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Tenaciously Tennis


The Cincinnati Final Four — A Welcome Surprise

It’s been a shocking week in Cincinnati, current high-profile players, such as Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki dropped-out early. Former number ones Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, and Kim Clijsters, however, are in top form getting to the semis, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova surprised many to also make the final four.

Kim Clijsters:

Clijsters, the defending US Open champion, looks sharp in her return to play after a disappointing loss to Vera Zvonareva in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Her draw hasn’t been an easy one, either. To make it to the semis, she’s won against former world number one Dinara Safina, the young upstart American Christina McHale, and Flavia Pennetta, who took out Zvonareva. Clijsters won against Pennetta in a close 7-6 (4), 6-4 match.

Ana Ivanovic:

It’s great seeing Ivanovic back. Her draw really opened up after Jelena Jankovic lost to Akgul Amanmurdova in the third round. Instead of Ivanovic playing her compatriot, the world’s second-ranked player,  she fended off the 114th Amanmuradova. Ivanovic won 6-1, 6-3 to get to her first semifinal since the Rome clay tournament in May. Can the Serb take out Clijsters to get to her first final in over a year? I don’t think so. Her last final: Indian Wells in 2009, where she lost to Vera Zvonareva as the sixth player in the world. It’s been a long road for Ivanovic both mentally and in her ranking slide these past few months. She has a lot to prove going into this semifinal. I think her mental game and, therefore, athletic game will break down under the pressure of playing a confident Clijsters.

Maria Sharapova:

Coming off a 6-4 6-1 drubbing by Victoria Azarenka in the final at Stanford, Sharapova is playing with a new confidence. That loss, along with some close wins over Elena Dementieva and Agnieszka Radwanska to get to her fourth final of the season, further fired up the powerful game of the former Russian teenage phenom (she won Wimbledon at just 17). Sharapova’s serving embodies this renewed confidence. In a recent statement, Sharapova said, “I’m actually serving a lot better than I did last summer. Hitting bigger serves — maybe I’m missing a few more first serves and second serves, but not hitting second serves 70 miles an hour.” That’s a good sign for the three-time major champion, and a scary one for the rest of the field.

At this tournament, she’s continued to claw her way to the top, taking out a recently victorious Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. In the second, she easily handled the tennis media sensation Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-1. Next, she outhit Radwanska 6-2, 6-3, improving her head-to-head to a dominating 6-1 record. In the quarters, she beat Marion Bartoli 6-1. 6-4.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:

Rounding out the final four is the teenager Pavlyuchenkova, who’s been playing some strong tennis this season. She’s won two titles already, including her last at the end of July in Istanbul. With a ranking of 25th in the world — close to her career-high of 24 — things are looking good for the former girl’s champion. To make it to the semis, she’s been some fantastic players, including: Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, and Yanina Wickmayer (all top twenety talent).  Her next opponent, however, has the experience and drive to handle even Pavlychenkova’s big game, easily.

Predictions:

I’m going by the rankings (and my past prediction, which you can read here) to make it to the final. I see Clijsters taking out Ivanovic easily, just like their last match three years ago on carpet in the quarterfinals of Antwerp. There, she beat Ivanovic 6-2, 6-1. I think the sets will be closer, but not by much.

For Sharapova versus Pavlyuchenkova — the two haven’t played one another yet — I’m going with Sharapova, assuming her serve stays on track. If it does, and she plays the game that’s carried her through the past few tournaments during the US Open Series, she should advance comfortably with a chance to take on Clijsters.

In the end, I’m banking on Sharapova to win — she has a 3-1 record against Clijsters (although it’s been about three years since the last match).

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Soderling, Jankovic Upset; Sweet Victories for the Unexpected

Watch out tennis world, there’s a dangerous floater in David Nalbandian in the field. The Argentine most recent win: over world number five Robin Soderling in three sets, including a dominant performance in the third. He won4-6, 6-4, 6-1 over the fifth seed.

After missing the last six major events, Nalbandian is back. After taking out Marcos Baghdatis last week to win his 11th title in Washington, Nalbandian improved his current match winning-streak to 11. With that win, he surged through the rankings by 72 spots and is currently ranked 45th. With the win over Soderling, he’s poised to be seeded once the US Open begins in two weeks.

Although fitness has been a problem for Nalbandian in the post, according to ESPN commentator and former player and coach Brad Gilbert, he’s in pretty good shape after the injury layoff. In the match versus Soderling, the backhand was spot on, too. Nalbandian would hit a blister backhand crosscourt, nailing Soderling into the corner, and then surprise with a world-class down-the-line backhand for a crisp winner. With this shot-making capability, and the belief that comes along with such results, Nalbandian can beat any player on any given day. In fact, over at ESPN, they were calling him one of the favorites at the US Open, behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but potentially before Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the number two and four ranked player in the world, respectively.

And while Soderling was simply outplayed in that match, he wasn’t the only one. Top seed Jelena Jankovic in the Cincinnati tournament was ousted by qualifier and 114th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova in a lopsided 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round. The Serb is back after taking time off to heal her ankle, an injury sustained during the second round of the tournament in Slovenia. It seems like she’ll be needing some more time to recover physically and mentally after this tough defeat. Adding insult to injury, the win was Amanmuradova’s first over a top ten player.

Also losing in the third round in Cincinatti, third-ranked Caroline Wozniacki succumbed to Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1. Bartoli’s impressive play is highlighted further by the fact that Wozniacki is coming straight off a win in her home country last week. She should, therefore, be in strong form. Could it be the jet-lag? Bartoli simply being the better player? Who knows. The question now: Can the 2009 US Open finalist put together another deep run this year? That remains to be seen.

In other matches:

  • Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousted Israel’s Shahar Peer 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
  • Roger Federer fended off a tricky Michael Llodra, who employed an underhanded serve during the second set. Federer won 7-6 (2), 6-3 after a slow start and inspired play from his long-time friend, the veteran Frenchman.
  • Kim Clijsters easily advanced against the struggling Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. Will the former world number one ever get back on track?
  • Ana Ivanovic, another former top player, continued her good form by beating Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-3.
  • Maria Sharapova didn’t waste time in her win against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who’s been having an excellent summer so far. She looked confident serving and powering the ball in the quick 6-2, 6-3 victory.

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