Thursday, December 8, 2016

WTA Year End Rankings Notes

I went through the final WTA rankings this week in order to compile my 2016 year end Top 10 by birth year page (which you can now find at right) and had a few notes worth mentioning.

I'd also like to give a big shout out to Todd Spiker and his extensive post on the subject.  Find him @TheBackspinner on Twitter.

I believe this was the first I waited a whole year to compile the Birth Year Top 10 rankings so it resulted in some drastic differences in ranking but also serves a good comparison since we're comparing apples to apples when comes to contrasting the 2016 year end rankings with the 2015 year end rankings.  So I thought I'd post about.

Players born in 1987 (formerly led by Sharapova) have long dominated the tour as a group, at times boasting ten players in the top 40, but they fell off a cliff last year.  In addition to Sharapova's suspension, Petkovic, Safarova, Errani, and Ivanovic all suffered through injury or just flat out bad play.  So much so that the 1987 no. 1 is Yaroslava Shvedova (37) followed closely by Niculescu (38). Maybe they'll rebound next year but likely not, given that they'll all be turning 30.

Players born in 1992 were formerly a blemish among the younger set on the WTA, having been passed by many players a year or two younger, but they enjoyed a nice step up last year, led by the surge of Karolina Pliskova into the top 10.  Her twin Kristyna also drastically improved her ranking and there were also good stories from Golubic and Rogers, besides former 1992 no. 1 McHale getting back into the top 50 and improving her ranking by 20 spots.

Players born in 1997 seemed to have moved past those born in 1996 with the quintet of Kasatkina, Bencic, Ostapenko, Konjuh, and Osaka all ranked ahead of the 1996 no. 1 Siniakova, and there are just 4 players born in '96 in the top 100 (also Chirico, Dodin, and Vekic).

Catherine Bellis has been the 1999 no. 1 for a couple years but she now outranked everyone born in 1998 (led by #138 Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)) and if she were 4 years older would behind only 2 players born in 1995 (Keys and Putintseva).

Here's a list of years where the top spot has changed hands (year end 2015 to year end 2016):
1982 - Lucic-Baroni replaces the retired Pennetta
1985 - Kuznetsova (at #9) replaces the slumping Jankovic
1986 - Wimbledon SFist Vesnina inches past Strycova
1987 - as mentioned, Shvedova has passed Sharapova among others
1997 - Kasatkina has taken advantage of Bencic's injuries
1998 - the leader is the aforementioned Sabalenka, and last year's no. 1 Fridman is longer in the top 10 of this year
2000 - young Canadian Bianca Andreescu is now the trend setter no. 300, taking over for American Claire Liu
2001 - this very young group is led by no. 723 Maja Chwalinska (POL)

And finally, since I know you were all dying to know, here's the current top 100 by birth year.

1980
17-Venus Williams (USA)

1981
2-Serena Williams (USA)

1982
81-Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO)

1983
18-Roberta Vinci (ITA)

1984
21-Samantha Stosur (AUS)

1985
9-Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
54-Jelena Jankovic (SRB)

1986
16-Elena Vesnina (RUS)
20-Barbora Strycova (CZE)
65-Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
69-Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)
70-Pauline Parmentier (FRA)
84-Shuai Peng (CHN)
89-Varvara Lepchenko (USA)

1987
37-Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ)
38-Monica Niculescu (ROU)
49-Sara Errani (ITA)
55-Andrea Petkovic (GER)
62-Lucie Safarova (CZE)
63-Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
64-Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)

1988
1-Angelique Kerber (GER)
12-Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP)
30-Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)
31-Laura Siegemund (GER)
50-Johanna Larsson (SWE)
53-Julia Goerges (GER)

1989
3-Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
5-Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
13-Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
15-Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
23-Shuai Zhang (CHN)
57-Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)
58-Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
77-Cagla Buyukakcay (TUR)
79-Vania King (USA)
86-Evgeniya Rodina (RUS)
92-Sabine Lisicki (GER)

1990
11-Petra Kvitova (CZE)
19-Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
29-Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU)
34-Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)
39-Alison Riske (USA)
41-Alize Cornet (FRA)
73-Madison Brengle (USA)
80-Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
82-Kristina Kucova (SVK)
90-Naomi Broady (GBR)
98-Irina Falconi (USA)

1991
4-Simona Halep (ROU)
10-Johanna Konta (GBR)
22-Kiki Bertens (NED)
27-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
36-Coco Vandeweghe (USA)
40-Misaki Doi (JPN)
78-Kurumi Nara (JPN)
83-Camila Giorgi (ITA)

1992
6-Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
45-Christina McHale (USA)
56-Viktorija Golubic (SUI)
59-Shelby Rogers (USA)
60-Kristyna Pliskova (CZE)
66-Lara Arruabarrena (ESP)
72-Qiang Wang (CHN)
76-Heather Watson (GBR)
95-Magda Linette (POL)

1993
7-Garbine Muguruza (ESP)
24-Caroline Garcia (FRA)
28-Timea Babos (HUN)
32-Monica Puig (PUR)
35-Sloane Stephens (USA)
42-Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)
61-Lauren Davis (USA)
88-Nicole Gibbs (USA)
91-Denisa Allertova (CZE)
99-Jana Cepelova (SVK)

1994
14-Elina Svitolina (UKR)
25-Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
46-Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
51-Annika Beck (GER)
67-Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER)
71-Danka Kovinic (MNE)
85-Saisai Zheng (CHN)
94-Nao Hibino (JPN)
96-Risa Ozaki (JPN)

1995
8-Madison Keys (USA)
33-Yuliya Putintseva (KAZ)
87-Carina Witthoeft (GER)
93-Irina Khromacheva (RUS)
97-Maria Sakkari (GRE)

1996
52-Katerina Siniakova (CZE)
68-Louisa Chirico (USA)
74-Oceane Dodin (FRA)
100-Donna Vekic (CRO)

1997
26-Daria Kasatkina (RUS)
43-Belinda Bencic (SUI)
44-Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
47-Ana Konjuh (CRO)
48-Naomi Osaka (JPN)

1998
75-Catherine Bellis (USA)


Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Davis Cup Semis/Playoffs Preview

The 2016 Davis Cup semifinals will be contested this weekend in Glasgow, Great Britain and Zadar, Croatia.  There's also the 8 World Group playoff ties to be played on 4 continents.  Here's my thoughts:

Semifinals

Argentina at Great Britain: An inform Del Potro is back in the fold for the Argentines against the defending champion Brits, who now have some depth behind Murray with the play of Edmund and Evans recently.  It's an uphill battle for Argentina battle with Delbonis and Pella not quite in the form of earlier this year.  I feel like they could get a tremendous tie from Del Potro and still lose with the Murray brothers in doubles.  And with Del Potro playing no. 2 singles it's certainly not a given that they'll win a point on day 1.  I think Argentina gets a point somewhere whether a heroic effort or Pella beating Edmund, but they'll need to 2 in the first 2 todays to prevent Murray from clinching vs Pella or Delbonis (or even Mayer).  GBR 3 ARG 1

France at Croatia: France doesn't have Monfils or Tsonga available but they still can field a strong team with Gasquet and Pouille, not to mention the world's top doubles team of Herbert/Mahut.  Cilic was brought down to earth by Sock at the Open and Coric has only been so-so recently.  I'm not sure if Gasquet will be much good but we have two very intriguing first day matches.  If those are split, France should win the doubles and then all they need is a Pouille win on Sunday to seal the deal.  That's what I'm going with but there all several permutations of this tie and every rubber but the doubles is at least somewhat up in the air.  FRA 3 CRO 2

World Group Playoffs

Switzerland at Uzbekistan: The Swiss are not without Federer and Wawrinka but also the experience Chiudinelli, leaving an improved Laaksonen and some guy named Bellier to take on Istomin and Dustov.  I can't believe Istomin will let this opportunity slip, especially at home.  He'll win all 3 points, as per usual in Asian group ties, and the Uzbeks will make their World Group debut next year.  UZB 3 SUI 1 

Brazil at Belgium: Last year's finalists are the verge of being relegated the following year, and they could upset year.  Goffin hasn't been great recently and Brazil has the solid doubles tandem of Melo/Soares plus the rising Monteiro to compliment Bellucci.  I think Brazil extends this to a live 5th rubber with wins by Bellucci and the doubles, but the veteran Darcis rescues the hosts by defeating Monteiro in a live 5th rubber.  BEL 3 BRA 2

Slovakia at Australia: The Aussies have way too much firepower for the Slovaks, especially at home on their beloved grass.  They'd be favorites even without Kyrgios and Tomic against Kovalik and Martin, who have had decent years.  But this tie could turn into a rout very quickly.  AUS 3 SVK 0

Chile at Canada: This tie does not feature a top 100 with Raonic's absence and Pospisil falling in the rankings, but the Canadians should be able to handle the Chileans.  Dancevic often shows up well in Davis Cup, and the tie won't be played on clay, where Jarry and Garin would certainly want it to be.  With Nestor not playing either, there's a chance the teen sensation Shapovalov gets some action, at least in a dead rubber.  I think Chile may find a way to win a rubber but certainly not the tie.  CAN 3 CHI 1

Kazakhstan at Russia: This has the potential to be one of the better ties of the eight playoffs, especially since the Kazakhs generally punch above their level in Davis Cup.  Kuznetsov has had a nice year for the Russians and he's joining by Donskoy, Kravchuk, and Rublev to battle Kukushkin, Nedovyesov, and Golubev.  Kukushkin has been great in Davis Cup and will certainly have a chance in his singles matches.  Russia also occasionally flounders at home, so I'm going to pick an upset here.  Kazakhstan is too good in this competition and Russia's team doesn't inspire lots of confidence.  KAZ 3 RUS 1

Spain at India: At least the Indian tennis fans will get to see Nadal and Ferrer perform their craft.  What a bum draw for India, who finally has some singles players who inspire a modicum of hope, Ramanathan made the quarters in Chennai and Myneni qualified for the Open, but they have no chance against the Spanish.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say Paes and whoever manages to beat the Lopez/Lopez doubles team, but that's certainly not a given.P  ESP 3 IND 1

Poland at Germany: What on earth happened to Janowicz? Well, it doesn't matter, because he's not even here.  Two guys I don't know (Majchrzak and Hurkacz) will play singles for Poland against not a great German team with Mayer and Struff, but they should be plenty good to win their singles matches.  I'll give the doubles to Kubot/Matkowski though.  GER 3 POL 1

Ukraine at Japan: Dolgopolov is not here, and Nishikori and Stakhovsky have not been nominated on day 1, which means the in form Marchenko is the highest ranked singles player.  Japan has nominated able singles players in Daniel and Nishioka while Ukraine's second is Smirnov.  There's a scenario for Ukraine Marchenko wins on day 1 and steals the doubles with Stakhovsky playing, the Stakhovsky manages to beat Nishioka in a live 5th rubber after Nishikori extends the tie, but I'm not going to pick that.  JPN 3 UKR 1

Zone Group I Relegation Ties

Colombia at Dominican Republic (loser plays Barbados in relegation tie): Hardly any of the players here have had great years (Giraldo, Gonzalez, Estrella Burgos) and there's no Cabal to team with Farah to tip the Colombians in the doubles.  This tie has live 5th rubber written all over and going to go with the home team and Hernandez-Fernandez upsetting Gonzalez to win the tie.

Pakistan at New Zealand (loser relegated): Pakistan playing without Qureshi and are already down 1-0, so going with the Kiwis here.

Slovenia at Portugal (loser relegated): Slovenia has only one player ranked in the top 750 (Zemlya #158) and the top 100 Portuguese in Sousa and Elias. This should be a fairly straightforward affair.

Netherlands at Sweden (loser plays Israel in relegation tie): The Ymer brothers are slated to take on Haase and de Bakker with Rojer looming in the doubles.  A few years from now maybe the Ymers can make this competitive, but I don't think that time is now.  The Swedes haven't even put their best foot forward in the doubles this time.  NED 3 SWE 0

Zonal Group II Promotion Ties

Venezuela at Peru

Taiwan at Thailand

Bosnia & Herzegovina at Lithuania - No Berankis so Dzumhur and Basic should roll.

Enjoy!

Denmark at Belarus

Friday, August 26, 2016

2016 US Open Preview

After a great Olympic tournament, we prepare for the final major of 2016.  Djokovic and Serena are still no. 1, and probably still the favorites, but with the top women playing well and some of the younger men showing good signs, we may be in for a great tournament.

Women

All year long I've been complaining about the lack of consistency from the top women and how almost anyone in the top 10 could lose to anyone (really, anyone) on any given day.  But now women like Kerber, Halep, and Muguruza have put together nice summers and I'm optimistic we'll have a good number of the top seeds around in the second week.  Serena has to still be considered the favorite but there are plenty of chinks in her armor and she'll have to hit the ground running with Makarova in round 1.  If she's not 100% healthy or 100% on her game, she'll be vulnerable to the other members of the top 5, assuming she makes it that deep in the tournament.

Kerber has been on fire since the tournament moved off of clay but came up one win short at Wimbledon, the Olympics, and Cincinnati.  But it's to see her not reaching the semis especially with Vinci the next highest seed in her quarter.  Halep and Muguruza have both played well in stretches, and Radwanska is still in the New Haven draw, losing only 2 games to Olympic bronze medalist Kvitova.  The Czech seems to have righted the ship and could be a threat.  There's also women like Keys and Kuznetsova, who could get hot and make a run (it's got to coming sooner or later for Keys, who has made finals in Rome and Montreal this year, plus 4th place at the Olympics).  There's just a lot of names to throw in the hat this tournament, and I'm hoping that means high quality quarters, semis, and of course the final.  I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Kerber to win this title, possibly over Serena, and claim the no. 1 ranking, leaving Serena tied with Graf (but Serena will get no. 1 back later this year since she's not defending any points).

There are 22 Americans in the draw, 17% of the field, including 4 seeds in the Williams sisters, Keys, and Vandeweghe, and qualifiers Pegula, Townsend, and Bellis (remember her).  With the sheer volume of players, there are bound to be several reaching the 3rd and 4th rounds, and there's a few teens in the group looking to break out.  But there Americans also have strength at the top with 3 top 8 seeds.  This could be a good tournament for the local interest as well.

Potential quarterfinals:
Serena vs Halep
Radwanska vs Venus
Muguruza vs Keys
Kerber vs Vinci

Men

Djokovic or Murray, Murray or Djokovic, who will it be?  Or could it possibly be someone different? Just like with Serena, there have been a few chinks in the Djokovic armor this summer.  First the loss to Querrey at Wimbledon and then the first round exit to Del Potro at the Olympics.  Can he get to Murray in the final, and then beat him?  I'm pessimistic about his chances but he's proven me wrong before.  He could play the in form Cilic in the quarters, who just beat Murray in Cincinnati.  Murray is on fire, save the loss to Cilic, and has the easier half.  I'm going to pick him to win title, based on his form, and Djokovic being ever so slightly down.

Can anyone spoil a Djokovic-Murray final?  Cilic can, he's won this tournament before and as I mentioned, just beat Murray.  That would be a really quarterfinal vs Djokovic.  Raonic seems to flying under the radar this year despite playing in the Wimbledon final but he's a threat.  I don't think Nadal is much of a threat.  If he's able to win his first match or two, I think he can reach the quarters, but there's not much in his recent past that would suggest he's back to being able to compete against the very best -- he lost to Del Potro and Nishikori at the Olympics.  I think Wawrinka is ripe to upset and has not been very consistent this year.  The men in the top 10 seem to be on shakier ground than the women in this tournament, and this could lead a breakthrough by some of the younger names, especially Kyrgios and Zverev, who are near Wawrinka.  Del Potro showed good form in the Olympics, but I wonder how he'll hold up in best of 5.  I feel like there could be some surprises this year, so we'll see what happens.

There are 17 American men in the draw, but seems more like just depth than good depth.  Despite all the US Big 4 (Isner, Johnson, Querrey, Sock) being seeded, none are top 16 seed, meaning it will be a little tougher to go deep.  In addition, Sock and Fritz meet in the first round.  There are 3 qualifiers, Donaldson and the Harrison brothers.  I'm only expecting a few to reach the 3rd round, and I'll be pleasantly surprised if anyone makes the second week, although Isner has a draw to work with Gasquet as a potential 3rd round opponent.

Potential quarterfinals:
Djokovic vs Cilic
Nadal vs Raonic
Wawrinka vs Thiem
Murray vs Nishikori

2016 Results

Pennetta def. Vinci (remember that?)
SF - Serena, Halep
QF - Venus, Azarenka, Kvitova, Mladenovic

Djokovic def. Federer
SF - Wawrinka, Cilic
QF - Tsonga, Gasquet, Lopez, Anderson

Former champions in the draw:
-Serena, Venus, Kuznetsova, Stosur
-Del Potro, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Cilic (just realized the US Open has produced 6 different champions the last 8 years)

Former junior champions in the draw:
-Lucic-Baroni (20 yrs ago), Flipkens, Pavlyuchenkova, Kucova, Vandeweghe, Watson, Gavrilova, Crawford, Konjuh
-Muller, Gasquet, Tsonga, Murray, Berankis, Dimitrov, Tomic, Sock, Coric, Fritz (last year's winner)

Enjoy the tennis!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Davis Cup Quarterfinals Preview

Another Davis Cup weekend is coming up, which seems a bit awkward in this, an Olympic year, as the competition now runs opposite tour events in Hamburg and Bastad besides the usual Newport.  Still, berths in the semis of the competition are on the line, as well as important ties in the zone groups.

World Group Quarterfinals

Great Britain at Serbia: The anticipated match between Djokovic and Murray won't take place, and it doesn't look like either player will be playing.  The host Serbs will also be without Troicki and so it will be Lajovic and Krajinovic to play Edmund and possibly Evans.  Edmund has had a nice year and Evans has been good in Davis Cup but Serbia is at home on clay, and their B-team usually plays pretty well in this competition.  They'll also field a decent doubles and while J.Murray is excellent, it is currently unclear who he'll play with.  I think Lajovic is ready to be a hero.  SRB 3 GBR 1

Argentina at Italy: Del Potro returns for the visitors alongside the rest of a team having good years in Delbonis, Pella, and Monaco, and the match will be played on clay.  Fognini, Seppi, and Lorenzi should be ready to go at home but Fognini hasn't been too good recently.  It's unclear exactly who win be playing for Italy, but given the recent from of Del Potro, I'm picking them to advance.  Italy can be tough to beat at home (ask A.Murray) but I think Argentina's depth will prevail on clay, possibly in a live 5th rubber.  ARG 3 ITA 2 

France at Czech Republic: France enjoyed an excellent Wimbledon and their two singles stars Tsonga and Pouille will be joined by doubles champs Herbert/Mahut to take on a Czech team without Berdych.  Vesely, Rosol, and Stepanek have been pretty good recently too but I think France is going to have way to much firepower.  There might be a lot of tiebreaks on this indoor hard court, and I think the Czechs will steal a rubber somewhere but winning 3 will be next to impossible.  FRA 3 CZE 1

Croatia at United States: The US hasn't played well against World Group competition at home recently, Cilic is coming off a great Wimbledon run, and neither Isner nor Sock have been playing great recently.  This tie could go either way and could hinge on the play of Coric.  If the US can be ahead 2-1 after the doubles, I think they can pull it off but they really need an Isner win on day 1, which isn't a given (see Ward in Glasgow).  I'm not very confident with this pick, but I think Nebraska's own Jack Sock will win a live 5th rubber over Coric (or Dodig) to send the US to the semis.  USA 3 CRO 2

Europe/Africa Zonal Group I
Winners to playoffs

Spain at Romania: This match will be on a hard court in Romania but Bautista Agut and Lopez should be up to the challenge as Spain sends some guys who play on hards.  Romania doesn't have anyone ranked inside the top 150.  ESP 3 ROU 1

Austria at Ukraine: Thiem and Dolgopolov are both skipping this tie.  Ukraine is at home and has much better depth with Stakhovsky and Marchenko.  They should be able to cruise.  UKR 3 AUT 0

Netherlands at Russia: Many of the top Russians not in action so it's Gabashvili, Kravchuk, Rublev, and Karatsev vs Haase and de Bakker.  This could be an interesting tie with several experienced players on both sides and the wildcard in Rublev.  I think Russia finds a way to get this done at home, but really this is tough to predict.  RUS 3 NED 2

Hungary at Slovakia: Hungary has played well is Davis Cup the last couple years but Slovakia may be asking a little much.  Klizan isn't playing though so it may be possible for Fucsovics and Nagy to upset Martin, Kovalik (who's had a couple ATP wins this year), and Gombos.  But I don't think it will happen.  SVK 3 HUN 1

Americas Zonal Group I
Winners to playoffs

Ecuador at Brazil: Stranger things have happened but Brazil has Bellucci and a world class doubles team.  Ecuador has no one in the top 300.  BRA 3 ECU 0

Colombia at Chile: Chile has had a lot of young talent recently but not much success on the ATP.  This is a chance for them at home with no Falla for Colombia and Gonzalez in the second singles.  But Giraldo should be ready and Cabal/Farah are good in doubles.  COL 3 CHI 1

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group I
Winners to playoffs

South Korea at India: H.Chung is not playing for the Koreans so with Myneni, Ramanathan, and Bopanna/Paes, India shouldn't have much difficulty at home against a Korean team with no one in the top 400.  IND 3 KOR 1

China at Uzbekistan: China might be able to put up a little bit of a fight here as Wu and Zhang are ranked in the top 200, but Istomin is usually good for his 3 points and Dustov is an able second singles player at this level.  UZB 3 CHN 1

Europe/Africa Zonal Group II
Promotion semis:

South Africa at Lithuania - no Berankis
Turkey at Bosnia & Herzegovina - Dzumhur a top 100 player
Latvia at Belarus - no Gulbis
Finland at Denmark - Nieminen scheduled to postpone retirement again

Relegation ties (losers to Group III):

Norway at Luxembourg - no Muller
Bulgaria at Tunisia - no Dimitrov, but Jaziri is here (ranked 58)
Egypt at Monaco - this might finally be the time Monaco's Group II stay ends
Zimbabwe at Georgia

Americas Zonal Group II
Promotion semis: 

Mexico at Peru
Venezuela at El Salvador

Relegation ties (losers to Group III):

Uruguay at Guatemala - no P.Cuevas
Puerto Rico at Paraguay

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group II
Promotion semis:

Taiwan at Philippines - no Lu or Wang as usual, but Taiwan still heavy favorites
Vietnam at Thailand

Relegation ties (losers to Group III):

Malaysia at Kuwait
Sri Lanka at Indonesia

Africa Zonal Group III

Pool A: Cameroon, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria
Pool B: Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar

Morocco, Namibia, and host Madagascar still undefeated after 2 or 3 ties, Nambia at 2-1

Americas Zonal Group III

Pool A: Bolivia, Cuba, Jamaica, Panama
Pool B: Bahamas, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Honduras, Trinidad & Tobago

Bolivia and Jamaica have clinched the top spots in Pool A, Bahamas (3-0) and Honduras (2-1) looking good in Pool B but Costa Rica (1-1) still alive

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group III

Pool A: Hong Kong, Iran, Pacific Oceania, Turkmenistan
Pool B: Cambodia, Lebanon, Qatar, Singapore, Syria

Host Iran, Syria, and Qatar still unbeaten after 2 rubbers each

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group IV

Pool A: Myanmar, Omar, Saudi Arabia, UAE
Pool B: Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Mongolia, Tajikistan

UAE, Jordan, and Iraq all still undefeated.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you made it all the way to the end.  I think these lower zones are intriguing, even if none of the players are ranked.  It's good to see them competing and tennis being promoted in these countries.  Have a great weekend and enjoy the Davis Cup!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Wimbledon 2016 Preview

Wimbledon is right around the corner and while both brackets have their definite favorites, there is plenty of room for grass court specialists and other hot players to pull some upsets and go very deep in this tournament as the second tier of players look very vulnerable.

Men

Only 3 men have contested the final the past 3 years, and they are the top 3 seeds this year.  One of those men, Federer, has been injured much of the year and was beaten on grass this year by Thiem and Zverev, so I would be surprised to seem him seriously contend for the title, although it wouldn't be a shock to see him reach the semis.

The other two, Djokovic and Murray, have contested the past two major finals, with Djokovic winning both, completing the Career Grand Slam in the process, bagging his 12th major altogether, and by the way, he now holds all 4 titles, in case you haven't heard.  I feel like Djokovic may be in for a minor letdown after all that he accomplished at Roland Garros and Murray goes deep at Wimbledon every year.  I feel like a Djokovic/Murray is almost a given, and despite Murray's struggles recently against Djokovic, he did beat the Serb to win both his majors, and he has Lendl is his corner again.  I certainly wouldn't be shocked for Djokovic to his 5th Wimbledon and 5th straight major, but I think Murray will pull it out this year for his home fans, against a slightly less motivated Djokovic.

That really leaves this discussion to the merits of any potential semifinalists.  Federer got a nice draw and it's certainly conceivable he'll advance to play Djokovic, but at this point no one would be surprised to him lose to say Monfils in the 4th round.  The Wawrinka quarter is wide open especially because it has Thiem at the top, but also Berdych, who seems to have avoided news this entire year, Zverev, and Tomic, who been to the quarters here before, albeit 5 years ago.  There's plenty more questions than answers regarding other high seeds Gasquet (at 7?), Nishikori, and even Raonic, so there's opportunity for other players to reach the quarters.  Kyrgios is unfortunate to have been drawn near Murray.  Cilic, Karlovic, Anderson, and Goffin are among those who I feel have a good shot at a quarterfinal.

I feel like this is setting up to be a real disappointment for Americans.  Isner had a poor grass season although he did reach the 4th round in Paris, Querrey is in decent form but near Djokovic, and Sock has been underwhelming.  Johnson has a nice draw with Jaziri but then possibly Monfils, and you wonder if he'll be tired after his exploits in Nottingham.  Fritz has drawn Wawrinka in round 1.

Women

50 weeks ago Serena had won Wimbledon and held all four majors.  Now she is a loss this fortnight away from holding none.  Can she hold it together at the end at this tournament and with the job?  Again, the volatility among the other top players benefits her, but she's ran into in form Kerber and Muguruza in Australia and France and lost. That could be the case again.  However, I do think she'll find a way to get it done this time and tie Graf's record.

Again, the other top women have their issues and few can relied upon to absolutely go deep.  Muguruza made the final last year but just won Roland Garros so her mind will likely be elsewhere.  She just lost in the first round in Mallorca.  Azarenka has pulled out, Radwanska has been up and down this grass court season, Kvitova has not been good this year, Kerber is maybe a contender?  My commentary would be similar for almost any woman in the top 25.  In case you're wondering, the grass court winners this year have been Keys, Pliskova, Garcia, and Vandeweghe.  Maybe that's where you look to find some quarterfinalists?  Certainly possible, especially for the 2 American women as they were both in the quarters last year and both have decent draws (Vinci and Halep nearby).  Now we're forgetting about a certain 5-time champion, and Venus has a nice draw as well (unless the Kasatkina we saw in the spring reemerges) and some are predicting a sisters final.  I think it's possible but just when you think Venus will do something she goes out meekly in round 1 or 2.

This could be another crazy tournament for the women but a fun one, as there are so many middling players who can catch fire and beat someone.  And for an American fan, I think it's very possible to see 4 Americans in the quarters.  There will certainly be some breakthroughs as there are 18 Yanks in the draw including qualifier Boserup, making her slam debut at age 24, and Duval after battling back from cancer.  One first round match to watch is grass courter Riske against out of form Vinci.

2015 Results

Djokovic def. Federer
SF - Murray, Gasquet
QF - Wawrinka, Cilic, Simon, Pospisil

Serena def. Muguruza
SF - Sharapova, Radwanska
QF - Azarenka (w/d), Keys, Bacsinszky, Vandeweghe

Former champions in the draw:
-Federer, Djokovic, Murray
-Venus, Serena, Kvitova

Former junior champions in the draw:
-Federer, Mahut, Monfils, Chardy, Young, Dimitrov, Kuznetsov, Saville
-Flipkens, Bondarenko, A.Radwanska, Wozniacki, Robson, Kr.Pliskova, Bouchard, Bencic, Ostapenko

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Roland Garros Preview 2016

I admit this post comes a little late, but with the limited action today due to weather (only 10 matches completed) and no seeds out, it is still appropriate.

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams enter this edition of Roland Garros with the "favorite" tag applied, and rightfully so.  When they are on their game, it is extreme difficult, if not impossible, for them to be beaten.

Men

As has often been the case in the past few years, there are few men who have a legitimate chance at winning this tournament.  But Marin Cilic did break through to win the '14 US Open, so I suppose there is some small chance for "the field".  I feel like there are only 3 men who can win Roland Garros this year: Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal.  Maybe I am selling Wawrinka short, but despite winning 3 titles this year, he has flopped at the biggest events, so I would be surprised to see him in the final, if he can even get to the semis.

Djokovic would be the overwhelming favorite were it not 3 things: his Monte Carlo loss to Vesely, his Rome loss to Murray, and the play of Nadal at both Monte Carlo and Barcelona as well as his tight loss to Djokovic in Rome.  Djokovic is still the favorite, of course, but one can see him losing to Nadal or Murray, at this tournament which he's never won.

It's debatable whether Murray or Nadal is the second favorite, both with Nadal being drawn into Djokovic's half, there's a decent chance Djokovic will have to go through both to win his first French Open.  Murray probably has the slight advantage that he will (likely) get to play Djokovic after the world no. 1 first battles Nadal.  As we saw in Rome, Djokovic can be vulnerable to fatigue.  However, if Nadal were able to beat Djokovic, I think the Spaniard would prevail in the final.

All of this assumes that all three of these men will be waiting for one another in the later rounds, but there's little reason to suspect that won't be the case.  Nishikori has had a very nice clay season but hasn't beaten the top players.  I won't completely count out Wawrinka, but a run to the final Sunday would be surprising to me.  The second tier of men's tennis (I'm talking primarily about Berdych, Ferrer, and Tsonga) after so much consistency the past few years behind the Big Four, has really dropped off this year and I expect most of them may fail to defend their seeds and reach the QF.  Therefore, my dark horses of this tournament are those guys that have played well this year, and mostly a younger set: Kyrgios, Thiem, and Goffin.  I'm expecting one of those guys to have a breakout slam, although Thiem has been drawn near Nadal.  Interestingly, none of that trio has been drawn into Wawrinka's quarter, which along with providing some optimism for Stan, provides a large opportunity for someone.  Can Raonic (who has quietly had a nice year), Cilic, or Sock take advantage?

I actually think this is the year Djokovic finally puts it all together and completes his career grand slam.

Women

This is such a wide, wide open tournament for the women.  There's probably 20 women you wouldn't be surprised to see in the semis, but any of those same women losing in the first round wouldn't be a big shocker either.  While Serena is the favorite, at enters the tournament after winning in Rome, she's as beatable as she has been is years, and clay is in theory her worst surface.  I doubt she'll lose early this year, but there are plenty of women who could beat her in the later stages.  It will depend how she's playing at the time.  She lost 5 sets en route to the title last year but I'm not sure if that means she's due to lose or she knows how to overcome adversity and will do it again.

Beyond Serena, there are few top players who can be counted on to defend their seed.  I do think Halep, after her Madrid title, is due for a deep run here.  Kerber, the winner at Stuttgart (and of course the Australian Open) should be able to go deep but has a tricky first rounder against the in form Bertens, who won a title yesterday.  Beyond those three, the top 10 is full of question marks.

Radwanska, Azarenka, and Kvitova have been plagued by injuries or poor play, Muruguza had a good run in Rome but has been otherwise inconsistent...and the list goes on.  Let's focus on those lower ranked players who could make a nice run.  Cibulkova has been very good the past few weeks, losing to Halep in the Rome final after beating Radwanska and others.  Kuznetsova has been in good form recently and usually always plays well in Paris.  Safarova seems to have put it back together in time to defend her finalist points.  And if you're looking for a dark horse in the weak Muguruza/Kvitova quarter, look at 25th seed Begu, who is the only woman to reach the quarters in both Madrid and Rome, although I wonder if that means she'll be fatigued.  There's a Bacsinszky, Keys, and Kasatkina in varying degrees of good form recently.

I have no idea what's going to happen in this women's draw, but it should be fun to sit back and watch.  Maybe someone new will be holding up a trophy at the end.  For what it's worth, my personal pick was Halep over Cibulkova in the final.

2015 Results

Wawrinka def. Djokovic
SF - Murray, Tsonga
QF - Federer (w/d), Nadal, Ferrer, Nishikori

Serena def. Safarova
SF - Ivanovic (no way that's happening again), Bacsinszky
QF - Errani, Svitolina, Muguruza, van Uytvanck (w/d)

Former champions in the draw:
-Nadal, Wawrinka
-Serena, Ivanovic, Kuznetsova, Schiavone

Former junior champions in the draw:
-Mathieu, Gasquet, Wawrinka, Cilic, Klizan, Fratangelo (not much success on the ATP tour for recent junior Roland Garros champs)
-Dominguez Lino, Razzano, Radwanska, Cornet, Halep, Mladenovic, Svitolina, Beck, Kasatkina

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 Fed Cup Semis/Playoffs Preview

The weekend for the 2016 Fed Cup semis and playoffs is here, and the story is almost more about who isn't playing than who is, which is a shame.  I feel like this is a great week in the calendar for players to be able to fit this competition in with the tour transitioning from hard courts to clay and from the US to Europe.  Even stalwarts like Radwanska and Kvitova are sitting this one out.  But now, to focus on those who will don the national colors this weekend and what we might see.  And I think we still could a number of very competitive ties.

World Group Semifinals

Czech Republic at Switzerland: The Swiss are dealt a blow with Bencic being injured, and it is going to be tough against the Czech B-team (although Safarova is winless on the season after returning from injury).  Pliskova and Strycova are still good players, albeit without much Fed Cup singles experience, and now it is Bacsinszky and likely Golubic to play singles.  It's hard to see a way the Swiss to find their way to the deciding doubles and Hingis, and the Czechs as usual will field a good doubles team (Hradecka/Strycova ?) if there.  They'll likely need Bacsinszky to win twice, and while possible, is not likely.  CZE 3 SUI 1

France at Netherlands: The Dutch knocked mighty Russia earlier, and at what point to stop doubting them.  At least they have a top 100 player now (Bertens - 96), but France is arguably a better team than Russia without Sharapova.  Mladenovic, Garcia, and Cornet should be too much for Bertens and Hogenkamp, but we were even saying that about Dutch opponents in zone play.  That French can be flaky too (especially this season) so I'm not counting the Dutch out.  I'm not so sure they won't push it to the doubles, but Mladenovic will be waiting there.  FRA 3 NED 2

World Group I Playoffs

United States at Australia: This will be a very interesting tie as a very out-of-form Keys and an in-form Vandeweghe lead the US into Australia on clay against a capable Stosur and Gavrilova.  The US probably needs Keys to pull it together and one, maybe two matches, and if I was captain I would consider McHale or Mattek-Sands on day 1.  Every one of these matches is going to be difficult to predict and that goes for doubles too with Dellacqua/Stosur vs Mattek-Sands/whoever.  Stosur isn't always at her best in Australia, but this will be on clay and I don't have much confidence in the American team.  AUS 3 USA 1

Belarus at Russia: Here's a classic one-player team versus deep team as Azarenka takes on the young Russians Kasatkina, Gasparyan, and Kulichkova anchored by a very much in form veteran Vesnina.  Azarenka is probably going to need some help from Govortsova or Sasnovich because Vesnina is going to tough to beat in doubles (and maybe singles too), and she's been playing with Kasatkina most of the year.  There could be some high quality matches here given the form of Azarenka, Kasatkina, and Vesnina, but I don't see how Belarus wins a rubber outside of Azarenka's singles.  I think it's more likely Azarenka loses a singles match (see hasn't played on clay yet) than Govortsova, Sasnovich, or the doubles team wins one.  RUS 3 BLR 2

Germany at Romania: We'll look forward to Kerber/Halep clash on day 2 and both teams have good supporting players as well with Lisicki, Beck, and Goerges for Germany and Niculescu, Begu, and Dulgheru for Romania.  It's a big home court advantage for Romania, and they've picked clay, the favorite surface of Halep.  Kerber might be banged up after withdrawing from Charleston so I like Romania.  Petkovic is not in great form and I doubt the Germans will throw Beck out there.  Begu and Niculescu have performed admirably in Fed Cup, with or without Halep.  ROU 3 GER 1

Italy at Spain: Yet another solid tie, without Muguruza and Suarez Navarro both playing for Spain and Errani and Vinci present for Italy.  Those four could comprise the players in all 5 rubbers, and again it's anyone's guess as to who wins each match.  Spain is at home on clay, which is typically a good sign for both Davis and Fed Cup teams but Italy is perhaps equally adept on the surface.  None of these players are really in all that great of form but I'm going with Italy simply based on their experience in the competition and the fact that their defensive skills may be able to neutralize Muguruza's power, especially on clay.  But really, I've got no idea here.  ITA 3 ESP 1

World Group II Playoffs

Taiwan at Poland: This was set to be a fairly straightforward rout until Radwanska pulled out.  It still could be, since in Taiwan's first playoff appearance since '07 their singles players are ranked 186 and 355 (no Hsieh).  But Poland looks like their having trouble filling their roster as it is now Kania and no. 263 Katerzyna Kawa as their highest ranked players.  I still think Poland should pull it out but I'm not very familiar with these players, so who knows?  POL 3 TPE 1

Belgium at Serbia: Jankovic recently pulled out so now Serbia is without a top 100 player to take on Wickmayer and an in-form Flipkens.  Krunic has been good in Fed Cup in the past but she may be required to beat both Belgians to keep the tie live to the doubles, where anything can happen.  I'll give her one win, but not two.  BEL 3 SRB 1

Argentina at Ukraine: Rather than play for her country, Svitolina was busy losing in the first round of Bogota.  But Ukraine still has Tsurenko and Bondarenko against an Argentine side without anyone ranked in the top 200 (Irigoyen and Podoroska, who were very good in zonal competition).  I guess you given the visitors a pat on the back and say congratulations for getting here (where are Ormaechea and Dulko when you need them?).  UKR 3 ARG 0

Canada at Slovakia: And yet another team not fielding a top 200 player is Canada, and they'll be going up against two top 40 players, one of which (Cibulkova) is underranked after an injury year last year.  But Schmiedlova has been awful this year so Canada has a shot and beating her with Abanda, Fichman, or Wozniak, but then again, the Slovaks could go to Cepelova and probably be ok.  At any rate, Cibulkova should be able to prevent to hosts from dropping into zonal play.  SVK 3 CAN 1

Lower Levels

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group II: Philippines plays Singapore for the one promotion to Group I after Singapore upset seeded Indonesia and last year's Group I relegated team Hong Kong to advance out of their pool.

Europe/Africa Zonal Group II: Still one day of pool play left, but Denmark (without Wozniacki) has clinched one pool with Lithuania and Finland to play for 2nd.  The other pool (Bosnia: 2-0, Austria/Liechtenstein: 1-1, Egypt: 0-2) is still up in the air.

Europe/Africa Zonal Group III: 17 countries competed at this level, and the promotion ties are Saturday.  Luxembourg somehow emerged from a pool that included Greece (Sakkari) and Tunisia (Jabeur) and will play Moldova, which emerged from a wild final day that nearly saw "tennis powerhouses" Cyprus and Madagascar advance.  Norway has clinched another pool, beating Montenegro with Kovinic (8-6 in 3rd set TB in doubles), and they will play Macedonia.

Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

2016 Davis Cup Week 1 Preview

The first weekend of Davis Cup for 2016 is here, later than the past few years.  And for some reason it seems a bit awkward in an Olympic.  But most of the top players are turning out for the countries this weekend, so an exciting weekend of tennis awaits.

World Group

Japan at Great Britain: Could this be a second successive year where the defending champions are knocked out on the opening weekend?  The burden will certainly be on (Andy) Murray to deliver.  And the doubles with his brother has turned out to be a strength for the Brits as well.  While it's feasible to see Nishikori upset Murray, I doubt Japan can win the doubles, and Edmund has improved enough to actually outrank the Japanese #2 Daniel.  GBR 3 JPN 1

Kazakhstan at Serbia: The Kazakhs have won at Czech Republic (with Berdych) along with several other upsets they've pulled.  (They've made the quarters the last 3 years and 4 of 5.)  But going against the world no. 1 is a different animal.  Troicki also outranks Kukushkin by more than 50 places, and Golubev is now outside the top 200.  They may pull an upset in one rubber but they're winning this tie.  SRB 3 KAZ 1

Switzerland at Italy: Fognini is skipping this tie but so are Federer and Wawrinka after their 2014 title so Italy with Seppi, Lorenzi, and Bolelli is heavy favorites against Chiudinelli and Laaksonen.  The "lesser" Swiss generally come to play in Davis Cup but Italy has too many weapons.  ITA 3 SUI 0

Argentina at Poland: Poland is making its World Group debut and with Janowicz, Kubot, and Matkowski will have a chance against Mayer, the in form Pella, and Berlocq.  But unless we see an improved Janowicz, I fear heartbreak for the hosting Poles.  Mayer can play on hards and Pella has had a good run (albeit on clay) in South America.  This might go 5, but I don't even recognize the Polish #2, who just 20 - Majchrzak. ARG 3 POL 2

Canada at France: France taking its tennis to the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe is pretty cool in my opinion, and the islanders will likely be impressed.  Roanic would have made this a competitive but he and Nestor have both pulled out.  The French Big 4 aren't in the greatest form but Tsonga, Gasquet, Simon, and Monfils should be able to breeze past Pospisil, Dancevic and company.  FRA 3 CAN 0

Czech Republic at Germany: Berdych and Stepanek are back on the Czech roster, which automatically gives them the doubles point, among other things.  Berdych may very well get all 3 points as I don't expect too much resistance from Kohlschreiber and Zverev or Brown.  The Czechs also have serviceable #2 singles from Vesely or Rosol, so I expect they'll prevail fairly easily.  CZE 3 GER 1

United States at Australia: This was set to be likely the most competitive tie until Kyrgios was forced to pull out, because let's face it, Isner and Sock would certainly rather play Groth.  Tomic might both his singles matches but the Bryans are likely going to win the doubles.  Isner played well in Australia prior to his disastrous experiment on South American clay, but I'm not so sure Sock was the pick here rather than the red hot Querrey.  That said, I do like Sock over Groth in a live 5th rubber and there's certainly the chance Isner beats Tomic.  USA 3 AUS 2

Croatia at Belgium: The Cilic Coric combination will be in action for the visiting Croats while Belgium has only one top 100 player in Goffin.  The doubles will be important and Croatia has Dodig to play.  I think Goffin may be able to get his two singles wins at home, but that may only set up Coric for Davis Cup glory over Coppejans or Bemelmans.  CRO 3 BEL 2

(It might be a bit optimistic to see 3 live 5th rubbers in these ties, and I've got the visitors winning all three.)

Europe/Africa Zonal Group I

Slovenia at Romania (winner plays Spain): No one ranked inside the top 150, I like Romania because they're at home and have a good doubles team (Mergea/Tecau)

Austria at Portugal (winner plays Ukraine): Portugal with an odd surface choice in indoor hard, but Thiem has recently won titles on clay and hard, so it may not matter.  The Portuguese will likely need to work around him to win this tie, but Peya in the mix for Austrian doubles, Sousa and the in form Elias have an uphill fight.

Sweden at Russia (winner plays Netherlands): The Ymer brothers are not playing so there are no Swedes in the top 600, meaning they're heavy underdogs (except for doubles) versus Gabashvili and the in form Kuznetsov.

Israel at Hungary (winner plays Slovakia): The Israelis have two top 200 players and lots of experience. They should be able to take care business on the road.

Americas Zonal Group I

Barbados at Ecuador (winner plays Brazil): King and Lewis give it another go for Barbados against the "how old is he" Lapentti?

Dominican Republic at Chile (winner plays Colombia): Unfortunately my boy Estrella Burgos has pulled out so Chile's relative depth should be able to defeat Hernandez and the Dominicans.

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group I

New Zealand at South Korea (winner plays India): Chung leads the Koreans in what should be a blowout.

China vs Pakistan in Sri Lanka (winner plays Uzbekistan): Qureshi is now the playing captain (alongside Khan) as the Pakistanis play their first Group I tie in 10 years.  The Chinese probably going to be a little much for them.

Europe/Africa Zonal Group II

Norway at Lithuania - Berankis is playing
Luxembourg at South Africa - no Muller
Bulgaria at Turkey - Ilhan is there but no Dimitrov
Tunisia at Bosnia & Herzegovina - could be a good tie, no Dzumhur but Basic/Jaziri matchup of 2 top 150 players
Monaco at Latvia - no Gulbis
Belarus at Egypt
Zimbabwe at Finland - Nieminen prolonging retirement for this home tie
Denmark at Georgia - potential Basilashvili/Nielsen matchup

Americas Zonal Group II

Uruguay at Peru - no P.Cuevas
Guatemala at Mexico
Puerto Rico at El Salvador
Paraguay at Venezuela

Asia/Pacific Zonal Group II

Malaysia at Taiwan - Lu is playing, Taiwan heavy favorites
Kuwait at Philippines
Vietnam at Indonesia
Sri Lanka at Thailand

Europe Zonal Group III

This round robin style group got underway today and the story is that Baghdatis tied Borg today for consecutive Davis Cup wins (granted the Cypriot's have come the lower levels of the Davis Cup echelon, but good for him for still showing up)

Pool A - Malta, Moldova (with Albot), San Marino
Pool B - Albania, Armenia, Ireland, Macedonia
Pool C - Andorra, Cyprus (with Baghdatis), Iceland, Montenegro
Pool D - Estonia, Greece, Kosovo (Davis Cup debut), Liechtenstein

Enjoy the weekend!

Friday, February 5, 2016

2016 Fed Cup Week 1 Preview

It's getting a little last minute but I wanted to write a few thoughts on the upcoming Fed Cup ties.

World Group I

Czech Republic at Romania: Halep stepped in to this tie at the last moment, delaying a surgery, which on paper is good for Romania but if she's really hurt, how effective can she be, especially against top 15 players Kvitova and Pliskova.  I expect the Czechs to run away with this tie thanks to Kvitova's Fed Cup prowess and the tie being on an indoor hard court.  With a curious choice (or lack of other player commitment) of Mitu and Olaru for players 3 & 4, I feel it's going to take a heroic effort from Niculescu for Romania to keep this close.  I do think they'll manage to scratch out one singles rubber though.  CZE 3 ROU 1

Switzerland at Germany: The new world no. 2 and Aussie Open champ comes home to adoring fans and a tough Fed Cup test against Bencic and Bacsinszky.  And with Petkovic's recent form, they're going to need her.  The Bacsinszky/Petkovic match on day 2 could be critical (assuming Kerber wins her 2 matches) with Hingis looming for doubles.  The Germans might be wise to bring Beck off the bench here.  Somehow I think Bacsinszky will find a way, or the Germans will choke somewhere along the line.  SUI 3 GER 2

Italy at France: It seems age is finally catching up with Italians.  Their star Pennetta is retired and Vinci is skipping the tie so it's Errani and Giorgi for singles duty.  They're up against the red-hot Mladenovic, but she may need to win 3 ties, since she's teamed with the ice-cold Garcia.  The French came from 0-2 down to beat Italy last year, and I think they'll beat them again behind 3 points from Mladenovic.  You know she'll win the doubles if it comes to that.  FRA 3 ITA 2

Netherlands at Russia: Despite Russia not being as dominant as years ago, this has to be one of the bigger mismatches in World Group I play.  Sharapova wasn't even nominated but Russia still sends out their Fed Cup stalwarts Kuznetsova and Makarova against Bertens and Hogenkamp (and maybe Rus at some point).  The 7-match Dutch win streak ends in Moscow in three lopsided contests.  RUS 3 NED 0

World Group II

Australia at Slovakia: Neither Cibulkova nor Hantuchova nominated (both apparently on the roster)  for Slovakia but somehow Australia is ending up with world no. 275 Arina Rodionova nominated for second singles behind Stosur.  Stosur will need to win all 3 points (doubles with Dellacqua will be potent if it gets there) for the Aussies to win this, but either Schmiedlova or Cepelova will get her at home.  SVK 3 AUS 1

Belarus at Canada: No Bouchard or Azarenka in Quebec City, so Canada doesn't have player ranked inside the top 300 and Belarus is left with an adequate group of Govortsova and Sasnovich and the teen star Vera Lapko.  That should be enough versus Abanda and Wozniak, who I haven't seen in a draw in quite some time.  BLR 3 CAN 1

Poland at United States: Neither Radwanska making the trip to Hawaii, and the USA has packed a good punch with Venus and Stephens for singles, and Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe if it gets to doubles.  Linette and Kania will be hard-pressed to get a match but maybe Stephens chokes or Venus gets upset like she has a tendency to do.  USA 3 POL 1

Spain at Serbia: Muguruza and Suarez Navarro are present for Spain while Serbia has Jankovic and Jovanovski.  Both Spaniards are decent enough on hard courts, CSN fresh off an Aussie Open QF.  Jankovic has been inconsistent of late and Jovanovski, although often a Fed Cup star, is down to no. 87 in the world.  Plus Muguruza/Suarez Navarro is potent doubles partnership if it gets to that.  I don't think it will.  ESP 3 SRB 1

Zonal Groups I

These are round robin affairs that have been taking place all week with only the promotion/relegation ties remaining.

Europe/Africa: BEL vs GBR & UKR vs ISR - Teen Katie Swan has been good all week in the #2 singles spot for Great Britain but Bonaventure from Belgium is a better player than she's faced.  Watson/van Uytvanck should be a good one.  Belgium will want to finish them off in two because Rae/Smith have been excellent in Fed Cup doubles.  Host Israel lost their opening tie to Turkey but fought back and stunned Croatia to reach the final.  Ukraine with Bondarenko and Tsurenko should just be too good but don't count out Peer and Glushko's home court.  I still think Belgium (slight upset) and Ukraine will advance.

Americas: ARG vs PAR - Argentina got 4 singles wins from 18-yr-old world no. 319 Nadia Podoroska, overcoming Pereira and Brazil to reach the final.  They'll be the overwhelming favorites vs Paraguay, who overachieved to reach the final, playing without Cepede Royg.

Asia/Pacific: JPN vs TPE - It's been a crazy week in Thailand where Japan was upset by Uzbekistan on day 1 and Taiwan beat Kazakhstan.  The Uzbeks would have made the final had they not lost to lowly India today.  Japan would seem to be the favorite but Taiwan has Hsieh but Chan/Chan for doubles and that's a 1-2 punch that can win these 3 rubber ties.  Likely Hibino and Nara or Hozumi will need to win singles matches and given this week I can't see both of them doing.  Taiwan to advance.

Relegation ties: TUR def. SWE, HUN def. RSA, BOL def. PER, COL def. ECU, UZB def. KOR

Americas Zonal Group II

PUR (with Puig) def. CHI, VEN def. GUA

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Australian Open Preview

Here's a few words on the Australian Open:

Men's Preview

I feel like this is really all about Djokovic.  I give him a 70-75% chance of winning the event, then about 20% to Wawrinka, who is not in Djokovic's half and the only player to beat him at a major last year.  After that, there's a small chance for Federer, Murray, and "the field".  But honestly it's hard not to predict a Djokovic/Wawrinka final especially after both won tournaments in the first week of the season.

As far as dark horses, look at the Aussies Tomic and Kyrgios.  Tomic has a fairly easy road to see Murray in the round of 16 and I like Kyrgios' chances in a potential round 3 battle with Berdych.

There are 14 American men in the draw including 3 seeds (Isner, Sock, and Johnson), 3 qualifiers (Fritz, Harrison, and Smyczek), a lucky loser (Frantangelo), a wild card (Rubin), and protected ranking (Baker).  That leaves Querrey, Young, Ram, Krajicek, and Kudla to round out the Yank contingent.  I'm not expecting huge things but I do think a few can get through to the 3rd round (high expectations I know).  I was interested to see the teenaged Fritz after his challenger run last year but he's drawn Sock in round 1.

Women's Preview

I feel like this is a wide open tournament for the women with Serena's possible injury, not to mention the rest of top 10 pulling out of tournaments the last 2 weeks.  Serena does have pretty decent draw so she might be able to play her way into form.  But if she's a bit banged up you wonder if she can survive again.  Radwanska and Azarenka come into the tournament in good form, having won titles, and are on opposite halves of the draw.  I wouldn't be surprised to see one, or both of them, in the final.  Kerber also had a nice warmup but got smoked by Azarenka but she should be able to at least make it to Vika or Muguruza.  Given the injury issues I'm not expecting much from Muguruza, Sharapova, Kvitova, or even Halep, and Sharapova (last year's finalist) is in Serena's quarter.

For dark horses, I like the draw of Makarova, who made the semis last year, if she's fully healthy again.  And Cibulkova is a dangerous unseeded player, near Kvitova and Mladenovic, finalist 2 years ago.

There are 17 (wow) American women in the draw including 4 seeds (Serena, Venus, Keys, and Stephens), a qualifier (Gibbs), a wild card (Crawford), and a protected ranking (Duval).  That means there were 14 direct entries, the seeds and Riske, Davis, McHale, Tatishvili, Falconi, Brengle (4th round last year), Vandeweghe, King, Mattek-Sands, and Lepchenko.  The seeds all have nice draws and a decent chance to reach the quarters but the unseeded players were handed mostly brutal draws with several playing seeds.  A few will likely advance but I'm not expecting much from this tournament except from the seeds, all of which are former semifinalists.

Finally, here's the last eight from the '15 Aussie Open

Men
Djokovic def. Murray
SF - Wawrinka, Berdych
QF - Nadal, Nishikori, Raonic, Kyrgios

Women
Serena def. Sharapova
SF - Keys, Makarova
QF - Halep, Venus, Cibulkova, Bouchard