Monday, January 12, 2009

So what has the first week of the season shown us? (redux)

Last year, I wrote a post with the above headline (minus the redux part) because I always feel the first week can offer a glimmer of what to expect for the season. I thought Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga would make big moves and they didn't disappoint. Here's what I'm looking at this season based on one week of the new year.

• Bigger and Better: First, I think Murray and Tsonga are in line for more big things. Murray defended in Doha with minimal fuss where it seems the most trouble he had was with a bad back. If he holds up health-wise, he's definitely capable of winning two majors by the end of the year. Tsonga fell relatively early in Brisbane, but he did win the doubles title, a similar arc to last year when he won the dubs in Sydney then went on to the finals at the Aussie. Health's a big factor with him, too, but if he stays off the injured list, he should be able to swing another Major final.

• Roger, Over and Out?: I don't know if that's really going to be the case—you know, him being done for—but as I mentioned in the post before this (and as seen at Down the Line! here), Federer's really got a tough row to hoe for the year. He's still heads and shoulders above the rest as far as career stats go, but if you look at his recent record against Rafael Nadal and Murray, there has to be cause for concern. I think he'll still break Pete Sampras' Slam record, but—and I hope this doesn't sound blasphemous—but for him to do it this year, luck is going to play a big part.

• Venus Keeps Rising: Granted it was an exhibition, but Venus Williams really played well in that Hong Kong team event. She's saying the right things, too, how she wants success at the Aussie and French this year. I don't know if she'll get it, but I wouldn't bet against her. (And that's the last time I'll use "Venus" and some variation of "rising". Promise!)

• Victor Victoria: I thought she was going to make it to the top 10 last year after making a final in the first week, but Victoria Azarenka didn't get that far. I expect her to have a solid year, though.

• Total Domination?: Tell you what, watch out for Slovakians Dominik Hrbaty and Dominika Cibulkova. If he's completely injury-free, you can write in Hrbaty for Comeback Player of the Year. As for Cibulkova, she'll definitely be in the top 10 by the end of the year. Winning the Hopman Cup was just the start for these two.

• Indian Express: Somdev Devvarman got to the finals in Chennai this weekend. Who, you might ask? He's a two-time NCAA champ who tore up the Futures last year. He worked out with Andy Roddick in the offseason, which should only help him. He's going to end up as a threat on the hard courts.

• The Djok's on Him: I don't get why players make racquet switches after career years. Novak Djokovic did, and I think it's going to backfire on him.

• Seeing the 'Future': Tennis From Beyond the Baseline has been spotting up-and-comers in its "Stars of the Future" series, and two of them, Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis, had mixed results last week: Cilic won in Chennai, while Gulbis beat Djokovic, but then promptly lost his next match. I'm equally high on Cilic and I'm looking for him to be the big gainer of the year. However, I'm just not convinced about Gulbis yet. He has the game, but I don't think the mentality's there yet to be a top pro. But check TFBTB to see who's next among the up-and-comers.

And check this post again in about 40-something weeks to see how things turned out! (The POST, not the blog: Come back here any and every day!)

(Photos: Williams, Reuters; Cilic, AP)


RiCH said...

I agree with most of what you wrote here although:

- I don't see Hrbaty doing much this year so def no CPOY award

- I like Curlbis! I like Cilic but I want to see my Battle of the Curly Q's in about, oh, 3 weeks time?

*heart palpitations kick up with thoughts of Grand Slam tennis*

freakyfrites said...

Hey Van! Nice post!

I think it's interesting how many of our "ones to watch" last year are still in the thick of things this year. Looking back - is there anyone who you thought would hit the big time and didn't measure up?

My perennial hopes, Gasquet and Safin, also tend to be perennial disappointments.

I also had a thing for Frank Dancevic, briefly, but he's faded.

For some reason I'm just not wild about Cilic. I would be perfectly happy if I never saw him in the second week of a major. But sometimes these new guys change my mind after a while. We'll see.

Honestly, Roger is really no worse off than Rafa or Djokovic right now. Heck, at least he still has Djoky's number. I maintain that until Murray gets off this hot streak, no one's beating him anytime soon.

Jodi said...

That's why Gulbis is a Star of the Future - he needs some maturity and subtlety and all those other things that come with being on tour for a while to be truly great. The game is there - the head will come. Cilic, on the other hand, is verging on a Star of the Present... and the other guy rounding out the top three in my Star fold right now has got to be Kei Nishikori. Watch for something special from him this year.

And also watch out for the first female inductee into the Stars club, Sabine Lisicki - I would not be surprised to see her make a big run at a Slam AT ALL.

Sarah said...

Now that Sharapova is out I am really cherring for Venus to win the Australian Open. I think she is the fittest and playing the best tennis of all the top girls and should have the most confidence.

TopSpin said...

Hi Van

Just gotta luv where Venus is right now! Here's hoping she makes good on her targetting of the #1 ranking and the Aussie Open - like you, I can't see her winning the French though...

I agree with you it'll be tough for Federer this year but still think he can win a Slam; I remain a little sceptical that Murray can win more than though - what's more it might be more likely to come in the US, as I really think Melbourne's heat could mess with Murray's still slightly suspect fitness.

Naf said...

Yo, Van!
Hmm, Murray started out well last year, too, until he ran into Tsonga in the first round of the Australian ... I thought it was interesting today to read that Fed is perplexed as to why anyone would favor Murray in Australia. I think he's in denial about how close the pack is getting.

van said...

Hey everyone, thanks for the comments! Sorry I'm just now answering: I get too busy checking out your blogs!

• Hey Rich, I guess after that whupping Phil Kohlschreiber put on old Dom, I might have to rethink my statement! He was just tired, that's all!

I like Gulbis, but I just don't think he's ready to break through yet. I'm assuming he still has another year or so to get it together. I mean, how do you beat all the top tenners he has and not make it to the finals of Umag or any smallish tournament?

• Freakyfrites, what's up? I thought Gulbis was going to break through last year. He didn't and I'm going to stay away from him this year, too!

You know, I thought Dancevic would've at least stayed in the top 50, but it didn't happen.

• Hey Jodi! I hear you on Gulbis, but your other guys—Cilic and Nishikori—are at least making finals. That should've happened by now: I mean, at least one!

I like Lisicki, too. She is a pretty solid player. What do you think about Cibulkova.

• Hi Sarah, how are you? I think Venus is going to have a lot of support. And it's great to think of her really wanting it more than she ever has. I wouldn't mind seeing her come through, too!

• Hey TopSpin, what's up? It's weird for me with Venus: She's made a French final before. Should she have won at least one?

Murray was down in Florida battling that heat, so I'm assuming that should help. Can he hold up though? I guess that's the big question as you mention.

• Naf! I think he's trying to downplay the pressure he's feeling from those guys. But he does have a point: With Slam winners in the field, he must probably think just because this guy won Doha... I hope he's not in denial; that could be the worst mistake.

Sarah said...

Hey Van, Im doing well still gettng over the fact that I have to watch a second slam now without Maria. I think its going to take a special effort if Venus is playing well and with this confidence to beat her. Maybe only Serena at her best would be capable of the win.

heyheyhey said...

I picked Simon, I'm sticking with him. I am more conflicted about him now, but I don't back down once I've made my choice. If I go down in flames, so be it.

I am so excited for the Aussie to start. So many crazy things happen there. I feel like just parking myself in front of ESPN and The Tennis Channel and just waiting for it to begin!

van said...

Hey heyheyhey. That's the only way to go about it: Make your call and stick to it to the end!

And I know what you mean about being excited for the tournament to start. It's only mere days away!