Friday, June 27, 2008

W.5- AnaIvo, You Only Live Twice

Ana Ivanovic may have needed the help of James Bond to get through her 3rd Round match against China's Zheng Jie on Day Five. Surely Marion Bartoli didn't need his assistance anymore after today.

But Agent 007 never showed up... not Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan. Not Daniel Craig, either. Not even Mr. Pam Shriver, George Lazenby -- and he probably wasn't TOO far away.

AP PHOTO/Alastair Grant

Two days ago on Court 1, #1-seeded Roland Garros champ Ivanovic survived an assault by Nathalie Dechy to play another day. One would have thought she'd play quite loose for the remainder of this tournament, but she was anything but against Zheng in her Court 1 return engagement. She appeared tight, and when her shots weren't working she forgot all she's learned over the past year about not crumbling on a big stage and finding a way to rediscover her game in the nick of time.

Of course, Zheng didn't help matters. She didn't play into AnaIvo's hands. Perhaps taking a cue from the Chinese proverb that says, "With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes satin/With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown," slow and steady was her way, and nearly error-free tennis was her game. Zheng didn't push or strain trying to make something spectacular happen, and thus didn't get nervous (ala Sam Stosur the other day) and give away a match that was her's to win.

That Ivanovic had no idea how to take it from her was a bonus -- and it pretty much sealed the fate of both players.

In the 1st set, an Ivanovic double-fault gave Zheng a 3-1 advantage that she never relinquished. A backhand error gave Zheng a break for 5-1. In the 6-1 set, the Serb converted none of her five break chances, while Zheng made good on two of her four. This was a match where the #1 player in the world simply could not seize the opportunities provided to her.

In the 2nd, Zheng broke for an early 2-1 lead, then the pair exchanged breaks over the next two games. Ivanovic held a break point for 3-3, but failed to grab what was to be her last chance to change her fortune. To add insult to the psychological injury of her 1-for-7 break point chance record for the match, the Ivanovic groundstroke error that gave Zheng a 4-2 lead hit at the same point on the net where another of her shots had dribbled over to provide her with a stay of execution on Day Three against Dechy. Ivanovic's final error came when she framed a deep Zheng serve on match point to give the 24-year old Cookie at 6-1/6-4 victory.

Ivanovic came to Wimbledon as the #1 player in the world, and as the top-seeded player at a slam for the first time in her career. She was likely hoping to slide by early and sneak into the latter stages of the tournament while everyone talked about the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova. But then The Net Cord happened, and she realized that she probably shouldn't even still have a breathing tennis life at this Wimbledon. As her experience grows, maybe she'll learn to take her "luck" and run with it (see Venus at this tournament last year). But, in 2008, she instead seems to have stared directly into the eyes of her SW19 mortality... and blinked.

In this upset-filled Wimbledon, that was all it took.

Meanwhile, maybe Zheng will now get her fair due. For years, the all-time Chinese leader (3) in career WTA singles titles, has been undervalued as a singles player. She may have entered this Wimbledon ranked #133 and needing a wild card to get into the draw, but she was a Top 50 player at the end of 2005 and '06 before injuries struck her down. She didn't play singles after Roland Garros last season after suffering an ankle injury, and ended the year ranked #163.

Li Na might be the most talented Chinese player, while Peng Shuai could be termed the flashiest. But Zheng has always been the most consistent, even while she never garnered the attention the other two sometimes did. All that ended on Day Five.

Forget Russia. For one day, "From China with Love" was the working title at the All-England Club.

Maybe AnaIvo stood up Borguese?

...the first day in which rain interrupted play finally came on Day Five, but it was hardly an issue. Watch, in the final year before the retractable roof comes to Centre Court, rain won't even be an issue.

Which would be all right with just about everyone, I'd suspect.

...for a while today, Amelie Mauresmo resembled the player who won Wimbledon two years ago. But it only lasted a set. Once Serena Williams edged by Mauresmo in a 1st set tie-break, the '06 champion was lucky to even win another game in the 7-6/6-1 loss. Down 0-5 in the 2nd, she was more reminiscent of the player who has traveled a rather rocky, discouraging road throughout the course of this and last season. Between her and Lindsay Davenport, it might be a real battle to determine which one is going to be able to be anything near presentable for any extended period of time the rest of '08. And now there's word that Mary Pierce -- who hasn't played a match in eighteen months -- is going to play singles for France in the Olympics. The three of them won seven grand slam singles titles from 1995-2006, but neither is likely to around for too much longer.

...Bethanie Mattek's no-nonsense approach continues to work wonders. She advanced to the Round of 16 today with a win over '07 semifinalist Marion Bartoli 6-4/6-1. Mattek had 35 winners, and just 11 unforced errors.

...while Mattek makes it two (it'd be three with Venus) American women in the 4th Round, Bobby Reynolds' (You know him, right? Exactly.) loss today means that zero American men have reached the second week... at Wimbledon! Paris is one thing, London is another. This is a true embarrassment for American men's tennis. #1 singles seed might have fallen today, but the other didn't. Roger Federer continued his under-the-radar (is that even possible for a five-time defending champ?) movement through the draw with a 6-3/6-3/6-1 win over Marc Gicquel. Meanwhile, the #2-seeded women's doubles team of Katarina Srebotnik & Ai Sugiyama were upset by Raquel Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears 2-6/6-3/11-9.

...Mario Ancic made his way past David Ferrer into the Round of 16. After kissing the grass following his successful big stage return from multiple battles with injuries and illness, he's one match away from possibly facing Federer in the QF. Ancic was the last person to defeat Federer on grass, in the 1st Round of Wimbledon in 2002, 62 straight Swiss Mister grass court victories ago. Federer's time flying under the radar may be about to end.

...sibling rivalry wears pretty well on Marat Safin.

...and, finally, Nicole Vaidisova actually deigned today's match against Casey Dellacqua worthy enough to show up for, so she advanced to the 4th Round. With AnaIvo's loss, she's one of the four young players with a golden opportunity to reach the semifinals. One semifinalist will come from the Vaidisova/Chakvetadze, Szavay/Zheng quarter. So some player who's recently gone through some tough times will finally get healthy very soon. If it's Zheng, it'll be a career highlight. But if it's one of the other three, this result could have huge repercussions as far as gaining some momentum for the second half of the season.

*2007's FINAL 16 at WIMBLEDON... still alive in 2008*
[4th Round - 6 of 16]
Jelena Jankovic (to play 3rd Rd.)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (in 4th Rd.)
Nadia Petrova (to play 3rd Rd.)
Nicole Vaidisova (in 4th Rd.)
Serena Williams (in 4th Rd.)
Venus Williams (to play 3rd Rd.)
(ABSENT: Bartoli, Granville, Hantuchova, Henin, Ivanovic, Krajicek, Mauresmo, Paszek, Schnyder, Sharapova)
[QF - 4 of 8]
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Nicole Vaidisova
Serena Williams
Venus Williams
(ABSENT: Bartoli, Henin, Ivanovic, Krajicek)
[SF - 1 of 4]
Venus Williams
(ABSENT: Bartoli, Henin, Ivanovic)
[Final - 1 of 2]
Venus Williams
(ABSENT: Bartoli)

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)
LAST BRITS STANDING: Anne Keothavong & Elena Baltacha, GBR (both to 2nd Rd.)

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I was thinking that Szavay would take Ivanovic out, but last night, I looked at the draw and thought, "hmm...Zheng...grass...I wonder." And there you are. Really, Ivanovic looked like...Ivanovic, to me.

Bethanie Mattek is a breath of fresh air. Always.

Sat Jun 28, 12:24:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, she'll have even more pressure now in Beijing and NYC since the question will be which is the REAL Ivanovic -- the one who ultimately didn't show up in the latter stages of slams, or the one who had seemed to toughen up in Paris. It was obvious which one she resembled yesterday, though since there was such a confluence of pressures around this one match, I'll take a wait and see approach before making a judgment about whether or not this was a blip or a "return to normal."

Sat Jun 28, 08:27:00 AM EDT  

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