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Tenaciously Tennis


US Fed Cup Results and Prospects: Not So Good for Mattek-Sands, Oudin

With Fed Cup well underway, the United States has faced a tough test from Belgium so far to earn a spot in the semifinals. Having made it to that round every year since 2004, the US team — finalists for the past two years — look all but defeated. They’re currently down 0-2 as recent Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters knocked out Melanie Oudin 6-0, 6-4, while Yanina Wickmayer defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 7-6 (6).

Prospects aren’t looking so hot for the American team, captained by former player and current commentator Mary Jo Fernandez, especially with the notable absence of Serena and Venus Williams.

For the next match, Clijsters takes on Mattek-Sands. In their only meeting, Clijsters won. Mattek-Sands, however, should take comfort in the loss as it was a tough three-setter with the Belgian winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 back in 2010.

Regardless of possible confidence in past play, the only time to look is now. And with Clijsters on a roll — she’s taken her last eight matches, dropping just one set –, it simply doesn’t seem like Mattek-Sands has the ability to claim the win over the world’s number two player and keep the US team alive.

Mattek-Sands sprayed a lot of balls in the loss to Wickmayer. She needs to get over any tension, play her game (with balls going inside the lines), and win the biggest match of her career if she wants to beat Clijsters.

Here’s to hoping she can pull it off.

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Schnyder Signals Potential Retirement for 2011

Veteran Patty Schnyder discussed the possibility of retirement this year after losing her Australian Open first round match to Lesya Tsurenko. Suffering from bronchitis, the former top ten player, now ranked 44th, did not win a set. She lost 6-3, 6-2 to the 157th-ranked qualifier from Hungary.

Schnyder recently told reporters — probably in her post-match interview — that “I haven’t made any commitments beyond the next one or two months. I’ll play Fed Cup against Israel and then Doha and Dubai. After that I don’t know.”

Schnyder, whose best major result came at the 2004 Aussie Open when she reached the semifinals, has had a difficult couple years at the biggest events. After making it to the quarterfinals at both the French Open and US Open in 2008, she has failed to get past the third round since.

In 2010, she did not play the Australian Open for the first time in 13 consecutive appearance. After losing in the first round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Schnyder got to the third round at the US Open. There, she was a heartbeat away from advancing to the fourth round against Yanina Wickmayer, having held match points. In the end, however, Schnyder lost 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6).

With these recent, relatively lackluster results at majors, she has seen a dip in the rankings. Having ended the year in 2005 and 2006 in the top ten, Schnyder finished 2010 ranked 41st.

Regardless, she did enjoy two runner-up performances last year in the smaller tournaments at Budapest and Linz. Schnyder lost to Agnes Szavay and Ana Ivanovic, respectively, in those finals.

Fun to watch with her loopy, left-handed shots and ability to hit beautifully-placed winners at tricky angles, it would be sad to see her hang up the racket. In a sport that now places so much emphasis on power, especially on the WTA tour these days, Schnyder will be missed if she does decide to retire. At age 32, she’s been a professional for over 17 years.

Watch below for a fun video of Schnyder and Daniela Hantuchova playing some “street tennis” in Linz last year.

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.

Surprise Finalist Arn Wins in Auckland

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

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

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

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

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

For more on her win, see below.

Arn Advances, Meets Wickmayer in Final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Schnyder Teams with Klemenschits in Istanbul

Patty Schnyder and Sandra Klemenschits make for a compelling story as the third-seeded pair at the Istanbul Cup. Schnyder, who’s potentially retiring after this year, is out of the singles, but looked strong with Klemnschits in their first round match. The duo won over Johanna Larsson — the player that defeated Schnyder in singles — and Tatjana Malek in two sets, advancing 6-3, 6-4.

Klemenschits made news not necessarily for her doubles play, although she did win 20 titles on the ITF circuit, but more so for the cancer that took the life of her doubles partner and twin sister Daniela in 2008.

Seeing both players come together in doubles must be a special thing to watch. I hope they go far in the tournament.

Here’s a recap of some of the highlights on the WTA tour at both the Istanbul Cup and in the US Open Series tournmanet at Stanford:

  • Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova continues to be a rollercoaster ride on tour after her amazing run. She lost to Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
  • The Latvian teenager Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Petra Kvitova in the first round, was ousted from Istanbul with a three-set loss to Vera Dushevina, 6-3, 6-7 (8), 6-2.
  • At the Stanford tournament, Sam Stosur reached a career-high ranking of 5 in the world after beating American qualifier Christina McHale in two sets. Stosur advanced with her 6-1, 7-5 win.
  • Agnieszka Radwanska and Yanina Wickmayer both needed two sets to advance. Melanie Oudin, however, needed a tough three-setter to close out Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada. The teenage Oudin eked through 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-3.

Bank of the West Predictions: Stosur Versus Sharapova?

The Bank of the West Classic, the first tournament of the US Open Series for the WTA tour, got underway with wins by Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova, and Olga Govortsova. The tournament features a strong field of players, and should prove to be an exciting kick-off to the women’s hard court summer season leading up to the US Open. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets.

The First Quarter: Sam Stosur’s Section

The top seed in the event, the Aussie Stosur, is back after losing in the first round at Wimbledon. Stosur should be back on track at the tournament, bringing back the form that helped her beat both Justine Henin and Serena Williams on the way to the French Open finals. Her main competition: Yanina Wickmayer, who she’d potentially face in the quarterfinals. The head-to-head between the two players doesn’t help much: it’s tied at one-all. The last match was won by Stosur at the 2009 French Open in three sets.

I see Stosur getting through the section to the semifinals without much of a problem.

The Second Quarter: Marion Bartoli’s Section

This is a tough part of the draw with Bartoli, Ana Ivanovic, Melanie Oudin, and Victoria Azarenka headlining the section. I’d like to think that Ivanovic can get her game back, and beat Bartoli in what would be a second round match. That, however, is a huge question mark.

As for Oudin and Azarenka, I think the Belarussian will put a fight to earn the win in two sets. In the quarterfinals, I’m going with Bartoli against Azarenka, although I’d be just as happy for an Ivanovic – Oudin match-up.

The Third Quarter: Radwanska’s Section

Another heavy section of the draw, Peer, Daniela Hantuchova, Maria Kirilenko, and Radwanska stand out as the favorites to advance. Out of these four, I’ll go with Peer and Radwanska making it to the quarterfinals. There, I’m going with Peer to pull off the upset.

The Fourth Quarter: Elena Dementieva’s Section

This final part of the draw features two big names on the WTA tour: Maria Sharapova and Dementieva. Dinara Safina is also back in action, while Zheng Jie looks like a dangerous floater in any tournament she enters given her semifinal showing at this year’s Australian Open.

I don’t think Safina or Jie have the power (or health in Safina’s case) to take out Sharapova or Dementieva. I’m going with Sharapova to win that potential quarterfinal to get to the semifinals.

Overview:

I’m predicting that Stosur takes out Azarenka in the first semifinal. In the second, Sharapova beats Peer easily. In the final, Sharapova proves she’s got her game back, beating Stosur in three sets.

Federer Escapes First Round Upset

Roger Federer beat Alejandro Falla, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-0, in a surprising uphill battle from the start. The six-time Wimbledon champion looked set for defeat after losing the first two sets. However, he started playing at a new level in the last three sets, deflecting Falla’s impressive shot-making. In the final set, Federer reigned supreme and didn’t lose a game.

The question is: Can Federer overcome this scare and make it to his eighth Wimbledon final in a row? It won’t be an easy route. I see him dropping more sets over the course of the tournament, especially in the projected match against Berdych in the quarterfinals. Being Federer, however, his game will continue to improve as the tournament progresses. Hopefully, there aren’t any more scares of the sort.

By the way, congrats to Federer for earning his 200th win. It was well deserved.

Other notable five set escape artists: Novak Dkokovic (over Olivier Rochus) anad Nikolai Davydenko (against Kevin Anderson).

Noteworthy Winners: Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent, Florian Mayer (over Marin Cilic), Lleyton Hewitt, and Tomas Berdych.

In other news, the French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost in the first round to Vera Douchevine, while Melanie Oudin reclaimed some Grand Slam success by breaking her first round curse at the majors. She beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 6-3, 6-0.

Speaking of young Americans, Alison Riske, who made it to the semifinals at her Wimbledon warm-up event lost to Yanina Wickmayer in three sets. I see a big future for her in the coming majors. The US Open perhaps?

Sadly, a personal favorite, Patty Schnyder, faltered against Yung-jan Chan of China in two sets.

Other noteworthy wins: Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli, Shahar Peer (over Ana Ivanovic), Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, and Ekaterina Makarova.

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