Saturday, June 28, 2008

W.6- Here We Go Again?

In the 1st set of today's 3rd Round match between Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, you couldn't help but get one of those "Here We Go Again" vibes.

At first, it was because of the presence of Wozniacki, yet another tall, blond teenager with a nice backhand and a healthy dose of cleverness looking to hang an upset on a top seed after the Dane claimed the set by a 6-2 score.

The "Here We Go Again" vibe turned out to be true... but for a completely different reason.

Oh, Jelena?

GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

Through two rounds, Jankovic had quietly moved through the Wimbledon draw without all the drama that's dogged so many other high seeds over this first week. Until today, that is. You see, in the middle of losing that 1st set to Wozniacki, Jankovic chased a ball behind the baseline and slightly slipped, twisting and hyperextending her knee while on a dead run. She winced in pain, limped a bit... then continued to play, as is her wont.

She didn't call for a trainer, and instead finished the 1st set. Then the 2nd, too, which she won. Still hurting, she finally got some medical assistance and instruction... quite a bit late, but better ridiculously late than never, I guess. Her leg was wrapped, and she went back out. Wozniacki's dicey forehand eventually turned the match in the Serb's favor, but not until the bothersome wrap led Jankovic to have it removed when she said she could no longer feel her knee during play. Against expert medical advice, the trainer removed it, and Jankovic trudged forward, risking injury all over again.

Ah, Jelena. You're so... YOU. Here we go again.

In the end, Jankovic prevailed at least partially intact by a 2-6/6-4/6-2 score. What comes next in anyone's guess, but it's hard to see the living-on-the-edge Serb choosing to drop out of this event even if the doctors tell her she should for the sake of her body.

Remember the Hopman Cup? Never assume anything when it comes to Jankovic, especially when she's got the chance to rise to #1 in the rankings by reaching the SF... with both Ivanovic and Djokovic watching from the sidelines.

There's an opportunity to attempt to seize and, come hell or high water, Jankovic is likely to give it a go... even if she risks pulling a Tiger Woods one-and-out redux in the process. So, cue the what's-she-doing, is-she-taking-too-big-a-risk, can-her-body-hold-up melodrama all over again for her 4th Round match against Tamarine Tanasugarn. Of course, if the medical tests come back with bad results, she COULD ultimately pull out of the event.

Yeah, right. Like that'll happen.

You gotta give her a hand. She's an entertaining and completely unique presence on the WTA tour... but she makes you want to scream sometimes. That's probably a good thing... until it isn't. If Jankovic plays with fire enough times, she's bound to eventually get seriously burned.

Hopefully, this won't turn out to be the time.

Dinara Safina's seemingly endless '08 grand slam lives nearly sustained her once again on Day Six, but it wasn't meant to be. Against Shahar Peer, Safina's poor play let the 1st set slip away. But the old Dinara magic from Paris resurfaced again in the 2nd as Peer twice served for the match, and held two match points, only to see the Russian push things to a tie-break and claim the set.

In a match that featured sixteen total breaks of serve, Safina battled cramps in her thighs throughout the 3rd, but still found herself up 5-3. But having used up all her medical time outs, the tired Russian Cat eventually went down in flames, barely able to serve and frustrated as all get out about the whole thing. She double-faulted on match point (her 12th DF of the match), ending a 3:25 match (the third match this Wimbledon to rank amongst the four all-time longest SW19 women's matches) on a sour note and preventing both members of the Safin family from reaching the 4th Round.

But credit the willful Peer, too. The Corporal has seen her ranking drop this season and needed a result like this. Facing Elena Dementieva in the Round of 16, she's got a good shot at her third career slam QF and maybe even her first SF (the winner takes on the Petrova/Kudryavtseva survivor). Plus, losing this match would have only brought back bad memories of that blown QF match against Serena Williams at last year's Australian Open which, like this one, ended with an 8-6 score in the final set.

Later in the day, Safina and Peer faced off again in doubles in a match that wasn't finished and will be resumed on Monday, after tomorrow's off day (here's where I mention that the regular Daily Backspin will be replaced on Sunday by another edition of Backspin Time Capsule, featuring the 1990 Wimbledon).

...the big, big slam breakthroughs of Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka will have to continue to wait. Both put up game efforts today (Azarenka lost in two tie-breaks to Nadia Petrova, the first of which was a 13-11 affair), but it's on to the U.S. Open. Well, with a stop in Beijing a bit before the trip to New York., have we finally made it through the Williams Danger Zone, or it is just about to arrive? Both Venus and Serena are notoriously slow starters at slams. Even while they haven't been 100% sharp 100% of the time through the first three rounds, neither has dropped a set -- something the other top players can't boast. Today, Venus bounced qualifier Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez 6-1/7-5, ending things with an emphatic 127 mph ace on match point (in the stands, Serena was literally seen to yawn after the match was over). Both face unseeded, but potentially dangerous, players in the 4th Round (Serena vs. Mattek, Venus vs. Kleybanova), with the likes of Kuznetsova or A-Rad awaiting Serena and Jankovic or Tanasugarn next up for Venus if they both reach the QF.

We haven't really had one of those sweat-it-out moments with the sisters at this slam. Yet. If it doesn't come soon, it might not come at all.

(I'm sure NBC is hoping that's the case.)

Watching Martinez-Sanchez play against Venus, one senses there's some untold story there. At 25, she's been playing the best tennis of her career over the last month, and from all angles appears to have a game that should have produced something far earlier than this. She's got good height (5-9), a nice lefty serve and good volleys. Seven years ago in '01, her results show her to have been a player on the rise in the Top 100... only to see her have difficultly even making it through qualifying in tour events from 2002-03. From 2002-04 she didn't win an ITF event, and didn't play at all for the remainder of the '04 season after February. Her WTA bio makes no mention of serious injuries, and doesn't give any personal reasons for the drop-off. By 2005, she was playing on the ITF tour exclusively.

She won eight ITF titles from 2005-07 (giving her 12 total, with the four she won in 1999-00) as she slowly made her way back to the big tour. She was 26-13 this season coming into Wimbledon, where she won three qualifying matches, reached the 3rd Round and forced Venus to sweat just a tad in the 2nd set today. She's currently ranked #101 and should enter the Top 100 once again after this tournament is completed. Maybe this is the start of a nice end to a late-bloomer's career, but it's still a bit perplexing why it took MJMS this long to reach this level.

...sure, there have been a lot of upsets on the women's side, but the carnage on the men's side of the draw assures that at least one unseeded player will reach the semifinals. Someone from the Tipsarevic/Schuettler, Cilic/Clement quarter will pass through and have a shot to (potentially) be the last road block left to prevent Roger Federer from playing in a sixth straight final. Cilic is a Croatian, so his countrymen have a fairly rich history at Wimbledon (and I'm not just talking about Goran Ivanisevic, either)... but a rematch of the Federer/Tipsarevic Melbourne thriller would be quite interesting.

...THE BOGDAN WATCH II: err, well, maybe not. The BW lasted all the way until the Girls final in Paris, but it lasted all of one day at SW19. Both the Romanian Bogdans were put out to pasture in the 1st Round on Day Six. #7 Ana by Brit Naomi Brody, then #4 Elena (the RG runner-up) by Mini-Pastry Kristina Mladenovic. Oh, well.

...Tamarine Tanasugarn's three-set win over a hard-hitting Marina Erakovic gave the Thai native her tenth consecutive win in tour qualifying & main draw action. This is the 31-year old's seventh Round of 16 result in twelve career Wimbledon appearances, and it comes a year after her 1st Round loss to Peer.

...and, finally, what with NBC's embargo of the Venus Williams match for it's afternoon coverage (which the airing of prevented the live Peer/Safina drama from being shown, by the way), ESPN apparently was precluded from even mentioning the fact that the match with Martinez-Sanchez was going on... and maybe even the elder sister's name at all. One would think it'd be difficult to make it through four hours of morning coverage without mentioning the defending champion and the fact that she was on court at that very moment... but ESPN managed to do it. Kudos! Umm, I guess.

AO - Marta Domachowska/POL & Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE (4th Rd.)
RG - Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP (QF)
WI - Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (3rd Rd.)

[Open Era]
3:45 - Rubin d. Hy-Boulais (1995 2nd Rd.)
3:40 - Goerges d. Srebotnik (2008 1st Rd.)
3:25 - Peer d. Safina (2008 3rd Rd.)
3:24 - Ivanovic d. Dechy (2008 2nd Rd.)

18...Maria Sharapova, January-March
17...Serena Williams, March-May
12...Dinara Safina, May-June
10...TAMARINE TANASUGARN, June-current

*2008 FINAL 16*
3...United States
1...Czech Republic
26...Dementieva - Petrova - S.Williams
23...Jankovic - Kuznetsova - Mattek
21...Chakvetadze - Peer
19...A.Radwanska - Szavay - Vaidisova
#2 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
#5 Elena Dementieva, RUS
#6 Serena Williams, USA
#7 Venus Williams, USA
#8 Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
#11 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
#15 Agnes Szavay, HUN
#18 Nadia Petrova, RUS
#22 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
#26 Shahar Peer, ISR
#42 Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
#60 Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
#69 Bethanie Mattek, USA
#133 Zheng Jie, CHN
#154 Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS
3...Spain (Nadal/Lopez/Verdasco)
2...Croatia (Ancic/Cilic)
2...France (Clement/Gasquet)
2...Russia (Safin/Youzhny)
2...Switzerland (Federer/Wawrinka)
1...Australia (Hewitt)
1...Cyprus (Baghdatis)
1...Germany (Schuettler)
1...Great Britain (Murray)
1...Serbia (Tipsarevic)

[48 = AO + RG + Wimb]
5...United States
4...Czech Republic

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
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE (all to 3rd Rd.)
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 6. More tomorrow.


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