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May 20, 2011 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
 
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Garros Indicators 2011
by Ray Bowers

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

An altered Dual Monarchy now prevails atop men's pro tennis, supplanting the already historic Federer-Nadal regnum. But even as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic reign currently, a host of other challengers are stacked just behind, including Sir Roger himself. Thus the current view is as intriguing as it has been for many years, and the task of sorting out the cast for Roland Garros 2011 seems as daunting as ever.
 
CLUES FROM MADRID AND ROME
 
Main-draw play began on the red clay at the Caja Magica, Madrid, May 1, where two soaring trajectories were soon to collide. Rafael Nadal's clay-court seqence included seven tournament triumphs and 34 consecutive match wins. But equally historic was the undefeated 2011 record of Novak Djokovic, achieved primarily on hard courts, which included five tournament triumphs and 27 consecutive match victories.
 
One streak or the other had to end at Madrid. Rafa held the career head-to-head edge, but Nole had won their last two meetings, both split-setters -- on hard courts at Indian Wells and Miami.
 
Madrid was an interesting venue for their newest clash. At elevation of about 2,000 feet, with highly enclosed main courts that made for a sense of indoor play, and with a relatively fast-bouncing clay surface, it seemed likely that Rafa's clay-court strengths would be marginalized. The thin air would expectedly reduce the effect of Rafa's unusually severe overspin in keeping his heaviest blows inside the lines.
 
Rafa reached the final by overcoming a strong effort by Federer, who captured their first set amid a run of superb rocket backhands. Meanwhile Djokovic's journey entailed not one but two split-setters, where Nole overcame David Ferrer and a strong effort by Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
 
In their meeting on Sunday, May 8, both Rafa and Nole were at their best most of the way. Their many extended points brought breathtaking examples of superb offensive and defensive tennis. Aces were rare, as although both men are strong servers both are absolutely superior in serve-returning. Djokovic's serve was broken three times, Nadal's five, so Nole became the winner in two close sets. Most decisive was Nole's wonderful backhand two-hander, which regularly produced severe cross-court angles and well-disguised down-the-line winners. Again, as had been seen all year, Djokovic showed a splendid determination not to yield in the longer and most arduous exchanges.
 
One week later came another test -- this one on slower clay at Rome, where the elevation approximated that to be seen at Garros. Nadal reached the final by defeating Richard Gasquet, who had upset Federer behind a consistently magnificent backhand one-hander.
 
Andy Murray possesses what would seem all the assets needed to succeed on clay -- easy power off backhand, forehand, and serve, excellent defensive skills from back court, and what he would soon show to be superb ability in executing drop shots. One month earlier, Andy had severely tested Rafael Nadal in Barcelona. Now, in a thrilling semi-final in Rome, Murray lost the first set to Djokovic. After that, however, Andy's staunch resistance along with his own severe firepower seemed to sap the sting from Nole's forcefulness. But in their third-set tiebreaker, a limping and apparently tiring Djokovic fought back to earn yet another final-round meeting with Nadal.
 
His Saturday-evening ordeal left Djokovic with minimal time for rest and preparation for Rafa. But it seemed not to matter. Both Djokovic and Nadal unleashed their heaviest artillery amid many extended and fierce points, both men showing their superb stengths in defending and countering. But late in both sets the edge turned to favor Djokovic, whose thrusts, often having minimal overspin, penetrated deeper and more severely than Rafa's heaviest and extremely overspinning blows. The latter were often less sure in their depth, landing relatively short or sometimes long. Ordinarily, a clay surface would tend to favor the overspin-based attacking of Rafa. But the humidity and coolness (following rainfall earlier in the day that again threatened) seemed to produce a reversal of the usual effect, swinging the advantage to the flatter-stroking attacker -- i.e., to Nole.
 
Djokovic is unquestionably a fine current champion. Although his habit of crowing after successful points is unattractive, there is vastly more to admire in his fluid movement and power on court, accompanied by a competitive nature of possible greatness.
 
It is hard to envision any third opponent defeating both Nadal and Djokovic in best-of-five-set play on Garros clay. But there are plenty of aspirants -- the likes of Murray, Federer, Ferrer, Soderling, and Berdych -- whose past credentials offer some, slim hope. We thus consult our prime indicators in search of clues for (1) sorting out the potential interlopers and (2) the likely outcome between the two favorites. In the lists that follow, only players who are competing at Garros are shown.
 
INDICATOR #1. 14-MONTH WEIGHTED RESULTS
 
Results in some 22 tournaments are here weighted according to how well each event has, historically, predicted outcomes at subsequent French Opens. Our heaviest-weighted predictor of Garros 11 is Garros 2010, at nearly ten percent of the whole prediction. Just behind are Madrid 11, Italy 11, and Miami 11, in that order. Clay-court events weigh at 52.3% of the entire prediction.
 
Here are the leaders who emerge from our number-crunching:

  1. Rafael Nadal, score Sk = 6.12
  2. Novak Djokovic, 4.39
  3. Roger Federer, 2.77
  4. Andy Murray, 2.14
  5. David Ferrer, 2.05
  6. Robin Soderling, 1.37

There is little surprise in marking Nadal and Djokovic the leaders in this, our first indicator. Rafa's long-standing edge over Djokovic was seriously dented at Madrid and Rome 11. Meanwhile Federer at Madrid and Murray at the Italian showed that their margins behind the top two might be surmountable on a given day.
 
Notable is the presence among the big-hitting six-footers here of David Ferrer, age 29 and height 5-9. Ferrer has been strong on both clay and hard courts, showing ability to slug out extended exchanges with larger, naturally more powerful opponents. He was runner-up to Nadal at both Monte Carlo and Barcelona this year, and carried Djokovic to split sets at Madrid.
 
INDICATOR #2. CLAY-COURT RESULTS, 2011
 
Listed are the leaders in ATP points won on clay, 2011 to date:
  1. Rafael Nadal, 2,700 ranking points
  2. Novak Djokovic, 2,250
  3. David Ferrer, 1,580
  4. Nicolas Almagro, 1,170
  5. Andy Murray, 810
  6. Roger Federer, 630

Both Djokovic and Nadal won two clay tournaments in recent weeks -- Nadal winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Djokovic winning Madrid and Rome. Djokovic however received zero points in sitting out the two events won by Rafa, while Nadal gathered significant second-place points at Madrid and Rome, largely explaining his margin in this indicator.
 
Ferrer's place is notable, the Armada star finishing as runner-up at Monte Carlo and Barcelona this year and carrying Djokovic to split sets at Madrid.
 
INDICATOR #3. ELITE WINS VS. TOTAL LOSSES, 2010-2011
 
"Elite wins" are match victories over ten designated "elite" opponents headed by Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer. (The names of the ten elite opponents are given in the footnote to this column.)
 
Only one player has more elite wins (EW) than total losses (TL) in 2010-2011, and is thus the only player here with ratio greater than 1.
1. Rafael Nadal, EW/TL 21/16, ratio 1.31
2. Roger Federer, 14/20, ratio 0.70
3. Novak Djokovic, 13/19, ratio 0.68
4. Andy Murray, 7/24, ratio 0.29
5/6. David Ferrer, 8/29, ratio 0.23
5/6. Robin Soderling, 8/29, ratio 0.23
Note that eight of Djokovic's elite wins came in 2011, in comparison with Nadal's seven and Federer's one. Having no losses in 2011, Nole is the strong leader if only 2011 is considered.
 
INDICATOR #4. CURRENT PATTERN OF IMPROVEMENT
 
This measurement compares a player's level of recent performance against his historic best. We divide his best-ever pre-2011 official ranking (representing a 12-month period) by his ranking for 2011 to date, thereby reaching the unadjusted 3p ratio used here.
  1. Milos Raonic, 156/11 = 3p ratio of 15.60
  2. Ivan Dodig, 86/26 = ratio 3.31
  3. Ryan Sweeting, 109/33 = ratio 3.30
  4. Bernard Tomic, 208/79 = ratio 2.63
  5. Kevin Anderson, 58/23 = ratio 2.52
  6. Alex Dogopolov, 40/17 = ratio 2.35
  7. Novak Djokovic, 2/1 = ratio 2.00

The strapping Canadian Raonic, age 20, scores high here because of his extreme success at Australian Open 2011 and in indoor play thereafter. His performance in the European clay events began encouragingly, with W-L record 7-3 in the first three events. The run ended in a withdrawal at Estoril and was followed by first-round losses at Madrid and Rome. He leads the tour in aces for 2011, and his powerful serving and stroking could propel him to the late rounds at Garros. Note that Dodig, listed in second place, defeated Raonic at Barcelona in a split-setter.
 
It seems obvious that our formula is better designed to predict longer-term improvement than is our focus here. Note, however, that Djokovic scores well, at 2.00. (Nadal, whose best pre-2011 ranking was #1, cannot exceed a ratio of 1.00.)
 
INDICATOR #5. PAST ACHIEVEMENT AT ROLAND GARROS
 
Players sometimes tend to do well at a given event year after year. Here, we take each player's best five performances at Garros. Shown here, after substantial adjustments for recency, are the comparative scores:
  1. Rafael Nadal, score 32.4 (five-time past champion at Garros)
  2. Roger Federer, 22.7 (champion in 2009, three times runner-up)
  3. Robin Soderling, 11.4 (runner-up in 2009 and 2010)
  4. Novak Djokovic, 9.2 (semi-finalist in 2007 and 2008)
  5. Nicolay Davydenko, 7.8 (semi-finalist in 2005 and 2007)
  6. Tommy Robredo, 6.2 (quarter-finalist five times)

Nadal's five Garros crowns at age 24 defy superlatives. The Garros achievements of Djokovic, eleven months younger, and Soderling, two years older, are admirable though well below Rafa's.
 
MESSAGE OF THE INDICATORS
 
Designing and scrutinizing the indicators has been interesting, but the crux lies in interpreting them for use in our predictions. The majority of the indicators point to Nadal over Djokovic as the likely 2011 Garros champion, though in most cases the verdict is thin. The third indicator, Elite Wins vs. Total Losses, would firmly favor Djokovic if 2011 results only were used, for example. Contrary aspects also arise in connection with other indicators, especially 1 and 2.
 
As to the other aspirants, the presence near the top in most indicators of Federer, Murray, and Ferrer and, to lesser extent, Soderling, mark these individuals as the most likely intruders to a Nadal-Djokovic final.
 
The announcement of the main draw today, May 20, reveals the possible late-round match-ups, which enable our use of a sixth Indicator -- head-to-head results.
 
PREDICTIONS: TOP QUARTER
 
There seems little peril for Nadal in his first four matches if he is at full health. The slow courts will blunt the big serves of Isner and Querrey, while Davydenko, who can be strong on clay, has shown unimpressive results of late. Fernando Verdasco, seeded #16, has lost all eleven past match-ups with Rafa.
 
But Rafa's quarter-final opponent will probably be powerful Robin Soderling -- the player who broke Rafa's historic run at Garros in 2009. Robin was runner-up at Garros the last two years. The tall Swede, however, who is seeded #5, will first have to hurdle Mardy Fish, seeded #10, whose career has turned upward in recent months.
 
-- Soderling over Fish. Mardy's head-to-head edge stems from Robin's early years on the tour. Mardy also leads in one of our indicators, Current Pattern of Improvement, defying that Mardy is three years the older. The other indicators, all favoring Soderling, outweigh these.
 
-- Nadal over Soderling. Rafael defeated Robin in a straight-set final at Garros last year, reversing Robin's 2009 win. The head-to-head edge elsewhere strongly favors Rafa. That Soderling's power game, requiring bold but risky hitting, can prevail over the defenses and countering of Rafa in a five-set match defies plausibility.
 
SECOND QUARTER
 
Andy Murray has the weapons to carry this quarter if he is able to produce and sustain them at their highest level. An early barrier will be Milos Raonic, of the incredibly potent serve and strokes, and Dogopolov will loom next if Alex can surmount higher-seeded Troicki. A match-up with a clay artist -- either Almagro or Melzer -- will follow.
 
-- Murray over Raonic. The two have never met in pro competition. As Raonic has almost no record at high level prior to 2011, Murray leads in all our indicators save Pattern of Improvement, where the Canadian stands by himself at the top. Judgement argues that Raonic's game, which depends on sustained power to the sides, requires too much risk-taking and that Murray's superb defense and countering abilities will prevail on clay.
 
-- Murray over Dolgopolov. Andy has won both previous meetings of the two, both of them in 2011 including in ending Alex's remarkable run at Australian Open 11.
 
-- Almagro over Melzer. The head-to-head edge favors Melzer, along with past performance at Garros (owing to Melzer's run to the semis last year) and the Elite Wins indicator, narrowly. But the Spanish star is younger and is stronger in our Improvement indicator. He also leads in the first two indicators, which capture Melzer's first-match losses at Madrid and Rome 2011.
 
-- Almagro over Murray. In head-to-head play, Murray won twice on hard courts, Almagro won once -- on clay at Garros 08. Other indicators point to Nicolas, who has the stronger past record at Garros, has the stronger Improvement Pattern, and leads in 2011 achievement on clay. Murray, in contrast, has higher 14-month weighted achievement and leads in Elite Wins. Our prediction here defies the seeded order and also Murray's strong recent performance at Rome.
 
THIRD QUARTER
 
Federer should reach the quarters if close to his best, where his opponent should be Monfils or Ferrer.
 
-- Ferrer over Monfils. Gael leads in head-to-head play and in past performance at Garros, where he reached the semis in 2008, defeating Ferrer. But Ferrer is ahead in every other indicator and, especially, has shown in 2011 the ability to compete at high level in a sustained manner.
 
-- Federer over Ferrer. Roger has been the winner in all eleven of their past meetings, reflecting his superior ability to sustain an attacking power game. This trumps a narrow edge favoring Ferrer in our other indicators, where David leads, perhaps surprisingly, in 14-month weighted performance and strongly in 2011-clay-court performance as well as in Improvement Pattern. Roger is well ahead in past Garros achievement and in Elite Wins.
 
FOURTH QUARTER
 
Novak Djokovic must surmount dangerous del Potro in an early round, then Gasquet, and finally Berdych. If Novak can sustain his strong play seen throughout 2011 to date, his success cannot be doubted.
 
SEMIS
 
-- Nadal over Almagro. Rafa has beaten his counrtyman in all seven of their past meetings, losing only two sets enroute. Five of the meetings have been on clay. With strong lead in our indicators, Rafa is a strong, almost prohibitive favorite here.
 
-- Djokovic over Federer. Roger has the lifetime edge, but Nole's three victories in 2011 seem to signal the dynastic change cited at the outset. Of their many past meetings only three have been on clay where the latest, at Rome 2009, went to Djokovic. Alhough Roger remains very close to his best past level, the younger man has shown himself better in almost every way, including in patience and courtcraft.
 
NADAL AND DJOKOVIC
 
The margin here is assuredly close, where our indicators face their supreme test. Most of them favor Nadal, some marginally, some very strongly. Instinct argues that the recent message of Madrid and Rome must overrule all else. But for me, the weight of Nadal's magnificent career to date is more compelling.
 
-- Nadal over Djokovic. At age 25, Rafa -- in his tennis powers and indeed in his greatness -- is at his peak. Admitting Nole's magnificent assets, sketched earlier, Djokovic's problems in winning three sets in best-of-five play on clay will be magnified. It could become among tennis history's highest moments.
 
WOMEN'S SINGLES
 
The retirements of Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva, and the forced absences of superstars Serena and Venus Williams and Dinara Safina leave a depleted women's field. There remain perhaps a dozen candidates having weaponry strong enough to capture the crown.
 
The mix divides conveniently into two groups. The first consists of stars aged 24 and older -- remnants of the age group now thinned by the many absentees. On hand are last year's Garros finalists (Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur), a former Garros champion (Svetlana Kuznetsova), a former world #1 (Jelena Jankovic), and the relentless hitter Li Na, 29, whose entry into the top levels came late in her career. Probably stronger are Vera Zvonareva, 26, and Maria Sharapova, 24, whose return from shoulder injury has progressed slowly but, starting in 2010, definitively. A two-time Garros runner-up, Kim Clijsters, won Australian Open 2011 but has not competed since March because of shoulder and wrist problems. Kim is returning to action, helped by "some very tight strapping on my ankle."
 
The second group consists of players under age 23 -- the game's new cohort seemingly poised to move upward. Its present leader is Caroline Wozniacki, 20, whose remarkable successes of the last twelve months assure her the top-seeded honor at Garros. But Caroline's contemporaries seem to be learning how to solve her tactical and mental strengths, and the lessons are surely spreading. Very close to Caroline is Victoria Azarenka, 21, and players who have scored wins in the last twelve months over Caroline include Petra Kvitova, Julia Goerges, and Dominica Cibulkova, all aged 22, and Andrea Petkovic, 23.
 
MADRID AND ROME
 
Two members of the youth brigade held forth on final-round Sunday, May 8, in Madrid. Both Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova brought similar strengths and strategies -- both women confirmed baseliners, both aggressive, heavy hitters. Kvitova's left-handed, slicing serve worked well in the fast conditions, and her aggressiveness in serving and serve-returning opened up many points in her favor and led to a fourfold margin over Azarenka in groundstroke winners. Victoria was consistently outmuscled, but she managed enough offense of her own to keep matters close, aided by spells of error-making that went with Petra's power stroking. Kvitova finished both sets strongly, claiming her victory by maintaining her margin of winners over unforced errors. Then in the following week, Kvitova skipped Rome, where Azarenka, in a familiar scenario, withdrew from her second match with arm injury after winning the first set.
 
Thus semi-final Saturday at Rome featured a familiar superstar, a player whose age places her near the boundary between the two groups noted above. Maria Sharapova, age 24 at height 6-2, on this warm afternoon unlimbered the all-out serving and stroking seen in her past glories, nailing the lines often enough to engineer a straight-set victory over Caroline Wozniacki. Caroline tried to avoid giving Maria target practice, and she did fairly well whenever she was able to take the initiative herself. But Sharapova's power made it difficult to do so. As long as Maria avoided too many errors in her rocketry, the scoreboard moved in her favor.
 
Maria's final-round opponent was Samantha Stosur, who had advanced by beating Li Na and, before that, Francesca Schiavone. Samantha is not a soft hitter, but she had trouble contending with the superior power of Sharapova, who once again served and stroked aggressively at an acceptable error rate. Maria quickly moved ahead and thereafter defended her advantage.
 
INDICATOR #1. 14-MONTH WEIGHTED RESULTS
 
Results in recent tournaments are here weighted using the method and the historical data earlier employed for the men. Clay-court events carry 50.4% of the entire weight. Here are the resulting leaders in probability for winning Garros:
  1. Caroline Wozniacki, score Sk = 4.16
  2. Samantha Stosur, 1.93
  3. Vera Zvonareva, 1.92
  4. Kim Clijsters, 1.89
  5. Victoria Azarenka, 1.82
  6. Maria Sharapova, 1.62

Our clear leader, Wozniacki, won six of our 21 predictor events and finished second in two others. The players listed behind Caroline here are closely grouped, where Stosur's second-place score reflects strong results on clay in 2010. Clijsters has played in fewer events than the others and, having won U.S. Open 2010 and Australian Open 2011, scores higher per event.
 
INDICATOR #2. CLAY-COURT RESULTS, 2011 TO DATE
  1. Caroline Wozniacki, 1,325 ranking points
  2. Victoria Azarenka, 1,206
  3. Julia Goerges, 1,100
  4. Maria Sharapova, 1,040
  5. Samantha Stosur, 1,020
  6. Petra Kvitova, 1,001

That the younger wave is better represented here is probably significant to our purposes. Each of the top six, above, either captured one of the four leading clay events of 2011 to date or was runner-up at one of the richest. Only Stosur, the oldest of the six, missed claiming one of these honors.
 
INDICATOR #3. ELITE WINS VS. TOTAL LOSSES, 2010-2011
 
This indicator was especially helpful earlier this year in correctly pointing to Kim Clijsters as probable winner at Australian Open 2011. Here, Kim again leads, with 15 elite wins and 11 total losses -- a ratio of 1.36, which is higher by far than any other Garros entrant's.
  1. Kim Clijsters, EW/TL 15/11, ratio 1.36
  2. Vera Zvonareva, 11/26, 0.42
  3. Caroline Wozniacki, 9/24, 0.37
  4. Samantha Stosur, 8/31, 0.26
  5. Victoria Azarenka, 7/28, 0.25
  6. Petra Kvitova, 7/29, 0.24
  7. Maria Sharapova, 4/17, 0.23

Note that Serena and Venus Williams and Justine Henin, if shown here, would have ranked in the second, third, and fourth places. Thus the scores other than Kim's seem of limited significance -- e.g., Caroline's nine elite wins include four against Jankovic, whose strengths and style Caroline has clearly solved.
 
A separate count of matches among the topmost four in the 2010-2011 official rankings show Wozniacki at W-L 5-4, Clijsters at 6-5, Zvonareva at 8-8, Azarenka at 5-7.
 
INDICATOR #4. CURRENT PATTERN OF IMPROVEMENT
  1. Petra Kvitova, 29/6, 3p ratio = 4.83
  2. Julia Goerges, 40/12, 3.33
  3. Andrea Petkovic, 33/11, 2.91
  4. Peng Shuai, 31/13, 2.38
  5. Li Na, 9/4, 2.25
  6. Jarmila Gajdosova, 41/19, 2.16

The formula here obviously favors the younger contingent. Kvitova's edge over the others is probably meaningful, especially as the Czech star at #6 ranks higher for 2011 to date (all surfaces) than the others aside from Li.
 
INDICATOR #5. PAST ACHIEVEMENT AT ROLAND GARROS
  1. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 16.8 (champion 2009, 2nd 2006)
  2. Ana Ivanovic, 13.3 (champion 2008, 2nd 2007)
  3. Jelena Jankovic, 10.9 (four times quarter-finalist)
  4. Francesca Schiavone, 10.7 (champion 2010)
  5. Samantha Stosur, 9.6 (2nd 2010, semi-finalist 2009)
  6. Maria Sharapova, 7.2 (four times quarter-finalist)

Henin, not shown, won Garros four times and would be the leader if included here. This indicator in effect penalizes members of the younger group, somewhat balancing that group's edge in our previous indicator.
 
Although clay would seem Sharapova's least favorable surface, Maria's consistent reaching of late-middle rounds at Garros starting in her teenaged years reinforces other indicators in suggesting successes ahead in her present incarnation. As to twice-runner-up Clijsters, the aging of her scores places her outside the first six.
 
MESSAGE OF THE INDICATORS
 
Aside from the intricasies of the draw, which will be examined shortly, the overwhelming primacy of Kim Clijsters in Indicator 3, Elite Wins vs. Total Losses, compels deeming her our leading candidate from the 24-and-over age group. Reinforcing Kim's credentials is her closeness to Stosur and Zvonareva in Indicator 1, Weighted 14-month Performance, despite her inactivity during much of the period under measurement. Among the younger echelon, very persuasive is the candidacy of Petra Kvitova, who leads in our Indicator 4, Pattern of Improvement, and also stands in the listed group in Indicators 2 and 3. The indicators also point strongly to Wozniacki.
 
More than usual the tournament's draw seems especially critical, in particular in its placement of the foremost young risers, where except for Wozniacki current ability seems inadequately reflected in the seeding.
 
PREDICTIONS
 
-- Top Quarter -- Wozniacki. Julia Goerges, situated in the lower half of this quarter, defeated Wozniacki on clay at Stuttgart and Madrid this spring and therefore provides the only plausible threat to Woziacki reaching the semis at Garros. Julia's otherwise thin resume and Caroline's long one, shows that Caroline will probably find the necessary medicine.
 
-- Second Quarter -- Zvonareva. The match-ups here are close among Zvonareva, Pavlyuchenkova, Jankovic, and Schiavone. Young Pavlyuchenkova leads in Improvement Pattern and is second in 2011 clay-court results, Zvonareva leads in Elite Wins and in 14-month results, Jankovic leads in 2011 clay results, and Schiavone in past Garros achievement, having won the tournament in 2010. In the most critical match-up, Zvonareva should defeat Pavlyuchenkova, repeating her clay-court win at Stuttgart 11. Past head-to-head results then reinforce that the heavier-stroking Vera should then defeat either Jankovic or Schiavone.
 
-- Third Quarter -- Kvitova. Azarenka and Kvitova seem headed for a quarter-final meeting, where the younger, taller, bigger, and less-fragile player should win. The left-handed Kvitova defeated the higher-seeded Victoria in the final at Madrid recently, as well as in their preceding meeting, at Wimbledon 2010.
 
-- Bottom Quarter -- Clijsters. Kim's huge edge over all others in Elite Wins vs. Total Losses signals strongly in her favor. A foremost question will be Kim's readiness to compete, both in terms of physical health and her ability to find her top game. Answers will unfold as the early rounds transpire. Rising star Petkovic looms early, then probably Sharapova if Maria can overcome steadier, solid Radwanska.
 
SEMIS AND FINAL
 
-- Wozniacki over Zvonareva. The two are even in head-to-head play at three wins each. Our other indicators all point to Caroline, except that Zvonareva has a small edge in Elite Wins. Choosing the younger player here, Wozniacki, is comfortable.
 
-- Kvitova over Clijsters. The uncertainties surrounding Clijsters's readiness would have to be wholly resolved in her favor for Kim to prevail. The younger generation's readiness to rule seems likely to be shown here.
 
-- Kvitova over Wozniacki. Kvitova's advantages in size, power, and left-handedness noted against Azarenka are the same here. Still, Caroline won their two past clay-court meetings and later reversed Kvitova's hard-court win at Wimbledon 2010. The two are almost the same age. Caroline matured as a champion earlier, but Petra, with the more potent weaponry, appears to have caught up, evidenced in her triumph at Madrid 2011.
 
If the indicators and predictions here are correct, we are amid a passing of the torch among the tennis generations.
 
--Ray Bowers
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.
 
FOOTNOTE -- DEFINING ELITE WINS:
 
In computing Indicator 3, ten players are designated as "elite" opponents. These are Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Ferrer, and Soderling (top six in ranking points for 2010-2011), plus Almagro, Verdasco, and Melzer (elites on clay only), plus wild-card elite player del Potro.
 
A similar scheme is used for the women. The ten female elites are: Wozniacki, Clijsters, Zvonareva, Azarenka, Stosur, and Jankovic (top six), plus Francesca Schiavone (elite on clay only), plus Venus and Serena Williams and Justine Henin (wild-cards).
 
APPENDIX -- TENNIS NATIONS AT ROME
 
An unexpected result at Italian Open 2011, almost an oddity, happened in the tally of match wins by nation. The Spanish Armada had captured first place among the males in the event's previous eight years, often one-sidedly. Indeed, with Rafael Nadal reaching the final round this year and with several other stars adding early-round successes, Spain's total in singles, despite the absence of Ferrer, was greater than any other nation's. But although doubles contributed fewer points to the entirety (there were 23 matches in doubles vs. 55 in singles), the U.S. male contingent outscored Spain's, not only in doubles alone but also in overall total. Here was the break-down:
 
Spain's score
Nadal, 4
F. Lopez, 2
Almagro, 2
Verdasco, 1
Garcia Lopez-Montanes, 1
Spain total, 10
 
U.S. score Fish, 2
Querrey, 1
Isner-Querrey, 5
Fish-Roddick, 4
Bryan-Bryan, 1
U.S. total, 13
 

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Between The Lines Archives:
1995 - May 1998 | August 1998 - 2003 | 2004 - 2014


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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

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