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Tenaciously Tennis


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.

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Wozniacki Wins; Harrison Qualifies for US Open Main Draw

Caroline Wozniacki beat Elena Dementieva in the semifinals of the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven to make her third straight US Open Series final, winning the event as a result. In an exciting, drama-filled match, Wozniacki played just a little more consistently in the final few games to win in the deciding tiebreak. She advanced 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

After Dementieva looked to be in control of the final set with an early break, she served for the match at 5-4, but failed to convert. Wozniacki then held multiple match points at 6-5, but couldn’t win as Dementieva raised her game. In the end, Wozniacki lived up to her number two ranking in the world, showing she’s meant to be the US Open’s number one seed as well.

The Dane next faces Nadia Petrova, who shook off negativity and errors in the beginning of her match versus Maria Kirilenko to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. Petrova, ranked 19th in the world, is actually a wild card in the event after Ana Ivanovic declined it. Petrova entered last minute, and she’s probably very glad as this result is her first final all season.

I predict Wozniacki cruising to take the title for her third time. Petrova needed a lot to beat Kirilenko mentally, and she has a much tougher opponent in Wozniacki. Basically, Wozniacki plays Kirilenko’s game, but much better. Therefore, I see Petrova melting down a little as her shots miss and Wozniacki’s consistent, counter-punching style overwhelms.

At day four of the US Open Qualifying Tournament, American Ryan Harrison got into the main draw after defeating Ricardo Hocevar 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. This win shows a positive sign for the teenager’s young career and the future of the sport here in the US. Hopefully, he continues playing at this high level and gives it everything in the first round.

Other qualifying matches of note: Nicholas Mahut, who lost to John Isner in the longest match ever, is one step away from qualifying. He beat Uladzimir Ignatik 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Wild card Blake Strode lost, joining the 14th seed Ilija Bozoljac in defeat.

In the WTA event, Michelle Larcher de Brito dominated Anastasiya Yakimova 6-0, 6-0, and Sania Mirza qualified for the main event with a 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 win against Catalina Castano.

US Open Qualifying: Day One

I just got back from the first day of the US Open Qualifying tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Although rain delayed play for a few hours, the tournament eventually commenced pitting former top players hampered by injury, rising young talents, and journeymen dedicated to the sport despite rankings hovering in the 200s, and more, against one another in the windy, rainy conditions.

A dog fight ensued, to say the least, and a lot of passion filled the New York City air — both on the court and off. Here’s what happened during my first day back at my favorite tournament of the season.

With the inclement weather, not too many fans showed up to see the inaugural action for the 2010 tournament. Those that did manage to get to the free event, however, embodied the die-hard fan, among a slew of officials, players, and media people.

You could feel the excitement in the air, the crowd’s energy was palpable. Almost everyone looked happy to be there, despite the annoying drizzle that hit the courts just enough to halt action. Personally, I’m always amazed by the energy, and the intensity around the grounds — the players fighting it out on court, players, trainers, vendors, and more rushing to courts, and other obligations, fans hurrying to get see matches, and other activities that fill the time in between.

After taking in the scene — and despite the rain — it was fun just taking it all in and people watching, eating a pretty good vegetarian crepe, and waiting for the rain to subside, workers took to the courts to start the process of drying. With squeegees and other equipment, matches resumed around 2pm.

The first match I watched presented one of the United States’ future hopefuls, Ryan Harrison against Jonathan Dasnieres De Veigy of France. Harrison, currently ranked 219, looked sharp in his first round qualifying match. Despite a shaky season so far, the 18-year old played with a impressive variety from stinging slices, high topspin lobs, and wicked forehands that put the French journeymen on the defensive for most of the match.

Near the beginning of the first set, I looked to my left and saw none other than Sam Querrey, the fourth-ranked American after Andy Roddick, John Isner, and a recently resurgent Mardy Fish. The 22nd-ranked Querrey, who’s having a strong US Open Series leading up to the US Open, looked to be supporting the young American, which was refreshing to see.

Harrison, probably inspired by the New York City crowd that heavily on his side, and Querrey, closed out Dasnieres De Veigy 6-1, 6-4.

After taking in some of Katie O’Brien’s match against Lesya Tsurenko — she won in three sets — I got the chance to simultaneously view the end of Anna-Lena Groenefeld’s match against Rika Fujiwara and the start of Michelle Larcher de Brito’s versus Karolina Pliskova.

Groenefeld looked ready to close out the match easily in the second, she was up 4-0. Her serve, however, got shaky, while Fujiwara improved her play with compact swings and raw emotion. The former top 20 player Groenefeld, who’s now ranked 129 in the world, eventually regained her form with poise to close out the match 7-5, 6-3. Seeing Groenefeld brought me back a few years to watching her on television. It was the first tennis match I’d ever watched, and it was fitting I got the chance to see her again today after about six years of watching, playing, and writing about tennis.

In the other match, Larcher de Brito impressed from the start with powerful forehands and a Maria Sharapova-like intensity. After trading service breaks with Pliskova, Larcher de Brito grunted her way to a 6-4, 6-4 win. Near the end of the first set, however, I’d be remiss to forget mentioning another player-sighting — none other than crowd favorite Melanie Oudin, who wowed fans with her surprise quarterfinal run at last year’s event. I was star struck to say the least. Let’s see how Oudin handles the pressure at this year’s tournament with her less-than-stellar results at other events so far this season.

Other matches of note I caught bits and pieces of as the day of tennis continued included: American Bobby Reynolds’ win against Chris Guccione, Sloane Stephens’ victorious match over Anais Laurendon, and Kei Nishikori’s successful play after an elbow injury hampered most of the season versus Paul Capdeville.

Serena, Sharapova Look Sharp; Stosur Struggles

Last year’s Wimbledon champion Serena Williams and 2004 teen sensation Maria Sharapova win in straight sets today to keep their collision course in the fourth round an exciting possibility. In the same quick fashion, Sam Stosur of Australia lost to Kaia Kanepi.

For Williams, the 6-0, 6-4 win was welcome revenge against her young opponent, the 17-year old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal. The first time the two met, Serena dropped a set at Stanford in 2008 to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. This time, things were much different. Larcher de Brito’s, however, suffered from a shoulder injury throughout the match, probably adding to the pressure of coming out strong against such a powerful opponent. If healthy, I see Larcher de Brito raising the volume of her game another few notches in the future.

Get it? She’s loud. But, she also plays a loud, in-your-face type of game, and I have no problem with the decibels. Of course, that’s easy for me to say since I’m not her opponent. To tell you the truth, it’s more annoying to hear the commentators trash talk the teenager than actually hearing her. Yes, it’s 109 decibels, making her louder than both a…chainsaw, I believe, and Sharapova, but Monica Seles was loud, too. Larcher de Brito’s entitled to her grunts, and it should be left at that. Hopefully, the draw comes out kinder for her at the US Open. The backhand, which she powers through with a lot of left hand action, is a real beauty to see.

Sharapova’s 6-0, 6-1 win over Anastasia Pivovarova sends the clear message that she means real business this year. After a surprise second round let down last year, and a year marred by injury, Sharapova needs these next few wins to get her grass court confidence back. She hasn’t made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon since her run to the semifinals in 2007, a lackluster record for such a capable grass player. Interesting fact: Sharapova’s current ranking is at 17, the age she won Wimbledon. Could it be destiny that she repeats the performance, beating Serena in the fourth round? Probably not. But she’s playing like she can take on anyone at the moment.

In contrast to the success of Serena and Sharapova, the French Open runner-up Stosur disappointed with her loss to Kanepi, a virtually unknown player in the Grand Slams. Kanepi hasn’t advanced beyond the second round at Wimbledon, let alone any event in the past couple years (although she did advance to the third round of the Australian Open in 2009 and the quarterfinals of the French in 2008).

Stosur’s loss underscores the physical toll of the French Open-Wimbledon combination, and also provides insight into the Aussie’s mental game right now. Maybe she hasn’t yet fully recovered from the disappointing loss to Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. The highs that she felt after knocking out both Justine Henin in Serena at Roland Garros are being balanced out by her shoddy play since then. She’ll recover with time — it’s been a crazy month for Stosur, and she deserves the rest to recollect her form.

Wimbledon Predictions – The WTA Tour

Should I even be looking at anyone besides the Williams sisters given their track record at Wimbledon? Probably not. But, then again, anything can happen, and it’s always fun tracking the draws of a Grand Slam. There’s a strong showing this year with the Belgians back, others making big moves, a certain Russian looking good, and a slew of other players vying for the breakthrough feeling Francesca Schiavone captured at the French Open. So, without further ado, here are my predictions.

The First Quarter:

Notables – Serena Williams (1), Dominika Cibulkova, Lucie Safarova (25), Daniela Hantuchova (24), Maria Sharapova (16), Na Li (9), Anne Keothavong, Svetlana Kuznetsova (19), Sara Errani (32), Agnieszka Radwanska (7)

This section of the draw belongs to the younger Williams sister and Sharapova. With Michelle Larcher de Brito along the way, Serena faces a loud opponent, but should dismantle her easily. In the fourth round, the decibels will drop, but the competition will get much fiercer with Sharapova in her future. I see that match being an excellent display of tennis. It’s too bad it’ll need to come so soon. Of the two, I’m going with Serena to win in three sets. Sharapova brings the intensity and the grass court experience from the pre-Wimbledon warm-up, but Serena’s healthier, and she has the career edge with a 5-2 record against the Russian. In fact, the only times Sharapova prevailed over Serena was during her momentous 2004 Wimbledon final win and in the tour championships later that year. Fast forward a few years, and it’s a completely different setting. On the bottom half, I see Radwanska making it to the fourth round, where she’s likely to face Na Li of China. There, Li’s recent win over Sharapova will show itself, and she’ll make it to the quarterfinals to face Serena.

The Final Four: Serena plays and beats Sharapova, while Radwanska loses to Li in two lopsided sets.

The Second Quarter:

Notables – Caroline Wozniacki (3), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (29), Jie Zheng (23), Sorana Cirstea, Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka (14), Flavia Pennetta (10), Aravane Rezai (18), Alexandra Dulgheru (31), Kimiko Date Krumm, Sam Stosur (6)

This is a difficult part of the draw. So many strong players appeal to the avid tennis fan that I can hardly make a decision. Going based on the seeding might not work. Therefore, I’m going to go with my gut. Wozniacki should make it to the third round, where I suspect she’ll meet Pavlyuchenkova. I think the Russian will put up a stronger fight than in the past, despite her poor record against Wozniacki. She’s lost each of their three meetings. Regardless, I see the Dane advancing. In the fourth round an even tougher test awaits her with the feisty Azarenka back on track. Although she lost to Makarova last week, I don’t see her being stopped by Wozniacki. She’ll win in three sets to make it to the quarterfinals, proving she belongs back in the top ten. I’m also seeing something interesting happening with Cirstea and Kvitova, whichever one passes their first round battle. In the bottom half, I like Rezai and Sam Stosur to advance to the fourth round. Sam’s experience should pay off, although her loss at the French might still be effecting her. I put Rezai as wanting it a little more than Stosur.

The Final Four: Azarenka surprises Wozniacki, and Rezai tops Stosur in three sets (although that’s a serious question mark).

The Third Quarter:

Notables – Kim Clijsters (8), Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Maria Kirlenko (27), Justine Henin (17), Patty Schnyder, Nadia Petrova (12), Yanina Wickmayer (15), Vera Zvonareva (21), Alyona Bondarenko (28), Jelena Jankovic (4)

The battle of the Belgians is bound to take place in the fourth round. There, I put Henin a notch above Clijsters, who was out of the French Open with injury. Henin wants it more — this is the reason she’s back, and she will go down fighting her hardest. Along the way, she needs to watch out for Petrova (unless Schnyder takes her out first, which I really hope will happen!). In the bottom section, I’m betting that Alison Riske of the United States continues her exceptional streak at Wimbledon. If she can take out Wickmayer in the first round, I see her fighting her way in a string of three set wins to the fourth round, where’ll probably meet up with Jankovic. At that point, she’s likely to be too tired out and mentally fatigued for the experienced Serb, who by the way won’t have problem making it there with a pretty open draw as it stands.

The Final Four: Henin dismisses her compatriot Clijsters in three sets. In the bottom half, Riske (who I hope can take out Wickmayer) reaches the fourth round before falling to Jankovic in another serious showdown that goes the length.

The Fourth Quarter:

Notables – Francesca Schiavone (5), Yaroslava Schvedova (30), Kateryna Bondarenko (34), Marion Bartoli (11), Shahar Peer (13), Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Melanie Oudin (33), Alisa Kleybanova (26), Ekaterina Makarova, Venus Williams (2).

I like this section a lot. There’s a lot of potential for a strong showing by a few surprises, although ultimately there’s no picking against Venus to make the quarterfinals. The top section is a much easier pick. I don’t see Schiavone channeling the champion spirit that won her a Grand Slam. I do see her making the fourth round, where she’ll face Bartoli. Remember her? She made it to the Wimbledon final a few years ago (although it really feels like decades. I have a feeling we’ll see a quarterfinal rematch with Bartoli losing to Venus eventually. In the bottom section, Ivanovic is likely to fall to the Israeli peer in the first round. Another disappointment for the former world number one. Hopefully, Oudin gets her game back to take out Peer in the third round. If so, she’ll no doubt meet Venus. However, the older Williams sister will face a tough challenge in Makarova, the winner over Azarenka a few days ago.

The Final Four: Schiavone falls to Bartoli in two sets, while Venus ousts Oudin.

Second Week Predictions:

  • Sharapova screeches to a halt against Serena in three. Serena sends off Li in two sets.
  • Azarenka raises her game to defeat Rezai in two sets.
  • Henin handles Jankovic easily in the hopes of finally realizing her dream to hold the Wimbledon trophy up high.
  • Venus comes away with another win against Bartoli.

In the semifinals, Serena beats Azarenka in a repeat of the Australian open semifinal, although much quicker this time. In the bottom half, I’m having difficulty deciding between Venus and Henin. Both want to make it so badly. I think Venus’ experience will pay off, and she’ll stop Henin in three close sets to prevent deja vu of this year’s Australian Open final.

As for the men, I’m waiting on predicting the champion of the event until I feel strongly one way or the other.

Click here to look at the complete women’s draw.

Sharapova Sinks to a Shrieking Halt Down Under; Soderling Shocked in Five Sets

Photo Credit: Getty Images
One of my blackhorse picks for the 2010 Australian Open has already come to a screeching halt in the first round. No, not the young, loud Michelle Larcher de Brito, who come to think of it has completely gone off the tennis radar, but the seasoned, 2008 Aussie Open champion, Maria Sharapova.

As Managing Editor of Tennis.com, Abigail Lorge, eloquently put it in her blog post, Monday Morning Kickoff, “In a baseline battle between two 22-year-old Russian glamazons, both named Maria, the 59th-ranked Kirilenko prevailed over No. 14 Sharapova, 7-6 (4) 3-6, 6-4. The first-round exit by Sharapova, one of three former Australian Open champions in the women’s draw, was the defining story of day one.”

It was an intensely close match, and a good effort from Maria Kirilenko, whose best Slam result came at the Sunny Slam in 2008 where she made it to the fourth round. On the flip side, Sharapova, who was a favorite to win the whole tournament, played a highly error prone game, making over 60 errors. Again, the question of Maria Sharapova’s shoulder comes into play. Can it be used as an excuse anymore? Maybe not.

Sharapova came into the Australian Open without playing in an actual tournament, instead using an exhibition in Hong Kong as her preparation. That in my opinion was a big mistake. Sharapova should be realizing that in this second career of hers, she needs more match play to get back into the swing of things.

In her press conference, Sharapova’s confidence and desire to win despite the disappointment was strong: “A bad day’s not going to stop me from doing what I love. I’m still going to go back on the court and work hard and perform. I’ll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, you’ll watch.”

Props to the lesser-known Maria for coming out the victor. Her next match will be against Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger. I see Kirilenko coming clean in two.

Peter Bodo provides some interesting commentary on Sharapova’s loss in a recent Tennis World blog post.

On the ATP side, there have also been some compelling stories. Two shockers on Day Two: the rising American star, Sam Querrey bowed out in four lop-sided sets to the 33-year old German veteran, Rainer Schuettler, while 2009 French Open Finalist Robin Soderling lost 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 to Marcel Granollers.

It was a complete surprise that the loss came so quickly for the eight-seeded Soderling, although he hasn’t made it past the 2nd round in his career attempts at the Aussie Open. He holds a poor 2-4 record in the past. However, Soderling took out Granollers in the 2009 Wimbledon Championships on his way to the fourth round, and it looked like he was going to do the same with his two sets to one lead during the first half of the match.

Soderling’s recent string of success is impressive: first Slam final at the French, fourth round at Wimbledon, the quarterfinals at the US Open, and a fantastic finish to the year at the ATP World Tour Finals. Maybe he’s struggling with the new pressure having recently broken into the Top Ten in the beginning of this new tennis season. Injury could also be the issue as the Swede finds himself playing more tennis at a higher level later in his career. Whatever the case, I’m still not counting him out for the future.


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