Saturday, 8 January 2011

Kvitova, Arn claim first titles of the season

The first week of 2011 saw two unlikely winners as Petra Kvitova and Greta Arn were victorious in Brisbane and Auckland respectively. Petra Kvitova has shown her potential before, most notably her semi-final run at Wimbledon last year; however her game has been blighted with inconsistency. This week though, everything fell into place as she attacked her way to the title with a blistering 6-1 6-3 final victory over Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic herself had a superb week and demonstrated the improvements she has made in the off-season, looking both fitter and stronger as she defeated Marion Bartoli in a superbly clinical semi-final win. However she faltered in the final to Kvitova who if she continues playing at this level, should be considered as a dark horse for the Australian Open.

Greta Arn claimed the second title of her career as she shocked the number 1 seed Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets, 6-3 6-3. Arn had already knocked out Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges in the previous rounds before upsetting Wickmayer to move into the top 70 in the rankings wiht this win. It was a disappointing end to what had been a strong week by Wickmayer who had shown some battling qualities with 3-set wins over Dinara Safina, Sabine Lisicki and Shaui Peng. Many consider her as a dark horse for the Australian Open; however i cannot see her being strong enough both physically and mentally to deal with the top players in the draw.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Heather shines, Verdasco and Cilic start slow

Here is a round-up of what has happened so far in the first week of tennis in 2011...
Hopman Cup
After two sets of group games, Serbia and USA both look poised to reach the final. Disappointingly, Robson and Murray lost their second round match today losing a one-sided mixed doubles to the French pairing of Mladenovic and Mahut to officially end their chances of reaching the next round. Tomorrow will see an enticing clash between Justine Henin and Ana Ivanovic which could give a good indication of where both lie in their chances for the Australian Open. Ivanovic has shown a rise in confidence and form since the end of last season, however her serve still looks shaky and she is yet to really prove herself against the top players. Henin, coming back from injury has produced two solid wins but again, has yet to be tested.

WTA Auckland
Auckland has seen a number of youngsters shine this week in Auckland. The biggest surprise has seen Heather Watson reach her first WTA Quarter-Final after a superb 7-6 6-1 victory over Suarez Navarro. She has made a stunning start to the season and is yet to lose a set in Auckland. She will next play Peng Shuai who caused an upset as she took her chances against Kuznetsova. Wickmayer overcame Safina in a high quality opener and then fought past the rejuvenated Sabine Lisicki, in a 3 set victory. She is joined in the QF's by Greta Arn, who saved 5MP's against Sofia Arvidsson and Simona Halep who progressed against Vesnina, who retired at 4-0 down in the final set. Sharapova, Goerges and Bondarenko make up the remaining QF spots.

WTA Brisbane
There have been a number of shocks in Brisbane as the top three seeds have all been tumbled out. Jarmilla Groth pulled off a stunning 6-2 6-4 win over a stunned Stosur, Peer wasted a MP as she went down in 3 sets to Lucie Safarova and Petrova fell at the first hurdle for the second consecutive year as she was beaten by Wimbledon semi-finalist, Petra Kvitova. These three winners are joined in the QF's by Marion Bartoli, A-Pav and Andrea Petkovic; the latter has been in crushing form by progressing to the QF's for the loss of just 4 games. Zahlavova Strycova and Cibulkova complete the QF line-up where Groth v Petkovic looks to be the most exciting of the Quarters.

ATP Brisbane
Andy Roddick stormed into the QF's today with a convincing win over Alexander Dolgopolov. However it was a difficult start to the season for Verdasco who opened with a disappointing loss. Baghdatis has also marched into QF's without too many problems and is joined by Kevin Anderson who looks to continue on from his excellent 2010.

ATP Chennai
The big shock in Chennai saw Marin Cilic start the season just where he left 2010 in lacking confidence as he lost another tight one to Kei Nishikori in Round 1. Cilic has demonstrated the quality he possesses in his game; however confidence seems to have evaded his game at present. Tomas Berdych has made a strong start to the season with two comfortable victories to reach the QF; however he will not be joined by Gasquet who suffered a disappointing 3 set loss to Bjorn Phau.

ATP Doha
Both Federer and Nadal progressed to the QF's with hard fought wins as six of the eight seeds progressed before Davydenko took on Niemenen in the evening. Federer fought off Chiudinelli in two tight sets, meanwhile Nadal suffered a shocking second set bagel to Lukas Lacko but was able to turn it around in the third set. Tsonga, Troicki, Garcia-Lopez and Gulbis have all looked extremely impressive with easy victories today; it was especially pleasing to see Tsonga make a confident return following a frustrating end to the 2010 season. Nadal will now face a testing encounter with Gulbis, meanwhile the promising Troicki will face off against Federer in what will be close matches. Tsonga will take on the exciting Garcia-Lopez in what is a stellar QF line-up.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The start of the ATP season

There are three ATP tournaments that kick off the 2011 tennis calendar...

ATP Doha

Doha has the strongest draw with Nadal and Federer as the two top seeds. Nadal opens up against Karol Beck and is likely to face his first test in the QF where his projected opponent is the talented Ernests Gulbis. Davydenko could meet Nadal in the SF; however after a disappointing 2010 season this could be a make or break season for Nikolay and i can't see him reaching the SF's. In the bottom half, Federer opens up against a qualifier with his stiffest opposition likely to come from Viktor Troicki and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, the latter who is making his comeback from injury and will want to get as many games as possible with a vast number of ranking points to defend at the Australian Open. On paper, you can't look past another match-up with Federer and Nadal, which if it did happen would be their fifth meeting in 2 months.

ATP Brisbane

Brisbane sees the likes of Robin Soderling, Andy Roddick and Fernando Verdasco take to the court. The number 1 seed, Soderling has a fairly routine draw with Denis Istomin and Mardy Fish his toughest potential opponents up to the final. In the bottom half, Andy Roddick opens up against Matosevic. He could meet Alexander Dologopolov in the 2nd round which would be a good early test for Roddick. Fernando Verdasco stuttered in 2010 and a possible 2nd round match with Giles Simon looks to be a tricky one against someone who should continue to climb the rankings this year. Kevin Anderson and Marcos Baghdatis will also be threats in the bottom half. Ultimately, I think Soderling will be victorious...

ATP Chennai

Chennai has the weakest draw of the three tournaments with Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka the top three seeds. Berdych had a superb 2010 reaching his first grand slam final; however an alarming dip in the second half of season means there are still question marks to whether he is a challenger to the top 4. He opens against Frederico Gil and could face Jeremy Chardy in the QF; he should however reach at least the SF's where Wawrinka is his projected opponent. In the bottom half, Cilic will have to start the season well with a huge number of ranking points to defend. Kei Nishikori in the 1st round will be a massive test for Cilic and show where what kind of form he is in for 2011. Janko Tipsarevic, Richard Gasquet and Xavier Malisse are also in the bottom half with Gasquet for me, the most likely to do well here.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

WTA Auckland

This years women's tournament in Auckland sees a number of Russian stars taking to the court. Maria Sharapova is the number 1 seed and will be joined by fellow Russians, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina and the number 2 seed, Yanina Wickmayer. Sharapova will take on the talented Spaniard, Carla Suarez Navarro in round 1 who on paper is the most talented player she could play up to the SF's where Julia Goerges is projected to meet her. There is some British hope with Anne in the main draw facing Edina Gallovits and with both Heather Watson and Katie O'Brien in qualifying.

Yanina Wickmayer will open up against Dinara Safina in the stand-out of the opening matches. Dinara Safina is currently at number 63 in rankings after what she described as "one of the worst years of her career" in a refreshingly honest blog she published on her website. I'm predicting that Dinara is going to rise up the rankings this year; I don't think she will ever return to the top of the rankings but I think this year is about restoring confidence and playing tennis both injury and pain free. Realistically returning to the top 30 is achievable and I think she will beat Wickmayer, who I feel is slightly overrated and in terms of her potential, is only a top 20 player at best. Simona Halep also looks to be a danger in this section of the draw in what should be a breakthrough year for her. She is joined in this section by Kuznetsova; if shes playing well and fully concetrated on the task at hand, a SF place shouldn't take too much out of her.

1st round tips - Paszek to beat Arvidsson, K.Bondarenko to beat Date Krumm, Halep to beat Morita and Safina to beat Wickmayer

QF line-up - Sharapova v Paszek, Goerges v Bondarenko, Oprandi v Kuznetsova and Halep v Safina

WTA Brisbane

Brisbane is headlined by number 1 seed Samantha Stosur, Shahar Peer, Nadia Petrova and Marion Bartoli. Stosur is currently ranked at number 6 in the world after a stellar 2010 season and will look to build in this stage of the season where she is defending relatively few points. She faces a qualifier in Round 1 but faces a potentially tricky 2nd round match with fellow Australian, Jarmilla Groth. Also in her section is Andrea Petkovic who was impressive in 2010 and is heavily tipped by many to continue her rise in the rankings. I anticipate Stosur to start slowly this season and that Groth will cause a minor upset; however it is Petkovic who I fancy to make the QF's in this section. Bartoli has a relatively straightforward draw to the QF's where she should meet the hard-hitter Kleybanova, who I am predicting will start to show some more consistency in her game this year.

In the bottom half, Flavia Pennetta faces a tough opener against Roberta Vinci who ended 2010 in a rich vein of form. With their current head-to-head at 4-4, i'm predicting a Vinci victory. Both Petrova and Pavlyuchenkova look to have good draws on paper with the former looking most likely to progress to the final. A-Pav is one that I have always tipped but her form dipped dramatically at the end of 2010 with a number of one-sided defeats demonstrating both tiredness and a lack of fighting spirit. I do however expect her to come back stronger at the start of this year and continue her progression up the rankings. Shahar Peer was superb in 2010 and will have a almighty task this year to defend the points she earnt last year. Unfortunately I cannot see her matching her seeding by making the final.

1st Round Tips - Chakvetadze to beat Hantuchova, Vinci to beat Pennetta and Petrova to beat Kvitova

Predicted QF line-up - Groth v Petkovic, Bartoli v Kleybanova, Vinci v Petrova and Pavlyuchenkova v Safarova

2011 Tennis begins - The Hopman Cup

We are finally back to business in the tennis world as the new season kicks off! One of the many tournaments this week is the Hopman Cup as we begin our preparation for the Australian Open. Last year saw the fascinating partnership between Laura Robson and Andy Murray which made this one of my favourite tournaments of 2010. It's a shame that the likes of Serena Williams and Gael Monfils have had to pull out with injury, however there are still a host of top names including Justine Henin, Andy Murray, Ana Ivanovic, Novak Djokovic and Francesca Schiavone.

Djokovic and Ivanovic are the favourites to win with all bookmaker however this tournament always throws up some surprises. Last year GB reached the final and if Robson can build on the experience from last year then they should be even stronger than last year. I also think that the USA will be tough to beat with big serving John Isner and the fiesty Bethanie Mattek Sands, who is also an extremely accomplished doubles player. The outsiders for the competiton are Kazakhstan with many bookmakers quoting 33/1. Last year they were a surprise package narrowly missing out on a place in the final. Both Shvedova and Golubev have shown considerable improvements in their singles games and therefore should not be underestimated in this competition.

Prediction for the final - Serbia v Great Britain