The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships start in Madrid tomorrow, with the eight top players of 2007 competing to win. Here is the breakdown for round-robin play:
Justine Henin--World number one and defending champion Henin has to be a huge favorite to repeat in Madrid. She is playing outstanding tennis, and--unlike many of her peers--does not play a lot of tournaments. Her health seems to be good and she is not dealing with any significant injury.
Jelena Jankovic--Henin is her nemesis: She has never beaten her, though she has come terribly close. She will have to get through Henin in order to make it to the final rounds. Jankovic, who has the talent to win the Year-Ends, may not have the stamina. She has overplayed this year, and even the fittest players eventually burn out if they do not get adequate rest. Mental burnout is probably another issue Jankovic has to face, also.
Serena Williams--Storming into the Australian Open and winning it, out of nowhere, was a grand accomplishment, as was Williams' victory in Miami. But since then, she has looked vulnerable and inconsistent, and she has had a lot of trouble with Henin. Of course, Williams could always storm in and win in Madrid, too--it's hard to tell with her these days.
Anna Chakvetadze--The talented Russian has experienced a meltdown at the end of this season, and unless she picks up her level, she may not last long in Madrid.
Svetlana Kuznetsova--Kuznetsova could easily move to a semifinal or even a final in Madrid. She has the talent, is in good health, and has a comfortable draw. She has trouble being consistent throughout a match, however, and on a good day, another member of her group could take advantage of that. Round-robin plays allows for one loss, in most cases, however, so Kuznetsova looks good to back up her world number two spot.
Ana Ivanovic--Though not as inconsistent as Chakvetadze, Ivanovic does sometimes seem to be two different players: the scary one with the killer forehand, and the other one--who melts away at big moments. How she does depends on which Ivanovic shows up in Madrid.
Maria Sharapova--I have been expecting Sharapova to withdraw from Madrid play. She has had so many problems with her shoulder and has cancelled most of the latter part of her season. Now I think she was letting her shoulder rest so that she could compete in Madrid. But even if her shoulder is okay (and I certainly hope it is), Sharapova's lack of match play does not put her in a good position to do that well in Madrid. At the same time--if her shoulder is healed--I don't count her out.
Daniela Hantuchova--After so many years of choking and losing rank and just being a competitive mess, it is a real pleasure to see Hantuchova wind up in the top eight (though I hated how she squeezed in--beating Schnyder in Linz--but that's another sad story). Hantuchova is the wild card of the final eight. No one expected her to be at the party, but here she is, anyway, with nothing to lose. She has a comfortable draw (no Henin, no Jankovic) and a recent Tier II victory. Of course, this is Daniela Hantuchova, and she could still choke away any gains she makes. But maybe not. Being in the final eight may mean more to Hantuchova than it does to any of the other players: Working your way back into the top ten after making a big (and lengthy) tumble is not easy, but she did it. Hantuchova could use Madrid to seal her return to the big time.