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My Game, 101: WTA Clay Preview 04/14/2009 - 2:54 PM

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by Pete Bodo

As the European clay-court seasons bears down on us, the WTA players are in a decidedly different position than the men. For the ATP, the clay segment that culminates with Roland Garros is a season unto itself - a drenched-in-tennis period featuring storied, long-standing tournaments (Monte Carlo) and historic fixtures (Foro Italico, anyone?), as well as the endorsement of almost all of the game's impact players.

The WTA has been in a slightly different boat for some years now. The women's spring clay circuit simply hasn't developed a strong character or identity - at least nothing like the men have cultivated with their spring tour. Right her at TennisWorld, people have been doing handstands and cartwheels at the prospect of the men's season on clay circuit. There's no such celebration mounted on behalf of the women.

Undoubtedly, this has something to do with the clay game itself, and the extent to which moving to clay represents a major shift for the men. When the curtain drops on the hard-court season at Miami, it isn't just the scenery and costumes that are changed between acts. It's the cast itself. It's different for the women, whose games are less heavily influenced by the nature of the surface . Let's face it, pure power and the serve have less of an impact in the WTA game, and thus the relatively slow speed of the clay doesn't matter as much.

But the situation for the women is slightly changed this year, with the debut of the high-profile combined event in Madrid. This will beef up the traditionally anemic WTA clay circuit, and maybe even steal some thunder from Roland Garros - especially if the advantages of tennis at altitude (where the balls fly faster) prove attractive to Venus and Serena Williams. Having an event of Madrid's status a scant week before the start of Roland Garros is risky on the men's side (Rafael Nadal still hasn't committed to playing Madrid), but it's all gain for the women.

Madrid may be just the inducement Serena Williams needs to boost her interest clay, thereby protecting her chances to remain no. 1 and perhaps even open a little distance between herself  and an odd crew that features not one but two women who have yet to win a Grand Slam events - Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic.But can Serena still be a force on clay? That's an interesting question that was raised in Melbourne and Miami, where she often looked both more powerful - and less mobile - than in the past.

It's hard to see Serena gettting "better" on clay, but remember that she's won Roland Garros, and took the Charleston title last year before shipping out to Europe - where she lost a very tight quarterfinal to Safina in Berlin, withdrew from Rome with an injury, and lost in the third round in Paris to Katarina Srebotnik. Discount her at your peril.

No. 2 Safina began her personal makeover last year at Berlin, where she beat three of the women who have remained major hurdles to her Grand Slam ambitions - Serena, Elena Dementieva and Victoria Azarenka. Safina will have many ranking points to defend starting in Berlin, and there's no telling how she'll react to the pressure. Last year, she frequently spoke about the way she's re-invented herself, but the failure to break through in a big way - with a major title - suggests that the makeover wasn't quite finished. Will it ever be?

Venus Elena Dementieva is coming off a good year, and capable of doing a lot of damage on clay. She was a Roland Garros finalist in 2004, and could easily make a similar run there again. But she may be the most unpredictable player on either tour. It's funny, though, I never really get the feeling that Dementieva is  choker (except, of course, when it comes to that serve - but that's a slightly different issue), or that she's an imposter at the top of the game. She doesn't really collapse. If anything, she seems to have a way of bringing out the best in her opponents - a talent I'm sure she'd rather not possess. I've always felt that she's sufficiently athletic and powerful to win a major. Maybe this will be her year.

Jankovic may be no. 4 now, but she won last week in Marbella and she's aware of how much ground she's lost in the last few, unhappy months. That's okay; if she's any kind of champion she's going to take to the clay with the attitude that she's purged the hee-bee jee-bees from her system - and remind herself that she's got fresh legs and still a solid foundation in fitness. For the women as much as the men, the clay offers a nice opportunity for getting back to the fundamentals, as in:  My Game 101. There's no reason on earth for Jankovic to feel pressure now - she's already blown the outstanding opportunity to demonstrate that she was a deserving year-end no.1 in 2008 with that awful patch of play in Melbourne to start 2009.  With nothing to lose, she could pick up some much-needed momentum for Paris in the coming weeks.

Venus Williams is ranked 5th, and last year she played just two clay events in the spring - Rome and Roland Garros. I think that's a waste, and always felt that if she put her mind to it, Venus could be a formidable force on clay. Oh you can criticize the undisciplined forehand, or the general looseness that's become a permanent feature of her game. But gosh, this woman can cover some real estate. She's lean and lanky - ideal for tennis. She looks to be in fine physical shape, has an impressive wingspan, and is downright explosive. On the other hand, it's getting to the point where my Venus mantra is getting embarrassing. Maybe I'm seeing things that just aren't there.

Vera Zvonareva is in good shape to make a move, fueled by her recent victory at Indian Wells. She started like a house on fire on clay last year; she lost to Serena in the Charleston final and snatched the Prague title from Victoria Azarenka before she lost momentum. Zvonareva lost to Venus at Rome and Dementieva in Paris, but who's going to describe either of those as a bad loss?

Thanks to that win at Indian Wells, Zvonareva has jumped one notch ahead of no. 7 Ana Ivanovic. In fact, Ivanovic is sandwiched between Zvonareva and Azarenka in the rankings, and that ought to tell you something about her plight. That fact that Ivanovic is the defending champion in Paris will just make the target on her back look that much larger.They say you sometimes have to touch rock bottom before you can begin to work your way back up to the top, but that isn't really true in tennis (Andre Agassi's experience nonwithstanding).

In tennis, what you really need to do is find a way to stop the bleeding, hold your position, re-group and get back to the job at hand. Dementieva, for one, has been pretty good at that. Or, look at the Andy Roddick on the men's tour. Ivanovic has fallen to no. 7 from a career-high last summer of no.1, and even her Serbian countrywoman and fellow former no. 1 hasn't slipped that dramatically. In this slump, we've seen the extent to which confidence matters; with it, in 2008, she was able to make the most of her fundamentally conservative, precise game. Without in, since the summer of last year, she's often looked like a throwback to a time when the top women players were less athletic and versatile.

My own feeling is that Ivanovic must find a way to, well, loosen up - in every sense of the word. She needs to re-discover the hard--hitting, free-swinging Ivanovic of a few years ago. It just seems to me that somewhere along the line Ivanovic came to believe that she needs to be Miss Perfect (at any number of levels), and maybe that stifled her game.

Azarenka, ranked right below Ivanovic, is a good point of contrast. She played with great passion and abandon in Miami, and the volatility quotient in her basic game is high. This girl likes the clay, and enough elements in her game have come together in recent months to make her a legitimate contender at Roland Garros. Svetlana Kuznetsova, no. 9, is capable of anything, as we've seen time and again, but you can't really count on her for anything, either. Draw a giant shrug next to her name. Resurgent Nadia Petrova rounds out the Top 10, but it's hard to see her making a serious mark in Paris. Although she's a former semi-finalist (twice), she's gotten out of the first round just once in the past three years.

It's unlikely that any woman will dominate on clay this year, but a number of players, led by the two Serbian stars, could benefit from a refresher course of My Game, 101.


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Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 03:06 PM

Before I read this in detail, 2 questions come to mind.

(a) How will the Williams Sisters approach the red clay season? Before winning Acapulco, last red clay win was at Istanbul in 2005. Venus lost at the French to Karatantcheva, who was suspended 2 yrs for doping. Serena last red clay win was at the 2002 French Open when she defeated Venus Williams in the final.
(b) Will Jankovic off season training bulking up play a role after a 3 month dismal season for her? She got off to a good start winning Marbella against 3 tough clay players(Schiavone, Medina Garrigues, and Suarez Navarro) and a tricky player in Vinci, who likes to come to net.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/14/2009 at 03:10 PM

I am reposting an exchange between Tennis Fan and I on the WTA clay season for the top ten. This is from the Monday net post:

ASF:
Meanwhile, Tennis Fan, I have a request if you can, since you have a spread sheet with values, can you give the total number of points each top ten player is defending during the clay season? I know of ReRe and Vee well but not the complete ones of the others (I also admit that I am too lazy to go and search each players page and do the calculations ;-) Thanks.

Tennis Fan:
Avid:

Top 10 - Clay season points to defend (including RG)

Serena - excluding the 860 know loss from Charleston last year - 620 (Berlin, Rome & RG)

Safina - 2260 (Berlin & RG)

Dementieva - 1300 (Berlin, Istanbul, RG)

JJ - 1760 (Rome & RG)

Venus - 400 (Rome & RG)

Zvonareva - 1110 (Charleston, Prague & RG)

Ivanovic - 2390 (Berlin & RG)

Azarenka - 950 (Prague, Berlin, Rome, RG)

Kuznetsova - 1140 (Berlin, Rome & RG)

Petrova - 180 (RG)

Serena is not playing Charleston and who knows when she will be back. Venus's total only includes 14 events. So Charleston whatever points she earns will be added to the total without subtracting for defending or a best result. If Venus wins the event in Charleston she will be #3 with only about 650 points behind Serena and about 1,300 behind Safina.

Berlin was a tier I event and no longer exists. Safina will lose 860 points for Berlin last year. Rome will have 800 points available to the winner so Safina needs to win Rome to maintain and so does JJ for her Rome win last year. There is also a new event on the calendar Madrid, a mandatory. While this event was not on the calendar last and technically no one is defending points, they do have to defend there lowest countable tournament points against what they do in Madrid as Madrid result must be counted and the other lowest will drop. Also Rome will act the same as Madrid for the top 10 (2 of the best premier 5s must be counted for the top 10 and it is only the second one of the season and therefore must be counted. This is how Venus wins as she still has countable tournament space empty so everything she earns is a gain and not a loss by dropping a higher value. Further Venus and Serena have at least one or two countable tournaments values as 1 or 2 points. Dropping these values will not hurt them as opposed to the other who may have to drop a 120 or 220 point result.

Yes, if Serena gets healthy and shows up for the clay court season then Venus's path to number 1 will be harder and the best she could probably do would be #2. But that is a big if given the state of Serena's leg.

If Venus wins Charleston she will be #3. And I predict 1 or 2 by RG unless Safina, JJ, Dementieva, Ivanovic, Zvonareva and/or Azarenka have a spectacular clay court seasons.

All in all it should be interesting how it plays out and who will be #1, 2, 3 & 4 by RG.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/14/2009 at 03:12 PM

Part 2 of the exchange

Tennis Fan:
Forgot - Madrid has 1,000 points to the winner. There is also Stuttgart which was moved from the fall to May for an indoor clay court tournament. Stuttgart will have 470 points.

Everyone has to play Madrid - but maybe not Serena if she has not recovered.

Charleston - Venus, Dementieva, Zvonareva, Petrova
Stuttgart - Safina, Dementieva, JJ, Zvonareva, Azarenka, Kuzzy, Petrova
Rome - Serena, Safina, JJ, Venus, Zvonareva, Ivanovic, Azarenka, Kuzzy, Petrova. Also Sharapova is slated to return for Rome.
Madrid - Everybody.
RG - Everybody

avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena":
Tennis Fan - Oh that's true about Stuttgart. So those defending the most points based on schedule have a chance to do so with the exception of Ana who seems to have chosen to play only Madrid before the FO. If she does not do well in Madrid, she basically has no cushion points if she falters at FO. This just makes the clay season more interesting. Thanks for all the info!

Tennis Fan:
Avid: Ivanovic is playing Rome and Madrid prior to RG so she has two shots at defending/gaining points prior to RG. Of course most of her points come from RG itself - so that his her real problem to defend her title and the sharks are already circling.

avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena":
Tennis Fan - oh ok, I missed that before. I see that you have her on the Rome list. So she should hopefully be able to get something from both. The up side for her is that after that clay she will have many chances to gain from grass onwards. Vee, ReRe, and to a large extent ElenaD on the other hand have the defending to do during grass while Dinara, JJ, Vera and Vika can gain points. So again this will get interesting during the short grass season too ;-)

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/14/2009 at 03:13 PM

Based on their schedules and how they perform in each tournament, the top ten rankings will most likely change hands during the clay season. here is hoping they all stay healthy and fit.

Posted by Pspace 04/14/2009 at 03:17 PM

Nice one, Pete. This bit about Dementieva was interesting:

"""
If anything, she seems to have a way of bringing out the best in her opponents
"""

I think Djokovic suffers from a similar problem, especially against opponents ranked in the top 30 range. He hits a very clean ball, and likes to build a rhythm off the ground. The problem is that it lets the opponent also get into a nice comfortable rhythm. I feel this is part of the reason he gets into dogfights with guys like Roddick, Ferrer, Cilic, and Mathieu, for example.

Dementieva is a similar story, except that her serve is worse. She can't take that many risks off the ground, as she's often playing to break consistently rather than hold consistently. Hopefully, she can get hot (form-wise ;-)) like she did in the run up to and during Oz. There was an inexplicable loss of motivation after the Fed Cup.

Anways, I'm on the Azarenka bandwagon. This is a chance for her to get her first slam, as there's no real dominating force on clay.

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 03:22 PM

Pete,
Good post on the WTA.

(1)Also, I would keep an eye on Caroline Wozniacki who won Ponte Vedra Beach. Leif Shiras and Corina Morariu rave on her when she lost only 3 games to Aleksandra Wozniak in the final after saving four match points against Elena Vesnina in the semifinal. To boot, she and her partner lost 15-13 in supertiebreak in the doubles semifinal. By the way, she has a doubles title to her name with (guess who) Victoria Azarenka. She impressed me with her defensive skills and the word I remember the most from Corina was she got "court sense".
(2) Another scenario that may be played out in Roland Garros and it is whether or not Amelie Mauresmo can finally win. The pressure of her winning has decreased with years as Alize Cornet now inherit that pressure. Alize lost easily in Barcelona yesterday.
(3) Will Carla Suarez Navarro, who lost to Jelena Jankovic in the Marbella final, be able to repeat her QF run at the French.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 04/14/2009 at 03:23 PM

Nice piece Pedro. Interesting your point about the disparity in excitement between ATP and WTA clay seasons.
I'm hoping that JJ and Bepa will have good dirt seasons, but with those two ya never know.
Well, we gonna see, no? (sorry Am, couldn't resist!)

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 04/14/2009 at 03:48 PM

Thanks Pete a very insightful post

PS Emma,you are not the only one to use my catch cry statement.I will forgive this time ok?


Memories of woman at Roland Garos always come flooding back to me at this time of year.Ok I am living a bit in the past.Let me have my memoires for just a few moments.

Evert also a American but hey her records are outstanding,Graf,Justine ok I will stop.

The current ladies,Serena who has already won here,Venus never has yet being able to get her game going on the red dirt.Safina had a great year in 08 being finalist.Anna who is the current title holder gee her game has certainly gone down.JJ I feel her game is best suited to the clay her recent results have been below par though she recently won a tournament.Elena gee her serve always lets her down in big tournaments.Azerenka the new girl on the block whose game on clay is good.

The above ladies leave a lot of Ifs in my mind.Who is going to be tough enough on a mental but physical basis for two weeks at RG to stand up and take the title.Well in mind the lead up tournaments will give everyone a clearer idea how the ladies are travelling.

RG is the hardest Grand Slam to win both mentally and physically.

It really comes down to the player who is well prepared in her game and can really dig deep.

As I say,

We gonna see no?

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 03:56 PM

Aussiemarg,
Agree on the clay tournaments before Roland Garros will give a snapshot on how the ladies are doing. Ana lost in the SF to Elena in Berlin and in her first match at Rome against Pironkova.

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 03:57 PM

Emma,
Yes, agree with Pete on the difference on the tours when clay season arrive. While the ATP dominates the clay, the WTA get interesting b/w the AO and IW and b/w the USO and the YEC.

Posted by tom 04/14/2009 at 04:01 PM

I am hoping for big JJ wins this season.

Posted by The Fan Child 04/14/2009 at 04:20 PM

Azarenka's rising and I think she'll continue to do so.

JJ is hungry to resurrect herself and I think the clay will help her.

I wouldn't dare try to predict more than that...

I will say this...I think the unpredictability of it all, imho, makes it all that much more fun to watch.

Posted by C Note -- Is it Fed Cup yet? 04/14/2009 at 04:22 PM

Sigh. I'm pretty much steeling myself for the most depressing clay season ever.

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 04:29 PM

C Note,
Why is the clay season going to depress you? You should be embracing this time of year as Ana is the defending champion at Roland Garros.

Posted by Sherlock 04/14/2009 at 04:31 PM

C-Note, hey, who knows. Maybe the red dirt under her feet will light a fire and install some confidence again. We never know, no? :)

Posted by adam 04/14/2009 at 05:02 PM

definitely this is going to be a very unpredictable clay season , i just hope jj can win rome a again , i dont know i have this strange feellin that sharapova will be makin big noise even she has always played bad at the dirt

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 05:12 PM

yeah i agree, this clay season has alot of unpredictability to it. alot of storylines involved for all players. lets see who can be mentally and physically tough the longest lol. i would love to see both do well on clay and ultimately see serena win the FO ( and thus remain in the running for a career slam)
and speaking of sharapova, any word on when she might come back?

Posted by shariq 04/14/2009 at 05:14 PM

Interesting, but I think the reason why women's clay court tennis isn't as appreciated, is because the cookie-cutter women's game (hard flat groundies) doesn't translate as well to clay. When Justine was on full flight I think that the narrative on clay was much more compelling. Part of this was because of her record, but I think this was also due to her game.

Conversely, I think grass works really well for the Venus, Sharapova style of game. Serena with her 'athletic' style of play as you described it seems to straddle both as (justine's did as well to a certain extent).

If Mauresmo did better at the french open, I think it would make things a lot more interesting because more than anyone else on the women's side she has the classical clay game.

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 05:19 PM

Ericinphilly,
She says she will return when Rome starts but I am going to stick with a prediction of Birmingham. Probably wrong but hey she has stated she will be back at prior events but cancelled.

Posted by caramba 04/14/2009 at 05:47 PM

When Serena won RG was Henin in the tournament?

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still my heartbeat 04/14/2009 at 05:53 PM

@ericinphilly - dont know if it was a typo and you meant to say "calendar slam" rather than "career slam" as Serena has already done the whole career slam bit. She won FO-2002, Wimby 2002, USO 2002 and AO 2003 to complete what was called the Serena Slam. She is the only current active player to have done this. She has always said that she wants to have another FO as the only one that she has looks really lonely by itself. Methinks that she will perhaps try and get it done this year. As to the predictions for FO, I think the poster up top who said that the unpredictability of it all is what makes it interesting is right. Sometimes it is could to have a lot of contenders. Look at what happened in golf at the Masters last weekend. So many people who could have won, and look who eventually won, Angel Cabrera. All the Tigers, and Phils and the Chads etc were also-rans - this is what sport needs - a new face. Sometimes it is good when the veterans breathe new life into the game but to have someone who is a dark horse - say Suarez Navarro, Wozniacki, Azarenka, Kanepi, Cornet - what about the Agnieska sisters - especially Aga. I know her results have not been good lately, but her all around game is well suited to this surface. And what about our ladies south of the border - should make for a very interesting FO. Really thinking of putting the tv back in my bedroom as getting up early in the morning to head to the living room is not my idea of fun.

Posted by avid sports fan aka "Sigh-Rena" 04/14/2009 at 05:59 PM

caramba - yes Justine was there in 2002 but she lost in the first round to a qualifier called Kapros, Aniko Hun. Prior to that that year she was in the finals of Rome and Berlin. She defeated Serena in the Berlin final while Serena defeated her in the Rome final.

Posted by ZB 04/14/2009 at 06:10 PM

What about Anna Chakvetadze?
I always thought that her game was suited to clay.
But in her current mental state, maybe not.

Posted by Markic 04/14/2009 at 06:31 PM

Let's face it, we all know what the problem with the women's clay season is: a big J2H-shaped hole.

Aside from that, Safina has the game most suited to clay: heavy spin, and the slower surface allows her to track more balls down. It's tough to hit through her then. Azarenka still too one-dimensional and, as Pete says, "volatile"... Zvonaerva eats her for breakfast by playing solid.

I never thought I'd say this, but if Shriekapova's shoulder has healed, she could do it, if only because expectations are low (as, incidentally, in her previous GS triumphs) and she scares the hell out of any woman in the draw not named Williams.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 06:33 PM

yummy prince fed-
yeah i meant calendar slam-my bad lol
and as far as serena and FO go i really hope she is better in time and shows up motivated and ready to win as i would love to see her win the title but we have to see what serena shows up. lets hope serena FO 08 doesnt lol.
as for the FO, it def makes it more exciting to be looking at more than one person as the "one who can win". there is a great level of veterans and newbies ready to make a play for the title. should be great to watch.

master ace: wow she wont be back till at least june for birmingham? well i didnt think i would but i feel bad for her and miss her. lets hope she can come back..

Posted by Samantha Elin 04/14/2009 at 06:50 PM

Although I like Venus, I would disagree that her or Sharapova would fare well on the clay due to the type of game they play. The grass is best for both their high go for broke type games. I do think that Serena make the transition better. I'm not sure if Ana can defend and would lean closer to no than yes. As for JJ, I don't believe her game has the ingredients of a slam winner on any surface. I think she rivals Demmy for the worse serve with players in the top ten. Safina is solid on the clay and might come out of her slump.This to me is the hardest tourney to predict. I hope that Caro can make a huge impact and I think she's moving closer to challenging the top players. Kom nu, ja du kan, Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 07:01 PM

Ericinphilly,
Maria coming back in Birmingham is my guess. Official word at the moment is Rome.

Samantha Elin,
Caroline could be that impact player at the French Open instead of Victoria. Both ladies are comfortable but Caroline is a little more defensive minded than Victoria which gives her the edge there. At times at Key Biscayne, Victoria had difficulties in closing out Svetlana and an injured Serena needing multiple match points on her serve.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 07:11 PM

samantha elin-
maria got to the semi-finals at roland garros last year so maybe she has learned to adapt some to the clay?
as far as venus she can def do better than the third round and hope to see her do it this year! after all these years (2003) i guess it got in venu's head that she cant do well on clay tho she got to the final and semi. or maybe she just has that love playing wimbles than the other slams. the commentators always say that if she brings her wimbles game, esp comin to the net more she can do well.

Posted by Ikie 04/14/2009 at 07:13 PM

To whoever posted the comment of sharapova scaring the heck out of people was right in saying that . But who does scare the williams sisters. They totally believe they should beat everybody everytime they play against somebody. I really dont think safina will be able to defend all her points. Venus and serena will only do well in FO. If and only if they can survive the opening rounds ... Lets face it as soon as either of them make it to the last 8 you can basically put your life savings on them to win the grandslam so lets see what happens this week...

Posted by Master Ace 04/14/2009 at 07:38 PM

Ericinphilly,
Maria got to the SF in 2007. She lost in the 4th round to Dinara last year.

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still my heartbeat 04/14/2009 at 07:47 PM

It is funny that people are discounting Venus seeing as she won a title on red clay earlier this year in Acapulco beating the player who beat her at last year's FO. After that victory Venus was of the view that she has learned a lot playing on the surface, one of which was being patient during the rallies. I also liked that her transition game during that tournament was very good as she kept coming to net, she was sliding around on the clay and was taking part in long rallies with lots of spin. I also notice that Venus does not hit as flat as she used to when she was younger. I have seen the difference in her weight of shot since last year's Wimbledon. In her semi against Dementieva, one of the reasons that she was able to win that match (apart from just being better than Elena) was the fact that she was keeping the ball in play by employing more top spin on her groundstrokes. I saw this also at the Tour championships when she beat JJ. She was being much more patient in rallies. The same thing has been happening with Serena as well. More topspin, less of the flat hard shots, and staying longer in the rallies and ending most of the rallies with winners. Also, I do not know if people have watched the match point of the USO final. I just love to look at Serena's feet when she is moving. Her footwork is just superb. She moves, moves, split step, hit, move, move, split step, hit - just awesome footwork and then the set up shot for the winner was just classic.

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still my heartbeat 04/14/2009 at 07:48 PM

I am scoreboard watching the Dementieva match and poor Julie Ditty has yet to win a game. She is serving at 81% and winning 35% of her first serve points - she is getting her a** kicked out there.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 07:54 PM

haha yeah she finally won a game' but demmy looks to end this in under and hour..

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 08:02 PM

price yummy fed..
i didnt get to see venus play in acapulco but i am happy since she won, and if she got knowledge from it to help her adapt to the clay at FO i would be even happier.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 08:03 PM

in 51 monutes Demmy has beaten poor american julie ditty 60 62

Posted by C Note -- Is it Fed Cup yet? 04/14/2009 at 08:20 PM

MA & Sherlock -- The 2007 and 2008 clay seasons were glorious for me. Sadly, I'm preparing myself for nothing but disappointment this year. I'd like to think that the kid can step on clay and magically be infused with confidence and purpose but I don't see it happening this year. If she had been working with Craig since the AO, maybe. He's seemingly done a good job of simplifying her game and making her more purpose driven and aggressive. But I actually give her more of a shot to win Wimbly than RG. Just a thought.

Posted by tennisesq. 04/14/2009 at 08:56 PM

ericinphilly,
Each year Venus won Wimbledon since 2005, she lost in the 3rd round at RG. In 2006, she made it to QF at RG, then lost in the 3rd round at Wimbledon as defending champion. So, the better she does at RG, might come at a cost at Wimbledon.

Posted by ericinphilly 04/14/2009 at 09:12 PM

tennisesq:
huh. i think i heard that for the first time last year , but it would be nice to see her do well at both but if it does come to one i guess i would pick wimbles since she is working towards a 6th title there. thats pretty weird tho since there is almost a full month of rest between the two and no tournies...

Posted by Tom 04/14/2009 at 10:11 PM

Well, I hope Dementieva continues to play like she did tonight. If she does she could have great results on clay, big 'if' though...

Posted by Yummy Prince Fed - Still my heartbeat 04/14/2009 at 10:53 PM

@ericinphilly - Word
Master Ace if you are around, I would like to share something with you but have no email address. Would you be so kind as to email me so that we can discuss. Thanks, Karen

Posted by charles 04/15/2009 at 02:42 AM

My early RG favourites are (in order):
Azarenka (I may revise this after a few clay events...)
Serena
Jankovic
Safina
Zvonareva

Bookies.com lists RG favourites as (in order):
Serena
Ivanovic
Jankovic
Dementieva
Safina
Azarenka
Venus
Zvonareva
Sharapova
Kuznetsova
Radwanska
Wozniacki
Cornet
Suarez Navarro

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 04/15/2009 at 02:47 AM

Hey Pete and everyone.

*loves WTA dedicated preview post*

I think it was me doing a lot of those handstands and cartwheels all over the place, and a lot of the excitement was just for the switch to beautiful red earth, regardless of whether it was women or men. But I'll admit to doing a few more cartwheels, and more exuberant ones, at the prospect of the ATP clay stories playing out.

I am quite excited by the WTA though - more than I've been for a while, it's good. So unpredictable and I can't see one player being a dominating force. It's funny how the ATP clay season isn't getting so much of the "one player dominates = boring" rhetoric - but I've certainly seen some people saying that. So I'd think the unpredictability of the WTA clay tour might create more excitement.

Agreed that Justine's absence leaves a bit of a hole but perhaps this will be the season that someone steps up to fill it. :) Anyway - it's been a year nearly so personally I'd rather concentrate on the women who *are* playing.

Strange how clearly so much of it seems to be about confidence. If Ana can get some confidence, if JJ can, Safina - and meet the younger, hungry, confident, players like Azarenka and Wozniacki we might get some terrific matches.

Agreed that darling JJ (*loves picture above*) has nothing to lose, having suffered from the Curse of the #1 Ranking. Hopefully Safina won't have to be cursed, it would be nice if the malevolence had somehow worn out...and if the pressure was not too much for her. I can see her slipping from #1 but maybe that will help her by taking some pressure off?

I don't want to judge JJ's ability to get a slam win at RG by her standard of play in a profound slump, and it seems to me that if she can play well she'll have a reasonable chance, rubbish serve or not, at least that will matter less on clay. Marbella should give her some confidence, whether she beat top 10 players or not - she beat good solid clay-court players like AMG and CSN - so I don't see why she should feel that she had an "easy" draw. Tough matches, too. And maybe I'm just biased for my favourite, but she seems fairly committed to winning a Slam - she put in the work in the off-season, all right, whether it's helped her or not. That says to me that she has something of the right mindset.

I could get behind CSN for the win at RG too...maybe her backhand will fill the Justine hole slightly. ;-) I like her unusualness. I could celebrate the second rung of a Calendar Slam for Serena and a first FO for Venus (would that give her a career Slam?) I'd be happy for Dementieva or Kuzzy or Vera to get the win, too. Wouldn't mind Ana defending or Safina going one step further either. And I'd rather see Wozniacki and Azarenka make good runs but wait for the title for another couple of years.

Apart from JJ, I'd really love to see Mauresmo make one last, glorious, title-winning slam run...it could happen! Maybe...

...and Gasquet might win the men's. ;-)

Posted by justice 04/15/2009 at 03:03 AM

I can't believe that Federer married Mirka instead of me :(

Posted by gauloises 04/15/2009 at 03:20 AM

Pete

I have to run so I can't give this the attention it deserves, but I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading it.

Count me among those who's much more excited for the WTA clay season than the ATP. So many storylines! (i.e. more than one). I want to see who comes out on top in the WTA. Is there even the slightest pretence of suspense about that in the ATP?

Anyway, good job. I love it when you write about the WTA.

Posted by Master Ace 04/15/2009 at 08:08 AM

Jewell,
No. Venus never won the Australian Open. Also, Serena would be the first lady to win all Slams twice since Steffi Graf if she wins the French Open.

Gauloises,
I shall be awaiting your comments if you have any.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 04/15/2009 at 08:33 AM

thank you Master Ace...I was too lazy to look it up, knowing you would know the answer. ;-)

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 08:54 AM

Lovely post Pete . . .very insightful and agree with you on pretty much all of it!!!!LOL . . . . .i flove when u write about WTA . . .as a KAD i prefer it so much more to the constant Big Four articles posted on every other tennisplace in the world!!!!!!!!LOL

i for one am particularly excited about the unpredictable-ness in the WTA this clay season (i can only enjoy Rafa domination for so long!!!!LOL) . . . . . . . . ..and as you sed it really comes down to confidence. . . . . . .

obviously i want JJ to win the most. . . . and as RG is my Fav GS (clay is my fave surface) i'm always thinking bout this tourney .. . . .at the beginning of the year i picked four semi-finalists. . . .JJ, Safina, Bepa and LenaD. . . . and from there i tawt it wud be just luck . . . . . . .now i'm not so sure will any of them make it!!!!!!!LOL. . . . . .. . .

personally. . . i dont think serena will win the FO this year .. . . . i dont know why. . . . but it doesnt feel rite (she will prob win it now that i've sed it) .. . .. . . and while i wud love to see Venus win here . . . again i dont feel it (you can pencil in an All Williams final there!!!!!LOL) . .. . .. . .

i really think this is a tourney for a first slammer. . .. . can Safina improve on last year? will JJ silence the critics? Will Bepa finally make her breakthrough? and i think one of the biggest questions (the JJ one is obviously mine) is. . .will LenaD finally do it and win the GS i think everyone believes she deserves????

i think confidence will be a real issue. . . and whoever makes a run at one of the tourneys (i'm feeling Stuttgart moreso than Rome or Madrid) will probably do well (the winner of berlin for the last two years has made the finals). . . . madrid will be a very interesting Tourney. . . . . but because its so different from RG (altitude) i'm not sure it will give a great measure of who's going to do well in paris (then again . . .the WTA never ceases to surprise me)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOL

usually RG seems to be a place for breakthroughs of young players or first timers. . . .safina, ivanovic, Vaidisova, henin, clijsters, petrova (she really shudda won this tourney a few years ago . . . . .wish she wud), bepa, lenaD, Masha even (although people may consider wimbly) all kinda had their first real GS breakthroughs at RG. . . . . .. . .and it wud be really nice to see a youngun do well .. . . . we havent had a young, shock winner in a GS since Masha in 2004. . . . .. and it wud be really nice for one of the young players. . .. . Vika, wozniacki, Radwanska, wozniak, Cornet, Cibulkova, Paszek (not likely but she's just so likeable), etc. to finally make that breakthrough into the top level. . . .. .

at the moment it looks like the two most likely to do that are Vika or Wozniacki . . . .Radwanska is hard to predict. . . . . .but Wozniacki and Azarenka hav still to prove themselves at the GS's. . . they still havent reached a QF between them. . . . at the moment Vika has the better GS experience (she has reached a women's doubles GS final . . and won two mixed titles) . . . . ..as she has reached the fourth round in 3 GS's (shudda made QF gainst serena) while wozniacki has only made two fourth rounds. . . ..

but the clay season is still early. . . . Cone, Cibulkova, etc cud find some good form. . . . Wozniak has ben doing that over at the green clay. .. . .. . . . . .we cud hav some surprise breakout no one expected!!!!!!!!!!LOL

and off course .. . the sentimental people. . . . .who wudnt want to see a Momo win, etc. . . . . !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOL

again Great post pete. . . . .. please write more WTA!!!!!!!!!LOL
*puppy dog Jacko eyes*

Posted by Master Ace 04/15/2009 at 09:08 AM

Jacko,
On Petrova should have won Roland Garros, her best chance was in 2006 when she was on a roll defeating Henin to win Berlin but she got hurt the day before Roland Garros and has not been the same. Matter of fact, she was my choice to win the French that year with Justine a close 2nd. Also, good point on Stuttgart 'cuz the Berlin winner has made the finals of Roland Garros in 2007 and 2008 but to put a dimmer on that and it is Stuttgart will be played indoors not outside. Rome and Madrid will play fast so that is not completely a true test of Roland Garros(the men has that in Monte Carlo). Do not forget about Carla Suarez Navarro. If she continues to play well this week, she may be able to duplicate her run from last year.

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 09:16 AM

i felt the same on Petrova too MA. . . .she shudda won!!!!LOL
oh i didnt know Stuttgart was indoors. . . . . i guess it will be a mystery who is going to perform well in RG!!!!!LOL
OMG i cannae believe i forgot CSN!!!. . . .yes add her to my list of people to watch out for during the clay court season . . ... . and another more surprising person to look out for. . . .Roberta Vinci. . ..she made the QF of Marbella last week (nearly beat JJ) and has just beaten Pennetta 6/1 6/2 to make the QF of Barca . . . . .

Posted by Master Ace 04/15/2009 at 10:40 AM

Jacko,
I am not willing to put Roberta Vinci on that list unless she makes the final this week even though she may cause a upset or two at Roland Garros.

Posted by Samantha Elin 04/15/2009 at 11:13 AM

Patrick, in regards to Caro, I think she has a great chance on the clay. I noticed in her match against the other Woz, she was coming more to net and finishing off points there. I disagree with Jacko and feel Caro has a better chance than Vika because of her superior serve. I believe that good servers are the ones that win the slams. And like I said it was Caro, not Vika who won new comer of the year. Kom nu, ja du kan, Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 11:25 AM

MA . . . i dont think Vinci is going to be like a QFist or anything. . . . . but she'd be a nasty early match for some of the higher ranked players. . . . .

Sam ELin . .. .. as you hav sed yourself. . . . clay doesnt require as strong a serve .. . also while caro can hit fast serves . . .she has a tendency to just roll the serve in . . . especially on second serve. .. . and can hit double faults (her serve was all over the place last week at some points. . . served well in the final). . . . while vika's serve is slower and can DF too . . . .she goes for placement which is more important on clay. . . . . and as she has more penetrating groundstrokes. . .. she can afford to have a slower better place serve

and as i sed earlier on the CC thread. . . caro's award comes from her performance last year. . . .where she was better than Vika. . . however this year Vika has ben the better performer .. . winning three titles to Caro's one (crushing Caro in the finals of memphis 6/1 6/3).. .. . . . . their rivalry will be very interesting on the WTA as aswell as being Great singles players. . . they are also good friends (all the young players seem to be) as they play doubles frequently together (they won the title in memphis too)

Posted by Master Ace 04/15/2009 at 12:04 PM

Jacko,
Agree that Caroline and Victoria will be the main WTA rivalry in about 2-3 years BKA the Williams Sisters will be in their 30s at that time. Good point on Victoria and Caroline just getting their serves in. Jelena is the main culprit of this but even Serena is getting broken these days. I am interested to see what is the % of return games won. Did you know that Alona had 32 chances to break her sister last week in Kateryna?

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 12:16 PM

i hope we are rite MA about their rivalry. . . . .but it is the WTA they cud be has-beens by 2010!!!!!LOL

i think everyone is being broken nowadays. . . .. and while some people do hav bad serves. . . i think the problem comes from coaches emphasising the importance of the return in women's tennis. . . .. . this means the player spends more time practicing it than the serve . . . . . .. .. every player in the top 10 (even 20??) has a great return. . . .. .

i also think the rolling in comes from experience too . . .when i first saw Vika and Caro play . . . they just ripped the serve. . . .but didnt place it .. . .now they're working more on placement. .. .and need time for the speed to come. . .. .. look at masha back in 2003-5 . . . her serve was much faster than it is now. . . . but she places the serve much more . . . . and while it is a little slower. . . .the placement makes it more successful
the only player i can think of who has good placement without sacrificing power is serena . .. and even hers as lost its lustre lately. . . . . .

JJ has struggled with serving lately. . . . while she is hitting faster and more aces .. . . she just goes thru patches where she decides to roll the serve in . . . . . .. back in autumn when she had her three tourney streak . . .. . the serve was working very well then. . . as she was going for it more. . she also won a lot more cheap points (especially on the slice out wide to the deuce court. . . her best serve imo). . . . . but now. . . .it seems to hav gone with her confidence. .. . . .. . . but i hope that once she finds her game again . . . .her serve will be back to a decent standard!!

32 BP chances????????. . . . ... thats a bit ridiculous!!!LOL . . . .

Posted by federerfan 04/15/2009 at 01:05 PM

"RG is the hardest Grand Slam to win both mentally and physically."

I am confused, for the longest time, I have heard that hards are the worst on the body then how come RG is the hardest physically?

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 01:07 PM

Federerfan . . .i think it is because points are longer on clay. . .. and requires a lot of turning defence into offence . . . . which is very straining on the body . . . .

Posted by federerfan 04/15/2009 at 01:12 PM

Jackie: thanks for responding, so which is worse on the body clay or hards? or both equally (albeit for varying reasons)?

Posted by federerfan 04/15/2009 at 01:12 PM

Sorry Jacko not Jackie.

Posted by Jacko (Private Detective) Total JJ Happiness . . . *Glitter Love* 04/15/2009 at 01:15 PM

Fedfan . . . ..hard is more stessful for the feet and the legs. . . as its heavier impact. . . . . while clay is softer. . . . it puts more strain in general from playing for so long. . . . .a player is more likely to cramp on a clay court than on a hard in my opinion

Posted by federerfan 04/15/2009 at 01:45 PM

thx jacko...

Posted by Nancy J 04/15/2009 at 04:54 PM

JJ's been having a tough time this year, and I don't necessarily think one tournament win at Marabella is going to turn things around for her completely, but this clay season is an opportunity for her. I thought she played well last year...just not good enough.

Ana needs to go to Vegas but quick! Isn't she an Adidas player?! Working with the former Agassi team of Reyes and Cahill (and even Andre and Steffi at times) has had a positive effect on several players. More than physical, it seems to have given them a mental boost.

Posted by Kit U 04/15/2009 at 08:06 PM

For once, I'll side with Safina in a Slam.
I don't like her, with her mechanical strokes and anything-but-smooth serve, but right now who is there to pick?
Serena would probably be the biggest threat, but she doesn't move well on clay.
Jankovic still hasn't recovered from all that bulk she put up during the off-season.
Ivanovic still is the tour's biggest head case (well, except for Kuznetsova).
This isn't Wimbledon, so don't expect Venus to make any impact.
Azarenka's strokes are too flat for clay.
The biggest darkhorse probably is Zvonareva, but I still don't see her winning 7 matches in a row.
So there it is, Safina by deduction. Literally.


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