I have taken many shots at women’s tennis but after a truly dreadful 2009, I think the WTA is poised for a significant rebound as we usher in the new decade. At the forefront of the resurgence is Justine Henin’s return to tennis. Will she sizzle or will she fizzle in her comeback bid, or maybe just end up somewhere in between? That’s the question.
What I do know is that when you add Henin into a pot that includes Kim Clijsters, a healthier Maria Sharapova, the sisters, Serena and Venus, the Russians and even the Serbs, you really have what could be a flavorful, unpredictable year of women’s tennis ahead. And I have to say that I’m looking forward to it!
So what’s to come?
First, just as Clijsters did when she came back I think Henin is also going to get he share of Slams. It may not happen as early as Melbourne but Justine’s already my favorite to win the French Open. And I think she’ll finish the year No. 1 because if she can get back to peak or near peak form, which I think she can, she’ll be better than Clijsters, better than the Russians while Serena, her true main threat, simply doesn’t play tough at enough tournaments.
Still, Henin, who’ll turn 28 in a few months, will have quite the mountain to climb to return to her throne. Players who rely on timing more than power – like Henin – are going to take longer to find their gear following extended layoffs. Henin will also have to deal with being unseeded or lowly seeded at the majority of her the tournaments over the first half of the season, so there’s that danger lurking at every draw ceremony. Plus, she also has a history of not playing many tournaments during the season and there have been durability issues with her in the past.
I think Serena will still collect one, maybe two majors likely at Wimbledon and/or later this month in Melbourne where she’ll hopefully meet Justine at some point. With Serena, it’s hard to say where her motivation and interest levels will be. If she’s into it and committed to tennis she can dominate. If she’s not then she’ll be in trouble. I’m betting with Venus on the decline and with the arrival of Henin and Clijsters she won’t be able duplicate her 2009 run. But maybe the Belgians will give her that added spark and focus.
Clijsters got her US Open win and if things break right I think she can repeat in New York or steal the Melbourne title, but it’s a longshot. The mom will also likely not be playing a full schedule but I think she’ll play well enough in the Slams to return to the Top 5. She’s powerful, fit, mentally strong and with two Slams already in her pocket and a stable family life at home, she should be a solid contender at all four Slams.
So among those three will emerge the year-end No. 1. I say Henin.
The next tier is a hodgepodge of Russians, Serbs and newcomers.
If Dinara Safina can get her back in check and her mind right, she certainly is capable of maintaining her current Top 3 ranking. Dinara should play looser this year and free of the pressures of being in spotlight as she was a year ago when she was “it” girl on the tour. This year, Justine, Kim, Maria and Serena will assume much of that burden leaving Dinara to reside in the shadows where she’s clearly more comfortable. And I think that will her settle her down and body-willing should translate into some decent results.
For me, Sharapova is the real wildcard. If her shoulder and serve are back to 100% she’ll figure into the Slam mix and No. 1 race. But if there’s any hint of lingering issues she’s going to have a hard time breaking into the Top 5. (Speaking of the Top 5, Maria hasn’t posted a Top 5 win in nearly two years.) At just 22 she’s still got a lot of time and tennis left, but shoulder injuries can be a killer.
Unfortunately for the other Russians, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva and Vera Zvonareva, it’s hard to see any room at the top where they’ll fit in. I like Sveta and Elena to finish Top 10 and Vera made steady progress last year, but they’ll be Slamless in the end.
Same for Jelena Jankovic, who I think will have a better 2010 than 2009 and may even make another Slam final, but I don’t think she can stay totally healthy and devoid of drama enough to challenge for the top as she once did.
Will Jelena or Elena ever win a Slam? Justine and Kim’s return do nothing to help their cause! Sorry!
As for the newcomers, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka are great players and they have bright futures ahead of them, just not this year. Sabine Lisicki could certainly ride here powerful serve into the Top 15 and I think Alisa Kleybanova and Anastasia Pavlychenkova can make a lot of noise also.
Overall, I think it should be a great year for women’s tennis. Last year really crapped the bed with the number of chokes, tanks and low quality tennis we say. So this year I hope the drama stays but the quality improves. I think it will.
My 2010 year-end predictions:
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