Saturday, June 21, 2014

The official "On the Rise (a tennis blog)" Wimbledon 2014 WTA preview post!

This grass. These courts. This ... Wimbledon! I have a lot to cover, so I'm going to dispense with the purple prose introduction and get right down to it.

This here is my first ever Preview, for any tournament. Today and tomorrow I will rate the draws of all 23* USAmericans on a scale of Love (easiest) to 6 (toughest), and provide what I see as best case scenarios for each (understanding that with the exception of Serena, the worst case scenario would be a first-round loss) as well as what I think is the more likely scenario (that is, my prediction).  Also there are fun facts for each! "Fun."

Finally, I will venture guesses at the total number of matches I think the each sex will win. Please come back after I fail miserably at my guesses to mock me! It's what I'm here for.

Okay. Here we go:

The Women of the United States of America

1. Serena Williams (1)
Rank: 1
First-round opponent: Anna Tatishvili (USA)
Best result: Champion (2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012)
Draw rating: 1

Draw analysis: Serena Williams won't be losing to Anna Tatishvili. After that, everything is up to Serena. I feel like she's the heavy favorite to win this tournament. She's already had her "shock" loss at a major, and given her early exit last year I see her as being focused and motivated from ball one. Still, her health will likely be a concern for the rest of her career, and hell, Sharapova has to win ONE more time before one of them retires, right? Right? They could meet in the Quarters.

I predict her first tough match will be in the Round of 16 vs Petkovic - that could be a fun one actually.  Should she reach the semis, I'm pretty sure everyone would want to see an Ivanovic rematch. Except maybe Ivanovic's ever-nervous fans, of course.

Best case scenario: Hoisting her SIXTH Venus Rosewater Dish (her 18th major overall) and then dancing at the Champions Ball with Grigor Dimitrov.  More likely scenario: she dances with Rafa, Roger, Andy, or Novak.

Fun fact: Here's the list of Serena's conquerors at Wimbledon: Venus, Justine, Sharapova, Capriati, Bartoli, Lisicki, Virginia Ruano Pascual (first appearance), and .... Jill Craybas!

2. Sloane Stephens (18)
Rank: #18
First-round opponent: Maria Kirilenko (RUS)
Best result: QF (2013)
Draw rating: 2

Draw analysis: It's bound to come crashing down at some point - Sloane's run of six consecutive major 4th round appearances. I just don't think it will happen this month? A mentally fragile enigma who has yet to put it all together, my favorite player has frankly lucked out a bit with her draws at majors. Here, with Kirilenko's injuries, and Konta & Peng eminently beatable, most will pencil her into the 3rd round. There she could end up the lower seed vs. Pennetta, but my hunch is that she runs into Lauren Davis. Davis hits a nice ball, and took pre-Top 20 Sloane to 7-5 in the 3rd in Hobart last year. But I'd still call call Sloane the favorite there. At which point I see her losing to Kvitova or Venus. Or Li or Woz in the quarters.

Still, fair warning: it's absolutely possible than an in-form and inspired MaKiri plays like it's 2013 and sends Our Sloane back to the USA, and out of the top 20 with a LOT to think about.

Best case scenario: We have a repeat of the insanity of last year, where top players go down to nobodies and Sloane beats Kirilenko/Konta/Cepelova/Babos/Doi to reach the final and lose to Serena. More likely scenario: another 4th round for Slam Stephens.

Fun fact: Stephens and Babos won the 2010 Junior Wimbledon doubles title over Elina Svitolina & Irina Khromacheva!

3. Venus Williams (30)
Rank: #30
First-round opponent: Venus Williams Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP)
Best result: Champion (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: The newly minted 34-year-old Venus may not see success at another major but then again, she may. She has defied expectations of her supporters and her detractors, for better and for worse, for two decades now. And honestly her draw is pretty fair. MTTF has had a horrid year with the exception of a win over Kerber in Indian Wells OH AND A TITLE in Marrakech (proving conclusively that winning a title is not the mark by which we should be measuring players). Then Nara or Friedsam. Then a blockbuster vs. Kvitova who has a questionable hammy and a more questionable brain.  It stays tough after that (Stephens/Pennetta ... Li/Wozniacki) but Peak Venus can win those. So many great champions seem to manage that one last send-off - Martina at Wimbledon 1990; Pete at the 2002 US Open. Can Venus have hers six years after her last major victory?

I really don't think so :(

Best case scenario: Wins it all. Continues her career for another 5 years and loves every second of it. More likely scenario: Falls to P3tra in 3 in a 3rd round EPIC.

Fun fact: Venus' first-round opponent wasn't born the first time Williams was featured in Sports Illustrated. (Best line: "Serena is also a promising player.")

4. Alison Riske
Rank: #44
First-round opponent: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (26/RUS)
Best result: 3R (2013)
Draw rating: 5

Draw Analysis: Alison's run as the #4-ranked USAmerican proved short-lived as she ran into twin buzzsaws of bad draws and a Madison Keys premier title.  It's tough to get a read on her grass-court form: she lost early in tight matches vs. Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber. It's easy to see her going out to Pavs, who took out Aga in the first round this week. Then again, Pavs has not had great success at Wimbly, and Allie took care of her easily in Hobart in January.  But then likely comes Giorgi. Then Sharapova. Then possibly Kerber again. Then Serena.

Best case scenario: Beats Pavs, has Bacsinszky take out Sharapova, beats Bacsinszky, somehow advances to the quarters and proves herself as a true Grass Master. More likely scenario: 3rd round.

Fun fact: This time last year, Riske went into Wimbledon ranked #126 - and that was AFTER her amazing run through the qualies into the Birmingham semis!

5. Madison Keys
Rank: #47
First-round opponent: Monica Puig (PUR)
Best result: 3R (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: Maddy was primed to win her first title last month in Strasbourg when she was unceremoniously eliminated by ol' Monica Puig, against whom Keys is now 0-2. "But that was clay," you say. Yes but Pica got to the 4th round of Wimbledon last year (though against less-than-world-beating competition). More importantly, it's easy to see Madison a bit emotionally spent after her first-ever final AND title today. After Puig would be Koukalova/Townsend, then Jankovic/Kanepi or Shvedova/Kr. Pliskova in one of the juicier corners of the draw, particularly if you like your ladies Eastern European. Then could come Ivanovic/Lisicki/Ka. Pliskova. One more year and I make Keys the favorite in all those matches. But I'm still not convinced she's ready to take that leap at a major.

Best case scenario: When playing her best and really letting it flow, like this week in Eastbourne, Madison is breathtaking. Davenport comes to mind, but a better mover at her age.  With the confidence she must have gained from Eastbourne, and a magical fortnight serving, she could reach the semis. More likely scenario: 4th round.

Fun fact: I desperately am hoping for a Keys/Townsend 2nd round match so that (A) one of them can get to the third round and (B) we get a Battle of Illinois that could force people in my state pay attention to tennis!

6. Christina McHale
Rank: #49
First-round opponent: Chanelle Scheepers (RSA)
Best result: 3R (2012)
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: Christina (or "Tini" as I for no reason refer to her) should be the big favorite in the first round, as Scheepers' grass warmups have consisted of losing first round at a clay ITF event after losing first round at Roland Garros. But then comes Serena and <Boys2Men>We've come to the end of the road</Boys2Men>. Just can't see it. Not this year.

Best case scenario: A comfortable win over Scheepers and a distracted, unmotivated, unusually clumsy Serena. Still loses in straight sets.  More likely scenario: Actually that's pretty likely. 2nd round.

Fun fact: Wimbledon was where McHale was playing when she first came down with symptoms of Mono in 2012. I mean, it was at the Olympics, but still the site was Wimbledon.

7. Varvara Lepchenko
Rank: #57
First-round opponent: Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)
Best result: 3R (2012)
Draw rating: 4

Draw analysis: Man, is there any more unpredictable player in the WTA than @Varunchik1? Before he settled on his "box of chocolates" metaphor, I hear Forrest Gump was going to say "Life is like Varvara Lepchenko." True story.** Anyway, yes, there are players who can confound us far more than "Vavs" (as I for no reason refer to her) - and one of them could be Pironkova. The former Wimbledon semifinalist & quarterfinalist won Sydney this year but then lost to Watson this week in Eastbourne. Still, she has a way stronger grass-court pedigree.  P-Ronk is also 4-1 vs V-Chenk and my guess is that that margin will only increase.  If Lepchenko does get through that, it's Errani or Garcia next (hmmm) then Doi/Svitolina/Date-Krumm/Makarova (HMMMM!). Each would be an opportunity ... for both players.

Best case scenario: Upsets Tsveti, makes quick work of 2R, outlasts KDK in 3, and flames out spectacularly in the 4th round against Radwanksa (or MLDB or Kuznetsova or Kontaveit). More likely scenario: 1st Round.

Fun fact: Lepchenko (2-0) is one of 9 players who are undefeated in Fed Cup singles for the USA, having played at least two matches.  The others: Martina Navratilova (15-0), Serena Williams (10-0), Pam Shriver (5-0), Jeanne Evert (4-0), Valerie Ziegenfuss (4-0), Peaches Bartkowicz (3-0), Amy Frazier (2-0), and of course Ashley Harkleroad (2-0)!

8. Lauren Davis
Rank: #58
First-round opponent: Alisa Kleybanova (RUS)
Best result: 1R (2013)
Draw rating: 3

Draw analysis: It was awesome seeing Kleybs get back to the Top 100 following her Hodgkin's Lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. But she seems to have plateaued since then: she upset Kvitova in Stuttgart and has lost all four matches since then - in straight sets. No grass court warmup for the Russian either. A good chance for the American, who would then face Pennetta (who's seemed a bit lost since her win at Indian Wells) or Cepelova (who seems totally lost since her final at Charleston). Next would be Sloane in a popcorn match for us USAmerican tennis heads.

Best case scenario: Grass wins over Paszek, Duval, Larsson, Pliskova, Errani & Hantuchova must have this young woman full of self-belief. That gets manifested in a mystical run to the 4th round and a new career-high ranking for the Ohioan. More likely scenario: 3rd round (and a new career-high ranking).

Fun fact: Lauren's Twitter feed is definitely your number-one source for both religious inspiration and dessert recipe retweets.

9. CoCo Vandeweghe
Rank: #69
First-round opponent: Garbine Muguruza (27/ESP)
Best result: 1R (2011, 2012, 20130)
Draw rating: 2 or 5

Draw analysis: I don't honestly know what the hell to say about this. It really kind of sucks that CoCo has one of the toughest draws of any USAmerican, given her there-are-no-adjectives win this week in s'Hertogenbosch. CoCo's game has developed quite nicely ever since she got into her spat with Putintseva in Brussels last year (Poots' game has ... not so much). Oh and she changed coaches.

On grass last year she lost first round Birmingham to Pliskova the Lesser by the PeakATP score of 7-6 (5) 6-7 (5) 5-7 and then first round Wimbledon to Kvitova 1-6 7-5 4-6. This year she was down a bunch to Muguruza until the heavens opened and after a rain break CoCo won handily. CoCo's serve has been on point this grass season (80 aces in one tournament!) but it's tough to make that finals-to-major turnaround for a relatively green ;-) player like CoCo, not to mention beating a tough player like Muguruza twice in two weeks. But if she CAN, she'd be the favorite vs Hsieh/Smitkova and then could face a VERY interesting 3rd rounder vs Azarenka; then would come the winner of Aga's section of the draw. It's all very intriguing. But first things first: Muguruza.  The Spaniard got to the semis of Den Bosch last year and shouldn't be looked past. Especially if she serves well and CoCo doesn't.

Best case scenario: CoCo's serve continues to be the biggest weapon on grass since Roundup® and carries her to the quarters. More likely scenario: post-Netherlands hangover and a 1st round exit.

Fun fact: Last year CoCo invited one of her harshest critics to coffee but he didn't respond to her.
10. Vania King
Rank: #75
First-round opponent: Yvonne Meusburger (AUT)
Best result: 2R (2006, 2009)
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: Moose Burger isn't particularly successful on grass. But she's more successful than Vania! This week, oddly, both had big wins - Yvonne over Kaia Kanepi and King over Eugenie Bouchard! Tough to read too much into either of those. More important was the next round, where YM lost handily to Muguruza and VK had to retire against CoCo. The injury makes this one impossible to call. Second round would likely be Li Na and I don't think Vania's at a place in her career where she can challenge even an erratic Li on grass.

Best case scenario: 2R. More likely scenario: 1R.

Fun fact: Vania is in 18th place all-time in prize money among US women. 5th among active players  (the other four: Serena, Venus, Raymond, Huber).

11. Anna Tatishvili
Rank: #114
First-round opponent: Serena Williams (1/USA)
Best result: 2R (2011, 2012)
Draw rating: 6

Draw analysis: Shitty.

Best case scenario: The problem is, Anna is coming back from injury and has a lot of losses since becoming an American citizen and switching her nation representation. I'm hopeful she has a good rest of the summer because I don't see her having a good start to it. A set off Serena would be a massive upset. More likely scenario: no sets off Serena.

Fun fact: "Tatish-vili [clap, clap, clap-clap-clap]" lends itself to easy chanting by small groups of Georgians in Queens, New York. I have no clue what kind of reception she'll encounter there this year...

12. Victoria Duval
Rank: #115
First-round opponent: Sorana Cirstea (29/ROU)
Best result: first appearance
Draw rating: 4.5

Draw analysis: The only USAmerican to qualify for Wimbledon (over Nicole Gibbs, one of 5 US Americans to lose in the final round of qualies) has in the future a bright career and in the present a bad back. Without the injury I'd like her chances vs Sori, who had lost 7 straight WTA matches before making the 3rd round of Roland Garros, but who also beat Ivanovic in Fed Cup in the middle of all that.  This also will be Cirstea's first grass court match of the season, and Vicky's 8th. So there's a chance. But then would come Bencic or Rybarikova, then likely Halep.

Best case scenario: Vicky enters the Top 100 with authoriteh, shocking Cirstea and her second round opponent and putting a scare into Halep. More likely scenario: 1st round.

Fun fact: This will be Duval's first singles match against a Romanian player.

13. Taylor Townsend
Rank: #148
First-round opponent: Klara Koukalova (31/CZE)
Best result: first appearance
Draw rating: 5

Draw analysis: I mean I just wish Taylor had played a grass warm-up tournament instead of Jogging With Rahm. Anyway, Taylor's gonna be great on grass some day. Just not sure it will be immediately, against a good grass player. But if anyone can pull it off, it's TayTo. One thing she doesn't seem to lack is a winning attitude. A win would bring her to the aforementioned Bring-the-Illinoise showdown.

Best case scenario: 4R and even more people on my CTA bus will be talking about her. More likely scenario: 1R.

Fun fact: Taylor is fun. It's a fact.


Predicted total number of matches won: 20

Well there you have it, everyone! A whole lot of words, but no real insight or bold predictions! And there's more to come with the fellas!

*The most of any nation! #merica
**Fake story

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