Thursday, 21 November 2013

2013 in a nutshell

Here a quick summary of the winners and losers of 2013.

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Olga Puchkova

Winner: Li Na
Wooden Spoon: Silvia Soler-Espinosa

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska
Wooden Spoon: Anastasija Sevastova

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska
Wooden Spoon: Urzsula Radwanska

Winner: Elena Vesnina
Wooden Spoon: Hsieh Su-Wei

Winner: Victoria Azarenka
Wooden Spoon: Stefanie Voegele

Paris Indoors:
Winner: Mona Barthel
Wooden Spoon: Sofia Arvidsson

Winner: Maria Kirilenko
Wooden Spoon: Chanelle Scheepers

Winner: Victoria Azarenka
Wooden Spoon: Francesca Schiavone

Winner: Marina Erakovic
Wooden Spoon: Maria Sanchez

Winner: Jelena Jankovic
Wooden Spoon: Beatriz Garcia Vidagany

Winner: Petra Kvitova
Wooden Spoon: Varvara Lepchenko

Winner: Monica Niculescu
Wooden Spoon: Nina Bratchikova

Winner: Sara Errani
Wooden Spoon: Alexa Glatch

Kuala Lumpur:
Winner: Karolina Pliskova
Wooden Spoon: Kristyna Pliskova

Indian Wells:
Winner: Maria Sharapova
Wooden Spoon: Lucie Hradecka

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Allie Kiick

Winner Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Yaroslava Shvedova

Winner: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Wooden Spoon: Julia Cohen

Winner: Roberta Vinci
Wooden Spoon: Julia Goerges

Winner: Francesca Schiavone
Wooden Spoon: Daniela Hantuchova

Winner: Maria Sharapova
Wooden Spoon: Samantha Stosur

Winner: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Wooden Spoon: Dominika Cibulkova

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Camila Giorgi

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Francesca Schiavone

Winner: Kaia Kanepi
Wooden Spoon: Caroline Wozniacki

Winner: Alize Cornet
Wooden Spoon: Annika Beck

Roland Garros:
Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Coco Vandeweghe

Winner: Daniela Hantuchova
Wooden Spoon: Maria Joao Koehler

Winner: Simona Halep
Wooden Spoon: Jessica Pegula

Winner: Simona Halep
Wooden Spoon: Kiki Bertens

Winner: Elena Vesnina
Wooden Spoon: Sorana Cirstea

Winner: Marion Bartoli
Wooden Spoon: Irina-Camelia Begu

Winner: Simona Halep
Wooden Spoon: Lucie Safarova

Winner: Roberta Vinci
Wooden Spoon: Kristina Barrois

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Caroline Garcia

Bad Gastein:
Winner: Yvonne Meusburger
Wooden Spoon: Andrea Petkovic

Winner: Elina Svitolina
Wooden Spoon: Nigina Abduraimova

Winner: Dominika Cibulkova
Wooden Spoon: Magdalena Rybarikova

Winner: Magdalena Rybarikova
Wooden Spoon: Vania King

Winner: Samantha Stosur
Wooden Spoon: Monica Puig

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Anastasia Rodionova

Winner: Victoria Azarenka
Wooden Spoon: Jana Cepelova

New Haven:
Winner: Simona Halep
Wooden Spoon: Angelique Kerber

US Open:
Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Chanel Simmonds

Quebec City:
Winner: Lucie Safarova
Wooden Spoon: Michelle Larcher de Brito

Winner: Bojana Jovanovski
Wooden Spoon: Kateryna Kozlova

Winner: Zhang Shuai
Wooden Spoon: Luksika Kumkhum

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska
Wooden Spoon: Chan Chin-Wei

Winner: Petra Kvitova
Wooden Spoon: Anastasia Rodionova

Winner: Serena Williams
Wooden Spoon: Venus Williams

Winner: Angelique Kerber
Wooden Spoon: Yvonne Meusburger

Winner: Samantha Stosur
Wooden Spoon: Chanelle Scheepers

Winner: Caroline Wozniacki
Wooden Spoon: Irina-Camelia Begu

Winner: Simona Halep
Wooden Spoon: Yaroslava Shvedova

Winner: Serena Williams

Winner: Simona Halep

Most titles: Serena Williams (11)
Worst player: Irina-Camelia Begu (2), Anastasia Rodionova (2), Francesca Schiavone (2), Yaroslava Shvedova
The you'll-never-know-what-to-expect player: Yvonne Meusburger (W-Bad Gastein, WS-Linz), Angelique Kerber (W-Linz, WS-New Haven), Francesca Schiavone (W-Marrakech, WS-Rome, Doha), Lucie Safarova (W-Quebec City, WS-Budapest), Samantha Stosur (W-Osaka, Carlsbad, WS-Stuttgart), Caroline Wozniacki, (W-Luxembourg, WS-Brussels), Magdalena Rybarikova (W-Washington, WS-Stanford), Dominika Cibulkova (W-Stanford, WS-Oeiras), Daniela Hantuchova (W-Birmingham, WS-Marrakech), 
No sisterly love: Sydney (W- Agnieszka Radwanska, WS- Urszula Radwanska), KL (W - Karolina Pliskova, WS - Kristyna Pliskova), Beijing (W -  Serena Williams, WS - Venus Williams)

Player analysis: What sets Serena Williams apart?

At the age of 32, most tennis players will be enjoying their post tennis life with a family and maybe a couple of kids. However, Serena Williams turns back the hands of time and dominated the tour with 11 titles in 2013 with an impressive 78-4 win-loss record. One must wonder, what does Serena have that makes her so damn good?

Number 1: Serve

Serena always had a massive serve and was capable of serving herself out of trouble. In the earlier stages of her career, Serena was always tempted to go for the big bombs every single time. Now, with her experience and impressive repertoire of other serves, she chooses the correct delivery. The American no longer goes for the radar gun numbers anymore, but instead places her serve which gives her the advantage. It is also extremely difficult for the opponent to read Serena's serve as she tosses it the same way for every serve. If there's a stroke where everyone should emulate, it is Serena's impressive serve.

Number 2: Fighting spirit

Serena is an expressive person and it shows on court. In her younger days, she often found herself expressing too much on court, and the opponent picked up on her vulnerability and frustration. These days, Serena fights, but only to psych herself up. She still shows moments of frailty and outbursts of anger, but she channels that energy to play even better. Not forgetting her intimidation factor. Her presence on court is so commanding that the match is sometimes lost before the opponent hits the first ball. Serena believes she will win, and the opponent sometimes is influenced too.

Number 3: Fitness

Being a naturally aggressive player, it's difficult for Serena to rein in their power and not go for outrageous shots when pulled wide. Serena's game has matured from a pure power player with almost no back up plan, to a smart tennis player who knows when to pull the trigger. Sure, the earlier Serena would have a lot of shots in the highlights reel. But it's the victory that matters; and with her improved fitness, Serena is able to stay in the point and wait for the right moment to pounce.

Number 4: Schedule

Serena is not a machine. The American needs some time off tennis to get a normal life. Very rarely will you see her play for 2 or even 3 weeks consecutively. With smart scheduling, it ensures that she doesn't burn out, and her off court endeavours gives her breathing space to reinvigorate herself.

Number 5: Commitment

What else is there for someone who has won everything that can be won? Serena is an icon and inspiration, not only to the tennis world, but to the general public. By continuing to give the best at 32, she inspires people that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Serena can very well drop her rackets and retire on her astronomical earnings, but she knows she can make a difference, and is willing to stay committed to continue to inspire.

What's next for Serena Williams?

With 17 Grand Slam titles now, it's difficult not to think about the fabled number, 22. Will Serena equal, or even overtake Steffi's record of 22 slam titles? And will Serena's body hold up for her to achieve this number? Let's face it. Tennis these days is more about fitness than shot-making. Racket technology has transformed the game into a gladiatorial fight of sorts. Serena's recovery is not as fast now, as evidenced in the Year-End Championships. However, she does enough to claim victory nevertheless. Can she do the same 2 years down at 34? I'm sure Serena is not thinking so far ahead at 22 titles, but one can only hope Serena continues to stay healthy, because tennis greats do not come along that often.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

2013 WTA awards predictions

The nominees for the WTA awards are not announced yet, except for WTA player of the year which is obviously Serena Williams. Let's make a prediction on who might walk away with these prestigious awards.

Player of the year: Serena Williams

With only 4 losses this year, it will be a travesty if Serena Williams did not win this award. Granted that 2 of her losses happened in Grand Slams, but Serena's longevity and consistency throughout this year is remarkable. Most players would be hanging up their rackets at 31, but Serena just keeps breaking records. If she continues her winning ways, she might very well replace Steffi Graf as the greatest player of all time. We are fortunate to witness history in the making.

Honorable mention: Victoria Azarenka

Only 1 player can boast that she beat Serena Williams twice in her most dominant year, and that is Victoria Azarenka. While the rest of the field quiver with fear upon facing Serena, Azarenka thrives on the challenge and always raises her level against the American. Despite a forgettable post US Open slump, Azarenka managed to defend her Australian Open crown to become a multiple slam champion. She needs to pick up her game though, as she's beginning to show signs of slowing down.

Most improved player: Simona Halep

If there is a song to describe Simona Halep's second half of the season, it would be Alicia Keys's "Girl on Fire". The Romanian went from a perennial bridesmaid to a proud owner of 5 titles in 2013. With wins over top 10 winners like Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber, it's only a matter of time before she breaks into the top 10. I expect to see the Romanian shine in 2014, and make her debut in the Year End Championships in Singapore.

Honourable mention: Sloane Stephens

Despite not winning any titles, or even reaching any finals, Sloane Stephens is knocking on the top 10's door. This is a remarkable improvement from last year, where she was just a middling top 50 player. As one of the players who defeated Serena, Sloane carried her confidence in big tournaments (perhaps a little bit too much), with good showings in Slams and the premier events. Now Sloane just needs to make less noise and let her racket do the talking, before she becomes a one season wonder.

Comeback player of the year: Jelena Jankovic

At the beginning of 2013, you would not have expected Jankovic to re-enter the top 10. She seems to be losing her motivation and there were even rumours of her retiring at the end of the year. Jelena shut all of us up as she put together a consistent, though unremarkable year to end as the world number 8. The Serbian took advantage of collapsed draws, but also sprang a few upsets of her own over Kvitova and Azarenka. Let's see if she can continue her renewed enthusiasm into 2014 and qualify for Singapore 2014.

Honourable mention: Marion Bartoli

If Marion hadn't decided to retire after her Wimbledon triumph, she would have clinched the comeback player of the year hands down. Her shock retirement is a downer, as many of her fans looked up to her as a model of persistence and determination. Well, she is a Grand Slam champion and has stated that she does not miss competing, so we have to respect her decision. Bartoli will definitely go down WTA's history as one of the tour's most quirky characters.

Newcomer of the year: Eugenie Bouchard

As the second youngest player in the top 50 (the younger one being Madison Keys), Eugenie Bouchard is quickly climbing up the rankings and will be guaranteed a seed for Australian Open. Her stellar fall results show that she's ready for the limelight, and has already claimed upsets over Ivanovic and Jankovic. If she keeps it up, we will have a new star in the making with her compact game and pleasant looks.

Honourable mention: Madison Keys

The youngest player in the top 50, Madison Keys is quickly becoming the dark horse in the tournaments she entered. With her good showings against top 10 players like Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska, she proved that she has the game to compete with the best, and just needs to gain more experience on winning the important points. If she manages to play a disciplined power game, she has the potential to be the next Venus Williams with her booming serve.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sofia F: Halep's got this in her bag

Simona Halep vs. Samantha Stosur

A rematch of the Moscow final where Halep won easily, it's difficult to pick against the Romanian, whose 2nd half of the year was just stellar. If not for her first half of the year, she will definitely be top 10, or even top 5. Her drastic improvement has to be accredited to her coach change, and it will be exciting to see what she can accomplish next year with the pressure on her. Samantha Stosur also "woke up" after her US Open failure, and only lost to her boogeywoman, Lucie Safarova, and Simona Halep since. Against Halep, Samantha needs to serve big and take the net to end the points early. Any long drawn rallies will inevitably end up as a backhand extended rally which Simona will come out on top 9 out of 10 times. With her patient and counterpunching play, Simona will cruise to her 6th title of the year, knocking on top 10's door.

Pick: Halep in 2 sets

Friday, 1 November 2013

Sofia SF: Halep vs Ivanovic; winner to win it all?

Samantha Stosur vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Interesting line-up here in Sofia as the players almost mirror the Moscow semi-finals, but with different match ups. Stosur is coming off an impressive fall season which saw her win in Osaka and made a final run in Moscow. Except the small blip against Ivanovic, she is almost flawless. She will be the favourite against Pavlyuchenkova as she leads the heads to heads 2-1. The indoor courts will give Stosur the added advantage as she will not shank as many balls as compared to outdoors. Pavlyuchenkova needs to serve well, but her serve is the weakest part of her game.

Pick: Stosur in 2 tight sets

Simona Halep vs. Ana Ivanovic

Yikes... The way Ana lost her match against Vesnina shows that her mental frailty is still there. That loss cause a blemish as that's her first loss in the Tournament of Champions in 3 years. Against Halep, Ivanovic will stand no chance if she chokes a lead like that. However, it's almost certain that Ivanovic won't even get that kind of lead, as Halep is just tearing up the lower tier events. Her superior record over the rest of the field shows that she's bound to clinch this title, and despite Ana's winning record over her, it is set to change. Ana needs to return very well, but her backhand weakness will be full exposed by the tactical Halep.

Pick: Halep in 2 sets

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sofia day 4: Pavlyuchenkova and Cornet vie for semi-final place

Ana Ivanovic vs. Elena Vesnina

Ana proved to be the undisputed queen of this event by winning against Stosur. She maintains her flawless record in Tournament of Champions and looks set to continue her winning ways against Vesnina. The Russian lost a set against Pironkova, which is an indication of her dire form. Ana will wallop Elena and end the Russian's season here.

Pick: Ivanovic in 2 sets

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Alize Cornet

The winner of this match proceeds to the semi-final, so I believe they will be fighting their hearts out. On the fast indoor courts, you have to favour the Russian. Cornet's loopy strokes will be sitting ducks for Anastasia to punish. However, I believe the Frenchwoman will put up a good fight before going down.

Pick: Pavlyuchenkova in 3 sets

Samantha Stosur vs. Tsvetana Pironkova

Stosur in 2 easy sets. I repeat myself, Pironkova doesn't belong here.

Sofia day 3: Can Ivanovic spring a surprise?

Ana Ivanovic vs. Samantha Stosur

These 2 players just played a few weeks ago in Moscow, so I don't expect a different result on a similar surface. Ana needs to study what she did wrong in Moscow, and try to correct them against Stosur. I do expect a closer match this time, but I don't see Ana springing a surprise here despite her being higher ranked.

Pick: Stosur in 3 sets

Elena Vesnina vs. Tsvetana Pironkova

Vesnina in 2 easy sets. Pironkova doesn't belong here and never did.

Simona Halep vs. Elina Svitolina

Simona has already qualified, so it depends whether she wants to put in the effort or not. Still, I expect a half assed Simona to be too much for Svitolina. Elina only made it here by winning one of the weakest tournaments on tour.

Pick: Halep in 2 sets

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Sofia day 2: Forgone conclusions

Samantha Stosur vs. Elena Vesnina

Coming off a disappointing Istanbul, Vesnina will attempt to brush that away with a win over Stosur. It doesn't bode well for the lower ranked Russian as she was the weak link in the doubles match final. Committing numerous crucial errors and dragging Makarova down, Vesnina didn't deserve to win the final. She might also be suffering from a hangover from the disastrous showing there, so I expect Stosur to even the heads to heads. Playing indoors will definitely help Samantha with less elements to disrupt her serve and whippy strokes.

Pick: Stosur in 2 sets

Simona Halep vs. Alize Cornet

Simona Halep has won 5 titles this year and looks good to add another title here in Sofia. Against Cornet, she will stand as the firm favourite, even though Alize has a win under her belt. Simona's lightning quick court coverage will make Alize go for her shots, something which she is not used to. Also, Simona's forehand will murder Cornet's loopy forehand. I expect a quick win for the Romanian without much drama.

Pick: Halep in 2 sets

Elina Svitolina vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

As expected, Kirilenko's injury flared up and Svitolina was called in for a replacement. Anyway, Pavlyuchenkova will beat anyone who's not named Halep in her group, so this match is a forgone conclusion. Elina probably is just happy to be there and not fully prepared for this match. Look out for an easy win for the Russian.

Pick: Pavlyuchenkova in 2 sets

Monday, 28 October 2013

Sofia day 1: Simona the huge favourite

Ana Ivanovic vs Tsvetana Pironkova

These two are the only wild card entries here but only one is deserving of her wild card. Pironkova's appeal in Bulgaria is debatable, so it makes no sense to me to award a wild card to her for doing nothing much this year. Granted, she had a good run to the fourth round in Winbledon, but other than that, she practically invisible. Look out for an easy win for Ana.

Pick: Ivanovic in 2 sets

Maria Kirilenko vs Alize Cornet

It's difficult to predict Maria's matches as she has a thing for competing injured. We don't know for sure if she's fully healthy yet. However, she did push Serena in Beijing, so I expect her to be almost back. Against Cornet, she should have an advantage as Alize prefers the slow clay, even though she has a losing record against the Frenchwoman. Kirilenko needs to be careful though, as Cornet can spring a surprise if she's not focused.

Pick: Kirilenko in 3 sets

Simona Halep vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

A rematch of the recent Moscow semi finals, Halep takes on Anastasia again in their opening Sofia match. On a similar surface, I expect the same results as Moscow, where the Russian got blown away by the Romanian. This tournament is Simona's to lose, having a stellar second half of the season and recent wins over the players participating here.

Pick: Halep in 2 sets

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Istanbul final: Serena's worst opponent will always be herself

Serena Williams vs. Li Na

Anyone who watched Serena vs Jankovic will be scratching their heads at the disappearance of Serena midway through the match. Actually, throughout almost the whole match, Serena was barely there. Maybe it was Summer or Tequanda, but it was definitely not a 100% healthy Serena. Still, she manages to get the job done, and survives to play Li Na. The world number 1 cannot afford to do this against the rejuvenated Li, who was clinical in her disposal of Kvitova. Serena needs to overcome her demons (which is herself) and give her all in the last match of the season. If both players play to their best, we are guaranteed a crackling final. As usual, it will be difficult to pick against Serena. But if one of her alter egos appears, Li might just become the first Asian to win the year-end championships.

Pick: Serena in 3 sets

Friday, 25 October 2013

Istanbul SF: Career high at stake for Li

Li Na vs. Petra Kvitova

A win here will give Li a number 3 career high ranking, so a lot is at stake for the Chinese. For someone who has a Grand Slam and a long illustrious career, not reaching the top 3 is a blemish. I'm sure Li will be very motivated to achieve that milestone. However, Kvitova looks to be in ominous form and looks ready to take down Li (in 3 sets no doubt). Petra has won 2 of their 3 hard court encounters, and their last meeting in Beijing. Will she inflict the same damage to Li? Against Azarenka, Li had the tough task of playing against the injured opponent, but she never lost focus and continued playing her game. Looks like she is working on her concentration and it's showing. Against someone whose concentration fades in and out, Li can take advantage.

Pick: Li in 3 sets

Serena Williams vs. Jelena Jankovic

I guess Jelena already knew she qualified, so she didn't give her 100% against Errani. But any self-respecting professional will give her all no matter what the circumstances. Against Serena, Jankovic will be bludgeoned even if she gives her all.

Pick: Williams in 2 easy sets