Thursday, June 26, 2008

W.4- "Alla & Maria: A Tale of Unfinished Business"

What hath Marat Safin wrought?

Ever since the Russian knocked off #3 Men's seed Novak Djokovic on Day Three, seeds have been dropping like flies around one of those bug zapper things. Today, a grand total of twelve seeded men and women were sent packing... none of them bigger, nor defeated so thoroughly, as Maria Sharapova was by fellow Hordette Alla Kudryavtseva in just eighty-seven short minutes.

AP PHOTO/Anja Niedringhaus

When the Supernova is "on" in a slam (as she was in Melbourne in January), she's difficult to beat. When she's not (see Paris, and now London... and New York City in '07, for that matter), things can get mighty ugly.

Hey, Maria and Williams sisters have something in common they can talk about in the locker-room. Err, or not.

Anyway, today's loss was no odd puzzle to piece together ala the Ana "Touched by Borguese... but in a good way" Ivanovic match from yesterday, or even the one with Nicole "What's That Fuzzy Yellow Ball You've Got There?" Vaidisova. It was pretty clear cut. Sharapova was off from the start, as the same difficulties that made her serve so inconsistent in Paris were still in evidence. Meanwhile, Kudryavtseva was "on" like a house on fire... plus, she had something stuck in her craw from a year ago.

You see, in the 1st Round at Wimbledon in 2007, then 19-year old Kudryavtseva led Venus Williams 6-2/3-1 and came within two points of putting the eventual SW19 champion out of the tournament before it'd barely even begun. With nothing to lose, the latest Russian with the initials "A.K." left loose her groundstrokes against Sharapova -- and just about everything went in. The world #154 (and #22 Russian) easily took the 1st set 6-2, then sat back and waited to see if she'd find a way to do what she couldn't last year.

When Kudryavtseva double-faulted three times in the first game of the 2nd set things didn't exactly look promising, but Sharapova wasn't turning around her fortunes anytime soon, either. Up 2-1 she double-faulted (one of 8 DF's in the match) on break point. Two games later, Kudryavtseva broke again to go up 4-2.

Sharapova didn't go away, though. She broke back to close within 4-3, then got a replay turn-of-luck on what appeared to be a converted Kudryavtseva break point one game later. She asked for the replay out of seeming desperation on a Sharapova shot that looked to the naked eye as if it'd done anything but clip the baseline... but the Hawkeye replay said it did, and Sharapova went on to knot the score at 4-4 with a game-winning ace moments later.

Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, though, Sharapova found herself at deuce. One year later at Wimbledon, Kudryavtseva once again was just two points from eliminating a contender for the title. Would she be able to change her fortune? Yes, and Sharapova provided a nice helping hand.

She double-faulted to give Kudryavtseva a match point, then missed on her 1st serve. Unable to gain an early advantage with a 2nd serve, Sharapova fell prey to Kudryavtseva's better Day Four game -- and a crosscourt forehand to the corner bounced out of reach of Sharapova's racket to allow Kudryavtseva to wrestle away the biggest win of her career from the player many had possibly winning her second Wimbledon title nine days from now.

6-2/6-4. Short and sweet.

So I guess this means that Kudryavteva will go on to win this year's Wimbledon, considering every other women who has defeated Sharapova at SW19 since she won the title in '04 has gone on to do just that.

Yeah, probably not bloody likely.

Well, at least maybe Maria will offer a knowing smile and a hello to Alla the next time they walk past each other in the locker-room now. Err, or maybe not.

Sharapova's loss was the worst of her career, as far as Kudryavtseva's ranking is concerned. It was her earliest slam exit since the 2003 U.S. Open when she was defeated in the 2nd Round by Emilie Loit. Sharapova was only 16 years old at the time.

Take away Sharapova's Melbourne brilliance from January and her recent slam results would look pretty dismal for a player with her credentials. 2nd Round here. 4th Round in Paris. 3rd Round at last year's U.S. Open, and 4th Round at Wimbledon. Hmmm, all of this has come after her destruction at the hands of Serena Williams in the '07 Australian Open final. Coincidence? Maybe. A crisis of confidence when things start to go wrong in a big match? Possibly. The loss of anything resembling an "aura" can have long-term effects. on both the Player and the Opponent. But, then again, so can a sometimes-bum shoulder and an off-and-on-again serve.

After losing just twice in her first twenty-nine matches in 2008, Sharapova has now lost twice in her last six. Not only that, but she's making stars of all the other young Russians. First it was Evgeniya Rodina and Dinara Safina (I know, she was a "star" already, but she didn't twinkle like she does now) in Paris, and now it's Kudryavtseva. All three ended up outlasting her at this Wimbledon. player who DID escape being upset today was Venus Williams, though again she was pushed in the 1st set by a British player, Anne Keothavong. In the 1st Round, Venus had to win a tie-break against Naomi Cavaday, while today she won a 7-5 opener that included one service game that was a double-digit deucer that Williams presented on a silver platter to Keothavong, who simply refused to hit a good enough shot to win the game despite having a handful of break points. All of this is fine, though, as far as Williams in concerned. This is her typical Wimbledon slow start. Thankfully for her, she's playing these matches on Centre Court. If she was taking on a game British player on one of the more distraction-filled outer courts, as she did against Kudryavtseva in the 1st Round a year ago, she might not have escaped so cleanly. One wonders whether she might have been tripped up if she'd had to right her game against a crowd favorite from a set down. But that's the benefit of being a four-time and defending champ -- she doesn't have to play in the hinterlands.

...other than the Williams sisters, the only remaining American singles players are Bethanie Mattek and Bobby Reynolds. Lindsay Davenport pulled out of the tournament today with her injured knee, a move that will probably preserve her ability to actually compete at the Olympics and U.S. Open in August. Mattek, by the way, has now won 22 of her last 26 matches... and might be a doubles threat once again with Sania Mirza. Then there was Andy Roddick and James Blake, who were run out of a slam on a rail within hours of each other. Again. At this point, the disappointment is no longer a surprise.

...some quick Singles notes:

1) Was that the "old" Vera Zvonareva we saw a few times against the "old" Tamarine Tanasugarn? The racket-throwing, foot-stomping, self-admonishing Czarinette was supposed to have been left in the past. Hopefully, the hard courts will lock her away up in Zvonareva's attic once again.

2) C-Woz wiped out A-Woz 6-1/6-1 in the match during which you know every worldwide commentator made some sort of joke about the similarities of Wozniacki and Wozniak's names and how no one should hold it against him/her if they screwed up a few times in player identification.

3) Marina Erakovic's recent surge as she battled for and won an Olympic berth on the New Zealand team continued as she reached the 3rd Round. She's gone 14-2 in her last sixteen matches, most of them on grass.

4) Roddick conqueror Janko Tipsarevic shouldn't be a stranger -- he's the same Serb who pushed Roger Federer to a 10-8 5th set in Melbourne in January. Well, at least one of the Serbian men put up rather than being forced to shut up... for a few months, at least.

...Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, after erasing four match points against Sania Mirza today, became the third women's qualifier to reach the Final 32 (she'll face Venus next). The two Q-Queens joining her in the 3rd Round are Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova. The only remaining wild card is Zheng Jie. On the men's side, only German Simon Stadler remains from the qualifiers.

...and, finally, with the loss by Djokovic yesterday, one men's semifinalist will come from this group:

Marcos Baghdatis, Feliciano Lopez, Bobby Reynolds, Marat Safin, Andreas Seppi, Simon Stadler, Stanislas Wawrinka and Mischa Zverev

Not bad, as long as Baghdatis and Safin are around. But how about the semifinalist that'll come from THIS group thanks to Roddick's loss:

Marin Cilic, Arnaud Clement, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Paul-Henri Mathieu, Jurgen Melzer, Rainer Schuettler, Janko Tipsarevic and Dmitry Tursunov

Of course, there are just as many past grand slam finalists in this group as in the other, but you'd probably win a few bets trying to get someone to remember when Clement and Schuettler reached slam finals.

=EARLY ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rds.=
TOP PLAYER: Serena Williams/USA
...pretty much all of the other top players have been stretched, or ousted. (RU: Jelena Jankovic/SRB... quietly)
RISERS: Dinara Safina/RUS & Casey Dellacqua/AUS
...if it happens at more than one slam it's no longer a fluke, it's a pattern. (ALSO: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL & Bethanie Mattek/USA)
SURPRISE: Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS
...she obviously had unfinished SW19 business -- and she could face Venus again... umm, if they both reach the SF. (ALSO: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP & Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP)
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Nadia Petrova/RUS
...Venus is warming up, and Nadia is still here, which is all that matters in her case at this point. (ALSO: Ai Sugiyama/JPN))
FRESH FACES Evgeniya Rodina/RUS & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...the latest wave has ALREADY arrived. (ALSO: Marina Erakovic/NZL & Alisa Kleybanova/RUS)
DOWN: Maria Sharapova/RUS goes the serve, so goes the Supernova. (ALSO: Lindsay Davenport's aching body/USA)
COMEBACK: Tamarine Tanasugarn/THA
...age means nothing on grass, at least in Tammy's case. (ALSO: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA... but Serena will be the real test)

MOST DRAMATIC/STRANGEST/POSSIBLY HISTORIC MATCH: 2nd Rd. - Ivanovic def. Dechy 6-7/7-6/10-8
...The Kiss of Life. The Net Cord. The Hat and The Gust (of wind). With every AnaIvo win, this one could becomes more and more historic. If she wins the tournament, some joker will probably produce a photo with what appears to be a ghostly image blowing that ball over onto Dechy's side of the net.

FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (lost to Zheng Jie)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians showed no mercy, even to their own kind (ask the two Maria's).
REVELATION LADIES: The Spaniards put up a fight, with two reaching the 3rd Round. As did the combined entry of Australia/New Zealand, as the Pacific neighbors can argue about the merits of survivors Casey Dellacqua and Marina Erakovic. But the Russians placed nine in the Final 32 (no other nation has more than three) -- and some of them are named Rodina, Pavlyuchenkova, Kleybanova and Kudryavtseva, but not Sharapova, Zvonareva or Kirilenko.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: It's hard to imagine anything can top Ana Ivanovic's deathbed resurrection, but the way things have been going the last few days, who knows?
CRASH & BURNER: Maria Sharapova's loss in NYC last year to A-Rad gave berth to this award last season... who'd have thought she'd become the first two-time winner so soon?
FASHION NEWSMAKERS: Serena's semi-trench coat, Maria's white tuxedo look... and Bethanie Mattek's newsworthy tennis (and Federer's cardigan, of course).
MARATHON WOMEN: Ana Ivanovic vs. Nathalie Dechy went 3:24, but Julia Goerges vs. Katarina Srebotnik (16-14 for the German in the 3rd) went 3:40 a round earlier. They're the second and third-longest women's matches in Wimbledon history.

And, finally...

...after Dinara Safina survived multiple match points in two matches en route to the Roland Garros final, have the rest of the women decided to try to pull off the same feat? Quite a few are already half-way there. Amongst those in the running: Ana Ivanovic (2 MP vs. Dechy), Anna Chakvetadze (3 MP vs. Dubois), Anabel Medina-Garrigues (2 MP vs. Schiavone) and Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (4 MP vs. Mirza).

Borguese is working overtime at this grand slam.

#117 Martina Hingis [2006 Tokyo]
#113 Klara Koukalova (Zakopalova) [2003 Australian]
#111 Samantha Reeves [2003 Ind.Wells]
#103 Shinobu Asagoe [2003 Birmingham]

2004 - The British
2005 - The Americans
2006 - The British
2007 - The Austrians
2008 - The Russians

2007 US - Maria Sharapova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 AO - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 RG - Serena Williams, USA (3rd Rd.)
2008 WI - Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)

2008 AO - Casey Dellacqua, AUS (4th Rd.)
2008 RG - Alize Cornet & Emilie Loit, FRA (3rd Rd.)
2008 WI - Anne Keothavong & Elena Baltacha, GBR (2nd Rd.)

AO - Italians
RG - French
WI - Serbians
US - Russians
AO - Belarusans
RG - Italians
WI - French
US - Ukrainians
AO - Poles
RG - Czechs
WI - Russians

9...Russia -#
3...United States (Mattek, Williams, Williams)
2...China (Peng, Zheng)
2...Czech Republic (Vaidisova, Z.-Strycova)
2...France (Bartoli, Mauresmo)
2...Serbia (Ivanovic, Jankovic)
2...Spain (MJMS, AMG)
1...Argentina (Dulko)
1...Australia (Dellacqua)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...Hungary (Szavay)
1...Israel (Peer)
1...Japan (Sugiyama)
1...New Zealand (Erakovic)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Thailand (Tanasugarn)
#- RUSSIANS: Chakvetadze, Dementieva, Kleybanova, Kudryavtseva, Kuznetsova, Pavlyuchenkova, Petrova, Rodina, Safina

TOP QUALIFIERS: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez/ESP & Eva Hrdinova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Serena Williams/USA
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd.- Ivanovic d. Dechy 6-7/7-6/10-8 (down 2 MP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (1st Rd.-lost to Zheng)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS (lost 2nd Rd. to Kudryavtseva)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Ana Ivanovic/SRB (2 MP down vs. Dechy in 2nd Rd.)
LAST BRITS STANDING: Anne Keothavong & Elena Baltacha, GBR (both to 2nd Rd.)

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


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