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Orion
Aug 23rd, 2007, 08:04 PM
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! :drive:


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.

Hasta luego,
Orion

pierce0415
Aug 23rd, 2007, 08:06 PM
:wavey:
didn't you make a post saying you won't post here for the next 2 or 3 years :confused:

Orion
Aug 23rd, 2007, 08:17 PM
It occurred to me I didn't explicitly state my picks for the US Open!

So, her goes, from the 3rd round on.

3r
Henin def. Sugiyama
Golovin def. Safina
Bartoli def. Safarova
S. Williams def. Likhovtseva (one last hurrah for Elena)
Jankovic def. Wozniacki
Dementieva def. Bammer
V. Williams def. Daniilidou (in a suprisingly close one)
Ivanovic def. Dushevina

Szavay def. Petrova
Hantuchova def. Srebotnik
Azarenka def. Hingis
Kuznetsova def. Wozniak
Chakvetadze def. Mirza
Paszek def. Schnyder
Peer def. Vaidisova
Sharapova def. Radwanska (in a close 3 set match)

4r
Henin def. Golovin (in two close sets)
S. Williams def. Bartoli (in a match reminiscent of Peer, AO)
Jankovic def. Dementieva
V. Williams def. Ivanovic

Szavay def. Hantuchova (again)
Kuznetsova def. Azarenka
Chakvetadze def. Paszek (but it's close)
Sharapova def. Peer (although I don't want this to happen)

QF
Henin def. S. Williams
Jankovic def. V. Williams
Kuznetsova def. Szavay
Sharapova def. Chakvetadze

SF
Jankovic def. Henin
Kuznetsova def. Sharapova (this might be my slight bias coming out, I'll admit)

F
Jankovic def. Kuznetsova

Orion
Aug 23rd, 2007, 08:19 PM
:wavey:
didn't you make a post saying you won't post here for the next 2 or 3 years :confused:

Haha, yeah I did. At the time, I thought I was getting one day off a week, in which case I would be stuck in the village, without computer. Instead of one day a week, I get three days a month, and I can go into San Salvador and release some stress with tennis talk. I really did miss it, you know? Hopefully I can keep this schedule, but now I really do have to go.

Oh, and piercey, good to see you back. We don't always get along, but your photo spread of the seeds at tournaments is always a great tool.

~Orion

AleOrtu
Aug 23rd, 2007, 09:33 PM
Hello Orion!
I still remember when you were member of my board TalkTennis (http://www.talktennis.proboards29.com) and one day you found a link to this one and complete dissapeared.
Too bad you also ignored my PM´s and the requests asking you to keep playing our game from this board (the game is runned in both boards at the same time).

Anyway.... the girls and guys sends you greetings, they still wonder what happened with you, the latest news we had (certanly from 2004) were that you were injured in your foot. :(

Hope you are having a good time in San Salvador. Buena suerte y disfruta tus vacaciones.

Orion
Sep 7th, 2007, 09:57 PM
HEY, all. I'm in San Salvador again. The program was moved into the city for about a week due to hurricane concerns (after a few years of living in San Francisco, where earthquakes are unpredictable, I've got to say all this waiting is nerve wracking). Fortunately nothing hit us hard, just a little more rain than usual, but one of the early reports was rather ugly concerning our prospects. SO, I did get a chance to watch a bit of the US Open. I'm hoping to catch the women's final, but I may have to tape it and catch it later, we're taking everyone to a museum for a night-time tour.

Here's a few musings from the things I've noticed the most about the US Open thus far.

Re-Emergence of Kuznetsova

Everyone knows I love Kuznetsova's game, and no-one is happier than I am that she's in the final (except maybe Kuznetsova herself...and her coach...and family...so a lot of people, I guess), but there's no denying she's still about as streaky as they come. She played some beautiful, jaw dropping tennis against both AMG and Szavay (more on her later), but looked downright ugly in the first set against Chakvetadze. FORTUNATELY, Kuznetsova has gotten the hang of changing tactics mid-match. It used to take her a match to figure out opponents (back in '04 and '05), then a set and a half ('06), and she's quickly turning her tactics around. That's a positive sign. What she did to win today wasn't pretty, but she's in the final after winning 12/13 games in a row. That's impressive turnaround, even if Chakvetadze looked petrified and lost half the time.

The big thing is that she KNOWS she can change her tactics. That's going to serve her well, no matter whom she plays tomorrow. I just hope she shows up strongly. Kuznetsova is certainly among the most respected players among other players, simply because she is capable of both hanging tough or running away with a match. Henin, Federer, and Davenport have all expressed their admiration for her game before. But, she's equally capable of losing track of her rhythm. Today, she created her own rhythm. That may serve her well against Henin, but I doubt she'll get the chance to do that if Venus wins. At any rate, I'm very excited to see Kuznetsova up to #2, and I know she can keep it up. Whether she will or not is another question.

Interesting factoid, Kuznetsova's record in the month of September since '04 is a whopping 25-2 or 3 (I can't remember if the Beijing final in '04 was in October or not), one loss being that back injury against Bychkova.

The Re-Emergence of Venus Williams

There are few players in history as breath-taking to watch as Venus Williams. Everyone knows that my biggest problem with the Williams is that when they lose, they lose ugly. When they win, they win GORGEOUS. I don't even care for flat power tennis, but Venus at her best is absolutely gorgeous to watch. The only word I can use. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

I was blatantly wrong when I said Venus wasn't likely to win a slam this year. More than anyone, Venus proves me wrong time and time again. What's most impressive about Venus on grass and hardcourts (I maintain she cannot do the same thing on clay) is her ability to transform literally overnight from third rate to first rate. Serena took a slew of matches to look like a champion again. Venus can do it immediately. She's turning herself into a serious threat for the top 5, in a way for which Serena hasn't yet shown the drive. I don't know whether she's going to win right now or not (she's down 3-2 as I type), but she's certainly going to be terrific to watch if her form holds.

Also, as an aside, Venus is probably the classiest player on court so far at the open. She looks like a million bucks, which is ironic since you can buy everything she's wearing for under 80. So classy, and such a giver. Her design line sounds innovative and smart. Hope her tennis can do as much right now!

The De-Emergence of Serena Williams

Would I like Serena to be a little more approachable and less arrogant in her conferences? Yes. Am I going to get all worked up about it? No. It's not unexpected, and I can't say I wouldn't say the same things in her position.

What I find discouraging is the wording. Even if she truly feels Henin got a little lucky, by saying it like that, she's not fessing up to the fact that she's back-slid a little since February/March. After Miami, I thought she would be top 5 by now. Granted, she got a little unlucky with injuries and draws (although it is true that her lower ranking is part of the reason that the draw is so skewed, it's not as if it does Henin any favors either, and Sharapova can't capitalize anyway), but I think it's worth noting that injuries are partially due to preparation. I do NOT think Serena is overweight by any means, but she certainly isn't in as good shape as she could be. Her fast-twitch sprinting speed was fine, but her endurance wasn't as good as it should be. Ultimately, Serena clearly still has the hunger, and the goods are still all there, but she hasn't figured out how to consistently synthesize that into steady form. It's odd to imagine Venus being the steadier sister, as that's never really happened (even in '00 and '01, she was pretty much irrelevant for three months out of the year), but without endurance, Serena's not going to maximize her enormous ability.

Youth Movement

Before the tournament, you may note that I expected Radwanska to push Sharapova. Now, admittedly my picks are always slightly wonky (remember when I thought Soderling would reach the AO quarters? Yeah...), but I will honestly say the younger players have mightily impressed me. The lower half of the draw is, basically, a look into what draws are likely to look like in 5 years. Venus, Serena, Henin...they're older players now. Ivanovic was the only truly impressive YOUNG player not in the bottom half. Jankovic and Bartoli (along with Kuznetsova) are in the transitional generation, where they're not quite young but they're not quite old either.

Anyways, looking at this purely from a 20 and under perspective, the bottom half was absolutely fascinating. Szavay in particular impressed me, elaborating on her recent success and looking thoroughly dominant until she met Kuznetsova on a good day. Most importantly, Szavay has virtually nothing to defend through the first half of next year (including clay, where she's apparently a monster). And she can certainly do better next hardcourt season, since she played only New Haven. Chakvetadze looked sharp until someone actually thought against her, but how often does that happen in tennis anyways? Azarenka actually (shocker) looked consistently good, something she's never been known for on the pro circuit. Blood-and-Guts Shahar Peer was also impressive, and I think that r16 match against Vaidisova can be a turning point. It may not seem impressive to be out-choked, but it's important that she managed to hold it together. Not everyone can do that. She'll be top 10 eventually, and didn't even have a great clay season this year, just a solid one. Paszek would probably be top 20 if there weren't age restrictions. She may get there anyway.


OKAY, so I need to pay more attention to the Venus-Henin match, but I'll try and get back on here sometime before I go back to work on Monday.

Peace and love from El Salvador, and happy tennis,

~Orion