number 1

Decoding Doha

Alright, so I know I’m a little late to the party. The Year End Championships are half way through and soon women’s tennis will be (almost) done for the year and we’ll move on to men’s World Tour Finals. However, Doha is the most exciting thing happening in tennis this week and I can’t help but think that some fans are a little hazy on the details. I know my twitter feed has been full of what ifs involving the Doha tournament and player rankings. Now it’s possible that you don’t watch tennis every minute of every day and haven’t been looking forward to the YEC since September, which might leave you a little confused about the unorthodox format. Well, here’s your guide to Doha 2010. Think of it as an FAQ of sorts.

What’s the Format of the YEC?

Singles: There are 8 players in the YEC and two alternates. The players are divided into two groups and the first four days of the tournament are played in a round robin. Each player in Group 1 plays each of the other players in Group 1, and likewise for Group 2. This year’s groups are White and Maroon which are the colors of the Qatari flag. The top 2 players from each group move on to the semifinals, where the number 1 woman from the Maroon group will play the number 2 woman from the White group and the number 1 woman from the White group will play the number 2 woman from the Maroon group. Clearly, the winner of each semifinal moves on to the championship match.

Doubles: I’m going to preface this with the fact that the doubles format is stupid and just further evidence that no one cares about doubles. There are only four teams in the doubles draw, which makes the doubles tournament boring. The doubles draw starts play on the same day as the singles semifinals. This draw works the same as the tail end of any tournament. There are two semifinals followed by a championship match. They just skipped the beginning.

The Field

Singles:

Caroline Wozniacki – playing to defend her number 1 ranking and shut up some of the skeptics

Vera Zvonareva – ending what’s been an amazing season with a chance to become number 1

Kim Clijsters – hasn’t played much recently but has a winning record against just about everyone

Francesca Schiavone – making her YEC debut after winning her very first (and likely only) Grand Slam

Samantha Stosur – also making her YEC debut and has already clinched a win against Wozniacki and Schiavone (it’s a shame she couldn’t pull that off at the French)

Jelena Jankovic – I have no idea how she even got here. First match against Zvonareva was embarrassing.

Elena Dementieva – back after an ankle injury and did not look good in her debut against Wozniacki.

Victoria Azarenka – won last week’s Kremlin Cup

Li Na (Alternate)

Shahar Peer (Alternate)

Doubles:

Dulko/Pennetta – won 6 doubles titles together this year

Peschke/Srebotnik – I’m not even going to pretend to know anything about these two

Raymond/Stubbs – reunited this year after a four and half year break, but have previously won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open

King/Shvedova – the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open champs

Llagostera/Martinez (Alternate) – 10 points to anyone who can tell me who these people are

I noticed that the Williams sisters aren’t playing, should I still watch?

Yes! There’s been a ton of talk surrounding the lack of Williams in Doha, drowning out the buzz about the players that actually are competing. Believe me, we’re better off this way. Now we actually don’t know who’s going to win.

I don’t get the tennis channel, how can I watch the YEC?

If you’re willing to shell out $19.99, you can buy a one month subscription to tennistv.com, unless you live in Europe or several parts of the Middle East and Africa. There’s no good answer to this one. I can’t explain the weird territorial restrictions of tennistv. If you do live in Europe, you can check out the Eurosport Player. When I lived in London, the subscription was only about £4 and they played tons of tennis, including matches on demand. Make sure they’re airing the YEC before you purchase though.

Is this the last tournament of the year?

No, next week another eight ladies will be playing in Bali. These eight include the six players with the highest rankings who have won international tournaments this year, but did not qualify for the YEC as well as two wild card players. You’re probably wondering why they would have this event after the YEC. I have absolutely no idea.

Who can be #1 at the end of this tournament?

Caroline or Vera. Caroline would have to lose all of her matches and Vera would have to win all of hers. I don’t see both of these things occurring, so Caro will likely end the year as #1.

Why would Jankovic play in this form? Why not give one of the alternates a chance instead?

Even if she doesn’t win a single match, Jelena gets 210 points and $100,000.

How does the WTA describe the YEC?

Here’s a quote from the WTA website. “The WTA Championships is the most prestigious and important tournament in professional women’s tennis. It is the final event on the WTA calendar, contested by only the very best players in the world.” These are both false statements. First, I would in no way consider the YEC as prestigious as a Grand Slam, although the prize money is comparable. Second, apparently even the WTA forgot that there’s a tournament in Bali next week.

Alright, there’s you guide to the 2010 Year End Championships. Maybe next time I’ll get around to writing it before they actually start.

Will They Ever Win…Again?

A tennis player’s career is defined by Grand Slam competition. Whether it’s fair or not, even players who win tons of titles or attain the world number one ranking will go down in history beneath those who are talented or lucky enough to win one of the coveted Slam titles. This means that an entire year’s worth of work usually boils down to just eight weeks of results.

All things considered, Ana Ivanovic and Dinara Safina have enjoyed similar careers. They’re only two years apart in age. Both have achieved the world number 1 ranking. Both have competed in three Grand Slam finals. Recently, both women have shared a similar dive in the rankings. However, with all of these similarities, one huge difference defines the careers of these two women. They faced each other in the 2008 French Open final and Ana scored her first and only Grand Slam victory. Regardless of what turns her career took after Roland Garros ’08, Ana Ivanovic will go down in the history books as a Grand Slam champion while Dinara Safina will be dragged out as a sad statistic for underachievers. Now, before I get a deluge of angry comments from both Ana and Dinara fans, I fully realize that both of these women are still young and active on the tour. It’s certainly possible that one of them could score another Slam victory before they retire; however, as it stands, this is the situation.

Because Slams are so important for a player’s career, it’s only natural to speculate on which players will win and which will come up short. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most talked about cases and answered the all important question, ‘will they ever win?’ or ‘will they ever win again?’

First up, let’s look at some players who’ve come awfully close to taking home one of those coveted trophies, but in the end came up second best. Will they ever win?

Andy Murray

Will he win? Yes.

Frankly the whole Andy Murray argument is what spurred me to write this article. Murray’s been as high as number 2 in the world and has been camped out in the top 4 for the better part of the last two years. He’s made the finals at both the US Open and the Australian Open, falling easily to Roger Federer both times. Even after his defeat at this year’s Aussie Open, journalists were asking “When will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Lately, journalists have been asking “Will Andy Murray win a Slam?” Those are two very different questions. Andy Murray certainly hasn’t gotten worse in the past two years, in fact his fitness and conditioning has made him stronger than ever. Lately, he just doesn’t seem to have ‘it,’ whatever illusive factor makes Federer and Nadal so incredible at Grand Slams. Murray’s proved capable at beating both of them, just not on tennis’ biggest stages. Well, I disagree with the commentators. Andy’s only 23 and while he may have battle past Rafael Nadal for the entirety of his career, at some point Nadal will falter and Murray will win a major.

Robin Soderling

Will he win? Yes.

I wavered a lot of this one. Robin was a fairly unheard of commodity before the 2009 French Open, where he beat 4 time defending champion Rafael Nadal and made his first Grand Slam final. Everyone was convinced this was one of those one time dream runs, but then he did it again. French Open 2010 rolled around and for the second year he beat the defending champion, this time Roger Federer, before making his second consecutive French Open final. Since then, Soderling also made the quarter finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. Robin’s had the misfortune of meeting Roger Federer at almost every turn when it comes to Grand Slams. Frankly, only Andy Roddick has been less lucky in this respect. However, one day, Roger Federer isn’t going to be on the other side of the net and Robin will get lucky. Probably.

Vera Zvonareva

Will she win? No.

Bepa’s great and she’s had an amazing breakout year, making two consecutive Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. Pre-Wimbledon, I wouldn’t even have considered putting her name on this list, so she’s definitely doing something right. However, no matter how well she played leading up to the final, it didn’t seem to stop her from self destructing. Mentally, I’m just not sure that Bepa has the strength to make it through all seven matches en route to a Grand Slam title.

Caroline Wozniacki

Will she win? Yes.

Caroline’s only 20 years old. She’s already made one Grand Slam final and she’s about to take over the world number 1 ranking, and while that certainly doesn’t guarantee Caro will win a Grand Slam, her resume’s pretty strong. She made the semifinals at this year’s US Open as the number one seed and I was very impressed with her return game. Overtime, I think Caroline’s game will continue to improve and best of all, she’s got youth on her side. The eight year age gap with Serena Williams means that she’ll have plenty of Slam opportunities with a Serena-less draw.

While one Slam is plenty impressive, when it comes to winning, more is better. So, will these former champions be able to add to their totals?

Novak Djokovic

Will he win again? Yes.

From the 2005 French Open to Wimbledon 2009 (18 Slams,) Novak Djokovic was the only man aside from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to win a Grand Slam title. He played an incredible match against Roger Federer at this year’s US Open and took Nadal to four sets in the final. At 23, he’s got plenty more opportunities to win. Let’s just hope that one of the Slams is unseasonably cool.

Roger Federer

Will he win again? Yes.

This is probably the biggest debate in tennis right now. Roger Federer is 29. His amazing semifinal streak ended at this year’s French Open and he only won two titles so far this year, although one of them was the Australian Open. Well, Fed’s doubters are fools. Even if he only plays for another 2 years (he definitely wants to compete in the 2012 Olympics,) that’s 8 more chances at a 17th Grand Slam title. He’s won 16 on the last 30 Grand Slams. Do you really want to bet against him?

Andy Roddick

Will he win again? No.

It kills me to write this. I still tear up watching footage of the 2009 Wimbledon final. Just kidding, kind of. However, I’ve come to the realization that, at 28, it’s likely that Roddick will never win that illusive second major title. Last year, I would’ve given him a chance, but I think Wimbledon was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was potentially the best match Andy ever played and the defeat was clearly and understandably crushing. Andy has been unlucky enough to play the most matches against Roger Federer of any guy on tour with a lopsided head to head of 2 to 19, including four major finals, all won by Federer. When he finally decides to call it a day, I think Roddick will still be known as a one Slam winner, the 2003 US Open champion. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Maria Sharapova

Will she win again? No.

I started tossing around ideas for this article a week ago and I originally had Maria down as a yes. She’s three time major champion and just 23 years old, even though it seems like she’s been around forever. At that age, with that resume, it’s hard to believe that she won’t win again. I really thought that this year’s US Open was her chance. Her serve looked slightly more consistent and she had a pretty good draw. But then she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. I was still optimistic. However, Masha crashed out of Tokyo to Kimiko Date Krumm, who’s 40, yes 40. Since then, Maria’s decided to end her 2010 season. I’m just not sure that physically or mentally she’s ever going to get back to her old form. Maria’s titles came at Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. By virtue of the pattern, she really should have won this year’s French Open. I’m kidding, but that would’ve been awesome.

Venus Williams

Will she win again? No.

This one should be fairly obvious. She’s 30 and she has knee problems. She’ll wow us with crazy outfits for another couple years and eventually call it quits.

I’m sure you’ve realized I’ve left some pretty famous names off the list. There’s no question in my mind that Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will both win more majors, so I didn’t even bother including them. Did I miss out on your favorite? Feel free to let me know who you think will win, or who won’t. Comment below, or tweet me @achangeofends.

MADRID FINALS PICTORIAL: NADAL BEATS FEDERER IN MADRID

You ever feel like you’re dreaming and then wake up and realize it wasn’t actually a dream. I imagine that that’s how it felt when Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer and broke the Agassi record of 17 titles on clay and actually getting 18.

Nadal made history  winning his 18th Masters title by beating number 1 in the world Roger Federer in straight sets 6-4, 7-5.

I read Lisa’s blog entry and she was elated with Rafa’s victory. Ofcourse, if I were a big a fan as she is of Rafa then I would be over the moon with this double victory. Setting a record that you know won’t be broken for the next few decades. I can’t imagine how that feels. Nor can I imagine to get one over my archnemesis.

The Madrid Open is a good test for Roland Garros next week I reckon and Rafael Nadal proved that he is once more a favorite for the Roland Garros title.

Did you know that, if Rafael Nadal wins at Roland Garros, Roger Federer will have to reach the semifinals to hold on to the No. 1 ranking

For now these photos I think will do fine.

[nggallery id=57]