Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reading the Tennis Tea Leaves: Who is Trending Up?


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It's been a tumultuous week of tennis, and today I'm going to try to make sense of some of the madness by attempting to quantify the early achievements that we've witnessed in Brisbane, Perth, Auckland, Doha and Chennai.

In keeping with the spirit of making sense of the madness, I've elected to go with a nice easy bullet format, so, without any further ado...

  • Aussie Kim is Emerging as an Australian Open favorite -- There were moments during her straight set victory over Iveta Benesova last night where I became convinced that Clijsters is going to be the best player on the WTA tour through the Olympics this year. She was tattooing the ball early and often last night, from both sides, and it was easy to see that this was not the same Clijster's who didn't even bother limping to the finish line in 2011. A myriad of injuries caused Kim to pretty much throw in the towel before Wimbledon last year, but if last night's version of Aussie Kim is any indication, she's hell bent on starting the year with a bang. She was certainly banging last night, and what impressed me most of all was her movement. Precise footwork and keen fitness will allow Clijsters -- should she manage to stay healthy -- to produce a daunting blend of knock-your-socks-off power and keep-the-point-alive defense that is sure to make her a very scary opponent in Melbourne.

  • Dolgopolov Top Ten? -- I don't know if "The Dog" will ever be one of the more consistent players on tour, but man is this guy electric. Of all the guys on tour, is there any player who has a game that resembles a 4th of July fireworks display more closely than Dolgopolov? This guy is exploding bottle rockets all the way. He may not be a fixture in Grand Slam semifinals this year, but if dolgopolov does go deep in a Slam, get your popcorn ready and your DVD set to "record."

  • Kaia Kanepi Surging -- A powerful display that featured 12 aces and a whole lot of sizzling forehands left the Estonian among the last four in Brisbane. She's currently ranked No. 34, but reached as high as No. 16 in 2011. Could this be the beginning of another push for her?

  • How will Serena's ankle affect her chances in Melbourne? -- I think the ankle will limit Serena's already limited mobility, and that will be a hindrance for her in Melbourne, should she be fit enough to play, for sure. That said, if there is anyone on the women's side who can overcome mobility with a parade of aces and winners it is Serena. Still, I think this will hurt her chances of returning to the Grand Slam winner's circle quite a bit.

  • Tsonga at a new level? -- Doesn't it seem like the always brilliant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has turned a corner of late? He was always pure poetry in motion, but now he seems less prone to the walkabout virus that continues to plague his friend Gael Monfils. I think the Frenchman, with all his firepower and shotmaking prowess, could make a push to enter the top four.

  • Li Na has something to prove, and that is a good thing -- The 2011 French Open champion didn't like the way the rest of 2011 went down, and she's apparently out to prove that she can not only regain the form that saw her play two consecutive Grand Slam finals in 2011, she can do better. Li busted her hump in Munich during the off-season, and here's what she had to say about the experience.

    “The training lasted four weeks. Like no photo-shooting, no interviews, just only training, very tough, like six hours a day for training. Two or three hours for tennis but most was for fitness because I want to keep healthy and stay for whole season.

    “Before I always have knee injury and some back injury so I couldn’t finish whole season and I didn’t want to do that again. I know now I’m not young anymore – I didn’t have time to waste. I have to focus every tournament, every second, so that’s why I stay in Munich for long time just to keep body healthy and strong.”

  • Tomic on the up -- the 19-year-old Aussie has made his first quarterfinal on home soil, and he's added a little muscle (3kg) to help him add some power to his already nuanced game. He'll play a winnable match against Denis Istomin for a spot in the semifinals, where either Andy Murray or Marcos Baghdatis will be waiting.

  • Different year, same grinders -- How nice is it to see that heart and soul veterans Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova have already made their first semifinals of the year? I know it's far-fetched, but is there anybody out there who wouldn't enjoy seeing these two battlers reprising their friendly rivalry in a Grand Slam final?

  • Masha? -- Well, Serena's got ankle issues and so does Maria Sharapova. But Maria's injury, which happened in October, is a bit more concerning. It's been almost three months and if she plays Melbourne, she'll be coming in with zero matches under her belt.

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