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Tenaciously Tennis


Australian Open 2011 Predictions: WTA Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the WTA tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

Serena Williams is out of her second consecutive major, and that means only one thing: the draw opens up substantially. Who can rise to the occasion with the favorite out of the mix? Will it be Kim Clijsters, who comes fresh off wins at the US Open and the year-ending championships, and has done well so far in 2011? There’s also Caroline Wozniaki trying to prove her number one ranking by her maiden Grand Slam title. Last year’s finalist Justine Henin must be mentioned, while Venus Williams plays after a knee injury kept her off tour. The Australian Open this year is bound for some surprises. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section:

The top seed should make it to the fourth round with Wozniacki’s toughest competition being Dominika Cibulkova. The 29th-seed recently scored a straight sets win over the Dane in Sydney. In the bottom of that portion of the draw, Yanina Wickmayer could very well defeat Marion Bartoli with confidence inspired by her finals showing in Auckland. Bartoli, however, does enjoy a 2-0 head-to-head record over Wickmayer.

In the bottom half, last year’s finalist Henin looms as the 15th-seed with Svetlana Kuznetsova as a potential third round match. The reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also looks promising to advance. Henin, however, has won seven of eight matches against the Italian.

Ones-to-Watch: Australian Jarmila Groth recently won the Hobart tournament and may pose trouble for Wickmayer in the first round. The two met only once in 2009 with Wickmayer pulling through in three sets. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Wimbledon semifinalist, who has been struggling since the result, also appear in Wozniacki’s bracket.

Bottom Line: Wozniacki has some tough tests, but I believe she’ll advance to the quarterfinals over Wickmayer. Henin shouldn’t have a problem against Schiavone.

Venus Williams’ Section:

Here’s home to the fourth-seed, Venus, who faces a couple tests before the fourth round. In the third round, Andrea Petkovic could push her. The two have never met, and Petkovic looks confident with a recent string of wins in Brisbane. In the fourth round, however, Venus potentially meets Maria Sharapova. The head-to-head makes the Russian’s  possible success slim as Venus leads 5-3 in their head-to-head. She’s also won the last three matches in straight sets.

It’ll be a toss-up between 2010 semifinalist Na Li and the ever spirited Victoria Azarenka in their probable fourth round match.

Ones-to-Watch: The other seeded players, Kaia Kanepi (no. 20), Aravane Rezai (no. 17) and Daniela Hantuchova (no. 28) also appear here.

Bottom Line: Venus will likely defeat Sharapova, while Li can take out Azarenka in a battle.

Kim Clijsters’ Section:

Possibly the most open part of the draw belongs to Clijsters, where she’ll no doubt benefit. Competition comes in the form of Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic. Clijsters, however, should get through to the quarterfinals unless Ivanovic can out-perform her in the fourth round. It’ll be an interesting match between Clijsters and Dinara Safina in the first round.

With a struggling Jelena Jankovic as the seventh-seed (she’s lost eight of her last matches, including six straight) at the top, the section looks perfect for an up-and-comer to make a move. Agnieszka Radwanska (no. 12), although she’s battling some injury, might do well. Jankovic can also squeak through the bracket as she has before. One never knows with the former world number one.

Ones-to-Watch: Personal favorite Patty Schnyder could meet Ivanovic in the second round. Greta Arn, the surprise winner of Auckland, also appears in this section, facing the 26th-seed, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, in the first round.

Bottom Line: Jankovic looks like a big question mark, while Clijsters should sail through to the second week.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section:

One of the strongest sections of the 2011 Australian Open on the WTA tour, this bracket is home to the second-seeded Zvonareva and home-favorite Sam Stosur (no. 5). These two names stand above the rest, although there are some, such as Petra Kvitova (no. 25), Shahar Peer (no. 10), and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (no. 16), who serve as fierce competition.

In a potential fourth round match, Kvitova, who won Brisbane — but lost in a walkover at Sydney — would face Stosur. The Australian hasn’t been quite up to form as she lost to Kuznetsova in Sydney’s second round.  Israel’s Peer would probably face the victor. Zvonareva lost to Flavia Pennetta — also of this bracket — early in Sydney. Zvonareva should, however, shake off the loss to make a run to the quarterfinals.

Ones-to-Watch: American Melanie Oudin might make a move in her section of the draw, where she’d face Zvonareva in a potential third round match. There’s also Maria Kirilenko (no. 22) and Anna Chakvetadze.

Bottom Line: It looks like Zvonareva and Stosur get through to the quarterfinals, but not without some strong tests from a number of good competition.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Wozniacki against Henin; Venus against Li; (potentially) Jankovic against Clijsters; and Stosur versus Zvonareva.

In the Semifinals: Watch for Henin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four.

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Safina Optimistic for Upcoming Season

Posted in Dinara Safina,Svetlana Kuznetsova by Ben on December 30, 2010

Former world number one Dinara Safina says she’s recovered from a back injury that severely impacted her play in 2010. In a recent interview, Safina said, “I want to put 2010 in the past. It has passed and nothing has happened. This is a new season and I’m here, I’m playing, I’m healthy and I’m looking forward.”

Well-known for her three appearances in Grand Slam finals and her subsequent breakdowns in each, Safina has failed to advance past the fourth round since her semifinal showing in the 2009 Wimbledon. This year, she reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, made the first round at the French Open and the US Open, and skipped Wimbledon completely.

Now ranked 63rd in the world, Safina will need to prove to the tennis world quickly that she’s truly ready to take a top spot on the WTA circuit once more. Her coach Gaston Etlis, who she started working with eight months ago, may play a big role in helping her reach this goal. According to Safina, “I had a good pre-season practicing, I had two months of that.”

Watch the video below for Safina’s post-match interview after her meltdown in the 2009 French Open final against Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Dementieva Retires: Reflections on a Champion’s Career

Elena Dementieva’s impressive career came to a tearful and emotional close after her lose to Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion, at the end-of-the-year tournament in Doha recently. Dementieva, 29, lost 6-4, 6-2.

Having won two titles this year, Dementieva also did well at the majors in 2010. She reached the semifinals at the French Open and the fourth round of the US Open. Injury marred her season, however, causing her to pull out of Wimbledon. Dementieva’s retired as the ninth-ranked player in the world.

Regardless of this year’s results, Dementieva’s enjoyed a fantastic career. Most notably, she won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. To take home the revered gold, she fought her way through a tough field, including Serena Williams, Vera Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina.

Although unable to win a major title, she had her chances, especially in 2004. Then, she  had a breakout season and made it to the finals at the French Open (she lost to Anastasia Myskina in the first all-Russian major final) and at the US Open (she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova, another Russian).

Here are some other statistics about her career, according to a recent Associated Press article: “After turning pro in 1998, Dementieva won 16 titles, including Sydney in January with a win over Williams, and the Paris Indoors in February. She was in two more finals in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. Dementieva played 18 ties in Fed Cup, spearheading Russia to the 2005 title with all three points in the final. She has been ranked in the top 20 since April 2003, reaching a career-high of No. 3 last year. She was also a top-five doubles player. She finishes her career with a 576-273 win-loss record, and a place in the year-end top 10 for the seventh time in eight years.”

To be clear, I’m not holding her losses in Grand Slam finals against her. Yes, she deserved to win at least one in her career. However, given her streaky serving, it’s amazing that she was able to reach these later rounds at all. It just shows how mentally strong Dementieva has been throughout her career and speaks highly of her athletic ability. She’s been a true fighter until the end of her career during a time of talent and power on the WTA tour.

I grew up watching her, and it’s sad to see her leave. With focus and a desire that’s rare and a style of game that excites and impresses, Dementieva will be greatly missed.

Clijsters Wins Second Straight US Open Title

For the second time in two years and her third time overall, Kim Clijsters of Belgium won on tennis’ biggest stage: the US Open. She beat Vera Zvonareva handily in a 6-2-, 6-1 drubbing. In fact, the match didn’t even last an hour. Clijsters closed out the shaky Zvonareva in only 59 minutes.

Along with her $1.7 million in prize money for notching the victory, Clijsters took home an additional $500,000 for taking second place in the US Open Series, a tune-up for the year’s final major. During the series of tournaments, Clijsters defeated Maria Sharapova in Cincinnati.

On Clijsters’ way to the win, she breezed through a tough section of the draw, including defeating strong players as Wimbledon semifinalist Petra Kvitova and a resurgent Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. In the quarters, she faced a tougher challenge in the French Open finalist Sam Stosur, who she beat in three sets: 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. In the semifinals, she faced Venus Williams, also needing three close sets to advance: 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Clijsters is a joy to watch with her powerful shot-making, her counter-punching defensive skills, which she switches so quickly in between points, her finesse, and famous splits. Plus, off-court, her manner shines just as brightly. Clijsters is a true champion, and it’s impressive how successful she’s been this past year.

Regarding Zvonareva, does anyone get the feeling that a comparison between her and the three-time Grand Slam finalist Dinara Safina might be in order? She’s done well to make to two consecutive finals, but if her mental game doesn’t raise another notch, she might find herself in the same position as her currently suffering compatriot.

Granted, she’s faced Serena Williams and Clijsters in her two final showings, but in both she was easily hit off the court. After beating the top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semis 6-4, 6-3, it looked like the final would be more dramatic play-wise. Zvonareva, however, mentally checked out mid-match — she chucked her racket, got down on herself angry, and double-faulted away the final — in an ugly kind of drama.

And so, congratulations once again to Clijsters for an excellent tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how the world number three finishes the season, especially at the year-ending championships in Doha at the end of October.

US Open Predictions – WTA Tour

The action at the US Open has begun. Without Serena Williams and Justine Henin, the year’s final major looks open for the taking. Here are my thoughts on the tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter:

Wozniacki looks sharp as the number one seed. She’s won three US Open Series titles in a row, capturing the Pilot Pen Tournament just a few days ago. She won the Series and could very well dominate the competition on her way to a major title. But before we look that far ahead, Maria Sharapova looms in her future as a potential fourth round match.

In that set-up, I take Wozniacki’s consistency over Sharapova’s experience, drive, and power. Plus, Sharapova needed three sets in her first round win to advance. I say Wozniacki wins in three sets.

Other notables: Aravane Rezai, the 18th seed, is one to watch, possibly meeting Sharapova in the third round.

Na Li’s Quarter:

The highest seed in this section of the draw got knocked out early on. Therefore, the stage is set for Svetlana Kuznetsova to get to the quarterfinals. Maria Kirilenko, however, recently got the the semifinals at the Pilot Pen Tournament. Can she make another big move at a major, like this year’s Australian Open?

Other notables: Kateryna Bondarenko beat Li. Will her form continue against a tough Dominika Cibulkova in the next round? If so, a fourth round result might just be in the cards for her.

Jelena Jankovic’s Quarter:

Jankovic isn’t a threat for the title in my opinion. She’s coming off of injury and needed three sets to get to the second round. If the seeding stays true to form, she could very well lose to Yanina Wickmayer, the 15th seed, in the fourth round.

Other notables: Kaia Kanepi, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist, might make some noise against Jankovic in a possible third round match. Personal favorite and veteran Patty Schnyder gets a shout-out for her dominating 6-1, 6-3 win over Kirsten Flipkins in the first round.

Vera Zvonareva’s Quarter:

This is a tough section with Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska heading the field. Zvonareva, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, should get to the fourth round without a problem. I see her playing against Radwanska to decide the quarterfinal spot.

Radwanska wins that match in three, using finesse, tactics, and superb counter-punching consistency to get inside Zvonareva’s head.

Other notables: Nadia Petrova, the Pilot Pen Tennis finalist, already lost to Andrea Petkovic, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands should find strong support at her home major.

Francesca Schiavone’s Quarter:

In what I view as the hardest section of the field, the French Open winner won’t live up to expectations. Instead, I’m rooting for Melanie Oudin, last year’s fairytale story, to get to the fourth round. Against her could be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sania Mirza, or Victoria Azarenka. The seeding says Azarenka, but I’ve been seeing great things from Pavlyuchenkova lately. Then again, Mirza’s back in action, and looked sharp in her qualifying matches and especially against Michelle Larcher de Brito in the first round.

Other notables: Can Alona Bondarenko find some surprise honeymoon success?

Venus Williams’ Section:

Okay, so the draw doesn’t get much easier in this section. Shahar Peer, Flavia Pennetta, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Venus are all contenders. I’ll take Venus to exact revenge over Pironkova, who beat her in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in straight sets during potential third round action.

The winner of that match could face Pennetta, although I’m a fan of Peer’s game.

Other notables: Can Pironkova bring the same amount of trickery against Venis this time around? Probably not.

Sam Stosur’s Quarter:

Elena Dementieva immediately comes to mind as the winner for this part of the draw. Stosur did well to get to the French Open final, but her form has suffered since then. Dementieva lost in a close match against Wozniacki and will bring that same drive and intensity in search of her first major title. She wants it badly. I’ll predict she advances in straight sets to the quarterfinals.

Other notables: I’m curious to see if Vania King can beat Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated an ailing Dinara Safina, in the second round. I hope King gets a lot of love from the New York City crowd.

Kim Clijsters’ Quarter:

Clijsters is likely to dominate this field. While Petra Kvitova plays a big, athletic game that got her all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals, she doesn’t have the experience to beat last year’s champion. Clijsters’ opponent for a spot in the quarters, however, is by no means locked. Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, and Jie Zheng are all big threats. Regardless, I’m not overly worried.

Other notables: Ivanovic versus Zheng should be an interesting match. Is the Serb ready for the top tier once more? I hope so. She looked promising in Cincinnati before withdrawing from injury against Clijsters in the semifinals.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Wozniacki beats Kuznetsova in two sets to make the semis. She’ll face the winner of Radwanska and Wickmayer. I like the chances of Wozniacki versus Radwanska. who takes out Zvonareva, in this semifinal section.

In the other matches, Azarenka loses to Venus, while Clijsters and Dementieva battle it out. Clijsters prevails in three sets.

The final four: Wozniacki against Radwanska, and Venus versus Clijsters.

News and Predictions from New Haven’s WTA Event

Along with the US Open Qualifying, that’s trucking along despite inclement weather issues, New Haven’s Pilot Pen Tournament is well underway with many big names pushing for that last bit of practice before the final major tournament of the year. The dual WTA and ATP tournament brings the best of both tours together, painting a good picture of who’s in form at the conclusion of the US Open Series.

Highlights from the WTA Tour:

  • Top seed Caroline Wozniacki, who enjoyed a first-round bye, gets the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals. Cibulkova, who’s been ranked as high as number twelve last year due to a semifinal run at the French Open, has seen a slip in her rankings after failing to reach that same superb level of form. She lost in the third round at both Roland Garros and at Wimbledon, falling to just inside the top 50. Look for Wozniacki to make quick work of a tired Cibulkova, who needed three sets to take out Melanie Oudin.
  • The fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva also struggled to get to the quarterfinals after an inspired Kateryna Bondarenko, sister of the recently married Alona Bondarenko, put up a strong fight. The top-ranked Russian edged the younger sister 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4. She’ll face Marion Bartoli — the winner over Alona and the qualifier Anastasia Rodionova — for a spot in the semifinals.
  • Other players of note: Dinara Safina’s putting some wins together. The former top player beat this year’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. She also took out Daniela Hantuchova 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2). She next faces a tough opponent in Maria Kirilenko.

My prediction: Wozniacki gets to the semifinals easily, facing Bartoli, who will surprise Dementieva in three. In the other semifinals, Safina faces Stosur, but loses in straights.

Wozniacki Wins in Toronto; New Haven Tournament Begins

Caroline Wozniacki, the number two player in the world, needed to win two matches in one day to take the title in Toronto. She did, quite easily. In the morning, she outplayed a recently resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-3. Just a few hours later, Wozniacki took to the courts again, ousting an error-prone and emotional Vera Zvonareva. The Dane’s crisp strokes proved too much for the Wimbledon finalist — she won 6-3, 6-2, putting an end to a tournament re-scheduled due to rain.

The question becomes this: Can Wozniacki, who’s going to be seeded first at the US Open with Serena Williams’ withdrawal, take advantage of the field to win her maiden major title? Last year, she made the finals. This year, she’s on fire, winning three titles already. With numerous others hampered by injury, including Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams, and possibly last year’s champion Kim Clijsters, the field currently looks like hers for the taking.

In New Haven, the Pilot Pen tournament got underway with a strong effort by the struggling Dinara Safina on the WTA tour. Safina ousted this year’s French Open winner, the third-seeded Francesca Schiavone of Italy 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, as a wild card. Also victorious: Elena Dementieva over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova over fan favorite Melanie Oudin.

For the men, wild card James Blake, who’s been struggling on tour with injury this season, dominated Pere Riba 6-0, 6-1. Americans Donald Young and Taylor Dent also advanced: Young won with a 6-1, 6-2 drubbing of Stephane Robert, while Dent needed three sets to beat Eduardo Schwank.

Injury Timeout — How the Big Name Pros are Faring

The fourth major is almost upon us. And, fitting with the final few months of the season, players on the ATP and WTA tours feel the burn. For many, however, it’s not just a burn, but an injury, curbing their success on the tennis court. Here’s a partial list of who’s feeling the aches and pains preventing play, and who’s back trying to salvage the year.

  • After suffering a foot injury just after her Wimbledon win, Serena Williams has been sidelined for the US Open Series. It’s still inconclusive whether or not the 13-time Grand Slam champion will play in the US Open. My call: She does, but doesn’t have the match experience to win.
  • While her younger sister is out of action, Venus Williams has been doing schoolwork for her interior design classes. Oh, and she’s also missing from the tour with a nagging knee ailment. She skipped the tournaments in Cincinnati and Montreal to recover. Unlike her sister, she’s publicly committed to playing at the US Open. After losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, and then having not picked up a racket since then, Venus isn’t a favorite for the title.
  • Just as Maria Sharapova looked ready to crack into the top ten for the first time in a couple years, injury set in. This time, during the final of Cincinnati against Kim Clijsters. The Russian sustained pain in her heel, forcing her to go through the motions for the rest of the match. After holding match points, Sharapova lost in three. On her website, she wrote, “I felt some pain in my foot late in the second set which kind of scared me so I have been forced to pull out of Montreal. I am hoping I just need a few days of rest.” Here’s to that wish being realized! In my mind, she’s a big contender to win the US Open title if physically fit.
  • Dinara Safina isn’t having a good year at all. Currently ranked 70 in the world, the former top-ranked woman and three-time Grand Slam finalist has suffered from a back injury on and off for most of the season. Now, however, she’s won a couple matches in Canada. The question: Can she keep it going, both physically and mentally?
  • Justin Henin looked ready to punctuate her comeback  with a major title at some point this year. After diving for a ball against Clijsters at Wimbledon, however, she hurt her elbow, damaging ligaments. Since then, she’s been out recovering. Henin recently announced that she won’t play for the rest of the reason.
  • Ana Ivanovic’s health has been on and off for a while now. In Cincinnati, she made it all the way to the semifinals, before getting hurt once more. On her website, she wrote, “I had almost non-stop icing for two days, to prevent swelling. My ankle has reacted quite well to the treatment and I still hope to play in New Haven next week.” Hopefully, Ivanovic keeps up the high level of play that finally got her far in a tournament.
  • James Blake, now ranked outside the top 100, cites injuries as the main reason for his poor play. He recently lost to Denis Istomin in Cincinnati 6-3, 6-0. The American, however, will be playing in New Haven and the US Open in an attempt to get back on track.
  • John Isner is one of the latest big names to get hurt on tour. In the second round of Cincinatti, he retired against David Nalbandian with an ankle injury.
  • Although he probably won’t defend his US Open title, Juan Martin Del Potro’s wrist seems to be recovering well. Since his wrist injury at the beginning of the season, Del Potro hasn’t played on tour. It’s a shame the Argentine won’t make it back to his best major result. He’ll drop out of the top ten as a result, too.

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).

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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