Pete Bodo's write up on the WTA storylines going into the clay season.
Apart from his need to remind everyone what a joke the WTA is compared to the ATP, it's hard to argue with his take on the players' prospects:
Madrid may be just the inducement Serena Williams needs to boost her interest clay, thereby protecting her chances to remain no. 1 and perhaps even open a little distance between herself and an odd crew that features not one but two women who have yet to win a Grand Slam events - Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic.But can Serena still be a force on clay? That's an interesting question that was raised in Melbourne and Miami, where she often looked both more powerful - and less mobile - than in the past.
It's hard to see Serena gettting "better" on clay, but remember that she's won Roland Garros, and took the Charleston title last year before shipping out to Europe - where she lost a very tight quarterfinal to Safina in Berlin, withdrew from Rome with an injury, and lost in the third round in Paris to Katarina Srebotnik. Discount her at your peril.
No. 2 Safina began her personal makeover last year at Berlin, where she beat three of the women who have remained major hurdles to her Grand Slam ambitions - Serena, Elena Dementieva and Victoria Azarenka. Safina will have many ranking points to defend starting in Berlin, and there's no telling how she'll react to the pressure. Last year, she frequently spoke about the way she's re-invented herself, but the failure to break through in a big way - with a major title - suggests that the makeover wasn't quite finished. Will it ever be?
Elena Dementieva is coming off a good year, and capable of doing a lot of damage on clay. She was a Roland Garros finalist in 2004, and could easily make a similar run there again. But she may be the most unpredictable player on either tour. It's funny, though, I never really get the feeling that Dementieva is choker (except, of course, when it comes to that serve - but that's a slightly different issue), or that she's an imposter at the top of the game. She doesn't really collapse. If anything, she seems to have a way of bringing out the best in her opponents - a talent I'm sure she'd rather not possess. I've always felt that she's sufficiently athletic and powerful to win a major. Maybe this will be her year.
Vera Zvonareva is in good shape to make a move, fueled by her recent victory at Indian Wells. She started like a house on fire on clay last year; she lost to Serena in the Charleston final and snatched the Prague title from Victoria Azarenka before she lost momentum. Zvonareva lost to Venus at Rome and Dementieva in Paris, but who's going to describe either of those as a bad loss?
My own feeling is that Ivanovic must find a way to, well, loosen up - in every sense of the word. She needs to re-discover the hard--hitting, free-swinging Ivanovic of a few years ago. It just seems to me that somewhere along the line Ivanovic came to believe that she needs to be Miss Perfect (at any number of levels), and maybe that stifled her game.