Monday, July 02, 2007

Day 7: Blame it On the Rain? Hardly.

They shoot horses don't they?

Well, yeah... but they don't shoot tennis players. It's a good thing, too. Because, for a while there on Day 7, Serena Williams was doing a pretty good impression of an injured racehorse limping down the back stretch after breaking a leg... with the track ambulance in hot pursuit.

All that appeared to remain was the act of putting her out of her obvious misery. Luckily for Serena, Daniela Hantuchova was driving the vehicle that was supposed to serve up her undoing. Plus, the heavens were waiting to open at just the right time. Oh, and then there was that suspicious pigeon, too. (More on that later.) But DO NOT confuse Serena Williams with Barbaro. The latter is as good as glue, while the former is alive and kicking.

(Well, maybe not exactly KICKING... but resting up so she'll be able to kick if she HAS to in a few days. That is, if it ever stops raining long enough for the All-England Club to get this tournament back on schedule for the weekend's singles finals.)

After taking the 1st set from Hantuchova at 6-2, it looked as if the end result of this 3rd Round match was a foregone conclusion. Little did we know that as the Slovakian grabbed a 5-3 lead, then couldn't close out the 2nd set, that we were going to experience one of "those matches" that are used forever afterward to visually (and viscerally) define the heart of a champion.

At 5-5, Williams' calf seized. Or maybe it cramped. Whatever the exact malady, the fact was that Serena was curled up in a ball at the baseline, clutching her leg and heaving in agony. She managed to get up, then play on... without actually moving, mind you. She even held serve and forced a tie-break by just trying to win points with one swing of the racket, sort of like what she did after an abdominal injury in the WTA Championship final against Maria Sharapova in 2004.

But when she fell down 4-2 in the tie-break, it was apparent this was going to be a three-set match... and Williams might not be able to complete it. Then, voila! Just when she needed a break, the rains came right on cue. The suspension of play may have saved Serena on Day 7, and dealt Hantuchova a "dead man's hand."

By the time play resumed, Serena was ready to go. She wasn't 100%, of course. Hardly, actually... but well enough to move a little. Even after claiming the tie-break, though, one wonders why Hantuchova didn't try to drop shot her and move her around the court to take advantage of the lack of mobility. But, hey, that's why Wonder Girl goes five years between titles, I guess.

When a pigeon swooped down toward the court at 4-2 Williams, 30/30 on Hantuchova's serve, you just knew what was going to happen. The Slovak's game didn't immediately disappear as is the case when the avian interlopers interfere at Roland Garros. But, remember, this is Wimbledon. Things just advance at a tad slower pace there. The game lasted a few more additional points, but Hantuchova WAS broken... and then Williams served out a 6-2/6-7/6-2 dramatic win that will either set her on a course to another grand slam title, or be a lingering highlight that will be referenced for the remainder of her Hall of Fame career.

Hmmm, so maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was Wonder Girl's inability to win a match in which mental gymnastics and deductions were required. Maybe it was the infernal curse of the pigeons, apparently imported from Paris. But, really, all those theories are bunk. Serena won this match because she's Serena... and now she's Justine's problem in the QF matchup of the "Immovable Object vs. the Unstoppable Force."

Serena doesn't care about WHY everything played out in her favor today. Injury or no injury, she's got Le Petit Taureau -- and a little revenge for that QF loss in Paris -- on her mind. And so does everyone else.

May the best woman win... and probably take the whole thing in the end.


Venus...2, Court 2...0.

It took her younger sister's dramatics to keep Venus from being the top story of Day 7. After Akiko Morigami took the 2nd set of their resumed 3rd Round match, then used a net cord to gain a break point on Williams' serve at 4-3 (Venus promptly double-faulted) before serving for the match at 5-3, it appeared as if Court 2 was finally going to get its revenge after Williams slipped from the "graveyard's" clutches in the 1st Round against Alla Kudryavtseva.

But Venus isn't a five-time grand slam champion by luck, and her ability to pull herself together while less-accomplished players crumble in the face of it all is precisely why, even as she teetered on the edge of experiencing her third loss in the SW19 3rd Round or earlier in the last four years, this match was hardly over. As it turned out, Venus had this one in the bag.

She broke the Japanese veteran at love, then proceeded to wrap up the final four games of the match, finishing things off just as rain and wind were threatening to stop play before she could gain the victory (hmmm, sort of the opposite of what happened to Serena... go ahead and read into that whatever you wish) to advance into a very interesting Round of 16 match against Maria Sharapova.

Of course, Venus will have to discover some of the consistency that hasn't been in evidence yet in this tournament if she's going to get past the Supernova. But, then again, Sharapova isn't going to be going up against a player she can expect to not have enough firepower to outhit her at crunch time, either. Justine vs. Serena will be the headliner QF match of the top half of the draw, but Maria vs. Venus in the 4th Round might just have just as much impact on the bottom half.
15-Love... well, after getting gyped out of the "Revelation Ladies" at Roland Garros, the Austrians picked up the "Upset Queens" award for Wimbledon when 16-year old Tamira Paszek continued her revelatory tournament with another upset of a seeded player by taking out #12 Elena Dementieva in three sets.

2004: Brits
2005: Americans
2006: Brits
2007: Austrians


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Women's Singles 4th Rd. - #1 Justine Henin(BEL) d. #15 Patty Schnyder(SUI) - 6-2/6-2.
...and Sneaky has finally left the building.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Men's Singles 4th Rd. - #1 Roger Federer(SUI) w/o #13 Tommy Haas(GER).
...yeah, as if Federer needs the extra advantage of having one fewer match to play while all the other men are going to have to play best-of-five matches almost every day to reach the weekend because of the schedule backlog.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Men's Doubles 2nd Rd. - #10 Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA/FRA) d. Amer Delic/Bobby Reynolds (USA/USA) - 6-3/6-4/6-7/6-7/14-12.
...Henman/Moya? Bah, that was nothing. That 5th set was ONLY 13-11.
15-30... the Girls Singles draw has been released, and it contains quite a few players who have made strides with ITF titles this season and/or have experienced past junior slam success.

1. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
2. Anastasia Pivovarova/RUS
3. Evgenia Rodina/RUS
(yes, 3 more Russians!)
4. Ksenia Milevskaya/BLR
5. Nikola Hofmanova/AUT
(young Austrian #1b)
6. Urszula Radwanska/POL
7. Madison Brengle/USA
8. Petra Kvitova/CZE

...and near-Hingis-conqueror Naomi Cavaday is the #9 seed, too. Also in the draw: Czech Maiden Katerina Vankova, ITF mover-and-shaker Simona Halep of Romania, RG runner-up Mariana Duque Marino and another British hope, Jade Curtis.
15-40... here are the stats on the completed bottom half of the Women's Round of 16:

[by nation]
3...Russia (Kuznetsova, Petrova, Sharapova)
1...Austria (Paszek)
1...Czech Republic (Vaidisova)
1...France (Mauresmo)
1...Serbia (Ivanovic)
1...United States (V.Williams)

[by age]
27...Venus Williams
27...Amelie Mauresmo
25...Nadia Petrova
22...Svetlana Kuznetsova
20...Maria Sharapova
19...Ana Ivanovic
18...Nicole Vaidisova
16...Tamira Paszek

[by rank]
#2....Maria Sharapova
#4....Amelie Mauresmo
#5....Svetlana Kuznetsova
#6....Ana Ivanovic
#9....Nadia Petrova
#10...Nicole Vaidisova
#xx...Venus Williams
#54...Tamira Paszek

[by nation]
3...United States
1...Czech Republic


#6 Ivanovic d. #11 Petrova
...I WANT to pick Nadia. I HOPE she'll take out AnaIvo. I BELIEVE that she can. But I don't want to jinx her.
#4 Mauresmo d. #14 Vaidisova
...the sisters make all the headlines. Everyone pays attention to Maria. Justine gets her pats on the back. Meanwhile the defending champion hasn't blinked. You sort of get the feeling that Amelie hopes it stays just like this.
Paszek d. #5 Kuznetsova
...hey, Dokic reached the QF as a 16-year old in 1999.
#23 V.Williams d. #2 Sharapova
...Venus won't have to bother with Court 2 anymore. This one could really go either way, depending on which of the four versions of these two players actually show up.
MATCH, "Make fun of Rafa's 'wedgie removal system' at your own risk"... Robin Soderling still might upset Rafael Nadal when their 3rd Round match resumes, but after his playful on-court "joking" about Nadal's penchant for, umm, "clearing the valley" with a quick pinch of the back of his pants -- come on, we've all noticed the habit... we just politely ignore it, since somtimes a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do when his clothing sponsor makes him wear long pants that are probably a little more snug in the seat than they probably need to be -- it should be noted that Nadal quickly broke his serve and will begin play with a 2-0 final set advantage. On a day when one Williams sister won just before the rains came down, while another was saved because the rains came when they did, karmic consequences are nothing to be taken lightly.

TOP QUALIFIERS: Su-Wei Hsieh/TPE & Olga Govortsova/BLR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Amelie Mauresmo/FRA
TOP MID-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Olga Poutchkova/RUS (1r-E.Vesnina/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Austrians (Paszek & Meusburger)
REVELATION LADIES: French (Bartoli & Rezai to 3rd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Olga Govortsova/BLR, Nika Ozegovic/CRO, Tatiana Perebiynis/UKR, Hana Sromova/CZE & Agnes Szavay/HUN (2nd Rd.)
IT GIRL: (vacant)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 7.


Blogger Eric said...

hey have you seen paszek play? what do you think? what's her weapon?

Mon Jul 02, 10:31:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i'm not so convinced about pavlyuchenkova...i think there's too much hype (like donald young) and kind of reminds me of azarenka in that she has awesome junior results but mediocre wtatour results

Mon Jul 02, 10:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I've seen a bit of Paszek, including her RU performance against Pavlyuchenkova in last year's US Open junior final and then her comeback from 0-5 down to 5-all in the 1st set against Henin at Roland Garros. She's not very tall (5-5), but she has some power. A good forehand. She's a very exciting shotmaker who can fire up the crowd and herself. Yesterday, I heard Mary Carillo say that after Henin played Paszek earlier this year (don't know if it was in Paris, or the three-setter against her before then) she came off the court and said that the Austrian was going to be a Top 5 player.

I'm in a wait-and-see thing with Pavlyuchenkova (by the way, SI has a page on her in the most recent issue where they list 13 future stars). She's 5-9 right now, but since she's only 16 she might still get a tad taller and make her game even more effective (Sharapova grew about two inches after winning Wimbledon at 17). Paszek is only 16, too, but some players are just ready quicker than others. Clijsters was ready slightly earlier than Henin, but Henin ended up having the more accomplished career over the long run. The thing with Young was that he was so small, and wasn't powerful... and it was an uphill struggle that it looks like he'll likely never overcome.

And after what happened with Mauresmo today, maybe I should consider amending the "dream team" comment that she has another slam in her at Wimbledon. :(

Tue Jul 03, 04:12:00 PM EDT  

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