Friday, January 10, 2014

Australian Open Preview, Pt.2: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Melbourne


The Rod will soon be rocked. Ah, but who will rock it the most? Well, that's for me to predict, then lean back and watch as chaos ensues and so many of my picks fall by the wayside. Sometimes one by one, sometimes in a big heapin' lump like during last year's Wimbledon.

Of course, sometimes my slam predictions work out. Maybe this will be one of those times.

(He said, before he slipped away under the cover of darkness, whistling all the way as he hoped that the Tennis Gods would see fit to have some Melbourne-related mercy.)

But before they have Their way with things, here's a quick overview of the draw, quarter-by-quarter:

=SERENA QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. Serena Williams, USA... has it really been four years since Serena won an Australian Open? Remember, not that long ago this was considered her "best" slam. Well, she could put that notion back in play with a win here. She's already 5-0 in finals in Melbourne, and a sixth title would means she's won more titles at the AO than at any other major. Looking over the draw, Williams, on a 22-match winning streak, isn't likely to be seriously challenged in her quarter. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't some players who'll keep her on her toes. Such as...
2. Another youngster... if Williams is to be surprised/shocked, it'll likely come, much like last year, courtesy of a promising player that she might not personally have reason to fear until it's too late. Playing the role of "Sloane" in this year's AO drama could be one of any number of young players. The most intriguing would be either Eugenie Bouchard or Madison Keys, who look like they could be headed for a super-interesting Round of 16 clash for the right to face Serena in the QF, the same round where Stephens upset her a year ago.
3. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL... just when you look away from her, as I did when I left her off the Grand Slam Master List, that's when The Pironkova is the most dangerous. Why, she's the WTA's version of the Weeping Angels from "Doctor Who" -- never look away... don't even blink! After upending Top 10ers Sara Errani, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber en route to her first career title in Sydney, she could face Williams in the Round of 16. Needless to say, if Serena faces her she'd be wise to not look ahead.
THE BRACKET BUSTER???: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN... if Team Genie is going to truly face off with Team Sloane in 2014, we know what she needs to do in Melbourne. Unfortunately for the Canadian, so does Serena.

THE WILD CARD: Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL... The Pironkova has defeated Venus three times in slams, but is 0-1 vs. Serena. So far.
DON'T COUNT THEIR CHICKENS: The (other) Seeded Veterans... this quarter is only big enough for one vet, and we know who that is. Don't be surprised if the likes of #7 Sara Errani, #12 Roberta Vinci, #14 Ana Ivanovic, #17 Sam Stosur and #31 Daniela Hantuchova are ALL gone by the 4th Round, and maybe even the 3rd.
THE POOR SOULS: Ashleigh Barty, AUS & Laura Robson, GBR... Serena is 52-1 in 1st Round slam matches, and opening round AO opponent Barty is already coming into Melbourne with an abductor injury that interrupted her promising '14 start. Actually, the Aussie wild card could avoid the whole "Poor Soul" fate if she turns out to be physically unable to give it a go. Speaking of injuries, after thrilling all with her upset of Kvitova at last year's AO, Robson's wrist injury has already caused her to miss Week 1, then retire from her match in Week 2. It's hard to imagine she'll last long at this AO. She opens up vs. #18 Kirsten Flipkens.
=In the End...=
History isn't likely to repeat itself, so don't expect Serena to unexpectedly be upset in a pre-semifinal match this year. Nope... Vika, Na and Maria aren't THAT lucky.

=LI QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*

1. Li Na, CHN... Li has reason to quite possibly prepare to jump for joy. She's reached two AO finals, and if not for having a hard time keeping her footing a year ago she might be the defending women's champ, not Vika Azarenka. Another offseason of work with Carlos Rodriguez has brought her a second title in Shenzhen, but it's at the closest thing she's going to get to a "home" slam that she really wants to succeed. Unfortunately, her post-Week 1 slip from #3 to #4 in the rankings has put her in Serena's half of the draw rather than Azarenka's. COULD she defeat Serena? Sure. Could she defeat Serena and Vika back-to-back? Probably not. Of course, there's always the hope that someone else might upend Williams before she even comes onto Li's radar. If that happens, we might just be looking at China's first multiple-slam champion.
2. Angelique Kerber, GER... the German has made her way through to semis at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the past, so we know she can grind her way through a slam draw. She's never reached a QF in Melbourne, but has inched closer (3rd Rd., then 4th) the last two years. Since putting her niggling injuries behind her, she's been in good form since the late weeks of 2013. If Li has one of her "drift away" moments and gets upset, the consistent Kerber might be the best bet to slip through in her place.
3. Petra Kvitova, CZE... I'm putting Petra hear more out of respect than actual expectation. After another good string of matches was interrupted by one more error-heavy, tournament run-ending affair in Sydney the other day, the prospect of Kvitova finally living up to her slam potential again took a big hit. The Czech has unfinished business Down Under, as squandered matches against Li (Sydney) and Sharapova (AO) two years ago prevented her from what had seemed inevitable at the time -- that she'd take over the #1 ranking. As it's turned out, it's never happened. Should one wonder if an elusive second slam might go the same way? She'll always be a factor at Wimbledon (though Serena might be the dominant force there for a few more seasons), but if her asthma means she's going to need mild Australian or American summer weather to compete in the hard court slams, her chances of winning a major might be far smaller than any of us suspected back in 2011.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS... the Hordette defeated Serena in Melbourne in 2012, and faces Venus in the 1st Round this year. She could face Li in the Round of 16, the same spot she knocked off the younger Williams two AO's ago.
THE WILD CARDS: Lucie Safarova, CZE & Monica Puig, PUR... the Czech Maiden's best slam result was an Australian Open QF in 2007. She's not likely to match that this year, but Safarova could face Li in the 3rd Round. She's got the ability to win that match. Doing so is another matter. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican has shown a knack for slam upsets in the past -- being on the business end of two "First Seed Out" situations last year. That won't happen here, as she faces a qualifier in the 1st Round. But she could face the Pennetta/Cadantu winner in the 2nd, and maybe Kvitova in the 3rd.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Flavia Pennetta, ITA... the Italian's semifinal run at last year's U.S. Open renewed hopes for a late-career bonanza result at a slam. But she's already facing more wrist problems in the new season's first two weeks.
THE POOR, POOR SOUL: Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP... a slam just isn't "official" until the Spaniard exits early and I can once more bring up how she's won double-digit tour singles titles, but never reached a slam QF. Only she and Anna Smashnova can say as much in WTA history. With AMG, currently riding a six-match slam losing streak, facing a qualifier in the 1st Round, the four-times-a-year moment of silence might not come in the first two days of play this time around in Melbourne, but it won't come later than Day 4. The vet would face the winner of Venus/Makarova in the 2nd Round.
=In the End...=
JJ is nowhere to be found here, but this quarter is ripe for chaos if Li has a bad day. Unexpectedly remove her from the landscape, and the scramble could be a wild one. Li won't walk unhindered into the semis from this quarter, but she's the definitive favorite.

=SHARAPOVA QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS... this isn't an easy quarter, but Sharapova's early draw is probably the most forgiving of the top four seeds. She opens with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who just retired with an injury the other day, then might get an Italian (Knapp) or two (Giorgi), neither of which has gotten quickly out of the gates in '14, or maybe a Pastry (Cornet) who's won a Hopman Cup title this season but is 1-4 in singles action. Sharapova reached the semis a year ago in historically dominant fashion, losing just nine games through five matches and, if BMS isn't 100%, might just have a few lopsided scorelines in the opening week this time around, too.

2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB... don't worry, kids -- JJ isn't finished yet! She doesn't have a particularly good history in Melbourne, only reaching the QF once (a SF in '08), but most of the players in her section of the draw don't have great slam histories to draw upon, either. While a 3rd Round opponent such as Andrea Petkovic or Peng Shuai could prove troublesome, the possible Round of 16er with Simona Halep is something to root for. Speaking of...
3. Simona Halep, ROU... the Swarmette only has one slam Round of 16 result ('13 US) in her career, but has proven resilient in the past when it's come to stringing together winning streaks, as well as rebounding from poor results. She's 0-1 this season, having lost her only match to Madison Keys. If she can avoid an early letdown/upset and get some momentum with wins over players like Varvara Lepchenko and Bojana Jovanovski, the Jankovic match could become a reality. Crossing fingers.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Andrea Petkovic, GER & Stefanie Voegele/SUI... Petkovic has missed the last two AO's with injuries, but was a quarterfinalist in 2011. She has the chance to leave a string of victims in Melbourne, starting with #32-seed Magdalena Rybarikova in the 1st Round. The likes of Peng, Jankovic and Halep could soon follow. Already this season, Voegele has knocked off Madison Keys and dragged Victoria Azarenka through the weeds in a three-setter in Brisbane. Tucked into a cozy little area of the draw -- between the two "wild cards" of this section -- the Swiss is likely to be overlooked. That would not be wise.
THE WILD CARDS: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP & Dominika Cibulkova, SVK... neither is to be taken lightly, even with #16 and #20 seeds, respectively. CSN has pulled off big slam wins before, and has twice reached the QF of hard court slams. Cibulkova is a former slam semifinalist. They could meet in the 3rd Round, with the winner facing Sharapova in the Round of 16.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Alize Cornet, FRA... I know, I know -- I've sort of been piling on the Pastry these first few weeks of 2014. But, come on, it's something of an irresistible urge to want to constantly bring up the odd situation where she had such a great, emotional moment while winning the Hopman Cup with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Perth in Week 1, yet has a singles record (1-4) this season that would normally have a player pulling her hair out by now. Of course, the afterglow of an exhibition crown can only last so long. If the #25 seed loses to Polona Hercog in the 1st Round, Cornet's mood may drastically change.
THE POOR SOULS: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA or Francesca Schiavone, ITA... a few days ago, after wins over Goerges, Bouchard and A.Radwanska, BMS was nowhere near a "Poor Soul." But then a groin injury took her down, and might make a potentially intriguing 1st Rounder against Sharapova an unfortunate day at the office. Schiavone, who very well could be playing in her final season, hasn't had very good luck in '14. She's drawn 1st Round opponents named Safarova and Jankovic in the first two weeks -- she's 0-2 -- and will get Cibulkova in Melbourne. A woman playing in her 54th consecutive slam -- the longest current streak on tour, and the second-longest in WTA history -- deserves a better fate.
=In the End...=
While there are a few potential pitfalls, Sharapova's overall draw is the best of the Top 4 players. Unfortunately for her, she'll likely need help to have a shot at a title, as her head-to-head against #1 S.Williams is woeful, her hard court history vs. #2 Azarenka is troubling, and #4 Li was the woman who unceremoniously ended her record-breaking run in last year's AO semifinal.

=AZARENKA QUARTER=
*POWER RANKINGS*

1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR... while many have seen fit to cover their ears when Vika plays, those of us who have no problem with that area of her game have often had to fight to avoid covering our eyes when Azarenka has gone out on the court in many of her slam matches of late. Of course, no matter how inelegant she's looked at times, especially when she's serving, it's difficult to argue much with her results: two Australian Open titles and two U.S. Open finals in the last four hard court majors. Add in the controversy and "let's-get-Vika" aspects of her recent trips to Melbourne, and the potential for high expectations and still more circus-like circumstances to adversely swirl around her at this AO are high. Her draw, much like the arcs of her past two AO's, will either take her down hard... or make her even stronger. A 3rd Rounder against Jamie Hampton, who nearly upset Vika last year in Melbourne (the American's chronic back injury likely saved Azarenka's skin), and a possible 4th Rounder against Sloane Stephens, who was on the other side of the net during the "VikaGate" medical timeouts fiasco in last year's SF, will test the Belarusian's mettle. Of course, with a 14-match AO win streak, and 26-2 mark in those last four hard court majors, the chances that Vika will once again find a way to prevail seem good.
2. Sloane Stephens, USA... should Stephens be this high? Well, yes. And no. Stephens hasn't shown much consistency since her AO semifinal run last year, but her best results have come on the big slam stages. Her hiring of Paul Annacone as coach is a good sign of her serious intentions, but she arrives in Melbourne with just a couple of Hopman Cup matches under her belt, as well as an injury that kept her out of action since she retired from her third match in Perth. But, put Stephens in the spotlight -- and that's precisely where she'd be in a Round of 16er vs. Vika -- and she might just grow ten feet tall once again Down Under.
3. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL... A-Rad peaked BEFORE the AO last year, winning titles in both Week 1 and 2. This year, she lost in the team Hopman Cup final, then was upset in her opening match in Sydney. So, is she sneaking into Melbourne with something big in mind over the next two weeks? Well, she's not to be underestimated, and she HAS reached the QF the last three years. But she's going to need someone else to do the heavy lifting for her to put on an unexpected title-contending run here. Lucky for her, Azarenka has a few potholes she's going to have to jump over before Aga might face her in the QF. Of course, the path to something great seemed clear for her in London last summer, too... and we know what happened -- or didn't -- there.
THE BRACKET BUSTERS: Jamie Hampton, USA & Sloane Stephens, USA... both Americans could get a second shot at Vika one year after pushing her to the edge -- Hampton more so than Stephens -- in Melbourne. If either one of them were to succeed in knocking out the two-time defending champ, the entire bottom half of the draw is suddenly a wonderland.
THE WILD CARDS: Garbine Muguruza, ESP & Caroline Wozniacki, DEN... Muguruza is a name on the rise, and she's already making waves in '14 with a run to her first final in Hobart. She'll open up in Melbourne with a tough one against Kaia Kanepi, but if she can make her way past that one the Spaniard could snake her way through the draw to the 3rd Round where she'd likely meet the newly-coach hiring, newly-racket endorsing and newly-engaged Dane. It's hard to tell what Caro will bring to this slam, but it's interesting to note that her sliding slam results have dipped less in Melbourne than in any of the other majors, as her best yearly slam result the past three years has come at the AO. An early exit this time around and one might wonder -- even if it's only jokingly -- whether Thomas Hogstedt might need to start watching his back. Of possible note: Muguruza defeated Wozniacki on hard court in Miami last spring.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: Sloane Stephens, USA... even with the past slam stage ease, if Stephens is going to suffer a slam "sophomore slump" in '14 we'll probably get the first inkling of it at this Australian Open, where she'll enter with big points to defend for the first time in her career. Truth is, if things take a turn, she might not last past her 1st Round encounter with Yaroslava Shvedova, or a 3rd Rounder vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.
SIGH, THE POOR "SOUL": The possibility of a Vika-Melbourne "romance"... while it'd be nice to think that Azarenka might be able to win over the Aussie fans and media by the end of this AO, it's not likely to happen. A glacier can't be moved in two weeks time. And, actually, the potential for rematches with Hampton and, especially, Stephens will do Vika no good on this front since, surely, the stands will be packed with vocal supporters of the Americans... if for no other reason, simply because of what happened in the matches a year ago. Sigh.
=In the End...=
Vika, Vika, Vika. But it's a shakier confidence than at the last three hard court slams. Azarenka has quite possibly the toughest early-round draw of any of the title contenders. Her winning her quarter is still the expected result, but it'd be easier to say that without biting the inside of my cheek if I could be assured that she won't have to continue her troubling habit of needing to scratch out one or two wins on "bad," horribly streaky days along the way to the SF/F. Hey, a Backspinner can dream, right?



*AUSTRALIAN OPEN TOP SEEDS - since 2003*
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 (SF)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki (QF)
2013 Victoria Azarenka (W)
2014 Serena Williams

**RECENT WOMEN'S SLAM WINNERS**
2011 RG: Li Na, CHN
2011 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 US: Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2012 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2012 US: Serena Williams, USA
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA

*AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINALS - ACTIVE*
5...Serena Williams (5-0)
3...Maria Sharapova (1-2)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
2...Li Na (0-2)
1...Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)

*RECENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN SEMIFINALISTS*
2005: S.Williams (W) - Davenport (RU) - Dechy/Sharapova
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
2011: Clijsters (W) - Li (RU) - Zvonareva/Wozniacki
2012: Azarenka (W) - Sharapova (RU) - Clijsters/Kvitova
2013: Azarenka (W) - Li (RU) - Stephens/Sharapova

*AUSTRALIAN OPEN GIRLS FINALS - since 2001*
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
2011 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL def. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Taylor Townsend/USA def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Katerina Siniakova/CZE

**BEST AO GIRLS/WOMEN'S RESULTS**
[won Girls & Ladies titles]
Evonne Goolagong (1970 Jr. Champion; 1974-77 Women's Champion)
Chris O'Neil (1973 Jr. Champion; 1978 Women's Champion)
Victoria Azarenka (2005 Jr. Champion; 2012-13 Women's Champion)
[others]
Lindsay Davenport (1992 Jr. Runner-up; 2000 Women's Champion)
Maria Sharapova (2002 Jr. Runner-up; 2008 Women's Champion)

**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT AUSTRALIAN OPEN - OPEN ERA**
1977 Kerry Melville-Reid, AUS
1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
1980 Hana Mandlikova, CZE
1995 Mary Pierce, FRA
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR

*ACTIVE SINGLES PLAYERS - FIRST SLAM FINAL*
1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Australian Open - Li Na
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Agnieszka Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki

*RUSSIAN AUSTRALIAN OPEN SEMIFINALISTS*
1975 Natasha Chmyreva (L)
2005 Maria Sharapova (L)
2006 Maria Sharapova (L)
2007 Maria Sharapova (W)
2008 Maria Sharapova (W)
2009 Elena Dementieva (L), Dinara Safina (W), Vera Zvonareva (L)
2011 Vera Zvonareva (L)
2012 Maria Sharapova (W)
2013 Maria Sharapova (L)

**ALL-TIME AO MATCH WINS - WOMEN**
60...Margaret Court
58...SERENA WILLIAMS

**THREE-PEAT AO CHAMPS IN OPEN ERA - WOMEN**
1969-71 Margaret Court
1974-76 Evonne Goolagong
1988-90 Steffi Graf
1991-93 Monica Seles
1997-99 Martina Hingis

**LOW-SEEDED AO CHAMPIONS - OPEN ERA**
Unseeded - 1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
#7 - 2005 Serena Williams, USA
#5 - 1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
#5 - 2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS
#4 - 1995 Mary Pierce. FRA
#4 - 1997 Martina Hingis, SUI

*SLAM TITLES AFTER AGE 30*
4...Serena Williams (2 at 30, 2 at 31)
3...Martina Navratilova (2 at 30, 1 at 33)
3...Margaret Court (2 at 30, 1 at 31)
2...Billie Jean King (30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert (30 & 31)
1...Virginia Wade (31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30)

*BACK-TO-BACK US/AO TITLES - since 1988*
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1992-93 Monica Seles
1993-94 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis
2002-03 Serena Williams
2003-04 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2008-09 Serena Williams
2010-11 Kim Clijsters

*TOP 4 SEEDS TO SLAM SF - OPEN ERA*
AO (4): 1969,1970,1974,1993
RG (1): 1992
WI (10): 1973,1976,1978,1979,1988,1992,1995,2003,2006,2009
US (1): 1975




=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. Pironkova
#30 Bouchard d. Keys
#4 Li d. V.Williams
#9 Kerber d. #6 Kvitova
#8 Jankovic d. #11 Halep
#3 Sharapova d. Voegele
#5 A.Radwanska d. Muguruza
#2 Azarenka d. #13 Stephens

...nah, Pironkova couldn't bust the bracket wide open. Right? Meanwhile, two North Americans battle for the right to become the second straight teenager to face Williams in the AO quarterfinals. Oh, speaking of... the former teenager who defeated Serena in Melbourne a year ago, but lost to Azarenka in the semis, gets another shot at the Belarusian two rounds earlier. Same result, though... only maybe without the controversy.

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #30 Bouchard
#4 Li d. #9 Kerber
#3 Sharapova d. #8 Jankovic
#2 Azarenka d. #5 A.Radwanska

...Team Genie hopes to kick off 2014 by matching Team Sloane's biggest 2013 feat. It's not likely to happen, but the pre-match storyline would be very juicy. It's been twenty-one years since the Top 4 seeds reached the semis in Melbourne.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 S.Williams d. #4 Li
#2 Azarenka d. #3 Sharapova

...oh, if only Li hadn't dropped to #4 last week, she'd get to face Vika here with a chance to overturn the result of last year's final. But she gets Serena, so...



=FINAL PREDICTION=
#1 S.Williams d. #2 Azarenka

...maybe Vika's ninth match against Serena in a slam will be the charm. But she'll probably just have to feel good about pushing her to three sets in a slam final yet again, narrowly missing out (maybe even after holding a match point?) on the first AO three-peat in fifteen years.

*MEN*
=ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS=
#1 Nadal d. Hewitt
#5 del Potro d. #11 Raonic
#4 Murray d. #21 Kohlschreiber
#10 Tsonga d. #6 Federer
#7 Berdych d. #19 Anderson
#3 Ferrer d. #20 Janowicz
#8 Wawrinka d. #17 Robredo
#2 Djokovic d. #15 Fognini

...if the Nadal/Hewitt match happens, don't be surprised if the Aussie follows up Week 1's win over Federer with one over Rafa, too. If so, everyone will break out the Connors-at-the-1991-US-Open comparisons again... but this time they might just have legs. Meanwhile, down goes Federer.

=QUARTERFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#1 Nadal d. #5 del Potro
#10 Tsonga d. #4 Murray
#7 Berdych d. #3 Ferrer
#2 Djokovic d. #8 Wawrinka

...if the Nadal/JMDP match happens, don't be surprised if the Argentine follows up his Week 2 run in Sydney with another slam win over Rafa, too. If so, everyone will break out the Delpo-at-the-2009-US-Open comparisons again... but this time they might just have legs. Meanwhile, down goes the Scot.

=SEMIFINAL PREDICTIONS=
#10 Tsonga d. #1 Nadal
#2 Djokovic d. #7 Berdych

...if the Nadal/JWT match happens, don't be surprised if the Frenchman follow up his Hopman Cup win with an even bigger win over Rafa, too. If so, everyone will break out the Jo-Willie-at-the-2008-Australian comparisons... and everyone will remember how Tsonga once looked like a future slam winner. Meanwhile, way under the radar, Djokovic extends his overall winning streak to 30 matches and his Melbourne run to 27, reaching his eighth straight hard court major final, and eleventh in the last fourteen slams.

=FINAL PREDICTION=
#2 Djokovic d. #10 Tsonga

...the Serb extends his own Open era record with a fourth straight Australian Open title, with his fifth overall Melbourne crown breaking his tie with Federer for the most during the period (just one behind Roy Emerson's all-time AO mark of six).





I'll include the Q-Awards in the regular "quickie" Backspin Week 2 recap.

All for now.

10 Comments:

Blogger jo shum said...

i am with you todd, looking at vika's draw with a repeat of hampton and stephens, i cannot imagine what the US media is already whispering. need to ocver my ears this time unless i get the eurosports commentators.... not exactly thrilled too with the actual matches, both girls will be eager to play their match of their live to get the spotlight i say. vika, pls be ready, otherwise i have to go to my backup favorite, li to root for her. :o and we will how much vika loves melbourne.

i think both serena and sharapova has nice quarters. some challenges but should be that hard.

pironkova....wow.

Fri Jan 10, 06:10:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

oh i mean 'should not be that hard'

Fri Jan 10, 06:10:00 AM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Hi Todd hope you saw the Sydney final. Brilliant fight and brilliant paled by Pronkova the first qualifier in 3½ years to win a WTA title - her first by the way. Kerber was beaten by her own gameplay.

Fri Jan 10, 06:50:00 AM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Damn those misprints - played of course :(

Fri Jan 10, 06:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zach Herz said...

"The Weeping Angel." Always dangerous, especially lethal in England... I think we have a new nickname :-D

Fri Jan 10, 09:33:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Jo-

Yeah, but the side benefit, if she survives, will be a stronger-than-ever Vika. I guess I can live with that. ;)

Leif-

Yep, I got to see most of it. She looked great in Sydney. And, now, as I always wonder when she plays matches/tournaments -- three Top 10 wins! -- like that: geez, why can't she do that more often??

Zach-

It does sound good, doesn't it? (I didn't even make the England/Wimbledon connection -- I love when that happens!) TWA is it!

I guess as The Radwanska wanes, The Pironkova rises. ;)

Fri Jan 10, 11:40:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Since Konjuh and Siniakova both qualified for the main draw, I will ask when is the last time before this that both girls from the girls final qualified to make the main draw at any slam the next year?

Sat Jan 11, 02:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

colt-

Well, using the things I had on hand, I was able to check back to 2005 and found no other instances when both junior finalists qualified a year later. There were several times then the champion did it, but not both finalists.

Going beyond that point is a project for another day, I'm afraid. ;)

Sat Jan 11, 03:57:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Oh well, maybe one will win and force more talk :)

Odd stat of the day-Since Madison Brengle has been playing better of late, I decided to look at her slam record. Not only does she not have a main draw win, she has attempted to qualify the last 22 slams and has fallen every time. Hopefully she gets that ranking up to the Top 100 by april.

Sat Jan 11, 04:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Wow - she's the AMG of slam qualifying! :D

Sat Jan 11, 05:32:00 PM EST  

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