2018-19 Grand Prix Final Preview: A Clash of Kings and Queens

For the first time in 6 weeks, there’s no Grand Prix event this weekend to deprive me of sleep. But with the Final coming up, I thought I’d do a quick overview of the situation going on, particularly in pairs.

Predictions:

1. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres

2. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov

3. Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert

4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin

5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise

6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin

 

James/Cipres: Winning This Wicked Game (So Far)

When Vanessa and Morgan said their goal this season was to win Worlds, I was very skeptical. I’m still not sure if they’ll be able to beat Sui/Han when the Chinese come back at Worlds, but at this point in the season, they’re looking like front-runners. They just look comfortable with their programs – especially the free skate. Which brings me to my next question: can they beat Tarasova/Morozov?

Tarasova/Morozov: Either Winter is Coming or it’s the Winter of our Discontent

Last year, my response to the previous question would’ve been, “Heck no!”. Last year, it seemed like Evgenia and Vladimir were invincible, even though they were saddled with that dorky Candyman program, they were expected to win a medal at the Olympics against a Savchenko on the warpath, and gee, their country got banned and they had to compete under a neutral flag. So you’d think that in comparison, this season would be a piece of cake. But if anything, they might be in more trouble now. The short program isn’t offensive, but they can do so much better; on the other hand, the free skate this year is beautiful; definitely the best one they’ve had yet. The real question is, are they comfortable? If it was a game of basic skating skills and gorgeous elements, Tarasova/Morozov would be well ahead of James/Cipres. But James/Cipres OWN their programs, and they have a certain sparkle that brings down the house when they go clean. So I’m afraid Evgenia and Vladimir might have a real fight on their hands, no matter how much I want to watch them blossom into the beautiful, legendary Russian pair I know they can be. Vanessa and Morgan aren’t going to just sit and wait for them to figure it out, and there’s also another problem: Zabiiako and Enbert.

Zabiiako/Enbert: Knights in Battle

I’ll admit it, when I first saw Natalia Zabiiako’s new look, I was not thrilled. And the short program still makes me go “what the heck did I just watch?”. But like it or not, they’re getting too close to Evgenia and Vladimir for comfort. If they keep delivering decent programs, they very well might leapfrog into the top spot amongst the Russian pairs. Why do I not sound excited? Because I’m really not in the mood to see such a quick turnover in the sport. I like to see pairs reach the top and stay there for a while. But never mind, the skating gods never listen to me anyways, so I’ll just sit back and admire their nice free skate.

Peng/Jin: The Number One Chinese Pair Right Now

Who would’ve thought? I’ve loved these two since day one, so yes, I’m loving this. But I think if anyone has a good shot at shaking up this podium, it’s these two. They look so much more consistent than last year, and if you somehow didn’t hear me shouting from the rooftops during the Grand Prix, I LOVE THEIR SHORT PROGRAM!!! It’s all about staying upright and letting hell break loose in front of them; if one of the other pairs screw up, who will be standing there to pick up the slack? My money is on Peng/Jin.

Della Monica/Guarise: Dark Horses

Did I mention I really like Nicole and Matteo too? They don’t have it easy in this field, but they looked sharp as a tack at Rostelecom Cup and I’m really eager to see them in action again. I’ve been seeing lots of improvement in the past year, and their programs are solid, so let’s do this!

Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin: New Kids on the Block

Attention: Daria Pavliuchenko has my heart. Yes, she’s only 15 and is still developing as a skater, but I see so much spark in her. I’m still not sold on two things: 1. her partner Denis, and 2. that poorly edited Great Gatsby free skate. But they can deliver the technical goods when it counts. Unfortunately, their PCS are still junior level – and with that free program, they aren’t going to get any help there. I think they (she) could be great in a couple years, but like any legit thing in life, it’ll take time.

So, that’s my rough preview of the event. I could be totally wrong, so don’t show up at my door with a battering ram if I made a crazy prediction. Until the Grand Prix Final gets underway, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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