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.


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.

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.

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.

WTA Tour Slumps with Injuries, Sporadic Play

Posted in Caroline Wozniacki,Dinara Safina,Sabine Lisicki,Vera Zvonareva by Ben on April 20, 2010

In the latest smattering of injuries, WTA players Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki, and Sabine Lisicki are being hampered by a variety of physical problems. These ailments are widespread across the tennis world, including the ATP side, too. With these injuries come compromised tournaments and personal anguish.

Let’s look at the specifics.

For the world’s number three player, Safina, a three times Grand Slam finalist, her back is the cause of the pain. For instance, according to a short article on, Safina blogged about “the back injury that has plagued her since last August. Safina wrote that an MRI revealed two stress fractures on her L5-S1 disk and a ruptured muscle.” The seriousness of the injury cannot go unchecked. According to Safina, “That was the worst news I could ever hear from a doctor, but now finally I’m recovering, though not as fast as I would prefer.”

Safina is currently in Croatia doing her physical therapy, and there is “no timetable for her return.” Moreover, the article reports that Safina “hasn’t played a match since she retired from her fourth-rounder at the Australian Open in January.” This is an extreme pity for a player so hungry for that first Grand Slam title and comes at a time when, due to other injuries around her, if she can just improve her healthy quickly, she might just come out on top.

Along with Safina’s case is that of Wozniacki, the current number two player.

Also writing in her blog, Wozniacki reported that “that the ankle injury she sustained in the Family Circle Cup semifinals against Vera Zvonareva isn’t that serious.” And hopefully this self-diagnosis turns out correct. Wozniacki has been having a breakout time on the tour with her strong showings at the largest events. She wrote, “The doctor said that I might be ready soon. I just need to make sure the right treatment.”

The third player, Lisicki of Germany, also has an injury of her own. Specifically, a left ankle injury. Therefore, she was forced to pull out of the Family Circle Cup, the tournament that took out Wozniacki from playing. Together, these three young players represent the future of the WTA tour, especially the later two. We’ll certainly being seeing more from all three. The question is: when?

Indian Wells 2010: A Belgian Brawl?

The 2010 BNP Paribas Open is upon us and the competition looks fierce on the WTA side. That is, however fierce it can be without the Williams sisters present. With their absence comes the chance for new faces to emerge and take command of the draw. Regardless, two champions look ready to fight their way through the 128-player field, and they are certainly not new faces at all. Unless, of course, you consider their hiatus from the sport for a while.

Yes, that’s correct. The two women I see battling it out is none other than the Belgian comeback queens, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. The draw, although not overwhelmingly favorable, provides just enough levity to all but ensure the two make it comfortably into the quarterfinals of the event. Let’s break it down.

Henin, who appears in the bottom half of the draw will first face the lightweight and number five seed, Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. Radwanska, although certainly technically talented simply lacks the raw power needed to push past Henin’s finesse. Basically, Henin plays Radwanska’s game, but stronger and better. Next up for Henin will probably be the up-and-coming German, Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki, although more talented will not be able to match-up to Henin’s cunning. I see Liscki going strong on her powerful serve, but succumbing in two close sets. If Henin should pass through that test, her next opponent will be the number four seed, Elena Dementieva. Dementieva has a lot to prove in this match-up, especially with her agonizingly close battle with Henin at the Australian Open. Look to see Dementieva fall under the pressure yet again after a three-set battle against Henin. If Henin reaches the semifinals, she will have a tough test in the other Russian, Maria Sharapova, who is looking to keep her winning streak going and show that she still has the fire and skill to take home the biggest titles.

Clijsters on the other hand appears in the top half of the draw as the fourteenth seed. Her first seed comes in the form of Alisa Kleybanova, who recently won her first title at the Malaysian Open against Dementieva. If Clijsters prevails against the confident Kleybanova, she’ll face the number one seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova. I see Clijsters winning in two sets against Kuznetsova, who is not used to being the first seed at an event, especially one as large as Indian Wells. Her head will get the best of her, and I see Clijsters winning in two. Also looming in Clijsters’ future are Jelena Jankovic, who’s been having a poor start to the year, the sensational Shahar Peer, who made a stunning semifinal run at Dubai, or Dominika Cibulkova, always a threat at the big events. If all works out for Clijsters, the semifinals will potentially mean a match with Victoria Azarenka. Look to see Clijster’s experience get the best of Azarenka, a player always prone to letting emotion get the best of her as was the case when she imploded at the semifinals of the Australian Open against Serena. If the match between Clijsters and Azarenka emerges, it should be a thrilling, three-setter with all sorts of ups-and-downs.

If the Belgians make it through to the final two, I predict Henin improving upon her runner-up title at the Sunny Slam and restoring her name at the top of the WTA tour.

Blackhorse picks include: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a young Russian, who recently won her first title and is the event’s number twenty-five seed and Caroline Wozniacki, the quiet, number two seed, and 2009 US Open finalsit, that will probably meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals.

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