There. I figure I can save some space and future tournament predictions by just going ahead and listing her as the winner for this year's Slams. That way I take all the guesswork out of the equation!
Williams won her 10th singles Major in pretty dominating fashion over Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3. I personally didn't think Williams would get past Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round just because her preparation had been so sketchy. But I guess when it comes to Williams, you have to throw that out the window.
Plus, she's back at number 1 now, she set the all-time career earnings mark for women athletes during the tournament and she won her eighth doubles Slam with sister Venus. All in all, I'd say the past two weeks have been pretty good for her.
But in regard to the number 1 deal: My train of thought turned last year with Jankovic having it because she played all those weeks in a row. Now, I'm back to the popular opinion that you need to be seriously contending for every Slam you play in to have a shot at the top, something Serena's proven—and I guess will keep on proving until someone consistently stops her at the biggest stages.
Last night, I'm out having a couple of beers with a buddy of mine. This guy really isn't much of a tennis fan, but he asked me about the Australian Open and my blogging, as a good friend would because he knows that's what I'm into. Anyway, I told him how I predicted Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would make the finals. He said to me, "Aren't they the top two players in the world? You really went out there on a limb with that call!"
We laughed and I mentioned to him how Rafa had yet to play, so it wasn't a done deal yet, even though I was certain he was going to make it. How could Fernando Verdasco mount any opposition, even though he's been playing the best tennis of his career over the past two months?
Well, I almost ended up on the wrong side of that call because Verdasco gave everything he had and then some. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed watching someone get so fired up in a match!
And I have to say, there's something to be said about being on a baby's schedule: I was able to watch the match from the third set on while playing with the youngster at the crack (well, before crack) of dawn.
The dream final is set, which at least lets me save face in my friend's eyes! But wow, such a tough break for Verdasco. I wouldn't have minded if he won at all after that effort.
I don't know if I've told this little story before here at Tennis Talk, Anyone?, but it's one I like a little, so why not tell it again, just in case I have?
It was waaay back in 2001 and I was watching the Miami Masters series event, in particular a match between Pete Sampras and this 18-year-old kid, Andy Roddick. Pete was going through a so-so patch and this kid was just out there serving bombs. Roddick ended up winning the match, and afterward, I said out loud to no one (unless you want to count the TV):
That kid is the truth!
The end. (Aren't the best stories short and sweet?)
Roddick has been looking the best I've seen him in years, but it looks like he might run into a buzzsaw his next match. I was thinking about this for Roger Federer: Can this be a case of deja vu all over again? Like if you were to compare this to the U.S. Open last year? He had a five-setter early then, but then got through the rest of the tournament with minimal fuss, which is how I guess you can best describe his match against Juan Martin del Potro! I think R-Fed and A-Rod's match will be a pretty good one. I picked Federer to win that one going in (at least I got it right on these guys!), and I'm sticking to it, but I wouldn't be mad if my man, "The Truth" came through!
How about that Dinara Safina! (And Roger Federer, too, but more on him later.)
I guess order had to be restored to the women's side of the draw, after Jelena Jankovic joined other TTA? top picks Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, as well as last year's finalist Ana Ivanovic, on the sidelines.
First, though, let me apologize if you came by the site and nothing new was posted. I've been dealing with some issues of the job-loss variety the past couple of days. I guess if I were to look at it on the bright side, I should have more time to blog at least! ("Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be print journalists..."—I hope Willie Nelson doesn't mind me rewording his song!)
Anyway, enough about that: back to the tennis and tonight's (or today's for the Aussie folk) Safina-Alize Cornet match. Safina definitely has some fight in her, but you also have to think Cornet blew it a little, too. Cornet's going to have a very solid career, but I think she's definitely going to have to get stronger as to where she could pick up some free points against a player as physically imposing as Safina. Tough break for her, too, on that match point.
Well, I just wanted to get something up on ye olde Tennis Talk, Anyone? site. I'll definitely be posting more in the days ahead. My women's predictions are shot to hell, but the guys seem to be hanging there.
So how is the Australian shaping up so far for you?
It's going pretty good for me; I'm managing to squeeze some tennis-watching in in between new-dad duties, inauguration watching and the like. Most of my picks are still alive (Dagnabit, Radwanska! We're done, you and me!)
But what I'm really digging are the round of 32 matchups on the horizon. I remember way back when, when the ITF decided to seed 32 players instead of the traditional 16 at the Majors and I was like, "What the … ? They can't do that! It's always great to see a top guy or gal have the possibility of playing the 17th-ranked player in the first round! An upset waiting to happen!"
Now, I've completely gotten over that because you know when it gets to the third round, you're really going to see some good stuff. Take some of these matches, for instance:
• Roger Federer vs. Marat Safin: The most-anticipated match of the first week.
• Richard Gasquet vs. Fernando Gonzalez: Big forehand vs. big backhand: What more could you ask for?
• Marin Cilic vs. David Ferrer: Young gun going up against Mr. Steady: Who wins that one?
• Dinara Safina vs. Kaia Kanepi: Tell you what: Dinara really better be on her toes for this one.
These are just a few of the good ones on tap. So if you don't get to watch a Slam right from the get-go, just know that the 32s is where it really gets going!
To quote the famous "Domestic Diva" Martha Stewart: "It's a good thing."
I'm not referring to any particular recipe or coat-sewing technique, but rather the depth in women's tennis occurring right now. Remember when it used to be only two to four players capable of winning a Major? Now, I'd say there's at least 12 to 15 that can pull it off. A good thing, indeed.
That makes it harder to call than ever, but for my money, I'm going with Venus Williams. I think winning the season-ending championships show's she can still get it done on something besides grass, so why not here and now?
Here's how I think it will go down, from the quarters on:
Jelena Jankovic (1) vs. Vera Zvonareva (7): The winner of the derby for the top spot has been Jankovic. While she's achieved that, she's walking around with the biggest asterisk aside her name as she has yet to win a big one. There's a lot of pressure on her to come through here, but I don't think she can do it. Her draw up to this point is pretty easy with probably the only threat being Marion Bartoli. As for Zvonareva, after that run at the tour-ending championship, you have to think she's for real. A quarterfinal run here is a good result, but I'm not expecting her to get further.
Dinara Safina (3) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (11): It's funny, but I almost feel like I'm going out on a limb with Safina getting this far. If this would've been the second half of last year, then I might would be picking her to win the whole thing. However, she kind of hit a rough patch at the end of the year and to me, her Hopman Cup play this year wasn't that impressive. Then she lost the finals in Sydney this past weekend. I did say, though, last year that I was going to stop doubting her, so I'll give her a good run here. And I'm expecting her to meet the soon-to-be-great Dane Wozniacki at this point. Her draw's pretty brutal, but I think she can handle it. If she gets to the quarters, check out the scalps she'll probably collect: Shahar Peer first up; maybe Jelena Dokic, Anne Keothayong or Anna Chakvetadze in the third; then the big one, Ana Ivanovic in the fourth. That's some serious playing to get through that! She's going to do it at some point, so why not now?
Venus Williams (6) vs. Dominika Cibulkova (18): Before I talk about these two, let me talk about the hottest player in the universe right now, Elena Dementieva. You put her in a tournament this year and I guess you just automatically start engraving the trophy and making out the big check to her. But, and I think this is a big but, I don't think she can sustain this nice run forever, and I think future top-fiver Cibulkova catches her in the third. The only player I'm kind of worried about Williams facing to this point is Flavia Pennetta, who she's lost to a couple of times. But I think her win in Zurich against her re-established who's dominant. Nice run for Dom, but it should end here.
Agnieszka Radwanska (9) vs. Victoria Azarenka (13): "Wait, hold up. Where the heck is Serena Williams?" I went ahead and took the question out of your head for you! If things go as I see them, she should go out in the 16s to Azarenka. I know that's a tall order to ask of a young player who's only won her first career tournament a couple of weeks ago, but I think she can do it. Plus, Williams warm-up play at Sydney was kind of shoddy. I know she steps it up at the Slams, but I think lack of match play catches her this time around. Of course, that's been thought many a time before by me and plenty of others out there, but she always proves us wrong. I don't think so this time. Radwanska's draw is pretty easy, unless Svetlana Kuznetsova or Nicole Vaidisova snap out of their slumps. Aggie should be a consistent Slam quarterfinalist and this is a good time to show that.
For the semis: Jankovic vs. Safina: This has the potential to be a really good match, maybe even the best of the tournament—if it happens, of course! I really think it will and I like Jankovic to come out on top. She may not have the Majors (or a Major), but she is determined.
Williams vs. Azarenka: It always seems like the Aussie is prone to more players making big breakthroughs and I think that happens for Azarenka this tournament. However, she's going up against a legend who she won't be able to do anything to make a difference in the eventual outcome.
For the finals: Williams over Jankovic: It's going to happen for Jankovic; I don't think there should be any doubt of that. But you know, not everyone wins their first couple of Slam finals and if she gets this far, I'm definitely fine with calling her number 1. Williams, though, is creeping up on her, so I don't know how long she'll have the top spot!
I guess we'll see how this all goes soon enough with first serve about an hour away!
So a story that's made the rounds the past few days heading into the Australian Open is Roger Federer being shocked that Andy Murray's the favorite to win in the eyes of the bookies in London. I see where Federer's coming from: Murray's never won a Slam, while he and Rafael Nadal have been racking them up over the years.
And speaking of Nadal, I'm about to do something that I've never done online here at Tennis Talk, Anyone?: Pick him to win a Slam! Yep, that's right: Last year, I picked Federer to win the French (and we all know how that went!) and I wasn't going to pick Rafa to win anywhere else. But now, I think he's ready to win somewhere else, and why not do it here?
But I'm not going to just list my champ: That would be so anti-Van of me! No, here comes the usual quarterfinal breakdown, or at least how I think it'll go.
So, starting from the top:
Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Gael Monfils (12): Now, I'm picking Rafa to win the whole thing, but it won't be easy. There's definitely some dudes in his section of the draw that can flat-out ball. I think the toughest match for him will be a rejuvenated Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. Now, Monfils making it this far is what you can call a super-risky prediction. I don't think you can be totally convinced he's ready to show he's for real until he actually does. But he has the luxury of playing in a pretty soft section of the tournament, except for his possible fourth-round opponent, countryman Gilles Simon. I know regular reader Heyheyhey is expecting Simon to win and who knows? Stranger things have happened, but I'm still going with Monfils, who in turn should fall to Rafa. This tournament is a lot different than Doha, where Le Monf came out on top against Nadal.
Andy Murray (4) vs. Ernests Gulbis: Murray's been on a roll so far this year and there's definitely worse things than picking him as your champ. I like him to take Wimbledon or the U.S. Open this year, but I just don't think it happens for him here this go-round. He'll still get deep here, though. And tell you what: If you want to see what I think will be a great third-round match, catch him against Kei Nishikori, who plays like Murray, but just not as well. As for Gulbis, I just wrote how I didn't think he's ready to play up to his talent level yet. However, I think it would be either him or James Blake coming through this section, and if they meet in the third, I think Gulbis would come through. Technically, this should be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's section of the draw to come through, but that back injury has me worried and I actually think if he plays, he'll lose in the second round to Ivan Ljiubicic.
Andy Roddick (7) vs. Novak Djokovic (3): In this section of the draw, you'll get to see a great example of the importance of a coach to a player. For Roddick to get to this stage, new coach Larry Stefanki will really have earned his money! A-Rod will probably have to get through former top-20 player Xavier Malisse, who's just qualified for the tournament; Auckland finalist Sam Querrey; and Sydney champ David Nalbandian. That's not an easy draw for anyone. Djokovic's path is slightly easier, but not that much with Jarkko Nieminen and 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis hanging around.
Juan Martin del Potro (8) vs. Roger Federer (2): It seems like all del Potro does is win titles, which is how I guess you want to go about the game if you're a pro player! He just won another one, this time in Auckland. He could possibly meet his Davis Cup nemesis Feliciano Lopez in the third round, but if that happens, I definitely like JDP this time. As for Federer, a lot's been made of his draw with Carlos Moya and Marat Safin there. Now if this were 2000, I'd be concerned. At this point, I'm not worried at all. Federer breezes through.
For the semis: Nadal vs. Murray: A U.S. Open '08 rematch you knew was going to happen goes down! However, this time I like Rafa to pull it out. He won't be caught off guard this time.
Roddick vs. Federer: Wait, what happened to Djokovic? you might ask. Roddick can't lose to the Big 4 all the time and he has to get one of them at least at some point! You want to know a big factor, though, of why I'm picking Roddick? I'm expecting a pretty sloppy run for Djoko this tournament, primarily because he's playing with a new racquet. Sorry, but you don't switch sticks if you've only one won Major and you're a legit contender for more. That comes back to bite him here. Federer keeps rolling to the finals.
For the final: Nadal over Federer: I like Nadal's approach to the Aussie: He got to the finals of an exhibition event, made it to the quarters in Doha and won a doubles title. He's got match play, but more importantly and contrary to what Federer's done, he's had "relaxed" match play: Competition but nothing too stressful or strenuous. Federer's been playing a LOT so far this year, which I think will hurt him come the end.
That's how I see it: The women picks are coming soon! And congrats, Rafa! (I think.)
It's the moment Slam fans have been waiting for since U.S. Open '08: The release of the draws for the Australian Open! As always, I'm going to do my quarterfinal predictions for both the men and the women.
But before I do that, some things need to be wrapped up first. Namely, the qualifying tournaments. Both draws are in the final round and I think, should they get in, there are some players that can make things interesting for the exempted ones.
Xavier Malisse is still out there and I'm pretty sure no top seed drawn to face a qualifier would be happy about possibly facing him first up. Also, on the men's side, Hopman Cup champ Dominik Hrbaty is thisclose to getting in. What if he wins and has to play James Blake? Who would you go with in that one seeing as how Dom just beat JB a couple of weeks ago?
Dudi Sela and Bjorn Phau can have a "big" impact on the draw should they get in as well. (Me using "big" was supposed to be a joke because they're both pretty short! I crack myself up sometimes!)
As for the women, you can't overlook top qualifying seed Jelena Kostanic Tosic. Sesil Karatantcheva's still alive (you know her: the suspended youngster making a comeback) and I guess in an answer to my question about American tennis players, Melanie Oudin and Vania King are fighting to get in. And what could be the story of the qualies is also happening with Kimiko Date Krumm (you might remember her sans "Krumm") is continuing her own comeback story at 38!
So my predictions are coming; I just want to wait a little and see where the hopefuls end up. Then we'll be all set to go!
I have two words for everyone in regard to Richard Gasquet this year:
I don't know what it is: the new coach he got after the French last year, not having to worry about Davis Cup, sessions with the world's best sports psychologists or what, but Gasquet has been on a mini-tear. Granted the season's only two weeks ago, but check out what's happened so far:
• He made the semis in Brisbane last week, beating everyone's (mine included) Most Likely French Player to Succeed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga along the way.
• He's made the quarters in Sydney. First up, he beat a player that he was 1-4 against in head-to-heads, defending champ Dmitry Tursunov. Then just today, he knocked off another compatriot, top tenner Gilles Simon.
Next up for him is yet another Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy, and you have to like his chances in that one. Regardless, though, it's a great start to the year for Gasquet: Two tournaments, two deep runs in two weeks.
Everyone knows he's one of the most talented, versatile players on tour. But everyone knows he's also one of the flakiest players out there. I know in my last post, I mentioned Dominik Hrbaty being named ATP Comeback Player of the Year because of his solid play at the Hopman Cup. But I'd like to take that back because I think Gasquet is due for big things this year.
Why am I even thinking of awards that are months away? I guess I'm psyched to see solid performances again from players who were in a rut, and seeing it be recognized and rewarded in the end.
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!)
Ummm, Roger? I think it's time to get a little nervous.
For what seems like the umpteenth time in a row, Federer lost to Andy Murray, this time in Doha. I didn't get to see the match, but that scoreline looked a little troubling: 6-7, 6-2, 6-2. In my experience both playing and watching tennis, I've found that that indicates
A) The eventual winner just got off to a slow start.
B) There's no need for said winning player to worry after droping a first set because he has the guy on the other side's number.
C) The losing player is a level or two behind the winning player.
D) Some of the above.
E) All of the above.
Murray racking up wins at tournaments like these against Federer will only help him come Slam time. Plus, Murray has a Slam final under his belt, so that only helps him more experience-wise. I'm assuming these two will end up on opposite halves of the draw at the Australian Open based on their rankings. If it comes down to them making the finals, I don't think Federer will be able to count on his "been-there, done-that" experience as much. I found this statement a little troubling from him after losing:
“I hope when big matches come, I beat him.”
You lose that much to someone, then they all should be big matches.
Where's the U.S. version of Dominika Cibulkova or Sabine Lisicki?
If anything, this year's edition of the Hopman Cup has shown that there really isn't any player around their age or of their caliber reppin' the red, white and blue coming any time soon. I mean, why else would Meghann Shaughnessy be tapped to replace Serena Williams on the U.S. squad despite only playing a handful of matches last year due to injury? The sad thing about the state of the pro game is that if you were to think about it, you couldn't have made an argument for anyone else, excluding Venus Williams or Lindsay Davenport.
Shaughnessy has played her opponents pretty tough after being put in a difficult situation.
However... (if you read this blog, you had to know a "However" was coming!)
She shouldn't have been in that situation! With the resources the United States Tennis Association has, there should've been a young player making a serious dent in the rankings by now. Instead, a nation of journeywomen has developed: Ashley Harkleroad, Vania King, Jamea Jackson, the list goes on and on.
Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the last U.S. player to crack the top 10 was Serena Williams almost 10 years ago. (Shaughnessy, once a great U.S. hope, only got as high as 11.) Those are pretty sad results.
There's a few youngsters playing now that have had good junior results, such as Madison Brengle, Melanie Oudin, Asia Muhammad and CoCo Vandeweghe, who won the U.S. Open juniors last year. (And in a shameless plug, check out what I wrote about her for On the Baseline.) Hopefully, they can soon make waves on the pro level.
I don't believe the U.S. women are less talented than their peers. Is it a matter of desire? That's been one of the age-old arguments, but I actually think it's getting kind of stale.
The U.S. won't collapse if it doesn't win the Hopman Cup again and I don't want it to seem like I'm dumping on Shaughnessy (I'm actually a big fan), but counting on Venus and Serena to carry the hopes of a nation will only go so much longer. Something really needs to be done.
It's 1 a.m. Eastern time and I've been watching this great match between James Blake and Nicolas Kiefer at that team event of team events, the Hopman Cup, one of the staples of the Australian summer season. They've just split two tie-break sets, and it's kind of hard to tell who's gonna pull it out. I guess I'll find out in the morning!
I think this has been one of the most unpredictable Hopman Cups in years: Lleyton Hewitt, reppin' the home continent, has looked good out there, which is kind of surprising considering the surgery he just had; Gilles Simon, a lot of people's "maybe-it" boy, fell in his match against Italy; the U.S., the top seeds, more than likely will go 0-3 because of the lack of match play by my girl Meghann Shaughnessy; and Marat Safin showed up for the event looking like he had gotten his butt whupped by Ivan Drago.
However, the biggest shock has to be Slovakia going 2-0 so far. Dominik Hrbaty (pictured) is playing like it's at least 2004 again, which is good to see because when he's healthy, the dude can ball. Match him up with this year's future top-fiver Dominika Cibulkova, and you have a pretty tough match-up for any of the other teams.
Well, that's it for me; I'm exhausted. I want to give a shout-out to my U.S. crew and hope they defy the odds stacked against them tonight and at least pull off one win!
Well it looks like someone has made the most of their offseason (however short it may have been)!
Andy Murray, who went through a crazy conditioning program down in Miami (check out the day-by-day account at Down the Line! for details) just won the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament. First he dropped the hammer on James Blake, 6-2, 6-2, and then chalked up another win over Roger Federer, beating him 7-6 in the third. He went on to beat Rafael Nadal in three sets.
Originally, with this post, I was going to talk about how I thought despite his grueling conditioning, I still wasn't going to consider him my favorite for the Australian in a couple of weeks. Here's why:
You see, Murray has every shot in the book, which I think rewards him best on the fastest surfaces, such as carpet, grass and quick hard courts. He can take someone's ball and has good enough hands to do anything he wants with it: He can loop or slice someone's flat shots, drive through their topspin, etc. I just think when it's more on him to create, he gets in a little bit of trouble; not much, just a little. Having to do that on a slower surface, such as clay or Plexicushion, which they've been using at the Aussie now instead of Rebound Ace (check this out at Tennis Brain), might be too tall an order to pull off for seven matches playing best of five.
Plus, when it gets in the later rounds, with his ranking, he'd probably have to face Nadal in the semis there and likely either Novak Djokovic, Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals. That's a lot to ask of a guy!
However, if this exo he just won in which he went back-to-back against the two best players in the world and won is any indication, I might have to revise my way of thinking. I'm not totally ready to make him my Aussie favorite yet, but I have to admit, I'm a little more convinced of his chances. And if it works out for him there, I bet Miami will be the hot spot for other players in their time off!
An old friend of mine and I used to talk tennis for hours, whether it was our own games or what was happening in the pros. I've started Tennis Talk, Anyone? to, well, talk tennis with an even broader crowd! My name is Van Sias and I've been playing for 20 years now, and not only am I player, I'm a huge fan of the game as well: pro, amateur, you name it. I'll post links to news items related to the sport, and offer my own personal opinion, predictions and hopefully get some of yours as well.