Tenaciously Tennis

Federer, Ivanovic, and Oudin Win; Italy Takes Second Straight Fed Cup Title

It’s the end of the season, but a lot is still happening on the tennis circuit on both the ATP and WTA tours. For the men, Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic in three sets to take his fourth title in Basel. He won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the Swiss Indoors final against the Serb in the rematch of last year. In 2009, Djokovic defeated Federer, which made the victory that much better for the hometown player.

“It’s great to have won it after losing last year. It reminded me of last year’s match, but [this time] I got off to a great start in the third set,” said Federer. Added to that, the win allowed Federer to exact revenge over Djokovic after a painful loss in the semifinals of this year’s US Open during which the Serb overcame two match points against the struggling Federer. “The 29-year-old Swiss improved to 12-6 lifetime against Djokovic, and 3-1 this year,” writes an Associated Press article.

Moreover, “Federer is 4-4 in finals this year after winning titles at the Australian Open, Cincinnati Masters and the Stockholm Open,” continues the article regarding his season statistics.

Federer looks to be in strong form going into the Paris Masters tournament. There, he will be the top-seeded player as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the event due to a shoulder injury.

For the WTA tour, Ana Ivanovic defeated Alisa Kleybanova of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the finals of the Tournament of Champions. The win means Ivanovic finished the season inside the Top 20. According to an Associated Press article, “The 23-year-old Serb captured her second title in three weeks to move back into the Top 20 for the first time in more than a year, having dropped to a low of 65 in July.” This sends a strong message to the rest of the field as the tour winds down and thoughts go toward the 2011-2012 season.

Can Ivanovic continue her fine form and become a real threat during the big tournaments once again? I’ll say that her upward trajectory continues through to the beginning of the year nicely, and she’ll hover around the Top Fifteen in the world for the first few months.

And speaking of a resurgence, the United States’ Melanie Oudin kept the Fed Cup team alive with a surprise victory over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion and the seventh-ranked player in the world. Oudin, ranked 67th, shocked the tricky, veteran Italian 6-3, 6-1 to give the United States a point in the tie, which was held in San Diego. It was her first win over a Top Ten player this season.

While the win shows that Oudin cannot be written off to perform under pressure and also makes her look good for next season, the United States lost to Italy in the Fed Cup final after Flavia Pennetta ousted the young CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2.

Without Serena and Venus Williams, the United States team faced especially tough competition. Oudin looked great in her match, but it shows that Italy played the bigger points better in their second Fed Cup title over the Americans in that many years. It’s an improvement for the US team to win a point, they lost 4-0 last year. They did well to make it this far, and next year will prove to be their time to shine (with a little help from the Williams sisters?).


Wimbledon Predictions – The WTA Tour

Should I even be looking at anyone besides the Williams sisters given their track record at Wimbledon? Probably not. But, then again, anything can happen, and it’s always fun tracking the draws of a Grand Slam. There’s a strong showing this year with the Belgians back, others making big moves, a certain Russian looking good, and a slew of other players vying for the breakthrough feeling Francesca Schiavone captured at the French Open. So, without further ado, here are my predictions.

The First Quarter:

Notables – Serena Williams (1), Dominika Cibulkova, Lucie Safarova (25), Daniela Hantuchova (24), Maria Sharapova (16), Na Li (9), Anne Keothavong, Svetlana Kuznetsova (19), Sara Errani (32), Agnieszka Radwanska (7)

This section of the draw belongs to the younger Williams sister and Sharapova. With Michelle Larcher de Brito along the way, Serena faces a loud opponent, but should dismantle her easily. In the fourth round, the decibels will drop, but the competition will get much fiercer with Sharapova in her future. I see that match being an excellent display of tennis. It’s too bad it’ll need to come so soon. Of the two, I’m going with Serena to win in three sets. Sharapova brings the intensity and the grass court experience from the pre-Wimbledon warm-up, but Serena’s healthier, and she has the career edge with a 5-2 record against the Russian. In fact, the only times Sharapova prevailed over Serena was during her momentous 2004 Wimbledon final win and in the tour championships later that year. Fast forward a few years, and it’s a completely different setting. On the bottom half, I see Radwanska making it to the fourth round, where she’s likely to face Na Li of China. There, Li’s recent win over Sharapova will show itself, and she’ll make it to the quarterfinals to face Serena.

The Final Four: Serena plays and beats Sharapova, while Radwanska loses to Li in two lopsided sets.

The Second Quarter:

Notables – Caroline Wozniacki (3), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (29), Jie Zheng (23), Sorana Cirstea, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka (14), Flavia Pennetta (10), Aravane Rezai (18), Alexandra Dulgheru (31), Kimiko Date Krumm, Sam Stosur (6)

This is a difficult part of the draw. So many strong players appeal to the avid tennis fan that I can hardly make a decision. Going based on the seeding might not work. Therefore, I’m going to go with my gut. Wozniacki should make it to the third round, where I suspect she’ll meet Pavlyuchenkova. I think the Russian will put up a stronger fight than in the past, despite her poor record against Wozniacki. She’s lost each of their three meetings. Regardless, I see the Dane advancing. In the fourth round an even tougher test awaits her with the feisty Azarenka back on track. Although she lost to Makarova last week, I don’t see her being stopped by Wozniacki. She’ll win in three sets to make it to the quarterfinals, proving she belongs back in the top ten. I’m also seeing something interesting happening with Cirstea and Kvitova, whichever one passes their first round battle. In the bottom half, I like Rezai and Sam Stosur to advance to the fourth round. Sam’s experience should pay off, although her loss at the French might still be effecting her. I put Rezai as wanting it a little more than Stosur.

The Final Four: Azarenka surprises Wozniacki, and Rezai tops Stosur in three sets (although that’s a serious question mark).

The Third Quarter:

Notables – Kim Clijsters (8), Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Maria Kirlenko (27), Justine Henin (17), Patty Schnyder, Nadia Petrova (12), Yanina Wickmayer (15), Vera Zvonareva (21), Alyona Bondarenko (28), Jelena Jankovic (4)

The battle of the Belgians is bound to take place in the fourth round. There, I put Henin a notch above Clijsters, who was out of the French Open with injury. Henin wants it more — this is the reason she’s back, and she will go down fighting her hardest. Along the way, she needs to watch out for Petrova (unless Schnyder takes her out first, which I really hope will happen!). In the bottom section, I’m betting that Alison Riske of the United States continues her exceptional streak at Wimbledon. If she can take out Wickmayer in the first round, I see her fighting her way in a string of three set wins to the fourth round, where’ll probably meet up with Jankovic. At that point, she’s likely to be too tired out and mentally fatigued for the experienced Serb, who by the way won’t have problem making it there with a pretty open draw as it stands.

The Final Four: Henin dismisses her compatriot Clijsters in three sets. In the bottom half, Riske (who I hope can take out Wickmayer) reaches the fourth round before falling to Jankovic in another serious showdown that goes the length.

The Fourth Quarter:

Notables – Francesca Schiavone (5), Yaroslava Schvedova (30), Kateryna Bondarenko (34), Marion Bartoli (11), Shahar Peer (13), Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Melanie Oudin (33), Alisa Kleybanova (26), Ekaterina Makarova, Venus Williams (2).

I like this section a lot. There’s a lot of potential for a strong showing by a few surprises, although ultimately there’s no picking against Venus to make the quarterfinals. The top section is a much easier pick. I don’t see Schiavone channeling the champion spirit that won her a Grand Slam. I do see her making the fourth round, where she’ll face Bartoli. Remember her? She made it to the Wimbledon final a few years ago (although it really feels like decades. I have a feeling we’ll see a quarterfinal rematch with Bartoli losing to Venus eventually. In the bottom section, Ivanovic is likely to fall to the Israeli peer in the first round. Another disappointment for the former world number one. Hopefully, Oudin gets her game back to take out Peer in the third round. If so, she’ll no doubt meet Venus. However, the older Williams sister will face a tough challenge in Makarova, the winner over Azarenka a few days ago.

The Final Four: Schiavone falls to Bartoli in two sets, while Venus ousts Oudin.

Second Week Predictions:

  • Sharapova screeches to a halt against Serena in three. Serena sends off Li in two sets.
  • Azarenka raises her game to defeat Rezai in two sets.
  • Henin handles Jankovic easily in the hopes of finally realizing her dream to hold the Wimbledon trophy up high.
  • Venus comes away with another win against Bartoli.

In the semifinals, Serena beats Azarenka in a repeat of the Australian open semifinal, although much quicker this time. In the bottom half, I’m having difficulty deciding between Venus and Henin. Both want to make it so badly. I think Venus’ experience will pay off, and she’ll stop Henin in three close sets to prevent deja vu of this year’s Australian Open final.

As for the men, I’m waiting on predicting the champion of the event until I feel strongly one way or the other.

Click here to look at the complete women’s draw.

Ivanovic, Monfils Melt; Americans Advance

Well, another day of drama came and went at Roland Garros with the losses of two former success stories at the French Open: Ana Ivanovic, the champion of the tournament two years ago and Gael Monfils, a semifinalist in 2008 and a quarterfinalist last year.

Ivanovic, who looked to be coming back to solid form with some strong play that took her to the semifinals in Rome just weeks ago, lost in a lopsided 6-3, 6-0 affair to Alisa Kleybanova. Just two years ago when her confidence was at its peak and her playing superb, Ivanovic would have easily dismantled the number 28 seed. Sadly, this is not the case any more. Her compatriot, Jelena Jankovic, considered a heavy favorite to win the title, won.

Monfils’ story on the other hand was a much closer affair. The Frenchman played against Fabio Fognini in a two-day, epic affair. He lost 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 9-7. Monfils had been serving for the match at one point, but was unable to close it out. His mental game was simply not there as is typically the case for this man, who is considered one of the most athletic players in the world.

The American men, however, fared much better. Wins were posted by Andy Roddick and John Isner. We’ll see if they can keep the momentum going into the next round, although it is likely to be a tough task.

French Open Predictions – Which WTA Star Will Reign Supreme at Roland Garros?

With the French Open almost upon us, it’s time to make predictions. First, let’s take a look at the draw for the WTA tour. The big stories to keep in mind during the first few days at Roland Garros include: Serena and Venus Williams’ inconsistent play on clay, Maria Sharapova’s recent success, Jelena Jankovic’s time to possibly shine, and Justine Henin’s title in Stuttgart and desire to win another Grand Slam on her best surface yet. All of these players are real contenders for the title, and it will fascinating to see how their stories play out in the coming days.

Let’s take a look at each quarter of the draw.

The First Quarter:

This part of the draw includes the following seeded players: Serena (1), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (29), Shahar Peer (18), Marion Bartoli (13), Maria Sharapova (12), Justine Henin (22), Jie Zheng (25), and Sam Stosur (7). This is a heavy part of the draw featuring a group of hard-hitting powerhouses. While Serena will most likely sail through to the fourth round, she’ll could have  a potentially tough time handling Pavlyuchenkova, the Russian. Serena could then face Israel’s Shahar Peer afterward.

In the bottom half, there will be an interesting match-up between Sharapova and Henin. While Sharapova comes fresh off a win at the Strasbourg tournament on clay, Henin recently won at Stuttgart and plays her best on Paris’ red clay. I see Henin coming through in three. Her next opponent: most likely Stosur, who’s done well for herself this clay court season, including a win at Charleston. If she continues with the same consistency, she could find herself in a rematch of the Stuttgart tournament against Henin. If so, I take Henin in two close sets.

Therefore, I predict that it will be a match-up of Serena and Henin in the quarterfinals.

The Second Quarter:

Here, the seeds are: Jankovic (4), Alyona Bondarenko (27), Daniela Hantuchova (23), Yanina Wickmayer (16), Dinara Safina (9), Vera Zvonareva (21), Alisa Kleybanova (28), and Agnieszka Radwanska (8). This section holds considerably less firepower than the first half of the draw. In fact, I see only one real contender – Jankovic, who beat both sisters in Rome, but then failed to take home the title. Depending on the health of Safina, last year’s finalist, we could see a match-up between her and Jankovic in the quarterfinals.

The Third Quarter:

In the third quarter the following seeds appear: Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Maria Kirilenko (30), Francesca Schiavone (17), Na Li (11), Flavia Pennetta (14), Lucie Safarova (24), Alexandra Dulgheru (31), and Caroline Wozniacki (3). Much like the second quarter, there are not many real contenders, except, of course, for last year’s champion, Kuznetsova. While the Italians Pennetta and Schiavone will be tricky opponents, the Russians should see herself back at the quarterfinals, although not without her three set scares. Her opponent once there: Wozniacki. That is if her physical condition holds up well enough.

The Fourth Quarter:

This side gets a little heavier with the following seeds: Elena Dementieva (5), Katerina Bondarenko (32), Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (20), Victoria Azarenka (10), Aravane Rezai (15), Nadia Petrova (19), Dominika Cibulkova (26), and Venus (2). I see plausible winners in Dementieva, Martinez Sanchez, and Venus. The other seeds are strong players, who just might pull the upset. Moreover, players such as Anastasija Sevastova and Melanie Oudin are lurking in the background, which will make things even more interesting in this last quarter. Regardless, I believe Dementieva will beat Oudin in a potential third round match and will end up in the quarterfinals. However, she’ll need to get through a tough opponent in the Rome winner, Martinez Sanchez. I see Dementieva’s experience allowing her to win in three. There, she should meet Venus in the quarters.

To recap:

Serena will face-off Henin in the first; Jankovic will play Safina in the second; Kuznetsova and Wozniacki will meet in the third; and Dementieva will attempt to fend off Venus in the fourth.

The results:

Henin takes out Serena in three; Jankovic wins against an ailing Safina in two; Kuznetsova advances; and Venus prevails to complete the semifinals. Next, Henin defeats Jankovic and Venus wins over the reigning champion Kuznetsova. Henin takes out Venus in two sets and wins her first Grand Slam after a brief retirement.

To look at the full draw, click here.

Indian Wells 2010: A Belgian Brawl?

The 2010 BNP Paribas Open is upon us and the competition looks fierce on the WTA side. That is, however fierce it can be without the Williams sisters present. With their absence comes the chance for new faces to emerge and take command of the draw. Regardless, two champions look ready to fight their way through the 128-player field, and they are certainly not new faces at all. Unless, of course, you consider their hiatus from the sport for a while.

Yes, that’s correct. The two women I see battling it out is none other than the Belgian comeback queens, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. The draw, although not overwhelmingly favorable, provides just enough levity to all but ensure the two make it comfortably into the quarterfinals of the event. Let’s break it down.

Henin, who appears in the bottom half of the draw will first face the lightweight and number five seed, Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. Radwanska, although certainly technically talented simply lacks the raw power needed to push past Henin’s finesse. Basically, Henin plays Radwanska’s game, but stronger and better. Next up for Henin will probably be the up-and-coming German, Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki, although more talented will not be able to match-up to Henin’s cunning. I see Liscki going strong on her powerful serve, but succumbing in two close sets. If Henin should pass through that test, her next opponent will be the number four seed, Elena Dementieva. Dementieva has a lot to prove in this match-up, especially with her agonizingly close battle with Henin at the Australian Open. Look to see Dementieva fall under the pressure yet again after a three-set battle against Henin. If Henin reaches the semifinals, she will have a tough test in the other Russian, Maria Sharapova, who is looking to keep her winning streak going and show that she still has the fire and skill to take home the biggest titles.

Clijsters on the other hand appears in the top half of the draw as the fourteenth seed. Her first seed comes in the form of Alisa Kleybanova, who recently won her first title at the Malaysian Open against Dementieva. If Clijsters prevails against the confident Kleybanova, she’ll face the number one seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova. I see Clijsters winning in two sets against Kuznetsova, who is not used to being the first seed at an event, especially one as large as Indian Wells. Her head will get the best of her, and I see Clijsters winning in two. Also looming in Clijsters’ future are Jelena Jankovic, who’s been having a poor start to the year, the sensational Shahar Peer, who made a stunning semifinal run at Dubai, or Dominika Cibulkova, always a threat at the big events. If all works out for Clijsters, the semifinals will potentially mean a match with Victoria Azarenka. Look to see Clijster’s experience get the best of Azarenka, a player always prone to letting emotion get the best of her as was the case when she imploded at the semifinals of the Australian Open against Serena. If the match between Clijsters and Azarenka emerges, it should be a thrilling, three-setter with all sorts of ups-and-downs.

If the Belgians make it through to the final two, I predict Henin improving upon her runner-up title at the Sunny Slam and restoring her name at the top of the WTA tour.

Blackhorse picks include: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a young Russian, who recently won her first title and is the event’s number twenty-five seed and Caroline Wozniacki, the quiet, number two seed, and 2009 US Open finalsit, that will probably meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic, Venus, Win in Three; Kleybanova Blasts Past Dementieva for Maiden Title

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic made good on his run to the Dubai finals with a win over Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, while Venus Williams took down Polona Hercog to claim the Mexican Open title in Acapulco. Alisa Kleybanova also came out as a winner for the first time on the ATP tour, shocking Elena Dementieva in two lopsided sets.

Djokovic’s win, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3, shows a confident number two player in the world, ready to fight for success. Taking this title proves that Djokovic still has what it takes to claim victory, despite many of the other top men struggling with personal setbacks and injury. I see Djokovic doing well at Indian Wells and possibly taking the title if the other top men are unable to find their form in time.

Venus Williams, who came back from a set down, to beat Hercog, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, shows she also has the fire to keep her champion status going strong. While certainly not her most competitive tournament, Venus did not play anyone inside the top fifty from her quarterfinal match on, the win on clay must feel good. Who knows? Maybe she has it in her to get passed the red clay of Paris? That is if she can keep the momentum going against sister Serena Williams and Justine Henin, certainly the favorites to win, and the toughest tests on clay for any player.

It’s refreshing to hear about a new player in the winner’s circle. That’s the beauty of these post-Slam tournaments. Even more interesting to hear is her 6-3, 6-2 win over Dementieva. The feat was monumental for Kleybanova and may prove to be telling of success to come. Hopefully, there will be more spotlight for Kleybanova in the coming months. It’s always nice getting a fresh perspective in on the WTA action.

Clijsters Collapses in Two Sets; Upsets Ensue in Round of 32

Photo Credit:Clive Brunskills/Getty Images
Marion Bartoli, Alisa Kleybanova, Gael Monfils, and… Kim Clijsters? What does this eclectic group of names have in common? They all surrendered to defeat in the round of 32 at the Australian Open in outlandish fashion. The biggest upset of the round being none other than the Belgian comeback queen and recent US Open champion, Clijsters. Let’s take a look at this round of disastrous disappointment at the Slam that never fails to surprise.

First upset highlight: Bartoli, the eleventh-seed succumbed to Jie Zheng of China in a lopsided 5-7, 6-3, 6-0 match. Look to the current French number one to fall out of the top twenty over the course of this year; she’s already losing points for not making good on her quarterfinal run at the Slam last year.

Who can blame the Alisa Kleybanova for her three-set defeat at the hands of Justine Henin? It was a good effort from the 27th-seed to test the Belgian champion. The Russian had her chances up a set and a break in the second, but the sun and high fitness level required to secure the win got to her. I guess it wasn’t much of an upset after all.

Gael Monfils was another big name in the cast of third round defeats. The showy Frenchman was out-served by the gentle giant, and number two American, John Isner. Monfils, who typically shines under the athletic pressure and blazing conditions, was bombarded in the first set 6-1 before getting his head back in it. However, Isner stayed steady, improving his tiebreak records in the process, by acing the Monfils twenty-three times to clinch the match, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(5). Next up for Isner, Andy Murray, who has been cruising so far.

Finally, the most stunning upset for last. Clijsters’ comeback at the Australian Open came to a screeching halt when Nadia Petrova, who was looking for some sweet revenge after her loss to Henin in the first round of the Sydney tournament, blitzed the Belgian in a 6-0, 6-1 win. With no obvious answers to describe Clijsters’ poor play, I’ll count the loss as a blip on the radar, not a question mark for the next three Slams. Kudos to Petrova for securing the upset, and making her mark in the tournament. Here’s a video of Clijster’s press conference after her loss.

Summary and Predictions for the Winners:

Zheng Jie won’t keep up the level of play, and will lose to Alyona Bondarenko, the player that upset Jelena Jankovic, in two close sets. Justine Henin will into the second week ready for a fight, shaking off her aches and pains in the process. She takes on Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer, and can only be thankful that her more well-known compatriot, Kim Clijsters, isn’t there for a fight in the quarterfinals. John Isner’s huge serve won’t be a match for Andy Murray’s superb return game. I see the American’s run coming to a close in three close sets. Finally, Clijsers’ slayer, Nadia Petrova, will roll over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round, but lose in a rematch to Henin in the quarters.

Oudin Outlasted in Three; Henin in It to Win

The string up upsets, especially regarding my blackhorse picks on the WTA side, are continuing to keep things interesting at the Australian Open. On day one, surprise US Open quarterfinalist American Melanie Oudin looked strong in her first round match against Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia. That is until she was serving to win it at 6-2, 5-4. Oudin, known for her shocking, consecutive three set wins at the US Open against Elena Dementieva in the second round, Maria Sharapova in the third round, and Nadia Petrova in the fourth, was unable to close out this latest Russian opponent.

Since her fairytale run, things have been going downhill for the 17-year old counter puncher. Although illness and fatigue were probably the issue, Oudin should not have lost this match. The pressure is getting to her now, but she has the goods to go deep into a Slam. I see her having a tough next couple tournament as she finds the her focus, and improving to the top twenty by the US Open. Can Oudin have another magical winning streak? Only if the teen holds the same belief in herself as the world saw in September.

The second round of the Sunny Slam saw a much different, more positive story in Justine Henin’s impressive, 7-5, 7-6 defeat of the fifth-seed, Elena Dementieva of Russia. With the first tough test out of the way for the seven-time Grand Slam champion, Henin next faces the 27th seed, Alisa Kleybanova. I see Henin going through in two. In fact, with such a high profile win in such a short comeback, Henin will make it through to the quarterfinals easily, where she’ll then battle Belgian compatriot, and fellow comeback star, Kim Clijsters. That match is sure to be one of the best of the tournament, given their recent three-setter in Sydney during which Clijsters barely prevailed.

Link to look at:

“Melanie Oudin Continues to Struggle” by Joe Drape of The New York Times

“Henin Ousts No.5 Dementieva in Second Round” by the Associated Press

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