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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Pavlyuchenkova Win Big

Coming fresh off a big seesaw victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova advanced easily over Andrea Petkovic to get to the round of 16 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s event in Cincinnati, Ohio. She won 6-3, 6-1 in the dominating performance. Other strong performers included Ana Ivanovic, who knocked out Victoria Azarenka in the previous round, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the winner over third-seeded Elena Dementieva in two sets.

Sharapova’s last two victories prove she’s regaining the top form that others on the WTA tour should fear. With every match, there’s more of that champion’s spark that brought her to three major titles, beginning at 17. I’ve hinted at it in the past few weeks, but this win only solidifies my sentiments: Sharapova’s prepared to go deep at the US Open. She’ll be seeded well within the top 20, and I see her taking out some other big-time threats to get to the major’s second week.

Her results this year are on an upward trend: first round at the Australian Open, third round at Roland Garros, and a tough loss to Serena Williams in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here’s her chance to break through past the quarterfinals since her 2009 French Open showing. Sharapova’s next opponent? The tricky shot-maker, Agnieszka Radwanska, who’s having a great US Open Series so far, having made it to the semifinals and final of her last two events. I don’t see Sharapova letting up against Radwanska. She’ll win in two close sets.

Compared to Sharapova, Ivanovic’s results at the majors seem wildly unexceptional. She’s only made it to the second rounds at the Australian and French, falling in the first round at Wimbledon. And, yet, things are looking up (even if just slightly) with that win over Azarenka. She followed the upset with a straight sets victory over Yaroslava Shvedova, a quarter-finalist at this year’s French Open, and the winner of the doubles title with American Vania King at Wimbledon. Ivanovic needs to soak up the win and channel the confidence in her next round. She faces Elena Vesnina, the winner over a struggling Francesca Schiavone. I’m taking Ivanovic over Vesnina in three sets.

Pavlyuchenkova’s drubbing of Dementieva secures a huge step for the younger Russian to get to the semis of this event. That is, if she can take out Israel’s Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals. I see Pavlyuchenkova winning that match in three sets. She has the bigger game, and a good deal of experience so far throughout this summer season.

Bracket Breakdown:

In the top half, Jelena Jankovic will get to the semis despite some shaky play. She’ll potentially face Ana Ivanovic in the quarters.

In the bottom half, we see the return of Kim Clijsters, and an impressive showing from the American teenager Christina McHale — the winner against Nadia Petrova. Clijsters easily beat an ailing Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. For McHale, her win over Ayumi Morita means she’ll probably face the Belgian. There, I see her getting overwhelmed by the shots and experience of Clijsters in straight sets. I’m calling Vera Zvonareva to meet Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

On the other side of the draw, I like Pavlyuchenkova to make the semifinals in the top half, although she has stiff competition by facing either Na Li or Yanina Wickmayer to make it there.

In the bottom section, look for Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki to battle it out for the last spot in the final four. I’m predicting Sharapova overwhelms Wozniacki in three sets.

Final Predictions:

Jelena Jankovic defeats Ana Ivanovic in the quarters; Clijsters gets revenge over Zvonareva, who defeated her at Wimbledon in the other match.

Pavlyuchenkova surprises to make the semis, where she’ll face a fiery Sharapova.

The last two standing: Clijsters and Sharapova — a dream match.

WTA Post-Wimbledon Roundup

We’ve taken a look at the ATP tour, now it’s time to examine the WTA ranking moves. Who benefited from the two weeks on grass, and who suffered? Here’s a breakdown of the WTA tour position switch-ups.

  • Serena Williams took home the Wimbledon trophy for the second year in a row to break away definitively from the pack. Serena deserves the top sport for a long time. Should she win the US Open crown, too, she’ll be unstoppable.
  • While Serena is the strongest world number one in a while, the number two and three players are shaky. Both Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki ascended to the spots, respectively. Do they deserve the positions? Certainly due to the fact that both play matches and win. Furthermore, both are Grand Slam finalists. But there’s no feeling that they really own those spots, or are likely to keep them for any significant amount of time. No one else really does.
  • Venus Williams, meanwhile, the world number two before the tournament dropped as a result At number four, things are looking glum for the five-time Wimbledon champion. Let’s hope she picks up her Grand Slam game at the US Open.
  • Finalist Vera Zvonareva battled herself and her opponents to make her way to the match against Serena. She’s also now back inside the top ten at the number nine spot. Let’s see if she can get her head back in the game and continue to surprise us with the poise that brought her to the finals, not the self doubt that she showed afterward.
  • Victoria Azarenka and Nadia Petrova both got bumped a few spots. The two former top ten players now find themselves at number 18 and 19, respectively. Look familiar? Well, that’s the same as John Isner and Sam Querrey on the men’s side. The Americans’ stories, however, are ones of which to be proud.
  • Petra Kvitova and Tsvetana Pironkova both had fairytale runs to the semifinals. With their success, they now enjoy career high rankings. I foresee both within the top twenty by the year’s end. They have the games to do it, albeit drastically different ones.
  • Dinara Safina continues to sink. She dropped eleven spots to fall to number 33 in the world. Things aren’t going her way these days and probably won’t for quite some time. I don’t see an end-of-the-year turnaround for the Russian.
  • The Italian qualifier Kaia Kanepi boosted her ranking 42 positions to number 38, while Klara Zakpalova, who made it to the fourth round, shot to 43.
  • Melanie Oudin, Ana Ivanovic, and Sorana Cirstea all dropped, but yet look so promising to make good showings at the US Open. Ivanovic, of course, has the biggest potential to make it back to the final rounds if only she could find her game again. Oudin, on the other hand, proved she could do it last year when she made it to the quarterfinals. Cirstea has the game. Is the belief there? She did, after all, make it to the quarterfinals of the 2009 French Open. Thus, she knows what’s it takes to go far.

Unseeded Kvitova Secures Big Win Over Azarenka

The twenty year old Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic has advanced over the Belarussian Victoria Azarenka in compelling fashion, winning 7-5, 6-0. Her year, which has been otherwise unspectacular, has taken a huge turn with the win. Kvitova is now in the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the third time in her career. Her other best Grand Slam results include the fourth round at the French Open in 2008 and at the US Open in 2009.

With one career title to her name already, and these compelling results at the majors, I see Kvitova making a big run in the near future. She’s already taken out Jie Zheng of China, a player seeded 23rd and well known for the fantastic run to the Australian Open semifinals this year. Up next, she plays Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, 7-5, 6-4, another up and coming young star.

In the fourth round match, I think Wozniacki’s defensive game and experience will prove a little too much for Kvitova. I see the number three seed edging out Kvitova in a tight third set.

As for Azarenka’s loss, it was a good effort as she’s been having a difficult year with injuries. Her play is improving, which is a great sign. I think she’ll be completley back in action for the US Open; don’t expect a loss before the second week.

Also posting wins include Serena Williams over Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska over Sara Errani, and Na Li over Anastasia Rodionova.

In doubles, the third-seeded team of Nadia Petrova and Sam Stosur beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Aravane Rezai. Vania King of the US and Yaroslava Shvedova defeated the 14th seed of Monica Niculescu and Shahar Peer to make it to the sweet 16.

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.

Venus, Murray, Tsonga and Sharapova Sink in Curious Clay Defeats

In a surprising sweep of the top players, all contenders to win the event, Venus Williams, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Maria Sharapova’s play was halted in the fourth round of the French Open yesterday. The losses provide a shaky insight into the player’s confidence levels on clay and leave big question marks as to their form for the future Slams this year. Let’s examine the demise of each player.

Williams’ Loss to Nadia Petrova:

After a strong clay showing this season, many, including myself, looked towards the older Williams sister as a real contender at Roland Garros this year. In her first few rounds, she was dominating play with a powerful groundstroke game and good hands at the net. While her serving was slightly off, no one saw Petrova taking her out, especially not in straight sets. She lost 6-4, 6-3. About the loss, she said: “I’m obviously disappointed…I feel like I had a day where I wanted to hit the ball cross-court and it went down the line. It just wasn’t a good day.”

The Associated Press article further reports, “Petrova has been a nemesis for the Williams family lately—she beat Serena in the third round at Madrid less than three weeks ago.”

Going into Wimbledon, we should see a much more confident and comfortable Venus just like in years past. In the past,  she’s been able to put her French Open losses aside. Look to see her make it to the semifinals or better in the next few weeks.

Murray’s Loss to Tomas Berdych and Tsonga’s Retirement:

These two losses were huge disappointments for different reasons. Murray, who’s been having difficulties with his confidence since his three set drubbing at the hands of Roger Federer, could’ve taken it to Berdych, who’s never been past the fourth round of the French. However, he was destined for a different fate, losing 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.  It’s a good showing for the number fifteen seed, and he’ll next face a winnable match against Mikhail Youzhny, the winner over Tsonga.

Speaking of Tsonga, the last remaining Frenchman was forced to retire against the Russian after losing the first set. It’s a sad fact that he’s been so plagued with injuries during his tennis career. In fact, there’s a chance that Tsonga might not be able to play at Wimbledon due to the extent of the hip problem, according to a recent Associated Press article.

Sharapova’s Loss to Justine Henin:

This defeat was surprising for a different reason, for the ailing Sharapova to put up a good fight against Henin, considered a heavy favorite for the title, is promising. Sharapova lost 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and should take the good showing as a sign of confidence when she begins the grass court season, where she had a great deal of success in the past.

These losses do a number of things for the draw. First, Venus’ defeat opens the draw up for Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva in the bottom half. Look for Wozniacki to take advantage and make it to her second Grand Slam final. With Venus out, my eyes are on Serena to find her hands full with Justine Henin in the quarterfinals and Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. If she overcomes those tough players, I believe the title is hers.

On the ATP tour, the draw has opened even further for the success of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to meet once again.

Bartoli and Tsonga Succeed in Separate Ways; Rezai Anxiously Rests

There’s a lot going on for the French players at Roland Garros this year: epic matches, angry words, problems with officials. A lot of this conflict, however, is being resolved.

Marion Bartoli in her own form of conflict resolution took the higher road in her recent media debate with compatrio Aravane Rezai with the following statements:

“I think it’s really important to stay with what I said. I said it’s obvious Rezai had some really great results in the past few weeks,” said Bartoli. “I think there is nothing negative that I said about her or game or whatever.

“I have no animosity against Aravane. It’s good we have as many French players. If others, Alize, could come back, that would be a driving factor for me. I take it as a motivating factor. It helps me focus, practice, and try and improve every day. I think that’s the most important.

“I have absolutely no animosity whatsoever against Aravane, and I’m delighted she won Madrid. The further she goes, the happier I am.”

These statements are heroic. They present a mature tennis player, who wants nothing more than her compatriot to succeed. This in many ways sheds a new light on the often misunderstood Bartoli and should endear her to more fans in the future. I know it worked for me.

Tsonga, too, has succeeded in his own way. His: being the last Frenchman standing on the ATP tour with his recent win over Thiemo De Bakker 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4. Yet again, Tsonga has played a difficult match. But for him to keep continuing to win is to be applauded. We’ll see how far he can go with the weight of France on his shoulders.

Rezai, too, has her own battle to fight. This time being tied at 7-all in the third set of her match against Russia’s Nadia Petrova before play was stopped. It’s a difficult place to stop, no doubt. Maybe she can take a few pointers from Gael Monfils, who was in the same situation just days ago. However, Rezai might want to try winning, contrary to her compatriot’s result. While she’s at it, it’d be a good idea to send some good press along to Bartoli, whose words were sincere and apologetic.

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