Wednesday, July 01, 2015

W.3- The Heat is On, But the Coast is Clear

On this day of heated vigilance, all remained quiet on the Radwanskian front.

Well, unless you count the weather...

And maybe this...

Surely, the hottest day in Wimbledon history (35.7 C/96 F, breaking the previous mark set in 1976) has at least some connection to our old malevolent "friend," correct? AnaIvo losing early in a major? Ummm, not so much.

But, still, if either or both are all that It has to offer two years after the Massacre, well, I think we can all live with that.

So be it. Long live The Cause.

=DAY 3 NOTES= was the case on Day 1 with the top half of the draw, form (mostly) held and the storyline of the day was about just how little the players with their eyes on a second week run at this slam would give up against their opponents.

#1 Serena Williams didn't wipe out Timea Babos by any means, but the big-serving Hungarian was still facing a losing battle with Serena looking as if she's going to slowly build up her performance level with each round while seeking to be in position to hit full flight once we get near the second weekend. And we've seen how THAT plays out before. She won today 6-4/6-1, knocking down break point attempts with aces and never being forced to truly dig way, way down to find a final missing element that would finally put the match away.

Five more to go for Serena Slam II. Twelve more to go for the Grand Slam.

While Serena was advancing to the 3rd Round for the sixteenth time in sixteen trips to the AELTC, sister Venus was being pushed a bit more by young Kazakh Yulia Putintseva. The calm #16 seed always exists in her own world when she's on the court, so there was no way she was going to be distracted or annoyed by the energetic (to say the least) and demonstrative Putintseva. She seemed to handle the heat well, also, though it probably helped that she didn't hit the court until the closing hours of the day.

Venus won 7-6(5)/6-4 to advance to her fifteenth career Wimbledon 3rd Round, and now finds herself just one win away from a possible Round of 16 match-up with Serena. This win moved Venus past Steffi Graf in career Wimbledon match wins with #75, but she hasn't reached the 4th Round at SW19 since 2011.

Of note, Serena actually tied Graf today with her own 74th win.

...#4 Maria Sharapova allowed just four games for the second straight round, defeating qualifier Richel Hogenkamp 6-3/6-1, while #14 Andrea Petkovic followed up her 1st Round double-bagel with a 3 & 1 win over Mariana Duque. #6 Lucie Safarova, who barely escaped her 1st Round match, handled qualifer Hsieh Su-Wei 2 & 3.

#23 Vika Azarenka lost just three games in each set against Kirsten Flipkens, and will next face a tough test against Kiki Mladenovic, who put an end to the Wimbledon of Last Wild Card Standing Jelena Ostapenko in a tight 6-4/7-5 win. the biggest "upset" of the day (though you could easily call it as a possibility as soon as the draw was released), and the one moment that recalled the original Radwanskian Massacre, qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands took out #7 Ana Ivanovic (one of the seven one-time men's and women's #1's to lose on Day 3 two years ago) 6-3/6-4 in a master class of "old school" grass court tennis, an athletic display of serve-and-volley tactics with constant net approaches that put her opponent on her heels.

BMS out-hit AnaIvo to the tune of a 32-15 advantage in winners, including nineteen via volleys as she converted 29-of-38 net approaches on the day. She won 65% of her 2nd serve points, and covered far more ground on the day (1008.3 meters/1103 yds. vs. 855.4 meters/935 yards) compared to the Serb.

One might wonder if an Ivanovic loss here might be a sign of Radwanskian influence. Maybe, but that's probably not the case. AnaIvo doesn't really count. Did anyone really expect her to follow up her big semifinal run in Paris with a second straight good slam result? Yeah, I didn't think so.

...the lack of a breakthrough slam performance continues to dog the near-Top 10 ranked Karolina Pliskova. The #11-seeded Czech has never advanced beyond the 3rd Round of a major, and she once again failed to even get that far at a second consecutive slam (and for the eleventh time in thirteen career slam appearances) with her loss to Coco Vandeweghe today. Although, it should be noted that the American simply outplayed Pliskova on Day 3 to match the best-ever slam result she put up six months ago in Melbourne.

Vandeweghe fired fifteen aces (in just two sets) against the tour's ace queen (Pliskova had seven), winning 7-6(5)/6-4. There were no breaks of serve in the 1st set, and Pliskova led the tie-break 3-0 before dropping seven of the final nine points. In the 2nd, the Czech was up a break at 3-0, but lost her next two service games in the key stretch of the match. Vandeweghe converted just two of eleven BP chances (2/6 in the 2nd set), but that was enough to get the victory.

...the 1st Round comebacks that began on Day 2 continued to and were completed on Day 3, as Stefanie Voegele and Yanina Wickmayer squandered matches that had previously appeared to be theirs less than twenty-four hours earlier.

After trailing by a set and 3-1 down yesterday, #21 Madison Keys forced a 3rd set by winning five straight games before things were stopped at 2-2. After a night to think about things, Keys broke the Swiss in the first game played today and held onto that advantage for the rest of the set. She finally put away Voegele on her sixth MP to win 6-7(6)/6-3/6-4.

In the other suspended match, Wickmayer had held a MP against Elizaveta Kulichkova yesterday, but the Russian forced a 3rd set before the end of play for the day. They returned with the final set tied at 1-1, and Kulichkova raced to a 4-2 lead. Wickmayer got back on serve, but the Hordette eventually won a marathon 10-8 set to advance.

The two wins solidified the positions of the American and Russian contingents as the most heavily-represented in the 2nd Round. Eight U.S. players won 1st Round matches, while six Hordettes did the same. a 2nd Round match, the highest-ranked Swarmette still alive in the draw had to survive a scrape with Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko, but #29 Irina-Camelia Begu won a 7-5/6-7(4)/7-5 match. Begu had held a MP In the 2nd while serving at 5-4, but Tsurenko forced a deciding set and led in the 3rd by a 3-1 score before the Romanian surged back to win.

Elsewhere, Belinda Bencic won her third straight three-set match, taking her second contest in that stretch via a love 3rd set with a 7-5/4-6/6-0 win over Anna-Lena Friedsam. Bencic also bageled Aga Radwanska in the Eastbourne final this weekend. And The Bracelet lives! Aleksandra Krunic continued her first-ever grass court run with a 6-3/6-7(2)/6-2 win over #19 Sara Errani. She'll next face Venus.

...Sloane Stephens won in straight sets over Lauren Davis, after having taken out #27 Barbora Strycova, a '14 quarterfinalist, in the 1st Round. That previous win, along with BMS's win over #7 Ivanovic and Vandweghe's victory over #11 Pliskova, gives the "Upset Queens" award to the Bannerettes. It's the third Wimbledon in the last four that the U.S. woman have won it. doubles, Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina handed Laura Robson (w/ Madison Keys) her second loss at this Wimbledon, winning 6-4/6-1. SuperVet doubles duos Kimiko Date-Krumm/Francesca Schiavone and Cara Black/Lisa Raymond both won 1st Round matches, as did Roberta Vinci & Karin Knapp. Knapp retired from her singles match yesterday, while Vinci is actually the defending Wimbledon women's doubles champ, having won the title in 2014 with former partner Sara Errani.

Top-seeded Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza also advanced, as the #1-ranked Indian kicks off another attempt to grab her long-awaited first career slam women's doubles title.

Karolina Pliskova was 0-2 for Day 3, as she and sister Krystina lost their opening doubles match to Monica Niculescu & Olga Savchuk in three sets. Thus, the Rodionova sisters -- winners today over Irina Falconi/Daria Gavrilova -- are the only remaining all-sibling pair in the women's doubles draw.

LIKE FROM DAY 3: At least Flavia won't exit this week totally empty-handed.

DISLIKE FROM DAY 3 2: Simona Halep's post-match comments after her loss to Jana Cepelova yesterday weren't exactly immediately encouraging. Once again, she talked about what was missing from her game. “I think emotion. I wasn't there,” she Halep conceded. “I couldn't handle it very well. She came back in a good way with her game. She was pushing me a lot. She was aggressive. But I can say that I let her come in and play aggressive.”

Of course, one hopes that admitting her faults will eventually lead to fewer of them, but she's been saying similar things for months now.

LIKE FROM DAY 3: Those Swiss cartoonists...

OF NOTE FROM DAY 3: On the unofficial (observed) Radwanskian Massacre Day, a Radwanska was "massacred."

LIKE FROM DAY 3: Cara Black, 36, and Lisa Raymond, 41, getting their first-ever slam win as a duo. They're 11-2 as a pair in five events stretching back to 2003.

LIKE FROM DAY 3: Just an accident... honest!

LIKE FROM DAY 3: B&W Maria, naturally. (And it's always good to have a big knife handy on Rad Day.)

LIKE FROM DAY 3: Even if it didn't work out as they'd hoped, it's nice to see Aga and Martina still keep in touch. (Hey, SOMEONE has to keep an eye out for The-You-Know-What and make sure this whole thing doesn't start all over again, right? Who better than Wimbledon's greatest champion?)

...and, finally, on this "observed" commemoration day of the Radwanskian Massacre of 2013, the awards have been sorted out. Yes, with the "official" date (June 26) separated from the in-tournament day (Day 3) that coincides with what happened two years ago, there will be TWO Radwanska Awards in the inaugural edition of a new Wimbledon honor.

=June 26=
Aga and the seagull, for the incident last Friday in which a seagull swooped at Radwanska in the Eastbourne semis. A day later, she lost the final... as was ordained after the bird had delivered the message that nothing else would be a wise conclusion to the week. Obviously, Aga and The Rad are still not on speaking terms. Unless something has happened in the last few days, that is. Keep an eye out, Martina.

=Wimbledon Day 3=
Come on, the monster heat arrived TODAY of all days? That CAN'T be a coincidence, right? It is still out there. Waiting in the shadows. Lurking in the corner. Hoping for a moment to become strong yet again.

2013 Radwanskian Massacre Edition (well, actually this was two days earlier...but it directly led to her Rad Day walkover)

2013 Radwanskian Massacre Edition

2013 Radwanskian Massacre Edition (as an astounded spectator)

*SERENA WILLIAMS at the Slams*
59-1...1st Rd. ['12 RG: Razzano]
57-2...2nd Rd. ['98 AO: Venus; '14 RG: Muguruza]
48-8...3rd Rd.
40-8...4th Rd.
24-3...SF [Venus 00,Henin 03,Clijsters 09]
20-4...F [Venus 01,Shar 04,Venus 08,Stosur 11]
33-32...when loses 1st set in Slam match 2015 Slams
=== slam three-setters
7-0...2015 slam three-setters
AO: 15-5
RG: 15-8
WI: 13-4
US: 9-3 (only 3-sets from 2007-13 are 2 F's vs. Azarenka)
4...Jennifer Capriati (RG 01,WI 01,RG 04,US 04)
2...Justine Henin (RG 03,WI 07)
2...Irina Spirlea (AO 98, US 98)
1...Alize Cornet (WI 14)
1...Mary Joe Fernandez (RG 99)
1...Martina Hingis (AO 01)
1...Ana Ivanovic (AO 14)
1...Svetlana Kuznetsova (RG 09)
1...Sabine Lisicki (WI 13)
1...Amelie Mauresmo (US 06)
1...Virginie Razzano (RG 12)
1...Arantxa Sanchez (RG 98)
1...Sloane Stephens (AO 13)
1...Samantha Stosur (RG 10)
1...Sandrine Testud (AO 99)

[multiple wins]
2...Belinda Bencic, SUI
2...Genie Bouchard, CAN
2...Alize Cornet, FRA
2...Zarina Diyas, KAZ
2...Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
2...Madison Keys, USA
2...Andrea Petkovic, GER
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Sloane Stephens, USA
2...Serena Williams, USA
[multiple losses]
2...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
2...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2...Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2...Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
[played all three years on Wimbledon "Rad Day"]
2-1...Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
2-1...Andrea Petkovic, GER
2-1...Maria Sharapova, RUS
1-2...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
# - [history]
2013: June 26 (Wimbledon)
2014: June 26 (Wimbledon)
2015: June 26 (Eastbourne) & Day 3 (Wimbledon)

2004 Great Britain
2005 United States
2006 Great Britain
2007 Austria
2008 Russia
2009 Germany
2010 Czech Republic
2011 Russia
2012 United States
2013 Czech Republic
2014 United States
2015 United States

120...Martina Navratilova
96...Chris Evert
74...Steffi Graf
65...Billie Jean King *
* - King also had 30 pre-Open era wins

TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #21 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR d. Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL 1-6/6-3/12-10 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: The Bannerettes
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (Pennetta "FSO" - ITA 4/6 FSO at Wimbledon; Schiavone another 1st Rd; Knapp ret.; Vinci disappoints)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Duan/CHN, Govortsova/BLR, Hogenkamp/NED(L), Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA(W), Sasnovich/BLR(L)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (2nd Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (in 3rd Rd.)
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: #12 Genie Bouchard/CAN (1st Rd. loss to qualifier #117 Duan; was '14 finalist; two con. slam 1st Rd. losses) & #3 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd. loss to #106 Cepelova; lost to Bouchard in '14 SW19 semi)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #6 Safarova (1st Rd. - down set and 4-2 vs. Riske, who served at 5-4 for the match, then led 2-0 in the 3rd); Watson (1st Rd. - down 3 MP as Garcia served at 5-4 in 3rd set, won 8-6); #21 Keys (1st Rd. - down set and 3-1 vs. Voegele, forced 3rd set and finished off win the next day)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD (June 26): Aga Radwanska & the seagull (in Eastbourne, bird swoops at Radwanska as she serves... one day later, she loses in the final)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD (Day 3): Day 3 is the hottest day ever recorded in Wimbledon history (35.7 C / 96 F)
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): Nominees: Date-Krumm/Schiavone (combined 79 years old), Black/Raymond (combined 77 years old)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

W.2- Up, Down and Out in London SW19

One day after 2014 semifinalist Lucie Safarova had to scrape and claw her way just to survive to play another day, the other three Wimbledon semifinalists from a year ago were making their own headlines on Day 2. For them, Tuesday was a day of one superior high... and two crashing lows.

First, the good (Petra) news.

After seeing the likes of #1 Serena Williams and #4 Maria Sharapova move on to the 2nd Round with nice (though not perfect, especially in the case of the former in the first thirty minutes of her match) wins yesterday, #2 seed and defending champ Petra Kvitova returned to Centre Court and knocked the rest of the women in the draw on their backsides, then pretty much scared the grass stains off their all-white outfits. Well, all of the remaining women save one, I guess.

In a 1st Round that has seen some dominating performances, none was more lethal than the Czech's today. She was more than Good Petra, she was Merciless Petra, and Kiki Bertens has the psychological scars to prove it.

Kvitova didn't double-bagel the Dutch woman, winning 6-1/6-0. So at least Kiki has that. But Petra did win a WTA season-best :36, and she was literally untouchable in her service games, losing just one of twenty-nine points (22/22 on 1st serves, 6/7 on 2nd... with the one lost point being a DF). Overall, the Czech won 48 of 61 points on the day, committing just three unforced errors (two off the ground) and sending an early message that she once again means business at SW19.

Well, unless, you know, Bad Petra unexpectedly shows up one day... which does sometime happen.

Ah, and then we had "the others."

As the season has gone on, two players who were first-time slam finalists a season ago, and even faced off in the Wimbledon semifinals in a battle to play in their first Ladies final at SW19, have seen more questions raised about their games and mental states than they've had answers to keep the raised eyebrows lowered in 2015. #3 Simona Halep and #12 Genie Bouchard are simply not the players they were, or at least most thought they were, a year ago. Both went out to players ranked outside the Top 100 today.

Halep, at least, seems more immediately redeemable. She's won three titles this year, and at times has looked like the player who was recently ranked #2 in the world. She's been open about her difficulties with dealing with the pressure of the new expectations for her career back home in Romania, as well about allowing her nerves to get the best of her in tight situations in several matches this season, including a hard-to-watch loss at the Australian Open to Ekaterina Makarova in which the Swarmette seemed to give up. Halep chalked up her disappointing clay season to an attempt to play an aggressive style of game that wasn't suited to the surface, but which she felt would be a better fit on the grass. After winning just two matches and falling in the QF in her only grass tune-up event in Birmingham, Halep parted ways with coach Victor Ionita (he'd replaced Wim Fissette, who'd helped to guide Halep's great '14 campaign), after having also cut loose consultant Thomas Hogstedt earlier this season. Needless to say, the message and direction of Team Halep seemed a bit confused heading into the third slam of the year.

Today, at least, the result was understandable. Halep played with a blister on her middle toe that hurt her ability to serve (she had seven DF), and her usual consistency was absent in an error-strewn (34 UE) day. It took her two attempts to serve out the 1st set, but she did to take the lead in the match. But #106 Jana Cepelova is no fluke. The Slovak only had one MD tour win in '15 coming into Wimbledon, but her ability to jump up and beat ANYONE on a given day is well known. Her Charleston final run last year included a win over Serena Williams, but today's victory over Halep might be considered the biggest of her career just because of the bigger stage.

"It is of course better because it's Wimbledon, a grand slam," Cepelova said. "Simona's a very good player but today was my day."

Halep dropped serve in her final two games to lose the 2nd set, and Cepelova served for the match in the 3rd at 5-3. The Slovak fell behind love/40 as Halep threatened to extend things by getting back on serve. But Cepelova swept the final five points of the match, which ended, appropriately, with Halep's final error of the day. Cepelova won 5-7/6-4/6-3.

While Halep, with time and effort, will likely be fine, Bouchard is a tougher case to crack. The Romanian has often been unfailingly forthright about what is ailing her and contributing to disappointing results, so the confidence is still high that at some point she'll rediscover her great on-court problem-solving abilities on a consistent basis and learn to deal with her new pressures. But the Canadian should maybe don an outfit full of question marks for the rest of the summer (or, maybe better, take a bit of a break... as Chris Evert suggested today on ESPN), because nothing seems quite so easy.

Bouchard's second straight 1st Round slam exit occurred today when #117-ranked qualifier Duan Yingying, called by some "the Lindsay Davenport of China" because of her size and power-from-the-baseline game, out-hit her in a 7-6(3)/6-4 victory that will knock the '14 finalist outside the Top 25 after losing for the fourth time in the last year to a player ranked outside the Top 100. 2-12 in her last fourteen matches, Bouchard has fallen seven times in the 1st Round since March, and her decision to steal away coach Sam Sumyk from longtime pupil Vika Azarenka earlier this year seems to have been accompanied by a particularly disheartening karmic backlash.

While Bouchard has been the subject up myriad photoshoots and dubbed the "most marketable" athlete in the world over the last year, anyone who has followed her actual tennis no longer can view her as the competitively pugnacious jock with the unlimited supply of confidence who never seemed to know how to back down from a challenger over the first half of the 2014 season. In less than a year, she's developed the reputation of a somewhat childish, unsportswomanlike player who consciously chooses to separate herself from competitors she talks about never wanting to be friends with, even going so far as to openly sneer at the traditional handshakes shared by sporting opponents, which really has only served to make her the target of occasionally public mocking (see Alexandra Dulgheru in Fed Cup) that it's difficult to see as anything but justified. Maria Sharapova, with whom Bouchard was so often compared as far as her "rising star" status was concerned (all those old photos of an elementary school-aged Bouchard and a still-just-a-teenager Sharapova didn't hurt the storyline, either), was never friends with her opponents on the way up, either, but she never talked about it in a way which made her a target for scorn. She was always smarter than that. Worse yet, as winning usually smooths over a lot of ill feelings, Bouchard can't win a match to save her life these days.

And, unlike Halep, she's mostly at a loss for answers to why. Just type in "Bouchard problems" into a Google search and you'll get a litany of articles and theories about why the Canadian has slipped so far in less than a year, but the one constant in all of them is that Bouchard herself hasn't gone on record with any sort of comments that speak to a self-awareness that would give even official merchandise-clad members of the Genie Army reason to avoid worry.

Whether it be lingering injuries, a too-stubborn and/or entitled attitude or flaws in her game (a one plan and one plan only approach, little margin for error on her shots and inadequate defensive abilities that would otherwise allow her to stick in games and maybe use the obstinate personality that we saw in '14 to her advantage) that's the cause, or some combination of them all, Bouchard's fall will likely only put her even more under the microscope of public opinion. In truth, maybe the biggest problem is between her ears. She's not been the same player since she was dissected by Kvitova in last year's Wimbledon final (3 & love), and then her other best result over the last year (Wuhan final) also ended in a commanding loss at the hands of the same Czech (3 & 4), a defeat that likely did her confidence no favors. The Canadian who acted as if she was the most confident 20-year old on earth last summer doesn't seem to have enough of the good stuff to fill a thimble when she's on the court nowadays.

Perhaps this is just the sort of virtual gauntlet that is necessary for young players to make their way through. After similarly tough sledding over the past two years, Sloane Stephens looks to finally be seeing the light at the end of the expectation tunnel in recent months. Not surprisingly, it has been accompanied by a lower social media profile that has allowed her -- if just a bit -- more room to grow. Or, maybe more accurately, to begin to grow up. It's possible that if Bouchard goes through a process not all that different from her North American counterpart, she, too, will find her footing down the line. She's still just 21 years old.

Watching too closely, though, will probably only lead to more troubling days and nights... for her fans, as well as herself.

...while those two were crashing and burning, creating a bit of a mini-massacre on the bottom half of the draw on Day 2 (just missing on bringing to mind the original Radwanskian Massacre on Day 3 two years ago), this was happening...

I'm just sayin'. Now, if only someone or something could drag Bad Petra out into the light, well, we might have to bring out the ol' Threat Level chart for the bottom half of the draw (at least).

...yesterday, Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic served up a pair of double-bagel victories in :41 and :38 matches, respectively. On Day 2, Angelique Kerber looked across the net at Carina Witthoeft and decided that she'd like to dish out some bakery good of her own.

The Birmingham champ didn't allow a game against her countrywoman, though her 6-0/6-0 victory DID take a bit longer than Kvitova's 1 & love win later in the day, as the German became the first winner to advance on a very hot (for England, at least) Tuesday just forty-four minutes after the start of play.

...along with the Crash & Burn co-winners, some additional Wimbledon awards were handed out on Day 2.

The Last Brit Standing was determined when Laura Robson ended her 17-month slam absence with a 6-4/6-4 defeat at the hands of Evgeniya Rodina, presenting the honor to Heather Watson no matter happened in her continued-from-Day 1 match with Caroline Garcia.

As it turned out, Watson actually got a win as Garcia yet again crumbled on a big slam stage. After being the First Seed Out on Day 1 at Roland Garros, the Pastry was the First Seed Out on Day 2 of Wimbledon today despite holding three MP at 5-4 in the only set the two woman were scheduled to compete in today. Garcia dropped her final two service games in the 1-6/6-3/8-6 Watson victory, meaning the French woman has now exited in the 1st Round at five of the last seven slams.

Since the AELTC only handed out five of a possible eight wild cards for this event, Robson (who got #5) going out means that the Last Wild Card Standing is 18-year old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, the '14 Wimbledon girls champ who notched a win over CSN on Day 1.

...elsewhere, Karolina Pliskova was joined in the 2nd Round by her sister Kristyna (meaning there are two Williamses, two Radwanskas AND those two Czechs still alive in the final 64), who battled back against fellow Maiden Tereza Smitkova, who reached the Round of 16 last year, to win 3-6/7-5/7-5. Smitkova led 6-3/4-2 and served for the match at 5-4.

#17 Elina Svitolina dropped the opening set to Misaki Doi but won in three, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova saved a MP in the 2nd set of a 6-7(3)/7-6(4)/6-2 win over Mona Barthel and, as usual, Yaroslava Shvedova managed to squander a lead on her way out the door of a slam singles competition. The Kazakh led Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 3-1 in the 3rd before losing to the Croat by a 7-5/6-7(5)/7-5 score.

And leave it to #28 Jelena Jankovic to have her Wimbledon past resemble her present, and her present resemble her past. Ten years after losing at SW19 to a Russian (Anastasia Myskina) in a 10-8 3rd set, today she prevailed over one (Elena Vesnina) in a 6-4/3-6/10-8 come from behind victory. The Hordette had led 4-2 in the 3rd set, and served for the match at 7-6.

#5 Caroline Wozniacki rebounded from a slow start to take down Zheng Saisai, winning the 2nd set at love; while #18 Sabine Lisicki fired eight aces while taking out Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova in straights sets. Rosmalen champ #31 Camila Giorgi won, but Nottingham winner Ana Konjuh lost 6-2/6-2 to #25 Alize Cornet.

Another teenager who seemed to have a chance at making some noise at this Wimbledon, Katerina Siniakova, fell to fellow Czech Denisa Allertova 2-6/6-4/6-3.

...late in the day, Yanina Wickmayer had the chance to put her 1st Round match away against young Hordette Elizaveta Kulichkova, but she failed to convert a MP in the 2nd set tie-break and the Russian pushed things to a 3rd. The match was suspended tied 1-1 in the 3rd.

In the final women's match of the day, #21 Madison Keys looked to be on her way out. But I always go back to the lesson she learned early last season in Fed Cup against Alize Cornet about never giving up, and just as I invoked it at last year's Wimbledon when she strung out a 3rd Round match against Yaroslava Shvedova until it was suspended (as it turned out, Keys was too injured to play when the match was to resume after the middle Sunday) and when she came back from a set and 5-0 down to win a match earlier this season I'll do it again here. The AO semifinalist and Charleston runner-up has had troubles at times maintaining the consistency of her big game this season, and it looked as if time was getting late for her to find her groove today against Stefanie Voegele. But she kept trying and, wouldn't you know it, things began to go her way.

Keys trailed 7-6(6)/3-1, with her serve and forehand not being particularly effective. But she turned it on just in time, running off a string of five straight games to force a 3rd set in the fading light. This time, though, she'd probably have been better off finishing the match today with the momentum in her favor, but things were stopped at 2-2 in the 3rd. Still, she'll be able to get advice from Lindsay Davenport overnight and should be ready to go tomorrow. doubles, Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova began their attempt at winning a third straight slam with a 1st Round victory (they're 22-2 as a duo), while Day 1 losing-but-shining-brightly-anyway Serena Williams victim, Margarita Gasparyan, picked up a win with partner Alexandra Panova.

DAY 2 QUALIFIER WINS: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Bouchard), Olga Govortsova/BLR (def. Mitu)
DAY 2 BRIT WINS: Heather Watson (def. Garcia)

DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: Although, isn't it always a case of "I'll believe it when I see it" when it comes to Sisters Doubles?




LIKE FROM DAY 2: Amelie (& future Co.) sighting!

DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: The moment when it becomes even more obvious than usual that stupid rules are there just to screw with people and give others a flimsy sense of superiority and, really, nothing else.


LIKE FROM DAY 2: Good Petra and... "Merciless Petra?"

...and, finally, with the 1st Round mostly complete, here are the overall records of the nations with at least (or w/ the chance to have) three players still remaining in the women's 2nd Round:

7-8...USA (w/ Keys to finish)
5-3...RUS (w/ Kulichkova to finish)
NOTE: SUI (2-0 w/ Voegele to finish)

The "Upset Queens" title is still too close/muddled to call, while the "Revelation Ladies" crown looks to be a race between the Czechs (both Pliskovas, Allertova), the Belarusians (qualifiers Sasnovich & Govortsova) and the Swiss (Bacsinszky, Bencic and maybe Voegele). Since the Maidens won the award at last year's Wimbledon on the backs of runs by Safarova, Strycova and Smitkova I'll go with the Swiss partially based on the big jump in overall results this season from the women of Switzerland (and that they've never won this award).

Ah, but what about the "Nation of Poor Souls?" Well, it's always easy to give it to the Brits at Wimbledon, but the carnage was lessened a bit by the relatively few local favorites in the draw (only four), and Watson's survival today meaning that they at least didn't go winless.

Here are some particularly bad national numbers:


It's tempting to go with Romania after Halep's loss, but #29 Begu advanced along Niculescu, and they're big enough names to avoid the full national black mark. China was really successful in the Q-rounds, pulled off the Bouchard upset, and really isn't expected to do much anymore without Li Na around (and Peng Shuai injured). Estonia, especially with both Kontaveit and Kanepi having good grass court histories, is a possibility... but I'll go with the Italians. While Giorgi and Errani advanced (the latter by defeating another Italian), Pennetta was the first seed out (making it four Italian FSO's at SW19 in six years), Vinci was a disappointment, Knapp retired and Schiavone lost yet another 1st Round slam match.

Also, on the eve of the OBSERVED Radwanskian Massacre Day (Day 3), be alert for signs of looming darkness. I've actually added that swooping-seagull-vs.-Aga incident on the OFFICIAL Rad Massacre Day last Friday in Eastbourne on the nomination list for the first Wimbledon "Radwanska Award." It would seem sort of fitting to go with the inaugural winner... but we'll see what happens tomorrow.

More Award updates as they become available.

I love to have fun ???? just walking is not for us #dowhatyoulike ???? video cred to my bro @vagen007

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2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Samantha Stosur, AUS [1st Rd. - both RG finalists]
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1st Rd.)
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2014 Sloane Stephens, USA (1st Rd.)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN & Simona Halep, ROU (both 1st Rd.)

2006 Serbia
2007 France
2008 Russia
2009 Italy (veterans)
2010 Romania
2011 Great Britain
2012 Netherlands
2013 Australia/New Zealand
2014 Czech Republic
2015 Switzerland

2008 Elena Baltacha & Anne Keothavong (2nd Rd.)
2009 Elena Baltacha (2nd Rd.)
2010 Heather Watson (GBR 0-6 in 1st Rd., Watson last to lose)
2011 Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong & Laura Robson (2nd Rd.)
2012 Heather Watson (3rd Rd.)
2013 Laura Robson (4th Rd.)
2014 Naomi Broady & Heather Watson (2nd Rd.)
2015 Heather Watson (in 2nd Rd.)

2008 Zheng Jie, CHN (SF)
2009 Elena Baltacha/GBR & Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR (2nd Rd.)
2010 none to 2nd Rd.
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER (SF)
2012 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ (4th Rd.)
2013 Alison Riske, USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Vera Zvonareva, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2015 Jelena Ostapenko, LAT (in 2nd Rd.)

2010 GBR (0-6 1st Rd.)
2011 AUS (1-3 1st Rd., Stosur & Dokic losses)
2012 SVK (1-3 in 1st Rd.; all 3 w/ WTA titles lost)
2013 GBR (1-6 in 1st Rd.)
2014 SVK (1-4 1st; grass champs Hantuchova/Rybarikova 1st Rd.)
2015 ITA (Pennetta "FSO" - ITA 4/6 Wimb. FSO; Schiavone loss, Knapp ret.)

TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #21 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR d. Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL 1-6/6-3/12-10 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (Pennetta "FSO" - ITA 4/6 FSO at Wimbledon; Schiavone another 1st Rd; Knapp ret.; Vinci disappointing)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Duan/CHN, Govortsova/BLR, Hogenkamp/NED, Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA, Sasnovich/BLR
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (in 2nd Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (in 2nd Rd.)
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: #12 Genie Bouchard/CAN (1st Rd. loss to qualifier #117 Duan; was '14 finalist; two con. slam 1st Rd. losses) & #3 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd. loss to #106 Cepelova; lost to Bouchard in '14 SW19 semi)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #6 Safarova (1st Rd. - down set and 4-2 vs. Riske, who served at 5-4 for the match, then led 2-0 in the 3rd); Watson (1st Rd. - down 3 MP as Garcia served at 5-4 in 3rd set, won 8-6)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD: Nominee: (pre-Wimbledon) seagull swoops at Aga Radwanska on original Radwanskian Massacre Day date (6/26) in Eastbourne, foretelling the Pole's eventually title-less week


All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Monday, June 29, 2015

W.1- A Matter of Time...and being Serena

On Day 1, it was time to play. So it was time to put the nets up.

It was also time for Serena Williams to win. Sure, it took a few games for her to get things appropriately rolling, but we all knew she would. It was just a matter of time. After all, the 20-time slam champ was thinking about this tournament while she was still on Chatrier Court in Paris three weeks ago after winning the Roland Garros final. That doesn't mean that she's necessarily destined to lift #21 at the end of the fortnight, but her focus is true. And that generally means a great deal. At the very least, she wasn't going to lose today. Her opponent, whoever it was, was never going to be anything other than a temporary obstacle.

So, meet Margarita Gasparyan. AKA "The Temporary Obstacle." But a pretty good one, as it turned out.

The #113-ranked woman in the world surely knew what she was up against on Day 1. "This is amazing, no? It's my first time playing at Wimbledon and in the 1st round I play Serena Williams. She's one of the best. She's a star. It is for me better," the Russian said after learning that she was to play the five-time SW19 champ.

That said, Gasparyan WAS impressive early. An ITF achiever (9-1 in finals) with three '15 titles already under her belt, she's six-foot-one with a big serve and one-handed backhand. This won't be her last match on a big stage. Even Serena, who'd naturally never met her 20-year old challenger until today, was surprised to learn that Gasparyan's ranking wasn't already high enough for her to automatically be included in the main draw, rather than having to get there by making her way through qualifying (her second consecutive slam Q-run of the season, no less).

On the first point of the match, the Hordette blasted a big deep return that Williams couldn't get back. Moments later, a Serena error put the #1 seed down love/40. Gasparyan broke serve, then fired a forehand down the line to hold for 2-0. Williams opened game #3 with a 116-mph serve and let out a yell.

It was just a matter of time.

But the day wasn't easy. One year after a Wimbledon experience that included a Round of 16 loss to Alize Cornet and that strange exit in the doubles when she seemed to have lost her equilibrium and couldn't even bounce a ball and catch it, the opening half-hour of her '15 return included being issued an audible obscenity violation and a slip/split/fall at the baseline that didn't look all that different from the one that Vika Azarenka experienced on the original Radwanskian Massacre Day two years ago. Well, except that Vika let out a cry of death and curled up like road kill on a highway, while Serena simply looked a bit perturbed and immediately got to her feet.

As the big Russian was firing the sort of winners that elicited a call of, "Hey, Mar-garita!" from the crowd, Williams was slowly rounding into shape. Serena finally got things back even with a break for 3-3, then she proceeded to win nine of the next eleven games to polish off a 6-4/6-1 victory, giving her a career 59-1 mark in slam 1st Rounds. She's 31-0 in the 1st AND 2nd Rounds at Wimbledon, so Timea Babos should probably focus on her BFF doubles chances with Kiki Mladenovic. I'm just sayin'.

One down. Six more to go for Serena Slam II. Thirteen more to go for the Grand Slam.

...while there are potential early-round pitfalls ahead (i.e. Kiki Mladenovic in Round 3, then possibly multiple former-or-current world #1's soon afterward), #23 Vika Azarenka kicked off her 2015 Wimbledon experience as well as anyone could have expected. Facing off with wild card Estonian teenager Anett Kontaveit, who won a $50K grass court challenger a few weeks ago and was 11-2 on the surface in June, the two-time SW19 semifinalist cruised to a 6-2/6-1 victory -- just her second win in the last three years at the AELTC -- to become the very first player to advance to the 2nd Round.

The last time Vika was out of the gate so quickly was at the 2012 Australian Open. Not forecasting anything, but it should be noted that she won that tournament.

...of course, with the good on Day 1 of a slam comes the equally necessary bad. The "First Seed Out" was #24 Flavia Pennetta, a three-set victim of Zarina Diyas, 6-3/2-6/6-4.

This is the second time that Pennetta has been the first seed ousted at Wimbledon in the last four years, having lost early in 2012. Actually, this also marks the fourth time in the last six years that the FSO at SW19 hailed from Italy. of -- if not THE -- en vogue upset pick for Day 1 was that of grass court maven Tsvetana Pironkova over #30 seeded Eastbourne champ Belinda Bencic. Things looked good for the Bulgarian early on, as she took the 1st set. But, as if often the case, Pironkova was hampered by a leg injury and the 18-year old 2013 Wimbledon girls champ Bencic showed no pity for her opponent's situation, winning the final two sets 1 & 3 to advance.

Bencic will next face Anna-Lena Friedsam, who erased a 4-1 3rd set deficit today to knock off Hordette Vitalia Diatchenko, as she attempts to return to the 3rd Round at SW19 one year after she won two matches in her debut there a year ago.

...Brit Johanna Konta has had a great grass court tune up season, reaching a pair of QF and notching a handful of big wins in the greatest stretch of results of her career. Meanwhile, #4 Maria Sharapova hasn't played a match since Roland Garros. The two faced off on Centre Court on Monday and... well, they both played up to the level of their past career results, making the past month null and void. Sharapova handily won 6-2/6-2 to move her career 1st Round record at Wimbledon to a spotless 13-0.

...Sharapova didn't have easiest time of things among the bigger names in action today, though. There were two double bagel results. #16 Venus Williams put down fellow American Madison Brengle in forty-one minutes, showing how good she was feeling by converting 17 of 20 net approaches.

#14 Andrea Petkovic, not with a great grass history but coming off a good week in Eastbourne, handled another Bannerette, Shelby Rogers, in a second "Wimbledon bakery special" in just THIRTY-EIGHT minutes, calling up her "inner Sabine" by firing seven aces in six service games.

...and then there was Karolina Pliskova. Oh, Karolina. She almost lived down to her grand slam reputation once again. After winning the 1st set against Irina Falconi, the #11-seeded Czech led 3-1 in the 2nd but saw the Bannerette force a 3rd. Pliskova won the decider handily, but one wonders if that squandered lead might plant a tiny seed of doubt that could grow into a tournament-ender for her before she can live up to her seed and reach her first career Round of 16 (at least) at a major.

Meanwhile, Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko made her grand slam debut on Day 1. The barely 18-year old (since June 18) wild card is the second-youngest player in the draw behind Ana Konjuh, and she won the Wimbledon girls title last year. You might remember, I picked her to death at the slams in '14, finally getting her SW19 title run correct after missing out on predictions for her to lift a slam title in both Melbourne and Paris. She was immediately impressive today, destroying #9-seed Carla Suarez-Navarro and allowing just two total games.

Hmmm, I wonder who was the last teen to upset a Top 10 player in their slam debut? Even Jelena Dokic had played in two slam MD before she knocked off #1 Martina Hingis in the 1st Round at Wimbledon in '99.

...Pennetta wasn't the only Italian to have a bad day. Roberta Vinci, who reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2012-13, lost in straight sets to Aleksandra Krunic (Go Bracelet!), while in a bit of Italian-on-Italian crime it was #19 Sara Errani taking out Francesca Schiavone in three sets, 6-2/5-7/6-1.

The loss puts Schiavone right back on the bad slam slide that she finally stopped last month in Paris. Her brief RG run (which included that instant classic vs. Kuznetsova) had ended her eight-match slam losing streak. This loss means she's now been ousted in her opening match at ten of the last twelve majors, while this is her fourth straight defeat at Wimbledon since reaching the Round of 16 in 2012.

...elsewhere, Kirsten Flipkens dropped the opening set at love to Annika Beck, but the Waffle came back to win in three. Daniela Hantuchova won the all-Slovak battle with Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5/6-0, while Daria Gavrilova put up a fight but ultimately fell to #29 Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6(6)/6-1. And Sloane Stephens' good recent run continued as she quickly bounced back from a 3-1 deficit in the 1st set to take down '14 quarterfinalist #27 Barbora Strycova 6-4/6-2.

Though we really need to stop with polls like this:

...and has the OTHER big-time Czech in the draw be awakened from her post-Paris slumber? Maybe, which could make this Day 1 result very important down the road.

#6 Lucie Safarova was a SW19 semifinalist a year ago, but she improved upon even that result with her huge run to the Roland Garros final three weeks ago. She didn't have much grass court preparation, and had a potential 1st Round stumbling block in Alison Riske today. Early on, it looked as if the American was going to be much more than just that, though.

While Safarova seemed disengaged and was error-prone, Riske's grass court experience and success showed. She won the 1st set and led 4-2 in the 2nd. Safarova got a break to get back on serve at 4-3, but Riske immediately got the advantage back and served for the match at 5-4. But the Czech held on, and Riske's nerves got the best of her. The rest is history. Safarova rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd and won 3-6/7-5/6-3.

Who knows what this escape could do for Safarova. If it immediately transforms her back into the player who has been one of the best on tour over the past year, the Czech could be a "Zombie Queen" contender who really IS a contender by the end of next week.

DAY 1 QUALIFIER WINS: Richel Hogenkamp/NED (def. Wang), Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE (def. Kanepi), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (def. Van Uytvanck), Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR (def. Zhu)
DAY 1 WILD CARD WINS: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (def. Suarez-Navarro)
DAY 1 BRIT WINS: even limiting the number of Brits in the main draw because of a lack of merit, the locals still went 0-2 on Day 1. And if Heather Watson hadn't grabbed the 2nd set late in the day against Caroline Garcia, pushing the 3rd set into Day 2, it might have been even worse.

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Pammy Shriver is back on ESPN! Yes. I never would have uttered such a thing without a hint of sarcasm a few years ago, but I do now. So there you go.


CONFIRMATION FROM DAY 1: Finally, some word on whether or not Schiavone has her eye on Ai Sugiyama's WTA record of 62 consecutive slam appearances. She does. This was her 60th straight slam.

DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: Speaking of Francesca (and Sara, too, for that matter). These match-up caricatures are usually pretty good... but I think someone needs to go back to the (literal) drawing board for these two. Is that even Errani at all, or another player altogether?


DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: A little less JJ at SW19.

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Petko being Petko (as always)

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Even Maria's post-run shots are imagined in stylish B&W.


...and, finally... leave it to Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champ, to throw in a little more drawn-out drama before he walked out the doors of the AELTC for the last time... as in losing a two sets to one lead, then saving three MP in the 5th before finally going out 11-9 to Jarkko Nieminen.

I was never really a great fan of the Aussie. But even players you don't particularly cotton to earn loads of respect when they battle through injuries and stick around as long as Hewitt has. He played his first slam match back in 1997. Belinda Bencic wouldn't be BORN for two months, and Ana Konjuh hadn't even yet been conceived. They've both won WTA titles over the past three weeks.

Remember, Hewitt was ranked #1 in the world and winning his two career slams BEFORE the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Roddick and Ferrero had ever climbed into the top spot or won ANY major titles. The player he replaced as #1 when he reached the position for the first time in 2001? Gustavo Kuerten. The player who replaced Hewitt both times he was supplanted as #1 in 2003? Andre Agassi. Both players have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, three and four years ago, respectively. Meanwhile, the Aussie still has a little work to do. He won't officially call it career until after the 2016 Australian Open.

I guess Drake is all right. Not so sure about the choice of leggings.

Love this guy @champagnepapi ?? #0toa100realquick

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2005 #10 Patty Schnyder, SUI (lost to Ant.Serra-Zanetta/ITA)
2006 #28 Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (lost to Birnerova/CZE)
2007 #30 Olga Puchkova, RUS (lost to Vesnina/RUS)
2008 #30 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (lost to J.Zheng/CHN)
2009 #23 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN (lost to Schiavone/ITA)
2010 #5 Francesca Schiavone ITA (lost to Dushevina/RUS)
2011 #22 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Pervak/RUS)
2012 #16 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Giorgi/ITA)
2013 #5 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Puig/PUR)
2014 #17 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Wickmayer/BEL)
2015 #24 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Diyas/KAZ)

2009 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Cetkovska/CZE)
2010 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Schnyder/SUI)
2011 Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Suarez-Navarro/ESP)
2013 Lesia Tsurenko/UKR (def. Arruabarrena-Vecino/ESP)
2014 Elena Vesnina/RUS (def. Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
2015 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)

TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #21 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR d. Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL 1-6/6-3/12-10 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Hogenkamp/NED, Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA, Sasnovich/BLR
LAST BRIT STANDING: 1st Rd.: 0-2 so far
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #9 Suarez-Navarro (lost 1st Rd. vs. WC Ostapenko, winning just 2 games)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #6 Safarova (1st Rd. - down set and 4-2 vs. Riske, who served at 5-4 for the match, then led 2-0 in the 3rd)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD: Nominee: Pironkova 1st Rd. injury

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.