Friday, July 07, 2006

Day 11: The Best of Both Worlds

Two weeks ago, we wouldn't have dared to dream of what awaits us in the Wimbledon finals this weekend.

On Saturday, we get a double-edged grudge match that is loaded with antagonism, even if neither participent would ever fully admit it. On Sunday, we get the latest classic chapter in the game's preeminent rivalry, a match whose result could rock the sport, no matter who emerges victorious.

Justine Henin-Hardenne vs. Mauresmo offers a rematch of the Australian Open final, and the chance for the battle that never was in Melbourne to become a reality in London. However much it was JHH's illness and/or Mauresmo's brilliance that contributed to the lopsided Aussie affair that concluded in such anticlimactic fashion we'll never know. But surely the Belgian wants to prove once again that that night was an aberration, while Mauresmo wants to beat JHH fair-and-square so that she can feel the instant jubilation that normally comes with the realization of a grand slam title dream, rather than be forever stuck with the bewildered feeling she experienced before Henin-Hardenne conceded the title in January.

Roger Federer never thought he'd get a shot at Rafael Nadal on grass. Nadal never thought he'd get one, either. But the Spaniard's grass court prowess has improved so exponentially that, twelve matches after play began at SW19, we're faced with the greatest matchup no one ever expected in their wildest dreams... at least not for a few years.

So many things are at stake and in play this weekend. Revenge. Redemption. Legacy. Delayed fulfillment. Perception of character. Perception of invincibility. An exhibition of excellence. A battle of wills. A rivalry sprouted during a series of remarkle matches over a fifteen month span. A grudge match hatched on a single night because of a single decision.

This weekend, the All-England Club will have it all.

[Junior & WTA]
1997 Roland Garros Jr. - def. Cara Black
2001 Wimbledon - lost to Venus Williams
2003 Roland Garros - def. Kim Clijsters
2003 US Open - def. Kim Clijsters
2004 Australian - def. Kim Clijsters
2004 Athens - def. Amelie Mauresmo
2005 Roland Garros - def. Mary Pierce
2006 Australian - lost to Amelie Mauresmo
2006 Roland Garros - def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2006 Wimbledon vs. Mauresmo

[Junior & WTA]
1996 Roland Garros Jr. - def. Meghann Shaughnessy
1996 Wimbledon Jr. - def. Magui Serna
1999 Australian - lost to Martina Hingis
2003 WTA Chsp - lost to Kim Clijsters
2004 Athens - lost to Justine Henin-Hardenne
2005 WTA Chsp - def. Mary Pierce
2006 Australian - def. Justine Henin-Hardenne
2006 Wimbledon vs. Henin-Hardenne

[JHH leads 5-4]
1999 US Open (H) 1st - Mauresmo 6-1/6-4
2003 Berlin (RC) SF - JHH 7-6/6-4
2003 WTA (H) SF - Mauresmo 7-6/3-6/6-3
2004 Sydney (H) F - JHH 6-4/6-4
2004 A.Island (GC) SF - Mauresmo 6-7/7-5/6-3
2004 Athens (H) F - JHH 6-3/6-3
2005 Toronto (H) SF - JHH 7-5/3-6/6-1
2006 Australian (H) F - Mauresmo 6-1/2-0 ret.
2006 Berlin (RC) SF - JHH 6-1/6-2
2006 Wimbledon (Grass) Final

...Henin-Hardenne has met every challenge set before her since the start of play at Roland Garros in late May, winning a WTA season-best seventeen straight matches and yet to drop a set in this tournament, and now finds herself on the verge of becoming the first woman since Serena Williams in 2002 to win back-to-back RG and SW19 crowns. Mauresmo's SF victory over her own worst demons (and Maria Sharapova) goes a long way toward helping her at least shed the label of "Master of Big Stage Asphyxiation" that's followed her her entire career, and started to be chipped away with her YEC and Oz titles. If the world #1 were to win Wimbledon, it'd be gone forever. But JHH is standing in her way... and, as far as we know, a healthy Le Petit Taureau, too. A win for the Belgian and she seals her legacy by becoming the tenth woman in tennis history to achieve a career grand slam. It's difficult to believe that she could ever allow that opportunity to pass her by. I still think this final will be a close one, but I'm not stupid enough to pick against Justine at this point. If she goes down in flames, I'll go down with her this time... a mantra that'll likely be a Backspin theme for the balance of this 2006 season. PICK: HENIN-HARDENNE IN THREE...and her Melbourne critics can sit and spin on it

Justine Henin-Hardenne def Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 7-5 - Amelie certainly has the game to play with anyone but mentally, no one can top Justine right now, and the variety Amelie displayed against Sharapova will have more limited effects against the versatile "Petit Taureau".

Love/Love... today's Rafael Nadal/Marcos Baghdatis SF was far closer that the 6-1/7-5/6-3 scoreline would seem to attest. Nadal had to work against the Cypriot, and how good he looked while doing it only makes his Sunday meeting with Roger Federer all the more mysterious. Rafa is 6-1 lifetime against King Roger, but this'll be their first match-up on grass. That SHOULD favor Federer, but Nadal's serve has improved so much that he's barely been challenged on it by his opponents during the fortnight (even Agassi couldn't get a racket on a good return). Surely, Federer-Nadal VIII is a titanic event in tennis terms, but this meeting is even more enthralling than their Roland Garros "dream final" because it's so unexpected... and that if Nadal were to successfully get inside Federer's psyche once again and pull the upset it would turn on its head every perception about both of them. It's hard to see Federer losing this, but I remember saying that about Serena Williams when she faced Maria Sharapova in the '04 final, too. Over the past two weeks, Nadal has earned his grass court respect with every punishing groundstroke and ounce of heart he could muster. At this point, it'd be crazy to think he doesn't have a legit shot to rock the tennis world to its foundation all over again. This is the most intriguing men's final at Wimbledon since Borg vs. McEnroe in 1981 (but if he loses, just don't expect Federer to walk away from the game at the end of the season, at age 25, like the taciturn Swede did soon after losing to Johnny Mac.)
15/Love... some stats on the Federer/Nadal final: it's the first time the men's Roland Garros finalists have met a month later in the Wimbledon final during the Open Era, and both players are the first since Agassi in '99 to reach the back-to-back slam finals. By the way, the last man to WIN both, as Nadal is trying to do, was Borg in 1980.

#4 Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) vs. #6 Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)

#1 Theimo de Bakker (NED) vs. Marcin Gawron (POL)

...Wozniacki eliminated Urszula Radwanska 3-6/6-3/8-6 in the SF today, but Poland still has a shot at a junior title since unseeded Gawron reached the boys finale.

Ruano-Pascual/Suarez vs. #4 Yan/Zheng

#1 B.Bryan/M.Bryan vs. #6 Santoro/Zimonjic

V.Williams/B.Bryan vs. #3 C.Black/W.Black or #9 Zvonareva/Ram

Game... "EVERYONE'S INVITED TO THE PARTY... even Venus. Well, almost." Henin-Hardenne isn't the only one going for a career grand slam this weekend. Ruano-Pascual/Suarez would complete the career Women's Doubles slam with the title, and the Bryan twins (in their seventh straight slam final) would do so with a title in the Men's. Meanwhile, Mixed finalist Venus Williams will go for the third leg of a career Mixed grand slam (she won the Australian and Roland Garros in '98), something that Daniela Hantuchova pulled off a short while back.

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger Zidane said...

A few minutes before the great Ladies' Final, I believe in the unbelievable: Mauresmo will win. Before the Oz, she lost in her first match of preparatory events, against Ivanovic. Then, out of nowhere, when expectations were really low for her, she won her first Slam. In Roland Garros, she was #1, just won the last slam, and she was at home, so expectations were so high. Then, before Wimbledon, she lost once again at the first match of preparatory events, against Dechy this time. Once again expectations suddenly disappeared for Maumo, and here she is, in final. I think she wants to prove she's not only an "accidental" Slam winner in her heart, she should win in a similar match as against Sharapova, 3 sets.

Sat Jul 08, 08:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Turned out to be a pretty accurate prediction. :)

I wish I was getting more of those flashes of brilliance this year. :(

Sat Jul 08, 06:25:00 PM EDT  

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