By Jason Brown, USTA.com
Hits and misses are common in preseason prediction features, but we’re happy to report that after close analysis of our 2006 player prognostications, we clocked far more aces than we clanked double-faults into the net.
Last year, we touted Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Martina Hingis, Ana Ivanovic, Nicole Vaidisova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova to have banner years. All were among the best performers on tour, making our endorsements ring true.
A perennial underachiever, Mauresmo realized her vast potential, winning both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles, vindication to those critics that wrote that the Frenchwoman lacked the mettle to win major championships.
A remarkable feat even by the high standards that she has set for herself, Henin-Hardenne reached all four grand slam finals and validated those achievements by winning the year-ending Tour Championships over Mauresmo.
Playing for the first time as a touring professional since retiring in 2002, Hingis proved that an intelligent finesse game still has a place in the upper echelon of women’s tennis, finishing the year ranked seventh.
One of the many rising stars on tour, the talented Serbian teenager Ivanovic drew well-deserved recognition for her much-improved all-around game after clinching overall US Open Series honors, capping an impressive summer hard court season.
Of course, we also pegged players that failed to meet expectations. Sania Mirza, Serena Williams, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, and Jennifer Capriati all had forgettable seasons with injuries playing culprit.
Williams couldn’t get healthy enough to play her way into shape and Capriati sat out the entire year amid retirement rumors. Groenefeld was still a year away from making an impact following injuries of her own, while Mirza took a step in the wrong direction after a breakthrough 2005 campaign.
On the men’s side, we forecasted breakthrough seasons from Andy Roddick, James Blake, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray, and Tommy Haas.
With new coach Jimmy Connors by his side, Roddick developed a volleying game that complemented his power service game beautifully. He won TMS Cincinnati, reached the US Open final and made strides against world No. 1 Roger Federer.
The new top-ranked American, Blake picked up right where he left off from his inspirational 2005 campaign, setting new career highs in titles (5) and ranking, finishing the season fourth, two places ahead of Roddick.
The irascible Brit Murray pulled off arguably the biggest upset of the year, snapping Roger Federer’s winning streak on hard courts in an improbable upset in Cincinnati.
And while Berdych, Gasquet and Haas experienced hot and cold spells, all demonstrated the potential for bigger things. Speaking of potential, Gael Monfils, Robby Ginepri, and Joachim Johansson teased us with their upside, but must improve their frustrating lack of consistency.
Review Players to Watch from 2006.
Without further ado, USTA.com unveils the men’s and women’s Players to Watch in 2007. Click on the image below to launch the photo slideshow.