Monday, June 30, 2008

W.7- Got No Strings to Hold Them Down?

"My game seems to just get better when I'm here. - Venus Williams

So far, nothing has been able to stop the Williams sisters at this Wimbledon. On Day Seven, even the fabled "graveyard of champions" that is Court 2 couldn't make a dent in their fortified, two-player suit of armor.

AP Photo/Kristie Wigglesworth

In year's past, Court 2 has claimed the Wimbledon lives of both Venus and Serena. Maybe the old bone yard is finally showing its advancing age, because it could only offer up a minor Venus hiccup today as a display of its former power as both sisters crossed over the sometimes-toxic lines and handled their Round of 16 opponents with relative ease, adding even more momentum to the notion that we could get a Williams-vs.-Williams blast from the past in the Ladies Final on Saturday.

First, Venus took the sting out of Russian Alisa Kleybanova, who came into this match as the tournament's women's service ace leader. Williams led 6-3/5-2 and served for the match. That's when Venus experienced that minor hiccup, as she's seemed to encounter each round at this Wimbledon. She failed to convert three match points and soon saw Kleybanova holding three break points to tie the set at 5-5. It didn't happen, of course. The defending champion's game continues to roll into finer shape with each passing match. Venus turned back the graveyard's minor show of force, winning 6-3/6-4 to advance to her ninth SW19 quarterfinal in twelve trips to London.

Serena had no such moment of pause, taking out fellow American Bethanie Mattek 6-3/6-3 in the next Court 2 match of the day. Then, perhaps to rub the Court's seemingly deteriorated aura in its face a bit, the Williams sisters ended their day by eliminating the doubles team of Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Virginia Ruano-Pascual, the winners of the Roland Garros title a few weeks ago. Yeah, that one took place on Court 2, as well.

So sad. After trying and failing to claim a final big-name victim at this tournament, Court 2 has been a miserable failure so far at this year's Wimbledon. Yep, the old dog is tired... and possibly ready to be put down for good. You know things aren't going well for the bone yard when it very well could have had a "Property of Williams" sign posted just outside its entrance on Day Seven. In it's final year at the All-England Club, Court 2's property value is plummeting more and more with each passing match.

As of yet, Venus and Serena aren't showing the same signs of wear and tear... and that's not good news to the other six other women remaining in the draw.

True to form, Jelena Jankovic did not go quietly into the good London night. Well, she DID as far as the scoreboard was concerned, as she was bounced by veteran first-time slam quarterfinalist Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-3/6-2. But, as is usually the case with ol' JJ, the story was everything BUT the match.

She spent all day Sunday getting treatment on her injured knee, and was upset that she was scheduled to play early on Day Seven. With a pained expression on her face, she was hardly the vision of the player who so often can bring a smile to so many faces, whether out of delight or exasperation. Oh, she didn't like that the match took place on Court 18, either... she made some crack about needing to take a helicopter to get there.

As the #2 seed, Jankovic might have had a point about her match's placement... on any other day. But when such a packed singles schedule means both Williams sisters (with a combined six SW19 singles titles between them) are relegated to Court 2, Jankovic (zero grand slam final appearances) has absolutely no legitimate gripe.

...maybe the Gods Evertienne and Borguese, who oversee Roland Garros and Wimbledon, were just preserving the honor of the tennis rankings? Jankovic lost the match in Paris that would have made her the #1-ranked player in the world, and she could have claimed the spot had she reached the SF here. No one would have REALLY believed she was the "best" player in the world had she attained the top ranking, so maybe the Gods were just making sure that we mortals weren't faced with having to make excuses for the ranking system. They have such little faith in us.

...with the #2 seed out, all the top four seeds are gone on the women's side before the QF. That's the first time it's happened in the Open era.

...for the first time in a while in a slam, it seems, there were some thrilling matches on the Men's side, as Mario Ancic came back from two sets to love down, and 4-1 in the 4th, to defeat Fernando Verdasco 13-11 in the 5th. Ancic will now face Roger Federer. The Croat was the last player to defeat Federer on grass, in the 1st Round of Wimbledon in 2002. The Swiss Mister is currently on a 63-match (38 at Wimbledon) grass court winning streak.

Then, VERY late in the day, Andy Murray may have finally come of age on the grand slam stage when he, too, won a match from an 0-2 sets down hole against '07 semifinalist Richard Gasquet. Gasquet served for the match at one point, but Murray surged back with great tennis and even greater emotion. With his howling reactions to brilliantly played points as the Centre Court crowd exploded, he resembled the snarling Lleyton Hewitt in his heyday, or a younger version of the 39-year old Jimmy Connors at the 1991 U.S. Open. Murray will face Rafael Nadal in the QF. If it's any kind of match at all, it could be a classic.

...Shahar Peer got the best of Dinara Safina again, as she and Victoria Azarenka eliminated Safina and Agnes Szavay when the teams completed the 3rd Round Doubles match that was suspended on Saturday. ITF action over the weekend, Backspin's Girl Friday Anna-Lena Groenefeld won her third straight circuit tournament in the $25K in Periguex, France. She also took the doubles title. She's won fifteen straight ITF matches. Meanwhile, fresh off her Girls title at Roland Garros, Romania's Simona Halep claimed her third ITF title of the season in the $25K in Kristienhamn, Sweden.

...some Wimbledon Award updates:

1) Nicole Vaidisova's three-set win over Anna Chakvetadze advances her to the QF (she'll face Zheng Jie for a spot in the semis), enabling her to pull an around-end move to steal away the "Zombie Queen" title following her 2nd Round escape against Sam Stosur, during which she came within a point of being down a disinterested 6-3/0-6/0-4. If the Aussie had been able to convert one of those points, SHE could very well be the one playing Zheng tomorrow. At least Stosur and Lisa Raymond got a 3rd Round win over the #3-seeded doubles team of Peschke/Stubbs today.

2) Agnieszka Radwanska, whose rise has so picked up steam that she's been shifted from the "Fresh Faces" to the "Risers" category as the season has progressed, claimed her second "It Girl" title in less than a full year of slams as she reached her second slam QF of '08 with her 6-4/1-6/7-5 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova (the Contessova served for 5-2 in the 3rd set, only to eventually be broken for 5-6 and see A-Rad serve out the match moments later). It was the second time Radwanska has defeated the Russian in a slam in '08, having upset her in Melbourne. A year ago at Wimbledon, Kuznetsova knocked off A-Rad in the 3rd Round.

3) The "Comeback" award is down to a race between Tamarine Tanasugarn, Nadia Petrova and Zheng Jie. The "Miss Opportunity" will go to either Zheng, Vaidisova, Petrova or Elena Dementieva. Yep, Nadia has been moving along, quietly posting impressive wins following her RU in the Eastbourne tune-up event. She's one win away from reaching her third career slam SF, and the first since Roland Garros '05. Nothing against Punch-Sober, but Petrova's '08 slam SF berth is a pre-season prediction I really, really want to see come true.

Go Nadia! (Sorry, Elena.)

...I hope the Williams family isn't hoping to get any "thank-you notes" from the Radwanska clan. Earlier this tournament, Serena knocked Urszula out of singles. Then, Venus and Serena were the team that took A-Rad out of doubles. Now, Agnieszka faces Serena in the QF. Of course, Williams is the favorite... but Radwanska is building up a healthy list of top-seeded players who have exited grand slam draws thanks to her clever wait-and-see, never-let-them-know-what's-coming game. You know, watching A-Rad matter- of-factly dispatch so many top players in big matches even though she looks like she's on a stroll through the park, I'm now convinced that if she were to ever be cast in a "Women in Prison" film that she'd be a lock for the role of the newbie who shanks the cell block maiden in the back when nobody's looking, securing a power base for herself, all the while never allowing the expression on her face to change one iota.

Okay, maybe that one was a BIT of a stretch... but I liked it anyway.

Needless to say, Serena... watch your back.

...hmmm, it's interesting to note that the winners of both the grass court tune-ups the week before Wimbledon at Eastbourne and 's-Hertogenbosch -- Radwanska and Tanasugarn -- are still alive in the SW19 Final 8.

...all right, how's this one? A-Rad is the tennis version of a prop comic. One moment she'll pull a weird spin out of her bag, then an odd faint move while waiting to return serve (ask Sharapova about that one). While her opponent is still thinking about what she just saw, Radwanska will toss in a clever tactical ploy or an outright trick that'll drive a pure hitter nuts... earning respect through gritted teeth. Then, when no one's looking, she'll actually square her shoulders and blow a conventional groundstroke winner, just to show she can play EVERYONE ELSE'S game, too, whenever the time is right.

I know, I know... Patty Schnyder has sort of embodied that role the past few years. But you always get that scary sense that she might "turn on the audience." Sort of like when you see Carrot Top on the stage. You don't get that with A-Rad.

Oh my Tennis Gods, I actually made a Carrot Top reference in WTA Backspin. I'm sure to be punished for that one.

...and, finally, Venus on the talk that some of the women's players (Sharapova) were paying too much attention to their fashion at this tournament and not enough to their tennis: "Women in general, we like fashion," she said. "It's a huge industry for the athletic companies... In the past, Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals, they wore wonderful things that brought a lot of attention to women's tennis, and that's what they needed at the time. I don't think in any way that it subtracts from the competition level or how well we're playing. The fact of the matter is someone has got to win and someone has got to lose."

(WC)Zheng/CHN vs. #18 Vaidisova/CZE
#14 A.Radwanska/POL vs. #6 S.Williams/USA
#5 Dementieva/RUS vs. #21 Petrova/RUS
#7 V.Williams/USA vs. Tanasugarn/THA

#1 Federer/SUI vs. Ancic/CRO
Safin/RUS vs. #31 Lopez
Schuettler/GER vs. Clement/FRA
#12 Murray/GBR vs. #2 Nadal/ESP

#1 Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) vs. #6 Azarenka/Peer (BLR/ISR)
#16 Raymond/Stosur (USA/AUS) vs. Makarova/Sfar (RUS/TUN)
#11 Williams/Williams (USA/USA) vs. #13 Mattek/Mirza (USA/IND)
Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP) vs. Dechy/Dellacqua (FRA/AUS)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Granollers-Pujols/Ventura (ESP/ESP)
Petzschner/Peya (GER/AUT) vs. #8 Bjorkman/Ullyett (SWE/ZIM)
#9 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND) vs. #3 Erlich/Ram (ISR/ISR)
Anderson/Lindstedt (RSA/SWE) vs. #1 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

[Wimbledon Won/Lost...# of Wimbledons]
42-4...Roger Federer, SUI (10th) - 5 titles
20-6...Feliciano Lopez, ESP (7th)
19-4...Rafael Nadal, ESP (5th)
17-5...Mario Ancic, CRO (6th)
16-11...Arnaud Clement, FRA (12th)
15-8...Marat Safin, RUS (9th)
15-9...Rainer Schuettler, GER (10th)
9-2...Andy Murray, GBR (3rd)

[Wimbledon Won/Lost...# of Wimbledons]
55-7...Venus Williams, USA (12th) - 4 titles
41-6...Serena Williams, USA (9th) - 2 titles
27-11...Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA (12th)
21-7...Nadie Petrova, RUS (8th)
21-9...Elena Dementieva, RUS (10th)
13-3...Nicole Vaidisova, CZE (4th)
9-2...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL (3rd)
6-2...Zheng Jie, CHN (3rd)

*2008 FINAL 8*
3...Russia (Dementieva - Petrova - Safin)
2...Spain (Nadal - Lopez)
2...United States (Williams - Williams)
1...China (Zheng)
1...Croatia (Ancic)
1...Czech Republic (Vaidisova)
1...France (Clement)
1...Germany (Schuettler)
1...Great Britain (Murray)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Switzerland (Federer)
1...Thailand (Tanasugarn)

[24 = AO + RG + Wimb]
4...United States
1...Czech Republic

2005 US - Sania Mirza, IND
AO - Samantha Stosur, AUS
RG - Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
WI - Li Na, CHN
US - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
AO - Shahar Peer, ISR
RG - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
WI - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
US - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
AO - Casey Dellacqua, AUS
RG - Dinara Safina, RUS
WI - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

2007 WI - Venus Williams, USA
2008 AO - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2008 RG - Dinara Safina, RUS
2008 WI - Nicole Vaidisova, CZE

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: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS (lost 2nd Rd. to Kudryavtseva)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nicole Vaidisova, CZE (point from being down 6-3/0-6/0-4 to Stosur in 2nd Rd.)
LAST BRITS STANDING: Anne Keothavong & Elena Baltacha, GBR (both to 2nd Rd.)

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

hey todd,

i was just wondering why lisa raymond isn't on the olympic squad...i mean with lindsay davenport being injured isn't it selfish of lindsay to want to play singles and doubles...can't lindsay just play singles and lisa team with leisel to play doubles...that way if lindsay has to withdraw it doesn't negatively affect anyone else...and since lisa and leisel are such great doubles players, doesn't that make more sense for medal glory...

Mon Jun 30, 09:58:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Raymond's history with being picked for Olympic teams has been problematic in the past, too. In 2000, Serena Williams was placed on the team as a doubles-only player over her even though Raymond was the #1-ranked doubles player in the world. She tried to get an arbitrator to overturn the decision, but failed. Of course, Venus & Serena won the doubles Gold in Sydney.

She's currently ranked #25 in doubles, but hasn't had much of a season what with Sam Stosur's injury absences (though they're playing well at Wimbledon, so her ranking should go up). Obviously, though, Huber is going to be the chosen doubles-only member of the squad. Apparently, they only want one, which leaves Raymond out.

They could name six players to the team, but I guess they're not looking to use all the spots. Venus, Serena, Davenport and Huber were announced. Craybas is talked about as a late add. But Craybas could play both singles and doubles, while Raymond couldn't.

Since the Williams sisters are playing doubles, the second doubles team will be Huber and SOMEONE. I guess they've made the decision that a Huber-Davenport team would have a better shot at a medal than a Huber-Raymond one (interestingly, Davenport and Raymond have been doubles partners in the past). Huber's won a title with Craybas on tour, so they could team up if injuries prevented Davenport from playing both singles and doubles.

So, I guess Raymond's lack of versatility at this late stage of her career is what is causing her to be left off the team. She HAS been an Olympian before in '04, while 34-year old Craybas hasn't. So throwing Craybas that bone might be part of the decision, too.

Then again, if Davenport or one of the Williams sisters gets injured or has to pull out before Beijing, maybe Raymond would move into the slot. Huber becoming an American citizen in time to become eligible for the U.S. team complicated things, since Raymond probably would have been chosen to play doubles with Davenport had Huber still been a South African.

Tue Jul 01, 10:15:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

thanks for the explanation...but it still doesn't make sense why they would not nominate lisa raymond if they have six slots...i mean the sisters, huber, davenport is craybas is five...which leaves a spot open still...i feel like they're so short sited...oh well...

man i would not be a happy camper if i were lisa raymond

Tue Jul 01, 12:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, she always seems to get slighted.

If they were to name six players now, I'm not sure if they could change the team roster later if a player couldn't participate. If could be that if they added, say, Craybas and Raymond to make six and then TWO of the singles players were unable to participate they'd be stuck and have no options as far as the final singles slot.

Tue Jul 01, 03:14:00 PM EDT  

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