Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Women: A 2008 Preview (Top Ten)

It's hard to believe, but if you include the Hopman Cup, the 2008 professional tennis season has already begun. For the women, the calendar officially begins on Monday with events at the Gold Coast, Australia and in Auckland, New Zealand. An impressive eight out of the top 20 women will compete at the Gold Coast, including a rested Amelie Mauresmo. Top seed in Auckland is Vera Zvonareva; Lindsay Davenport is also competing there.

My predictions for '08:
Justine Henin
World rank: 1 '07 record: 63-4 Highlight: Breaking out of her shell.
Had a spectacular 2007 season, where she won two out of three grand slams she played and captured ten WTA titles overall. To me, however, the bigger story was Justine coming out of her shell and showing the world that the girl with game also has a bit of personality, too.

So what does all that mean for Justine in 2008? Well, no doubt will she be back with her normal drive and fire, but will it be as intense as last year? She had lots to prove following her no-show at the Australian and did quite a pretty good job at winning a few matches. I think Justine's number one goal this year should be to win Wimbledon, the one major that has alluded her thus far in her career.

Prediction: Henin will hold on to No. 1 ranking while winning Wimbledon and garnering the silver in Beijing. She'll make the semifinals at the Aussie, fall early at the French and lose in the quarters at the USO.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
World rank: 2 '07 record: 55-20 Highlight: Reaching a third GS final.
The newest player in my "I Can't Stand Watching This Player She's So Boring!" category. The category was originated by Kim Clijsters and Daniela Hantuchova, but after her lackluster grand slam final appearance in New York this fall, I just can't help but be constantly frustrated by Svetlana and her inability to control her emotions.

And that's what I think it all comes down to for Sveta: she's just doesn't have a complete grasp on herself as an individual to maintain a certain control over her tennis game. Yes, she can play some good tennis, but I'm still baffled that she is the No. 2 player in the world, and that she ever even won a grand slam.

Prediction: She'll win lots of short, boring matches and lose a few that look more like train wrecks than tennis matches. She'll slip to No. 6 in the rankings with an early loss at the USO, but will go far at the French and Beijing.

Jelena Jankovic
World rank: 3 '07 record: 72-25 Highlight: Learned (hopefully) how to schedule herself properly.
The Serb is hands down my favorite player on tour right now. Her game, her personality, her looks: she is the complete player, and she adds a spice to the WTA line-up that can sometimes lack depth (see Hantuchova, Daniela).

As far as schedule management goes, Janky will have to tone it down this year after playing 28 tournaments in 2007. (That's as many as Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova played, combined!) Jankovic's fitness, strong baseline game and battle-tested toughness will no doubt keep her in the top five, but the true tests will come only in a handful of occassions during the year. Last year Jankovic was rather unimpressive in tight situations, something she'll have to work hard on this year.

Predicition: As soon as she wins the big one (and I mean a tight, late-round grand slam match against a top player) she'll flourish. The sooner this happens, the more we'll see Jelena Jankovic on the second weekend of majors.

Ana Ivanovic
World rank: 4 '07 record: 51-18 Highlight: French Open semifinal dismantling of Sharapova.
Ivanovic is slow, and as soon as opponents realize that, the Serbian might be in trouble. But Ivanovic proved in '07 that depth and pace can keep her out of a foot race, something she'll want to do consistently this year.

Prediction: I think that Ivanovic can only continue to mature, both mentally and tennis wise. Like Jankovic, this girl has a stupendous personality in her and she no doubt brings that on to the court as motivation. Clay is her best surface, but she proved last year that she can play well on both hardcourts and grass, too. I think Ivanovic will go far in most majors in '08 and keep her top 10 billing, but this (still) isn't her year for a slam.

Maria Sharapova
World rank: 5 '07 record: 40-11 Highlight: Playing the match of the year at the SEC against Henin.
Played one of the best matches of her career in the Season Ending Championships against Justine Henin. The match was by far Sharapova's best performance in 2007, following a frighteningly bad grand slam season, where she made just one final and lost a flurry of one-sided matches against supposed rivals.

If Maria has matured the way that I believe she has, '07 will only serve as a motivation and ground for growth. Her serve was nothing short of bipolar, but the Russian seemed to have solved that riddle (see the SEC final for proof) and her hunger for a third major (she hasn't won one since the USO in '06).

Prediction: If she stays healthy, Maria will capture at least one major and perhaps be crowned Queen of Beijing, too.

Anna Chakvetadze
World rank: 6 '07 record: 59-20 Highlight: USO semifinal appearance.
Joins Kuznetsova, Hantuchova and Clijsters on the ICSWTPSSB list. Yes, the Russian's rise up the rankings from No. 756 in 2002 to No. 6 last year was catastrophic, and her baseline game can be lethal, but Chakvetadze lacks any sort of major weapons that give me reason to think she's a threat to win any major titles. The Russian may have peaked, as well, seeing she finished the year 4-6 after making the semis at the US Open.

Prediction: She'll keep playing, and playing, and playing (and playing). Chakvetadze is 2008's Jelena Jankovic.

Serena Williams
World rank: 7 '07 record: 35-10 Highlight: Her ferocious Aussie Open run.
The younger Williams gets injured a lot, which couldn't be more frustrating for Serena, her fans, the media or the WTA institution itself. But where there's a will, there's a way, and this Williams has plenty of will.

Prediction: She'll take the cake at the French (gasp!), but will have a hard time with her two biggest opponents: staying healthy and Justine Henin.

Venus Williams
World rank: 8 '07 record: 50-10 Highlight: An inspiring fourth Wimbledon title.
Is probably the hardest tennis player - male or female - to give a prediction on in today's game. The V had a solid 2007, winning Wimbledon while re-entering the top 10 and playing nearly flawless tennis in her first five matches at the US Open. But that's just the thing about Venus: she's streaky. Her forehand can go and boy, can it go! She reminds me of Kim Clijsters in that way; her forehand can be traumatic to her opponent, or it can be their best friend - it just depends.

Prediction: Well, it's hard to say. But each year the Williams sisters claim that tennis has their fullest attention. However, this season I'm going to say Venus will be in and out, up and down. Perhaps a US Open crown to end the year? That would be fun.

Daniela Hantuchova.
World rank: 9 '07 record: 52-28 Highlight: Winning somewhere other than Indian Wells (in Linz, in October).
I think I just fell asleep typing her name.

Prediction: She'll keep whining, and losing matches she should've won (do you even have to guess where this link leads you?) and keep playing semi-decent tennis. Blah, blah, blah.

Marion Bartoli
World rank: 10 '07 record: 47-31 Highlight: Stunning Justine (and the world) at the semis of Wimbledon.
Who know that the "Girl Who Could Eat" could also be the "Girl Who Could Play Tennis"? Bartoli, with her Seles-esque two handed strokes on both sides, showed the tennis world that 2007 wasn't just about the Serbs. Though Marion has a tough time moving around the court, her mobility can surprise, as can the pace and punch of her shots. Like Ivanovic, Bartoli has to hone all the strengths of her game - her serve, groundstrokes, depth - and make sure that her weaknesses are kept at bay.

Prediction: There will be no Wimby repeat for Bartoli, but she'll stay inside the top 15 and wreak havoc now and then with those big strokes of hers.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto Passes the Torch

The last 24 hours have been rather sad for me. At breakfast yesterday (which occurred around 11:30 a.m.), my dad started talking about "Bhutto this; Bhutto that." I didn't pay much attention, mostly because we had just seen Charlie Wilson's War the night before, a movie which talks about former Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto quite extensively.

But it was a couple minutes before I realized that my dad wasn't talking about the senior Bhutto, but rather his daughter, Benazir. This past fall I had become quite the fan of Benazir Bhutto. I listened to her interview on the BBC upon returning to Pakistan in October and followed the rocky situation there closely in hopes for a better future.

So when the news of her assassination came yesterday, I was in as much shock as the rest of the western world. I cannot imagine the loss and agony that the people of Pakistan feel after seeing the possibility for a new day come January's parliamentary elections.

In tennis terms, there's only one individual who comes close to being the pioneer that Ms. Bhutto was. That individual would be Sania Mirza, the 21-year-old Indian who has made as many headlines for her fashion as her forehand. If there's one positive that can come from Ms. Bhutto's death, it's that young Muslim girls throughout the world will look to her as a heroine, as someone to be emulated.

I've written quite extensively over that last year or so on Mirza. To me, she's a player with all the right ingredients: a strong build, a fierce groundstroke game, a level head on her shoulders and a nation (and world region) cheering her on. In a lot of ways, Mirza is strikingly similar to Bhutto: both raised in upper-class families that encouraged them to do whatever they pleased.

For Sania, the baseline has been her stage to the world as the podium platform was for Bhutto. Mirza's recent signing with adidas shows that the tennis world believes that the youngster is ready for the big time. And as Tennis Served Fresh blogger Erwin put it, it's time for Mirza to step up, as well.

Like Bhutto's self-imposed exile over much of the last decade, Mirza, too, must manage her schedule wisely. A 13-5 run during the summer showed us just how good Mirza can be, but her 0-3 finish to the season also proves that she just hasn't reached the level of global power that she can.

A new year always brings new challenges, new beginnings. No doubt the new year will hold both of those and more for the country of Pakistan, but so too, will it for Sania Mirza. And if she does her job right, the torch won't be dropped, and both the tennis world and the political world can call her a new heroine.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bring Me a Trophy, Santa

I love Christmas. Really, I do. I can't help but love it. The romantic idea that this is the season when families come together and share what is most important in their lives: each other. Though I partly believe that Christmas has become anything but that, the few weeks at the end of the year between "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Happy New Year!" are some of my favorite.

One tennis player that will be celebrating with a larger family this year is Lindsay Davenport, the WTA's new cover girl in its I-Can-Give-Birth-And-Play-Tennis-Too Campaign.

Though some are critical of Davenport and her recent return, I am rather tickled by her decision to return to the tour. Not only does Davenport demonstrate a passion and elegance of an era gone by, but I think she believes - truly believes - that she has some top quality tennis left in her.

That's one thing many players on the woman's tour struggle with today: belief. It was evident in Kim Clijsters, who knew she was good, knew she was great, but couldn't quite muster up the courage to believe in her ability to be the best. The result? A one slam wonder.

And it's the complete opposite problem for Clijsters' countrywoman Justine Henin, who couldn't believe in herself more. Henin not only believes she can conquer the tennis world, she knows that she can. It's this sort of attitude that has gotten Henin in trouble with the press in the past because such a disposition comes off as arrogant and cocky.

But Davenport is anything but arrogant and cocky. For so long, the Girl Next Door has been American tennis' favorite daughter. Sure, there are the Williams sisters, and Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles. But none of them possess the charm - the "it" factor - that Davenport does.

So last week, when Davenport announced that she was going full-throttle in 2008 by playing at least three of four grand slams (she'll probably skip the French Open) I couldn't help but be overjoyed. The end of '07 proved that Davenport still has that "it" factor everyone - including her - is inspired by.

There are two images seared in my brain of Davenport: the first is the post-pudgy Lindsay, at the 1998 US Open, lumbering towards the net to run down a Martina Hingis drop shot before plowing the ball past her Swiss opponent for her first grand slam title. She raises her arms mostly in triumph, but more in sheer disbelief.

The second is a somewhat unattached Lindsay, rocking back and forth behind the baseline, waiting to return a Venus Williams serve on championship point at Wimbledon in 2005. It was a moment that I wish Davenport would have seized better, and I would guess she feels the same way.

But I think those are the images that keep Davenport herself out on the court everyday, with husband Rick Leach as a hitting partner and son Jagger as a courtside constant. Lindsay still has something to prove of the champion she was in 1998 and 2005, and, hopefully still is in 2008.

So to a Merry Christmas for Lindsay and company, who are no doubt enjoying themselves in Southern California before boarding a plane for Australia, home of the Easter Bunny. If there's another family Lindsay would like to help grow in the year to come, it'd be her grand slam trophy family. That's one Christmas wish Santa (and Lindsay) may deliver on.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Penalties

A couple weeks ago, the New York Times did a piece on the flagging country that is Italy. Minus the world's adoration for their food and unique not-so-modern way of life, the small boot on the Mediterranean Sea needs a kick in the ass.

So as tennis suffers through one of the most embarrassing and far-reaching scandals its ever known, two Italians have been thrust into the spotlight for their involvement.

Potito Starace and Daniele Bracciali are certainly no household names in America, but their involvement in tennis' betting catastrophe has cost the two men a combined $50,000 and nearly five months off the tour. Italian tennis officials call it "injustice."

Welcome, tennis fans, to the new America.

Following their Davis Cup win earlier this month, the Stateside boys have officials lifted themselves out of the cellar of the tennis world. Yes, the cellar. Who cares that there are two top-ten men in Andy Roddick and James Blake, and that the Bryan brothers are arguable the best doubles team on the tour today. America was in a funk.

But now that funk has been passed on, and while many countries could run and catch the flying piece of embarrassing hardware that such a label might be represented by, Italy has taken the new gold medal: king of crap.

The thing is, it shouldn't be this way. As of late, Italy has experienced something of a tennis renaissance. At year's end, five players are in the top 100 (including Starace) and there are 28 Italian in the top 500.

But, as life and sport go, scandal always overrides achievement.

While a country like Russia may suffer from the centerfold of aforementioned scandal (Nicolay Davydenko), the Russians' ability to boast numerous personalities (Safin, Tursonov, etc.) and produce high-quality tennis exempts them from falling to the depths of tennis hell.

So one question comes about: can tennis (and Italy) escape this sea of ugly with lessons learned? Or will accusations continue to be flung in every direction, fingers thrust at chest after chest and "injustice" claimed with each penalty?

It's hard to say. And as for Italy, their poster boy and a journeyman are rank with wrong doing. Maybe a bath in tomato sauce and some of that pasta will wash them clean? But I highly doubt it.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Setbacks and Sugarplums

It's Christmas in Montana. The high today was 27 degrees, and tonight calls for a low of 11 - with the windchill probably dipping below zero. Whether we'll get a white Christmas or not is still up in the air, as some meteorologists call for mere flurries and others saying that we'll get inches over the next few days.

When I was younger, I used to play winter tennis on my favorite surface: snow-packed ice. It sounds crazy, but it was during my wall-hitting days, when I would go out to the alley behind our house and bang the tennis ball against a plaster wall of an old barn that our neighbors had.

The bounce was slicker and lower than any off of a grass court (so I would assume) and in my always-adventurous imagination, I was a professional playing at the "Denver Ice Open", held at Mile High Stadium. The alley had many surfaces: hard (no improv needed), clay (I would use our giant broom to spread the dirt out and sidewalk chalk to draw lines) and classics like snow-packed ice and muddy-puddle court that forced me to avoid the potholes in the alley with every stroke.

The off-season can be as slippery for professional tennis players as my snow-packed icy court was for me, especially for players who are trying to find their footing again. Mark Philippoussis and Jelena Dokic are two players that attempted in this last week to find their stride again, only to face setbacks much worse than any winter wind.

It's been a long and frustrating run for both Aussies. Philippoussis had his brief fling with fame this past year during the showing of NBC's reality show "Age of Love" while Dokic continues to be a tennis tabloid favorite by making grand claims and having a family life more problematic than those Spears folks from Louisiana.

Both Philippousis and Dokic came up limping at an AO wild card tournament in Australia this past week, and while Dokic will seek an entry through qualifying instead of a wild card, this might be the end of the line for the Big Scud, who's seen more setbacks and delays than JFK on a holiday travel weekend.

And then there are those who dance through the off-season with ease, like sugarplums in a dream. Though Roger Federer and Justine Henin each fell short of being named Associated Press athlete of the year, they still garnered accolades from TENNIS Magazine and from their respective tours.

To say that either current world number one shouldn't expect a great year would be preposterous. Federer won three slams in 2007, and showed ruthless resolve in beating his likely challengers (minus a resurgent David Nalbandian) late in the year. As is the case for Henin, who won two of four slams (the Williams family grabbed the other two) and won the "Match of the Year" over a faltering Maria Sharapova at the Season Ending Championships.

And what about so many of those other tennis names with all the talent in the world and the chance to challenge such mighty champions? Venus and Serena. Andy Roddick and James Blake fresh off their Davis Cup win. And what about Rafael Nadal? Such a cast of tennis secondaries could certainly make 2008 an interesting year, but only if they've used their break more for tennis and training rather than setbacks and sugarplums.

So while I'm eating peppermint ice cream and crossing my fingers for a bit of that white stuff to re-create my favorite alley-court surface, the tennis world is gearing up for another year. And while controversy will leave some players to find lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings, other shall feast big and train hard for a year that won't feature the Denver Ice Open, but hopefully will feature some high-quality tennis elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

All Tied Up

So why did Anna Chakvetadze have $106,000 in her house - in cash?!?

A. Because she "loves to shop!"
B. She wants to buy extensions for her already-too-long ponytail.
C. She's part of the tennis betting scam and ships cool $100 bills in the mails to betters that give her an edge of my favorite, Akgul.
D. She finally realized she's a one-year wonder and cashed everything out because '08 is going to rough on the tennis court for her.

We can only wonder...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Thanks to the constant encouragement from my good friend Matt, I finally caved and purchased a Mac.

So now that my credit card limit is just dollars away and the holidays are around the quarter, I better get to making some money!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Seles Return?

Though I'm taking the month off from blogging, I'm still doing a bit of writing. Here's my latest post over at Sportingo, about the possibility of Monica Seles returning to the WTA Tour.


Friday, December 7, 2007

New Layout. You Like?

Housekeeping here.

Yes, I'm still on my sabbatical from blogging per se, but I wanted to try out this new layout. For those of you who might just be passing by, what do you think?

Let me know in the comments section! 18 DAYS until Christmas! Consume, consume, consume :)

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Over the last few weeks I've been experiencing difficulties with my laptop. It was running slower than usual (which is already slow enough), and a couple times the screen just went blank - minor heart attacks on the way to the big one.

So yesterday, when I plunked myself down in the library to do research on the state of the field of Public Relations in contemporary Japan, I wasn't too surprised when my laptop let out a pitiful sigh before turning itself off for what I believe is the last time.

I have an appointment on Monday to see if a revival is possible, but it looks like I'll be in the market for a new computer over the next month. Any suggestions?

With finals approaching (they're 9 days away), I got anxious while lying in bed last night trying to figure out in my head what I was going to do sans a computer. The important stuff - all my Word documents - are on a USB drive and easily transferable.

But while I was thinking about school, my computer and the like, I couldn't help but feel anxious, empty and scared. Am I that connected to my computer? Do I really rely on it that much? I had this same feeling when I lost my phone early in the summer in New York, and it just feels gross to me.

How human am I if part of me exists in a computer?

As cliche as that sounds, I completely and utterly mean it. For all intents and purposes, I'm trying to live a simple life that is centered around family, community, hope and faith, not keyboards, URLs and mousepads.

So with the weight of school on my shoulder and a computer in the waste bin, I've decided to take a little blog break. I'll be out of commission for most of the rest of the year, focusing on school and other important things while gearing up for the 2008 tennis season.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading over the last 11 months - especially to you lurkers who don't comment much - and I look forward to being back in action come January 1.


Clean Sweep

Pull out the brooms, go start the bus, pop open the champagne.

The American men have easily defeated their Russian opponents in the finals of the Davis Cup today in Portland with a win by the Bryan brothers in the doubles rubber.

Congrats guys. Job well done.