Tenaciously Tennis

2011 French Open Predictions: WTA Tour

With the first matches of the 2011 French Open underway, here are some last minute predictions on who will hoist the title with a number of key players, including Serena and Venus Williams, out with injury. Maria Sharapova looks confident as ever, breaking back into the top ten. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki’s consistency might just prove enough to win her a title in the weakened field. Last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone also has a chance, although she faces a tough first round against the American sweetheart, Melanie Oudin.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section: This tough first section features a lot of talented players, many of whom have seen a recent drop in the rankings. As typical of her game, Wozniacki has proven tremendously solid in her last few clay tournaments, winning in Brussels and Charleston. She’ll take that same consistency to Roland Garros, and hopefully make that next leap by getting to her second Grand Slam final. At least, it seems highly likely that she can break past last year’s finalist Sam Stosur this year, for a spot beyond the quarters. Quite notably, Stosur had a strong clay season, making it to the finals against Sharapova in Rome before falling to the Russian in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

Ones to Watch: Again, this top section is laden with a multitude of talent, including Daniela Hantuchova, Shahar Peer, Aravane Rezai, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Julia Goerges, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Marion Bartoli. I’ll go with Kuznetsova to make a strong showing from these players.

Bottom Line: This is Wozniacki’s tournament to win on the women’s side. She’s proven she has the capability, it’s just a matter of translation to the Grand Slams at this point, especially when the field is relatively wide open. The bottom section of the draw, however, is very heavy, trying to prevent her from hoisting that maiden title.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section: Here’s another heavy section of the draw, featuring last year’s surprise champion, Schiavone. After a strong stretch on clay, however, the no. 3 seed Zvonareva hasn’t been looking as sharp on the clay court circuit thus far. It looks like Schiavone might have the chance to put together some of last year’s confidence to produce the magical, fairytale story that won her a first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In the end, however, I’m going against her from winning again.

Ones to Watch: Another heavy part of the draw, this section holds players, including Sabine Lisicki, Nadia Petrova, Alize Cornet, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Jelena Jankovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Flavia Pennetta, Peng Shuai, and Melanie Oudin (who gets Schiavone first). Of these names, Jankovic, who made the semifinals last year before falling to Stosur 6-1, 6-2, stands out most. Look for her to make the upset against Schiavone in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Zvonareva battles through her section and the tough Pavlyuchenkova. There she’ll meet Jankovic in the quarterfinals (the winner over 2010 champion Schiavone).

Victoria Azarenka’s Section: The number four player in the world looks poised to go deep at this year’s French Open, having dropped her first round match against Gisela Dulko last year. Her biggest competition comes with Australian Open finalist Na Li and Serbia’s resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

Ones to Watch: Ivanovic, the champion in 2008, obviously has the talent to win on the biggest courts. As of late, however, she seems to have returned to a slump in play, falling early in Rome and Madrid. As the no. 20 seed, however, look for her to find some of her form to get a match against Azarenka in the fourth round. Petra Kvitova, the no. 9 seed, also looks ready to roll in this section, potentially defeating Li to do much better than last year’s disappointing first round loss. Additionally, Kvitova’s fresh off a win in Madrid against Azarenka, beating the Belarussian, 7-6(3), 6-4 and also making the final in Prague more recently. Also, props to American Sloane Stephens for battling her way through to the qualifying. A personal favorite, she meets up with Elena Baltacha first.

Bottom Line: Azarenka advances to the quarterfinals over Ivanovic, meeting Kvitova (the winner over Li).

Kim Clijsters’ Section: Since winning the Australian Open, Clijsters hasn’t played much tennis. Meanwhile, Sharapova has just the opposite experience, claiming her biggest career title since succumbing to a shoulder injury in 2008 with a title in Rome over Stosur. Look for Sharapova to defeat Clijsters, who may lose earlier due to her ankle injury, in the quarterfinals.

Ones to Watch: But before we go claiming a Sharapova victory, it’s important to note the wide range in talent that appears in this section of the draw. Players of particular note include: Yanina Wickmayer, Sania Mirza, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrea Petkovic, Jarmila Gajdosova, Bojana Jovanovski, and Maria Kirilenko. Look for Wickmayer to give Sharapova trouble, while Petkovic has the potential to defeat the injured Clijsters.

Bottom Line: Sharapova keeps stringing the wins together on clay to defeat Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: Given the above predictions, we’ll see Wozniacki take on Stosur; Zvonareva against Jankovic; Kvitova versus Azarenka; and Sharapova versus Clijsters.

In the Semifinals: Look for Wozniacki to defeat Stosur; Jankovic to beat Zvonareva; Azarenka to win against Kvitova; and Sharapova to defeat Clijsters.


Top Seeds Roddick, Davydenko, Jankovic and Petkovic Struggle

The top seeds at their respective tournaments, Andy Roddick, Nikolai Davydenko, Jelena Jankovic, and Andrea Petkovic all struggled in early rounds. Three lost their matches, while one survived.

Roddick, the lone top seed to advance of the four, barely got past compatriot Rajeev Ram at the newly revived US Open Series event in Atlanta. Roddick — whose foundation will be building a tennis center in Texas — beat Ram 6-1, 6-7 (1), 6-3. After a disappointing Wimbledon, Roddick needs to do well to prove he’s still relevant going into this year’s US Open.

The next disappointing result belongs to Davydenko, whose year so far has been less than stellar due to injury. The Russian lost to the 79th ranked Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-4 at the Hamburg German Open. After making a run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, which ended with a roller-coaster loss to Roger Federer, Davydenko didn’t play at Roland Garros and made it to the second round at Wimbledon. I don’t see this being Davydenko’s summer to shine.

On the WTA tour, Jelena Jankovic pulled out of the Banka Koper Slovenia Open after struggling to a third set against qualifier Anastasiya Yakimova. Jankovic didn’t play the same after leading 6-1, 2-1 and twisting her ankle when attempting to get to a ball. This was her first match since retiring from the fourth round of Wimbledon with a back injury. Something’s going on with Jankovic, and I’m not sure what. Maybe it’s just more of the same old drama she’s been known for, maybe it’s being burnt out from all the play. Whatever the reason, she won’t be winning a Grand Slam title any time soon if she continues to sabotage her own potential.

Finally, Petkovic failed to advance at the Bad Gastein tournament after losing to Alize Cornet 6-2, 7-5. She won the event last year.

Budapest Finalists Szavay and Schnyder Post Wins

Straight off Sunday’s final at the Budapest Grand Prix, Agnes Szavay and Patty Schnyder — both Budapest finalists in 2009, too — continue to advance on clay . At the ECM Prague Open, Szavay won against Liana Ungur 6-4, 6-3, while Schnyder overcame a tough test from wild card and the 215th player in the world Zarina Diyas, 6 – 7 (2), 6-4, 6-1.

With the wins, Szavay — the seventh seed — next meets with Iveta Benesova, who faced a tough three set test from the qualifier Mervana Jugic-Salkic. Given Benesova’s long match and their career head-to-head — which Szavay leads 1-0 with a 2008 clay win over the Czech — I see another comfortable win for the Hungarian.

As for Schnyder, she’ll next face France’s Alize Cornet, who edged Tamira Paszek 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-4. I see the veteran dispatching the 20-year old Cornet in straight sets. Schnyder’s clay court game is simply superior, and she shouldn’t have any trouble closing out the match.

In future rounds, Szavay’s first potential seeded opponent wouldn’t be the semifinals, where she could meet Anabel Medina Garrigues, the fifth seed. Schnyder, who’s in an open section of the draw, could potentially meet the top seed, Lucie Safarova, in the semifinals. Schnyder’s faced Safarova three times in her career. She’s beat Safarova two-of-three times, including the last win at the 2009 US Open.

Although it might be too early to call the finalists for the tournament, Szavay and Schnyder have clear draws to the semifinals. It’d be great to see their momentum continue to see another final round match-up.

For the full draw, click here.

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