Thursday, December 01, 2011

2012 Mid-Offseason Rankings

Time for some quick mid-offseason value judgments.

Call it what you will, I'm looking at this first official Backspin "Grand Slam Master List" ranking as something of a "viability chart" when it comes to the possibility of figuring out which players will rise to the highest positions in the upcoming 2012 season's four (five, if you count the Olympics, especially since the tennis will be played at the All-England Club) very biggest events.

Attempting to do so more than a month before the first ball will be struck in competition is, needless to say, as my weekly picks show, hardly an exact sciene. So, this is just a of-the-moment, "most likely to seriously contend," anything-but-objective ranking, of course. Still, it was interesting trying to "crunch the numbers" and do an actual list. A few players (such as a certain Dane, oddly enough, though she still has to get out her long distance glasses to effectively read over the shoulder of the players at the top of the list) ended up finishing a little higher than I'd originally thought they might, while others maybe came in a little lower than they "should" because of their hard-to-figure intangibles (Li Na and Vera Zvonareva, for example). I think it'll be interesting to chart the latter stages of 2012's slams using this initial ranking, just to see how far down the list we'll have to go to find the players who turn out to be the actual contenders, let alone eventual champions.

Since doing such a list is at least a bit akin to playing "52-card pickup," that's how long I decided to make the list. Well, until I ultimately went with a 54-count, being sure to include two undetermined "jokers" in the deck (you'll have to determine for yourself which two might ultimately fill that role, I guess). Of course, even when throwing a deck of WTA cards into the air, invariably some of those cards will "weigh more heavily" than others and hit the ground with the most force when the tour kicks off its new campaign in January.

So, that's where I'll start:

1. Serena Williams
2. Petra Kvitova
3. Kim Clijsters

...Green is for "go." Essentially, it's pretty difficult to believe -- barring more of the sort of odd off-court happenings that have already sidelined two of these women over the past eighteen months, that is -- that at least one slam won't be claimed by one of these women in 2012. Throw in the Olympic Gold, and one could up the total to two (if one, say KC, wins in Melbourne, once might even see fit to make it three of the five). Certainly, the Australian Open will provide an interesting battleground. Clijsters is the defending champion, while Williams has had more success there than at any other slam. Kvitova has proven to be a good January player in past seasons, and her chances of winning a hard court slam are probably better in Oz than in NYC.

4. Samantha Stosur
5. Victoria Azarenka
6. Maria Sharapova
7. Caroline Wozniacki
8. Marion Bartoli season's "second tier" of slam contenders is a fluid entity. Stosur's run at the U.S. Open, then WTA Championships success (the latter of which probably jumped her up at least 5-6 places on this list) will put her in the spotlight next month in Australia. If she can even come close there, her chances in Paris and New York later in the year will have to improve simply because it'd boost her already-growing confidence. The rest of the "blue crew" all have their faults when it comes to putting together seven matches in a two-week stretch, from health issues to questions about their games and/or consistency. But it wouldn't be a real "reach" to see any end up in the winner's circle in '12, even Bartoli, whose feel-good result at Roland Garros last year, I think, made her look like the player most likely to join the "veterans winning a late, somewhat unexpected slam" club, if that recently-burgeoning group expands by one more next season, that is.

9. Svetlana Kuznetsova
10. Venus Williams
11. Li Na
12. Vera Zvonareva
13. Francesca Schiavone
14. Sabine Lisicki
15. Andrea Petkovic
16. Agnieszka Radwanska's all about the-right-place-at-the-right-time with the "pinkies." Kuznetsova has won two slams, but rarely resembles that player... through she could at a moment's notice. Venus will always be a threat at Wimbledon, as will Schiavone at Roland Garros (but a third trip to the final in Paris seems even more unlikely than her first two, though one could say that such an opinion thread probably works in her favor). Li hasn't handled her post-slam win pressure well, but she'll arrive in Australia and France with good memories. Just because of that, she regained a few of the places she'd originally given up on this list. As Lisicki showed at Wimbledon, if she's on she's very dangerous. Of course, as she showed in Paris, she might be just as likely to be literally carried off the court in a slam... and not on anyone's shoulders as she celebrates a big win, either..

17. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
18. Jelena Jankovic
19. Ana Ivanovic
20. Dinara Safina
21. Jelena Dokic
22. Flavia Pennetta
23. Dominika Cibulkova
24. Maria Kirilenko
25. Yanina Wickmayer
26. Kaia Kanepi
27. Daniela Hantuchova
28. Nadia Petrova
29. Tsvetana Pironkova

...all have shown some (orange, get it?) zest in slams in the past, or, in Pavlyuchenkova's case, seems to be destined to do so at some time in the near future. At least at SW19, Pironkova is worth watching. Meanwhile, Safina may never play again. If she does, though, maybe the time off with her back injury could lead to a two-week, all-or-nothing scramble that will ultimately define -- or end, or possibly both -- her career (seriously, that sort of run might give Schiavone's RG title in '10 a run for its money in the drama department). Thus, she slips into the Top 20 here.

30. Zheng Jie
31. Julia Goerges
32. Caroline Garcia
33. Gisela Dulko
34. Monica Niculescu
35. Aravane Rezai
36. Tamira Paszek
37. Lucie Safarova
38. Jarmila Gajdosova
39. Ksenia Pervak
40. Peng Shuai

...the list heads into the red (danger) zone now, as youth, freakish inconsistency/streakiness and a jumble of other factors all play off against each other for the players in this section. Enough probably rules them out as deep threats at any slam in '12, but their past or future is also enough to include them in the discussion, even if it is on the outer fringe of it.

41. Angelique Kerber
42. Roberta Vinci
43. Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
44. Christina McHale
45. Ekaterina Makarova
46. Irina-Camelia Begu
47. Polona Hercog
48. Sloane Stephens
49. Galina Voskoboeva
50. Casey Dellacqua
51. Shahar Peer
52. Petra Cetkovska
53. Laura Robson
54. Tamarine Tanasugarn

...all right, so this group is mostly just included in order to fill the 54-player field, but there are certainly some intriguing prospects therein. Remember, Angelique Kerber was the world #92 when she reached the semifinals at the Open last summer, and she certainly wouldn't have been anywhere near this list if it'd debuted in December '10. There's always a diamond in every "rough." Maybe McHale will make a surprise QF run in '12. Meanwhile, Begu (#214 to #40) made the biggest ranking jump of any Top 50 player in 2011. Oh, and for the record, the "unlucky" #55 who just missed the list was Rebecca Marino.

So, the first official Grand Slam Master List will now be filed away in a cabinet somewhere deep in the bowels of the Navratilova Library of Records on the grounds of Backspin Academy. Naturally, it'll be pulled out on at least four occasions over the course of the next year, just to see who exceeded their offseason expectations, as well as who failed to come close to living up to them. Next December, the 54-card deck will be reshuffled... and who knows which players will appear on top to produce the best hand for the 2013 season.

All for now.

December 19: Twas the Backspin Before Christmas
Also: Prediction Blowout (with Top 10 picks, early slam forecasts, & ATP predictions), The Intriguing 100 (region-by-region, with '11 first-timer predictions), and Week 1 Picks


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ricardo Sanchez new coach for Caroline. Hope it'll be good for her. Maybe not best friends with Jelena after this but that's tennis. Think it's a good choice.

Fri Dec 02, 09:45:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

It's the blue names that intrigue me. They are exactly the names on my own "blue" list, in fact. They could do it next year--or not. None of them is predictable, at this point, even the two who have won majors.

Fri Dec 02, 07:52:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it will be a breakthrough year for Christina McHale and Caroline Wozniacki. Christina will replace Serena and Venus in the top twnty. Serena will flop as Clijsters and Venus wil stop her career. Why Woz - well she'll win her first slam and the olympics and her 5th Wozniacki open. She'll be engaged with Rory and make the most off court money ever seen as the WOZZILROY brand. Kvitova will stay in the top five together with Aga, Vika, Masha and Caro. Zvonareva will have her ups and downs and be inside the top 10 together with Petko, Julia, Ana and Bartoli. McHale will be close to the top she's a really brilliant player, so have her in your mind. That's my top 10 - little top 20 list of 2012 - crazy maybe but mine ;-)

Sat Dec 03, 08:07:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hmmm... Wozniacki and Sanchez?

So, a #1 player who needs to play a bit less and focus on doing what it takes to win a slam hires a coach whose most famous former client was always the topic of discussions about... needing to play less and never finding a way to do what it takes to win a slam. Ooookay. Granted, Wozniacki's potential is greater than JJ's, but I do wonder how that personality mix will work, especially considering the way she hasn't reacted all that well to criticism and the like over the past year. Sanchez's approach has never exactly been a "pat-on-the-head" one, after all. And since he's not her father, will she listen quite as well?

(Note: I guess this possibly "answers" one question about the "mystery coach" from back in August, since it was said at the time that he was coaching a men's player at the Open -- which Sanchez wasn't doing, I don't believe -- and Danish reports seem to say that he wasn't the "person?" talked about this summer.)

Maybe the anti-conventional approach will work by shaking up her "norm." A little combativeness in practice might do her good on game day (though I don't know how good an idea it is for Sanchez to talk about how he "idolizes" Caroline, which he did the other day). We shall see. At least she's doing SOMETHING, which is good.

Well, as long as she doesn't take Ricardo's advice and head to Mexico for offseason training, that is. ;)

Sat Dec 03, 11:12:00 AM EST  
Blogger Tennis Talk, Anyone? said...

Love this list Todd: especially the Tanasugarn shout-out! Call me crazy, though, for saying this: I almost would bump Wozniacki down to orange level. I would be so shocked to see her beat three "green" and "blue" players to win a Major, at least in 2012. -- Van

Tue Dec 06, 04:25:00 PM EST  

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