Monday, June 18, 2007

Wimbledon begins June 25!

Can Justine Henin finally win Wimbledon?

The Championships at Wimbledon begin June 25, and this year, the women's lineup looks quite competitive.

The Favorites:

JUSTINE HENIN--Wimbledon is the only Slam tournament Henin has not won, though she was a finalist last year. Grass is obviously her weakest surface, but there is nothing weak about Henin's game. She is playing extremely well, serving well (for now), and going to the net quite a bit. There is no reason to exclude her from the list of women who are likely to win this year.

AMELIE MAURESMO--The defending champion (who beat Henin last year) and my favorite WTA player is not having a good season. She missed much of the clay season because of surgery for appendicitis, and then a long recovery period. Then she injured her leg and was out for several more days. She has simply not been herself since the medical leave. But grass is Mauresmo's best surface (she is no slouch on clay, I might add), and anything can happen in a Grand Slam tournament. Mauresmo believes she can win Wimbledon again, and perhaps her belief will help her make it two in a row.

SERENA WILLIAMS--Some of the excitement about Williams has faded a little since her loss at the French Open, but she is nevertheless a contender. Williams has won the tournament twice, and if she can get into the same gear she was in for the Australian Open, she can win a third time.

MARIA SHARAPOVA--Sharapova stunned the tennis world in 2004 when she beat Serena Williams and won Wimbledon. She has had her ups and downs since then, winning the 2006 U.S. Open and then getting run over by Williams in this year's Australian final. She has also suffered with a chronic shoulder injury, which has been the cause of much of her poor service game in 2007. One can safely assume that the injury-induced problem has also lowered her confidence. She just made it to the Birmingham final, but was defeated by Jelena Jankovic. Sharapova shines on grass, and she shines at big moments. If she can serve, she can win it.

JELENA JANKOVIC--It pleases me to be able to put Jankovic on this list because I have believed in her for a long time. I have no doubt that Jankovic is headed toward a major win, and she has two more tries this year. She just won a Wimbledon warmup tournament in Birmingham. The tour's Energizer Bunny, Jankovic apparently prefers match play to practice, and cannot stop entering tournaments. I still think that her body, her psyche, or both will be hurt by this excessive match play; I believe that fatigue (and, of course, her opponent's spectacular performance) was more of a factor than nerves in her easy loss to Justine Henin at the French Open. Henin is Jankovic's nemesis: Despite the fact that Jankovic appears to have solved the Henin puzzle, she still loses their matches. And though the threat is not quite as serious, the extremely talented Jankovic also has a nemesis in her compatriot...

ANA IVANOVIC--Ivanovic went to pieces in her French Open final against Henin, but she is not likely to go to pieces again at such a big moment. Her big, smooth game is great for the grass courts, she can out-serve just about everyone but Williams on a good day, and she has finally learned how to move on the court. Ivanovic may still not be ready to win a big one, but then again, perhaps she is.

NICOLE VAIDISOVA--Vaidisova also seems destined to win a big one. Though I do not think this will be the one, she still has to be seen as major competition.

The Dark Horses:

VENUS WILLIAMS--It feels funny to list Williams as a dark horse. The last time people counted her out--2005--she won the tournament. But Williams just does not have it together now like she used to, and she cannot be considered a major contender. But anyone who has won Wimbledon three times deserves to be seen as at least a dark horse.

MARTINA HINGIS--Hingis's hip has been giving her all kinds of trouble, and forced her to withdraw from the French Open, the tournament we know she most wants to win (she has never won it). A lack of match play, an injury, and the peaking of her ability--for now--on the tour make Hingis an unlikely winner in London. But if she comes in totally healed with the good Hingis serve, who knows?

SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA--There isn't a better athlete on the tour, and Kuznetsova possesses a variety of skills, but she has never gotten past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. She is also having trouble winning tournaments this year: She has been a finalist four times, and has lost four times. Still, a player of Kuznetsova's stature has to be included as a possibility.

ANNA CHAKVETADZE--Nicknamed "Little Hingis" because she uses her head to make up for her size, Chakvetadze has yet to make it past the third round at Wimbledon, or past the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam tournament. A few years ago, she had runaway emotions on the court that cost her several wins. And at the French Open, when she was required to play a match a day after playing in one of that tournament's two marathon matches, she was so exhausted, it was all she could do to stand on the court. If Chakvetadze has a fitness problem, she cannot win Wimbledon. But sometimes, after playing such a draining match as she played at the French, any player can wilt. If Chakvetadze can maintain her fitness level, she can go far.

Players to watch:

SAM STOSUR--The doubles star is especially good on grass, and if she is having a good day, can entertain. Her serves are almost consistently excellent, too.

MARA SANTANGELO--Santangelo's serve-and-volley game is made for grass, and she could be a dangerous floater at Wimbledon.

ELENI DANIILIDOU--One of the biggest under-achievers on the tour, Daniilidou does best on grass. It is frustrating to follow the career of this talented player who cannot seem to move forward.

MICHAELLA KRAJICEK--Another under-achiever of note, Kracijek has trouble stringing victories together. Grass is her best surface, however, and if her game is on, it is outstanding.

BETHANIE MATTEK--for her tennis outfits! Mattek created a stir last year, and caused a run on women's soccer socks at London department stores. (Mattek, by the way, has totally re-structured her game, and she is serving extremely well.)

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