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.


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.

Tournaments Wrap Down and Seeding Shake-ups

Well, the tournaments before Wimbledon’s start finished yesterday with the victors including Justine Henin and Ekaterina Makarova. Henin’s predictable outcome resounds given the new technique she’s taken to use, and speaks highly of her desire to take Wimbledon from Serena and Venus Williams this year. Can she do it? Her results add a great deal of certainty.

Just as Henin’s win was expected, the Russian Makarova surprised all by beating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in a compelling 7-6 (5), 6-4 match. The strong effort makes Makarova a player to definitely look out for at Wimbledon, which begins on Monday.

Speaking of Wimbledon, a last minute drop-out include Dinara Safina, whose string of four straight match losses proves she’s a mentally and physically fatigued player. Safina needs and deserves the two weeks off. It’s a sad reality, but one that she can hopefully overcome in the future. Already out of the top ten, Safina, who made it to last year’s semfinals, will continue to see a sharp drop in the rankings.

In her place, Melanie Oudin, the inspirational American becomes a seeded player for the first time at a Grand Slam. Look to Oudin for a good showing at Wimbledon — her other results this year haven’t lived up to the surprise quarterfinal run at the US Open last year. She hasn’t made it past the first round at a major since then. Regardless, I see a stronger result  here, where she made it to the fourth round last year. The pressure affected her, explaining the early defeats. I see big things in Oudin’s future, and I get the feeling that there’s another run into the second week of another Grand Slam in her near future. The talent and the belief is obviously there, the only question is the mental game.

Along with Safina, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez also leaves the field, allowing Kateryna Bondarenko into the draw. I didn’t see either as a threat regardless, and it should do little in the grand scheme of things. Too bad for Martinez Sanchez, whose been having a good year thus far, especially at Indian Wells.

Look out for the next post — Wimbledon predictions.

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.

Jankovic Slams Down Sisters on Clay

In two days, Jelena Jankovic beat both Serena Williams and Venus Williams on the red clay of Rome. With a hard fought three-set win over Serena in the semifinals, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), and her easy 6-0, 6-1 win against Venus in the quaters, the Serb joins a short list of players to beat the sisters at the same tournament, including the Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.

With the impressive play from the typically shaky Serb, Jankovic will next face the surprise finalist in Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who defeated the inspired Ana Ivanovic of Serbia. With both players obviously on a roll on the clay of Rome, the final should be a sensational display of talent.

After watching both Jankovic and Martinez Sanchez on the hard courts of the Indian Wells tournament months ago, it is not surprising that both players brought their best games to clay, too. In fact, both are known for their success on the surface. Jankovic has won at Rome in 2007 and 2007 and will be considered the heavy favorite against the Spaniard to win the title.

Regardless of who wins, the question becomes: can Jankovic use the same exceptional skill and desire to take out the sisters yet again at Roland Garros? When it’s a Grand Slam, it’s safe to say that a Williams sister will be in her way. If Jankovic can embody this same player, maybe she will finally win the elusive Grand Slam title.

Nadal Easily Advances; Upsets Ensue at Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal and John Isner raced through their third round matches, while the Serbs Novak Djokovic and Jelena Jankovic needed marathon three-set matches to advance. On the surprise-side, session ten at Indian Wells saw Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka lose, as Israel’s Shahar Peer advanced in three.

In Nadal’s match against Mario Ancic, the Spaniard wowed the crowed with shot after shot, making his established opponent look like a confused country-player. With his powerful top spin forehand, Nadal dominated Ancic with beautifully hit passing shots and curling forehands hit from outside the doubles alley that miraculously clipped corners of the court. In the end, Ancic looked completely baffled, bowing out, 6-2, 6-2. The third seed next faces the American giant, John Isner.

Isner beat friend and fellow Davis Cup partner, Sam Querrey, 7-6(3), 6-4, asserting his rightful place as the second-ranked American in the world. The question remains, can Isner push himself to the max and take down the defending champion, Nadal, in the next round. My prediction: probably not.

Djokovic looked to have an easy match against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first set, but things intensified as Kohlschreiber’s one-handed backhanded and the California heat weighed down on the Serb’s game. Djokovic outlasted Kohlschreiber’s three match points and took the third set tie break to win, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(3). Next up is a harder test in Ivan Ljubicic, the twentieth seed.

Another Serb, Jankovic, looked to be all but out of the tournament against her lower-ranked opponent, Sara Errani in her 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 win. For the first set and most of the second, Jankovic would set the point up with one of her beautifully placed down-the-line backhands. However, she continually made unforced errors, allowing Errani to dictate play. In the second set tiebreak, Jankovic was up 6-1, until sloppy play ensued. Jankovic lost the next five points, but eventually took the set and the match.

Clijsters and Azarenka bowed out in surprising fashion. Clijsters lost to Russian Alisa Kleybanova 64, 1-6, 7-6(4), while Azarenka was defeated by Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 7-6(4), 6-2.

With Clijsters out, my prediction for a Belgian champion at the 2010 Indian Wells tournament comes to a close. However, there is the exciting possibility of a new winner on the west coast, which is just as powerful a storyline.

Azarenka’s defeat by Martinez Sanchez was a huge upset, showcasing the Spaniard’s beautiful variety, including drop shot returns, finesse volleys, lobs, and well-placed serves. All combined to throw off Azarenka’s powerful baseline game and end her hopes for a big win.

Other matches of note had Israel’s Shahar Peer versus Flavia Pennetta, Vera Zvonareva against Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, and Australia’s Sam Stosur meeting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Peer came back from a difficult loss in the second set to take a commanding win in the third set, beating the Italian, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1. In the other match, 2009 champion Zvonareva put a stop to the Latvian’s strong run 6-2, 6-3, while Stosur out-hit the recent titlist, Pavlyuchenkova, in a lopsided, 6-3, 6-0.

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