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.

1 comment:

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