Wednesday, December 27, 2006

WTA 2007 Preview

It's no secret that the women's tour was not must-see throughout 2006. Why? See the top 3 below. Next year can't be any worse, can it? A who to watch for the WTA in 2007 would have to include everyone in the top 30 and two women who are not: Venus Williams and Serena Williams. If they come into 2007 relatively injury free and able to bring their "A" games while taking a page from Justine's book and playing a smart, point-enhancing season they'll be at least top 5.

The Queens

(1) Justine Henin-Hardenne (BEL) - The words liar and cheat usually follow praise for her game and temper any admiration many fans want to feel for her. Her team has worked very hard to overcome the bad taste left in fans mouths by her "no mas" in Melbourne when it was obvious she couldn't bring the goods against Mauresmo. By the US Open it was obvious the little Belgian was on a mission that wasn't so impossible. She finished the year at No. 1.

What does she need to do in 2007?

She can forget totally rehabbing her image. UNESCO posts aside she is a known entity. The only way she will cut down on the negative talk is to continue to play the kind of tennis she played in 2006. She managed her time well and there is no reason to think she'll do any differently next year. She is being marketed as the WTA's answer to Federer. Let's see if she can dominate in 2007 and justify that talk. I think she can barring injury and suspicious cases of gastric distress. I really don't think the Piranha cares what people think but if she wants to make money she's going to have to.

(2) Maria Sharapova (RUS) - It's hard to find a female tennis player so widely reviled by so many tennis fans. She was booed in Miami after her on court antics and despite her winning her second Slam the only real celebration seemed to be among her corporate sponsors. Bananagate and her nasty attitude towards reporters who asked her tough questions instead of groveling at her feet may have made her a very hard bed which no amount of cajoling by IMG will overcome. Her publicists want us to ignore her pulling out of Moscow and the poor attendance in Zurich and point to Madrid. Spain is tennis crazy right now and they came to see tennis—not her. One blogger screamed "enough" when talking about all the publicity she was getting. And we won't talk about the cell phone incident, will we?

This woman truly doesn't care what anyone thinks of her. She comes across as eat-your-babies mean and no amount of hips not lying (the commercial they aired ad nauseum where she's "dancing" to Shakira's hit song) or feeling pretty will change that impression with some fans. She desperately needed to win her second Slam and where else could she count on the luck of the draw but in old New York? Tennis fans are a savvy bunch and all they care about is the tennis. She is from the American school of hit hard and if that doesn't work hit harder. The shriek? Distracts her opponents and they can't hear the ball off the racquet and judge how fast it's coming at them. Yet she is 466 points behind a woman who is a much better tennis player than she is. She and Justine will be seeded on opposite sides of the draw in Oz so their only chance to meet will be in the Final. Unless the luck of the draw holds I don't see her winning another Slam although she will probably make the semis…and yes I did go there!

(3) Amelié Mauresmo (FRA) - I don't think anyone was quaking in her thongs when they had to play her. No one gets called a head case more often other than Marat Safin. Watching her try to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory this year was jaw dropping.

I would call her La Reine de Headcases but there are so many more in the top 10 she's just a lady in waiting. She finally fulfilled the promise she showed at 19 when she made it to the finals in Oz before her private life became more of an issue than her tennis. Yet I can't see anyone worried that they can't beat her since she so often beats herself. She got a taste of the top this year and since she is an athlete I think she'll want to stay there. I don't see her winning Oz but I think she can pull it off at Wimby unless the Dragon Queen gets a cup cake draw.

(4) Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - What can you say? When this woman wants to play she can beat anyone yet she often seems puzzled about why she's on the tennis court. This was a forgettable year for her despite her No. 4 ranking because she can play so much better than she did. Maybe now with the pressure off she can play the tennis that won her a Slam. Will she win one in 2007? No.

(5) Kim Clijsters (BEL) - The former Queen of the Cupcake draws has said this will be her last year. She suffered with injuries but still managed to finish the year in the top 5. Will she be interested in tennis in 2007 or will she be picking out cribs and layette sets? She seemed very "meh" in 2006. She may fight hard enough to stay in the top ten and make some quarter finals and maybe a semi or two but unless she changes her focus she'll go out as No. 9 or 10.

(6) Nadia Petrova (RUS) - To the players below her: "Incoming at twelve o'clock high." She'll be lucky to finish in the top 10. All the drama with her coaching situation (or in her head) is not helping her play her best. Yet here she is at No. 6 in the world. Go figure.

(7) Martina Hingis (SUI) - The Black Widow has to be pleased with her year. She came from nowhere and is ranked No. 7. She still has problems handling Big Babe tennis and it doesn't matter if you hit a beautiful shot with pin point placement when some Valkyrie sends it literally screaming back at you with some added KPH on it. It could also be a gremlin sending it back her way with a lot of deceptive action on the ball. Martina has worked on her fitness but she has not changed her game. I see her in a holding pattern next year.

(8) Elena Dementieva (RUS) - La Princesse or La Reine of the Headcases? With no serve she has managed to have a pretty good year. At No. 8 she's about where she belongs. Once she gets the ball in play she's hard to beat. If she plays like she did this year she, like The Black Widow, will end the year about where she is.

(9) Patty Schnyder (SUI) - I think she starts to wonder if her hubby is robbing people in the stands when she gets to a third set. I've been watching Patty for years now and I wonder why she's never kicked into that other gear which is inside of her. If she did she'd be top 5, top 3. As it stands she's another one right where she should be. If she wanted to use her other gear this was the year to do it.

(10) Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) - She had some great wins this year and her confidence has to be high. She can move up and I don't think she's afraid to tap into the talent hidden inside of her. She is from the hit-hard-and-then-harder school but if she wants it she can get to No. 5.

The Ladies in Waiting

I don't see much movement in the top 10 so these ladies are really in a bind. With the new WTA B-Tier championship strategy I see most of them battling it out for that right while the top 8 go to the YEC or Tier A championship. That topic deserves its own discussion so I'll just say here that if they ever wanted to make a tour consisting of the haves and have-nots they couldn't come up with a better idea. The only top 10 spots I see vulnerable are 6, 8 and 10.

(11) Dinara Safina (RUS) - After her destruction of Sharapova everyone figured her for the Final 8. Instead she exited stage left and ended the year at No. 11 not even eligible for an alternate at the big dance. And as she sank Sharapova rose. Maybe it's a family trait, I don't know. I see her right where she is, maybe No. 10 if she really wants it. Ironically if you finish No. 9 or 10 you can't go to the Tier B championships which start at the woman ranked No. 11 and end with the woman ranked No. 23. You can be an alternate at the Big Dance. I don't think she's ready for prime time yet.

(12) Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - The Queen of the B list players wants to move up into the top ten. If Petrova slips and falls The Black Widow will move up a notch to take Petrova's spot and maybe Kim's. I don't think Kim wants to go out as B List champ so she'll fight enough to stay in the Top Eight. JJ's managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the US Open makes me think that while she has a chance to make it to No. 9 or 10 she may want to stay where she is and have a chance at the Tier B championships.

(13) Anna Chakvetadze (RUS) - Maybe she had a bad day at the Open but this girl just does not impress me. She looked like a deer in headlights during the match I saw her play. I'm stunned she's ranked ahead of Ivanovic. She may end the year right where she is.

(14) Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - Other than turning grown men into McCreamy's this girl has the stuff to move into the top ten. But again unless you crack the top 8 it doesn't mean jack. She wants it and wants it badly. But she's got to get past a few other women to get to No. 8.

(15) Francesca Schiavone (ITA) - May move up a few notches but will probably end the year just about where she is. A strong contender for B Tier champion.

(16) Anastasia Myskina - I'm surprised she's ranked this high. She must be content with where she is because every chance she had to move up she managed to lose. Note to Anastasia: you're not blonde. You're a smoldering brunette. You don't have to be blonde to win tennis matches you have to be good. Play to your potential and you don't have to fight Schiavone for Tier B queen.

(17) Marion Bartoli (FRA) - If Maid Marion would eat her veggies and fish and drop about 25 pounds she would put a scare into her peers when she reaches the top 8. She's got the game; she even looks like a young Monica. I'd love to see an in shape Bartoli against Sharapova. She could blow right past Martina and end the year in the top five I think she's that good. She is the Fat Dave of the WTA.

(18) Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) - Maybe Maid Marion should bequeath her crepe recipes to Daniela. Her stamina is her problem. Her lack of movement also hinders her. She's got the shots but she's almost stationary like Lindsay was before she got fit. I think the game has passed her by but she plays enough to keep her ranking in the top twenty. She ends 2007 where she is.

(19) Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER) - An underachiever. I don't know what distracts her. She's German so I can't say she's got that whole Russian thing the Safin family has going on. If she plays the way she did this year she may fall out of contention for the Tier B championship.

(20) Shahar Peer (ISR) - I don't see her moving into the top 8. She plays well and she plays just enough to keep her ranking. She may move into the high teens depending on how some of her peers do but that will be it in my opinion.

The Court in Exile

Lindsay's retirement makes this group interesting but I'm not sure if there will be much change here with few exceptions. This may be the group where Safina, Groenefeld and Hantuchova end 2007. Remember those ranked 20-23 are in the Tier B championships.

(21) Li, Na (CHN) - In China the last name goes first so I'm sticking with that convention for Ms Li. There is tremendous pressure on the Chinese women to move up in the rankings ahead of the 2008 Olympics. If she doesn't finish in the high teens the year will be considered a failure for her. She should be poised to enter the top ten in 2008 which is doable. She should set No. 15 as her goal for this year. Anything higher is gravy.

(22) Tatiana Golovin (FRA) - Another woman that sends men into a tizzy but has not capitalized on chances she's had to move up in the rankings in 2006. Everyone wants her to be top ten but until she wants it she won't be. I see her in the first 15 tops.

(23) Katarina Srebotnik (SLO) - Another B tier princess. I have to say I've never seen her play. With the women beneath her fighting for that No. 23 spot she may be in danger of losing it and falling towards No. 29 or so.

(24) Bepa Zvonereva (RUS) - Bepa is Vera in Cyrillic so I'm not disrespecting her. She gets major props in my book for showing her humanity when Mary Pierce went down with that severe knee injury. Bepa's an underachiever in my book. Maybe she needs a coach who will kick her in the butt and make her cry but by doing so stiffens her spine and pushes her up a couple of notches. The game may have passed her by and she may drop a place or two.

(25) Lindsay Davenport (USA) - With the birth of her child on the horizon Lindsay has more important things on her mind. If she had continued to play I'm not sure if she would've moved up much. I am sure she wouldn't want to be the Tier B queen either so as usual the universe converged and gave her a way to leave the game with dignity. I wonder if she'll be able to curb that tongue of hers and do some commentary in 2008?

(26) Sugiyama, Ai (JPN) - Again following Asian name conventions I put her last name first. I saw Ai play live at the Open. She still has game but as James Brown once said "money won't change you but time is taking you on." It may be time for Ai to call it a day.

(27) Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) - Never seen her play. With Lindsay gone and Sugiyama probably moving down in the rankings she has a chance to move up some. Not sure if she'll make No. 23 though.

(28) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) - Another underachiever. Every chance Flavia had to move up she blew in 2006 and it's a shame because Flavia has a nice game. When she plays with confidence she is a threat to anyone. Just ask Sharapova. Flavia should be No. 20 or so. Has a chance to move up from this ranking segment.

(29) Samantha Stosur (AUS) - Singles is an afterthought for her. May move up due to retirements or other random tennis events but I don't see her higher than No. 25 at the end of the year.

(30) Maria Kirilenko (RUS) - No more McCreamy remarks from me. This girl has the looks they wish Sharapova had. If only she had more of the Siberian woman's will. A good year for Maria K. would be finishing in the high 20's.


Craig Hickman said...

Welcome aboard, Savannah!

It's great to have your wit and insight. Now readers can get a different perspective on the sport we love so much!

Vlad said...

Craig, no input on WS? Also, are you gonna do ATP preview? I am looking forward to that a bit more.

Vlad said...

Oh, stupid me, I just realized that it was Nubienne who did the WTA preview. Is it ok that I call you that, since you have different names on different boards.

Craig Hickman said...

Vlad, I will be doing an ATP preview in the coming days. Still coming down from Dreamgirls and haven't gotten focused in on tennis again yet.

My take on Serena and Venus is simple: They have virtually no points to defend so if they are fit, healthy, and determined, Venus is back in the top 10, Serena in the top 20. Savannah predicted them into the top 5 (in her introduction), but I'm not sure that even if both are healthy, they will play enough events to get back that high.

Jay said...

Hi guys! Finally figured out how to leave a comment (I'm not a ditz, really!). Just want to say, thanks to both Craig and Savannah for such a fun, insightful blog. I always looked forward to you two's posts on the often wretched ESPN board, as well.

Well, what can I say? My greatest fear is that 2007 will be the year of the Shrieking Banshee Dragon Queen aka Maria Bananapova. Watching her pound Amelie (what is with this girl???) and Justine into submission and then almost get the Year-End No. 1 ranking, I have a feeling like her time to reign has come. Oh, sure, the Piranha (love the nickname, by the way!) may stop her on the slower surfaces, but I see the shrieker blasting past her on grass and hardcourt. Sure, Maria may never win the French (I remember Lindsay saying how hard it was to play with her style on clay) but I can't look past her for the other three Slams.

As for me? Well, I'm an Amelie fan through and through, but the girl has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory enough times for me to know not to watch a match without some Pepto by my side. The Piranha made me sick with her double-retirement act this year, and I just can't get into Maria's style of play (not to mention the endless shrieking, the constant pimping by all the sponsors, and the horrible sportsmanship in Miami against Golovin), so 2007 is looking just a little bleak for me. ESPECIALLY with the news of Venus's wrist injury -- well, I'm hardly happy about that. Let's just hope Serena gets that behind into shape (literally) and starts taking some names again, esp. that blasted Piranha!

And while I'm at it, a French Open for Kimmy! (really, with such faves as Amelie and Kimmy, I'm headed straight for the shrink after '07 LOL!).

Craig Hickman said...

Hi Jay,

I'm afraid you could be right about the Shrieking Banshee next year.

But let's hope not.

Savannah said...

Unfortunately I think Jay is right too. It's going to be between the Piranha and the Bansidhe all of 2007.

Calling me Nubi is fine.

'Los said...

I see a lot more change in the Top 10 than you do. Ivanovic and Jankovic are absolutes for year end Top 10. Chaks is right there as well, and if Golovin works hard enough, she'll be knocking on the door as well. And Safina had her best season ever, and finally started showing up at Slams. If her fitness and footwork can get a little better (she's another Linds in that reagrd), she'll challenge as well

Say goodbye to Schnyder...her era has passed. And the younger players now know Hingis's game, and I think that knocks her out.

Vaidisova is a weak 10, and an even weaker head. If she doesn't get outside help SOON, and doesn't come up with a game plan that involves something more than hitting harder than the last time, she's out of the Top 10.

And Dementieva just hasn't gotten any better. Think her clock is reading 14:59.

Craig Hickman said...


The Dementieva comment is priceless.

Savannah said...

Has Jankovic matured enough to not let "minor" things distract her? She gave away that match with J2H at the Open and hasn't exhibited the maturity needed to be in the top ten.
Ivanovic is talking the talk but it remains to be seen if she can walk the walk. She should've taken a few more matches than she did last year. Her backtracking on her comments re the Pova Gil and how tennis is all about handling the sweat don't bode well IMO.
Chakvetadze still hasn't shown me she's ready for prime time. She just didn't impress me at the Open.

bogledance said...

Great stuff Savannah. I'm looking forward to reading more from you!

Craig Hickman said...

Chakvetadze was injured at the Open.

But she impressed me in Moscow. She's deceptively powerful, she's fast and quick, she's crafty, she's competent at net, and she likes to change direction on the ball. She's Martina Hingis with a serve.

And there was something deadly in her eyes.

I have a feeling she wants more And she just might get it.

The top 10 isn't out of the question for her.

Anonymous said...

First timer and the Savannah rundown
was priceless. Please more!

Craig Hickman said...

There'll be more, first timer.

Thanks for stopping by.