Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Underdogs Version: Men and Women

Now that the tennis year is in full swing, I thought it might be time to do something a little less predictable; something other than the top 10. 2007 was full of breakout artists: Ivanovic, Jankovic, Djokovic...and those are just the Serbs that caught our attention!

Here's a short list of players I think will make big noise in '08:
Lindsay Davenport
World rank: 72 '07 record: 13-1 Highlight: Winning two of three tournaments in her baby-in-tow return.

Lindsay Davenport was the feel-good story of the fall while the tennis world was engulfed in a storm of scandal that included the on-going betting scandal, Martina Hingis' bizarre re-retirement and speculation of a fixed exhibition series between the two GOATs.

Davenport's return isn't all about feeling good, however, it's about feeling great. The new mother blazed to a 13-1 record while collecting two titles and announcing a powerful return to the tour. The Californian has already committed to a full slam schedule (minus the French, of course) and has opened '08 with two wins already.

Prediction: It's hard to put Davenport up there with Henin (who she always struggled against), the Williamses and others. I think she'll no doubt make some noise at the slams, and may garner a runner-up trophy or two...but nothing more.

Tamira Pazsek
World rank: 41 '07 record: 33-18 Highlight: Making the 4th round at the USO (and beating Schnyder along the way).

Tamira Pazsek is the full package. The 17-year-old Austrian made the 4th round at both Wimbledon and the US Open on her way to finishing the year ranked 41st in the world. Her strong backcourt game was groomed for much of the year by Larry Passos, the former coach of Gustavo Kuerten. Though Passos and Pazsek have gone separate ways, the teen will certainly be a top 20 player by the end of the year.

Prediction: Top 20 by year's end along with a grand slam quarterfinal appearance (or two). In '09 she'll join Ivanovic, Jankovic and company in the "Slam Contender" category.

Agnes Szavay
World rank: 20 '07 record: 56-14 Highlight: Rising nearly 200 spots in the rankings in one calendar year.

Szavay won her first WTA title in Beijing this past fall, beating Jankovic in the final as the sixth seed. Her victory capped off what was an extremely impressive year for the Hungarian, who finished the year at No. 20 in the rankings following an impressive run to the quarters at the US Open.

Prediction: Szavay will continue her run up the rankings, but not quite at the pace she did in 2007. She doesn't have many points to defend early in the year, and could climb into the top 15 before the French. Expect her to hover there for the next year or so, before breaking in to the top 10 in '09 or '10.

Julie Ditty
World rank: 101 '07 record: 49-25 Highlight: Winning six matches at Quebec and making her first ever WTA semifinal
Vanderbilt grad Julie Ditty continued her steady rise up the rankings in 2007 with a flurry of wins on the ITF tour. Her best results, however, came on the WTA circuit in late fall, when she qualified for four straight tournaments including Quebec, where she made the semifinals.

Prediction: The lefty has the chance to climb up the rankings (much like Szavay) early in the year. She'll be top 80 by the end of the year.

Janko Tipsarevic
World rank: 52 '07 record: 19-22 Highlight: His 8-6 in-the-fifth win over Fernando Gonzalez at Wimbledon.

Tipsarevic, the Prince of Serbian Tennis, made his mark on the ATP Tour last year by going 6-4 in the majors, including a dazzling performance at the All England Club. He won three straight five-set matches to advance to the 4th round before falling to a red-hot Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Prediction: Janko's cooky playing style, partnered with his speed and grit, will keep him in the top 50 this year. If he can stay healthy, and continue to feed off the positive energy of countryman Novak Djokovic, we could see him as a seeded player at Wimbledon and the USO.

Frank Dancevic
World rank: 72 '07 record: 18-19 Highlight: The quarterfinals at AMS Canada.

Frank Dancevic had quite the summer, where he went 7-2 and scored wins over Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco. After making the finals at Indianapolis, Dancevic wowed his hometown crowd in Canada by taking Rafael Nadal to three sets in the quarterfinals.

Prediction: The Canadian will continue to win matches with his rifle serve and dangerous one-handed backhand. He'll be top 50 by year's end, if not before.

Fernando Verdasco
World rank: 26 '07 record: 34-28 Highlight: Advancing to the 4th round at RG after seven straight losses.

This is the year for Fernando Verdasco. At least, that's what I say. After demonstrating so much talent and so little execution over the last few years, Verdasco, now 24, should solidify his place inside the top 20 in 2008. The success of Rafael Nadal has no doubt motivated his fellow Spaniards, and Verdasco, along with Feliciano Lopez should benefit from Nadal's success this year with some of his own.

Prediction: Top 20. Semifinals at the French.

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