Wednesday, June 25, 2008

W.3- The Kiss of Life

It was almost a VERY bad day for Serbian tennis... but not quite.

After setting himself up for a big fall with the public outing of his opinion that Roger Federer might be ripe for upsetting at this year's Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic found himself on the receiving end of a thrashing by two-time grand slam champion and former #1 Marat Safin on Day Three. Safin hasn't reached a slam QF since winning the 2005 Australian Open, and hadn't put together back-to-back wins this season before today. But with his trademark sad-sackiness and Russian grumbles safely tucked away for at least one twenty-four hour period, he once again reminded everyone of the scary talent that exists within in... sometimes, way way down deep inside.

This was supposed to be a "put up or shut up" Wimbledon for Djokovic. As it turned out, he left by double-faulting on Safin's fourth match point.

One would think that the 2nd Round upset of the #3 men's seed on Centre Court by the most wonderful, horrible enigma in tennis would be the biggest story of the day, but it wasn't. Instead, Day Three's wildest drama -- also involving a Serb -- was taking place literally around the corner on the grounds of the All-England Club as Ana Ivanovic danced on the head of a pin on Court 1... and somehow managed to survive, with a little help.

In her first slam as the #1 seed, AnaIvo has some quiet pressure on her at this event, even as most of the talk has centered around the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova as potential champions. Faced with a very game veteran 2nd Round opponent today in 29-year old Nathalie Dechy, the Roland Garros champ had to scrape and claw her way to a victory.

Serving at 5-3 in the 1st set, Ivanovic was broken, then continued her sudden slump into a tie-break where she immediately fell behind 4-0. She soon found herself a set down, and the prospect of a dual Serbian shocker was wafting over the grounds. With Dechy serving with great accuracy, Ivanovic's back was against the wall as she served at 4-5 to stay in the match. Four points into the game, Dechy had two match points fall into her lap. She couldn't convert the first, but looked to be about to get the go-ahead to celebrate when Ivanovic approached the ball for a mid-court forehand.

And then it happened.

Ivanovic's shot headed right for the top of the net. The thud of the Slazenger whacking against the tape was apparent, and the collective Serbian tennis heart began to fall... then the ball hit the net cord just right, and dribbled over the net, landing a few inches onto Dechy's side of the court. Even Ivanovic couldn't believe her "luck," burying her face in her pulled-down visor as she calmed her heartbeat and realized she wasn't out of the tournament, after all. AnaIvo ended up holding serve for 5-5, and went on to win a 2nd set tie-break.

In the 3rd set, Ivanovic again danced with the devil in the pale moonlight. She served up 4-2, and appeared to be cruising to victory, then was broken. She served at 5-3, and was broken again. At 5-5, 15/15 Dechy hit a volley winner... only to have the point replayed because the windy conditions that persisted throughout the match had begun to blow Dechy's hat off her head as she was hitting the ball. The ball was already out of AnaIvo's reach by the time the hat had hit the ground, but by rule the point was awarded to no one.

Something, or someone, just didn't want Dechy to win this match today.

Ivanovic won the erased point when a bad bounce off the baseline sent a shot off Dechy's racket frame, and she held for 6-5. Dechy saved two match points in the next game, and even served an ace to knot the score at 6-6. But it didn't matter. The tennis Gods had already made their decision... Ivanovic went on to win 6-7/7-6/10-8.

After her escape, Ivanovic kissed the net... which may have just changed the course of this tournament.

I sense the work of the tennis God Borguese at work in that match. He enjoys drama at Wimbledon, and much was produced with just a net cord and a little wind on Day Three. I'd suggest AnaIvo might want to save an evening for a night on the town with him... I hear he enjoys a nice steak dinner.

,,,the Ivanovic/Dechy match lasted 3:24. That makes it third-longest women's match ever played at Wimbledon (after the 1995 2nd Round contest between Chanda Rubin and Patricia Hy-Boulais, which went 3:45, and the 3:40 Julia Goerges/Katarina Srebotnik 1st Rounder from earler this week).

...the odds finally caught up with #20-seed Francesca Schiavone on her third straight day of tennis. After struggling to get by Tamira Paszek over two days in the 1st Round (10-8 in the 3rd set), she found herself in another slip-slider with Anabel Medina-Garrigues. The Italian served for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd set, then again at 5-4 in the 3rd (she held two match points). But AMG, in a rare moment of grand slam triumph, never gave up and came back to win 3-6/7-5/9-7.

...if only Nicole Vaidisova could say the same thing. The Czech managed to advance past Samantha Stosur in their 2nd Round match, but she really didn't deserve the honor. After taking the 1st set, she essentially decided to semi-tank the 2nd set and very nearly the match. With Vaidisova either distracted, disinterested or thinking about where she was going to go out for dinner tonight, she lost nine straight games. If you've seen any of her interviews in various tennis magazines, you've probably read about her voracious appetite for books, and possibly even taken in a few of her "book reports" about one of her recently completed tomes. Well, just as Jim Courier oddly did a few times near the end of his career, I almost half-expected Vaidisova to pull a copy of her latest bookstore find from her tennis bag and mow through a chapter or two during the changeovers -- that's about how much she seemed to be into the task at hand. In the 3rd, Stosur had a point for 4-0 and was about to see the semi-tank become a full one (even at the current level of gas prices!). But that's when Stosur offered Vaidisova a lifeline.

With the Czech ready to concede, it was the Aussie who cracked. Nerves. Forehand errors. Double-faults. A combination of all three. No matter how you look at it, Stosur is going to hate herself in the morning. With her hands firmly on the life preserver Stosur provided, Vaidisova began popping winners from the sorts of angles she's capable of winning points from when her head is in the game. After losing nine straight games, she won six in a row herself. She ended up winning 6-3/0-6/6-3 in a Houdini act unworthy of a master. The British announcer on ESPN Interactive's coverage said, "Don't ask me how Nicole Vaidisova won that match, because I don't know."

Precisely. She faces Casey Dellacqua next, so maybe her "luck" will run out. After that display, she really doesn't deserve to reach the Round of 16.

...Amelie Mauresmo is still alive and kickin', too. Not too wildly, I'd hope, what with her quad injury and all. She advanced in three sets over veteran Virginia Ruano-Pascual in a rare matchup of two players with one-handed backhands, yet another thing lost when Justine Henin retired. There IS one young rising player who uses the shot, though -- 19-year old Carla Suarez-Navarro, who's made a huge leap in '08 and faces Jelena Jankovic in the 2nd Round... on Court 2. You know, the graveyard must be getting mighty hungry right about now. I'm just sayin'.

...two of the three qualifiers that won 1st Round matches advanced to the 3rd Round today -- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Li Na 6-2/6-4 and appears to be pretty close to "getting" how to win on the WTA tour at just age 16, and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, who made it past Alona Bondarenko when the Ukrainian retired in the 2nd set with an injured knee. The other surviving qualifier, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, plays tomorrow.

...not only did Alona Bondarenko lose, but her sister Kateryna was pretty much run over by Svetlana Kuznetsova on Centre Court today, 6-2/6-3, too. Urszula Radwanska lost to Serena by a close 6-4/6-4 score, while sister Agnieszka knocked out fellow Pole Marta Domachowska 6-1/6-3. With Venus left to play in the 2nd Round, the combined Sisters Act is now 8-3.

...make way for yet another wave of Hordettes. Not only did Pavlyuchenkova advance to the 3rd Round, but so did Evgeniya Rodina with a win over countrywoman Elena Vesnina.

...there were a few interesting doubles results on Day Three. Castano/Kanepi defeated Peng/Sun 2-6/6-4/9-7 (thankfully for them, Beijing won't be played on a grass court), Benesova/Husarova knocked off Erakovic/Krajicek 6-0/6-2 (hmmm, I wonder if Michaella was still upset about yesterday?) and Amanmuradova/Kustova upset #4-seeded Chan/Chuang 4-6/7-6/6-4.

...after his absence from Paris for the Roland Garros final, I wonder if Dinara was watching Marat's big match today?

...I've received word from the Goddess Evertienne that She'd like to offer early congratulations to Her namesake, Chris Evert, for her announced wedding this coming weekend to former golf star Greg Norman.

...and, finally, I got a chance to catch a bit of Bethanie Mattek's match against Vera Dushevina today on ESPN's extra court coverage on Dish Network. I must say, I was a bit disappointed. Oh, she won the match to officially become the "other American" in the 3rd Round, but it was the way she was dressed that was striking. Her outfit was, wonders never cease, quite staid... even, gulp, boring. Even with the rather short skirt was was wearing. Maybe they don't make all-white leopard print outfits? She could have at least worn a belt of something to jazz things up, right? I mean, she needs to do something worthy of talking abou- ... oh, wait. I AM talking about her anyway, aren't I? I guess winning is newsworthy, too, huh? Good for her.

2007 Wi - Venus Williams, USA
2008 AO - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2008 RG - Dinara Safina, RUS
2008 Wimbledon Nominees - (so far) - Anna Chakvetadze, RUS & Ana Ivanovic, SRB

TOP QUALIFIERS: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez/ESP & Eva Hrdinova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Dominika Cibulkova (1st Rd.-lost to Zheng)
IT GIRL: xxx
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Ana Ivanovic/SRB (2 MP down vs. Dechy in 2nd Rd.)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


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