01 July, 2012

Wimbledon Middle Sunday Bloggers' Bar

It's the middle Sunday at Wimbledon.  Which means the punters can get back to that favorite British pastime, downing pints at the local pub.  For those of us not necessarily at the All England Club, following the tournament on TV and Twitter has almost the same feeling.  Our barroom conversations may take place over fiber optic cable, but it doesn't make them any less compelling.  Welcome back to the Bloggers Bar, this is a becoming a regular feature on Blacklabel Tennis where we pose questions to some of our favorite writers in a virtual roundtable.  Our esteemed bloggers and writers today are:

In this installment, we discuss some of tennis' burning questions:
  • Who had the most disappointing first half of 2012?
  • Who has been the biggest positive surprise of 2012 thus far?
  • Which man is most likely to end the Big Three's dominance?
  • Will Maria Sharapova bea dominant World No. 1?
Find out which question half of our panel didn't even hazard a guess at...

Who had the most disappointing first half of 2012?

Ellison: For me, it's Kim Clijsters.  Not that it’s really her fault, but this is her last season on tour and she’s been absent for most of it.  This is like Tina Turner’s farewell tour without all the sequins.  In other words, it’s gone on so long, people are saying, wait, she’s still here?  This is a player who was World No. 1 just last February and she comes into this Wimbledon unseeded and having been on the sidelines since March.   It’s not how Clijsters wanted to go out. Losing is one thing, but barely being able to make the starting blocks in another.

Rama: Andrea Petkovic. Her last season was really interesting. With a timely ability to peak in the big events (only player to play three Slam quarterfinals, nobody made more Premier Mandatory semifinals than her), built her way from outside top 30 to inside top 10. So 2012 seemed the moment to consolidate her threat.  Unfortunately, old ghosts appeared. Injuries are hitting hard the hard-hitting German. To be fair, she hasn't even had the chance to disappoint. Fully on court, I would say Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. You don’t see often ‘back-to-back wins’ and ‘Anastasia’ in the same sentence for a while. Once the youngest player in the top 30 and almost top 10 a year ago, the latter seems a dream nowadays and is already out of the former. Her freefall is really worrying.

Oddo: In a weird way I think it has to be Serena Williams. Based on what she is capable of and what she has produced at the Slams, I think that Serena is missing out on the relatively small window to rack up more Slams. It's strange to say it. The effort is there. The game is there. And yet, she's falling short at the Slams. It's just so un-Serena. I think she's no longer impervious to self-doubt on the court and it really shows. Maybe this trip back to her old stomping grounds at Wimbledon will change all that?

Burrows: Caroline Wozniacki has not had the 2012 that she would have planned or prepared for during the off-season.  The Danish star finished 2010 and 2011 as world No.1, but lost her crown earlier this year to Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open.  Maybe the strain of not winning a Slam has put more pressure on her? Who knows? Either way, being at No.7 in the rankings is not where the 22-year old would like to reside and she is currently experiencing a 10-month title drought.  Wozniacki is a fighter and I am sure it won’t be long until we see her back inside the top five once again.

Who has been the biggest positive surprise in 2012 thus far?

Burrows: Italians Andreas Seppi and Sara Errani have had a fantastic clay court season in 2012.  Errani’s surprise run through to the finals at Roland Garros saw her fighting capabilities, her determination and steely grittiness on court and she has lifted three titles so far this year in Barcelona, Acapulco and Budapest.  Her compatriot Andreas Seppi seems to have improved with age as the 28-year old reached his career high ranking of 24 earlier in the month and his run through to the quarter-finals at his home tournament in Rome was something special to witness after his many battles and moments of almost exiting the tournament. Seppi has been the ‘comeback kid’ this year.

Oddo: I'm going to say Brian Baker for all the obvious reasons. He may never reach the quarters of a Slam, he may need a sixth surgery after Wimbledon, but the pure unadulterated passion that Baker has shown to get back to relevancy has been the most inspiring story of the year for me. We tend to place all our focus on the top of the game, but if you scroll down the rankings a bit, their are heart and soul stories coming to life. When he wins Wimbledon next week I am really going to cry a river...

Rama: Not sure if label it as a surprise, but the way Angelique Kerber has kept her momentum since her semifinal at New York has impressed me.  Far from struggling after an enormous (unexpected?) Slam result, not a rare trend on the WTA, she has been consistently going deep in draws week in and week out, a rare trend on the WTA, while challenging top names (seven events making at least the semifinals, including two titles, wins over Sharapova, Kvitova, Wozniacki, Li, Venus,...plus a Slam quarterfinal on her, theoretically, worst surface). Non-top 75 material a year ago, now is the #1 player in a full-of-contenders resurgent Germany. Will see her in the WTA Championships? She's fifth in the Race!

Ellison: I'm going to make a bit of an odd pick here, Maria Sharapova.  She obviously didn’t come out of nowhere, she’s not an unknown entity by any means in this sport, but with Petra Kvitova and then Victoria Azarenka winning majors (both over Sharapova in the final) it really started to look as if Sharapova’s window was closing.  A bevy of young, talented, mobile ballstrikers had started to finally make their move and Maria was going to be their No. 1 victim.  Then suddenly, the Siberian Siren goes out and wins Roland Garros.  It was her best major performance on her worst surface.  Sharapova winning Roland Garros, completing the Career Grand Slam and regaining World No. 1, that’s a positive surprise to me.

Which man is most likely to end the big three’s dominance?

Rama: Twenty-seven out of last twenty-eight majors. Just one exception since 2005. That’s major dominance. Who has played finals Slam finals along with the so-called ‘Big Three’ in that span? Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. Except the latter, firepower at will. Big hitters. I would follow that path. An assertive style to challenge the mercurial defense displayed by the current top 2 (champions of the last 9 majors). Considering that Roddick is aging, Soderling is out of the sport and, from my point of view, Murray won’t do it in the near future, my pick would be among Del Potro, Berdych or Tsonga. Despite struggling against top names after his injury, the Argentine is going deep again in majors and has that ‘conquered land’ status on him. I would go with Del Potro.

Oddo: Which man?  I haven't seen him yet. The big three is likely to end it themselves when they are either too old or too tired of beating everybody up.

Ellison: I'm not far off Chris' mindset here, I certainly don’t think it’s going to be any of the guys right behind the big three.  Not Murray, Not David Ferrer, Not Berdych, Not Tsonga.  Forget the game, they’ve been psychologically beaten down for so long that I have to believe they’re going to have a hard time becoming dominant champions.  I think they’ve found their level.  I think it’s going to take a kid, someone obviously talented, a little brash, a little less reverential of the established order.  If I have to pick a name I'll take Milos Raonic, on a hardcourt to be specific.

Burrows: The way the top three have consistently maintained their stranglehold on Slams and the rankings, I do not see anyone at the moment that will knock them off their perch permanently.  I feel that Murray, David Ferrer and Del Potro have the capabilities to cause an upset and knock one of them out early, but nobody is at the point where they could steal a top three spot and remain there.

Will Maria Sharapova Be A Dominant World No. 1?

Oddo: Good question. I think Maria is going to complete the French-Wimbledon double next week. But after that the rest of the field is going to really start gunning for her and looking for ways to expose her mobility issues. Right now though, it looks like she is a cut above everybody else in the game. It's great that it's happening because I don't think anybody works as hard or as steadily at it than Maria.

Burrows: Sharapova has come back from her shoulder surgery hungry and determined to do well, win Slams and remain at the top more than ever before. Having the time out from the sport after her operation and being unable to compete seems to have replenished her fire and passion for tennis and that is evident on court as she has climbed up the ranking to pole position. As long as she stays healthy, I feel she can be a dominant world No.1. 

Ellison: I don’t think so, but I'd like to be wrong.  The players most able to challenge her: Azarenka and Kvitova, are in twin tailspins at the moment, which is a positive for her.  That said, she’s been No. 1 a few times and she’s never seemed quite comfortable there.  As in, she gets the ranking, the results tail off, and then when she gets back to No. 4 or so, she starts winning again.  I wish I could explain it.  Granted, that was a long time ago, a younger Sharapova, but I think she plays best when there’s a bit of a chip on her shoulder.  Now she’s officially back, that she’s passed that test of winning a major again, is the chip still there? 

Rama: Even though she won her first Slam eight years ago, Maria is just 25. Her window hasn’t passed at all. Number 1 for the fifth time in her career, has played Slam finals over three different surfaces over the last 12 months. She can perform well along the whole season. The Russian, though, is one of the top players who competes the least (in terms of amount of tournaments). Tends to plan tiny schedules, attending to the bigger events. So her #1 status acquires an additional value. When she is playing, she is winning (so far in 2012, 6 finals in 8 events). She was prone to injuries in the past, her health plays a pivotal role to remain atop the WTA rankings. Far from overplaying as former #1 Wozniacki or current #3 Radwanska, she has less margin of error. Probably the fiercest competitor on tour, she can become a regular #1 if her body matches her will.

For the next installment of Bloggers Bar check back next Friday

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