"The Economist, once a year, heads out on this mission to see the
future. They try to predict the coming year... I am a fan of The
Economist-- that said, I think this project where they try to predict
the coming year is totally ridiculous. You have these great reporters
who have to write about, for instance, what's going to happen in
China in the year 2010 and they bring so much knowledge to this
question, but in the end, because no one can know the future, they
end up making these kind of equivocal 'on the one hand, on the other
hand' kinds of predictions... who cares?? ... 'Here's a bunch of random
things that may or may not happen, believe whatever you want.'"
-- Ira Glass, This American Life ("2010")
That right there is pretty much my personal opinion of predictions in sports like tennis. Who cares? Mostly, nothing means anything. The business of predictions, proclamations, assertions made on the basis of a single match (or one good week) is misleading and serves no purpose in an objective sport like tennis. This year especially, when there are so many comebacks (from both retirement and injury) and a string of Very Good Players who had Very Bad Years last year, proclaiming the future seems particularly futile. Trust me, I've been in sports where predictions and what certain people say and who won which events actually matters. You don't want any part of it.
I don't even get why people like to do it (is it so you can say later that you were right? Usually I could get into that). All you can do in tennis is watch and see what happens. To me, that's part of the beauty of it. I hate trying to guess what's going to happen. I'd much rather take stock as I go along.
Things That--Really Guys-- Seem Completely Meaningless Right Now
Melanie Oudin's "Sub-Par" Performance at Hopman Cup
Melanie's always down in small events and then up in Slams and Fed Cup (or, at least, that's the pattern she established last year). Her performances at Hopman Cup indicate nothing other than that-- so far-- that trend looks to continue.
"Comeback" Wins By Daniela Hantuchova, Alize Cornet, and Dominika Cibulkova
All of these women are former top-20 (or even top-5) players with immense amounts of talent, loads of past results, and a not-so-hot 2009. All of them had pretty stellar early matches this week that looked like their peak selves, prompting some to call them contenders for the second week of the Australian Open. All of them immediately had their asses handed to them by higher-ranked, more consistent players. Ahem. (Not that they couldn't be, mind you, it's just silly to declare that based on two good matches that follow 6 months--or more-- of nothing.)
Laura's new on the pro scene and has her youth and lack of record working against her in the "where might this be going" game. She also, should her mind turn out to tend towards these kinds of things, has a huge disadvantage in all the pressure that is being, and will continue to be piled on her by the British media. But it's been a lot of fun to watch her grow in confidence at Hopman Cup this week. In her first match, she looked terrified, but through playing mixed doubles with Andy Murray, she seems to be growing in her belief that she can keep up with the big kids. She played Sabine Lisicki very well, looking at all times like she belonged on the same court. It'll be interesting to see if that continues to develop for her.
On paper, Sam should have won all her matches at Hopman Cup. In the real world, she lost two out of three. Her ability is undeniable, but she isn't exactly projecting the kind of mental strength that's going to sustain her at the top of the game. Is this particularly dismal performance just a sign that, like Amelie Mauresmo in France, she doesn't cope well with the hometown pressure? Is it something bigger than that? Or did she just have a really bad week?
Ana Ivanovic (Brisbane)
Justine Henin (Brisbane)
She's back, and she's winning, but winning how? Her matches have all been close, and with the exception of Nadia Petrova, they've not been against people ranked anywhere near what is popularly thought of as Justine's caliber. We all know what Justine's capable of, her record is clear evidence of that. But it shouldn't be forgotten, either, how dismal the last few months of her "first" career were, or that she has yet to play-- let alone beat-- a top 10 player on her comeback.
Flavia Pennetta (Auckland)
Flavia's usual modus operandi is to have a pretty dismal winter, pick up at Acapulco, have a couple of good clay events, and then really come alive on the US Open Series in the summer. But this year in Auckland she's come roaring out of the gates, kicking ass and taking names. Hmmm.