The year's first Grand Slam event, the Australian Open, is the unofficial kickoff to the 2007 season. Will Roger Federer's dominance continue? Can anyone beat Rafael Nadal on clay? And will we see the Williams sisters win another tournament? ESPN analysts Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver and TENNIS.com's Peter Bodo answer those questions and more about the 2007 season.
Question: Which men's player not named Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal will be the next to win a Grand Slam, and which Grand Slam will it be?
Patrick McEnroe: You heard it here first … Andy Roddick will win the second major of his career. No, not at Wimbledon, but at the Australian Open, and in doing so, will make the tennis season real interesting. I love the way he turned the corner in the second half of 2006, and having Jimmy Connors in his corner has helped big-time. Andy had Federer on the ropes in Shanghai; it was the first time he outplayed Federer for a couple of sets (although it's considerably more difficult to beat Federer in a best of five). I like his physical fitness, and he has the strength to go deep in a tournament like the Australian. Getting to the U.S. Open final was a big boost for his confidence.
Pam Shriver: I think Andy Roddick will be next to win a major other than Fed and Rafa. It will not be at the Australian or the French, but the U.S. Open. It is hard to imagine many other men winning majors right now, but tennis always has a surprise around the corner.
Peter Bodo: Andy Roddick will win the Australian Open. He finished 2006 on an incredible high and has continued his successful partnership with Jimmy Connors. The Australian surface will be faster this year, and this is a tournament that has thrown up a fair number of big-player upsets in years past.
Q: Who is the player with the best chance to end Rafael Nadal's 62-match clay court win streak?
McEnroe: I'm going out on a limb on this one. It's going to be Nicolas Almagro, another young Spaniard, and it will happen in the early rounds at one of the smaller clay-court tournaments, like Valencia or Barcelona. Almagro is a big hitter off both sides; he is the type of player who can give Nadal trouble. But will it happen at the French? Uhhh … No!
Shriver: Any number of players can beat Rafa on clay -- so many call clay "their" surface -- but I still think Federer will do it. He should have beaten him in Rome last year and is extremely hungry to win his first French.
Bodo: Roger Federer is the safe pick, but let's not forget that Richard Gasquet (sometimes referred to as "Baby Federer") is explosive and versatile. On a great day, he could pound winners and confuse Nadal in a way that a mere grinder cannot.
Q: Amelie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin-Hardenne were the four names you saw in the Grand Slam semifinals in 2006. Which women's player wins her first Grand Slam in 2007?
McEnroe: I don't think anyone, to be perfectly honest, because the players at the top are too strong. Sharapova got over a mental hurdle last year by winning her second major. You have good young players like Jelena Jankovic, Nicole Vaidisova and Anna Chakvetadze, but I would be shocked if anyone else wins a major other than those four. Nadia Petrova has the best chance, but I just don't see it happening.
Shriver: Hingis has a better chance to win her sixth major (and first since the 1999 Australian Open) than any first-timer. I suppose another Russian could come out of nowhere like three years ago, but too many of the top women have won majors now.
Bodo: Watch out for Nicole Vaidisova on hard courts. She tailed off after her great French Open last year, but she has all the tools.
Q: The highest ranked American men's player after James Blake and Andy Roddick is Mardy Fish (No. 45). If healthy, does he crack the Top 20?
McEnroe: No, but I do think he will finish ranked between 20 and 30, provided he stays healthy.
Shriver: If Mardy has a big year at the majors then, of course, he can climb into the top 20; however, it's a crap shoot if he can stay healthy and get the good draws. If you had to bet, you would say no Top 20 for Fish this year.
Bodo: Yes, he's got the kind of unpredictable and unconventional (by today's standard) game that can give people fits. He mostly needs to get in the groove, get a little momentum going over the course of a few weeks to become solid Top 20 guy.
Q: Whose the next American (male and female) to win a Grand Slam event?
McEnroe: For the men, Roddick. Don't forget James Blake, who loves the hard courts of Australia and Flushing Meadows. It's tough times of late for the women, and that will continue this year. Lindsay Davenport is on her way to motherhood (congrats, Lindsay), Jennifer Capriati is not coming back and you don't know about the Williams sisters. The problem is the women don't have much coming up; that's not to say the men's side is loaded, but the potential is there for several youngsters to make a move into the big leagues, particularly Californian Sam Querrey.
Shriver: I feel that a Williams sister will win a major again, but not sure if they will do it before Roddick takes the U.S. Open. Maybe we'll see a Serena Williams-Roddick U.S. Open double.
Bodo: See above -- Andy Roddick, Australian Open. For the women, I am going to say Venus Williams because she's the most likely candidate, if the best-case scenario comes to pass: Her wrist heals up and she gets a few matches under her belt in time to challenge at the tournament where she has such a great history, Wimbledon.
Q: The one woman who has the best chance to separate herself from the rest of the field is …
McEnroe: I think Maria Sharapova has a great chance to finish No. 1. It will be very close at the top, but Maria has the best chance to distance herself because she plays more events, and usually is healthier than the other top players throughout the year. Justine Henin-Hardenne always plays a limited schedule (and after pulling out of the Australian Open that will hurt her chances) and Amelie Mauresmo is nicked up here and there. Sharapova is already near the top spot right now (ranked No. 2 behind Henin-Hardenne) and a good run Down Under will propel her to the top spot. Also, she's very consistent (she reached the semis in all but two tournaments in 2006) and fights for every match. Sharapova has the best chance, but I do not see any player running away with the No. 1 ranking. There is no Roger Federer in the women's game right now. The top is considerably more crowded.
Shriver: Sharapova or Henin-Hardenne, but with news that Henin-Hardenne is out of the Australian, I will go with Sharapova. She has a big game … and bigger heart.
Bodo: Justine Henin-Hardenne, if she stays healthy. (I do expect her to bounce back after her withdrawal from the Australian Open.) Mauresmo isn't prone to choking like she once was, but she remains erratic and unpredictable. She apparently doesn't have the staying power to put real distance between herself and the rest, while Henin-Hardenne seems to be able to play her best tennis and keep her focus regardless of what anyone else is -- or isn't -- doing.
Q: Kim Clijsters will retire after the 2007 season.
McEnroe: No. I just think she likes to play. She can start the rest of her life and still play part-time and still be top five in the world. She's still young (23), so she could play a limited schedule and still be competitive.
Shriver: Kim seems committed to retiring at the end of the year. Assuming she and Brian Lynch, are happy and committed. We all know Kim wants kids as soon as possible, and obviously has enough money for several lifetimes; so while retiring in her mid 20s seems soon, it feels right for Kim.
Bodo: No. She's seen enough Elton John and Barbra Streisand "farewell" concerts to know how much they can be milked to create drama and generate PR.
Q: This time next year, what will be saying about the seasons Venus and Serena had?
McEnroe: We'll be saying they spent about as much time on red carpet as they did at Grand Slam events. Venus wants to play more, but she's injured quite a bit. As for Serena, I don't think she has the desire.
Shriver: This is a make-or-break year for both sisters, especially Serena, who has not done squat since the 2005 Australian. Talent is always there, but how are their levels of desire? Tennis would be better off to have them both in the mix for another year or two … or four.
Bodo: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.