Watch List: Victoria Azarenka rides winning streak into Dubai
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week all eyes are on Victoria Azarenka, who takes a 17-match winning streak in 2012 into Dubai. On the men's side, Andy Roddick aims to defend his title in Memphis.
No. 1 Victoria Azarenka is 17-0 with three titles in 2012. (Karim Jaafar/Getty Images).
• The Vika streak: After winning Doha on Sunday for her third title of the year, Victoria Azarenka's 2012 is starting to look positively Djokovician. Azarenka made her fifth straight final dating to Luxembourg in 2011, and her 6-1, 6-2 shellacking of Sam Stosur pushed her 2012 record to 17-0. She'll try to keep it going in Dubai this week, against an even tougher draw. Her season-opening run has been impressive, no doubt, but if she can take the title in Dubai, it'll officially be time to compare it to "The Streak."
• Dubai: With the target on Azarenka's back growing larger with every win, it's Vika vs. the field in Dubai. That field got weaker on the eve of the tournament as Petra Kvitova -- who skipped events in Paris and Doha with an Achilles injury -- withdrew with an illness. (Li Na and Vera Zvonareva also pulled out.) Kvitova is the last player to defeat Azarenka, at the WTA Championships in Istanbul in October.
Meanwhile, defending champion Caroline Wozniacki will look to rebound from her second-round loss to Lucie Safarova in Doha last week. She's projected to face Azarenka in the semifinals, which could be a defining match for both. Azarenka has dropped three in a row to Wozniacki (the last being a withdrawal after trailing 0-3 at Indian Wells last year) and hasn't beaten her since Rome in 2009. The Dane's defensive game seems to bother Azarenka. Add the fact that the two are good friends (though I can't be the only one who's noticed a significant decline in tweets between the two since Melbourne) and that semifinal is ripe with potential. Wozniacki would love to knock Azarenka off her perch, even if for only a week. A win would make her relevant again.
Early matches to watch: Julia Goerges vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (winner plays Azarenka); Ana Ivanovic vs. Francesca Schiavone; Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Sabine Lisicki; Maria Kirilenko vs. Monica Niculescu; Stosur vs. Safarova (second round).
• Memphis: If Andy Roddick gets his wish, the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis won't be a redux of the SAP Open. Unfortunately (and in fairness), the expectations for him successfully defending his title are low. Roddick sprained his ankle in Wednesday's victory against Denis Kudla and hobbled out of the tournament with a listless 6-2, 6-4 loss to Denis Istomin on Friday. It's a tough task for Roddick to get enough matches to find his form while also trying to manage and play through two injuries (he said his hamstring is still not 100 percent).
On the other end of the spectrum are SAP Open champion Milos Raonic and U.S. Davis Cup hero John Isner, both of whom are riding huge waves of confidence. Raonic could face Roddick in the semifinals, a rematch of last year's final that resulted in this amazing shot, while Isner could have a tricky quarterfinal against a now BMW-less Bernard Tomic.
Raonic and Isner are on opposite sides of the draw, so we could be in for an ace-fest of a final, which would be fun for everyone except the unlucky few sitting in the first few rows on the baseline. Bring some eye protection, folks!
Early matches to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Donald Young; Ryan Harrison vs. Jack Sock; Ernests Gulbis vs. Raonic; Roddick vs. Xavier Malisse.
• Marseille: Mardy Fish reportedly is getting a $300,000 appearance fee for playing in Marseille, France. Not a bad paycheck considering the tournament also has Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro, both of whom probably move more tickets than Fish. Aside from the positive cash flow, the decision was a smart one for Fish, who has a winnable road to the final, though he could have to go through Alex Dolgopolov and Janko Tipsarevic to do it.
As for the other half of the draw, Marseille will be a good test for Del Potro, who lost to Roger Federer in the Rotterdam final on Sunday. After the victory, Federer said he hoped to see Del Potro at the World Tour Finals in November (wait, don't you have to qualify too?). Del Potro is already back into the top 10, and backing up his results in these smaller tournaments will be key to getting that ranking up in the top eight where he belongs.
But the top seed is still Tsonga, who rebounded from a disappointing loss to Kei Nishikori at the Australian Open to lead the French Davis Cup team to a win over Canada. He could face Del Potro in the semifinals, which would be a big test for both men. I'd pick Del Potro in that matchup, but if the Argentine finds himself grinding through three sets in the early rounds, his legs could be gone by then.
Early matches to watch: Del Potro vs. Nikolay Davydenko (second round); Fish vs. Dolgopolov (third round).
• Buenos Aires: The South American clay-court swing continues with David Ferrer returning to competition in the Copa Claro, his first event since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open. He's joined by defending champion and newly minted real-estate agent Nicolas Almagro, Gilles Simon and Stanislas Wawrinka, who is back on the clay after his lackluster performance at the Davis Cup.
It was around this time last season that Almagro went on his point grab on clay, making three straight finals and winning titles at Costa do Sauipe and Buenos Aires. Those results helped propel him into the top 10. He successfully defended his Brazil Open title in Sao Paolo (the event moved this year after 11 years at Costa do Sauipe) on Sunday. I'll be curious to see if he can defend Buenos Aires as well. Early matches to watch: Fernando Gonzalez vs. Albert Montanes; Nishikori vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero; David Nalbandian vs. Juan Monaco (second round); Almagro vs. Fernando Verdasco (third round).