Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2018 WTA Preview: Prediction Blowout

Well, the new year is nearly here.

It follows another WTA offseason chocked full of the usual wave of coaching changes, doubles duo switcheroos, new sponsorship contracts, engagements, pregnancies, scrambles for Aussie Open wild cards and, in at least one case this year, some additional on-court work on the challenger circuit that may just allow the ol' momentum train to carry over to and through the month-long January journey Down Under to come.

But it all gets washed away in Week 1, as the slate is officially wiped clean as the packaging is ripped off a sparkly-new WTA season. And with that, as always, all things become possible all over again. So, Angie and Aga can finally take a deep breath, and no longer have to *wish* for 2018 to get here, like, sometime last summer.

Within two weeks, we'll be crowning the first WTA champions of 2018, a season which promises to return a few big (slam-winning) names to the tour mix (including one totally unexpected comeback-er -- yes, "La Trufflette" is on the way, five years after her Wimbledon win in '13), as well as giving the breakout stars of last season the opportunity to prove that any "year after" worries are unfounded. Soon, players will overachieve, or disappoint. Some will rise higher than many ever thought they could, or finally do so after years of struggle and/or preparation, while others will see seasons during which they felt they'd achieve their most dearly-held dreams turn into nightmares they never saw coming in the dead of night.

We'll know all those details in due time. But, of course, *now* is when we can pretend that we have all the answers as we make our earnest predictions about who'll succeed (or not) when it comes to all things women's tennis.

First up, gauging the position on the temperature spectrum of 2018's Top 10 contenders.

Seventeen players spent time in the Top 10 last year, fewer than did so in either of the previous two seasons. But the #1 seat was positioned on a virtual merry-go-round, filled by five different women (three of them first-timers), tied for the most since the computer rankings originated in 1975. The spot was swapped out seven different times over the course of 2017, one off the all-time record of exchanges.

Well, buckle in, because "The Story of #1" in 2018 could look very familiar. 2016 #1 Angelique Kerber entered last season with 9080 ranking points, 4844 more than the lowest-ranked (then-#7 Garbine Muguruza) of the four other women who'd ultimately sit atop the weekly standings over the next forty-four weeks. As the new season begins, THIRTY-NINE players are within that same points range behind current #1 Simona Halep, and none of *them* are named Sharapova (the next highest ranked active former #1)... so the theoretical "possible #1 net" may extend ever further down the rankings.

A year after the Top 10 welcomed its first Ukrainian and Latvian, as well as the rare 37-year old, an even more rare Brit sighting, a Bannerette *not* named Williams, two Pastries (for a brief while, at least) and, in another twist, the maiden Swarmette in the top spot, only the Tennis Gods know what'll happen next. And they don't talk to anyone... they'd rather everyone be surprised/shocked by the plotlines they come up with for the new season.

But here are a few of the players, listed in temperature spectrum-ready order as far as the likelihood, from this particular crow's nest, that they'll *still* be in the Top 10 as New Year's Day 2019 stands on our doorstep.

Simona Halep, ROU (2017 #1): we should see pretty quickly whether or not ending the year at #1 and spending an entire offseason atop the rankings (not to mention nabbing the tour's "Fan Favorite" award) has "permanently" fortified the Romanian's confidence. If she could hit the ground running in January (she's had back-to-back 1st Round exits in Melbourne, after QF finishes in 2014-15, and has never won a singles title in Australia) it may just put enough wind in Halep's sails to make coach Darren Cahill's job a whole lot easier, as well as lift her to the sort of grand career heights that have so far eluded her. If not, it'll probably be another season of intense highs and discouraging (though brief) lows, and we'll be hitting the "repeat" button when it comes to previewing her *2019* campaign. As long as she stays healthy, though, the chances for a fifth straight Top 10 (Top 5, actually) season would seem to be as good or better for Si-mo-na as anyone on tour. It's hard to imagine her play could slip enough to knock her out. In fact, since Halep is the official "Heart of Backspin," I sort of have to be "all-in" until proven otherwise. Hint, hint.

Elina Svitolina, UKR (6): the Ukrainian's game, and career, has usually resembled a long, well thought out march to a previously designated destination. Thus far, Svitolina has yet to make the sort of HUGE leap that characterized, say, Alona Ostapenko's slam-winning campaign last year. She's moved up step by step, year by year, since 2013. Her Top 10, then Top 5, ranking (w/ #6 finish) came right on schedule, as did her high Premier event title runs and '17 tour-leading title total. She's yet to make the sort of deep slam run (SF+) that will mark her arrival as a no-asterisks-necessary, the-waiting-game-is-over top tier threat, though (even with all the Top 10 and #1 wins she's already banked). That'll come, most likely this year. Svitolina's career path says a final four slam result is on the agenda in '18. A bit more, say reaching #1 or winning a major, might be considered a case of her taking the rare "extra" step. Will that have to wait until 2019?

Garbine Muguruza, ESP (2): Contrary to her sometimes up-and-down "contact level" on game days on occasion, none of the new twentysomething generation of slam/#1 challengers seems more composed on the big stage than Muguruza. She's beaten BOTH Williams Sisters not only in slams, but in slam FINALS. She's claimed two different majors, as well as multiple major Premier titles on hard court, the only surface on which she's yet to win a slam. Fresh off a season in which she was more consistent in the majors than she's ever been in her career, the Spaniard, if forced to make a choice (though the longtime Backspin "Kuznetsova Curse" precludes such a thing), would probably be the player most likely to end '18 atop the rankings barring the sort of comeback campaign we've become accustomed to from a certain new mother with twenty-three slam crowns already on her resume. Somewhat shockingly, '17 (w/ Wimbledon and Cincinnati wins) was the first season in which Muguruza has won multiple singles crowns. If Garbi indeed is what she seemed to be transforming into by the end of last season then she should match, and likely outpace, that total in the upcoming season, and a Top 10 finish would be as easy as 1-2-3.

Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3): by all rights, the Dane should be in the top tier. But "Wozniology-101" is never an "easy A." Even while ending her '17 season on a high note with a WTA Finals title, Wozniacki has opened herself up to questions about whether or not she'll have the "follow-through" to carry over her momentum to even greater heights in '18. After seeing added aggression instilled into her game style after hiring Sascha Bajin as a co-coach/hitting partner, and pulling off six of her eleven career Top 3 wins (and all three over #1's) during the season, the Dane parted ways with the former Serena/Vika team member at the end of the season. Will she have the mind to continue with the new style aspects that (finally) put a charge into her longtime game, or will she slip back into her old (too) defensive habits? Engaged again, will her focus be as sharply on her tennis as it will need to be to pick up where she left off, and *improve* upon that 2-6 record in finals in '17, when she posted just one QF+ result in a major. There's no reason, as long as she avoids injury, to think Wozniacki will fall off in '18, but it's easy to see changes off the court proving to be a hindrance to lifting her game even higher, which will have to happen if she's going to put the period (or exclamation point) on the end of the concluding sentence of the much more optimistic paragraph she spent last season (re-)writing into her career bio. On the final day of her '17 season, I would have said "yes" to continued elevated success. Now? I'm not ready to say "no," but I'm no longer a "yes"-man, either.

Karolina Pliskova, CZE (4): overall, Pliskova's '17 season was arguably better than her breakthrough '16 campaign. It included more titles and some time in the #1 ranking, but even while the Czech's 1 SF/2 QF overall slam numbers were better than her performance from the previous year, she didn't take that "next step" as she failed to match or best her U.S. Open final berth in any of the majors. Her serve was still, especially in the absence of Serena Williams, the tour's biggest ace producer, but she admittedly struggled to perfect it all season long and it never performed as consistently lethal a weapon. As a result, Pliskova didn't FEEL as impactful a presence on tour in '17 as her stats say she *should* have been (especially with the likes of Serena and Kerber on the sidelines in the latter stages of majors). She seemed a decent bet to win her maiden slam heading into last season, but with quite a few additional contenders in the mix heading into '18 she seems a bit less a good bet to achieve the same this time around. Still, as long as she's got her serve, in either '16 or '17 form, she'll have multiple opportunities to grab the one huge career accomplishment that she still seeks.

Alona Ostapenko, LAT (7): no player burst onto the big-time scene in '17 with more flair and devil-may-care style than Latvian Thunder. Her Roland Garros title run proved to the slam-less players on tour that they, too, could become a major champion if they simply threw everything they had into the task, brushed off errors and immediately jumped head first into the breach at the first opportunity. And, unlike some sudden stars, Ostapenko didn't wilt in the aftermath. She played well at Wimbledon, reaching the QF, won a 4Q title, improved her ranking in the closing weeks of the season, and ended the year by going to Singapore and flashing once again all the don't-blink-because-you-don't-want-to-miss-a-second-of-this entertainment value she'd promised in the spring. She's had a busy offseason. She's been treated like a s-t-a-r, inked her name to many lucrative deals, and hired a new coach (David Taylor). Can Ostapenko back it up again? She'll never be perfect. Her game style won't allow for that. But she hates losing nearly as much (or more?) as she loves winning, and that's never a bad mindset for a player with the sort of weaponry Alona can pull out in the heat of battle, whether she's in the lead or trailing on the scoreboard. Of course, her serve will need to be improved for her to reach her full potential, but she's unquestionably a player to be feared... and one who'll be on the winning side even more often in '18 than she was in '17.

Serena Williams, USA (22): we expect a great deal from Serena, and we should. I mean, she's Serena, after all. But are we jumping the gun a bit to think she'll just pick up right where she left off when she returns after nearly a full year away which included having a daughter and getting married? If it was anyone else, the take-it-slow approach would be the norm, but Williams will surely be picked by many to defend the AO crown in a few weeks that she won a year ago when she was (secretly) already pregnant. And she very well could do it. If not, one would expect she'll return to the slam winner's circle at least once before the end of 2018. She's still Serena, remember. At some point, that'll be a topic about her *past* heroics, not her future ones. But not yet.

Maria Sharapova, RUS (59): by the end of '17 the Russian finally seemed to get a handle on the body stresses of her return from suspension, winning a title and making good progress toward getting back into the Top 50. Whether or not she'll be able to get back to slam-winning form (she hasn't played her most favorable slam, RG, since 2015, remember) is a question, but anything resembling a normal season should bring the Top 10 back into the conversation, as well as a handful of titles.

Venus Williams, USA (5): it's hard to imagine Venus having a *better* season in 2018 than she did in '17, though she *did* somehow fail to win a title during the eleven-month stretch. Still, this year she'll have to defend points from a pair of slam finals, a major semi and a runner-up at the WTAF. And, of course, she'll also turn 38 in the middle of the season, and at some point that'll have to mean that Williams begins to display a more mortal-seeming drop-off in form as she carries on deeper into advanced tennis age. But she proved last year that she still may have another slam run in her, so who's to argue she can't close that particular deal this season?

Ash Barty, AUS (17): the Aussie may turn out to be the player who'll take the biggest wrecking ball to the Top 10 in 2018. Barty's '17 season felt more like a preview of even bigger things to come than simply a nice comeback story from a player who felt the need to bow out of the sport for a while *before* she really saw her career take root on the WTA tour. Aggressive and with a killer instinct, the Barty Party could be this year's Latvian Thunder.

Caroline Garcia, FRA (8): a 2.0 version of the Pastry put together one of the best 4Q runs in recent memory last season, becoming the first to accomplish a Wuhan/Beijing sweep, finishing in the Top 10, and showing all the signs of a player no longer bothered by whispers or shouts from afar nor, more importantly, more personal self-doubt. If THAT Caro returns in '18, Garcia's former Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo might have some company in the pantheon of grand French tennis achievers. But one would expect such a level of play might be a bit difficult to replicate over the course of a long season, so we shouldn't be too disappointed if Garcia simply manages to maintain the position she scrambled into in the fall rather than climb even higher up the WTA ladder. That said, her '17 experiences should at least produce one deep slam run now that the space between her ears has caught up with the rest of her. If not, '18 won't have provided Garcia with the gains she should now expect to come her way.

CoCo Vandeweghe, USA (10): Vandeweghe proved to be a big stage player in 2017, reaching two slam semis and leading the U.S. to a first Fed Cup title in a generation. Consistency in the "regular" tour events remains elusive, but the seeming good fit with coach Pat Cash should be expected to gradually bring that into the mix, as well. CoCo's '18 season very well could prove to produce fewer HUGE headline-worthy finishes (though she's likely got a few of those in her, too -- she's got three legit slam final opportunities, two on hard court, on which she's already reached a pair of SF, as well as on her *best* surface, grass), but with more solid overall results that allow her a chance to match the Top 10 finish she only barely achieved at the end of '17.

Belinda Bencic, SUI (finished #165, now #74): Bencic seemed on tap for a quick rebound from an injury-plagued (back) '16, and last year's Blowout had her as a likely Top 10er with her first slam semifinal. 2017 turned out to be even more injury-riddled, leading to wrist surgery and a brief fall outside the Top 300. But, finally healthy, Bencic worked her Swiss tail off in the fall, lifting her official season-ending ranking an additional ninety-one spots with three straight title runs in WTA 125 and $100K events, finishing on a 15-match winning streak. She's now set for the AO main draw, and maybe the long-awaited and predicted move into the sort of top level group that her junior career, Fed Cup debut and '15 title run in Toronto more than hinted was in her future. If she can stay on the court, this season should prove to be Bencic's better-slightly-later-than-expected-than-never time to shine.

Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (11): Kiki's exciting game led to her being one of the most in-form players in the opening months of 2017, winning her maiden title and reaching multiple finals. After an injury at Wimbledon (which wasn't bad enough to keep her off tour) she seemed to totally lose confidence and ultimately ended the season on a shocking twelve-match losing streak. If seeing Garcia improve so much and actually pass her by isn't enough to get the Pastry back on her game, then she's not the player she so loudly professes herself to be. As aggravating as she can be off court, few are as talented on it as Mladenovic. I suspect she'll bounce back quite well.

Petra Kvitova, CZE (29): the Czech is still coming back from the emergency hand surgery that saved her career last December, but after her '17 campaign was more about the notion that she was back at all than how much she won, in '18 she'll be more expected to string together the sort of good results she was able to occasionally post after her return last year.

10 days of fitness training ?

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Julia Goerges, GER (14): was last year the "career year" that the German won't likely be able to match in the season in which she'll turn 30, or is she the latest veteran who'll make this period of her career the most productive and lucrative of her entire time on tour? She finally broke through the tape in the closing weeks of '17, winning her first titles since 2011 and achieving a career-high ranking. But the balance of her career has been marked by inconsistency, so it'd be no surprise to see a slight slip (possibly after a Top 10 run) back into the #20's this season.

Jo Konta, GBR (9): after what was essentially her "biggest" season (which included a Wimbledon SF and Top 5 ranking), Konta's form slipped after she entered into "stardom" territory in the late summer and fall, as she posted just one QF after SW19. She parted ways with Wim Fissette in October, with Michael Joyce (formerly w/ Sharapova and Azarenka) joining the team this offseason. No steep drop off should be anticipated in '18, but the thought here is that Konta will have a hard time fighting off the horde of Top 10 contenders breathing down her neck, finishing between #11-15 once the dust has settled next fall.

Sloane Stephens, USA (13): hmmm, is there trouble brewing in Future Sloaneville? After missing the first half of the season with a foot injury, then starting slowly before catching fire in North America, Stephens was a non-factor after winning the U.S. Open, and struggled to get out of her own way in the Fed Cup final, nearly costing Team USA the title. Now, a suddenly lingering knee injury has put her out of Brisbane, meaning her prep for Melbourne doesn't look great. She's got half a season (and 4Q) without any points to defend in '18, so a return to the Top 10 would seem a certainty. Finishing the year there, though, is another question entirely if The Future is only a New York state of mind.

Madison Keys, USA (19): wrist issues played havoc with Keys' season last year, but she still managed a big title (she'll be the last champ in Stanford, which will now be forced to move after a change in university policy regarding title-sponsored events) and her maiden slam final berth. Until she goes multiple months without wrist soreness, though, it's hard to *expect* a *full* season of high level (and Top 10 rank producing) results from her.

Aga Radwanska, POL (28): not much went right for Aga on the court in '17, her first title-less, non-Top 10 season since 2010. Her season ending ranking was her lowest in a decade. With the rise of Generation PDQ, and the addition of still more power players and lingering (or late blooming) vets at the top of the rankings, the Pole's time to slip in a maiden slam title looks like it may have finally hit 00:00. Just contending for the Top 10 again might be a stretch.

Aryna Sabalenka, BLR (78): looking for an Ostapenko-like smash who might shock the world and obliterate -- Kool-Aid Man style -- a slam wall? Maybe Sabalenka will be ready for such a star turn. Her Fed Cup heroics looked to be just scratching the surface, but can she maintain control of her powerful, though oft-wild, game long enough for a deep run at a major? Oh, the kingdom for an Alona-vs.-Aryna tilt soon... pretty please?


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Naomi Osaka, JPN (68): once the successful (though brief) Wozniacki partnership with Bajin was declared over, "Big Sascha" was the intriguing, ultimate "big fish" coaching free agent of the offseason. Ultimately, he landed in the boat of one of the most intriguingly talented prospects on tour. Powerful and with more personality than consistency at the moment, Osaka is a diamond that could prove to be HUGE if someone can find a way to polish her game to its potentially shiniest form. It may never FULLY happen, but Bajin, in his first solo coaching gig, now gets a chance to help make it happen. If Osaka can "pinish," their teaming could prove to be one of the biggest stories of 2018.

Angelique Kerber, GER (21): try as she might -- she'd seemingly get close, but then would fail to replicate her old aggressive and gritty form in consecutive matches/events -- Kerber couldn't get back to where she'd been in '16 last year, producing the biggest non-injury/retirement related year-after ranking fall for a season-ending #1 in tour history. She's switched coaches (Torben Beltz to Wim Fissette), but will it be enough to reverse her recent fate? The German was a late bloomer, but maybe the full bloom has already fallen off for good for the soon-to-be 30-year old. [Beltz, by the way, has joined up with Donna Vekic.]

Dasha Kasatkina, RUS (24): the Russian's game means she generally has to work very hard to reach her top level, but she has the will to do it. She produced some of her best results in '17, but sacrificed consistency along the way. Bridging the gap between the two will tell the difference between whether she'll be a player who can contend for deep slam runs, or if she'll simply be a constant "regular tour" threat who spends her career ranked between #11-20. If she's to follow a Svitolina-like pattern, she may still be a few seasons away from providing a definitive answer regarding where she'll end up.

Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (12): always a wild card. Forever and ever, amen. The Hordette is already out of the AO with a wrist injury. As usual, Sveta defies the very notion of prediction.

Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (39): she'd put together back-to-back career years before a wrist injury sent her free-falling last season. The desire is still there, though, so she refuses to be counted out.

I have the right lo play left ????

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Victoria Azarenka, BLR (208): oh, Vika. It's easy to forget that it was only 2016 when she won the "Sunshine Double" in Indian Wells & Miami. It's an accomplishment recent enough to still be relevant, but it'll be a two-year old run come this spring, a period during most of which Azarenka hasn't played. A custody battle for her son sidelined her during the final third of '17, and looks to already be putting limits on 2018. She's pulled out of Auckland, and now seems unlikely to be able to use her AO wild card. She'll play, eventually... but the exit of coach Michael Joyce, as well as the failure of Bajin to return to the fold, is likely a sign that Vika's presence on tour this season will continue to be up in the air for an indefinite period of time. On the bright side, maybe it means she'll have a healthy late-career, post-30 "I've-still-got-something-to-prove" run that will stretch out longer than might have otherwise been the case for the oft-injured Belarusian. Optimism wherever you can find it, I guess, right?

AUS: Ash Barty
BLR: Aryna Sabalenka
CAN: Bianca Andreescu
CHN: Zhang Shuai
CRO: Ana Konjuh
CZE: Karolina Pliskova
FRA: Caroline Garcia
GER: Angelique Kerber
IND: Karman Thandi
ITA: Sara Errani
JPN: Naomi Osaka
KAZ: Zarina Diyas
MEX: Marcela Zacarias
RUS: Maria Sharapova
South America: Beatriz Haddad Maia, BRA
SRB: Aleksandra Krunic
SUI: Belinda Bencic
SWE: Rebecca Peterson
TUR: Ipek Soylu
USA: Serena Williams

FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 10 JUMPS (i.e. not necessarily season-ending): Ash Barty/AUS, Julia Goerges/GER
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 20 JUMPS: Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Anett Kontaveit/EST, Elise Mertens/BEL, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Laura Siegemund/GER
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 50 JUMPS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Jennifer Brady/USA, Duan Yingying/CHN, Jana Fett/CRO, Viktorija Golubic/SUI, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS, Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
FIRST-TIME IN-SEASON TOP 100 JUMPS: Franckie Abanda/CAN, Destanee Aiava/AUS, Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Amanda Anisimova/USA, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Kayla Day/USA, Dalma Galfi/HUN, Miyu Kato/JPN, Sonya Kenin/USA, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Rebecca Sramkova/SVK, Wang Yafan/CHN, Maryna Zanevska/BEL

(L to R) Ostapenko, Kasatkina, Bencic, Vondrousova, Barty, Vekic, Osaka and Kontaveit

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR: Destanee Aiava/AUS, Anna Blinkova/RUS, Jaimee Fourlis/AUS, Jiang Xinyu/Tang Qianhui (CHN)(d), Sonya Kenin/USA, Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK, Vera Lapko/BLR, Antonia Lottner/GER, Anastasia Potapova/RUS, Dayana Yastremska/UKR, Sofya Zhuk/RUS
MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Julia Boserup/USA, Naomi Broady/GBR, Oceane Dodin/FRA, Duan Yingying/CHN, Jana Fett/CRO, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Wang Qiang/CHN, Carina Witthoeft/GER

Crazy photo??why not?!???????????

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SURPRISE PLAYERS: Storm Sanders/AUS (d), Bianca Andreescu/Carson Branstine (CAN)(d), Gao Xinyu/CHN, Han Xinyun/CHN, Dalila Jakupovic/SLO, Ivana Jorovic/SRB, Miyu Kato/JPN, Rebecca Peterson/SWE, Rebecca Sramkova/SVK
COMEBACKS: Australian FC Team, Belinda Bencic/SUI, Magarita Gasparyan/RUS, Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (d), Anna Karolina Schmiedova/SVK, Laura Siegemund/GER, Ajla Tomljanovic/CRO-AUS, Taylor Townsend/USA, Jordanne Whiley/GBR (WC)

Relax and #MeetMeAtTheNet ?? #GameSetMattek ??

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ITF ACHIEVERS: Kayla Day/USA, Irina Khromacheva/RUS, Rebeka Masarova/SUI, Marta Paigina/RUS, Rebecca Sramkova/SVK, Katerina Stewart/USA, Iga Swiatek/POL, Maryna Zanevska/BEL, Sofya Zhuk/RUS
NAMES TO WATCH IN THE JUNIOR SLAMS: Maria Carle/ARG, Olga Danilovic/SRB, Coco Gauff/USA, Kaja Juvan/SLO, Sofya Lansere/RUS, Ann Li/USA, Alexa Noel/USA, Maria Camila Osorio Serrano/COL, Simona Waltert/SUI, Wang Xinyu/CHN
NCAA CHAMPION: Ingrid Neel, Florida [to watch: Ashley Lahey/PEPPERDINE, Sinead Lohan/MIAMI, Ena Shibahara/UCLA]


In good hands @simonahalep 😊

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FIRST-TIME SLAM SEMIFINALISTS: Ash Barty/AUS, Caroline Garcia/FRA, Elina Svitolina/UKR
FIRST-TIME SLAM QUARTERFINALISTS: Ash Barty/AUS, Julia Goerges/GER, Dasha Kasatkina/RUS, Anett Kontaveit/EST, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
FIRST-TIME SLAM ROUND OF 16's: Ash Barty/AUS, CiCi Bellis/USA, Jana Fett/CRO, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Aryna Sabelenka/BLR, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Laura Siegemund/GER, Katerina Siniakova/CZE, Donna Vekic/CRO, Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
FIRST-TIME WTA CHAMPIONS: CiCi Bellis/USA, Jana Fett/CRO, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Tatjana Maria/GER, Naomi Osaka/JPN, Yulia Putintseva/KAZ, Shelby Rogers/USA, Aryna Sabalenka/BLR, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS

FIRST-TIME WTA FINALISTS: Ekaterina Alexandrova/RUS, Bianca Andreescu/CAN, CiCi Bellis/USA, Jennifer Brady/USA, Jana Fett/CRO, Ons Jabeur/TUN, Tatjana Maria/GER, Maria Sakkari/GRE, Wang Qiang/CHN

All right. Now for some additional notions that I can look back on eleven months from now with a smile or, quite likely, a more-than-a-little incredulous, fully Ostapenkoistic, "nonverbal articulation" in recognition of dubious accomplishment.

Yeah, like that one.

Serena Williams wins (at least) one major crown, matching (or surpassing) Margaret Court's all-time mark of 24
World #1 Simona Halep wins three singles titles, and for the first time in her career reaches at least the Round of 16 at all four slams in a season
Alona Ostapenko wins her first career Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 title, and reaches the singles Top 3. She posts wins over two different #1's on the season, and has at least one SF-or-better result at a major.

Garbine Muguruza becomes the first non-Williams/Sharapova/Belgian to win a third career major title since Jennifer Capriati (AO '02) and reclaims the #1 ranking from Halep, but she doesn't match her '17 feat of 4th Round-or-better results at all four majors
Elina Svitolina notches wins over at least two different #1's for a third consecutive season and has 10+ Top 10 wins for a second straight year. She picks up her fourth & fifth career Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 titles.
Petra Kvitova returns to the Top 10, and wins two singles titles
Caroline Wozniacki leads the tour in singles titles, but fails to advance beyond the QF in a slam. The Dane returns to #1 for the first time since 2012, but doesn't finish 2018 there.
Venus Williams wins two singles titles and reaches another slam final
Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic meet in a singles final. For the season, Kiki (1-3 in '17) posts a winning record in finals, while Garcia has the worse winning percentage in finals of the two Pastries, but ultimately claims more singles titles in '18.
Maria Sharapova returns to the Top 10 and wins three singles titles
Julia Goerges wins a Premier 5 title
Sloane Stephens wins one title and reaches two slam QF, but finishes the season outside the Top 15
Karolina Pliskova finally reaches her first QF at Wimbledon, as well as the SF at another slam
Jo Konta wins two or more hard court titles, but has just one QF+ result at a major
Ash Barty sweeps the S/D titles at at least one event, and wins two+ Premier level singles titles
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wins one singles title (a successful title defense), but ends '17 outside the Top 20
CoCo Vandeweghe wins her biggest career title (any Premier). She leads Team USA back to the Fed Cup final, but the Bannerettes fail to repeat.
The Czechs reclaim the Fed Cup championship
Madison Keys wins just one title. She has no slam QF+ results, but reaches the Round of 16 at at least two majors. She ends '18 as no better than the fourth-highest ranked U.S. woman.
Belinda Bencic returns to the Top 15, and wins two or more tour-level titles. The Swiss reaches at least one slam QF, and posts multiple victories over Top 2 players (one at #1) in a season for the first time.
Laura Siegemund's return from knee surgery results in two clay court singles titles

Angelique Kerber wins her first singles title since the '16 season, and pulls off her second career #1 win (the other was over Serena in the '16 AO final)
Aga Radwanska wins her first title since '16, but does not return to the Top 10
Sorana Cirstea wins her first tour-level singles title since 2008
Francesca Schiavone wins a clay court title, and returns to the Top 75
Margarita Gasparyan returns to the Top 150 following knee injury, reaches a tour-level QF (or better), and qualifies at a slam
Vera Zvonareva climbs back into the Top 75, posts her first Top 10 win since 2011, and reaches a slam Round of 16
Genie Bouchard wins two WD titles, but never posts better than a tour-level QF in singles. She falls outside the Top 100, and at some point is the third-ranked Canadian before 4Q results lift her back to second.
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova reaches a tour-level singles semifinal
The longest women's slam match ever is played (with or w/o Kuznetsova and/or Schiavone)
At least one Career Doubles Slam is completed (Makarova/Vesnina need an AO title, while Mattek-Sands/Safarova are a Wimbledon short)
2018 SLAM SINGLES FINALISTS: (2) Muguruza, (1 each) S.Williams, V.Williams, Halep, Ostapenko, Vandeweghe and Sharapova or Kvitova
2018 SLAM DOUBLES TITLES: (2) Mattek-Sands/Safarova, (1 each) Makarova/Vesnina and Siniakova & *someone* (likely Hradecka or Krejcikova)

#tbt #horseshoebend #nofilter #naturelover #teambucie ???????

A post shared by Lucie Safarova (@lucie.safarova) on

2018 SLAM MIXED DOUBLES TITLES: (1 each) Timea Babos, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, CoCo Vandeweghe
A South American girl reaches a junior slam singles final for the first time since 2008 (U.S.: Gabriela Paz/VEN). The last winner from the continent was Maria-Emilia Salerni (ARG) at the 2000 U.S. Open. Three South Americans -- Emiliana Arango, Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Maria Carle -- ranked between #9-13 in the season-ending 2017 junior rankings.
Name you'll be more familiar with by the end of 2018: Viktoria Kuzmova
2018 Wheelchair singles slam titles: Diede de Groot and Yui Kamiji with two each. Kamiji wins Wimbledon, making her the first woman to have won all eight WC slam crowns. (A mark de Groot matches by the end of 2019, though she comes one match from doing it *this* season -- she currently owns the Wimbledon WS and U.S Open WD titles.)
Breakout '18 Fed Cup stars: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE and Rebecca Sramkova/SVK
Name Game: Belgium's Eliessa Vanlangendonck wins her first ITF singles and doubles titles

Of course, I could be waaaaaay off.

Well, that's it. We'll see how smart, or stupid, I look *this* year beginning very soon.

2002 Venus Williams, USA
2003 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Lindsay Davenport/USA, Eleni Daniilidou/GRE (co-PoW)
2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2007 Dinara Safina, RUS
2008 Li Na, CHN
2009 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA
2015 Maria Sharapova/RUS, Simona Halep/ROU (co-PoW)
2016 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE

**CAREER WEEK 1 TITLES - active**
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
2...Aga Radwanska, POL
2...Patty Schnyder, SUI
2...Serena Williams, USA
2...Venus Williams, USA
1...Marion Bartoli, FRA
1...Lauren Davis, USA
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
1...Kaia Kanepi, EST
1...Petra Kvitova, CZE
1...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1...Lucie Safarova, CZE
1...Maria Sharapova, RUS
1...Katerina Siniakova, CZE
1...Sloane Stephens, USA
1...Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
NOTE: Srebotnik won 1 singles title; Zheng Jie won 1 singles title

9...Serena Williams, USA
4...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3...Eleni Daniilidou, GRE
3...Patty Schnyder, SUI
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
2...Aga Radwanska, POL
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Venus Williams, USA
NOTE: Zheng Jie won 2 singles titles

=2014 Week 2=
Tsvetana Pironkova/Sydney, Garbine Muguruza/Hobart
=2017 Week 1=
Katerina Siniakova/Shenzhen, Lauren Davis/Auckland

2006 Marion Bartoli (Auckland) - first final
2009 Victoria Azarenka (Brisbane) - had been 0-4 in finals
2017 Katerina Siniakova (Shenzhen) - had been 0-2 in finals
2017 Lauren Davis (Auckland) - had been 0-2 in finals

Silvija Talaja/Gold Coast
Anne Kremer/Auckland
Katerina Siniakova/Shenzhen
Lauren Davis/Auckland

**FINAL 2017 GIRLS TOP 10**
1. Whitney Osuigwe, USA
2. Marta Kostyuk, UKR
3. Elena Rybakina, RUS
4. Claire Liu, USA
5. Wang Winyu, CHN
6. Olga Danilovic, SRB
7. Liang En Shuo, TPE
8. Amanda Anisimova, USA
9. Emiliana Arango, COL
10. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, COL

Last season began with a star turn bang (x 2), as two maiden singles champions (Katerina Siniakova and Lauren Davis) were crowned in Week 1 for the first time since 2000. What will Act 1, Scene 1 of 2018 bring us?

2009 Azarenka d. Bartoli
2010 Clijsters d. Henin
2011 Kvitova d. Petkovic
2012 Kanepi d. Hantuchova
2013 S.Williams d. Pavlyuchenkova
2014 S.Williams d. Azarenka
2015 Sharapova d. Ivanovic
2016 Azarenka d. Kerber
2017 Ka.Pliskova d. Cornet
2009 Groenefeld/King d. Jans/Rosolska
2010 Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Czink/Parra-Santonja
2011 Kleybanova/Pavlyuchenkova d. Jans/Rosolska
2012 Llagostera-Vives/Parra-Santonja d. Kops-Jones/Spears
2013 Mattek-Sands/Mirza d. Groenefeld/Peschke
2014 Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova d. Mladenovic/Voskoboeva
2015 Hingis/Lisicki d. Garcia/Srebotnik
2016 Hingis/Mirza d. Kerber/Petkovic
2017 Mattek-Sands/Mirza d. Makarova/Vesnina
WS: Muguruza/Ka.Pliskova
WD: Y.Chan/Sestini Hlavackova, Klepac/Martinez Sanchez

...Pliskova tries to defend the title she won a year ago, while Mugu seeks her first January title since her maiden win in Hobart in 2014. As of last year, seven of the nine Brisbane singles champions have also won slam titles (as have five of the runners-ups). To date, though, Pliskova is not one of them. Muguruza enters '18 just 40 points behind #1 Halep on the WTA computer.

SHENZHEN, CHINA (International/Hard)
2013 Li d. Zakopalova
2014 Li d. Peng
2015 Halep d.Bacsinszky
2016 A.Radwanska d. Riske
2017 Siniakova d. Riske
2013 H.Chan/Y.Chan d. Buryachok/Solovyeva
2014 Niculescu/Zakopalova d. L.Kichenok/N.Kichenok
2015 L.Kichenok/N.Kichenok d. Liang Chen/Wang Yafan
2016 King/Niculescu d. Xu Yifan/Zheng Saisai
2017 Hlavackova/Peng d. Olaru/Savchuk
WS: Halep/Ostapenko
WD: Krejcikova/Siniakova, Olaru/Savchuk

...could we possibly be lucky enough to get a '17 RG final reboot in China between Halep and Ostapenko? Both have been in the news this offseason. New year-end #1 Halep ended Aga Radwanska's run by claiming the WTA's "Fan Favorite" award, but nonetheless was unable to reach a new agreement with main sponsor adidas (you'd think the Romanian's higher standing might make it easier to get a raise, but no). She's currently a rather high profile "free agent," a situation that could prove to be a boon for her former sponsor, Lacoste... though one wonders if Nike might try to swoop in and sweep her off her feet. Speaking of such, Ostapenko has (literally) been dancing up a storm since the end of the season.

She's also been acquiring new big-time sponsors on a regular basis, as well as getting some time in a Air Baltic cockpit *and* flight simulator.

Are designs for worldwide calamity brewing inside Latvian Thunder next? Hmmm, what would that look like?

Yeah, maybe something like that.

Also, not insignificantly, Alona also added David Taylor as her (early-season, at least) coach for '18. That's quite a bit of off-court activity for Latvian Thunder. Hopefully, it won't lead to a slow start *on* it.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (International/Hard)
1986 Hobbs d. Field
1987 Magers d. Phelps
1988 Fendick d. Gomer
1989 Fendick d. Cordwell
1990 Meskhi d. Appelmans
1991 Sviglerova d. Strnadova
1992 White d. Strnadova
1993 Reinach d. Kuhlman
1994 Helgeson-Nielsen d. Gorrochategui
1995 Bradtke d. Helgeson-Nielsen
1996 Cacic d. Paulus
1997 Maruska d. Wiesner
1998 van Roost d. Farina Elia
1999 Halard-Decugis d. van Roost
2000 Kremer d. C.Black
2001 Tu d. Suarez
2002 Smashnova d. T.Panova
2003 Daniilidou d. Cho Yoon-jeong
2004 Daniilidou d. Harkleroad
2005 Srebotnik d. Asagoe
2006 Bartoli d. Zvonareva
2007 Jankovic d. Zvonareva
2008 Davenport d. Rezai
2009 Dementieva d. Vesnina
2010 Wickmayer d. Pennetta
2011 Arn d. Wickmayer
2012 Zheng Jie d. Pennetta
2013 A.Radwanska d. Wickmayer
2014 Ivanovic d. V.Williams
2015 V.Williams d. Wozniacki
2016 Stephens d. Goerges
2017 Davis d. Konjuh
1996 Callens/Halard-Decugis d. Hetherington/Radford
1997 Husarova/van Roost d. Olsza/Pampoulova
1998 Miyagi/Tanasugarn d. Halard-Decugis/Husarova
1999 Farina/Schett d. Noorlander/Weingartner
2000 C.Black/Fusai d. Schwartz/Wartusch
2001 Fusai/Grande d. Gagliardi/Schett
2002 Arendt/Huber d. Hrdlickova (Peschke)/Nagyova
2003 Ashley/Spears d. C.Black/Likhovtseva
2004 Jugic-Salkic/Kostanic d. Ruano Pascual/Suarez
2005 Asagoe/Srebotnik d. Baker/Lubiani
2006 Likhovtseva/Zvonareva d. Loit/Strycova
2007 Husarova/Suarez d. Hsieh Su-wei/S.Uberoi
2008 Koryttseva/Osterloh d. Muller/Zahlavova-Strycova
2009 Dechy/Santangelo d. Llagostera-Vives/Parra-Santonja
2010 C.Black/Huber d. Grandin/Granville
2011 Peschke/Srebotnik d. Arvidsson/Erakovic
2012 Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Goerges/Pennetta
2013 C.Black/An.Rodionova d. Goerges/Shvedova
2014 Fichman/M.Sanchez d. Hradecka/Krajicek
2015 Errani/Vinci d. Aoyama/Voracova
2016 Mertens/Mestach d. Kovinic/Strycova
2017 Bertens/Larsson d. Schuurs/Voracova
WS: Wozniacki/Goerges
WD: Hozumi/Kato, Hibino/Jurak

...Wozniacki ended '17 with a title run at the WTA Finals (and had another 4Q win in Tokyo), while Goerges won nine straight by winning in Moscow and Zhuhai. The newly-engaged Dane is now without Sascha Bajin in her camp, but an aggressive (and successful) start to the new season will do much for her chances of reclaiming the #1 ranking for the first time in six years.

HOPMAN CUP; PERTH, AUS (team exhibition/retractable roof)
1989 Czechoslovakia (Sukova/Mecir)
1990 Spain (A.Sanchez/E.Sanchez)
1991 Yugoslavia (Seles/Prpic)
1992 Switzerland (Maleeva-Fragniere/Hlasek)
1993 Germany (Graf/Stich)
1994 Czech Republic (Novotna/Korda)
1995 Germany (A.Huber/Bo.Becker)
1996 Croatia (Majoli/Ivanisevic)
1997 United States (Gimelstob/Rubin)
1998 Slovak Republic (Habsudova/Kucera)
1999 Australia (Dokic/Philippoussis)
2000 South Africa (Coetzer/W.Ferreira)
2001 Switzerland (Hingis/Federer)
2002 Spain (Sanchez-Vicario/Robredo)
2003 United States (S.Williams/Blake)
2004 United States (Davenport/Blake)
2005 Slovak Republic (Hantuchova/Hrbaty)
2006 United States (Raymond/Dent)
2007 Russia (Petrova/Tursunov)
2008 United States (S.Williams-Shaughnessy/Fish)
2009 Slovak Republic (Cibulkova/Hrbaty)
2010 Spain (Martinez-Sanchez/Robredo)
2011 United States (Mattek-Sands/Isner)
2012 Czech Republic (Kvitova/Berdych)
2013 Spain (Medina-Garrigues/Verdasco)
2014 France (Cornet/Tsonga)
2015 Poland (A.Radwanska/Janowicz)
2016 Australia Green (Gavrilova/Kyrgios)
2017 France (Mladenovic/Gasquet)
1 GER (Kerber/A.Zverev)
3 BEL (Mertens/Goffin)
6 CAN (Bouchard/Pospisil)
8 AUS (Gavrilova/Kokkinakis)
2 USA (Vandeweghe/Sock)
4 RUS (Pavlyuchenkova/Khachanov)
5 JPN (Osaka/Sugita)
7 SUI (Bencic/Federer)

...a year ago, Mladenovic kicked off her great early-season run with a win in Perth. There will be no title defense, as France isn't in this year's competition, though last year's runner-up U.S. duo of Vandeweghe & Sock return. Of course, the big drawing cards here are Bencic/Federer, who return as a pair a year after Bencic's three-set loss to Mladenovic (and doubles defeat w/ Fed vs. Kiki/Gasquet) prevented the Swiss from advancing from round robin play into the final. Bencic ended 2017 on a 15-match winning streak in WTA 125 and $100K events, compiling a 28-3 overall mark after her September return to action following wrist surgery and raising her ranking from #312 to #74 to secure entry into the AO MD without the aid of a wild card. Federer won the title seventeen years ago with Martina Hingis. Meanwhile, Dasha Gavrilova, playing with Kokkinakis after winning in '16 with Kyrgios, is the only other former HC champ in the field.

Ready, set... play.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

I don't think your predictions look that off the mark; I rather like them. I especially like the idea of Julia winning her first premier 5. And of course, Schmiedy's getting to a tour semifinal. It hasn't been the same without her--and her backhand.

Tue Dec 26, 11:10:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

She's done her penance on the ITF tour, and finally turned back the slide... it's time to see Schmiedy back where she belongs. ;)

Wed Dec 27, 12:09:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

This year is going to be nuts. Most likely first time Grand Slam winners in order-Gavrilova, Halep, Vandeweghe, Pliskova. Ironically, I was going with the theory that since Sharapova won the French in 2014, nobody except Serena has won their 3rd or more, then see you picked Muguruza(who is a threat at all 4, but a favorite at both the French and Wimbledon). Honorable mention goes to Svitolina, still in the penalty box, and Konta.

Stat of the Week-22- Amount of US tournaments in 1978.

An odd topic to start with, but I will explain. You see, it is snowing as I write this, yet there was tennis played back in the day even in winter.

Similar to now, 4 of the first 6 events were in Australia. But once the calendar turned to January, they played 12 events in a row in the US on carpet, 11 regular, plus the YEC at the end of March.

The spring abandoned the US as the Family Circle Cup was the only event in the April-July stretch. Then 9 more from Aug-Nov, including the flagship US Open.

One fun and weird fact from that season? Goolagong Cawley won in week 1, then won the AO. That could happen this year. But what wont? The fact that 18 of the first 19 tournaments involved a finalist from the host country.

Thu Dec 28, 12:24:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

And how many first-time major winners will there be? I think we could get two again. I’m kind of feeling it for Plishy in 2018. I was feeling it strongly for Konta, but now it’s wait and see with her. But if her health holds up, I think she’ll do it.

Thu Dec 28, 04:56:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

At this point, as long as Serena doesn't return to full-season dominant form (and maybe even if that *did* happen, considering RG), we're probably in a multi-season stretch where we can rightly assume one first-timer, so I'd stick with that number. Of course, we had two last year, but I'm not sure we were expecting Stephens to get close to grabbing the Open, even half-way through last summer's schedule.

Of course, I went with Halep. It *could* happen, but I admit that's a "hope pick" first and foremost. I'd surely include the likes of Pliskova and Vandeweghe in the mix, too, along with (maybe) Garcia and Svitolina (waiting for that SF first). As Ostapenko-like wild cards I'd go with someone like Barty (over fellow Aussie Dasha, which I'm assuming, Colt, that you're thinking as having a shot at the AO maybe, or maybe Paris?) or even, in a crazy run, someone like a Sabalenka.

For me, it just feels like Gavrilova would overwhelm herself if she got *real* close to the latter stages of a major. That would be a wild slam, though, if it happened.

Watch Pliskova go and win Wimbledon, where she's had such disappointing results despite her good grass results elsewhere. It'd be so Czechy of her, you know?

Thu Dec 28, 05:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

You are right, Gavrilova at the AO is the most likely choice.

The thought process behind it is this, Daria is 5-5, and the smaller Jr Champs take longer to break through. Just as NBA rookies struggle because they have gone from playing boys to men, the smaller women have to go and find ways other than power to win. Takes longer that way. Seemed like it took Halep forever, but it was only 6 yrs between her Jr title and French open final. If Gavrilova reaches one this year, it will have been 8. Plus she is better than anyone in the game at taking the ball on the run inside the court and going crosscourt.

Barty's breakouts should come in premiers. physically, she reminds me of Sanchez Vicario, so a big hitter who is on will be the favorite, but she can grind others down. Top 10 is possible, plus I don't expect Barty/Dellacqua to last all year,because of her breakout, not dissention.

Thu Dec 28, 06:20:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, the '18 season has officially begun. No, not because we've had Q-round results in Brisbane (oh, Petko), but because the new WTA/ATP Media Guide has arrived at Backspin HQ BEFORE January 1. Hey, Si-mo-na. ;)

(Oh so many pages to peruse through now.)

Fri Dec 29, 04:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Something I just realized from looking through the Media Guide: when Jana Novotna died she became the first women's singles champ of the Open era (since 1968) to pass away, and just the third overall, preceded (by over 20 years) only by Arthur Ashe (1993 - AIDS-related pneumonia) and Vitas Gerulaitis (1994 - carbon monoxide poisoning).

Fri Dec 29, 09:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

That’s one of those things I guess I “knew” without being aware that I knew it. It makes Novotna’s death even more of a shock, I think. I mean, it’s so strange to write the words, “Novotna’s death.” So sad.

Sat Dec 30, 12:20:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It was nice to see that in the most recent Sports Illustrated year-end "In Memoriam" section, Novotna's listing was accompanied by a photo. Even with the recent appearances of tennis-related SI covers (w/ Federer and Sloane), such a thing for a tennis player was never a given there. I hope the AELTC does *something* this summer, considering it will be the 20th anniversary of her win.

Sat Dec 30, 12:43:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

The premiers are back(Brisbane), so is the Up Side returns.

5 On the Up Side

1.Muguruza-Has reached slam finals the last 3 years, and seems on track to make it 4. Leads this because she is the #1 seed at Brisbane.
2.Halep-Also a #1 seed this week, has the distinction of being one of the more inexperienced #1's at the beginning of a season. Henin won the YEC in 2006, but didn't play any matches as #1 until 2007. Ironically, the first time she was #1 in 2003, she held it for a week, dropped it for 2, then got it at the end of the year, starting 2004 with a whopping 4 matches as #1-same as Halep.
3.Wozniacki-Another #1 seed, as you go with the theory that healthy talent wins early. This where I mention that last year's first week was won by a 3 seed and 2 unseeded players. But a more mature Caroline should handle her engagement better this time around.
4.Mladenovic-It's a new year, it's a new day. Already lost, which brings up the joke-What do Kristina Mladenovic and the Cleveland Browns have in common? Neither one won in Cincinnati last year. The Browns went 0-16, and Mladenovic is now 0 for her last 13, but she's close.
5.Bencic-Only thing missing from her end of the season run was Top 50 wins. If she can get her confidence back early, it could jumpstart a good year.

Mon Jan 01, 08:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

5 On the Down Side

1.Jankovic-Already out of the AO, and it is unclear if she is coming back. There may be a Petrova like ending, where she doesn't play but isn't retired.
2.Sharapova-Not really a down, but predicting the question marks before they happen. At this point, she is closer to the end that the beginning. So more focus on a schedule that maximizes marketing. Also thing she will try to make good on some of those wild cards she couldn't use. Tianjan, Stuttgart, Eastbourne, Birmingham, plus 3 where she might be the only Top 100 player wouldn't ba a shock.
3.Vinci-The only problem with the retirement tour is that she won't be able to get into many tournaments before Rome. The irony is that a week before her announcement, I expected Schiavone to make it.
4.V.Williams-Also not really a down, but just don't expect a repeat of last year. One of the odd things that may shorten her career is the Miami Open moving to Dolphins Stadium. As a minority owner of the Dolphins, could Venus eventually play a similar role to what Tommy Haas does at Indian Wells?
5.Azarenka-Putting it nicely, Azarenka got screwed. Is she missing the peak years of her career? To be honest, I am expecting a US only turn in 2018, which would give her IW/Miami/US Open, plus the summer series. Not fair, but that saga doesn't seem close to being resolved.

Mon Jan 01, 09:08:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Mon Jan 01, 12:17:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Sorry for that—software gone wild.

I’ve always thought that JJ might pick Charleston as her final tournament. It isn‘t quite a Patty Schnyder connection, but it’s a very strong one. No one “owes” anything to her fans, but I’d like to see Jelena go out in a blast of glitter highlights.

Mon Jan 01, 12:21:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

“and highlights”

Mon Jan 01, 12:22:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And the Browns also show that the "law of averages" doesn't necessarily mean things will get better next time out. They started '16 at 0-14 and finished 1-15... which now looks "good" compared to '17. (Hey, when your coach says the ground "moved beneath his feet" when he watched RG3 practice in '16, then the teamed passed on chances to pick Carson Wentz *and* DeShaun Watson in consecutive drafts you sort of get what you deserve.)

Hmmm, interesting thought there about Venus/Miami.

If Vika is going to be forced/choose to stay in the U.S., I wonder if she might be able to get a late WC into Charleston?

I suppose that would be as fitting a conclusion as we might be likely to get to the saga of JJ, unfortunately. :(

Mon Jan 01, 03:27:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

"PLAYER WHOSE NAME YOU'LL KNOW..." UPDATES: Fett (2017) and Kuzmova (2018) both qualified in Auckland

KIKI UPDATE: 13-in-a-row, and counting...

Mon Jan 01, 03:31:00 PM EST  
Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Seems that one of your favorites has withdrawn - again - Muguruza. She looked far from ready for the season. Wonder if she'll exceed the 5 times she withdrew from tournaments in 2017. By this she lost her final seeding in AO and gave it to Caroline - who on the other hand crushed Madison Brengle and gave out her first bagel - and looked absolut top fit. Had a little pity for Mugu - remember when Caroline had cramps - a terrible situation. By the way - Happy New Year to you all.

Tue Jan 02, 09:48:00 AM EST  

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