Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Henin, Sharapova and Ivanovic get off to a good start in Madrid

World number one and defending champion Justine Henin started her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships title defense today by defeating Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1, 7-6. Getting to a tiebreak with Henin was probably a confidence-builder for Chakvetadze, despite her poor start. This match was the only Yellow Group match of the day.

Next, Maria Sharapova won a very tight match against Daniela Hantuchova, taking it at 6-4, 7-5. Sharapova looked to be in good form, though her second serve was not what it used to be. Nevertheless, she got past a very strong Hantuchova, and will doubtless improve as the tournament goes on.

In the other Red Group match, Ana Ivanovic, with her wicked forehand, was out in full force for about a set and a half, but then her opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova, corrected herself and turned the match into a contest. Ivanovic took it, however, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, as Kuznetsova squandered opportunities with unforced errors.

Tomorrow, Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin meet for the ninth time. They are wonderful opponents, and almost always give spectators two or three tight sets filled with constant thrills and terrific tennis. The only problem is that Jankovic has never won one of their matches, though she has come painfully close. Many of us think that Jankovic has over-played and burned herself out this season, and that this is not a time to be hopeful about a victory against Henin.

On the other hand, it has to happen some time. As good-humored as she is, Jankovic cannot be looking forward to a 0-10 record against Henin. But even if she beats Henin tomorrow, she still has to deal with Chakvetadze and Serena Williams. And if she gets herself into a semifinal, it will most likely be one against Henin, who looks good to finish at the top of the Yellow Group.

Another possible scenario involves a Henin win tomorrow, and a strong enough showing from Jankovic against her other opponents that she still ends up in a semifinal against Henin. One way or another, she will have to beat Henin at least once to get into the final. The wild card here, of course, is Serena Williams, who is doubtless on a track to dispense of Henin, who has become her nemesis, also. This Yellow Group is interesting!

I do not, however, wish to denigrate the Red Group. Sharapova is looking surprisingly good, considering her shoulder problems and her confidence problems. Hantuchova is looking good, too, and I imagine Kuznetsova will improve as play continues. Earlier in the year, I would have given Chakvetadze a better chance, but she has been in a slump for a while. Nevertheless, when she's playing well, Chakvetadze is a lot of fun to watch.

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