Saturday, 24 December 2011

Lisicki tops the bill in Auckland

Julia Goerges
The second WTA event this week takes place in Auckland.  Although many of the star names have opted to start their year in Brisbane, the draw has strength in depth and will be an interesting watch.  Like last year, I get the feeling that an unheralded name will cause a surprise or two.  Greta Arn stunned everyone to claim the bacon in 2011.  Arn returns to Auckland where she will open her tournament defence against the number 5 seed, Julia Goerges who she beat in the quarter-finals last year.  This time round, Goerges is a much stronger player and I would expect her to end Arn's hopes of retaining the title.  Goerges could face a difficult second round match against the Kiwi, Marina Erakovic or fellow German, Angelique Kerber.  Kerber had a stunning end to 2011 where she made the semi-finals at the US Open and I think she will start this year well...

The top half of the draw has a distinctly German feel to it as Goerges and Kerber are joined in the top section of the draw with the number one seed, Sabine Lisicki and Mona Barthel.  Lisicki has the talent to beat anyone in the draw but I have a sneaky feeling that she won't win this week in Auckland.  Lisicki opens her 2012 campaign against Virginie Razzano and I think she will win a few rounds before coming unstuck against Kerber.

A name to watch out for this week is Flavia Pennetta.  I never seem to predict good things for Pennetta but I think she is going to start 2012 in style.  She starts off against Sorana Cirstea and has a pretty nice draw.  She also showed good form in a recent exhibiton in Singapore where she beat both Sam Stosur and Agnieszka Radwanska.  Admittedly its only an exhibition, but i'm still backing Flavia for some success this week.  Pennetta is scheduled to meet Roberta Vinci in the quarter-finals, who opens up against the big-serving Canadian, Rebecca Marino.  I predict that Vinci will be knocked out in the second round by Magdalena Rybarikova.

In the bottom section of draw, the number 7 seed is Yanina Wickmayer who is returning to action after she missed all the events after the US Open with a back injury.  Wickmayer has enjoyed success in Auckland before, winning the title in 2010 and reaching the final in 2011 so she will be a threat this year for sure.  She will play a qualifier in the first round and is projected to meet Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round.  You never quite know what you are going to get from Kuznetsova - sometimes she can be majestic and other times she is horrendous.  I feel she is past her best now and will have trouble getting past the dangerous American, Christina McHale in the second round.  McHale has also beaten Kuznetsova twice before so I would fancy McHale to do the treble.  McHale opens her tournament against Alexandra Dulgheru, a match i'm confident that she will win.  

In the bottom section of the draw, the number two seed Peng Shuai will take on a qualifier.  Peng will be seeking her first ever WTA title and she has a pretty good draw here; however she will have to get a little lucky if she is to break her title duck this week.  She could meet the explosive, Lucie Hradecka in the second round.  Hradecka has the power to knock anyone off the court, however like many WTA players she lacks the consistency.  For example, last year she went on a staggering eight match losing streak.  Peng's consistency should just be enough to get past Hradecka.

Peng is projected to meet Monica Niculescu in the quarter-finals.  Niculescu can be a dangerous opponent as she showed towards the end of 2011.  She makes up for her lack of power and potency (in particular with her serve) with grinding at its best and a peculiar slice that seems to throw her opponents off.  Peng will need to be at her patient best to get past Niculescu.  If Peng does manage to find her way to the final, she will hope that she doesn't have Pennetta or Lisicki waiting for her; in particular, Pennetta has had a lot of joy against Peng with a 6-0 head-to-head record.

My tip for the final
Pennetta def. Peng - As I mentioned in the article, I think Pennetta is going to have a good week.  Unfortunately for Peng, I think she will meet her arch nemesis in the final and come unstuck.

Watch out for...
Christina McHale, who is my tip to make the semi-finals and potentially the final! I'm a little on the fence as to whether she will have enough to actually reach the final.  McHale really made a name for herself during the American hard court season earlier this year with stunning wins over Wozniacki, Kuznetsova and Bartoli.  After watching how well she played in the Bartoli match, I am confident that McHale will be making some headlines this year.

Worthy of a punt
To be honest, there are no first round bets that I fancy much! If I had to pick one, I would go for Magdalena Rybarikova to beat Elena Vesnina at 11/10 with Stan James.
Pennetta is my tip for glory in Auckland

NEXT - Reviews from the first week of 2012 tennis action!!!!!!!!

Stosur, Petkovic headline in brilliant Brisbane

Sam Stosur
The engines are revving for 2012 as the first draw of the season was finally released on Friday night for the Premier event in Brisbane. The draw looks very uneven with four big names all found in the top half of the draw.  Sam Stosur is the number one seed and has a relatively straightforward draw to the quarter-finals.  Stosur opens her 2012 campaign against Anastasiya Yakimova and would play either Iveta Benesova or Lucie Safarova in the second round.  I predict that Stosur will ease into the quarter-finals where she is likely to face her first major challenge.  

Stosur is projected to meet Kim Clijsters in the quarter-finals who is set to play her first tournament since retiring in Montreal.  Clijsters will play the Romanian, Simona Halep in round 1.  If she wins her opener, she could play Ana Ivanovic in a storming second round encounter.  I have never doubted Kim's game, but I started to question her motivation and her fitness in 2011.  If her body holds up, I think her superior head-to-head record over Ivanovic will be a telling factor.

In the second quarter, Serena Williams is projected to meet Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals.  Serena will play Chanelle Scheepers in the first round and will feel confident of progressing through the first two rounds without few problems.  Cibulkova, on the other hand will have to overcome the challenge of her compatriot, Daniela Hantuchova in a tasty first round encounter.  Hantuchova has won all three of their previous encounters, but i'm going in favour of Cibulkova (who won her first title at the end of 2011 in Moscow) to prevail in a tight three set match.

The bottom half is considerably weaker than the top half. The number 6 seed, Jelena Jankovic will play Carla Suarez Navarro in the first round.  This is a tricky opener for the Serb, but I think she will pull this one through in 3 sets.  Both players prefer a slower court, but I think Jankovic is more versatile than Suarez Navarro.  Jankovic has a good draw, but i'm not convinced that she will take full advantage of it if she displays the form that she showed in 2011.  

Francesca Schiavone is also in this section and she opens her tournament against the rising, Ksenia Pervak.  Pervak has switched her nationality from Russia to Kazakhstan - obviously this is all to do with the money as Kazakhstan have taken Yaroslava Shvedova and Galina Voskoboeva under their wing in previous years.  Personally, I disagree strongly with this and think you should feel pride in playing for your home country.  Pervak looks to be a dangerous opponent for Schiavone on paper, but after watching her play at the end of 2011, I think Schiavone will have few problems in dismantling her rather lacklustre game... Yes, you may have noticed I don't have much time for Pervak!!!

In the bottom section of the draw, Andrea Petkovic will fancy her chances of reaching the Brisbane final for the second year in a row.  In fact, she made the semi-finals in 2010 so she obviously likes the fast-paced courts in Brisbane.  Petkovic will play Shahar Peer in the first round.  Peer was on the cusps of entering the top 10 back in April 2011, however her game and confidence has dipped since then.  Petkovic is naturally a slow starter so I fancy her to lose the first set before storming through in three.  

Petkovic is projected to meet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-finals.  Pav should stroll past her first round opponent, the clay court specialist, Polona Hercog.  However she potentially faces a much tougher match in the second round against Kaia Kanepi, who has a good record over the Russian.  However I think Pavlyuchenkova and Petkovic will face off in the quarter-finals.  I predict big things for Pavlyuchenkova this year, but I don't think she will progress any further in this tournament.  I do not expect her year to properly take off until we hit the clay court season.

My tip for the final
S Williams def. Petkovic... I feel like i'm going for the obvious with Serena, but sometimes you just have too! I think she will start 2012 in fighting form and bludgeon her way through the draw.  Petkovic has a very good draw and I think she will continue to build after an excellent 2011 so she seems a safe bet to reach the final.

Watch out for...
Galina Voskoboeva is my dark horse in Brisbane to make the semi-finals.  She had an excellent 2011 starting the year ranked at number 621 in the world and ending it just outside the top 50. I fancy her to beat a qualifier in the first round, before edging past Francesca Schiavone in the second round who she came close to defeating in a tight first round match at the US Open last year.  She has a powerful game; however she also has a rather powerful temper too so she will need to keep this under control!

Worthy of a punt
I wasn't brave enough to plump for Suarez Navarro to beat Jankovic, but if you are, she is the best bet in first round matches.  7/2 (with Stan James) looks to be good odds for someone who has caused her fair share of upsets in the past and against a player who was lacking in mental strength to finish off opponents in 2011.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The 2012 tennis season is coming :-)

Novak Djokovic
I have been crossing the days on my calendar for the new tennis season to start and it is nearly upon us! The first tennis of the season actually kicks off on the 29th of December in Abu Dhabi as the stars of the ATP turn up for the big-bucks Mubadala World Tennis Championships.  The world number one, Novak Djokovic debuts at this event and is joined by a star-studded line-up including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils.  I find it strange that the players have been pushing for a longer off-season, yet they are willing to play at this exhibition... that is what money will do for you!

The season officially kicks off  on the 31st of the December with the Hyundai Hopman Cup in Perth.  This is one of my favourite tournaments on the calendar where eight teams assemble from different countries with one male and one female player from each country.  Each tie consists of a ladies singles match, a mens singles match and a mixed doubles match.  The line-up is extremely strong on the womens side with Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova, Li Na and Marion Bartoli all competing.  However the mens side is much weaker compared to last year with Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish the highest ranked competitors.  The Czech Republic (Petra Kvitova and Tomas Berdych) look to be the strong favourites on paper for this tournament.  The tournament will begin on the 31st with France (Marion Bartoli and Richard Gasquet) taking on China (Li Na and Wu Di).
The WTA tour will kick off on the 2nd of January with the tournaments in Brisbane and Auckland.  Brisbane, which has been upgraded to Premier level status this year has its strongest ever line-up.  Unfortunately, Maria Sharapova (who would have been the number one seed) has withdrawn from the tournament with an ankle injury; however the tournament still boasts a stellar line-up, which will now be headlined by the US Open champion Sam Stosur.  Andrea Petkovic, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic are all set to compete in Brisbane as well.  I always enjoy watching matches in Brisbane because the courts are very fast, which provides some high quality and exciting tennis.  The final in 2010 between Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters was one of the best matches of that year and with the line-up here, i'm hoping we will get another cracker.

Auckland has a strong line-up too although like Brisbane, it has suffered a big name withdrawal in Venus Williams.  Venus has played a few exhibitions with her sister Serena in the last couple of weeks so I was slightly puzzled by the withdrawal.  Sabine Lisicki will be the number one seed and she is joined by Peng Shuai (who will be going for her first ever WTA title), Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta.  The draw is littered with dangerous floaters such as Petra Cetkovska, Christina McHale, Zheng Jie and Marina Erakovic.  Last year, Greta Arn stunned everyone to claim the title and I would expect one of the floaters to go deep into the tournament...

Roger Federer
The ATP tour will begin with three events in Doha, Brisbane and Chennai.  The strongest line-up is found in Doha where four of the competitors from Abu Dhabi in Nadal, Federer, Tsonga and Monfils officially begin their 2012 campaign.  The draw also contains the much improved Alex Bogomolov Jr. and former World Tour Finals champion, Nikolay Davydenko.  I would expect the top four to be dominant in Doha.

Andy Murray has broken tradition of opening his season at the Hopman Cup to headline this years event in Brisbane.  I think this is a smart move from Murray; although he has reached the last two Australian Open finals, he has suffered in the subsequent months from the final loss so mixing it up is a good decision in my opinion.  Murray is joined in the draw by a number of up and coming players in Alexandr Dolgopolov, Kei Nishikori, Kevin Anderson, Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison.

The final ATP tournament in Chennai, India is headlined by Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro, Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic.  I think this year could be a good one for both Tipsarevic and the rising Raonic; in particular it will be important for Raonic to get matches under his belt after missing the latter part of the 2011 season following hip surgery.

NEXT - Previews and predictions of the main draws for the WTA tournaments (and ATP tournaments if I have time!) in the New Year!


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The best of the tennis prediction games

As you will have gathered, I am a big fan of predicting what is going on in tennis and have entered numerous fantasy tennis games.  I had my biggest achievement this year as I managed to win a signed Andy Murray tennis racquet in one of my fantasy games! I won it playing the Tennis for Free's Dream Team Fantasy Tennis game at TFF Dream Team.  Tennis for Free is a charity, which aims to increase participation within the sport and make it more accessible to everyone.  To be in with a chance of winning prizes, you have to donate at least £5 to the charity.  The game requires you to choose 10 male and female tennis players for each of the Grand Slams and you amass points depending on how many matches they win during the course of the two weeks.  

At the end of the year, all the points are counted up and the top 10 players who have donated to the charity receive prizes.  I was lucky enough to come in 2nd place and win the signed racquet, which I was extremely excited about! I have been searching for fantasy tennis games online and this is the best so I would urge everyone to join.  I will be donating much more next year after winning such a great prize this year :-)

The racquet was one of Andy's that he took to the World Tour Finals at the O2.  I just had my first hit with it today and found it very challenging.  It's much heavier than I expected and has a smaller sweet spot too.  It doesn't help that i'm pretty poor at playing tennis anyway and it is obviously designed for someone much more advanced than me ;-) But it was still very exciting for me!!!!!!!

The best of the rest:
Womens Tennis Forums - There are a host of fantasy games you can join in at Womens Tennis Forum.  My favourite is the "Fill in the draw" competitions where you have to predict the draw for every WTA tournament.  Ranking points are offered for each tournament depending on your success and the top 16 players at the end of the year qualify to predict the draw at the YEC in Istanbul earning extra crucial ranking points   The game is run extremely well by a host of score keepers on the forums and I am excited about entering once again this year.

The same game is also available on the equivalent site at Mens Tennis Forum.  These games do not offer prizes, but I find them thoroughly entertaining and enjoy looking at everyone elses picks too. I was pretty consistent in my WTA predictions last year and finished 9th in the rankings, but have yet to win a title!

ATP Draw Challenge - The ATP run a draw prediction game for the Masters 1000 events on the ATP tour at ATP World Tour Draw Challenge.  The advantage of this game is that there are prizes up for grab for perfect draws (never gonna happen!) and the highest scorer after all the tournaments... there were over 30,000 players last year so you will have to be on the ball and get some luck along the way ;-)

Tennis Pool - This is a new fantasy game that I found whilst hunting for new ones over the last couple of weeks and can be found at Tennis Pool.  I have been looking for a game that runs throughout the whole of the season and this one seems to fit the bill.  It requires you to pick 10 male and female tennis players and you score points for their performances on the tour.  You can also make changes every week depending on who is playing.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

ATP predictions for 2012

Following on from my predictions for the top 10 in the WTA, here is my predictions for ATP top 10 at the end of 2012.  I found this one much more difficult...

The season-ending ATP top 10 of 2012

Novak Djokovic
1. Novak Djokovic - I'm going with Djokovic to stay at world number one at the end of 2012.  However, I think it will be much closer than 2011 and the ranking points will be much more evenly spread out.  I'm predicting that Djokovic will win the Australian Open and do well in the summer hard court season, but lose a big chunk of his points during the clay court season.  To be honest, i'm feeling very indecisive about this one and I wouldn't be surprised if Djokovic goes off the boil!

2.  Roger Federer - Federer moves up to number two in my predictions with his season being highlighted by at least one major win.  Federer, once again impressed at the World Tour Finals in London and I think this is a sign that he will have a good 2012 and won't be hanging up his racquets anytime soon.  The biggest event for Federer next year is likely to be the Olympics and it could be a magical grass court season for Roger...

3. Andy Murray - For the last couple of years, I have predicted Murray to win his first major and once again, I am predicting he will do it!  Last year, he showed great consistency by reaching the semi-finals in all four majors.  I predict that his time will come at the US Open and he will perform strongly at the hard court Masters events in 2012.

4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga - The most likely player to break the top 4 for me is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  I think he will reach two Grand Slam finals, but will come away empty handed.  He has all the tools to win a Grand Slam; however I think his biggest weakness is mentally and he will need to improve his focus in matches.  After an injury free season in 2011 and building on from a strong showing at the World Tour Finals, i'm confident he is going to assert himself as a big threat on the tour in 2012.

5. Rafael Nadal - Out of the present top 4, Nadal is the man I see struggling the most in 2011.  It is a given he will produce some solid results on the clay and I fully expect him to claim another Roland Garros title.  However I think he will struggle to match some of his strong results on the hard courts in 2011 (such as the final showings in Indian Wells, Miami and the US Open) and for that reason, will move out of the top 4.

Juan Martin Del Potro
6. Juan Martin Del Potro - Last season Del Potro was finding his feet after a long lay-off from injury in 2010, but this year I think the Argentine will mean business.  I predict that Del Potro will be especially strong on the hard courts and the clay this year.  I fancy him to scoop an ATP Masters title along the course of the season and reach the final of Roland Garros.

7. David Ferrer - I have a huge amount of respect for Ferrer and I predict another solid year cemented within the top 10.  I would love to see him win a Grand Slam, but unfortunately he doesn't have enough weapons to challenge the top 4... the best I can see this year is a couple of Grand Slam quarter-finals.

8. Tomas Berdych - Berdych had a remarkably consistent 2011 without making any headlines.  I think it will be more of the same from the Czech next year.  A little like Tsonga, I question his mental strength at times, which is why I cannot see him any higher in the 2012 rankings.

9. Gael Monfils - For so many years, Monfils has shown flashes of brilliance, but failed to deliver on a consistent basis.  I think 2012 will see him improve this and break the world top 10.  Monfils has the talent to do this, but needs to show the focus and drive when things aren't going his way... but I think he can do it in 2012!

10. Janko Tipsarevic - Tipsarevic impressed me with some of his performances at the end of 2011 and I particularly enjoyed his match with Djokovic at the US Open before he retired.  I think it will be another good year for the Serb and he will keep building in confidence and consistency, adding another Grand Slam quarter-final to his belt.

Movers and Shakers in the top 100

Going down:
Andy Roddick
I predict that both Mardy Fish and Nicolas Almagro will move out of the top 10 in 2012.  Fish will be there or thereabouts at the edge of the top 10, but I think Almagro will have a much larger fall towards the 20 or 25 mark.  Robin Soderling is still suffering from illness and I think this will see him have a large drop in the rankings as he has already confirmed that he will the miss the Australian Open.  Andy Roddick will continue to run out of steam and fall out of the top 30.  I also think that 2012 will not be a good year for Fernando Verdasco and Juan Ignacio-Chela who will both exit the top 30 and fall towards the 50's.

Going up:
Grigor Dimitrov
I predict we will see Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori all move into the top 15 in 2012.  I think that the biggest mover in the rankings will be Vasek Pospisil, who showed some real potential at the US Open towards the end of 2011.  I think he will make a meteoric rise from his current lowly ranking of 126 into the top 30.  Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov will also continue their progression and should be top 30 by the end of 2011.  Dimitrov struggled to produce consistent results this year, so top 30 might be too optimistic!  Ryan Harrison, another promising talent should also be knocking on the door of the top 30...

So there are my ATP predictions.  Admittedly, my knowledge of men's tennis is not as good as the women, but I am still looking forward to see how things will turn out on the ATP tour this year.  To be honest, i'm very unsure of what will happen to the top four in 2012 and how things will progress... but thats the fun of predicting ;-)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The funniest tennis moments in 2011

I thought I would just move away from my 2012 previews briefly to highlight some of the funniest moments of 2011.  Eurosport have just uploaded a blog from Mats Wilander about the highlights of the 2011 WTA season and they have included a video of the funniest moments of 2011.  Unfortunately the page doesn't seem to be working anymore, but I thought the video was pretty poor and it got me thinking what were the funniest moments of 2011.  Take a look at some of my favourites below...

Radwanska and her racquet

This is comedy gold purely for Radwanska's confused look!

Petkovic and Radwanska do the Petko dance

A nice moment at the end of Beijing final, credit to Petkovic for doing this despite losing the final.

Li Na's interview at the Australian Open

This was a fantastic interview after Li won her semi-final match at the Australian Open against Caroline Wozniacki.

Thunder scares Lisicki at Wimbledon

A nice moment during a tense quarter-final at Wimbledon.

Clijsters embarrasses Todd Woodbridge

Another great on-court interview from this year's Australian Open.

WTA predictions for 2012

Here is the next post in my series of entries previewing the 2012 tennis season... I have already stated who I think will win the majors; now I give you my predictions for the top 10 in the WTA rankings at the end of 2012.  Like this year, I expect the ranking points to be pretty evenly shared out and I still don't see a really dominant figure on the tour like Novak Djokovic on the ATP tour this year.

The season-ending WTA top 10 of 2012

1. Petra Kvitova - Kvitova is my tip to be world number one at the end of 2012.  Last year she had a terrific year claiming her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and finishing off the season in style at the YEC in Istanbul.  I anticipate Kvitova to build on the success of 2011 with more consistent results helping her to the top spot.  Last year, she posted a number of poor showings throughout many of the tournaments in the US and although I don't expect her to be anywhere near the dominant player in the heat and humidity, I think she will definitely improve her results.  In the Grand Slams, I expect her to post solid results highlighted by another Wimbledon title.

2. Victoria Azarenka - Azarenka had an extremely consistent 2011 and all the signs suggest 2012 will be no different.  I believe a number two showing next year will include much stronger performances at the slams, in particular the US Open.  I'm still wary of whether she can actually win a Grand Slam because i've predicted it for the last three years to no avail!  I hope Azarenka manages her schedule well because it is rare you see her produce excellent performances week in, week out as she is prone to niggling injuries... nonetheless, I am confident she will be very near the top of the rankings in 2012.

3. Serena Williams - Starting the year fit and healthy will give Serena the opportunity to break the top 10 again and she ranks in at number 3 in my predictions.  I predict Serena to be the most successful player at the Grand Slams this year including the title in Australia and a runner-up showing in Wimbledon.  However I cannot put her any higher because it is likely she will play a limited schedule, missing tournaments such as Rome, Montreal and the Asian swing, which all carry a large amount of ranking points.  I am hoping to see some great showdowns between Serena and Kvitova next year in what I think could become a great rivalry on the tour.

4. Sam Stosur - I think Stosur will continue to assert her new-found confidence and rise to her highest ever ranking of number four.  Stosur will be a real danger on the clay and I predict she will score a large number of her points in this part of the season at the tournaments in Charleston, Rome and Madrid before claiming the title at Roland Garros.  Stosur was highly inconsistent in the first few months of the 2011 season so she has a great opportunity to stack up the points before she returns to Flushing Meadows to defend her title.  Stosur has a fantastic game headlined by her kick serve and thumping forehand.  She demonstrated her improved mental toughness this year, which will make her a threat to the top players on tour in 2012.

5. Maria Sharapova - Sharapova will remain a permanent fixture in the top 10, but falls two places from 2011 in my predictions.  This thought comes down to how she ended 2011 struggling with injuries and most notably with her game, the wildly fluctuating serve.  I think she will post some good results including a couple of Grand Slam semi-finals; however her game shows some inconsistencies, in particular with the serve, which makes me doubtful she can go 7 matches in a row at a Grand Slam without a bad performance thrown in.  I'll be interested to see if she has made any amendments to the serve in the off-season...

6. Caroline Wozniacki - I will be extremely surprised if Wozniacki hangs onto her number one ranking for long, as she ranks at number 6 in my predictions.  Wozniacki has taken on Jelena Jankovic's former coach, Ricardo Sanchez which I find a rather strange appointment.  I'm sure Wozniacki will continue to be the epitome of consistency producing solid results in the lesser tournaments.  However, unless she can bring an attacking and more powerful edge to her game and maintain an element of consistency at the same time (not an easy task!) she isn't going to win a major anytime soon.

7. Andrea Petkovic - Petkovic had a breakthrough year in 2011 and I believe she will continue to produce some consistent results in 2012 moving up several places next year.  I think Petkovic has the consistency in her game to potentially reach a Grand Slam final next year and i've marked the US Open for this.  My only worry is how her knee will hold up... it let her down towards the end of this year following a gruelling schedule and I wouldn't be surprised if she had a spell on the sidelines during 2012.

8. Agnieszka Radwanska - Radwanska was the in-form player at the end of 2011 claiming the titles in Tokyo and Beijing and producing a courageous performance at the YEC... I think she will maintain her top 10 ranking, but I still question whether she has the power to beat the likes of Serena, Clijsters etc.  I think last year has given her a great deal of confidence including breaking the barrier of not winning a title in 3 years.  I anticipate she will win several tournaments again this year; however I don't see her going any further than the quarter-finals at next year's Grand Slams.

9. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Pavlyuchenkova is my first of two new entries into the top 10 for 2012.  Pav has been banging on the door for several years now, but has yet to make that big breakthrough and maintain her consistency throughout the whole season.  Pavlyuchenkova has so many issues with her game, yet she is still at number 16 in the rankings, which highlights her potential! She is one of the cleanest ball strikers on the tour, but a big factor will be how she has worked in the off-season.  There will need to be big improvements to both her serve and movement for this top 10 prediction to come true!

10. Sabine Lisicki - I anticipate Lisicki to finish 2012 in her highest ever ranking and rounding off the top 10.  Lisicki made a superb comeback to the WTA tour this year after being out with injury during much of 2010.  She peaked this year in the middle of the season with a semi-final run at Wimbledon and a solid summer hard court season.  Lisicki has very few points to defend early on in the season and will be a dark horse in Australia using her much elevated current ranking of 15.  She has a powerful game that has the potential to reach the top 10; however she can go walkabouts in her matches and will need to eliminate the mental lapses that flared up several times in 2011.

Movers and shakers in the top 100

Going down:
I predict that Li Na, Vera Zvonareva and Marion Bartoli will exit the top 10 in 2012.  Li Na's form at the end of 2011 was woeful and it marked an alarming drop in confidence following her triumphant run at Roland Garros. The loss of Michael Mortenson as her coach was also a disappointing move from the Chinese player as he brought so much to her game.  She has some huge points to defend in 2011 and I expect her to be languishing around the 20 mark in 2012.  Many people expect Vera Zvonareva to remain in the top 10 in 2012, but for some reason I disagree! She showed at the YEC in Istanbul that she still has some alarming mental weaknesses.  I predict that Zvonareva, along with Marion Bartoli will be positioned around the 15 mark in the rankings.

I predict that both Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic will suffer significant drops towards the 20's and 30's.  Jankovic still has the talent, but will need a big win in 2012 to recover her shattered confidence.  As much as I like Peng Shuai, I am worried she has peaked in the rankings and I hope that her loss of form at the end of 2011 was a sign of tiredness.  Julia Goerges should also fall with a large number of her points coming from a terrific clay-court season; she has shown the talent in her game, but also the inconsistency too.

Going up:
It is a tough ask to determine who is going to make the jump up the rankings like Kvitova and Petkovic did in 2011.  After watching some of her matches at the end of 2011, i'm predicting that Christina McHale will have a superb 2012 and end it in the top 15 of the rankings.  I also predict that this will be a better year for Ana Ivanovic who has shown signs that she is returning to good form after some impressive wins in Beijing and winning in the final tournament of the year in Bali.  I think she will be on the cusps of the top 10 and have reached at least one Grand Slam quarter-final in 2012.

I also predict big things for Carla Suarez Navarro and Mona Barthel.  Suarez Navarro has been plagued with injury in recent years, but has a fabulous game and started to put some excellent results together at the end of last year.  She has reached the Australian Open quarter-finals before and I predict another Grand Slam quarter-final this year on her way to breaking the top 20.  Barthel has shown promise on the ITF Tour and I hope to see her play more WTA tour events next year... I think she will break the top 30 in 2012 along with a fully fit Zheng Jie.  I expect British hopes to be raised as Heather Watson and Laura Robson break the top 50 along with  the American, Sloane Stephens.

I know this article is all about speculation, but I do love predicting what is going to happen and then looking back to see whether ANYTHING I predicted was correct!!! What are your predictions for the WTA tour in 2012?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Grand Slam predictions for 2012

This is the first of a series of blog entries previewing the 2012 tennis season, which is fast approaching :-) To start with, I thought I would have a go at predicting the finalists of next years Grand Slams! I am probably going to embarrass myself, but I thought it would be nice to look back at the end of 2012 and see how successful (or woeful) I am...

Australian Open 
WTA - Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka
ATP - Novak Djokovic d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The first major is always the most difficult one to predict with just two weeks of tournaments to judge everyone's performance level.  In the women's tournament, I'm going for a Serena victory in Australia... I think she will be fighting fit and ready to put the US Open final loss behind her.  I fancy Serena to defeat Kvitova in a blockbuster Quarter or Semi.  Azarenka is my pick for the finalist; it is a surprise she has yet to reach a Grand Slam final but I think after a strong showing in Istanbul, she is ready to push on and start 2012 in good form.

I am finding the men's tournament extremely difficult to predict! I have gone for Djokovic to win although I have some doubt as to how he will start the season considering his disappointing end to 2011.  I am confident that Tsonga is going to push on in 2012 and he is my pick to reach his second Grand Slam final.  Although Federer showed some impressive form at the end of the 2011 tennis season, I think he will go out in the Semi-Finals. 

Djokovic will win his third consecutive Grand Slam title according to my predictions!

French Open 
WTA - Sam Stosur d. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
ATP - Rafael Nadal d. Juan Martin Del Potro
In the last two years, the French Open has been terribly unpredictable, which explains my prediction for 2012! Stosur was disappointing on the red clay last year but I anticipate that her US Open win will give her the confidence to go much further this year and take the title.  I am going for Pavlyuchenkova to be the other finalist... admittedly I am slightly biast on this one because I am big fan but I really think if she has worked hard on her game over the winter, she is going to have a great year!  I think she would have won the French Open last year if it hadn't been for a mental collapse against Schiavone in the Quarters. 

For the mens, I cannot look past Rafael Nadal claiming another French Open title.  Last year he was well below his best, but was still head and shoulders above the rest.  He has also produced some devastating form on the clay in the Davis Cup throughout the latter part of 2011.  I think  Del Potro will continue to improve in 2012 and will be Nadal's opponent in the final... i'm predicting that Del Potro will produce an epic performance to beat one of the top guns in the Semi Finals!

I believe Stosur will have a fantastic clay court season culminating in victory at Roland Garros

WTA - Petra Kvitova d. Serena Williams
ATP - Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic

Kvitova is hands down, my tip for Wimbledon.  She has been incredible on the grass for the last two years reaching the Semis in 2010 (losing to the eventual champion Serena) and winning it this year.  However, two years on from that loss to Serena, Kvitova is a much stronger and more experienced player and I think that she will beat Serena in the final this time round, in what will be the final to remember from 2012.  Serena is once again, a prediction for the final as I believe she will be much stronger going into Wimbledon compared to last year.

In the mens, i'm going for Roger Federer to claim his first Grand Slam title since the 2010 Australian Open.  I think that Federer will be really fired up for Wimbledon in 2012 following consecutive disappointing losses in the Quarter Finals to Berdych and Tsonga in 2010 and 2011 respectively.  Djokovic will once again be a force to be reckoned with on the grass and is my prediction to be the finalist... however this will be a magic two weeks for Roger (I think!!).

My prediction is for Roger to claim his 7th Wimbledon title

US Open 
WTA - Victoria Azarenka d. Andrea Petkovic
ATP - Andy Murray d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

The most likely new name to win a major in 2012 for me is Victoria Azarenka.  The hard courts suit her game well and I think after another consistent season and a better draw than last year (she met Serena in the third round), she will flourish at Flushing Meadows.  I also believe Petkovic will make her first Grand Slam Final at the US Open... she had a terrifically consistent end to the 2011 season and if she can keep that knee fit, she is going to have another stellar season.

I have also gone for a new Grand Slam champion in the mens with Andy Murray.  As I mentioned earlier, I am very unsure of how the mens game will shape out in 2012.  I cannot see Djokovic being as consistent as last year and despite victory on the clay, I anticipate Nadal to have poor results on the hard courts.  I think that Murray will  finally produce a winning performance over Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam after losing to him in 3 of the 4 slams last year, all at the semi-final stage.  Tsonga will also finish the year on a high, but like Murray will find himself stuggling to produce his best tennis in a Grand Slam Final.

Azarenka showed signs in 2011 that she has the game and mental toughness to win a Grand Slam

So there are my predictions... perhaps slightly misguided and led more by my heart rather than my head, but we shall see how they shape up over the course of next year ;-)

NEXT - My predicted top 10 season ending rankings in 2012 for the WTA... who do I think is going to rise and who is going to fall next year? Stay tuned!