Speculating that James Blake won't make the second week of RG is hardly the most incisive piece of Sports commentary I've read this year; nor is it especially satisfying or informative to predict that Ana Ivanovic probably won't defend her crown.
That hasn't however stopped the press who have already begun peddling their own variants of the old "How many Americans does it take to change a Parisian light bulb?" gag, (None I would guess if the lights go out in the second week - bada-pam-Psshhh! Not very good I know) amidst their seasonal anti-picks.
Well off with the heads of such decriers of hope, there's nothing I dislike more than kicking someone when they're already down (though I do my part as a Rolex-sponsored minion in flooring them). Here's my list of anti anti-picks:
-- Andy Roddick - Quite simply stunning since the beginning of the year, culminating in a quarter final loss to Roger Federer at Madrid last week. DoN't lo0k nOw buT tHat'$ a clAy c0uRt evEnt. That was a silly attempt at one of those threatening letters where the sender uses newspaper-cuttings to conceal their handwriting. His new found belief sits well with the current trend of all-courters like Federer and Djokovic usurping clay-courters at the top of the game. I was already feeling an extraordinary rush of well-being when Blake made the finals at Estoril beating Nikolay in the process. But I'm more confident that it'll be Andy that breaks his third round RG curse this year.
-- Ana Ivanovic - Too easy to heap dirt on 'Little Miss Muffet'. Frightened away by the overwhelming pressure, not to mention the many spiders that go along with the #1 ranking. That gut wrenching feeling of being the hunted rather than the hunter. Or so conventional wisdom goes. See, while there's little doubt that may have been the initial catalyst for her downfall, and while she almost certainly wasn't ready for the #1 ranking, the truth is that things have moved on, and for the past 6 or 7 months, she's simply been devoid of all confidence playing almost -- dare I say it -- like a junior. And no amount of allusions to 'being a perfectionist' paint a different, more pretty picture.
That said, and much as I don't buy into Kardon's spin, I'm drawn to his effective maneuvering of the situation. In particular the way in which he's gotten Ana thinking her problems are down to her own drive. There's something strangely energising about repeating something over and over again - such mantras far from unlocking any kind of mystical energy seem to operate as a kind of chisel, that chips away reshaping the psyche until the very words begin to pervade the id.
All a very long winded way of saying that I think some of that positivity (however deluded) may play a part in turning things around for her. She almost certainly won't defend her title, but a quarter final should be within her grasp and that, I hope will be the turning point.
-- Andy Murray - Yes it's become fashionable to bash Andy once again. Now that he's all helplessly exposed, vulnerable, and unsure of quite what he's about out there on clay. I've done it myself. I actually had this post in progress entitled 'Elephant in the room', which went through (at length) what I felt no one was mentioning enough. How a player so adept at carving up the rest of the top four has gone back to being such an ineffective tortured mess on court once again. Not to mention my fears of how difficult he might find it to extricate himself from this clay court spell of unproductive tennis. Or What that might do for his chances at Wimbledon.
But let's reexamine this. He came into Monte Carlo on a high having won Miami. Riding that wave of momentum, he reached the semis there playing the type of tennis I've called him up on so many times, going out unsurprisingly to Rafael Nadal. Though not before showing us, for a set, why he might rightly be considered a force on clay the way he is everywhere else.
He then went out early in Rome, which I'll be the first to admit is an absolute stinker. Though he did go out to Juan Monaco who's been proving troublesome for many players (David Ferrer another casualty there).
Maybe with a more grounded assessment of his standing on clay, he came into Madrid playing the kind of off key, unspectacular tennis that has made many wonder why he's proven so troublesome to the top three. And yet still made the quarters, going out to Del Potro who's found himself on clay more naturally than Andy.
That ain't half bad for a surface you despise.
So though I doubt he'll be responsible for many high profile casualties, I do think that if a few things go his way, he shouldn't have much trouble getting to the quarters.
-- James Blake - Going out on a bit of a limb here. But like Roddick , I do think James has a decent chance of getting the Parisian monkey off his back. And not only because he beat Nikolay en route to the Estoril final. A C l a y C o u r t E v e n t . I thought he would continue his clay court love affair and do quite well at Madrid, but had the misfortune to run into Federer in the third round.
Not that I think he'll reach the 2nd week. That'd be extending good will to ridiculous lengths. But I do think he can get to the fourth round. Why ever not?
(Little Miss Muffet image from The National Nursery Book via mamalisa.com)