Olympics Preview – Women’s Singles

After a 64 year break, Tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988 as a medal sport (returned in 1984 as a ‘demonstration sport’) and the list of female singles winners makes for some impressive reading. The likes of Steffi Graf, Venus Williams and Justine Henin have won since the sport’s revival in the Olympics and only 2008 winner Elena Dementieva is not a multiple grand slam winner.

Draw

Quarter 1  (1) Victoria Azarenka – Angelique Kerber (7) 

The new World No.1 Victoria Azarenka should have no issues on her way to making the quarter final, facing first Irina-Camelia Begu. The Romanian is far more comfortable on clay and has very little experience on the grass, most recently exiting Wimbledon in the 1st round and throwing away a 6-0 lead in a final set tie break against Francesca Schiavone in their match in S’hertogenbosch. A second round tie will be with another clay courter, be it Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez or the in-form Polona Hercog who took the title in Bastad last week. Potential third round opponents Jie Zheng or Nadia Petrova both have had impressive runs at Wimbledon in the past and have decent grass court credentials – Zheng pushing eventual winner Serena Williams at Wimbledon this year to 3 sets stands out, along with her Semi Final appearance a while back. Petrova took the S’hertogenbosch title this year but appeared to be carrying an injury in her defeat to Dominika Cibulkova in Carlsbad last week.

Perhaps the most appealing seeded player to draw for the unseeded is Sara Errani, the French Open finalist is far less comfortable on the grass and even suffered the humiliation of the golden set in her defeat to Yaroslava Shvedova last month. Errani has drawn five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. Although she was incredibly disappointing at Wimbledon this year, winning only four games against Elena Vesnina, I don’t think you can write her off completely. She may feel her medal chances are much better in the doubles with sister Serena where they are favourites for the gold medal. Timea Babos has shown great potential this year, winning the title in Monterrey and earning a surprise victory over Birmingham champion Melanie Oudin. Angelique Kerber should be the favourite to come through the other side of this quarter, and potentially has the chance to exert revenge over Errani who defeated her in the French Open. She faces Petra Cetkovska in the first round.

My Quarter Final Prediction –  Victoria Azarenka defeats Angelique Kerber in 3 sets

Must Watch Match – Venus Williams vs Sara Errani

Did You Know…?

Nadia Petrova owns a 7-1 head to head record over first round opponent Jie Zheng

Venus Williams is the only female tennis player to win three gold medals (1x Singles, 2x Doubles)

Quarter 2 (4) Serena Williams-Caroline Wozniacki (8)

Serena Williams will be very happy with her section of the draw. The Wimbledon champion is on an 11-match winning streak after taking the title in Stanford. She looked ominous at Wimbledon and her serve is one of the best of all time, meaning that she is almost unbreakable if it is working. Her first round tie will be a battle of the former World No.1’s as she takes on Jelena Jankovic. The Serb has been on a very bad run of form of late with a string of first round exits to her name, although she did make the final in Birmingham (though perhaps more due to a favourable draw). Jankovic appears to be lacking motivation at times but if there is an opponent that can inspire her to play well, it has to be Serena. Young hopefuls Mona Barthel and Urszula Radwanska will battle for the presumed second round match-up with Serena, both can cause a lot of trouble but inconsistency is likely to be their downfall. Klara Zakapolova will be looking to improve on her 0-3 head to head against Francesca Schiavone, and was mostly recently defeated by the Italian this year at Wimbledon. 2010 Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva still looks to be suffering slightly from a number of injuries but she has potential to be a surprise medalist if she can recover sufficiently.

Serena’s potential quarter-final opponent could be Caroline Wozniacki, whom she has a 4-1 head to head record over. The Dane faces British hopeful Anne Keothavong first up – who was embarrassed by college star Mallory Burdette at Stanford a few weeks back. Many more eyes will be on Daniela Hantuchova, who is enjoying new found fame after posing for the ESPN Body Issue. The Slovakian has been disappointing in the middle part of this year, not helped by a foot injury that left her out for almost two months.  She suffered a poor straight sets defeat to Jamie Hampton at Wimbledon this year and will have a big job on her hands here, facing Na Li. Li has not quite hit the heights of last year, but is still a very dangerous player on all surfaces. Tamira Paszek will be confident with her position in the draw here, possessing recent grass court wins over Hantuchova and more famously under the roof against Wozniacki this year.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Serena Williams defeats Tamira Paszek in 2 sets

Must Watch Match – Serena Williams vs Jelena Jankovic

Did You Know…?

With victory here, Serena can equal her sisters gold medal haul of three.

This quarter of the draw contains five former, or current top 5 players.

Quarter 3 (5) Samantha Stosur-Maria Sharapova (3)

While Samantha Stosur is notoriously poor on grass, she will be happy with her first round draw against a clay specialist in Carla Suarez Navarro who she beat fairly comfortable in Wimbledon this year. The second round is much more likely to be where she departs – Roberta Vinci can be a threat and only made the fourth round of Wimbledon while Kim Clijsters is still a class act even if recent form has been sketchy. The Belgian will want to finish off in style at her last visit to SW19 before she retires. She holds a 2-0 head to head over Vinci, but both are a long time ago so not much should be made of that. Agnes Szavay makes her return after a long time out with injury and has a winnable match against Great Britain’s Elena Baltacha, but her fitness is a huge question mark after so much time out. Ana Ivanovic is the other stand out name in this section, she takes on the highly rated Christina Mchale. This is a wide-open quarter where someone has the potential to make a name for themselves.

Whoever takes the previous section is more than likely just waiting for a quarter final with Maria Sharapova. The Russian disappointed at Wimbledon, losing to Sabine Lisicki and has the chance for revenge here in the third round. A first round tie with a slumping Shahar Pe’er should pose no issues at all. Lefties Laura Robson and Lucie Safarova could trouble her in the second round but Sharapova should progress with little trouble. Yaroslava Shvedova could disturb the balance in this section here, two good Grand Slam runs have seen her ranking improve greatly over the past two months and she has begun to show the potential of a few years ago again. She takes on Simona Halep in an interesting first round tie for the chance to take on Lisicki, who should dispatch of youngster Ons Jabeur with ease. Although losing the most recent meeting, Sharapova has a 3-1 head to head over Lisicki including the previous two slam meetings between the pair – Australian Open 12, Wimbledon 11.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Maria Sharapova defeats Ana Ivanovic in 2 sets

Must Watch Match – Ana Ivanovic vs Christina Mchale

Did You Know…?

Samantha Stosur is a three times semi-finalist at Eastbourne but has never got past the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Against the 3 seeds in her section she has faced, Kim Clijsters has a 17-3 record (6-3 Sharapova, 5-0 Stosur, 6-0 Ivanovic)

Quarter 4 (6) Petra Kvitova-Agnieszka Radwanska (2)

2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova opens her account against Kateryna Bondarenko – the Ukrainian will have full attention on the Singles event now after he sister withdrew from the doubles but it is unlikely she can trouble the Czech here while Shuai Peng or Su-Wei Hsieh will ensure an Asian presence in the next round. Bulgarian grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova is probably the biggest danger to Kvitova here, she excels on grass and is a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon – where she was defeated by Vera Zvonareva in 2010. She also reached the quarters in 2009, losing to potential opponent Kvitova. Pironkova takes on the in-from Dominika Cibulkova, who recently took the Carlsbad title.

When talking about Agnieszka Radwanska, she is always accused of having the easy draws in tournaments and it is hard to argue with people on this showing. She faces an out-form Julia Gorges in the first round with a potential second round tie against either a very poor wildcard choice in Veronica Cepede Royg or an inferior version of herself in Varvara Lepchenko. A third round tie is likely to be against Maria Kirilenko. Radwanska has proved recently she can beat her, even if the weather conditions were not suitable the Pole’s playing style. Heather Watson was dispatched off with ease at Wimbledon while Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Mariana Duque Marino are both most at home on the clay and will pose little threat.

My Quarter Final Prediction – Agnieszka Radwanska defeats Petra Kvitova  in 3 sets

Must Watch Match – Tsvetana Pironkova vs Dominika Cibulkova

Did You Know…?

South Americans Mariana Duque Marino and Veronica Cepede Royg have not won a main draw match on Grass courts between them. Mariano has one in Wimbledon qualifying 2008.

Tsvetana Pironkova’s difference in results off and on a grass court are staggering – other than her Wimbledon QF and SF’s in 2009 and 2010, she has never made the 3rd round in a slam.

Medal Predictions

Gold Serena Williams 

Silver Maria Sharapova

Bronze Victoria Azarenka

Who are your medal predictions for the tourney? Who do you think can spring a surprise here? Feel free to leave your comments below!

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Post-Wimbledon Blues

In my early youth I believed June was the worst month of the year for sport; then I became a tennis fan and quickly realised July tops it by a long stretch.

Summer sports like golf and cricket don’t fill the void left by the football season’s conclusion and, besides the first week where the Wimbledon schedule spills over, tennis doesn’t either.

All the top players disappear for two to three weeks once Sue Barker’s wrapped up the closing ceremony on Centre Court and, due to my UK residency, so does the coverage of the sport.

Luckily I have a companion who bets and he’s always looking for a tennis punt. He’s been keeping me updated on which players have been making the most of this July tennis drought.

Here’s a summary:

The next big buzz after Wimbledon came from the Davis Cup. Bernard Tomic and Kei Nishikori were in action for Australia and Japan with both helping their respective countries to victory. Japan will next face India with the Aussies taking on Switzerland when the World Group Play-offs commence in September.

Ksenia Pervak continued her recent good form by reaching the semi-finals of the Gastein Ladies and losing out to third in the world Vera Zvonareva at the Baku Cup. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost in the quarter-finals of the latter event.

In a tournament where John Isner was the top seed, Grigor Dimitrov couldn’t make the most of another grass court event after his second round exit to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon. He lost to 18-year-old American Denis Kudla in Newport, Rhode Island before travelling to Atlanta and falling to Rajeev Ram in the first round despite being seeded fifth. In the same tournament, Ryan Harrison reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Mardy Fish. Harrison is also well inside the top 100 and improving on his highest ever ranking position all the time while Dimitrov is still at a respectable #57.

Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki continued her remarkable comeback by reaching the same stage of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, joining 22-year-old Dominika Cibulkova. The German was cast aside by an imperious Serena Williams whilst the Slovakian had to retire before her match with Marion Bartoli but her ranking has improved to world number 16.

Youngsters Tamira Paszek and Irina Falconi both made the semi-finals of the WTA International tournament the Citi Open. Austrian 20-year-old Paszek made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and has seen her world ranking increase to number 36 in the world while American 21-year-old Falconi is back in the top 100. Bojana Jovanovski made the quarter-finals and Eugenie Bouchard reached the second round as a wildcard.

As the hard court events got underway Ernests Gulbis produced a stunning turnaround from recent form. The 22-year-old ended a five-match slump to win his first round match at the Los Angeles Tennis Open against fifth seed Xavier Malisse. From then on the Latvian seemed re-born, smashing former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro 6-2, 6-4 en route to winning the tournament outright 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 against top 10 player Mardy Fish in the final. He’s now rose 29 places to number 55 in the world.

Ernests Gulbis

Wimbledon 2011 – Ranking Review

The grass court season is over and with the end of Wimbledon it means more ranking points have been lost or gained during the fortnight.

The women’s top 20 is pretty much unchanged with Petra Kvitova up one place after her Grand Slam success, progressing two steps further than her performance last year.

Sabine Lisicki is the biggest mover in the top 100 after having no ranking points to defend and then duly making it to the semi-finals. She’s jumped 35 places from #62 to #27 and sits just six places from her highest ever ranking position which she achieved in 2009.

Laura Robson’s first round victory was enough to see her enter the top 200 again and to a career high of #185.

The 17-year-old beat Angelique Kerber and rattled eventual finalist Maria Sharapova but lost to the Russian. She can now take heart from a season which looked like a step backwards as she’s now 32 places ahead of where she started in January having been much lower than that.

After always being behind her sister Karolina, Kristyna Pliskova has now moved ahead of her 19-year-old twin following a first round appearance against Marion Bartoli thanks to getting though qualifying. The Czech left-hander is in a career high position of #188.

Austrian Tamira Paszek has moved into the top 50 from #80 after the 20-year-old’s quarter-final run as Bojana Jovanovski dropped out of it.

There were also ranking rises for Rebecca Marino, Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe. Heather Watson remained at #106 and one place ahead of 19-year-old Misaki Doi who has shot up from #133.

The significant mover from the men’s tour was not surprising. Bernard Tomic’s breakthrough quarter-final run as a qualifier means he’s not only into the top 100 but deep into it at #71, an increase of 87 places.

Fellow 19-year-old Ryan Harrison is on the edge of the top 100 after qualifying and progressing to the second round. He’s at an agonising 101 in the world.

Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori both went up two places after second round appearances and had decent matches against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lleyton Hewitt respectively.

Milos Raonic and Alexandr Dolgopolov dropped a solitary place and are next to each other in the mid-20’s of the rankings. They’ll be looking at the return of the hard courts to make further impact this season.

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