Friday, June 30, 2006

Day 5: Sweet 16 Stories, Part I

The bottom half of the women's final sixteen is set. Amongst the group is a 17-year old Aggie ranked #217 in the world, a 26-year old qualifier, two former slam champions, a Wonder Girl and a 30-year old veteran who pushed Martina out the door on Day 5.

**THE SWEET 16**
(bottom half)

==BY AGE==
30...Ai Sugiyama, JAPAN
26...Severine Bremond, FRANCE
24...Na Li, CHINA
24...Justine Henin-Hardenne, BELGIUM
23...Daniela Hantuchova, SLOVAK REPUBLIC
23...Kim Clijsters, BELGIUM
17...Agnieszka Radwanska, POLAND
17...Nicole Vaidisova, CZECH REPUBLIC
#2 Kim Clijsters
#3 Justine Henin-Hardenne
#13 Nicole Vaidisova
#18 Daniela Hantuchova
#21 Ai Sugiyama
#30 Na Li
#129 Severine Bremond
#217 Agnieszka Radwanska

Their stories:

...Justine Henin-Hardenne has now won 14 straight matches, third best on tour this season (16-Mauresmo, 15-Petrova). So far, she's yet to drop a set or be even remotely challenged. She'll next face Daniela Hantuchova, who finds her seemingly forever not-quite-as-wonderful-as-she-used-to-be Wonder Girl self in a familiar position since her one-time Top 5 ranking took a tumble and she developed a knack for emotionally melting down at the drop of a break point. Since that down period, Hantuchova has on several occasions gotten to a point where she faces a match that could finally help her make "the leap back" if she were to win, only to fail to muster anything close to what she needs to accomplish the feat. Here's another chance against JHH. Pierre predicted that she would indeed upset the Roland Garros champion here in his Battle Royale predictions. We shall see.

If Henin-Hardenne gets past Hantuchova, who last reached the QF in 2002, it would mean that likely only Kim Clijsters could possibly stand in Le Petit Taureau's way with a shot to prevent her from playing for her "career slam" on the final Saturday. But with Clijsters once again seeming to psych herself out when she faces her fellow Belgian, the JHH-Hantuchova match might just amount to the REAL SEMIFINAL as far as Justine is concerned.

Of course, maybe Clijsters won't even make it to that potential quasi-semifinal vs. Justine. After all, her next opponent has been making strides so fast that she could be ready to elbow Kim out of the spotlight.

Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, 17, has come quite a long way in the past year. She was the 2005 Wimbledon Girls champion, then ended the year at #381. A few months ago, she shocked Anastasia Myskina in Warsaw en route to her first tour QF. She's coming off claiming the Roland Garros Girls title, and has now reached a slam 4th Round. Could claiming a huge slam upset be next on the list for Aggie? If so, a star would be born.

Speaking of rising stars, Nicole Vaidisova is still kicking around the All-England Club. She's done so pretty quietly, too, despite winning two separate matches by tight 7-5/7-5 scores. Originally, it looked as if the Dynamova's next match would offer her the chance for some revenge against Svetlana Kuznetsova for that blown SF match in Paris. Nicole made the date, but the Contessova didn't.

Instead, it'll be Na Li facing the Czech teen next. Today, Li upset #5-seed Kuznetsova 3-6/6-2/6-3 in the biggest win ever in a slam by a Chinese player. After slipping by the likes of Vaidisova, Groenefeld and Peschke despite flirting with defeat, Kuznetsova couldn't turn around her fortunes against Li. She almost did, though. Li led 4-1 in the 3rd set, but when the Russian broke her to get the score to 4-3 it looked like Kuznetsova might do it again. But Li would have none of it.

Kuznetsova wasn't the only former slam champ to be bounced today, either. Martina Hingis said bye-bye, as well, losing to Japanese vet Ai Sugiyama, 30, in three sets. Sugiyama will now re-enter the Top 20 after this tournament, the season after she lost in the 1st Round in three of the slams. For the right to face JHH in the quarters (hmmm... am I speaking too soon on that?), Sugiyama will face #129-ranked qualifier Severine Bremond.

On a six-match winning streak on the grass, Bremond knocked out Gisela Dulko (maybe she should have worn that "athletic" string bikini?), giving her a leg up on being the Last Qualifier Standing (the only other qualifer remaining, Nicole Pratt, faces Mauresmo tomorrow). Oh, on a side note, if you have the WTA/ATP Tennis Guide for this year, check out Bremond's bio photo. It's quite a beautiful shot, really. It's different from her tour website picture, and I'd give it the unofficial title of "Best Photo" in this year's guide... but that's just my opinion.

"Sweet 16 Stories, Part II" arrives tomorrow, as long as the London weather forecast holds up.


Saturday should be a great day for American tennis fans watching their televisions. It SHOULD be, but if things go as they SEEM they will, it'll be a crying shame. This is what I expect: ESPN will come on air at 8am, just in time for the Nadal-Agassi match to start, but the network will not be allowed to show it because of NBC's exclusivity rights. Four hours later, at noon, NBC will air the match on tape... just as the Roddick/Murray match is being played live. After the Nadal/Agassi theatre, the Battle of the Andys will be shown (on tape) on ESPN at 3pm. So, on the Saturday of a holiday weekend, the two most interesting matches of the tournament's first week will take place, both of them with American players, and no tennis fan in America will be able to see either one even though two networks will air a combined ten consecutive hours of coverage throughout the day. On Independence Day weekend, the freedom of the tennis fan will be infringed upon yet again. So what else is new?

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.


Blogger Tom said...

Wimbledon Live is useful in such emergencies...

Sat Jul 01, 02:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Ah, if only I could get my player to work with it. :(

I can listen to the Wimbledon Radio feed, though. :)

Sat Jul 01, 11:19:00 PM EDT  

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