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Analysis Of Women’s Draw At Roland Garros 2.0

27 May

This seems to be the grand slam of upsets, particularly on the women’s side the so-called title contenders been losing early at an alarming rate. As most tennis fans will know, today took this trend to new heights; top seed, Caroline Wozniacki and defending finalist, Sam Stosur are out of the Paris tournament after losing to non top 10 players, Daniela Hantuchova and Gisela Dulko respectively. These losses and the several other seeds that have already lost has led to this genuinely being the most open grand slam I have ever followed. Since the draw has opened up in a manner which I (and most others I’m sure) failed to predict, I figured a re-analysis of the women’s draw is in order.

Quarter Final 1: Sam Stosur vs Caro Wozniacki

This quarter will go according to the seedings. While Svetlana Kuznetsova is the most likely player to prevent this quarter final from happening, I reckon the odds are in favour of Wozniacki reaching the semi’s by virtue of beating Stosur in the quarter’s.

Clearly my earlier prediction for the first quarter will not be realized. Switching on the TV to find Caroline Wozniacki a set down initially surprised me quite a bit; once I thought about it for 30 seconds I realized that the signs that Wozniacki was cracking under the extreme pressure she is under had already begun to show the previous round, by her resorting to minor gamesmanship to throw her opponent off. In addition Daniela Hantuchova is consistently a tough competitor and has plenty of experience whereas Wozniacki is trying to prove to everyone that she is capable of a grand slam win. As soon as the match started she was behind score wise; she came across as unsure, and utterly incapable of turning the match around. Knowing that she would have to face a barrage of question about the validity of her number 1 ranking the minute she came off court, couldn’t have helped either.

Stosur lost today due to a slightly lacklustre performance, contrasted by an exceptionally high energy display by her opponent, Gisela Dulko. Dulko held up a banner after the match dedicating her win to her twin nephews/nieces; (genders?) clearly she was out here to win today. Stosur just wasn’t. While I didn’t make mention of her in my previous article, I expected Julia Georges to do better than she has, particularly considering her form in the clay swing in the lead up to the French. Svetlana Kuznetsova is now a good bet to reach the semi-final, she ought to beat both Daniela Hantuchova and Marion Bartoli, who I think will progress over Gisela Dulko in the fourth round.

Quarter Final 1: Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Marion Bartoli

Quarter Final 2: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Jelena Jankovic

In this quarter, an interesting 3rd round encounter between Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova looms. A few years ago, Petrova was my favourite to win the French Open. While she doesn’t have the form or consistency, her clay court pedigree is still notable. I don’t think either of them will make the quarter final though. Pavlyuchenkova is capable of beating both, and overdue on a good run at a major. I don’t think anyone in Jankovic’s 1/8 will bother her too much.

In this bracket of the draw my quarter final prediction still has a hope of surviving. Both Pavlyuchenkova and Jankovic have made quiet but convincing progress through the draw, in order to make it to the quarters they will have to go through a very capable clay court players in Francesca Schiavone and Vera Zvonareva. I stick with my assessment that Pavlyuchenkova (copy-and-paste) is overdue on a good run at a major, and expect her to overcome number three seed  Zvonareva. Schiavone versus Jankovic is bound to be a slugfest of note between two players brilliantly suited to clay. Do note that I was completely off about Petrova putting in a successful run – she bowed out in the first round to Anastasia Rodionova.

Quarter Final 2: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Jelena Jankovic

Quarter Final 3: Petra Kwitova vs Ana Ivanovic

Kwitova has quite a difficult section of the draw to get through. The little Chinese Zheng Jie in the 2nd, Dominika Cibulkova in the 3rd and either Na Li or Sorana Cirstea in the 4th, it won’t be easy. I think she has the self belief to do it however. In the other section, the smart money would be on Victoria Azarenka getting through. Maybe I am just too much of an Ana Ivanovic fan, or maybe I’m right when I say Ivanovic will beat Azarenka, via her superior experience and Azarenka’s inconsistency, but my money is on Ivanovic making it through this part of the draw.

This 3rd round matches on this side of the draw (Quarter Final 3 and 4) have not yet been played, and considering the upsets of today’s 3rd round matches I think I am taking quite a risk by attempting to predict how it will play out but nevertheless… A major error in judgement was made by me, assuming that Ivanovic would come even close to reliving her French Open glory of the past. I still think Kwitova will make it through to the quarters, but I think Azarenka, who has been in spectacular form will progress to the semis from this part of the bracket. I am particularly curious about this section of the draw, I think it might just contain the eventual winner.

Quarter Final 3: Petra Kwitova vs Victoria Azarenka

Quarter Final 4: Maria Sharapova vs Kim Clijsters

Simply no one in this quarter can challenge these two veterans for skill or experience.

So apparently they can be challenged, Sharapova despite her upset scare in the previous round ought to progress to the quarter finals. With Clijsters out Sharapova’s opponent is likely to be the creator of the Petkorazzi dance, Andrea Petkovic. Before the quarter final I look forward to the likely clash between Agnieszka Radwanska and Maria Sharapova in the 4th round. In the same round it seems likely that Petkovic will come up against the well liked Maria Kirilenko. Both these matches ought to be won by the players I indicated, but not before their lower ranked opponents provide them with a substantial and likely good to watch challenge.

Quarter Final 4: Maria Sharapova vs Andrea Petkovic

So to recap my new-and-improved quarter final predictions are – Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Marion Bartoli, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kwitova vs Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova vs Andrea Petkovic.

Semi Final 1: Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Jelena Jankovic

Predicting this half has been incredibly difficult. I think the players are on a very even keel, and although this makes it difficult to predict, it does mean that the matches will be tightly competed which is likely to lead to a few excellent matches. As already mentioned I think Kuznetsova should proceed to the semi over the less experienced Bartoli. She has won her matches in the tournament thus far quite convincingly, in she were to continue in that vein, she has the opportunity to progress easily through the much weakened draw. Jankovic too has been in good form and can capitalise on being in an easy section. On their form during the clay court season, I would have to pick Jankovic as the finalist from this half of the draw.

Semi Final 2: Victoria Azarenka vs Maria Sharapova

Azarenka has been the only top ranked player to be in even semi decent form thus far at Roland Garros. In the previous round, she annihilated her French opponent, Pauline Parmentier. As such, she ought to come through an encounter with yet another young gun, Petra Kwitova. In the semi final she she should come up against by now tour veteran, Sharapova. With her experience and absolute steely mentality she should make the semi finals. It would take one heck of a performance by Azarenka to beat Sharapova in the semi final,  this has all the potential to be the best match of the women’s draw in 2011. Women’s tennis desperately needs Azarenka to win the tournament, to prevent the WTA rankings from losing the last bit of credibility which remains after Wozniacki’s loss today. However the experience and motivation of Sharapova will in all likelihood be the winner.

Final: Jelena Jankovic vs Maria Sharapova

Sharapova’s superior shot making ability and yet again her experience and self belief ought to give her the edge over Jankovic. Watch for the “cow on ice” to complete her career grand slam at the end of the fortnight.

Again, please comment with your own picks, and share on twitter, facebook or stumbleupon if you like the blog entry. Vote for your winner in the poll below. Note that I’ve only included the top 5 ranked players remaining in the draw.

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The Top 5 Players On Day 5 At Roland Garros

27 May

Thursday was quite an interesting day of 2nd round matches. On the men’s side, upsets by qualifiers were the story of the day, with Jurgen Melzer, a semi finalist last year going out in five to 111th ranked Lukas Rosol, Florian Mayer losing to Alejandro Falla and Leonardo Mayer beating former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis. Although these were all upsets by players outside the top 100 they were not as high-profile as the upset which happened in the women’s draw, through the loss suffered by Kim Clijsters. In addition to Clijsters losing, Sharapova was almost upset too. It is the matches of the women considered title contenders which dominates the list of best players on the day.

At number five we have Aranxa Rus, the young Dutch girl who caused the biggest upset of the tournament thus far by capitalising on the mistakes of 2nd seeded Clijsters. In all fairness, it wasn’t like she had to do much to win, such was the extent of Clijsters’ implosion. But the 20-old secures her spot on this list by virtue of continually going for her shots, and closing out this match against a tour veteran, with not too many nerves on display. Like the above mentioned qualifiers wreaking havoc in the draw, Rus too is ranked outside the top 100.

Number 5, Aranxa Rus caused the major upset of the tournament so far, by beating 2nd seed Kim Clijsters in three sets.

At four we have the sole gentleman on the list in the shape of Pablo Andujar. While the 48th ranked Spaniard (Interestingly he is a few months older than Rafael Nadal.) failed to win or even take a set off Nadal, he played a great game, and was still pushing hard in the third set, even being 5-1 ahead at one point, despite being down two sets to love. In all fairness, he might make the list by virtue of Nadal playing horrendous tennis by his standards at Roland Garros thus far. Nevertheless, I loved his energy, his self belief and ultimately the fact that he actually provided Nadal with a tricky encounter in what is really still the early stages of a grand slam. Most of all Andujar makes the list due to this match yet again indicating that it is looking increasingly unlikely that the Nadal will succeed in his defence of the title. Somehow, the other members of men’s tennis big four look in much better shape. I would however not put it past Nadal to play himself into form as the tournament progresses. (If you have not yet read my analysis of the men’s draw – do so now by following this link.)

Pablo Andujar makes the list at number 4.

Maria Sharapova had a really tough match against yet another Spanish tennis player, Caroline Garcia. The young girl, aged only 17, which is ironically the age at which Sharapova won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2004, played the first set and a half as if though it was just another ITF Futures event, and not a match on Philippe Chatrier court in the main draw of the French Open ladies singles event. Her solid play, and ability to hit winners (She hit a few more than Sharapova despite losing one of the sets 6-0) lead to Andy Murray picking her as a future world number one. Hopefully this is a moniker she will live up to, that is however something for the future, for now her play in this match places her third on my list of top 5 players on day 5 of the French Open.

After being down a break in the 2nd set, Sharapova ceased the opportunity when her young opponent let up in just the slightest amount, reeling off 11 consecutive games. She ended up winning that set, and taking the third in a bagel. This in conditions which don’t suit her at the best of time slightly frail service motion at all, a fairly torrid second serve and while playing against a young (future champion) of the sport, who had nothing to lose and was playing blisteringly brilliant tennis. Sharapova’s mental steel and never say die attitude, deservedly makes her the favourite for the title to most. Her ability to have turned this match around makes her the second best player on the day.

Number 2, Maria Sharapova, and 3, Caroline Garcia.

At number one we have one of the few matches of the day in which a seeded player was resoundingly better than their opponent. Victoria Azarenka was in excellent form, beating Pauline Parmentier, who has been ranked in the top 40 in the past, 6-1, 6-0. Mainstream media have largely ignored this result, sticking with the stories about the upsets. I however think that Azarenka has sent a clear warning to her opponents through her dominating display, she is certainly who I’ll be watching for the title.

Number 1, Victoria Azarenka.

Please feel free to comment, and any shares on twitter, facebook or stumbleupon would be appreciated. All photos from the official Roland Garros website, to find the URL of the a photo, just click on it.

Top 10: The French Open So Far

26 May

So the French Open has been ongoing for a few days now and by now we know who is in form, who isn’t and who’s feeling the pressure (Wozniacki much?); it’s nearing that moment where the nervous energy of the first few days of a grand slam ceases to exist, and the favourites start to play at their fluent best. Several notable happenings have been observed at the French Open thus far. Not quite making the top 10, but worthy of at least a mention is Vera Zvonareva’s almost loss to Sabine Lisicki, and Lisicki’s subsequent meltdown, which included her being carried off court on a stretcher presumably due to cramping. The losses suffered by sixth seed Tomas Berdych, and Ana Ivanovic, the 20th seed and  former winner, definitely warrant a mention. Both lost to players not expected to proceed beyond the first round, in the shape of world number 140, Robert Stephane and virtual unknown Johanna Larsson, respectively. And then the last French Open factoid to make it into this article before we start with the official list, is that tennis, oops make that #tennis is huge on twitter. Not only are plenty of big players using the platform to communicate directly with their fans, the fans are also using it to make their voices heard loud and clear; #frenchopen and #rolandgarros have been trending topics in various countries over the past few days.

At number ten we have the success being experienced by the players favouring the clay surface. David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Jurgen Melzer and even Albert Montanes, along with their female counterparts in the form of Francesca Schiavone, Sam Stosur and Svetlana Kuznetsova have made it through the draw with relative ease thus far. Watch out for a few of these players to put in a semi final run. Defending finalists, Stosur and Schiavone, should rightfully of course, be considered title contenders.

Sam Stosur easily wins her 2nd round match.
The dresses and other fashion statements of the French Open rank at number nine. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been playing with black stripes underneath her eyes, not unlike the ones that might be seen on the snarling faces of NFL players. As always her press conferences have centred on her attire and appearance more than anything else, she has even been attributed the moniker Lady Gaga of tennis. To her credit, she draws a lot of attention which the game would not generally get and she is also now the top ranked US women’s players. In addition to Mattek-Sands’ eccentricities, the fashion contest which emerges at every grand slam, has for my money been won by Sharapova. Her Eiffel Tower inspired dress, in an understated canary yellow shade is rounded off by a set of Tiffany earrings with which no other player can compete. Honorable mentions do however go to Wozniacki for her ruffled dress and Ivanovic for her hot pink number.

Mattek-Sands and her black stripes.

Enough of the fluff which surrounds tennis, at number eight we have the comebacks happening at Roland Garros. While we missed out on Amelie Mauresmo pairing with Michael Llodra in the mixed due to her not being part of the anti-doping programs in tennis for the past few years, and as a result not being allowed to enter, we still got to see Kim Clijsters (sometimes horrendous) but ultimately satisfying return to the game after months out due to a wedding reception injury. In addition, 2004 winner, Anastasia Myskina, has made a return to the game, in the form of coach to the lately struggling Kuznetsova.

Ranking number seven on my list of moments to remember is the 2nd round match between Wozniacki and Aleksandra Wozniak. Not only did the world number one struggle quite a bit in the second set, but she also proceeded to make a 3 minute fuss about a line call she disagreed with. Maybe a little bit of gamesmanship? The crowd did not appreciate her insistence, and there were some jeers to be heard when she left the court after winning the match five points later. To further add fuel to the fire, her father and coach, stormed out of the stadium and mentioned to journalists the fact that Wozniacki did not stick to the tactics set out for the match. He seemed quite unhappy with his 20-year old daughter. All-in-all this match seemed to indicate that Wozniacki is feeling the pressure of being number one in the world (and no grand slam title as of yet.) This match by Wozniacki and Clijsters’ erratic play (As I write this, the Rus-Clijsters match has gone into a third set) seems to make Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka the favourites for the title at this point.

Caro Wozniacki unhappy about a line call.

Several players that qualify the French Open as their home tournament, have made it past the first few round of tennis; the French supporters have come out  in hordes, and with soccer chants to boot. In addition, the organisers have scheduled the matches in such a fashion that the matches of the top French players have often been the most high-profile of their time slots, thereby ensuring the French players receive TV coverage all over the world. Looking after their own is an attribute the French certainly deserve, and as a result the French rank sixth on this list.

The Babolat tennis balls being used for the first time at Roland Garros make the list. They are apparently faster, harder and clearly advantage the hard-hitting players in the game. Criticism of the decision to change the balls have been widely received from players. Roger Federer has made it clear that it is not so much these balls specifically, but rather the fact that all the tournaments in the lead-up to the French use different one’s – the Dunlop balls previously in use at Roland Garros, meaning a transition is required. This is not ideally suited to the players of course. The attention that the tennis balls, and the knock which Babolat have taken as a result, qualifies for this list in fifth position.

Roger Federer with the new Babolat balls.

The manner in which Federer and Novak Djokovic have won their matches at the French thus far, leads to the pair making the list at number four. Both have been incredibly efficient and have sent a clear message that the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, might be dethroned for the 2nd time in three years at RG. Djokovic with his 40+ match winning streak is of course expected to perform in the manner that he has, it is the play of Federer that has surprised the many who have written of the 16-time grand slam winner.

Making my list at number three is the appearance of Virginie Razzano in the tournament so soon after she suffered such an intense personal loss. I was quite unsure about including this on my list, but eventually decided that the bravery and courage shown by Razzano by playing to honour of her deceased fiance, deserves recognition on every possible platform. As such I make mention of her emotion heavy first round loss to Jarmila Gadjosova.

At number two is the success of the 10 top ranked women in tennis. Not a single upset among the  lot of them yet! It probably shouldn’t rank so highly on the list, but with the inconsistency of the women’s game, any validation of the women’s game and the WTA rankings has to be considered invaluable. (Update: I spoke far too soon; Kim Clijsters has just lost her match to Arantxa Rus, nevertheless 9 out of 10 isn’t too bad.)

At number one we have Oprah, ending her show after 25 years, what a run! Yeah, I’m kidding. The match between Nadal and John Isner is my top moment of the last few days of tennis. The match showed the value of being able to hold serve – Isner being able to take Nadal to 6-6 in two sets, lead to him being able to take those sets in tie breakers. It also showed that Isner should be higher ranked, and should perhaps be working a little harder at winning matches against players ranked lower than him, and not only coming to play in high-profile matches; thereby putting himself in a position where he doesn’t have to play Nadal in the first round at a major. Furthermore, this match indicates that Nadal is not in as good form as he usually is before the French Open. He truly struggled to pass Isner consistently, and definitely did not get as many balls back as he did circa 2008 at RG. If Djokovic manages to beat Juan Martin del Potro in convincing manner, I might even change my pick for the title from Nadal to Djokovic.

World number 1 and defending champion, Rafael Nadal, celebrates upon reaching the 2nd round at Roland Garros.

 

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