With Justine Henin putting up a Roger Federeresque year in 2007, the resurgence of the Williams sisters and the arrival of two instant crowd favorites from Serbia, the WTA is coming off a pretty good year. This season proves to be even better though, as we welcome back the still-going-strong Lindsay Davenport, and can expect a group of exciting young players making great strides towards the elite ranks of the game.
The season got off to the right start, with Serena Williams claiming (again) that she wants the No. 1 ranking back. As long as Serena doesn’t put in the extra hours on the practice courts and starts working on her physique so she doesn’t get injured every other week, that’s never going to happen again.
Henin supreme again?
Will Justine Henin be as dominant in ’08 as she was last season? Not likely. Yes, she’ll finish the year as No.1 again, but putting up a whopping 63-4 record and winning 2 out of 3 Slams she competed in will be nearly impossible to match. The outstanding year-end championships final against an injury-troubled Maria Sharapova showed that the Russian will be a tough nut to crack for the Belgian on faster surfaces, if Masha has left her shoulder troubles behind her and can play a full schedule again. Sharapova doesn’t fold under pressure and has the belief she can take on anyone. She’s still only 20 years old and although there’s little variety in her game, the WTA’s biggest asset keeps developing as a player and should have a Slam in her this year.
There wasn’t much between Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic in 2007, but the latter has more potential for greatness and could establish herself as the undisputed Serbian No. 1 in 2008. Jankovic moves better than her countrywoman, but she lacks firepower. What J.J. mostly needs to work on is turning her serve from a weakness into a strength or she’ll continue to be put under constant pressure on her own delivery. Let’s not forget about doing some rescheduling either.
Ivanovic needs to learn not to get too excited after hitting one or two great shots early on in a match. She’s often too energized for her own good and it hurts her consistency. When she calms down after some emotional outbursts, she often drops a level and starts missing easy shots. When Ivanovic becomes a better match player, she’ll be a legitimate Slam contender.
I already wrote a little about Serena, but let’s take a closer look at the Williamses. It promises to be a very interesting year for the sisters, as both Venus and Serena are now back in the Top 10 and again forces to be reckoned with. They both won a Slam last year and that’s a scenario we could see again in 2008. Serena will be the defending champion in Australia in two weeks, but Venus has been the better of the two for the second half of last year. What’s been interesting to see during those successful months for Venus, is how she has made serious work of improving her game and adding variety. She has especially become a much more skilled player around the net, although she’ll never have the natural feel of a Henin. Venus’ willingness to add to her game is a big difference with Serena, who is still the same old wham-bam cannonball machine she’s always been. That’ll probably never change, considering Serena doesn’t have the agility of her sister, and still struggles with staying healthy for a full season.
Anna Chakvetadze had a stellar 2007 and for a moment cracked the Top 5. Tatiana Golovin is starting to fulfil some of her potential and finished a career high No. 13. Nicole Vaidisova has recovered from injuries and mono and has all the makings of becoming a top player. Then there was the unexpected breakthrough from Marion Bartoli, while young Hungarian Agnes Szavay rocketed from No. 189 at the start of the year to a No. 20 finish. What’s in store for these young guns?
Chakvetadze might grind to a halt in ’08 after an outstanding 2007, unless she finds a way to start beating the top players and controlling her emotions on court. Bartoli is a fine player, but she won’t do much better than her current No. 10 ranking. Golovin, Vaidisova and Szavay should all improve, and especially the first two should become solid Top-10ers this year.
Don’t expect too much from…
Kuznetsova was a steady performer in 2007, but she won’t hold on to her No. 2 ranking for long. Kuzy is a contender at Roland Garros, but at the other majors she doesn’t rank among the top favorites. The Russian will have a tough time finishing the year in the Top 5.
Hantuchova is 24 years old, but it feels like the Slovak has been around forever. She sneaked into the year-end championships by winning Linz in the last week of the season, but Dani’s long-term Top 10 potential is limited.
Once dubbed the greatest player of her generation never to have won a Grand Slam, Nadia Petrova is on the decline. The 25-year-old Russian is having a hard time fighting injuries and when she is fit, can’t keep up with the best players in the game.
The Frenchwoman had a horrendous 2007 after her career year in ’06, but now that she’s fit and recharged her batteries, Mauresmo should bounce back and put up some solid results again. One more year in the Top 10 is not unlikely, although competition is getting harder for Momo. Don’t count on more Grand Slam titles for the 28-year-old.
She was supposed to become the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam. But when Dementieva lost the Roland Garros final in 2004 to countrywoman Anastasia Myskina, she had blown her biggest opportunity. Lena D. was troubled by injuries for most part of 2007, but her time seems to have past nonetheless. She remains one of the best movers on tour with a rock-solid game, but new generation power-hitters such as Ivanovic have past her by. Dementieva will have to settle for the Top 15.
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