philosophy are going to be walking with me hand-in-hand through the next two weeks.

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." - Kierkegaard

You said it, my Danish brother.

TOP PLAYER: Sloane Stephens/USA
...continuing to look to be the most promising of the current crop of Americans, Stephens reached the main draw with a win over #1 qualifying seed Anastasia Pivovarova.
RISERS: Sabine Lisicki/GER & Olga Govortsova/BLR
SURPRISES: Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP & Corinna Dentoni/ITA
VETERANS: Eleni Daniilidou/GER & Nuria Llagostera-Vives/ESP
COMEBACKS: Marina Erakovic/NZL & Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN
FRESH FACE: Heather Watson/GBR
DOWN: Urszula Radwanska (Q1) & Anastasia Pivovarova (#1 seed)
OTHER QUALIFIERS: Mona Barthel/GER & Chan Yung-Jan/TPE
WILD CARDS: Iryna Bremond/FRA, Casey Dellacqua/AUS, Irina Falconi/USA, Stephanie Foretz-Gacon/FRA, Caroline Garcia/FRA, Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Pauline Parmentier/FRA, Olivia Sanchez/FRA
LUCKY LOSERS: none so far

Q1: Ekaterina Bychkova/RUS d. Lindsay Lee-Waters/USA 3-6/7-6/10-8
Q2: #13 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE d. Mariya Koryttseva/UKR 6-2/5-7/9-7
Q3: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA d. #1 Anastasia Pivovarova/RUS 6-3/6-4

2006 Julia Vakulenko/UKR
2007 Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Ioana-Raluca Olaru/ROU
2008 Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
2009 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
2010 Kaia Kanepi/EST
2011 Sloane Stephens/USA

#32 Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL vs. (WC) Casey Dellacqua/AUS
...unfortunately, the "worst case scenario" regarding Pironkova's results since her '10 Wimbledon SF has pretty much played out over the past year
#21 Yanina Wickmayer/BEL vs. Monica Niculescu/ROU
...depends on the condition of her injured back
#24 Jarmila Gajdosova/AUS vs. Virginie Razzano/FRA
...Razzano is playing with a heavy heart, but she should have tremendous crowd support
#19 Shahar Peer/ESP vs. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP
...maybe the best 1st Round match-up
#15 Andrea Petkovic/GER vs. Bojana Jovanovski/SRB
...Petkovic just won in Strasbourg, but BoJo is capable of a surprise, especially if the German comes in slighty tired
#6 Li vs. Zahlavova-Strycova, #8 Stosur vs. Benesova, #9 Kvitova vs. Arn, #10 Jankovic vs. A.Bondarenko, #13 Kuznetsova vs. Rybarikova, #23 Kleybanova vs. (Q) Llagostera-Vives, #26 Petrova vs. Rodionova, #27 Dulgheru vs. Pous-Tio

*PREVIEW NOTES* Caroline Wozniacki is the seventh different woman to be seeded #1 in Paris over the last seven years, thereby surpassing the six-in-six run that has occurred at each of the other three slams' most recent tournaments.

By comparison, either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal has been the top seed at the last twenty-nine men's slams. If Novak Djokovic reaches the final, though, he'd replace Nadal at #1 in the world after the event, no matter whether or not Rafa ties Bjorn Borg's Open era record with his sixth career Roland Garros crown. Thus, Djokovic could end the streak at Wimbledon.

Meanwhile, with his 37-0 record for '11, Djokovic needs to only reach the QF to tie John McEnroe's ATP record of forty-two straight wins to begin the season. With his 2-0 Davis Cup mark to end 2010, Djokovic is sporting an overall 39-match winning streak. If he wins the necessary seven matches and claims his first RG title, he'd tied Guillermo Vilas' men's record of 46 straight wins in 1977. least one Russian woman has reached the semifinals at twenty-five of the last twenty-eight slams, with Vera Zvonareva having been the one Hordettes to reach the final four at the Australian Open in January..

...if Kim Clijsters were to win her third straight slam crown in two weeks, she'd be the first to do so since Serena Williams won the first three legs of her "Serena Slam" in Paris, London and New York in 2002. Williams is also the last woman to win back-to-back slams in the same season, during that same run. The last woman to open a season with wins at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros was Jennifer Capriati in 2001.

...considering that Kierkegaard's country of orgin is Denmark, it's somehow fitting that maybe the player with which it might require the most faith to deem now as the eventual RG champ on June 4 is none other than that nation's greatest-ever player -- #1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki. Here's another reason for a little worry to creep into the Wozniacki game: over the last fourteen Roland Garros tournaments, the only #1-seeded woman to win the title was Justine Henin in 2007. The most recent before that was Steffi Graf in 1996.

...what's this? American tennis slam coverage WITH Mary Carillo again? Thankfully, yes, as she joins the Tennis Channel crew for this Roland Garros.

#1 Wozniacki d. #13 Kuznetsova
#8 Stosur d. #17 Goerges
#14 Pavlyuchenkova d. #3 Zvonareva
#5 Schiavone d. #10 Jankovic
#9 Kvitova d. #6 Li
#4 Azarenka d. #16 Kanepi
#7 Sharapova d. #12 A.Radwanska
#2 Clijsters d. #15 Petkovic

#8 Stosur d. #1 Wozniacki
#5 Schiavone d. #14 Pavlyuchenkova
#9 Kvitova d. #4 Azarenka
#2 Clijsters d. #7 Sharapova

#8 Stosur d. #5 Schiavone
#9 Kvitova d. #2 Clijsters

#9 Kvitova d. #8 Stosur

...essentially, I'm going with Kvitova because, with her, no matter what happens, I won't hate myself in the morning for doing it. There's about half a dozen players I could have gone with for this title, and even though I FINALLY ended my long "Backspin Picks" losing streak with a PAIR of correct Week 20 picks (Wozniacki and Petkovic), I'm still not feeling confident about any pick for this slam. But at least I CAN feel a release of a bit of the building pressure the picks segment has been laboring under since I sinned against my principles and rooted for Clijsters to win the Australian Open.

After ping-ponging back and forth between picking Azarenka (my preferred early pick before she started retired from matches every week), Stosur (still can't believe she can pull it off), Schiavone (how could she top 2010?), Wozniacki (not yet, not now, not here) and even Sharapova (her, "This is just the beginning of many things to come. This is the start of everything" comment after winning Rome is a nice starting-off point, but I can't quite yet swallow picking her to win in Paris based on one clean week in Italy -- if she has a few more, I could see doing it in NYC, though), I finally settled on Kvitova as something of a "fail-safe" choice. Until she lost in a $100K final, she had twelve-match winning streak going (she's still riding an eight-match WTA/FC run), has three Top 5 wins in '11 and at least has a clay court title in Madrid under her belt, after not having even won a match on grass before her SF result at Wimbledon last year. If she's in fine form, surface probably doesn't matter much.

Even while I've whined and complained about JUST MISSING many picks in '11, I never "shot arrows" at the Czech when she beat both Clijsters and Azarenka in finals when her opponent was my pre-tournament pick. Kvitova is probably the only player I could pick who wouldn't cause me to have "buyer's remorse" if and/or when she loses. Maybe not the best way to pick a slam champion, but I really don't have enough faith in anyone to go with them and not want to immediately change my mind.

"I begin with the principle that all men are bores. Surely no one will prove himself so great a bore as to contradict me in this." - Søren Kierkegaard

All right, all right. If it's a cop-out, it's a cop-out. But I'm content with it. So, if "Kvitova Flattens the Field" turns out to be how things turn out, I'll be happy. If not, I'll simply enjoy the chaos of it all. Well, unless you-know-who wins, of course... but, even in that circumstance, I'd TRY.

Back for an encore, click on the thumbnail for another edition of the ol' handwritten slam bracket:
Free image hosting at

For a few weeks now, I've operated on the assumption that Novak Djokovic was "due" to finally lose. Afterall, there's a reason only a handful of players have ever tread upon the unbeaten ground for longer periods of time than he has over the past six months. But his 39-match win streak since December (42 if you count those exhibition matches at the Hopman Cup) has been growing into more and more of a monster entity all its own in 2011. Essentially, he was even just named by Sports Illustated as the world athlete of the half-year this week when the mag said he was currently sport's "most dominant" champion.

With every performance, he ups the ante on what he's managed to do and is capable of doing since he was diagnosed last year with an allergy to gluten, changed his diet and totally altered the one thing that always seemed to hold him back -- his stamina. Leading Serbia to the Davis Cup championship didn't hurt, either, as his already-confident persona was given something tangible to built upon. Winning his second slam in Melbourne? Yeah, that helped, too. Claiming seven straight titles, going a combined 7-0 against Rafa and Roger during the streak, including four straight wins in finals over Nadal? A nice shot in the arm.

Djokovic has a super-intriguing match-up with Juan Martin del Potro possibly on tap in the 3rd Round in Paris, but if (well, likely when) he makes it through that one he'd be directed toward the two players who kept him penned in at #3 for so long. He's already managed to climb over Federer, and he's THIS CLOSE to doing the same to Nadal. In fact, Nadal has already said his time at #1 "is over."

Of course, that doesn't mean Nadal won't win Roland Garros...

#1 Nadal d. #16 Verdasco
#5 Soderling d. #18 Simon
#4 Murray d. #15 Troicki
#11 Almagro d. #8 Melzer
#7 Ferrer d. #22 Llodra
#3 Federer d. #14 Wawrinka
#6 Berdych d. #12 Youzhny
#2 Djokovic d. #13 Gasquet

#1 Nadal d. #5 Soderling
#11 Almagro d. #4 Murray
#3 Federer d. #7 Ferrer
#2 Djokovic d. #6 Berdych

#1 Nadal d. #11 Almagro
#2 Djokovic d. #3 Federer

#1 Nadal d. #2 Djokovic would have thought that Djokovic's "due date" would have come this spring against Nadal, or Nadal on clay, or Nadal on clay in Spain. Nope. It didn't happen on any of those occasions. Now we shift to "Nadal on clay in Paris in a best-of-five match." Okay, let's go with that one. Hey, the Serbian Prince can't win EVERY match, can he? Hmmm, I guess we'll see. He'd still get the season winning streak record and claim the #1 ranking by reaching the final, and that would immediately turn Wimbledon and the Open into much-looked-forward-to epic throw-downs... as if his fast start hasn't already made that a certainty, that is.

8...Serena Williams, USA
3...Maria Sharapova, RUS
3...Dinara Safina, RUS
2...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
1...Kim Clijsters, BEL
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
1...Venus Williams, USA

2002 Jennifer Capriati (SF)
2003 Serena Williams (SF)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (2nd Rd.)
2005 Lindsay Davenport (QF)
2006 Amelie Mauresmo (4th Rd.)
2007 Justine Henin (W)
2008 Maria Sharapova (4th Rd.)
2009 Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Serena Williams (QF)
2011 Caroline Wozniacki

[since Williams won '99 U.S. Open]
2000 Roland Garros - Mary Pierce
2002 Australian Open - Jennifer Capriati
2003 U.S. Open - Justine Henin (w/ Venus also absent)
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 - Kim Clijsters
2011 Roland Garros - ???

2 - Ana Ivanovic (1-1)
2 - Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2 - Kim Clijsters (0-2)
1 - Francesca Schiavone (1-0)
1 - Samantha Stosur (0-1)

2006: Henin-Hardenne (W) - Kuznetsova (RU) - Clijsters/Vaidisova
2007: Henin (W) - Ivanovic (RU) - Jankovic/Sharapova
2008: Ivanovic (W) - Safina (RU) - Jankovic/Kuznetsova
2009: Kuznetsova (W) - Safina (RU) - Stosur/Cibulkova
2010: Schiavone (W) - Stosur (RU) - Dementieva/Jankovic

unseeded...Clarisa Fernandez, 2002
unseeded...Nadia Petrova, 2003
#30...Samantha Stosur, 2009
#21...Mary Pierce, 2005 (W)
#20...Dominika Cibulkova, 2009
#17...Francesca Schiavone, 2010 (W)
#16...Elena Likhovtseva, 2005
#16...Nicole Vaidisova, 2006

*RG GIRLS FINALS - since 1998*
1998 Nadia Petrova/RUS def. Jelena Dokic/AUS
1999 Lourdes Dominguez-Lino/ESP def. Stephanie Foretz/FRA
2000 Virginie Razzano/FRA def. Maria-Emilia Salerni/ARG
2001 Kaia Kanepi/EST def. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
2002 Angelique Widjaja/INA def. Ashley Harkleroad/USA
2003 Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER def. Vera Dushevina/RUS
2004 Sessil Karatantcheva/BUL def. Madalina Gojnea/ROU
2005 Agnes Szavay/HUN def. Ioana-Raluca Olaru/ROU
2006 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA def. Mariana Duque-Marino/COL
2008 Simona Halep/ROU def. Elena Bogdan/ROU
2009 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA def. Daria Gavrilova/RUS
2010 Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Ons Jabeur/TUN

As Kierkegaard said, "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced." And so it will be in Paris.

All for now. Day 1 awaits.


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