Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Master List, version 2.0


Time for some quick mid-offseason value judgments... again.

A season ago, I looked at the first official Backspin "Grand Slam Master List" ranking as something of a "viability chart" when it came to the possibility of figuring out which players might have the ability to rise to the highest positions in the upcoming season's four very biggest events. Well, that and it seemed like a half-way decent way of passing the time between WTA seasons.

As it turned out, of the fifty-four players included on the 2012 Master List, all four slam winners were listed in the Top 6, as were six of the eight finalists. Twenty-eight of the thirty-two slam quarterfinalists of 2012 were on last year's list, with only Sara Errani (three times) and Yaroslava Shvedova (once) reaching a Final 8 from an "unlisted" position. A few numbers:

Slam Winners (4): #1, #1, #5, #6
Runners-up (4): #5, #6, #16, unlisted (Errani)
Semifinalists (8): #2, #2, #3, #4, #4, #6, #41, unlisted (Errani)
Quarterfinalists (16): #2, #4, #7, #8, #14, #16, #19, #23, #24, #26, #36, #41, #42, #45, unlisted (Errani), unlisted (Shvedova)

Attempting to do it all again nearly a month before the first ball will be struck in 2013 competition is, as it was last December, still an inexact science. So, this is just an of-the-moment, "most likely to seriously contend," anything-but-objective ranking, of course. Still, as it was interesting one year ago to try to "crunch the numbers" and do the original list, the additional intrigue in compiling a SECOND one is being able to compare how the perceptions of some players have changed in twelve months time.

While some things don't change (Serena, even without having won a slam since '10, was #1 on the Master List a year ago), some do. #2 on last season's list was none other than Petra Kvitova, who seemed destined for the #1 ranking as the '12 campaign began. She's no longer listed quite so high on ML II. A few other past placings of note: Caroline Wozniacki was listed just one spot below (RG champ) Maria Sharapova, while Samantha Stosur was at #4, one spot AHEAD of (AO winner) Victoria Azarenka. A pair of Russians not named Maria -- #9 Svetlana Kuznetsova and #12 Vera Zvonareva -- were listed quite high, only to see injuries and/or illness deep-six both their seasons after teaming to win the Australian Open doubles title. Francesca Schiavone was at #13, while Agnieszka Radwanska (SW19 finalist) was #16. A few players who will surely rise from their position on last year's list: #28 Nadia Petrova, #41 Angelique Kerber and #53 Laura Robson.

This year's list is a bit shorter (cut from 54 to 53), but it's still a toss-up when it comes to which "lower-ranked" players will put up surprise results in the slams, not to mention who'll be the "unlisted" names who'll find their way onto the third version of this list one year from now because of deep slam runs in '13. We'll begin to get some idea of who those people will be, oh, starting just a few weeks from now.

So, let's begin with the 2013 Master List (with last year's # in parenthesis):

1. Serena Williams (1)
2. Maria Sharapova (6)
3. Victoria Azarenka (5)
4. Petra Kvitova (2)

...Green is for "go." Three of these women claimed all four slams in 2012, and they'll be the favorites to add more trophies to their mantles in 2013, too. Serena, of course, HAS to be the odds-on favorite in the group to win at least one slam next season, so a repeat of her top ML ranking isn't a surprise. Sharapova clocking in just above Vika might be, though. Largely, this is because of Roland Garros. Even with Azarenka's hard court skills, an in-form and/or healthy Serena will have be a better shot than the world #1 to win in Melbourne or New York... and Williams' Wimbledon success speaks for itself. So, if Paris is the one slam in which Serena WON'T be the favorite going in, defending RG champ Sharapova gets the nods for #2 on this list since clay is generally accepted to be Azarenka's worst surface. Still holding on in this top-level group, along with the 2012 "Big Three," is Kvitova. She fell to #8 in the rankings in '12, and failed to reach a slam final. But one year wiser, and hopefully fitter and healthier, should at least put the Czech into the mix of slam finalists in '13.

5. Li Na (11)
6. Agnieszka Radwanska (16)
7. Angelique Kerber (41)

...next season's "second tier" of slam contenders is especially intriguing. Li will open her season after a full offseason of tutelage under the watchful eye and professorial brain of Carlos Rodriguez. We might find out as early as in Melbourne just how much of a difference that will make on the Chinese veteran's '13 season. A-Rad has already reached a slam final, came within a set of the #1 ranking and scared "Yuri & Yelena" into extinction (or existence, depending on your bent and/or point of view), and will surely attempt to undertake Part 2 of The Radwanska's Plan for world domination this coming year. The upwardly-mobile Kerber might just be able to will her way into a slam final next year.

8. Venus Williams (10)
9. Samantha Stosur (4)
10. Nadia Petrova (28)
11. Marion Bartoli (8)
12. Ana Ivanovic (19)
13. Laura Robson (53)
14. Sabine Lisicki (14)
15. Andrea Petkovic (15)
16. Caroline Wozniacki (7)

...it's all about the-right-place-at-the-right-time with the "pinkies." Since her singles exit last summer at Wimbledon, Venus has surged back, becoming a slam doubles winner, Olympic Gold Medalist and WTA tour singles champion en route to climbing back into the Top 25 in the WTA rankings. Winning seven matches to take a slam crown isn't likely at this point, but, with her Sjogren's seemingly better handled, getting close still might be. Stosur, if she can catch a wave, is always a threat (well, anywhere but in Melbourne). Same with Lisicki, especially in London... where Bartoli will return in '13 for the first time since missing the Olympics. AnaIvo reached her first slam QF in four years last season, while Petkovic is on the comeback trail. At last year's U.S. Open, Robson surely looked like a future slam contender, while the Dane is still holding onto a "pinkies" ranking by, well, her pinkies. And, no, I'm not going to say anything more about Nadia. Just that she's in the Top 10 on this year's Master List is enough to make this Backspinner rejoice. And probably worry, too, to be honest.

17. Sara Errani (--)
18. Kaia Kanepi (26)
19. Maria Kirilenko (24)
20. Francesca Schiavone (13)
21. Yaroslava Shvedova (--)
22. Svetlana Kuznetsova (9)
23. Vera Zvonareva (12)
24. Dominika Cibulkova (23)
25. Flavia Pennetta (22)
26. Jelena Jankovic (18)
27. Lucie Safarova (37)
28. Ekaterina Makarova (45)
29. Zheng Jie (30)

...all have shown some (orange, get it?) zest in slams in the past, though, in at least one Russian's (and at least one Italian's, too) case, it might have occurred in "another tennis lifetime." One has to wonder how many second-week-of-a-slam lives some of these players have left in their water bottles... but it only takes one to make such a moderately-high placement on this list worth it.

30. Sloane Stephens (48)
31. Tamira Paszek (36)
32. Julia Goerges (31)
33. Tsvetana Pironkova (29)
34. Christina McHale (44)
35. Urszula Radwanska (--)
36. Lucie Hradecka (--)
37. Roberta Vinci (42)
38. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (17)

...the list heads into the red (danger) zone now, as age, youth, freakish inconsistency/streakiness and a jumble of other factors (including one's closeness to a certain almost-all-knowing alter ego) all play off against each other for many of the players in this section. Enough probably rules them out as truly deep threats at any slam in '13, but there's enough THERE there to include them in the multi-colored discussion, even if it is on the outer fringes of it.

39. Petra Cetkovska (52)
40. Varvara Lepchenko (--)
41. Petra Martic (--)
42. Sorana Cirstea (--)
43. Irina-Camelia Begu (46)
44. Daniela Hantuchova (27)
45. Camila Giorgi (--)
46. Yanina Wickmayer (25)
47. Jelena Dokic (21)
48. Andrea Hlavackova (--)
49. Mona Barthel (--)
50. Arantxa Rus (--)
51. Klara Zakopalova (--)
52. Heather Watson (--)
53. Eugenie Bouchard (--)

...all right, so this group is mostly just included in order to fill out the 53-player field, but there are certainly some intriguing prospects therein. Remember, last year, Kerber was settled in at #41 in this section. Dokic, before injuries destroyed her '12 season, looked like she might have another good year in her. Here's to her somehow maybe having a chance to find a good couple of weeks, no matter how unlikely it might be over the next twelve months. Watson actually won a tour singles title last season, something that more-heralded (and higher ML-listed) countrywoman Robson didn't do. Bouchard makes the list as the most-likely-to-have-some-success-in-2013 amongst the juniors who've recently turned pro (including junior #1 Taylor Townsend, who just announced her decision to go pro the other day).

PLAYERS REMOVED FROM THE LIST SINCE LAST YEAR: #3 Kim Clijsters (retired), #20 Dinara Safina (retired?), #32 Caroline Garcia, #33 Gisela Dulko (retired), #34 Monica Niculescu, #35 Aravane Rezai, #38 Jarmila Gajdosova, #39 Ksenia Pervak, #40 Peng Shuai, #43 Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, #47 Polona Hercog, #49 Galina Voskoboeva, #50 Casey Dellacqua, #51 Shahar Peer, #54 Tamarine Tanasugarn

So, the second 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, along with last year's now-even-more-rare, already-fading copy of the original list. 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 names will be taken down and reshuffled once more... and, as we stand today, even The Radwanska doesn't know which players will have suddenly risen close to near the top of the list by then. Well, at least I don't THINK It knows.

All for now.



6 Comments:

Blogger jo shum said...

The pink group is quite a basket. I still don't know what to think of stosur. Always almost good skills but so unreliable. Ivanovic I don't see her breaking through and I think her time has gone. Caro can be higher up. Bartolommeo is always unpredictable. I thought errani is quite reliable in her passionate delivery, being Italian. Venus is a question mark to me.

I wish vika is higher up the list but I reckon your choice until we see performance otherwise. Be interesting how she defends in early period. Could be tough.

Can't wait to see what A rad will add to her game. And Kerber, an interesting character to build on , she could be hard to beat.

Fri Dec 07, 12:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Afterward, I wondered if Errani should have been moved up a group. But, then again, while I suspect she'll have another good season, repeating her slam results from '12 is going to be tough.

Fri Dec 07, 02:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I think the two high-ranked "wild cards" are Kvitova and Kerber. If Petra comes into 2013 in form again, the whole process gets shaken up considerably. And if Kerber continues to improve and gain confidence, she could become pretty dangerous.

Fri Dec 07, 05:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Omair said...

Agreed with Diane
Plus I think Robson has been placed too high, I would have put Shvedova in the pinkies.
Plus, I think Petkovic should be in the orange group rather than the Pink group.

Fri Dec 07, 10:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I'll probably be thinking the same about two months from now! :D

Fri Dec 07, 11:28:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Junior Update:

Taylor Townsend has wrapped up the Girls #1 ranking, thanks to Katerina Siniakova's loss in doubles and TT's own Orange Bowl singles QF win over Carol Zhao in a 3:49 marathon (Townsend led 5-1 in the 3rd and failed to convert on four match points before winning in a TB).

Sat Dec 08, 12:25:00 PM EST  

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