Monday, 24 October 2011

WTA Championships Istanbul Preview

The top 8 WTA players commence their group stage matches for the year end championships tomorrow, and it should prove an interesting end to the year, even if it is lacking in heavyweights such as Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters. It does contain three new slam winners in Sam Stosur (US Open), Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon) and Li Na (French Open) but out of the three only Kvitova has looked in good enough form to possibly take the title, who won her first title since Wimbledon by winning Linz. Disappointingly none of them have built on their grand slam overtures by dominating the field and exploiting the power vacuum that is the absence of Serena Williams, and particularly in the case of Na she has even retrograded from her grand slam winning form, bombing out of her home tournament in Beijing before the semi finals. Of the 8 women, perhaps the one who has looked most impressive is Victoria Azarenka, who recently won Luxembourg without dropping a set, and there is also the tricky, in-form Agnieszka Radwanska, who won back to back titles in Tokyo and Beijing. The groups are as follows:

Red Group:                                                             White Group:
Caroline Wozniacki (1)                                            Maria Sharapova (2)
Petra Kvitova (3)                                                       Victoria Azarenka (4)
Vera Zvonareva (6)                                                   Li Na (5)
Agnieszka Radwanska (8)                                      Samantha Stosur (7)

The Red Group is probably more difficult to call than the White Group. Wozniacki has continued to look unconvincing as the world no.1 and is susceptible to tall big hitters like Petra Kvitova, and I don't see her having an easy match. Radwanska would probably match up best for her as she is not as aggressive as Zvonareva or Kvitova, but what Wozniacki has shown is that you she can lose to players not even in the top 10 this year. Provided Kvitova's game is not error strewn, I put her above Wozniacki as the most likely to make it out of the group stage. 

In the White Group Sharapova's name jumps out immediately simply because even at her worst she is terrifically difficult to put away, although her serve has let her down all year and remains a serious liability. Stosur has disappointed lately, probably as the result of a post US Open lull, but if she finds her A game she has the weapons to beat anyone in the group and I give her a chance to make the semis, if not to win the tournament. Li Na has looked the most vulnerable in the past few months and it is difficult to see her making it out of the group. Azarenka on the other hand should be able to succeed fairly comfortably past the round robin.


Red Group Semi Finalists: Kvitova, Wozniacki
White Group: Azarenka, Sam Stosur

Final: Azarenka def. Kvitova

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Winter Preview

With the Asian hard court swing completed there are only two major events to the year left: the Paris masters, and the World Tour Finals in London. In some ways, this part of the season hasn't been much different from last year's; the players are understandably tired - Djokovic is out recovering from a back injury and Federer skipped the Shanghai masters to rest -, Nadal has entered his late year doldrums with a surprising loss to Florian Mayer and an inexplicable final set rollover in the final of Tokyo against Murray; and like primed clockwork, Murray has torn up the Asian hard courts with titles in Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai, and only one loss in his last 26 matches. Murray will be the favourite at the Paris Masters after his recent rampage, and he has been playing exceptional, aggressive tennis in the past 3 weeks or so which will put him in good stead to capture Paris on its ultra fast indoor surface.

However, it doesn't follow necessarily that he can sustain this into the World Tour Finals in November. Expect Federer to get all the practice he needs in Paris, and if Nadal manages to pull himself together I actually rate his chances quite highly to make the semi finals or better at the WTF. Djokovic is harder to ascertain. His recovery from the back injury which forced his withdrawal from the Davis Cup against Argentina could be a significant consideration, as well as his lack of match practice and general fatigue, but he still may have enough left in the tank to top off his golden year. That is not to say that Murray's success is dependent on the rest of the top 3 as in this kind of form he is capable of beating anyone, but it could provide an original ending to the year, should he manage to win the year end finals, and deny Djokovic a final coat of polish to his trophy heavy season.