Tenaciously Tennis


2011 French Open Predictions: WTA Tour

With the first matches of the 2011 French Open underway, here are some last minute predictions on who will hoist the title with a number of key players, including Serena and Venus Williams, out with injury. Maria Sharapova looks confident as ever, breaking back into the top ten. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki’s consistency might just prove enough to win her a title in the weakened field. Last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone also has a chance, although she faces a tough first round against the American sweetheart, Melanie Oudin.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section: This tough first section features a lot of talented players, many of whom have seen a recent drop in the rankings. As typical of her game, Wozniacki has proven tremendously solid in her last few clay tournaments, winning in Brussels and Charleston. She’ll take that same consistency to Roland Garros, and hopefully make that next leap by getting to her second Grand Slam final. At least, it seems highly likely that she can break past last year’s finalist Sam Stosur this year, for a spot beyond the quarters. Quite notably, Stosur had a strong clay season, making it to the finals against Sharapova in Rome before falling to the Russian in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

Ones to Watch: Again, this top section is laden with a multitude of talent, including Daniela Hantuchova, Shahar Peer, Aravane Rezai, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Julia Goerges, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Marion Bartoli. I’ll go with Kuznetsova to make a strong showing from these players.

Bottom Line: This is Wozniacki’s tournament to win on the women’s side. She’s proven she has the capability, it’s just a matter of translation to the Grand Slams at this point, especially when the field is relatively wide open. The bottom section of the draw, however, is very heavy, trying to prevent her from hoisting that maiden title.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section: Here’s another heavy section of the draw, featuring last year’s surprise champion, Schiavone. After a strong stretch on clay, however, the no. 3 seed Zvonareva hasn’t been looking as sharp on the clay court circuit thus far. It looks like Schiavone might have the chance to put together some of last year’s confidence to produce the magical, fairytale story that won her a first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In the end, however, I’m going against her from winning again.

Ones to Watch: Another heavy part of the draw, this section holds players, including Sabine Lisicki, Nadia Petrova, Alize Cornet, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Jelena Jankovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Flavia Pennetta, Peng Shuai, and Melanie Oudin (who gets Schiavone first). Of these names, Jankovic, who made the semifinals last year before falling to Stosur 6-1, 6-2, stands out most. Look for her to make the upset against Schiavone in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Zvonareva battles through her section and the tough Pavlyuchenkova. There she’ll meet Jankovic in the quarterfinals (the winner over 2010 champion Schiavone).

Victoria Azarenka’s Section: The number four player in the world looks poised to go deep at this year’s French Open, having dropped her first round match against Gisela Dulko last year. Her biggest competition comes with Australian Open finalist Na Li and Serbia’s resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

Ones to Watch: Ivanovic, the champion in 2008, obviously has the talent to win on the biggest courts. As of late, however, she seems to have returned to a slump in play, falling early in Rome and Madrid. As the no. 20 seed, however, look for her to find some of her form to get a match against Azarenka in the fourth round. Petra Kvitova, the no. 9 seed, also looks ready to roll in this section, potentially defeating Li to do much better than last year’s disappointing first round loss. Additionally, Kvitova’s fresh off a win in Madrid against Azarenka, beating the Belarussian, 7-6(3), 6-4 and also making the final in Prague more recently. Also, props to American Sloane Stephens for battling her way through to the qualifying. A personal favorite, she meets up with Elena Baltacha first.

Bottom Line: Azarenka advances to the quarterfinals over Ivanovic, meeting Kvitova (the winner over Li).

Kim Clijsters’ Section: Since winning the Australian Open, Clijsters hasn’t played much tennis. Meanwhile, Sharapova has just the opposite experience, claiming her biggest career title since succumbing to a shoulder injury in 2008 with a title in Rome over Stosur. Look for Sharapova to defeat Clijsters, who may lose earlier due to her ankle injury, in the quarterfinals.

Ones to Watch: But before we go claiming a Sharapova victory, it’s important to note the wide range in talent that appears in this section of the draw. Players of particular note include: Yanina Wickmayer, Sania Mirza, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrea Petkovic, Jarmila Gajdosova, Bojana Jovanovski, and Maria Kirilenko. Look for Wickmayer to give Sharapova trouble, while Petkovic has the potential to defeat the injured Clijsters.

Bottom Line: Sharapova keeps stringing the wins together on clay to defeat Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: Given the above predictions, we’ll see Wozniacki take on Stosur; Zvonareva against Jankovic; Kvitova versus Azarenka; and Sharapova versus Clijsters.

In the Semifinals: Look for Wozniacki to defeat Stosur; Jankovic to beat Zvonareva; Azarenka to win against Kvitova; and Sharapova to defeat Clijsters.

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Despite Loss, Jovanovski Poised for Future Success

Bojana Jovanovski has proven that she’s one to watch in the coming months.  Ranked 58th, she recently gave world number two Vera Zvonareva a fight in the Australian Open’s second round. With powerful strokes on both sides and a strong fighting spirit, Jovanovski handled herself like a future top ten player. She lost to the Wimbledon and US Open finalist in three sets, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

As the youngest player in the top 100 at age 19, Jovanovski came into the Aussie Open with some solid wins  to begin 2011. She advanced to the semifinals at Sydney, beating Kaia Kanepi, Aravane Rezai, and Flavia Pennetta (all ranked inside the top 30) in straight sets. Jovanovski lost to the eventual champion Na Li of China.

If she can improve her fitness and get more experience as the season progress, the third-ranked Serb — after Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic — will be an even greater threat.

Watch below for a fun interview of Jovanovski from Brisbane earlier this year.

Australian Open 2011 Predictions: WTA Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the WTA tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

Serena Williams is out of her second consecutive major, and that means only one thing: the draw opens up substantially. Who can rise to the occasion with the favorite out of the mix? Will it be Kim Clijsters, who comes fresh off wins at the US Open and the year-ending championships, and has done well so far in 2011? There’s also Caroline Wozniaki trying to prove her number one ranking by her maiden Grand Slam title. Last year’s finalist Justine Henin must be mentioned, while Venus Williams plays after a knee injury kept her off tour. The Australian Open this year is bound for some surprises. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section:

The top seed should make it to the fourth round with Wozniacki’s toughest competition being Dominika Cibulkova. The 29th-seed recently scored a straight sets win over the Dane in Sydney. In the bottom of that portion of the draw, Yanina Wickmayer could very well defeat Marion Bartoli with confidence inspired by her finals showing in Auckland. Bartoli, however, does enjoy a 2-0 head-to-head record over Wickmayer.

In the bottom half, last year’s finalist Henin looms as the 15th-seed with Svetlana Kuznetsova as a potential third round match. The reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also looks promising to advance. Henin, however, has won seven of eight matches against the Italian.

Ones-to-Watch: Australian Jarmila Groth recently won the Hobart tournament and may pose trouble for Wickmayer in the first round. The two met only once in 2009 with Wickmayer pulling through in three sets. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Wimbledon semifinalist, who has been struggling since the result, also appear in Wozniacki’s bracket.

Bottom Line: Wozniacki has some tough tests, but I believe she’ll advance to the quarterfinals over Wickmayer. Henin shouldn’t have a problem against Schiavone.

Venus Williams’ Section:

Here’s home to the fourth-seed, Venus, who faces a couple tests before the fourth round. In the third round, Andrea Petkovic could push her. The two have never met, and Petkovic looks confident with a recent string of wins in Brisbane. In the fourth round, however, Venus potentially meets Maria Sharapova. The head-to-head makes the Russian’s  possible success slim as Venus leads 5-3 in their head-to-head. She’s also won the last three matches in straight sets.

It’ll be a toss-up between 2010 semifinalist Na Li and the ever spirited Victoria Azarenka in their probable fourth round match.

Ones-to-Watch: The other seeded players, Kaia Kanepi (no. 20), Aravane Rezai (no. 17) and Daniela Hantuchova (no. 28) also appear here.

Bottom Line: Venus will likely defeat Sharapova, while Li can take out Azarenka in a battle.

Kim Clijsters’ Section:

Possibly the most open part of the draw belongs to Clijsters, where she’ll no doubt benefit. Competition comes in the form of Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic. Clijsters, however, should get through to the quarterfinals unless Ivanovic can out-perform her in the fourth round. It’ll be an interesting match between Clijsters and Dinara Safina in the first round.

With a struggling Jelena Jankovic as the seventh-seed (she’s lost eight of her last matches, including six straight) at the top, the section looks perfect for an up-and-comer to make a move. Agnieszka Radwanska (no. 12), although she’s battling some injury, might do well. Jankovic can also squeak through the bracket as she has before. One never knows with the former world number one.

Ones-to-Watch: Personal favorite Patty Schnyder could meet Ivanovic in the second round. Greta Arn, the surprise winner of Auckland, also appears in this section, facing the 26th-seed, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, in the first round.

Bottom Line: Jankovic looks like a big question mark, while Clijsters should sail through to the second week.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section:

One of the strongest sections of the 2011 Australian Open on the WTA tour, this bracket is home to the second-seeded Zvonareva and home-favorite Sam Stosur (no. 5). These two names stand above the rest, although there are some, such as Petra Kvitova (no. 25), Shahar Peer (no. 10), and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (no. 16), who serve as fierce competition.

In a potential fourth round match, Kvitova, who won Brisbane — but lost in a walkover at Sydney — would face Stosur. The Australian hasn’t been quite up to form as she lost to Kuznetsova in Sydney’s second round.  Israel’s Peer would probably face the victor. Zvonareva lost to Flavia Pennetta — also of this bracket — early in Sydney. Zvonareva should, however, shake off the loss to make a run to the quarterfinals.

Ones-to-Watch: American Melanie Oudin might make a move in her section of the draw, where she’d face Zvonareva in a potential third round match. There’s also Maria Kirilenko (no. 22) and Anna Chakvetadze.

Bottom Line: It looks like Zvonareva and Stosur get through to the quarterfinals, but not without some strong tests from a number of good competition.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Wozniacki against Henin; Venus against Li; (potentially) Jankovic against Clijsters; and Stosur versus Zvonareva.

In the Semifinals: Watch for Henin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four.

Zvonareva Ranked Second, Can Surpass Wozniacki in Doha

Vera Zvonareva, this year’s finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open, replaced the ailing Serena Williams in her rise to the number two world ranking today. This distinction, however, may not be the final one of the year for Zvonareva in her best season on tour to date. In fact, she has the chance to overtake Caroline Wozniacki’s relatively new top ranking at the year-ending tournament in Doha.

Here’s Zvonareva’s reaction via Facebook: “Just heard I have reached #2 in the world rankings! I have worked really hard this year so it is nice to see the results pay off. Also had a good time here in Doha at the player party and draw ceremony yesterday. Playing my first round robin match tomorrow.”

For her to nab the top spot, explains an Associated Press article, Zvonareva “must win all three matches in the group stage and then make it to the final, while all Wozniacki has to do is win two of her round robin matches to retain her ranking.” It continues, “If Zvonareva loses a match in the round robin, Wozniacki would then only need to win one of hers.”

Therefore, many things need to happen for Zvonareva to take hold of this opportunity — being the world’s best at the year’s end.

The idea that she may become the world number one is frankly a little mystifying, despite her excellent showing in majors this year. Maybe it’s the fact that the media simply doesn’t hype her the way it does Serena, Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, and others. Or, it could be the fact that her on-court temperament still lacks that of a true champion. Whatever the case, Zvonareva has proven she’s here to stay atop the highest tier of the WTA tour for a long time coming.

In Bobby Chintapalli’s recent post, “Small Babe, Big Results,” we get a strong sense of Zvonareva’s ability to overwhelm her opponents with tricky shot selection and the ability to change up pace and spin. Writes Chintapalli, “You’re not immediately sure what Zvonareva did, but you know she did something right. It’s fitting, because that’s how she can make her opponents feel when she plays well.” This refreshing quality makes Zvonareva an interesting candidate for the top position — just like Wozniacki a few weeks ago and Jelena Jankovic before

Now, it’s a matter of the media taking her under its wing, too. If she wins her first-round match against the struggling Jankovic in Doha tomorrow, she’ll be well on her way.

US Open Predictions – WTA Tour

The action at the US Open has begun. Without Serena Williams and Justine Henin, the year’s final major looks open for the taking. Here are my thoughts on the tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter:

Wozniacki looks sharp as the number one seed. She’s won three US Open Series titles in a row, capturing the Pilot Pen Tournament just a few days ago. She won the Series and could very well dominate the competition on her way to a major title. But before we look that far ahead, Maria Sharapova looms in her future as a potential fourth round match.

In that set-up, I take Wozniacki’s consistency over Sharapova’s experience, drive, and power. Plus, Sharapova needed three sets in her first round win to advance. I say Wozniacki wins in three sets.

Other notables: Aravane Rezai, the 18th seed, is one to watch, possibly meeting Sharapova in the third round.

Na Li’s Quarter:

The highest seed in this section of the draw got knocked out early on. Therefore, the stage is set for Svetlana Kuznetsova to get to the quarterfinals. Maria Kirilenko, however, recently got the the semifinals at the Pilot Pen Tournament. Can she make another big move at a major, like this year’s Australian Open?

Other notables: Kateryna Bondarenko beat Li. Will her form continue against a tough Dominika Cibulkova in the next round? If so, a fourth round result might just be in the cards for her.

Jelena Jankovic’s Quarter:

Jankovic isn’t a threat for the title in my opinion. She’s coming off of injury and needed three sets to get to the second round. If the seeding stays true to form, she could very well lose to Yanina Wickmayer, the 15th seed, in the fourth round.

Other notables: Kaia Kanepi, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist, might make some noise against Jankovic in a possible third round match. Personal favorite and veteran Patty Schnyder gets a shout-out for her dominating 6-1, 6-3 win over Kirsten Flipkins in the first round.

Vera Zvonareva’s Quarter:

This is a tough section with Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska heading the field. Zvonareva, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, should get to the fourth round without a problem. I see her playing against Radwanska to decide the quarterfinal spot.

Radwanska wins that match in three, using finesse, tactics, and superb counter-punching consistency to get inside Zvonareva’s head.

Other notables: Nadia Petrova, the Pilot Pen Tennis finalist, already lost to Andrea Petkovic, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands should find strong support at her home major.

Francesca Schiavone’s Quarter:

In what I view as the hardest section of the field, the French Open winner won’t live up to expectations. Instead, I’m rooting for Melanie Oudin, last year’s fairytale story, to get to the fourth round. Against her could be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sania Mirza, or Victoria Azarenka. The seeding says Azarenka, but I’ve been seeing great things from Pavlyuchenkova lately. Then again, Mirza’s back in action, and looked sharp in her qualifying matches and especially against Michelle Larcher de Brito in the first round.

Other notables: Can Alona Bondarenko find some surprise honeymoon success?

Venus Williams’ Section:

Okay, so the draw doesn’t get much easier in this section. Shahar Peer, Flavia Pennetta, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Venus are all contenders. I’ll take Venus to exact revenge over Pironkova, who beat her in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in straight sets during potential third round action.

The winner of that match could face Pennetta, although I’m a fan of Peer’s game.

Other notables: Can Pironkova bring the same amount of trickery against Venis this time around? Probably not.

Sam Stosur’s Quarter:

Elena Dementieva immediately comes to mind as the winner for this part of the draw. Stosur did well to get to the French Open final, but her form has suffered since then. Dementieva lost in a close match against Wozniacki and will bring that same drive and intensity in search of her first major title. She wants it badly. I’ll predict she advances in straight sets to the quarterfinals.

Other notables: I’m curious to see if Vania King can beat Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated an ailing Dinara Safina, in the second round. I hope King gets a lot of love from the New York City crowd.

Kim Clijsters’ Quarter:

Clijsters is likely to dominate this field. While Petra Kvitova plays a big, athletic game that got her all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals, she doesn’t have the experience to beat last year’s champion. Clijsters’ opponent for a spot in the quarters, however, is by no means locked. Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, and Jie Zheng are all big threats. Regardless, I’m not overly worried.

Other notables: Ivanovic versus Zheng should be an interesting match. Is the Serb ready for the top tier once more? I hope so. She looked promising in Cincinnati before withdrawing from injury against Clijsters in the semifinals.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Wozniacki beats Kuznetsova in two sets to make the semis. She’ll face the winner of Radwanska and Wickmayer. I like the chances of Wozniacki versus Radwanska. who takes out Zvonareva, in this semifinal section.

In the other matches, Azarenka loses to Venus, while Clijsters and Dementieva battle it out. Clijsters prevails in three sets.

The final four: Wozniacki against Radwanska, and Venus versus Clijsters.

Roddick Returns After Mono Scare

Any Roddick returned to the tour after a scare of mononucleosis, the same disease that wracked Roger Federer’s system in 2008. Roddick, entered in Cincinnati, punctuated his comeback with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1 win over Sergiy Stakhovsky. He looked poised to win in straight sets after leading 5-2 in the tiebreak when things started to fall apart. Roddick threw his racket, let off the steam, and never looked back. He steamrolled in the final set, playing what he considers some of his best tennis of the season.

After the match, he said, “I don’t feel perfect, but good enough. That third set was actually a blessing in disguise. That’s the best I’ve played in months.” That’s a great sign going into the next round, although I don’t think he’s ready to take on the big guns in the tournament, such as Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Andy Murray.

Here are other things to think about on the WTA and ATP tours:

  • Federer doesn’t have Paul Annacone with him at the tournament. Is something wrong already? Was it only a short-term gig? Or is Federer a little annoyed that lost to a coach-less Murray at the Rogers Cup? None of the above, apparently.
  • Murray’s definitely not getting a new coach until after the US Open. Good choice.
  • Venus Williams committed to playing the US Open. Now, how about Serena?
  • How will Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova fare after getting injured at Cincinnati?
  • Jelena Jankovic continues to be a big question mark, losing in the first round to Iveta Benesova, while Svetlana Kuznetsova rebounded after a tough loss to Sharapova last week. She beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a semifinalist at Cincy, in three sets. What’s next for Jankovic? Is she going down, Ivanovic-style? Or, will she be another Elena Dementieva? She’s had her chances to win a major, defaulting, being dramatic, or injured every time.
  • James Blake, a former top ten American, will receive a wild card into the US Open. Is it worth it?

Injured Sharapova Succumbs to Clijsters; Murray Defends Title

Maria Sharapova had three match points against Kim Clijsters and couldn’t pull off the victory. Instead, the former world number one and three-time major titlist left the court in a three-set loss and a heel injury to boot. Andy Murray, meanwhile, played some strong tennis — despite being without a coach — to defeat Roger Federer 7-5, 7-5. The win grants Murray a place in history as being the first guy since Andre Agassi in 1995 to successfully defend a Rogers Cup title.

Sharapova suffered a potentially devastating loss against Clijsters on a number of levels. After the rain delay — with Clijsters serving to stay in the match at 6-2 5-3 — everything changed. To have the lead and lose it so painstakingly will sting for the Russian. The injury: maybe even worse. But that will only be for a couple days at most. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — if there’s anyone on tour to push a loss like this aside, it’s Sharapova. While the extent of her physical problem remains to be reported, fans can rest assured that she has the ability to bounce back. Plus, her result earns her a bump in the rankings to number twelve in the world. As long as she’s healthy by August 30, there’s no reason why Sharapova can’t be considered a favorite at the US Open.

Her opponent, Clijsters, however, looks just a little stronger to win the title. Like the champion she is, Clijsters absorbed the pressure at the brink of defeat and thrived. After a sloppy first set, which she lost 2-6, Clijsters stopped making errors. Sharapova didn’t play badly to lose that second set in a tie-breaker, Clijsters simply played better. Then, things got easier after Sharapova got hurt, although she didn’t hand the match over to the Belgian by any means. Clijsters needed numerous match points to seal the match 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

With the way she’s playing, and the poor condition of many of the top women these days, I’m calling Clijsters the favorite to win the US Open. Yes, her draw remains to be seen. Clijsters, however, loves it in New York. She won the event last year and there are numerous question marks floating around about Serena and Venus Williams, Sharapova, Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic, and Jelena Jankovic, among others. If Clijsters stays healthy and plays the type of game that beat Sharapova in the second and third sets, she’ll be the champion at Arthur Ashe stadium once more.

For Murray, the win over Federer marks the end of an enticing week going into the US Open, where he got to the final in 2008. To win, he also beat David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal, the world number one. The win means a lot for Murray’s confidence. Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t prove to me that he has the ability to take his game to the next level and win a major title. I hope that’s not true. I’m a big fan of Murray’s game, the brilliant shot-making, set-up by a counter-punching style. He’s a joy to watch. Nadal and Federer are differently animals when it comes to the biggest tournaments.

The Cincinnati Final Four — A Welcome Surprise

It’s been a shocking week in Cincinnati, current high-profile players, such as Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki dropped-out early. Former number ones Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, and Kim Clijsters, however, are in top form getting to the semis, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova surprised many to also make the final four.

Kim Clijsters:

Clijsters, the defending US Open champion, looks sharp in her return to play after a disappointing loss to Vera Zvonareva in the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Her draw hasn’t been an easy one, either. To make it to the semis, she’s won against former world number one Dinara Safina, the young upstart American Christina McHale, and Flavia Pennetta, who took out Zvonareva. Clijsters won against Pennetta in a close 7-6 (4), 6-4 match.

Ana Ivanovic:

It’s great seeing Ivanovic back. Her draw really opened up after Jelena Jankovic lost to Akgul Amanmurdova in the third round. Instead of Ivanovic playing her compatriot, the world’s second-ranked player,  she fended off the 114th Amanmuradova. Ivanovic won 6-1, 6-3 to get to her first semifinal since the Rome clay tournament in May. Can the Serb take out Clijsters to get to her first final in over a year? I don’t think so. Her last final: Indian Wells in 2009, where she lost to Vera Zvonareva as the sixth player in the world. It’s been a long road for Ivanovic both mentally and in her ranking slide these past few months. She has a lot to prove going into this semifinal. I think her mental game and, therefore, athletic game will break down under the pressure of playing a confident Clijsters.

Maria Sharapova:

Coming off a 6-4 6-1 drubbing by Victoria Azarenka in the final at Stanford, Sharapova is playing with a new confidence. That loss, along with some close wins over Elena Dementieva and Agnieszka Radwanska to get to her fourth final of the season, further fired up the powerful game of the former Russian teenage phenom (she won Wimbledon at just 17). Sharapova’s serving embodies this renewed confidence. In a recent statement, Sharapova said, “I’m actually serving a lot better than I did last summer. Hitting bigger serves — maybe I’m missing a few more first serves and second serves, but not hitting second serves 70 miles an hour.” That’s a good sign for the three-time major champion, and a scary one for the rest of the field.

At this tournament, she’s continued to claw her way to the top, taking out a recently victorious Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. In the second, she easily handled the tennis media sensation Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-1. Next, she outhit Radwanska 6-2, 6-3, improving her head-to-head to a dominating 6-1 record. In the quarters, she beat Marion Bartoli 6-1. 6-4.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:

Rounding out the final four is the teenager Pavlyuchenkova, who’s been playing some strong tennis this season. She’s won two titles already, including her last at the end of July in Istanbul. With a ranking of 25th in the world — close to her career-high of 24 — things are looking good for the former girl’s champion. To make it to the semis, she’s been some fantastic players, including: Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, and Yanina Wickmayer (all top twenety talent).  Her next opponent, however, has the experience and drive to handle even Pavlychenkova’s big game, easily.

Predictions:

I’m going by the rankings (and my past prediction, which you can read here) to make it to the final. I see Clijsters taking out Ivanovic easily, just like their last match three years ago on carpet in the quarterfinals of Antwerp. There, she beat Ivanovic 6-2, 6-1. I think the sets will be closer, but not by much.

For Sharapova versus Pavlyuchenkova — the two haven’t played one another yet — I’m going with Sharapova, assuming her serve stays on track. If it does, and she plays the game that’s carried her through the past few tournaments during the US Open Series, she should advance comfortably with a chance to take on Clijsters.

In the end, I’m banking on Sharapova to win — she has a 3-1 record against Clijsters (although it’s been about three years since the last match).

Soderling, Jankovic Upset; Sweet Victories for the Unexpected

Watch out tennis world, there’s a dangerous floater in David Nalbandian in the field. The Argentine most recent win: over world number five Robin Soderling in three sets, including a dominant performance in the third. He won4-6, 6-4, 6-1 over the fifth seed.

After missing the last six major events, Nalbandian is back. After taking out Marcos Baghdatis last week to win his 11th title in Washington, Nalbandian improved his current match winning-streak to 11. With that win, he surged through the rankings by 72 spots and is currently ranked 45th. With the win over Soderling, he’s poised to be seeded once the US Open begins in two weeks.

Although fitness has been a problem for Nalbandian in the post, according to ESPN commentator and former player and coach Brad Gilbert, he’s in pretty good shape after the injury layoff. In the match versus Soderling, the backhand was spot on, too. Nalbandian would hit a blister backhand crosscourt, nailing Soderling into the corner, and then surprise with a world-class down-the-line backhand for a crisp winner. With this shot-making capability, and the belief that comes along with such results, Nalbandian can beat any player on any given day. In fact, over at ESPN, they were calling him one of the favorites at the US Open, behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, but potentially before Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the number two and four ranked player in the world, respectively.

And while Soderling was simply outplayed in that match, he wasn’t the only one. Top seed Jelena Jankovic in the Cincinnati tournament was ousted by qualifier and 114th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova in a lopsided 7-6 (2), 6-4 in the third round. The Serb is back after taking time off to heal her ankle, an injury sustained during the second round of the tournament in Slovenia. It seems like she’ll be needing some more time to recover physically and mentally after this tough defeat. Adding insult to injury, the win was Amanmuradova’s first over a top ten player.

Also losing in the third round in Cincinatti, third-ranked Caroline Wozniacki succumbed to Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1. Bartoli’s impressive play is highlighted further by the fact that Wozniacki is coming straight off a win in her home country last week. She should, therefore, be in strong form. Could it be the jet-lag? Bartoli simply being the better player? Who knows. The question now: Can the 2009 US Open finalist put together another deep run this year? That remains to be seen.

In other matches:

  • Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousted Israel’s Shahar Peer 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
  • Roger Federer fended off a tricky Michael Llodra, who employed an underhanded serve during the second set. Federer won 7-6 (2), 6-3 after a slow start and inspired play from his long-time friend, the veteran Frenchman.
  • Kim Clijsters easily advanced against the struggling Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. Will the former world number one ever get back on track?
  • Ana Ivanovic, another former top player, continued her good form by beating Elena Vesnina 6-0, 6-3.
  • Maria Sharapova didn’t waste time in her win against Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who’s been having an excellent summer so far. She looked confident serving and powering the ball in the quick 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Sharapova, Ivanovic, and Pavlyuchenkova Win Big

Coming fresh off a big seesaw victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova advanced easily over Andrea Petkovic to get to the round of 16 at the Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s event in Cincinnati, Ohio. She won 6-3, 6-1 in the dominating performance. Other strong performers included Ana Ivanovic, who knocked out Victoria Azarenka in the previous round, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the winner over third-seeded Elena Dementieva in two sets.

Sharapova’s last two victories prove she’s regaining the top form that others on the WTA tour should fear. With every match, there’s more of that champion’s spark that brought her to three major titles, beginning at 17. I’ve hinted at it in the past few weeks, but this win only solidifies my sentiments: Sharapova’s prepared to go deep at the US Open. She’ll be seeded well within the top 20, and I see her taking out some other big-time threats to get to the major’s second week.

Her results this year are on an upward trend: first round at the Australian Open, third round at Roland Garros, and a tough loss to Serena Williams in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Here’s her chance to break through past the quarterfinals since her 2009 French Open showing. Sharapova’s next opponent? The tricky shot-maker, Agnieszka Radwanska, who’s having a great US Open Series so far, having made it to the semifinals and final of her last two events. I don’t see Sharapova letting up against Radwanska. She’ll win in two close sets.

Compared to Sharapova, Ivanovic’s results at the majors seem wildly unexceptional. She’s only made it to the second rounds at the Australian and French, falling in the first round at Wimbledon. And, yet, things are looking up (even if just slightly) with that win over Azarenka. She followed the upset with a straight sets victory over Yaroslava Shvedova, a quarter-finalist at this year’s French Open, and the winner of the doubles title with American Vania King at Wimbledon. Ivanovic needs to soak up the win and channel the confidence in her next round. She faces Elena Vesnina, the winner over a struggling Francesca Schiavone. I’m taking Ivanovic over Vesnina in three sets.

Pavlyuchenkova’s drubbing of Dementieva secures a huge step for the younger Russian to get to the semis of this event. That is, if she can take out Israel’s Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals. I see Pavlyuchenkova winning that match in three sets. She has the bigger game, and a good deal of experience so far throughout this summer season.

Bracket Breakdown:

In the top half, Jelena Jankovic will get to the semis despite some shaky play. She’ll potentially face Ana Ivanovic in the quarters.

In the bottom half, we see the return of Kim Clijsters, and an impressive showing from the American teenager Christina McHale — the winner against Nadia Petrova. Clijsters easily beat an ailing Dinara Safina 7-5, 6-2. For McHale, her win over Ayumi Morita means she’ll probably face the Belgian. There, I see her getting overwhelmed by the shots and experience of Clijsters in straight sets. I’m calling Vera Zvonareva to meet Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

On the other side of the draw, I like Pavlyuchenkova to make the semifinals in the top half, although she has stiff competition by facing either Na Li or Yanina Wickmayer to make it there.

In the bottom section, look for Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki to battle it out for the last spot in the final four. I’m predicting Sharapova overwhelms Wozniacki in three sets.

Final Predictions:

Jelena Jankovic defeats Ana Ivanovic in the quarters; Clijsters gets revenge over Zvonareva, who defeated her at Wimbledon in the other match.

Pavlyuchenkova surprises to make the semis, where she’ll face a fiery Sharapova.

The last two standing: Clijsters and Sharapova — a dream match.

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