Sunday, January 6, 2008

So what has the first week of the season shown us?

A busy first week to the season on the men and women's tours wrapped up Down Under. I always like to follow the warm-ups before the Australian Open because I think they're a pretty good indicator of who can make a breakthrough over the course of the year, or who will return to form.

So here's some things I noticed and am expecting after last week:

• Watch Out for the Young Guns: The biggest tournament on the men's side was the one played in Doha, which was won by Andy Murray. If he stays healthy, watch out. And something else about A-Mur (that doesn't sound as good as A-Rod, so I'll drop that now, even though I'm sure I'll be writing about him a lot this year): Since he came back from the wrist injury, and pretty much started tuning Brad Gilbert out at the end of last year, he's been on a tear. I'm thinking he's going to be top 4 by the end of the year.

Another young guy to watch out for is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: That kid's a beast! I saw him send Tim Henman into retirement last year and came away pretty impressed. I had been following him casually since he was in the juniors, but the injury bug stalled his progress. If he stays healthy, too, look for him in the top 15 by the end of the year.

On the women's side, Victoria Azarenka had a big week, making the finals at the Gold Coast tournament. She lost her third career final to veteran Na Li, but she's only 18. End of the year: top 10. But speaking of veterans like Li...

• The Veterans Will Have Their Day: Some old guys made a big impression this week, with Carlos Moya making the semis in Chennai and extending Rafael Nadal to three breakers before falling (and softening Rafa up for Mikhail Youzhny), as well as Lleyton Hewitt making it to the quarters in Adelaide before falling to Tsonga. But I think Moya and Hewitt will still be standing tall come the end of the year.

But the biggest result for a veteran would have to be Lindsay Davenport winning Auckland. I have to admit, I wasn't clamoring for her comeback at all because I thought she had gotten pretty whiny about the pro life over the years and it was driving me crazy! But if she goes all out, as it appears she has been doing, I'll cut her some slack!

• Sister Sledgehammers: This is to Venus and Serena: Please, PLEASE stay on track this year! The winning weekends you had (Venus at an exhibition tournament, Serena at the Hopman Cup) could really bode well for the season ahead. You two are much better than Justine Henin and it's not to late to re-establish that dominance. I'm picking you two to stay in the top 10, but just being there is not a true testament to your ability.

• Americans Flagging: You know, I've had a problem with the U.S. guys approach to the Slams: the only warm-ups they really seem to commit to are the ones before the U.S. Open. And they're not making the trip Down Under until a week before the big one. I see this trend happening and until it changes, the big guys (namely Andy Roddick and James Blake) will have trouble taking a major.

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