Thursday, July 06, 2006

Day 10: Lady Legacy

Get out the fine cloth napkins. Set a place for everyone at the table. We've got a date for a deliciously ironic meal at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Pardon me this moment to harp on a well-worn topic once again, but it's become quite clear that this has become THE ongoing cause-and-reaction story of the 2006 season on the WTA tour.

Retiring from the Australian Open final precipitated a vociferous attempt by her critics to hack away at Justine Henin-Hardenne's tennis legacy. Those few moments in Melbourne time, whether one disagreed with the Belgian's actions or not, were somehow deemed by many to outweigh an entire career filled with gutsy and improbable ones all over the world that should have more than compensated. What hogwash it all was.

On Saturday, JHH gets her opportunity to strike back once again at those very same caterwaulers by CEMENTING her legacy with a career grand slam courtesy of a Wimbledon title... and do it against the woman she handed the Australian title to, Amelie Mauresmo. Sure, Henin-Hardenne's already defeated Mauresmo in a Melbourne rematch, back in Berlin in May. But no one really paid attention to that one. This one they will.

If one match in Rod Laver Arena could "tarnish" JHH's career, what does three straight slam finals do to it? How about back-to-back Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles? How about not only becoming just the tenth woman to achieve a career grand slam (only Serena Williams is active from the other nine), but also becoming just the third person in tennis history with all four slam titles AND an Olympic singles Gold Medal? 2004 Athens champ Henin-Hardenne could become the only person NOT living in the Agassi-Graf household to have pulled off that feat with a victory over Mauresmo on Centre Court.

Le Petit Taureau vs. The Supernova would have been fun, but JHH vs. the world, err, I mean Mauresmo is the stuff that dreams are made of... at least it is if you're a fan of the sources of loud-mouth overreactions being force-fed their own words on the sport's grandest stage. I know I am.

Now, Justine just has to actually win the match.

Love/Love... we got more of the same from Kim Clijsters today. Oh, she didn't pull a no-show against JHH in the semifinals, but she was again outclassed under slam pressure by her fellow Waffle. It was a series of missed opportunites for Easy-Bake Kim. Clijsters got a break for a 4-3 lead in the 1st set, and served at 30/15 only to be broken by JHH for 4-4. Henin-Hardenne then broke Clijsters again (at love!) en route to winning twelve of the set's final fourteen points to claim the match's opening stanza. In the 2nd set, Clijsters served for the set at 6-5, but then JHH put some wicked spin on a shot that skidded off a line to precipitate a poor shot from Easy-Bake. Seemingly still bothered by the previous point, Clijsters pushed an easy shot down the line wide to essentially break herself, setting up the tie-break that served as her walk down the Green Mile out of Wimbledon '06. Final score: Henin-Hardenne 6-4/7-6
Love/15... and, yes, I know the dirty thoughts that were in the mind of many when JHH started coughing on the court at one point. Setting things up for her retirement on Saturday, right? Funny, but don't think Backspin doesn't know you were thinkin' it.
15/15... speaking of, excuse me for a moment.

Justine, babe. Just make sure you're up to par on Saturday, all right? We don't need to go through all that all over again.

Okay, now back to the Point-by-Point.
15/30... in the other semi, Amelie Mauresmo blinked against Maria Sharapova. But she caught herself before things got ugly. I predicted yesterday that Sharapova would win after Mauresmo blew a set and a break lead. Well, Mauresmo DID blow a set and a break lead as Sharapova pushed the match to a 3rd set. Mauresmo collected herself and took the third, winning 6-3/3-6/6-2 to advance to her first Wimbledon final after faltering three straight times in the SF. Sharapova knows all about that. She's lost in the semis of four of the last five slams, and it has to be getting real old real fast for the Supernova who won at SW19 in 2004. The thought process for the Scenario party rested on more close calls like this in '06 sparking Sharapova to the next phase of her career in '07. So far, things are right on schedule.

15/40... well, if this really was Martina Navratilova's final Wimbledon, it's likely she won't want to remember her last day of competition. She and Liezel Huber started out the day by dropping the 3rd set of their to-be-completed Doubles QF match by a 0-6 score to Zi Yan & Jie Zheng. Later, in a Mixed Doubles 3rd Rounder, she and Mark Knowles lost in straight sets to Vera Zvonareva & Andy Ram, with the final point being an unreturnable Zvonareva serve that Navratilova lunged for but barely got her racket on. So, if she holds to her word, Navratilova's Wimbledon career ends 33 years after it began in 1973... 9 singles, 7 doubles and 4 mixed titles later, still tied with Billie Jean King for the most ever at 20. To continue the theme of this day's Backspin, one day doesn't a career make, though. Martina's legacy was safe a long time ago... say, about a dozen years or so, give or take a half decade or two.

#1 Bryan/Bryan vs. #3 Knowles/Nestor
#6 Santoro/Zimonjic vs. #7 Damm/Paes

Ruano-Pascual/Suarez vs. Fedak/Perebiynis
#2 Black/Stubbs vs. #4 Yan/Zheng

...JHH isn't the only one going for a career slam at this Wimbledon. Ruano-Pascaul and Suarez could achieve the career doubles slam with the title, joining with their one Australian, four Roland Garros and three U.S. Open crowns. Meanwhile, the Bryan twins are currently on a streak of six straight appearances in slam doubles finals (going 2-4).
Deuce... World Team Tennis play begins tonight, with Chanda Rubin making her return to competition (as well as some chick named Kournikova). On Monday, Pete Sampras will play.

#1 Theimo de Bakker v. Michael Konecny
Pavel Chekhov v. Marcin Gawron

#4 Caroline Wozniacki v. Urszula Radwanska
#6 Magdalena Rybarikova v. #10 Tamira Paszek

...Rybarikova outlasted the final Russian girl standing, Alisa Kleybanova, in the QF. Russia's Chekhov (no relation, I'm guessing) reached the boys SF, though. Meanwhile, Radwanska knocked out Britian's Naomi Cadavy and now proceeds on her quest of follow up her sister Agnieszka'a Roland Garros junior title last month with one of her own at Wimbledon.
Game, "10 DOWN, 2 TO GO... or MOVE OVER BOYS, WE HAVE SOME BUSINESS TO ATTEND TO." Rafael Nadal took out Jarkko Nieminen to finally set the men's SF, so...

FEDERER vs. BJORKMAN... come on, seriously? Congratulations, Jonas on your great improbable run. But even surely know it's going to come to a sudden end. PICK: FEDERER IN THREE

NADAL vs. BAGHDATIS... watch it, now. Don't underestimate Baghdatis. This IS the most excitingly unexpected slam SF between two the game's young guns in quite some time. You'd never have guess EITHER one would reach the final, but it'll be a great thing for the sport when one does. But we know which one would be BETTER for the sport if he's in the final, now don't we? These two could play for days, and just very well might. PICK: NADAL IN FOUR, with the 4th set a tie-break battle that the Cypriot nearly wins to push the match to five

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


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