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.


Azarenka’s Collapse – What It Means for Tennis

With a fiery personality, a big game, and a desire to win, Victoria Azarenka looked poised to make a deep run at the US Open, if not win it all together. The 10th-seeded Azarenka, however, fell to an opponent other than Gisela Dulko in the major’s second round. She, instead, succumbed to a phantom culprit: the combination of energy-sapping heat, humidity, and — quite probably– a physically debilitating tennis schedule.

Now, the debate about tennis’ long season — from January to November — has been raging for a while now. More recently, John McEnroe expressed some controversial concerns that the women in particular “should be required to be in less events,” garnering criticism from many.

While I believe the comments were demeaning, there’s truth to what he’s saying. I think, however, that it isn’t just the women John McEnroe should have targeted. The men, too, — think (last year’s) Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to name a few — are suffering. Injury shouldn’t be so prevalent on tour, and it certainly shouldn’t get to the point where promising young players collapse on court.

Instead, the season’s schedule needs some trimming. Cut down the required number of events, allow professional play to end sooner, and do what it takes for health and player safety — not fan enjoyment and corporate satisfaction — to reign the WTA and ATP tours. By consolidating the schedule, creating higher energy men and women combined events, and weeding out tournaments that aren’t garnering fan support, everyone benefits.

A lot is being done in the tennis world to solve these problems, I’m not saying there aren’t steps being taken. In fact, in January, Novak Djokovic, Nadal, and Roger Federer stated the desire to curb the Davis Cup, cutting down some weeks from the schedule in the process. Maybe this isn’t the best solution — Davis Cup is a heavily grounded tradition in tennis. The problem is: Since then the topic has been somewhat of an elephant in the room. It shouldn’t take such an extreme case, such as Azarenka’s dramatic retirement, to get the conversation really going with purpose.

Let’s hope the remainder of the US Open — and the rest of the season — survives without this scary manifestation of a harsh (and physically daunting) reality that professional tennis players of both sexes sadly face.

Venus, Tsonga Win; Azarenka Ousted

On the first day of the 2010 French Open, Venus Williams and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga posted wins in varying fashion – Venus won quite convincingly against her opponent, the crafty veteran Patty Schnyder, while Tsonga slid past the German Daniel Brands. On  the flip side, Victoria Azarenka continued a poor streak of play, losing to Gisela Dulko quite handily.

Williams beat Schnyder 6-3, 6-3, a strong showing for the first round, especially against such a strong player like the Swiss, who considers clay her best surface. Venus played a focused match, hitting her shots and not being afraid to really hit the ball. The only part of her game that let her down was the serve, which should become controlled as the tournament continues. If she can continue the strong form and continue to attack and move forward, I foresee Venus going very deep into the tournament as previously predicted. When Venus is on, there’s no stopping her. Unless of course the opponent is Serena Williams. However, the younger sister will have a tough time of getting past the semifinals, where she’ll likely meet her rival, Justine Henin of Belgium.

Contrasted to Venus’ success was Azarenka’s 6-1, 6-2 loss at the hands of Dulko. Injury has very much to do with her streaky play. With a result like that, it probably would have been better for Azarenka to simply retire. However, it’s nice knowing that she has the morals to fight it out on the court. There’s a real strength of character to her decision.  That said, she did miss her press conference, getting fined as a result. Hopefully, Azarenka can get her fitness and mind back in the game and show the exceptional form that took her to the quarterfinals of the last three Grand Slams.

On the ATP side, Tsonga won in a five-set battle against the German Brands, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6- 7 (2), 7-5. Also plagued with injury and fatigue, the result isn’t as much of a surprise. According to a recent Associated Press article, Tsonga has been having issues with his back, explaining the result. With the day off, look to see Tsonga regroup and win his next round more handily.

Williams Sisters Secure Wins Easily; Serbians Suffer in the Sun

Photo Credit: Lionel Cironneau/AP
Serena Williams and Venus Williams handily fended off two difficult second round opponents to advance. Serena looked particularly sharp against the powerful 20-year-old, Petra Kvitova, while Venus dispatched the mother, Sybille Bammer after a tough test in the second set.

The results are telling of what’s to come in the tournament’s future for the sisters. Serena’s intensity certainly is not the question. When is it ever? Then again, Venus, who was impressive in the first set against Bammer lost concentration as she so often does. This focus issue does not bode well in the second week of a Slam, especially one in which heat and fitness are key to winning.

That said, I’m sticking by my guns and predicting that Serena keeps her composure into the finals. However, it does not look like a sister semifinal will occur. Venus can get through the next round against Australia’s Casey Dellacqua, who’s been having a nice repeat of her 2008 Sunny Slam success, along with a probably fourth round match against the tenth-seeded lightweight, Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. Venus leads their head-to-head 4-1, including a 6-1, 6-2 win over the tricky counter puncher in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Wimbledon Championships. The run will most probably end at the racquet of Caroline Wozniacki, the recent US Open finalist, whose focused is almost always assured. Wozniacki is ready to shine under the big stage, and prove to the tennis world that she’s confident enough to snap her four straight defeats at the hands of Venus, all of which ended in two sets.

Now for news on the Serbians. There were big hopes for Ana Ivanovic coming into this Slam, while Jelena Jankovic continued to fly under the radar. Both former number ones failed, continuing their streaky success after topping the ranking charts. Ivanovic bowed out in an epic 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4 loss to Gisela Dulko in the second round, and her compatriot’s run came to a close in the third round against the Ukranian Alyona Bondarenko, 6-2, 6-3.

In terms of the Australian Open, Ivanovic’s loss opens the draw up nicely for Victoria Azarenka, securing an anticipated quarterfinal match against Serena. In Jankovic’s quarter, meanwhile, the surprise Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli might have the potential to make some noise. Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova’s slayer, Maria Kirilenko, loom in the background in the bottom of the draw, too.

The question is: Can the Serbs get back to a competitive level at the Slams? While I don’t see either hoisting up a trophy, especially in the next three events, there’s a long year ahead of the two for better or for worse.

Noteworthy News Links:

“Ivanovic out; Williamses, Djokovic win in Melbourne” by the Associated Press

“No big deal, says Jankovic after Aussie Open loss” by Agence France-Presse

“Ivanovic flops out of Open” by Agence France-Presse

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