Thursday, June 29, 2006

Day 4: Venus Being Venus, Rafa Being Rafa

It's not as if she hasn't done this before, but still. It's not as if it would have been a flabbergasting surprise to see him exit so early, but still.

As it turned out, though, both Venus Williams and Rafael Nadal were the ones celebrating, while Lisa Raymond and Robert Kendrick were left to wonder how it all went so very wrong.

It was going to happen again. Venus' house of cards was going to be blown over by her 32-year old American countrywoman. A doubles specialist, no less... but one playing possibly the best singles match of her life, volleying like Stefan Edberg with the aggression of Boris Becker. She was taking it to Williams, even as the defending champ wasn't exactly falling apart. For once, it wasn't Venus' errors causing the problems. It was the opponent.

Raymond led 7-6/5-2. She served for the match at 5-3 and got to within two points of a monumental upset that would have brought this tournament to its knees, and set off a round of "what's up with Venus?" questions all over again.

It's amazing what a few minutes can do.

Suddenly, Williams' game and heart aligned perfectly, and Raymond was as good as dead. (Just ask Lindsay Davenport how it felt about a year ago.) When all seemed lost, Venus' eleventh hour wake up call ended the match in an instant. Raymond was broken. Williams held serve easily. The match was over, even if Venus DID still have to win nine of the remaining eleven games to make it official.

It was just Venus being Venus... sometimes looking like a mess, but able to transform into a devastatingly destructive tennis butterfly at any moment. Today, Court One was her chrysalis, and Raymond failed to pull off Williams' wings when she had the chance. Her inability to do so could end up being the lost moment in time that determines the eventual champion of this tournament.

Just as Venus did, Rafa had his own moments in the shade and sun on Centre Court. The clay court king with the desire to win on grass, but maybe not the game to fully pull it off just yet, was down two sets to none to a qualifier ranked #237 in the world before he, too, found his form just in the nick of time, wearing down Kendrick both physically and mentally to escape an upset.

Nadal almost lived up to his grass court reputation, but survived on the guts and guile that've made him so good on the red dirt. Now we get the gladiator match-up of all gladiator match-ups (well, at least the best you'll find that doesn't include Roger Federer) on Saturday, as Nadal faces Andre Agassi in a bit of theatre that, fittingly, will either send the little bald guy off into Wimbledon history, or become the inspiration for one final fascinating SW19 chapter.

Either way, it'll be a moment to remember, not to mention savor.


1.Justine Henin-Hardenne
2.Amelie Mauresmo
3.Maria Sharapova

RISERS: Daniela Hantuchova & Shuai Peng
SURPRISES: Melanie South & Sarah Borwell
VETERANS: Nicole Pratt & Tamarine Tanasugarn
FRESH FACES: Agnieszka Radwanska & Tszvetana Pironkova
DOWN: Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Patty Schnyder

1. 2nd- V.Williams d. Raymond 6-7/7-5/6-2
2. 2nd- Medina-Garrigues d. Fernandez 6-7/7-5/11-9
3. 1st- Safina d. Craybas 6-3/5-7/7-5

Love/Love... sometimes, the pressure is just too much
15/Love... the race to be the last women's qualifier standing is down to three -- Nicole Pratt, Tamarine Tanasugarn and Severine Bremond. Irakli Labadze was the only men's qualifier to reach the 3rd Round.
15/15... #8 Patty Schnyder, who lost today to Bremond, was the first Top 10 women's seed to fall. #9 Nikolay Davydenko had lost in the 1st Round to Alejandro Falla earlier in the week to be the first top men's seed ousted.
15/30... Dinara Safina has outlasted big brother Marat in yet another slam. Today, Marat blew a big lead against Fernando Gonzalez, while Dinara overcame a set and a break deficit against Mashona Washington (which, in an odd way, continues the Roland Garros pigeon scenario, as it was Washington who lost a 5-2 lead with match points to Sharapova in the 1st Round in Paris, and then Sharapova who eventually lost a 5-1 lead to Safina in the 4th Round). But one wonders how many Wimbledon lives Safina has left, considering she had to save a match point against Jill Craybas in the 1st Round before finally escaping that one.
15/40... your Wimbledon "Upset Queens?" The Brits, Melanie South and Sarah Borwell for their 1st Round upsets of Francesca Schiavone and Marta Domachowska, respectively. Both lost today in the 2nd Round, by the way.
30/40... quietly, after the contingent missed Wimbledon a year ago because of the Asian Games, three Chinese women (Na Li, Jie Zheng and Shuai Peng) have advanced to the Round of 32. They were a combined 0-2 at SW19 before winning two matches each, so far, this year.
Deuce... the women's Round of 32, by nation:

7...Russia (Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Dementieva, Myskina, Safina, Likhovtseva, Chakvetadze)
3...China (N.Li, Peng, Zheng)
3...USA (V.Williams, Perry, Frazier)
2...Belgium (Clijsters, Henin-H.)
2...France (Mauresmo, Bremond)
2...Serbia (Ivanovic, Jankovic)
1...Argentina (Dulko)
1...Australia (Pratt)
1...Austria (Bammer)
1...Croatia (Sprem)
1...Czech Republic (Vaidisova)
1...Italy (Pennetta)
1...Japan (Sugiyama)
1...Poland (Radwanska)
1...Slovenia (Srebotnik)
1...Spain (Medina-Garrigues)
1...Switzerland (Hingis)
1...Slovak Republic (Hantuchova)
1...Thailand (Tanasugarn)

Ad... Andre Agassi won his 222nd career slam singles match today, tying him with Ivan Lendl for second in men's slam history. The Top 3:

233...Jimmy Connors
222...Andre Agassi
222...Ivan Lendl

Game, "BATTLING FARCE WITH FACT"... anyone who wants to counter someone's argument for the Club's unequal pay policy being based on the additional amount of time spent on court by the men's players should show a tape of the Roddick/Mayer match from today to the person in question. Push Play, then walk out of the room. 1:09 (and THREE sets!) later, any of that person's arguments will effectively be moot.

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


ALSO: Federerisms: Wimbledon Special Edition on ATP Backspin


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