Tuesday, June 24, 2008

W.2- Twilight, Stars Still Bright?

After watching Amelie Mauresmo pass through Roland Garros resembling anything but the grand slam champion we'd like to remember her as, the last thing we needed was another similar moment at Wimbledon.

We might be getting it, though.

When Lindsay Davenport returned to the tour last season after giving birth to her son, everything went so swimmingly it seemed as if she might be capable of one final shining moment to put a capper on a career that has been great, but without the sorts of emotional zeniths that have characterized those of most of the other women who've claimed grand slam championships during the lifetime of her career, from the Williams sisters to the Belgians, Capriati, Sharapova and others. The American has won three grand slam titles, but the last was eight years ago... and, honestly, the details of all of them are a bit fuzzy at this point.

It's not Davenport's fault that she's never been as flashy, controversial or revolutionary as her counterparts. It's just the role she's found herself in throughout her career. But then she came back, and the "dream" was alive that something BIG might happen. She won quickly, and talked about how great it was to feel healthy.

It didn't last.

Back and knee injuries have hampered her for months, leading to her late withdrawal from Eastbourne last week. Today, in her 1st Round match against Renata Voracova, she didn't exactly light the fire of hope that that bright and shining moment could soon come.

Nursing a knee injury, Davenport had a shot to put away the Czech in straight sets. She even had a match point in the 2nd set. But when she failed to convert it, forcing herself to enter into a 3rd set that didn't need to happen, she might have set down a pattern for the rest of her summer. And it's not a good one.

She won the match, 6-3/5-7/6-3, but had to be treated by a trainer numerous times. For a bit, it looked like her Wimbledon was going to end with a premature handshake under the Umpire's Chair and that awful "ret." being placed at the end of the scoreline. She avoided that, making the Court 2 graveyard even more restless than it was when Svetlana Kuznetsova escaped its clutches yesterday, but she might not be able to escape the All-England without it happening soon. She says that her knee is structurally sound, which is good. But a 32-year old tennis player with a bad knee is not the stuff that "dreams" are made of. Lindsay's not Tiger Woods, and this isn't golf.

This probably isn't going to be the summer she was hoping for.

Davenport has stated that one of the reasons she returned to the tour was to be able to play this stretch of the season that includes Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open. But her body might be conspiring against that. It's too bad. Rarely has a champion been as well-liked and respected as Davenport has been through the years, and it'd be difficult to find too many people who'd wish to deny her one final moment in the big-stage sun to give her Hall of Fame career a final Act worthy of scrapbook memories and Jagger's dreams.

Unfortunately, more than anything, this comeback is beginning to resemble the murky twilight of a career rather than one that's going to conclude on a sunny note. London certainly isn't Hollywood... but from the looks of things, Beijing and New York probably won't be, either.

Almost as painful as watching a great champion fight a possibly losing battle against the wages of time on his/her body is seeing a potentially great young player floundering. It makes you worry, even if it's unlikely, that maybe they'll never regain their footing and that all the great moments that looked so certain just a short time ago might never happen at all.

No, I'm not talking about Nicole Vaidisova... though I could be. I'm referring to Tamira Paszek, the 17-year old Austrian who will either learn something from her '08 travails or spend the rest of her career trying to change the frustrating pattern of losing that has overtaken her season to this point.

In 2007, Justine Henin talking highly of Paszek one day maybe being a Top 5 player. She reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, and finished the season at #42 while still just a 16-year old, the youngest player in the Top 280 in the year-end rankings. 2008 started just fine, as she won three matches, reached the Auckland SF and was soon after mentioned as a potential 1st Round conqueror of Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open.

She's won only two matches since.

Oh, she nearly did upset Jankovic, though. Remember, she served for the match five different times and held three match points against the Serb, only to lose a 12-10 3rd set. Whether or not the facts of the match have played on her mind all season, she's never been the same. She went 2-2 though late April, then played for Team Austria in Fed Cup action at the end of the month.

There, she lost to vet Patty Schnyder then, despite coming from behind to make a contest of things, failed to close out a match against relative unknown Stephanie Vogele that would have clinched a tie for Austria that the team eventually lost. Counting those two losses, her losing streak was at seven matches coming into Wimbledon, including a 6-1/6-0 thrashing by Tamarine Tanasugarn last week in 's-Hertogenbosch.

Things didn't get any better today, as she once again lost another frustrating 1st Round match at a slam. Finishing up a Day One match against Francesca Schiavone that the #20-seed led 6-3/4-4, she managed to push the contest to a 3rd set, even breaking the Italian vet while she was serving for the match at 6-5. In the end, though, she lost 6-3/5-7/10-8.

But, unlike Davenport, Paszek should have loads of time to right the ship. THIS is her learning experience, and the hard-hitting teen will hopefully be able to eventually see how close she's come to doing great things in '08 rather than how she might have squandered opportunities.

Paszek's story will likely turn out to have a nice ending. As for Davenport? Ummm... hopefully the writing on the wall isn't as clear as it appears to be.

After both Davenport and Kuznetsova escaped the wrath of Court 2 on the first two days of the tournament, one wonders just how lethal the graveyard's revenge will be when it finally comes... and on whom it will be exacted.

...Day Two was about "one's." One women's qualifier (Maria Jose Martinez- Sanchez), one women's wild card (Carla Suarez-Navarro) and one British woman (Anne Keothavong) won 1st Round matches. One seed (Katarina Srebotnik) fell, and fellow Russian Nikolay Davydenko joined Maria Kirilenko as a champ of one of those clay events that took place during the first week of grass season whose '08 Wimbledon singles experience lasted a grand total of one solitary match. Go figure.

...in fact, the only two players who made the singles semifinals in those events in Barcelona and Sopot who will be playing a 2nd Round match at Wimbledon are veteran Tommy Robredo and the aforementioned MJMS (who spent last week qualifying for this event, so she gets something of a pass).

...oh, if only Lindsay was blessed with the long-time health of Ai Sugiyama. The Japanese vet competed in her record-breaking fifth-seventh consecutive slam on Day Two. She used to be tied with former South African men's semi-star Wayne Ferreira.

...ahh, we'll be treated to a C-Woz vs. A-Woz 2nd Round singles match, after all. Way to go, Aleksandra -- she's sort of a junior Casey Dellacqua, suddenly putting up her best results at slams. We'll soon find out if we get an A-Bond vs. K-Bond 3rd Round match, too.

...just days after winning a doubles title with Michaella Krajicek in the Netherlands, Kiwi Marina Erakovic knocked the '07 Wimbledon quarterfinalist out of the 1st Round with a 7-6/7-6 win. So much for "teamwork." Agnieszka Radwanska and Marta Domachowska teamed for a doubles win today, and tomorrow will play each other in a 2nd Round singles match.

...Tamira should talk to Katarina Srebotnik. After upsetting Serena Williams at Roland Garros and reaching the Round of 16, the Slovenian fell in the 1st Round today to Julia Goerges... 16-14 in the 3rd set!

...Venus Williams' quest for title #5 began with a win over Brit Naomi Cavaday. Last year at SW19, Cavaday faced Martina Hingis in the 1st Round, winning a 1st set tie-break against the Swiss Miss before losing a close 2nd set and then being bageled in the 3rd. Against Williams, Cavaday was again tough at the beginning. She broke Venus' serve in the first game of the match and battled all the way to another opening set tie-break, even getting to 4-4 before Williams closed out the set with a 7-5 TB win. But, same as a season ago, Cavaday gradually disappeared as she lost the 2nd set 6-1. Venus next faces the winner of the other American/British women's face-off -- Anne Keothavong, who defeated Vania King.

...and, finally, Venus and Serena won their 1st Round doubles match. As usual, expect to hear about how they could have been the best doubles team EVER had they decided to/been physically able to play together more through the years. But, also as usual, if one or both of the sisters fall out of this tournament early or in a particularly crushing way, expect to see the Williams/Williams combo either pull out or quickly wilt on the court soon afterward. Venus and Serena have never been ones to attempt to recoup something tangible with a slam doubles title to erase any lingering bad feelings from a singles defeat. So, enjoy them while you can... well, unless they both reach the Ladies Singles final, of course.

The white tuxedo and shorts look... who knew?

Photo by Clive Brunskill/GETTY IMAGES

4...United States
2...Czech Republic
1...New Zealand
ALSO: winner of Dementieva/RUS vs. Camerin/ITA

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP
Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
[wild cards]
Elena Baltacha, GBR
Urszula Radwanska, POL
Samantha Stosur, AUS
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Zheng Jie, CHN
Elena Baltacha
Anne Keothavong
Lindsay Davenport
Bethanie Mattek
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
Anna Chakvetadze
Vera Dushevina
Alisa Kleybanova
Alla Kudryavtseva
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Nadia Petrova
Evgeniya Rodina
Dinara Safina
Maria Sharapova
Elena Vesnina
Vera Zvonareva
(to finish...Elena Dementieva)
Sorana Cirstea
Edina Gallovits
Monica Niculescu

TOP QUALIFIERS: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez/ESP & Eva Hrdinova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


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