Australian Open Predictions

17 01 2010

Okay, predictions for the Australian Open: (apologies for the layout, wordpress seems to be playing up)

1st Quarter Semi Finalist – Serena Williams (if her ‘knee injury’ comes into play again, Vika Azarenka)

2nd Quarter Semi Finalist – Caroline Wozniacki

3rd Quarter Semi Finalist – Kim Clijsters

4th Quarter Semi Finalist – Marion Bartoli

Okay, my own bias is probably coming into play there.  Bartoli is more than capable of reaching the Quarter Final here, in which she would likely play Maria Sharapova or Dinara Safina – I would see it as Bartoli vs Sharapova and I’m taking an upset special with the Frenchwoman.

Semi Finals

Serena Williams bts Caroline Wozniacki

Kim Clijsters bts Marion Bartoli

Held myself back from saying another Marion win!

Final

Serena Williams vs Kim Clijsters

WINNER – Kim Clijsters

Other possible contenders:

Justine Henin – falls to Clijsters

Elena Dementieva – falls to Henin

Svetlana Kuznetsova – falls to Clijsters

Vika Azarenka – falls to S. Williams

Flavia Pennetta – falls to Henin

Jelena Jankovic – falls to Bartoli

Dinara Safina – falls to Sharapova

Venus Williams – falls to an Upset Special

Finally, the two players I would have followed with lots of interest are the Slamless Dementieva and Italian Pennetta but unfortunately both are due to play Henin early – Dementieva in the 2nd round. If either of them were to beat Henin they’d still have to play Clijsters! Both of those players are capable of causing the upset against either of the Belgians.





Dementieva downs Serena in Sydney

16 01 2010

WTA Medibank International: Russian star Elena Dementieva picked up her first title of the season in Sydney, thumping Serena Williams 6-3, 6-2 in the Final.

Dementieva successfully defended a title for the first time in her career to cap a fine week and take her total to 15 tournament wins.  During the week she beat Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova before taking three Top Ten scalps; Dinara Safina (2), Victoria Azarenka (7) and Serena (1), dropping just one set along the way to Hantuchova.

The final was marred slightly by an apparent knee injury to Serena, who began wincing and limping when 6-3, 3-0 down but Dementieva had outplayed her from the start, just as she outplayed her other opponenents in Sydney, with some dominant, almost flawless tennis. Serena on the other hand made unforced error after unforced error but confirms that the injury isn’t serious enough to harm her chances in the Australian Open, which begins on Sunday night (UK time).

The tournament began with a strong field and contained nine of the top ten players, Venus Williams being the missing link.  Vera Zvonareva retired after six games of her opening match against Elena Vesnina and the ankle injury which hampered her last season looks set to continue in 2010.  Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic both crashed out in the first round, to Li Na and Agnes Szavay respectively whilst Kuznetsova was beaten by Cibulkova in the second round. Of the top players, it was Dementieva who stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Perhaps the funniest match was played in the second round between Agnes Radwanska and Dinara Safina, as the Russian rallied from 0-5 down in the first set to take the match 7-5, 6-4. Safina looked in good form on occasions in her matches against Radwanska and Dementieva but too often struggled to hit the court.

Elsewhere this week, Alona Bondarenko was victorious in Hobart, beating Shahar Pe’er 6-2, 6-4 in the Final to collect her second career title.  Both players now head to Melbourne to join the rest of the assembled cast for the Australian Open.

Justine Henin was practising in Melbourne this week after pulling out of Sydney to protect a leg injury from becoming more severe, and was joined by Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli.  Sharapova and Bartoli will go into the first slam of the year without playing a competitive tournament as a warm up, although Sharapova was active in a Hong Kong exhibition the week before.  Bartoli, following a succession of injuries last year, including being forced to retire against Aravane Rezai in the season-ending Bali championships, has opted to focus more on her physical maintenance as she aims for further improvements this season. As always, Allez Marion!

Australian Open preview to follow tomorrow.





US Open: One Week In

7 09 2009

The US Open is now entering the second week and there’s been plenty of entertainment from the women, some matches good, some matches exciting and a fair share of big names sent packing.

Perhaps the most enticing story so far has been that of Kim Clijsters, continuing her return from retirement as an unseeded player in New York. She passed her first round test as expected with a 61, 60 win over Kutuzova to set up a rematch with Marion Bartoli; the Frenchwoman took the first 75 but Clijster flicked the switch and took the next two sets at the expense of just three games. In the third round she comfortably saw off compatriot and friend Kirsten “Flipper” Flipkens to set up a fourth round match against No. 3 seed Venus Williams. Her opponent has spent this tournament again playing with wrapped knees and had seen off Dushevina, Mattek-Sands and Rybarikova to reach this round, and although she  is clearly having problems with her knee, it isn’t stopping her from competing in doubles with her sister. The match was turned on it’s head in the first two sets as each player bagelled the other, first Clijsters and then Venus, and a tight third set saw just one break in favour of the Belgian, enabling her to send Venus crashing with a 64 victory. Next she faces Li Na in the quarter-final before potentially facing Serena Williams in the semis.

The American crowds are all excited about 17 year old Melanie Oudin who has had great success so far, coming from a set down to beat Elena Dementieva in the second round, before doing exactly the same thing in the next round to Maria Sharapova. After beating Shvedova, who herself pulled off an upset with the beating of Jelena Jankovic, Oudin faces another Russian today in the form of Nadia Petrova for a place in the QF, and the top half of the draw has really opened up following Oudin’s dismissal of two top players, added to the exit of Dinara Safina who lost to Petra Kvitova after scraping her way through the first two rounds. Victoria Azarenka is also out at the hands of Francesca Schiavone and the two main seeds left in that half are Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova – who face each other today in a fourth round match. Kvitova faces Yanina Wickmayer and the winner will meet either Gisela Dulko or Kateryna Bondarenko in the QF. Either Wozniacki or Kuznetsova will face the winner of Oudin-Petrova.

In the bottom half it’s a much tougher affair. Tournament favourite Serena Williams will face Flavia Pennetta in the QF after the Italian saved six match points to see off Vera Zvonareva, and the winner of that will probably face Clijsters. It’s heavily expected that the winner of the US Open will be whoever makes the final from the bottom half, although I’m sure Wozniacki and Kuznetsova – and others – will have an opinion on that.

With all the relentless talk about the number one ranking this year, it would be very interesting if Svetlana Kuznetsova were to win the US Open. I think we’re all sick to death of hearing how Safina is the number one even though she hasn’t won a Slam, and Serena holds three Slams but is number two… well, ff Kuznetsova comes out on top here, she and Serena will each hold two Slams; Serena the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Svetlana the French and US Open. But then Kuznetsova holds a Tour title and Serena holds none, so will the debate open up into fierce arguments of how Kuznetsova should be the number one ranked player? I doubt it, but it would be interesting.

Anyway, for what it’s worth I chose Clijsters at the start of the tournament and I’m sticking with my choice as we go into the second week. Go Kim!





Flavia On Fire; Clijsters Returns

13 08 2009

As the US Open series picks up speed, Italian Flavia Pennetta is keeping up pace with a 13 match winning streak that has seen her pick up back-to-back trophies in Palermo and Los Angeles. Along the way she’s picked up Top Ten wins against Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova, beaten an in-form Sam Stosur and taken care of a certain Ms Sharapova, and tonight she has her sights on world number 3 Venus Williams. Pennetta will herself enter the top ten if she beats Venus in Cincinatti this evening – an accomplishment which will be a first for womens tennis in Italy. This week she has beaten Morita and Szavay with no real problems and perhaps the only question mark is over her stamina as she plays her 9th match in 11 days.

Venus on the other hand should be rested, having taken a week off following her Stanford final defeat to Marion Bartoli. This week she beat Olga Govortsova in straight sets but will face a tougher challenge in Pennetta and the real question mark over Venus is how much she is willing to put in this close to the US Open. On paper though, you’d expect Venus to be fully determined as we still have over two weeks before that Slam so really that shouldn’t be an issue.

The other big story in Cincinatti this week has been the return to the Tour of Kim Clijsters. Having been training and preparing for six months now, her first match back was against Bartoli, who was playing her first match since beating Venus in Stanford, and the hard work paid off for the Belgian as she tasted victory for the first time in 28 months, courtesy of a 64 63 win. Clijsters followed that up with a 62 75 win over Patty Schnyder and must now be in territory that is beyond what she was hoping for. Her fitness and physical shape seem to be great and she doesn’t seem as rusty on court as you may have expected following such a long absence from the game. As she enters her third match back it’s a question of how far she can go before the physical demands of being back in competition take their toll; tonight she faces French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russian playing her first tournament since Wimbledon in June. Kuznetsova scraped through her first match against Lucie Safarova and Clijsters DOES have a 6-1 head-to-head record against Sveta, but the last time they met was almost three years ago.

Elsewhere, the favourites remain in the hunt this week; Serena Williams, Safina, Dementieva, Azarenka, Wozniacki, Zvonareva and Jankovic are all still in the mix as we head to the sharp end of the draw, and it should make for an exciting climax to the week. Tonight though the focus is on Pennetta and Clijsters, and whether they can continue their good runs in the build up to the final Slam of 2009.





Magnifique: Marion Earns Top Honours at Stanford

8 08 2009

An entertaining week of tennis was capped off with Marion Bartoli defeating Venus Williams in three sets to claim the biggest win of her career to date.

As the Final approached it was Venus who was heavily tipped to win her third hardcourt title of 2009; she had steamrolled Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva in the previous two rounds, dropping just five games in both matches combined. Bartoli on the other hand had played three sets against Sam Stosur in the Semi Final and the night before had fought back from a set down to beat Jelena Jankovic. That match had it’s own little mini-drama as Marion had claimed she prefers to be playing Jankovic rather than the Serbs’ beaten opponent, Sabine Lisicki, because “I always beat her”. Jankovic responded by saying that Marion isn’t exactly Serena Williams and can’t bring it to the big names, ending her interview by smiling and declaring that “Bartoli is going to get it tomorrow”. It looked as though Jankovic would be proved right when she was 6-3 3-1 in the lead but didn’t count on the French woman fighting back to take the second set 76 and then seal success with a 63 win in the third set. Someone had to eat humble pie and it turned out to be Jankovic.

On that same night Australian Stosur produced a surprise by downing Serena Williams. The American showed just why she isn’t the world number one by once again failing to produce her best game outside of a Slam and Stosur took advantage to roll her over 62 36 62 and claim herself a big scalp.

Back to the Final and Bartoli won more games in the first set than Sharapova and Dementieva had managed between them against Venus, taking it 62 to shake Venus up as she was unable to continue her great form in the tournament, partly through her own UE rate but also through her FORCED error rate, which was shown at one point in the second set as being at 17, but I’ve been unable to find final stats for this – if anyone can point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated. Marion’s aggressive game gave Venus very little time for her shots and proved to be the right gameplan in the opening set. In the second set Venus upped her game a little and earned herself a 75 win, despite Bartoli serving for the match at 54.

At this point all advantage seemed to be with Venus and it was generally voiced by commentators and bookmakers alike that there was only one winner, that Marion had missed her chance and would now fade away. That was not to be however and Venus was stunned to find herself 03 down before she knew it, and Bartoli showed energy and fight to continue her aggressive game and dismiss Venus 64 to earn the biggest title of her career thus far. Personally, it was a glorious moment to see Marion celebrate on court, the climax of a lot of hard work by the Frenchwoman and her coach/father, Walter. During the week she had dismissed myths and proved a lot of people wrong about a number of things, chiefly that she can’t fight back against a good player – see the set down comeback against Jankovic; that her head goes down and stays down if she loses the second set, having won the first – see the victory over Sam Stosur; that she doesn’t have the fight to beat a big name player in a tough tussle – watch the final against Venus Williams. Talk of her retiring at any opportunity was also put to one side as she played most of the week with both knees wrapped and had problems with her calf from the Quarter Final match with Jankovic onwards. In the final she was clearly struggling to stay loose but fought through this and was repeatedly seen stretching her body between games as she pushed against the court walls. The spirit and determination shown proved to be too much for her famous opponent and her victory here was greatly deserved.

It was a great week for Marion Bartoli, our WTA Stanford Champion 2009.





WTA Invades America

27 07 2009

It seems like an age has passed since Wimbledon finished but it’s only been three weeks and now we’re on the verge of the US hardcourt season. In the intervening period most of the top players rested but there has been clay court action to enjoy (if we can find matches online anyway) but really, those three weeks after Wimbledon aren’t the same, it’s as if most players are just putting their feet up and breathing deeply, preparing for the big push to the final Slam of the year. Word of note to Andrea Petkovic though, who won her first WTA Tour title yesterday in Bad Gastein, Austria. The world number one, Dinara Safina, also lifted a trophy as she won a hardcourt tournament in Portaroz, Slovenia.

Today, a large number of the top players are in Stanford, USA; the line-up includes both Williams sisters, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Agnes Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and Nadia Petrova. If we go by the bookmakers then Serena Williams is the easy favourite for this tournament and if she plays well, rightly so – but we all know that Serena doesn’t seem to turn up and give everything she has outside of the slams, evidenced by the fact that she hasn’t won a Tour title in over 15 months now. She has a tricky first round match against Li Na and whilst she should win, I don’t think it would be an earth-shattering shock if she lost that one, although it should be noted that Na is carrying a knee injury. Other potential finalists from that half of the draw include Jankovic, Bartoli and Lisicki and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of Sam Stosur vs Dominika Cibulkova go far.

In the bottom half of the draw, Venus Williams is the favourite to reach the final and with hardcourt titles under her belt already this year, why not? Well, again it will come down to how she approaches the tournament and Venus isn’t adverse to an early defeat to a player she should be beating. She looks safe to win her first two matches but could then find herself up against Maria Sharapova, who is getting ever fitter and would no doubt love to start winning tournaments again as she approaches something resembling her old self, and after that it’s more than likely that Dementieva would be waiting. I think both of those players have more desire than Venus to win this tournament and I would expect one of them to cut off her challenge.

Personally speaking, I’d love to see Marion Bartoli do well here. She’s in potentially the ‘easier’ half of the draw although that description goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that Serena won’t be giving it her all and that Jankovic just isn’t on her game at all right now (or this year).  The young Frenchwoman is more than capable of taking advantage of any shortcomings in her rivals games, so I’ll have my fingers crossed for her. I’d also quite like to see Stosur, Lisicki and Sharapova do well here, but my prediction to win the tournament is Elena Dementieva. She’s won hardcourt titles earlier this year in Auckland and Sydney, reached the Semi Final of the Australian Open (lost to Serena Williams), made the final in Paris (lost to Mauresmo) and of course the last time we saw her was at Wimbledon where she came so close to beating Serena and making the final. Dementieva’s first task is, unfortunately for us Brits, to get past British number one Anne Keothavong.

Elsewhere this week, Nathalie Dechy announced her retirement from tennis, and also her pregnancy, at the age of 30 – best wishes for her future life as a mother! Nicole Vaidisova lost in Stanford qualifying 6-2 6-1 to Stacey Tan, ranked 584 in the world. I’ve no idea what’s going on with Vaidisova and her still-hurtling fall from the upper reaches of the rankings, but it’s looking like she desperately needs to address something in her life and game. It’s really sad to see. And finally, Tamira Paszek told at a press conference how she’d been receiving treatment for a back problem by having her own blood injected into her body, only to have the legality of this questioned. It seems that this type of treatment, known as autologous injections, is against anti-doping rules. Paszek then immediately contacted the Austrian anti-doping agency to find out more about this. Apparently this kind of ‘blood doping’ is against the rules but there’s also an exemption certificate which can be gained to have the treatment administered, though whether this can be acquired after the treatment has occurred, I don’t know. Looking at the massive difference in the Richard Gasquet and Martina Hingis cases, Paszek can expect anything from a wry smile and a slap on the wrist to a hundred year ban from even looking at a tennis court.

For now we have an exciting week of tennis ahead as we lead up to the US Open, so bring it on!





Wimbledon – Serena and Dementieva Deliver

3 07 2009

In the first of yesterday’s semi-finals, Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva served up a match worthy of it’s place in Wimbledon history.

Heavily tipped to progress to the final, Serena Williams found herself in a real battle against her Russian opponent who broke the American in the first game, only to be broken straight back in the next. From there both players were so close you needed a diamond tipped screwdriver to split them, and the first set inevitably went to a tie-break, with Dementieva taking it 7-4. From this point Serena had one of the toughest challenges of her career ahead of her, needing to win two sets against an opponent having arguably the best game of her career, and one whose tremendous physical condition meant three sets would be no problem for her to endure.

The second set was almost as tight as the first and was finally settled with a superb passing shot by the American to take it 7-5 and level the match out. The final set continued in the same vein and Dementieva had a match point at 5-4 but Serena’s volley at the net returned the ball into the court far away from her, and at 6-6 the match continued with no tie-break in the final set. Williams broke to move 7-6 ahead and took the match when Dementieva was pushed wide and her return went out. It was a grapple that broke the record for the longest womens match in Wimbledon history and featured a massive 72 winners. A pulsating contest with some excellent exchanges and exciting net-play moments had to come to an end although it was a shame someone had to lose this intense battle.

For Serena, her fighting qualities came to the fore and she was more than once helped out by her superb serving whilst Dementieva showed just how much her own serve has improved over the last year or two to enable her to push a player of Williams’ stature to the limits. Dementieva even scored an ace with a second serve, surprising everyone and particularly Williams who was certainly not expecting the Russian to go for it.

So, one of the Williams sisters ensured her place in the final and Dementieva, whilst undoubtedly disappointed to have lost, can take a lot of pride and confidence away from that game and I’m sure the Olympic gold medallist will have another chance at a Slam final.

In complete contrast to this match, the second semi final was a let-down as Venus Williams turned in a brilliant performance to haul Dinara Safina out of the tournament 6-1 6-0. It can be said that Venus is the best player on grasscourts, which is Safina’s least favourite surface, but the manner and scoreline with which the young Russian was sent packing will sting and sends a poor message to the casual fan who would expect more from the current world number one. Safina has had a tremendous year, winning major titles outside of the slams and progressing well in the Slams themselves, on all surfaces, but has failed to win any of her three final appearances and this result won’t do her any favours as she continues to come under fire for being a Slamless number one. She’ll have other opportunities to quiten her critics in the future, but yesterday was, as Safina herself admitted, a lesson on grass from Venus.

So we have another all-Williams final and Venus will go in as the slight favourite, as she has been all tournament, perhaps more so as she played for less than an hour compared to Serena’s tussle of 2hrs 48 minutes. Both sisters play today in the Doubles semi-final also but will need to adjust to being on opposite sides come Saturday. Hopefully it will be another great match and another great advertisement for the WTA Tour.