Sunday, January 13, 2008

Aussie Open picks: the women's edition (late!)


Ok, this should've been done now, especially as the matches have already kicked off (darn Australian time)!

Anyway, here goes my picks for the quarters, semis, finals and the winner:

Justine Henin vs. Lindsay Davenport: Both of these two have won tournaments so far this season, and I guess going back to around U.S. Open time, there hasn't been hotter players than these two. But even though what she's done so far in her comeback has been pretty amazing, Davenport shouldn't be able to stop Justine, who's on a Federer-like roll. Kudos to Davenport, especially, on beating Maria Sharapova in the second round. (You've read it here first!)

Amelie Mauresmo vs. Serena Williams: I'm picking Mauresmo to go this far because Jelena Jankovic has been hobbling for a few months now, which was really evident at the Hopman Cup. Not that Amelie's been in any type of good form lately, but talent alone should carry her this far. However, when she gets to the quarters. .... Serena's been doing very well this year and it's good to see her get to the quarters of a Major and not have to play Henin again. A few years ago, this could have legitimately been a final, but now it's a different situation and Serena should be able to blow her out.

Venus Williams vs. Eleni Daniilidou: Venus wins the easiest draw of the tournament award, and should zip on through. She should have one of those Wimbledon-type romps, with the only player I see giving her a little bit of a challenge to this point being Sania Mirza in the third round. Daniilidou has had a pretty good start to the year, winning a title already, and while I could never figure out why she hasn't put it together, maybe this year is the time she finally does, starting with taking out Ana Ivanovic in the second round.

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: I really like Daniela coming through her section of the draw. It seems over the past couple of years, she's really been playing up to her potential. I'm expecting her to take out Anna Chakvetadze in a battle in the fourth round. Kuznetsova has been doing nothing but playing as solid as a player could play of late and should have no trouble advancing to this point.

In the semis:
Henin vs. Serena: An all-Williams final is just a match away! However, Serena doesn't do her part and falls to Henin here. At least it's a step past the quarters where they always meet.

Venus vs. Kuznetsova: Venus does do her part, though, and takes out Svetlana pretty handily. There have been few players that when they get going in a major, REALLY get going like Venus does.

In the final
Henin over Venus: However, the V-train gets derailed against Justine here, who's racking up majors at a crazy pace. Henin's really looking like one of the all-timers to me.

Aussie Open picks: the men's edition

One of my favorite things to do over the course of the season is to try and predict the quarterfinalists at the Majors (I know, I need to get out more!) The Australian is the toughest one to pick because it's within the first three weeks of the season and it's hard to gauge what type of shape players are in. But what kind of prognosticator would I be if I didn't venture forward? So here goes my picks for the quarters, semis, finals and winner:

Roger Federer vs. James Blake: R-Fed ended up with the easiest draw in the whole tournament! I think the winner of that Fabrice Santoro-John Isner match in the second round could force him to sweat a little, but other than that, things should go good for him. Blake's draw is filled with very streaky guys like him, such as Sebastian Grosjean, Ivan Ljubicic, Jurgen Melzer and last year's finalist, Fernando Gonzalez. Any of those guys could come through and I wouldn't be surprised, but for the sake of making a firm decision, I'm going with JB.

Novak Djokovic vs. Radek Stepanek: There's a lot of talent in Djoko's section--Xavier Malisse, Dmitry Tursunov, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Marcos Baghdatis--but I think this kid is really focused on winning majors and should be primed to take thes guys out. But he was kind of limping around at the Hopman Cup. I'm sticking with him though. As for Stepanek, if I was more sure about David Nalbandian coming in, I would pick him in this section. Stepanek should be able to take him in the fourth round, though. Look for a "worm dance" sighting on the court after that match!

Andy Murray vs. Mikhail Youzhny: I literally flipped a coin to pick the winner of the Jo-Wilfried Tsonga-Murray first rounder! I had to get up out of my chair, go find a nickel and flip it because I had no idea who to pick in what could be one of the best first rounders in a major in years. Murray won Doha, but Tsonga just got through winning a doubles title in Sydney with Richard Gasquet beating the Bryan brothers, which is a pretty big thing to do, to say the least. However Murray won the toss, so I'm going with him. Like Federer, Youzhny's draw is pretty easy, too, with the high seed in it being Nikolay Davydenko. I think Youzhny's in better form, having won Chennai this year. And I think Davydenko will run into trouble in the first round anyway against Michael Llodra, who's won Auckland this year.

Andy Roddick vs. Rafael Nadal: It kind of gets overshadowed, but A-Rod actually does pretty well down here. And if the weather gets crappy or too hot and he has to play indoors, forget about it. There should be aces-a-plenty coming off the old Babolat there. Nadal should get through pretty easily unless the winner of that Carlos Moya-Paul Henri Mathieu third-rounder really steps it up.

For the semis:
Federer vs. Djokovic: Nobody's game has progressed like Djokovic's over the past year and a half, but I'm still expecting him to take lumps from Federer at the majors for a while. Federer in four.

Murray vs. Roddick: Murray will have had a great run this tournament, making his first quarter and semi at a major, but unfortunately for him, I'm expecting the run to stop here. I think winning the Davis Cup just a few weeks ago and taking the Kooyong exhibition shows A-Rod's in pretty good form. Roddick in four, too.

Federer over Roddick: Another major final for Andy, another loss to Federer. R-Fed's getting closer to history!

The women's picks will be made soon.

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.