In 2006, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo and Maria Sharapova were all considered favorites to win the year-end Sony Ericsson WTA Championships. Kim Clijsters was in the mix too. This year however, the tour’s grand finale has all the makings of a one-woman show. Henin has gone undefeated after her shocking Wimbledon loss to Marion Bartoli and is now riding a 20-match winning streak.
Henin’s foremost challenger for the title in Madrid, Serena Williams, has gone down to the Belgian in their last three encounters and failed to impress during the European indoor fall circuit. In fact, if there was one player in this field worth mentioning other than Henin it would have to be Daniela Hantuchova, who clinched her Championships berth on the last minute by winning Linz. All the other players, Kuznetsova (up and down), Jankovic (drained), Sharapova (Shoulderpova?), Ivanovic (erratic), Chakvetadze (severe slump) and the before-mentioned Serena Williams are far from playing their best.
Henin finds herself in the yellow group, not surprisingly accompanied by Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic. The poor little Anna Chakvetadze completes the group, and gets the priviledge of opening the tournament against Henin on Tuesday. I’m sure the Russian is very much looking forward to that match.
That leaves Kuznetsova, Ivanovic, Sharapova and Hantuchova for the red group. Kuzy and Ivanovic will be favored to advance here, as Sharapova only played one match after the US Open, and might easily drop out after her first match. Hantuchova will be riding the momentum of her Linz performance, and should have a decent shot at upending Sharapova, but I am sticking with the top two seeds in the group to pull through.
Semifinalists: Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova
In the Justine group, I am taking Serena over J.J. to come through as No. 2. By the way, Chakvetadze holds a 5-2 record over Jankovic, but since the Russian seems to have lost all confidence in her abilities, I am liking the fatigued Jankovic to narrow their head-to-head record.
Semifinalists: Justine Henin, Serena Williams
I believe Ivanovic will do well in Madrid, and win her group to face Serena in the semis. Henin will take on Kuznetsova again, and just as in the US Open final, the Belgian should cruise.
Over the past few weeks, Serena lost to Kuznetsova in Stuttgart and fell in the Moscow final to Elena Dementieva. Therefore, Ivanovic should have a decent shot at upending Williams this week. However, this is a prestigious tournament and normally Serena finds an extra gear at those big events. How hard it may be to predict how Serena will perform in any tournament, that perception is an important factor to consider. Therefore, my money will be on Serena for this one.
Finalists: Justine Henin, Serena Williams
We all know what kind of runs Serena can come up with, so in a way I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes on to win the event, but there’s no way one can bet against Henin these days.
Champion: Justine Henin
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