Hey all, Orion here, first of my monthly weekend off into the city of San Salvador. Thought it'd be nice to do a write-up of what all has impressed me and a few picks for upcoming results.
Well, I last posted during the post-Wimbledon Fed Cup week, so I guess that leaves about a month and a half of tournaments. There are a few stories I want to write about, so I'll track the big ones for you all.
The US Open race.
Everyone wonders who will win the US Open. Looking at the draw, it's almost certain that the winner will come from the top half. Before I saw the draw, I predicted Ivanovic would win the title. I don't think so anymore. She's just not quite at the level to beat Venus, Jankovic, Serena/Justine, Sharapova/Kuznetsova back-to-back-to-back-to-back. In fairness, though, virtually no-one can do that.
Personally, I think Jankovic benefits the best from the (relatively) tough top half. She faces the winner of Ivanovic-V. Williams after probably dismantling Dementieva (who has REALLY fallen apart in the past year), and both Ivanovic and Venus are likely candidates for streaky form after beating one another. Then she faces the Henin-Serena winner, and that is very likely a three-setter. If she's ever going to beat Henin, it will be at the US Open while Justine's exhausted. Plus, every player suffers a bit of a mental let-down after beating Serena Williams (it is kind of a big deal), and Serena's streaky enough that Jankovic can capitalize on her lack of matchplay (I know, I know, she doesn't REALLY need match play, but there's no denying that it helps).
The bottom half is a lot more interesting, from my perspective, as a breeding ground for the next generation. Jankovic, Serena, and Justine are older than every one of the players I expect to reach the QF from the bottom half. Agnes Szavay (more on her later) is having a tremendous year, and is a pretty good bet to beat out Petrova, who has looked pretty rickety lately. Hingis is going to suffer from her lack of match play (she actually needs it, how very 90's), and Azarenka has been on the cusp of emerging for about a year now. This is her big chance, with a pretty benign draw. Kuznetsova is still shaky from the post-Wimbledon letdown, but she should be able to play into form a la Serena with the squishy draw she has (although if Camille Pin ever actually wins one of the near-upsets, Kuznetsova is the most likely target). Finally, the bottom quadrant, which I don't think does Sharapova any favors whatsoever. It's not as imposing as the top two quarters in terms of established players, but it is chock-full of the girls who will be fighting Sharapova for the rest of her career, and they all have the kinds of game to really frustrate the Russian, especially if this shoulder thing is still troubling her. Chakvetadze and Mirza (more on them later) will be duking it out in a very unfortunate r32, which I imagine will be won by Chakky. Tamira Paszek is ready to continue her emergence, and Schnyder doesn't care much for the US Open. Peer finds her form and knocks out a rusty Vaidisova, and Radwanska really pushes Sharapova.
Ultimately, I think the bottom half of the draw comes down to three factors: Kuznetsova holding it together long enough to make the semis, Sharapova's shoulder, and how much the very young players (Szavay, Azarenka, Paszek) want to emerge right now.
Chakvetadze and Mirza
If there's one story from the first half of the US Open series, it's the emergence of Anna Chakvetadze. If there are two stories, it's Anna and Sania Mirza. The two of them have quietly assured that they will remain in the top 10 and top 30 until at least clay season next year.
Starting with Anna Chakvetadze, the first thought is "convinced now?". I remember as far back as three years ago when people mentioned her as a future top 10er and not being all that impressed. She has improved tremendously in the past few seasons, particularly in the mental category. She plays a game that is, for all intents and purposes, wonky. None of her strokes look particularly conventional, her serve is downright ugly, but she has some of the finest, most effortless lateral movement on tour, and knows how to wait out a point. That's something a lot of young players should learn, and most older ones never mastered. Her run of tournament success was marred only by her mental block against Maria Sharapova, a player that tends to chew up good movers who don't hit too hard. The Robert Lansdorp move is a wise one, especially since she seems determined to stay in the top 10. The only worrying thing about Chakvetadze is that she'll get frustrated when the big results are slow coming. The names in the top 5 right now are all relatively young (only one teenager, but only one over 24) and look equally determined to stay. Chakky also will suffer a little bit next season from the steadiness of her results. It's going to be hard to improve significantly on many of her results, which makes it tough to rise up the rankings. Her clay season was mediocre until the French Open, though, so hopefully she can capitalize on that.
And then there's Sania. Of course the obvious place to start is that forehand. I've never seen anything quite like it. She's a shorty who hits an absurdly flat forehand harder than some women 4-6 inches taller. She can take control of a point with it, and she's learning quickly what to do to control a point intelligently. When Sania showed up in '04, the main thought in my head was "nice forehand, she's too impatient, top 30 at best." I caught one match from Stanford online today, and all I could think was "is this the same Sania Mirza?". She's gotten a lot more patient, her backhand is much steadier, and her serve has improved slightly. I don't think she's destined for the top 5, or even the top 10 necessarily, but she's certainly going to hit the top 20 at some point, and she's certainly going to be fun to watch every step of the way.
Agnes Szavay, savvy?
At the start of the year, the question of the top young players (as in, not yet top 20, but still a teen) was limited pretty much to Radwanska, Azarenka, and Paszek. In the past three months, Agnes Szavay has forced herself into that equation, and done so extremely well. I vaguely knew who she was from her junior days, and noticed how hard she pushed Chakvetadze at the French Open, but I'm most impressed by what she did in Palermo. She dismantled the 2006 newcomwer of the year Radwanska, and then proceeded to humiliate Martina Muller ON CLAY! While this isn't quite what Sharapova was doing at 18, it's still a very good result from a very good prospect. Furthermore, Szavay has managed to impress on hardcourts this week. Beating Hantuchova and Bondarenko (who beat her handily at Wimbledon) is no small task for a player ranked outside the top 100 back when Lindsay Davenport gave birth.
Also, given her form and her draw, I don't think Jon Wertheim was totally off base to predict a deep run for Szavay. While I'd be surprised to see her get that far, I can see her in the quarterfinals pretty clearly, and Kuznetsova isn't the worst draw she could get. So, all for the Agnes Szavay bandwagon, jump on!
Well, I guess that does it for this dispatch. I've got some organizing to do (one weekend off a month, and I extended it since I didn't have any time off in July), but I'll be back later today to discuss a little bit, and try to be as eloquent as I can. It's weird, I've been speaking in English to children the past month and a half, so I'm not used to being my usual articulate self
It's good to be back, and hopefully I can do this regularly while I'm in El Salvador. I hope I can catch some of the US Open (my boss has satellite TV, but I don't know whether we're close enough yet for me to crash his house for two weeks...) but if not, I'll try and get caught up so I don't sound like an uninformed git.