Monday, June 22, 2009

W.1- Been There, Done That... and it's a good thing, really

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova may one day be the LAST woman to win a match at a future Wimbledon. But on Day 1, she'll have to be content with having been the FIRST to do so in 2009.

After the Russian defeated Petra Cetkovska to advance to the 2nd Round, for the most part, the rest of the day was about experience and accomplishment triumphing over pretty much everything else.

Elena Dementieva passed her first test, turning a tight 1st set in her favor with a late break that led to a 6-4/6-1 victory, and #23 Aleksandra Wozniak became the first women's seed sent packing by veteran Francesca Schiavone.

But there were two better examples.

First, Maria Sharapova found herself backed into a Court 1 corner by qualifier Victoriya Kutuzova. She fell behind 4-1, and the Ukrainian served for the 1st set at 5-2 and 5-4. She even held a set point on Sharapova's serve. But being a former champion who has seen far more days on such a grand stage than Kutuzova, Sharapova kept her head and punched her way through to a 7-5/6-4 win.

Later, Serena Williams was cruising to an easy 1st Round win over another qualifier, Neuza Silva. But then the veteran Portugese slam newcomer started to put up a fight. With Serena serving at 4-4, 30/30 the time had come for Williams to show why if she's not THE "favorite" to win this title then she's number "1b." The next two points? Two aces.

Serena won 6-1/7-5, and her comfort level on the grass appears to be extremely high. Uh-oh.

Such was the day that rewarded experience and accomplishment at the All-England Club.

But it didn't end there. The no-surprises-here theme held up in a fashion sense, too, as, in keeping with recent tradition, BOTH Sharapova and Roger Federer once again debuted brand new crisp -- and sparkling white -- outfits from Nike on Day 1. Obviously, experience and accomplishment come with perks... and a little gold trim.

Things won't necessarily hold to form quite like this the rest of the fortnight, but you never know. I mean, if two sisters are playing against each other on the final Saturday, and Federer is the last man standing the following Sunday, would anyone be the slightest bit surprised?

Of course, when it comes to tradition-laden Wimbledon, these are all good things.

=DAY 1 NOTES= far as "big moments," Monday was a rather uneventful day at the All-England Club. Of course, in comparison to today's completion of the rain-delayed final round of golf's U.S. Open -- where Phil Mickelson stumbled, Tiger Woods missed a huge opportunity and a champion whose name everyone will forget in three days was crowned -- it was a wonderful afternoon.

Oh, there was one "big" event at Wimbledon today -- the new Court 2 was opened by the Duke of Kent (nice, but not as fun to see as the Duchess, even with Jana Novotna nowhere in sight). Then 15-year old Laura Robson threatened to christen the new court with a big win... only to ultimately go down, as expected, at the hands of Daniela Hantuchova 3-6/6-4/6-2.

Oh, well. There's always next year... and the Girls competition, of course. "exception" to the "experience rules" trend of the day was veteran Patty Schnyder losing... but since it was even-more-veteran Ai Sugiyama that did her in, I guess it really doesn't count.

...perhaps looking ahead to getting another shot at each other in the 4th Round, both Virginie Razzano and Marion Bartoli (who I SHOULD have picked as my surprise semifinalist... but more on that in a moment) showed little mercy for their 1st Round opponents. Razzano was wiping out Tamira Paszek 6-0/3-1 before the Austrian retired. Meanwhile, Bartoli cruised past Chan Yung-Jan 6-0/6-0.

...and apparently there's a new Backspin curse -- the Curse of the Surprise Semifinalist. With the last two slam draws setting up one wide open quarter, I'm so far 0-for-2 in my picks. That's 0-2... in matches! I picked Kaia Kanepi at Roland Garros, and she was promptly the first seed dumped out of Paris. At Wimbledon, I went with Yanina Wickmayer (coming off QF and RU grass performances that maybe tired her out) over Bartoli... and today she was ousted 6-1/6-1 by Elena Vesnina. Beware potential surprise breakout semifinalists... Backspin has an eye on you. An "evil eye," that is..

...speaking of pre-SW19 results meaning nothing. Birmingham champ Magdalena Rybarikova lost to Roberta Vinci today. And 's-Hertogenbosch titlist Tamarine Tanasugarn lost to qualifier Arantxa Parra-Santonja in another of those "experience exceptions." Hopefully, Eastbourne winner Caroline Wozniacki will put an end to the madness. She's playing on Court 2, the former "graveyard" for high seeds... but THAT court is now Court 3, so maybe IT doesn't count, either.

...aside from Parra-Santonja, Regina Kulikova (def. Karolina Sprem) was the other qualifier to reach the 2nd Round on Day 1. Wild card Michelle Larcher de Brito knocked out qualifier Klara Zakopalova, so the potential for her to cause a great deal of "fake" damage to complainers' eardrums and senses of decorum remains alive. All right!

...some weekend housekeeping: ITF Player of the Week goes to Spaniard Eva Fernandez-Brugues, who won her second challenger event in three weeks in the $25K in Padova, Italy. Fernandez-Brugues is the same woman who made some minor waves on the WTA tour in Estoril earlier this year, qualifying and getting a win over Anastasiya Yakimova.

Week 24's Junior Star is Richel Hogenkamp. The 17-year old teen from the Netherlands, who won her first junior Grade 2 event in Week 18 and soon after upset Noppawan Lertcheewarkarn in the Roland Garros Girls competition last month. This weekend, she won her first PRO tournament in the $10K Alkmaar challenger in her home nation. In just her second pro event, Hogenkamp defeated Cindy Chala, #1-seed Dariya Jurak, Laura Pous Tio and then RG Girls revelation Bianca Botto in the final. Michaella Krajicek's Dutch star might have stopped ascending, but it appears as if Hogenkamp's is just beginning to rise.

...and, finally, probably a very telling programming decision from ESPN today. Rather than show the majority of the Sharapova/Kutuzova match this morning the network subjected its viewers to yet another 1st Round slam flame-out by James Blake. The American lost in three sets to Andreas Seppi in a match which included him fumlbing away a 5-0 lead in the 3rd set tie-break. Seppi had been 14-19 on the season coming into Wimbledon.

So, instead of airing the tight 1st set of a contest featuring a Russian female who's the most famous player in women's tennis, it was decided that it was better to show an underachieving American man doing what he does best -- crumble on the big stage? Oh, the tight Sharapova 1st set WAS shown... late in the day's coverage when other matches were still being played.

Well, hey, at least everyone got to see Blake lose LIVE.

Oh, I can already sense that the U.S. Open on ESPN is going to be so "fun" in a few months. Sigh.

2005: #10 Patty Schnyder (lost to Ant.Serra-Zanetti)
2006: #28 Sofia Arvidsson (lost to Birnerova)
2007: #30 Olga Puchkova (lost to Vesnina)
2008: #30 Dominika Cibulkova (lost to Zheng)
2009: #23 Aleksandra Wozniak (lost to Schiavone)

2003: 9-2 (L: Kuznetsova, Asagoe)
2004: 12-0 (2 titles)
2005: 10-1 (L: V.Williams; 1 title)
2006: 8-2 (L: Jackson, Mauresmo)
2007: 7-2 (L: Jankovic, V.Williams)
2008: 1-1 (L: Kudryavtseva)
2009: 5-1 (L: Li) #
#-through 1st Round of Wimbledon

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Vesna Manasieva/RUS d. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA 6-7/6-4/6-1
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN (1st Rd.-Schiavone/ITA)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


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