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.


With Hisense Dead Spot Fixed, Sharapova Downs Goerges in Three

Posted in Andrea Petkovic,Julia Goerges,Maria Sharapova,Venus Williams by Ben on January 21, 2011

In a match delayed by a bizarre dead spot found on Hisense Arena’s court, Maria Sharapova beat Germany’s Julia Goerges in a tough test. The 2008 Australian Open champion won 4-6, 6-4. 6-4 in the three-set scare.

Locked in battle, both Sharapova and Gorges painted the lines with fierce play in the decisive set. After going up 4-0, Sharapova didn’t falter, but rather the German raised her game to another level to take the next three games. Sharapova, however, showed the fine form that has won her three major titles, ousting the 38th-ranked Goerges decisively in the final game.

Regardless of the loss, it’ll be fun to see where the German’s powerful shots and tough, fighting spirit take her in 2011. Evidenced by the skill displayed against Sharapova, she deserves a higher ranking than her current career-high.

With Venus Williams set to verse Andrea Petkovic in her match, and an injury potentially causing the American some grave distress, Sharapova might well have booked herself a spot in the quarterfinals. While Venus owns Sharapova in their head-to-head, the Russian soundly beat Petkovic in their one meeting last year in Cincinnati. She came out victorious 6-3. 6 -1.

Should Venus lose in the next round, look for Sharapova to soundly advance over Petkovic in straight sets.

Hisense’s Dead Spot and Wozniacki’s Wacky Personality

It’s been an intense  few days at the Australian Open with chaos and comedy abound. Agnieszka Radwanska’s racket snaps (see below), Kim Clijsters jokes about pregnancy with Tom Woodbridge, last year’s finalist Justine Henin bows out to Svetlana Kuznetsova in a straight sets upset, and much more.

To begin, a dead spot was found on Hisense Arena as Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges got ready to start play. With tournament staff in a frenzy, the players retreated back to the locker room, awaiting a fix to the curious on-court dilemma. It all came across pretty comical as none of the ESPN commentators could quite figure out what to make of the ball, which — when dropped — died completely. In the end, however, workers drilled small holes, trapped air was released from the court, balls bounced once more, and play resumed.

See below for a clip of the ball being dropped, and not bouncing at all.


Surprise Finalist Arn Wins in Auckland

Posted in Greta Arn,Julia Goerges,Maria Sharapova,Yanina Wickmayer by Ben on January 8, 2011

Greta Arn defeated Yanina Wickmayer in the ASB Classic final, capping off one of the best weeks in her professional career. The 31-year old Hungarian won 6-3, 6-3. She beat Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges en route to her first WTA tour final since taking the 2007 Estoril tournament. Arn described her victory as a “dream come true.”

An interesting detail, Pete Bodo mentions in a recent TennisWorld blog post that beating Sharapova “was Arn’s first win over a Top 20 player in her entire career, in which she’s had 16 such opportunities.” That’s a pretty big achievement for a player who turned pro back in 1997.

Currently 88th in the world, Arn’s sure to see a boost in her ranking when the revised list comes out. It’s a fantastic start to the new year for a player whose coach, Vittorio Magnelli, declined to travel to New Zealand unless “I buy a Concorde.”

With the Australian Open starting soon, Arn will be one to watch at the major tournament that never fails to surprise. Who knows? Maybe Magnelli might just make the trip this time.

For more on her win, see below.

Arn Advances, Meets Wickmayer in Final

Posted in Greta Arn,Julia Goerges,Maria Sharapova,Yanina Wickmayer by Ben on January 7, 2011

The 31-year old Greta Arn advanced to her second career final on the WTA tour after beating the fourth-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany. Arn, who stunned the top seed Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, won 7-6 (3), 6-3.

To get to the final against Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer, the tournament’s second seed, Arn preyed on Goerges’ unforced errors on the forehand side. She also used strong shot selection as her opponent suffered from impatience.

Having won four titles on the ITF circuit, Arn’s only WTA title came at the 2007 Estoril tournament. Her best showing at a major was during the 2010 Wimbledon. There, Arn made the third round as a qualifier.

Although Wickmayer will no doubt be a tough opponent — she’s a tremendous player ranked just outside the top 20 — Arn has proven that she has the shot selection and the ability to beat some of the world’s best this week.

For a clip of Arn’s post-match interview after beating Sharapova, see below.

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