Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2015 may defy prediction

If 2014 was the year of the unexpected, then 2015 is--at least for now--a year in which we aren't really sure what to expect. The times occasionally appear to be changing, and then--just like that--it feels as though the beloved veterans run the show. Who will rise in the coming season, who will struggle, and who will inevitably fade, albeit with an unchanged fighting spirit?

All eyes are always on world number 1 Serena Williams, whose performance tends to defy prediction--of any kind. Williams is 33 years old in biological years, but in tennis years, she's practically ageless. We've seen her play (and win) while she was all bandaged up from head to toe, and that was several years ago! Williams appears to be less injury-prone these days, she's very fit, and--given her historical ebb-and-flow pattern, it wouldn't be surprising to see her come on strongly in the new season. I like her chance to add at least one major singles trophy.

Maria Sharapova's tennis career has been interesting, and sometimes puzzling. Winning the French Open for a second time--and doing so in such a high-quality final--gave Sharapova a boost she probably really needed. But there are still things she needs to do--get her erratic serve under control, and beat Serena Williams. The reality, however, is that it's nothing short of a miracle that the Russian survived all her shoulder issues and is the number 2 player in the world. I, for one, believe in Maria and am looking forward to her 2015 performance.

If Williams and Sharapova are unpredictable, then Petra Kvitova is a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces fly around and then re-arrange themselves in ways that sometimes make no sense. A huge talent and an established champion, the Czech star could do so much more. There's the issue of her asthma and the related issue of her tendency to develop respiratory infections. And then there's just that meltdown habit that may or not be related to her physical health at any given moment.

Kvitova had a strong season, especially in the second half. She not only won Wimbledon again, but she played one of the most dramatic Fed Cup matches in recent history and clinched her country's repeat as Fed Cup champions. Her Wimbledon win alone was masterful enough to be one of the year's top stories. Will 2015 be the year that Petra plays like--well, Petra--from beginning to end? If she does, she'll strike considerable fear in all kinds of opponents.

The player to keep watching (and who wouldn't want to?) is Simona Halep, who, in 2013, gracefully announced her arrival in the elite group of WTA players. At last. She had a good 2014, reaching the final of the French Open, among other accomplishments. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing holding Halep back is her tendency to get injured. Her feet and her back are the most vulnerable. She does have confidence issues now and again, but with her much improved serve and her solid two-season record, the Romanian star is looking at a very bright future--if she can stay healthy.

One of my wishes for Halep would be for her to retain the services of Alex Stober, but Kvitova has already hired him, and that, too, is a very good thing.

That brings me to Genie Bouchard. She stunned the tennis world last year with a dramatic breakthrough that took her to the semifinals of both the Australian Open and the French Open, and the Wimbledon final. The rest of her season didn't go too well because of injuries, and she was just injured again recently.

There's a kind of edge to Bouchard which appears to work well for her during the heat of competition, but which might also have a shadow side. Bouchard has created a "me against them all" persona for herself (which I thought about when I saw so many players weeping as they said emotional goodbyes to Li Na), but it feels a bit forced. Shes having to deal with massive amounts of media and fan attention, and she had to endure being blown to the other side of London by Kvitova in the Wimbledon final. She has also parted ways with her coach. There's a lot going on there.

Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki re-invented themselves in 2014, so it will be especially interesting to see what they do in 2015. Wozniacki is the steadier of the two, by history, yet it's Ivanovic who has already won a major.

Ekaterina Makarova likes the big stage, and with her 2014 U.S. Open semifinal appearance, she made me think that with a bit more confidence (maybe with help from a psychological expert?), she could rock the entire tennis world.

Victoria Azarenka's 2014 pretty much didn't count. The two-time Australian Open champion could win a third Melbourne title, finally win a U.S. Open title, or find a variety of ways to get sick and injured and lag behind. The fragility of Azarenka is in constant conflict with her talent and fighting spirit.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Lucie Safarova (who has also re-invented herself), the under-appreciated Angelique Kerber and her countrywoman, Andrea Petkovic. Alize Cornet, too. (Li Na may be gone, but JJ, Alize and Petko are available, and that's a lot of entertainment.)

Will Aga Radwanska pull herself back together? I hope so. And I think she will.

The youth attack is on. Garbine Muguruza, Belinda Bencic, Elina Svitolina, and Karolina Pliskova are all looking good. Muguruza is looking especially good, and there's a kind of calm, comfortable aura around the Spaniard that I think will serve her well in 2015 and beyond.

Both Camila Giorgi and Caroline Garcia have lots of potential, but also a lot of nerves to tame. Kristina Mladenovic is the tour's wild card in singles right now--anything could happen. As for doubles, I see her continuing to take home trophies. She and Timea Babos are a fairly consistent team now; I also liked the team of Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova. Of course, we may see another round of "Mladenovic and Anybody," which tends to be a winning combination.

Will we be saying goodbye to any Italians next year? Flavia Pennetta is 32 years old. She's also number 12 in the world and won Indian Wells this year, so maybe we'll have the great pleasure of keeping her around a while. Francesca Schiavone is 34 and could very well end her pro career soon.

As for the other Italian stars--Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci should remain a force in doubles.


Todd.Spiker said...

I sure hope Giorgi can get her first title in 2015 -- losing two finals after holding match point in BOTH can be a big burden to lug around if it lingers for too long.

Sabey said...

I hope Caroline will get her first Grand Slam title in 2015.

Diane said...

Yes to both!

bill said...

Hoping Halep Healthy
Predicting Petko Prevails
Wishing Wozniaki Wins
Suspecting Serena Supreme.

Diane said...

Love it!

Sabey said...

Hi Diane, what are your thoughts on some of the new coaching situations? The Martina/Aga combo is the most exciting to me.

Diane said...

I was surprised by that, especially since I didn't know Martina had ever coached anyone before (one of the "hints" was--a former coach).

I'd like to know what she plans to add, since I think Aga's regular coach has obviously done a very good job. MN is a master at reading the court, but Aga is the master at that.

Aga needs a better second serve (her first one has improved a lot) and she needs, imo, more confidence when she plays big hitters; she tends to just fold. Maybe Martina is there to help with Aga's mindset?

Don't know about Halep's coach, but Halep, as I understand it, is very focused about what she wants and doesn't want. I hope that doesn't end up hurting her.

I'm most excited about a new physio, not coach. Kvitova has hired Alex Stober! I kind of wanted Halep to hire him, but I'm happy that Petra has him.

Sabey said...

I like the idea of the Aga/Martina combo but I do agree it's not a match up I had imagined. Petra/Martina is one I'd like to see.

Ryan:) said...

I believe you are bang on the money with all those comments Diane -

I am a BIG petra fan - have been since she beat Dinara in the US open in 2009 - I believe that she may keep her form going into 2015 (but by judging her start to 2014 after her sort of resurgence in 2013 I'm no so sure).. (Well i want her to play really fabulously in the Australian summer next year) - I would really like her to see her step up and win maybe the Australian open sometime in her career (because I know that she's not a clay court queen (more like a giraffe on ice skates) nor likes the over publicised US open) - maybe 2015 could be something good for her...

Although I do disagree a little bit with your thoughts on Serena - while she is dominant force on the tour, I believe that she is starting to lose that edge that she had over the majority of the WTA players - like for example Alize Cornet having beaten her 3 times this year and being less dominant within the slams (like losing in the early stages of Australian, French and Wimbeldon this year).. the past couple of years - I remember her winning the majority of the slams for a few years in a row but the past couple of years has only able to get an average of 1 per year.. Idk - I just believe that being her age that she is starting to fade a little bit

I also agree with you with Masha - she had quite a good year this year - although I'm not her biggest fan i believe that she'll hopefully put together another good year in 2015

I also agree that Halep is starting to become a formidable opponent on the tour - she's definitely come into her own - while she's starting to blossom I believe that she did take full opportunity to go deep do to her easy draws in the majority of tournaments during this year.. I believe she can definitely go all the way at the French considering that I believe her game is more suited to the clay than anything else but question marks (in my opinion) lay over her ability to ascertain any other success at the other slams..

The success of both Ana and Caro this year was fantastic - both players deserved all the accolades that they received this year due to their ability to re-invent their games to achieve success in the game - I also believe that more success in 2015 is looming - maybe a grand slam for either of them who knows..

I've also always had my eye on Lucie Safarova - this year has probably been her best year - and I will also be looking out for her in 2015 - her partnership with her new coach is doing wonders for her (evidenced by that deep run to the semis at Wimbeldon - which i believe is her worst surface) - I hope that 2015 will bring her some accolades to prove how much hard work she is doing..

Makarova may have a good season who knows - she's on the precipice of the top 10 but I don't believe that she's grand slam (singles) material - maybe premier tier worthy (who knows) - I definitely hope she has success next year in her doubles though.. and maybe also bring her an international title(s).. I suppose for her its just mental strength that she needs to ascertain - she has the game (and maybe also needs some consistency) to be able to beat players within the top 10 - so I hope that she may have a successful 2015

Bleh. Genie Bouchard - I don't think she will have a really successful year next year - I believe that she definitely made the most of her easy draws this year - she never really came up against anyone formidable and so because she went so deep into tournaments she got all this praise.. the real telling thing about Genie was her blowout against Kvitova in the Wimbeldon final and her horrible performance at the WTA finals in Singapore - it just says to me that Genie really shouldn't be in the top 10 just yet - I feel like its a bit pre-mature for her - in the future (maybe 2016 onwards) I believe that she deserves a place there but not now.. I don't think she's got a handle on her entire game to be a formidable opponent within the top 10..

Ryan:) said...

Everyone has said that Genie is at the forefront of those "rising stars" but I believe that the accolades should definitely go to players like you said - Garbine, Belinda, Elina (maybe), Karolina (definitely) and maybe also Zarina Diyas.. I'm sure all these athletes will have definite success in 2015 - especially Pliskova because she did win 3 titles in 2014 - will 2015 bring her a berth into the top 20?

I agree - I will also be keeping an eye out for Camila in 2015 - I believe 2015 will be a time for her to maybe gain some stability (although I doubt it with her volatile, high stakes game style) and venture into the top 30 - I believe she has the potential to for sure - but the whole thing with her is just consistency and mental strength.. a title may be bound for her in 2015..

Im sure Flavia will stay for maybe a year or two more due to her successful 2013/14.. but I'm sure Schiavone may have reached the her last stop in 2015 also..

Diane said...

Ryan, thank you so much for your insightful comments. It has occurred to me that Bouchard's 2014 draws did indeed place her in a "too much too soon" position. She definitely had a second half slump. I haven't quite "figured out" Bouchard.

Tragedy, injury and near-death didn't get Serena, but I suppose age is another matter :)

Petra's hiring of Alex Stober is the best news! Obviously a "gift" from her dear friend, Na, Stober is the one who can get Petra to another level of fitness. Maybe even help her transcend the respiratory problems that have caused her so much trouble.

As for Svitolina--I want her to do well because she is such a character.

Ryan:) said...

Oh no worries Diane - like you tennis is my love and life and I love keeping up with women's tour :)

I think the telling thing for Bouchard is 2015 - she does have a huge amount of points to defend in 2015 - she will have to really step up to the plate - she will definitely lose points from all her international tournament escapades (because of her current ranking within the top 10) so it will be interesting to see how she goes.. I just believe right now that Genie is defined more by the "hype" that surrounds her rather than her game.. I believe that everyone talks her up to be such an amazing star player.. yet her performance against the women's elite has been far from satisfactory.. The only reason she did go as far as she did was because she did only end up playing players within the top 20 (outside the top 10) - whilst there are some big guns in that section of the rankings (Pennetta, Lucie and Venus) I'm pretty sure she didnt come up against them - I just had a look at her results and the majority of the time she did lose out many times to people outside the top 10 - the only time she did get anywhere was in Nurnburg which was her sole title this year.

Right now she doesn't have the game that impresses me that much - maybe in the future once all the elite have passed on sure but I don't believe in the hyped up version of Bouchard because in reality she has had a quite a disappointing year.. She may just turn out to be a Sloane Stephens.. (Although I do wish that Sloane picks up her game in 2015 - I love her a lot and I'm a big fan of her so I hope she has some sort of resurgence in 2015)

Yeah that is true - Serena may last a few more years - i'd say that she may last till 2017 but who knows - she may pull a Kimiko Date-Krumm..

I really hope Alex really works some magic into Petra's game - 2012 and 2013 were really unfit years for Petra and she has really only started to get her fitness back together in the second half of this year really since Wimbeldon - Yeah I suppose he is a "gift" from her dear friend but as you said he may help her to get to the next level in her game - Petra's limitation has always been her fitness and her consistency - but I believe both of the facets of her game are sort of linked - hopefully if she is more fitter it could add a dimension/variety to her game - I know that she is an all-out powerhouse but if she had some defensive capabilities from Alex's fitness regime (like the ability to run down more balls) she could really be a threat to anyone - it could also serve as something to fall back on if she is having one of her "poor form" spots - I suppose we will find out come 2015 :) :)

I haven't really paid much attention to Svitolina this year - I suppose she's had a quietly confident year slowly sneaking her way into the top 30 (kudos to her) - she is definitely at the level to push the top 20 this coming year - but question marks for me is that if she is capable in the coming year to break into the top 20 considering the caliber of the women - maybe she is bound for a "well known" international title (because I believe that Baku - the titles that she did win are during a slump in the WTA season - considering many of the contenders were outside the top 30.. I haven't watched her game enough to see the character you talk about but i'll try and pay more attention to her next year

I'm really more keeping my eyes pealed for Karolina Pliskova and Zarina Diyas - I don't know why but I've just taken a fancy in both of their games :)

Diane said...

Interesting thing about Diyas, whom I started watching a few years ago: She used to play more aggressively than she does now. I think her game is still evolving. She's fun to watch, for sure.

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