In 2008, Ivanovic scored a major breakthrough in the desert by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Will Wozniacki score a breakthrough of her own?  The two finalists have developed essentially the same counterpunching styles, which have served them well this week on the slow-as-molasses surface.  A win for the Pole-Dane would represent a major triumph for the WTA’s Generation Next and move Wozniacki distinctly ahead of her more powerful but more volatile rival, Azarenka.  Conversely,  a win for Jankovic would send the same message as Venus’ win over Azarenka in the Dubai final a month ago:  the ancien regime isn’t going to let the sans-culottes near the Tuileries anytime soon!  We’ll start with the head-to-head and recent form, give three pieces of advice to each finalist, wrap up with a shot-by-shot breakdown of who has the edge, and then…pick a winner.  (Scroll to the bottom if you want, but you’ll miss all the good stuff between here and there!)

Head-to-head:  Jankovic leads 3-0 (2-0 on hard courts)

It’s not as ominous for Caro as it looks; we can discount the Wimbledon match on a surface where neither woman plays her best.  Their meeting at the year-end championships in Doha last year, moreover, doesn’t demonstrate a great deal because Wozniacki was struggling with a serious hamstring problem.  The only matchup that does matter is Jelena’s three-set win at the 2008 US Open, when she rallied from a one-set deficit to dominate the last two sets.

Recent form:

Jankovic:  Ghastly.  One of the most charming smiles in tennis had little reason to smile this year, dropping her 2010 debut to the enigmatic Szavay before falling to Alona Bondarenko in the Australian Open third round after winning their 9 previous meetings.  Since January she was thumped by Zvonareva in a Dubai quarterfinal and embarrassed by Sevastova in the first round of Monterrey.  In fact, she came within two points of a straight-sets loss in the fourth round here against Sara Errani before (at least temporarily) righting the ship against Kleybanova and Stosur.  Her only impressive result this year was a three-set Fed Cup triumph over Kuznetsova, not off to a blazing start in 2010 herself.

Wozniacki:  Unimpressive but not dreadful.  She lost exhibitions to Venus and Sharapova in Hong Kong (no surprise there) before losing a desultory match to Li Na in the Australian Open fourth round, during which she hit only three winners.  In Dubai, she succumbed to a resurgent Peer.  Like Jankovic, she hasn’t faced a marquee player en route to the final; also like the Serb, she escaped near-catastrophe against an unimposing foe, coming within two games of a loss to Vania King in her opening match.  She dominated third sets against Petrova and Zheng, however, which should give her confidence if this match comes down to a decider.

Three tips for Jankovic:

1) Let the racket do the talking.  Like her fellow Serb Djokovic, Jankovic can get derailed on big stages through her propensity to put on a melodramatic show for the spectators.  It can be great entertainment, but it distracted her from the task at hand in probably the most significant match of her career thus far, the 2008 US Open final.  She’ll want to keep her head on track against the unflappable Wozniacki.

2) Make Caro think about it.  Wozniacki played an solid first set against Clijsters in last year’s US Open final, then wavered when she had the opportunity to serve it out and quickly faded thereafter.  Even if Jankovic trails early, she might easily reverse the momentum if she keeps the match close and gives Wozniacki a chance to buckle under the magnitude of the situation.

3) Don’t hesitate to throw punches.  Jelena is facing an equally consistent opponent, for once, so she’ll need to jump out of her trademark counterpunching game at times and try to dictate play.  Impersonating a backboard (or “Pong” from Roddick’s commercial) won’t get the job done as it might against a Safina or Kuznetsova.  Aggression doesn’t come naturally to the Serb, but she has demonstrated enhanced readiness to come forward and finish points during this event.

Three tips for Wozniacki:

1)  Enjoy the moment.  Despite their respective rankings, the pressure is on Jankovic in this match as the older, more experienced player who has won several top-level titles.  Wozniacki already has secured the #2 ranking by reaching the final and has not yet inspired the expectations that hover above a perennial champion on the biggest stages.  She needs to remember that she has little to lose and much to gain from whatever happens.

2)  Hit behind JJ.  The Serb is brilliant at covering the open court with eye-popping gets, but like most roadrunners she’s less impressive when she has to reverse direction.  More often than not, she’ll hit the ball off-balance and float back a mid-court sitter that can be more easily attacked; even Errani successfully deployed this tactic against her.

3) Stay alert. Jankovic has acquired a reputation for muddling through a match until the crucial moments, then suddenly elevating her game to ambush her unwary opponent.  No lead is safe against her (although no lead is safe with her, either).  Wozniacki needs to retain her focus ever more vigilantly should a set or the title seem almost within her grasp.

Who has the edge?  Shot-by-shot breakdown:

Serve:  Wozniacki

Return:  Jankovic

Forehand:  Wozniacki

Backhand:  Jankovic

Volleys:  Neither

Movement:   Both

Mental:  Wozniacki

And now…who will win?


We’ll be back to preview the ATP final for you in the same way!  🙂