Saturday, July 01, 2006

Day 6: Sweet 16 Stories, Part II

And on Day 6, the top half of the women's Round of 16 was filled out.

Amongst the lucky survivors... an Italian clay courter having a little fun on the grass, two Serbs, a Wimbledon-winning philatelist, a two-time grand slam runner-up, and an African-American NOT named Venus.

**THE SWEET 16**
(top half)
==BY AGE==
26...Amelie Mauresmo, FRANCE
24...Anastasia Myskina, RUSSIA
24...Flavia Pennetta, ITALY
24...Elena Dementieva, RUSSIA
21...Shenay Perry, USA
21...Jelena Jankovic, SERBIA & MONTENEGRO
19...Maria Sharapova, RUSSIA
18...Ana Ivanovic, SERBIA & MONTENEGRO
#1 Amelie Mauresmo
#4 Maria Sharapova
#8 Elena Dementieva
#11 Anastasia Myskina
#19 Flavia Pennetta
#22 Ana Ivanovic
#29 Jelena Jankovic
#62 Shenay Perry

3...Russia (Sharapova, Dementieva, Myskina)
2...Belgium (Clijsters, Henin-H.)
2...France (Mauresmo, Bremond)
2...Serbia (Ivanovic, Jankovic)
1...China (Li)
1...Czech Republic (Vaidisova)
1...Italy (Pennetta)
1...Japan (Sugiyama)
1...Poland (Radwanska)
1...Slovak Republic (Hantuchova)
1...USA (Perry)

Their stories...

Venus-conqueror Jankovic used to be the other Serbian named Jelena. With that Aussie Jelena now back Down Under (or at least using AUS after her name in ITF qualifying draws), Jankovic is "all by herself" again. She DID seem pretty lonely for a while this year, as a coaching change and prolonged slump (if you call a ten-match losing streak a "slump," and not a crisis, that is) looked like it was going to turn her 2006 season into a disaster. She started to straighten her course on the European clay, though, and with that hard-won consistency came the biggest win of her career today as she took out the defending champion on Court Two, the "graveyard of champions," by a 7-6(10)/4-6/6-4 score. Williams found all those errors (including a Kournikova-esque twelve double-faults) she avoided in her 2nd Round escape against Lisa Raymond, fumbling away a break advantage in the deciding set. As a result, the SW19 women's final won't include a Williams for the first time since 1999, and Venus' run of five finals in six years suffers a major aberration.

Or is it really? I mean, I did pick Venus to win this tournament... so I guess this should have been expected.

Should Jankovic be unable to handle the pressure in her next match, the big beneficiary could be Anastasia Myskina. Ever since her shocking loss (though it gets a bit less shocking over time) to Agnieszka Radwanska in Warsaw a few weeks ago, the Czarina has seemed to focus her efforts and develop more consistency than she's had in ages. She made the QF at Wimbledon year ago, and now is just one win away from matching that result.

Meanwhile, #1-seed Amelie Mauresmo continues to cruise along, barely being challenged... but not really having to raise her game against a truly dangerous opponent, either. Of course, she's made the SW19 SF her last three trips to the Club and looks in good position to do it a fourth time with Venus nowhere in sight. Of course, Ana Ivanovic -- the second Serb in the Round of 16, so say hello to SW19's "Revelation Ladies" -- might have something to say about that after finally curtailing Dinara Safina's luck in the 3rd Round. She upset Mauresmo at Roland Garros in '05, and is still searching for the big slam run that so many have expected from her at some point. Nicole Vaidisova made her statement in Paris at Mauresmo's expense, and now it's time to see if AnaIvo can do the same in London.

Stamp-collecting Sharapova, too, has slipped through the draw with relative ease. The Williams exit opens up the top half of the draw a bit, and helps her avoid that potential SF clash with Venus. Hmmm... is it too soon to start to wonder if the first Sharapova/Vaidisova clash could happen down the road? (Yeah, it IS a bit too early to wonder about that.) Either way, expect Sharapova to breeze past Flavia Pennetta, who has had some ironic success on the All-England Club grass. The Italian has reached eight tour finals in her career (winning three), all but one of them on clay... yet this her second Round of 16 at Wimbledon is her best career slam result. Just making it this far is her reward. She won't be playing the role of Jankovic on Monday.

Elena Dementieva has also never advanced past the 4th Round at Wimbledon, but she HAS reached the finals of Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. Her Round of 16 opponent, Shenay Perry, has never ventured this far in ANY slam until now. And who'd have thought that it'd be Perry, not Venus or Jamea Jackson, who would be the last African-American woman standing? Or that Perry would be the last American standing, PERIOD, in either the women's OR men's draw at the end of the first week?

Speaking of...

The day that could have been a great TV viewing day for American tennis fans turned ugly with the exits of Williams, Andre Agassi AND Andy Roddick. Or, at least it would have had anyone been able to see any of them lose today in live action during ten hours of continuous coverage on two networks. As I suspected would be the case yesterday, not a second of the day's major matches was broadcast as it happened.

But the Brits had a good day, though, right? Well, at least HALF of a good day. (I've found my calling -- World Cup predictions, having picked three of the final four correct before the tournament, including Portugal's win over England today).

At least Andy Murray came through for the fans, morphing into Roger Federer in front of Roddick's eyes today in a straight sets win. The victory means Roddick is no longer a Top 10 player, no longer the #1-ranked American (that'd be James Blake), and maybe no longer the best Andy, either (remember, Murray beat him on hard courts in San Jose a few months ago, as well).

Now, things get verrry interesting in the bottom half of the men's draw. Lleyton Hewitt is still down there, but if he doesn't make it through to the final we could have one whopper of a situation facing Federer (come on, he HAS to get there, right?)... as he might actually be facing the young Scotsman and all of Great Britain, or maybe even Rafael Nadal, who seems to be becoming a better grass court player by the match if his stellar play against Agassi is any indication.

Whew! Imagine a Federer vs. Nadal match in the Wimbledon final. There wouldn't be TOO much pressure on Federer to win, now would there? And if he lost to Nadal again... on grass? Oh, my.

All for Day 6. More Monday.


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