Safina Ranking Controversy Should Fuel Serena Repeat
Unlike the Men's Draw, the women's draw in this year's US Open is (at least until the semis and finals), sadly, probably going to garner attention for wardrobe choices than for quality of play.
Now, wait a second before you go calling me a misogynistic, chauvinistic, sexist pervert (or any other colorful names you might have thought of). I love women's tennis, and women in general for that matter. But right now the female half of the tour is just not serving up any mouthwatering matchups or real rivalries to speak of (except the Williams sisters). And that's the ugly truth.
We have a world number one in Dinara Safina, a Grand Slam singles title virgin, who if she has to face Serena or Venus in the final won't achieve her first thrill in Flushing Meadows this year. However, she, along with Serbian Jelena Jankovic, seeded 5th, should have no problems whatsoever reaching the quarters without breaking a sweat to face each other.
Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova, seeded 4th and 13th, respectively, should be on course to meet in the 4th Round, although a third Russian, Maria Sharapova could have something to say about that. Despite a low ranking (she's seeded 29th), Sharapova has won in NYC before, capturing the title in 2006 against Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final. And as Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion." If Sharapova puts together a string of great performances, she could blast away her Russian counterparts and have the top draw all to herself. She knows what it takes to win a Grand Slam and is hungry to prove that she can still perform at a high level coming back from injury. Should she get through the top half of the draw with little consequence, she would pose perhaps the biggest threat to a Serena repeat, other than, of course, Venus.
A quarterfinal berth should berth should be effortless for Amelie Mauresmo, seeded 17th, though Vera Zvonareva, also of Russia, might put up a fight against her in the 4th Round.
Victoria Azarenka, seeded 8th, will be looking to make some noise. The upstart Belarussian should make it through to to the quarters (and a potential matchup with Venus Williams) with no consequence.
Jelena Dokic or Kim Clijsters (who is trying to come out of retirement), might try to make things interesting for Venus. This holds especially true for Clijsters if she can shake of the rust. She has won 3 Grand Slam singles titles, including the 2005 US Open title, and has beaten Venus the last two times that they have played on hard courts (both coming in 2005).
That said, I expect a Venus-Azarenka quarterfinal matchup with Venus advancing to the semis in straights unless Azarenka finds another gear and pushes her to a third set.
And now we come to dear Serena. Fresh off her victory at Wimbledon, she is quietly having another stellar tennis season and would love to cap it off here in NYC, where she won her first Grand Slam in 1999, with her fourth.
Serena, seeded 2nd, will likely face Daniela Hantuchova, seeded 22nd, in the 4th Round and make quick work of her. She should also make quick mincemeat of Mauresmo in the quarters.
She will then likely meet sister Venus in the semis, which will be the REAL final barring some miraculous intervention. There will be many interesting dynamics at play, most notably that Venus could want to come out and repay Serena in kind for beating her at Wimbledon. I think Venus has a chance if she gets off to a fast start, gets into Serena's head (she's the more emotional player and her play can be effected here, especially against her sister), and serves well. They know each other's games inside out so it will come down to technicalities. And I think that for Venus to win she must step on Serena's throat in straights. If it goes 3, my money is on Serena to win the semi and eventually the title. It is my belief, however, that whoever wins this matchup will win the title.
A quick side note on ranking: the US Open got it wrong. They should not have ranked Dinara Safina #1. Not only did it rob the fans of the potential for a truly top quality final in Venus-Serena, but Safina flat out doesn't deserve it, especially since she has never won this Grand Slam tournament (or any other one) before. In addition, it is my firm belief that the defending champion should be ranked #1 in the following year, especially given the year that Serena has been having.
It is, however, an interesting subplot because it will give (and already has given) Serena tons of fuel for her title defense. And with Safina's trash talking, Serena will be aching for a chance to put on a clinic (in the mold of 6-1, 6-1 or 6-0, 6-0) against Safina (perhaps in borderline unsportsmanlike form) to show herself as the undisputed, unquestioned world #1.
In short, I predict an all red, white and blue final, with a Williams sister (most likely Serena) prevailing over their Russian opponent. But Serena's wardrobe, rather than the final score will likely dominate the post-tournament headlines.
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