Monday, November 3, 2008

Sony Ericsson Championships begin tomorrow

Maroon and white, the colors of the Qatar flag, are the designated round-robin group names for the 2008 Sony Ericsson Championships. The draw has been held, and into the white group are number 1 seed Jelena Jankovic, number 4 seed Ana Ivanovic, number 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, and number 8 seed Vera Zvonareva. Comprising the maroon group are number 2 seed Dinara Safina, number 3 seed Serena Williams, number 5 seed Elena Dementieva, and number 7 seed Venus Williams.

Competition begins with the first white group round-robin match between Jankovic and Ivanovic. The tournament could not possibly begin with more of a bang, in my opinion.

In the Sony Ericsson Championships, each woman plays each woman in her group, then top player in each group competes against the second-place player of the other group. The upshot of this system is that two members of the same group could meet in the final.

In the white group, Jankovic has the momentum, but Ivanovic is fresh, having had less match play than her peers because of an injury she sustained a few months ago. She also appears to have regained her confidence. Kuznetsova, despite having superior ability, just does not seem to have the mental wherewithal to win big contests. Zvonareva is the wild card here. She has become somewhat prone to having emotional meltdowns again, though not the type she had in the past; now she is more inclined to have bursts of temper on the court. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, and Zvonareva has been playing quite well.

The maroon group, of course, features the ongoing sister drama, and Venus has a bit of momentum going at this point in the season. Serena is a question mark: Is she healthy enough to continue to play the way she did at the U.S. Open? Dinara Safina has had a fantastic season, but seems rather weary at this stage. If she has the energy--especially the mental energy--to compete seriously, she is a threat. And finally there is Dementieva. It used to be that Dementieva could not serve, but if she got into a three-set contest, she almost always won it. This year, she began serving rather well, but would go to pieces mentally if there was a third set. Only recently has she put the good serve and the strong nerve together, which makes her a year-end contender.

There are only four doubles groups competing in the Championhips: defending champions Cara Black & Liezel Huber, Katarina Srebotnik & Ai Sugiyama, Kveta Peschke & Rennae Stubbs, and Anabel Medina Garrigues & Virginia Ruano Pascual.

The defending champion in singles, of course, is the now-retired Justine Henin, and the defending finalist is Maria Sharapova (also the 2004 winner), who has taken the last part of the season off to heal an injured shoulder. Sharapova's shoulder was bothering her in the last half of 2007, also, and she had not planned to compete in the Sony Ericsson Championships. At the last minute, she changed her mind, and the final between her and Henin was one of the best matches of the year. It also erased any doubts about Sharapova's ability to compete at a very high level. It seems odd that she is absent from the event in Doha this year.

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