Federer won't Slam, Sharapova will rise to top
Posted: 25 minutes ago
Roger Federer will not win the Grand Slam, but will end 2007 at No. 1
There has to come a time when the great Swiss slows down, even if very slightly. Federer has never suffered a significant injury and in the past three years, he hasn't even sustained an injury that kept him out of play for more than a couple of weeks.
He's due for a letdown — mental, physical, emotional — something. That's why he won't win the calendar year Grand Slam, not because he isn't by far the best player on the planet (he is), but because his luck is bound to turn.
With that said, Federer will still casually clock in and win two majors — Wimbledon and either the Australian Open or the U.S. Open — and end the year as the sport's top dog. Then, he'll be just three Grand Slam titles short of Pete Sampras' all-time mark of 14 at the tender age of 26 and can then set himself on cruise control to bust the mark.
Maria Sharapova will end the year as No. 1
If Sharapova doesn't break out and seize her sport by its ponytail in 2007, when will it happen? She finished 2006 ranked No. 2, essentially dominated hardcourt play and as a former Wimbledon champion, is a huge threat on grass.
The only question with Ms. Maria is will her thin frame hold up, and will she choose to play enough to gain the coveted year end mark? She's a major threat at every Slam outside of France and finally believes she can best her nemesis, Justine Henin-Hardenne, when it counts. Sharapova will win her third Slam and several other crowns and finally be called not just the beauty queen of the Internet, but the monarch of her sport.
Rafael Nadal will look to continue his domination on clay in 2007. (Andrew Wong / Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal will win his third consecutive French Open, but not another slam
The Spanish Bull is very ambitious and was smarting at year's end after failing to win another title after he punched out Federer at the French Open.
He trains extremely hard and is aware what he has to due to improve (add pop to his serve and depth to his groundstrokes on fast surfaces), but it's very tough to change one's biomechanics once you become a pro.
Rafa is the only man out there who has shown enough bravado to face down Federer and won't shy away from major battles with the Swiss in 2007, but at 20-years-old, he's still a work in progress.
With his expansive lungs and steely defense, he'll outlast the field at the French Open for third straight year, but the lefty will fall short at every other major. 2008 should be his year to flourish.
The Williams Sisters will ride again — briefly
In great physical and mental health, Serena and Venus Williams are still top five players. But neither has been healthy for full season in four years and there is no indication that once they get back on court in Australia, that they won't quickly become injured again.
In order to regain their dominant status, the sisters need to play for sustained periods of time. Serena thought that she would compete for the U.S. Open title after only a few weeks of play and was sorely mistaken. She hasn't played since then and Venus has only played two matches since Wimbledon due to a lingering wrist injury.
The talent is there, the know-how is there. Now they both have to prove that they are driven enough to succeed again and the only way to do that is to get on court and stay there. If they do, they'll start seriously competing for titles again and one of them — likely Serena — will win another Slam.
Andy Roddick or James Blake will win a Slam, but not both of them
Breaking Federer and Nadal's stranglehold on the sport proved near impossible for the Americans in 2006, as none won a Slam title and only one, Andy Roddick, managed to take a Master Series crown.
But Roddick showed substantial improvement under coach Jimmy Connors in the last four months of the year and James Blake wowed every other player outside of Federer to reach the Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai final.
Both have the firepower to compete with the Swiss, but neither has showed enough consistency or variety to take him down in the long haul, which is why they hold a combined 1-18 record against him.
However, Blake and Roddick have added some new and improved elements to their game (they are both more comfortable at net and more precise with their returns) and one of them will break through and win a non-clay court Slam in 2007. But these days, envisioning two U.S. men to be lifting big trophies in one calendar year is too much to ask.
Kim Clijsters will win a Slam before she retires
The former No. 1 and U.S. Open champ will call it quits at year's end to start a family with her fiancée, U.S. basketball player Brian Lynch. Some think that the broad shouldered Belgian will mail it in, but that's faulty thinking. She has one Slam to her credit and when she's been healthy, Clijsters has still been one of the top 3 hard court players on the planet. She'll find away to stay out of the trainer's room for a substantial part of the year and even though she's getting married in the summer and her mind will at times wander toward choosing wedding dresses, she'll knuckle down and win a Slam. If she doesn't, she'll lose a clear shot at the Hall of Fame.
Justine Henin-Hardenne will claw at Sharapova; Mauresmo won't
There is no tougher or more versatile player in tennis than Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne. She lives and breathes for her sport, isn't concerned about making nice with other players and almost never chokes. Henin is the most accomplished all surface player out there (she reached four Slam finals last year) and seems to be very in tune as to how play herself into contention at every major.
However, as powerful and quick as she is for her small size, she can be hit through and exhausted. That showed in her loss to Amelie Mauresmo in the '06 Australian Open final and to Sharapova in the '06 U.S. Open final. Three time French Open champion Henin is a master at dirt ball tennis and should win her fourth Roland Garros crown, but won't realize her dream of winning the only Slam title that eludes her, Wimbledon. But all year long, she'll be biting at Sharapova's heels, forcing the Russian teen to become a more versatile player.
Mauresmo had a career year in 2006, winning her first two Slams at the Australian and Wimbledon. Outside of Henin, no one is close to as creative as she is. But her body is due for another major breakdown and at age 28, her best years are behind her.
Ana Ivanovic and Andy Murray are the next breakthrough players
There are a number of talented teen and young twenty-something's on both tours, but the young, intelligent Andy Murray and the powerful and adaptable Serb Ivanovic show the most promise.
Of all the big teenage ball strikers of the women's tour, Ivanovic hits her forehand the hardest and is the most impressive closing at the net. She's still a little erratic, needs better balance and could learn a good deal more about strategy, but given how much the 19-year-old improved to crack the top-20 in 2006 , it's hard to see anything but a serious injury keeping her out the top-10. Oh, and she could be a little meaner, too.
Fellow top-20 teen Nicole Vaidisova can gun the ball, Anna Chakvetadze is gritty and Shahar Peer is relentless, but Ivanovic is the only one with the entire makeup of a top-5 player.
Murray is one of the smartest players out there and knows how to use his tools. He has a master motivator in his corner with his coach, Brad Gilbert, has already scored wins over the likes of Federer and Roddick and doesn't have an apparent weakness, outside of his suspect conditioning, which can easily be improved.
Murray is prone to temper tantrums and can be very stubborn, but for the most part, he seems to work through his problems. Publicly, he's a modest sort. Privately, he feels he belongs up there with the best. Lock him into the top 10 and watch him go deep into the second week of a Slam.
Four other youngsters -- Richard Gasquet, Marcos Baghdatis, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych, all have more firepower, but they haven't shown Murray's grit or aptitude for figuring out how to undermine the game's elite.