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.
I am proud to say that the following post is Tenaciously Tennis’ 200th. After just over a year of blogging, I’m excited to begin coverage of the 2011 season. For more on the blog’s first birthday, see here.
With the Australian Open, the year’s first major tournament, set to begin next week, the qualifying tournament is underway. On the ATP tour, players are already fighting it out on court for precious spots in the main draw. Donald Young and Coco Vandeweghe are among the American players seeking their place in the major via the qualifying rounds. While Young is seeded 15th, Vandeweghe enjoys the top spot in the tournament.
A former boys Australian Open champion, Young is ranked 129th, after earning his highest ranking, 79th, in 2008. Already into the second round of qualifying after defeating Germany’s Dieter Kindlmann in straight sets, he faces Alberto Brizzi of Italy next. Young is joined by sixth-seeded Ryan Sweeting, Alex Kuznetsov, Bobby Reynolds, Tim Smyczek, and Kevin Kim. Alex Bogmolov Jr. and Michael Yani have yet to play.
The 115th-ranked Vandeweghe, winner of the 2008 girls’ US Open, joins compatriots Irina Falconi, Jamie Hampton, Madison Brengle, Julia Cohen, and Sloane Stephens. The women still need to start their first round, but I see Vandeweghe and Stephens making a splash to advance to the main draw. For more on Stephens, who I saw play at the 2010 US Open, see here.
The skies opened up, and a beautiful day of tennis ensued at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On my second visit to the home of the year’s final major, I made my way through throngs of fans to find some of the most promising American talent.
After arriving in the early afternoon — missing Jesse Levine’s heartbreaking loss to Brazil’s Caio Zampieri due to retirement — I arrived at Court 7. The match featured the 21st seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy against the 15-year old Madison Keys of Florida. Keys began her Grand Slam debut firing away to capture an early break against Camerin. Nerves, however, set in with the players trading breaks until Keys pulled away to take the first set 6-3.
The young American, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, hit crisp backhands, while sporting a powerful serve and a strong mental game. Errors started to creep in Keys’ game as Camerin found her form — although never her serve. While the young American lost in the next two sets, bowing out against her 28-year old opponent3-6, 6-3, 6-4, expect success from her in the future once she finds increased consistency.
Also noteworthy about the match and the US Open atmosphere in general: after the first couple games finished, I looked up to see Keys’ mother enter the stands. Another arrival: Tom Gullikson, the brother of Tim Gullikson, who was Pete Sampras’ former coach. I suspect Tom works with Keys in Florida, the state in which he resides. Sightings like this happened for most of the day, once again highlighting the wonderful atmosphere for which the qualifying tournament shines.
With that match over, I went to Louis Armstrong stadium, catching Gael Monfils hitting. In the nearby court, the Australian Open finalist and world number four Andy Murray was practicing with the 25th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Talk about a fan-friendly experience — for free!
On the way to see the men practicing, I ran into Melanie Oudin — my second sighting of the Georgia teenager at the qualifying event. In fact, over the course of the day, I saw Oudin a number of times, supporting her compatriot Sloane Stephens and other Americans, among others.
I caught most of the 17-year old Stephens’ match, and I can safely say that she’s another one to watch. Currently ranked inside the top 300 in the world, Stephens enjoyed a good run at the BNP Paribas Open during which she advanced to the second round after qualifying. Although she fell in the second round the US Open Qualifying for the second straight year — this time to veteran Zuzana Ondraskova 6-3, 7-5 — Stephens hits hard and with passion. She’s still streaky, especially on the forehand side, but with Venus and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters as self-proclaimed idols, a good volleying technique and a powerful backhand, the Florida-native looks poised to one day get into the top 100.
Once finished, I went to Court Four, which is notable for its easy-viewing access to the practice courts. There, I yet again saw Oudin along with Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Donald Young, and personal favorite Patty Schnyder.
I next scanned the courts for another match to view, making it in time to see Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac close out the first set against Guillermo Alcaide. Bozoljac, known for taking a set from Roger Federer in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon, is an exciting player to watch. He hits a big serve, rips backhand winners, and surprises with his tricky slice and two-handed forehand. After winning 6-3 6-2, a person in the audience — presumably a friend — mentioned his match against Federer to which he replied, “One set and one point.” Meaning: he only needed to win one more set and one more point against the greatest of all time to win the match and move on to the third round. Bozoljac will remember that fact for the rest of his life.
I ended the day by watching parts of Sania Mirza’s match against Elena Bovina. The former top 30 Mirza looked sharp, hitting winners and powerful groundstrokes to win 6-3, 6-3. I also caught Wimbledon junior winner Kristyna Pliskova — identical sister to this year’s Australian Open junior winner Karolina Pliskova and — beat the 18th seed Aranxta Rus. Are the Pliskova sisters the next Williams sisters? It’s too soon to say, but it will be interesting to see how the sisters’ games develop in the coming years.
My second trip to the qualifying tournament ended by viewing Ryan Harrison versus 10th-seeded Rui Machado. The young American advanced in a riveting 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 match filled with heavy support from the home crowd under the blazing lights of the US Open.