Tuesday, June 23, 2009

W.2- She Has a Tendency to Excite... and worry

In a tournament with so many personal favorites either already out -- Jelena Dokic & "HeninLite" -- or giving no reason to believe they'll make any sort of mark in this tournament -- Jelena Jankovic & Nadia Petrova -- what's a Backspinner to do when it comes to finding a fun story to root for as this year's Wimbledon goes along?

Ah, enter the "savior," for however long she lasts.

She fights. She smiles. She laughs. She has a seemingly breezy personality. Sound like a tennis player you know?

No, I'm not talking about Queen Chaos. I COULD be, but I'm not. No, of course, I'm referring to Caroline Wozniacki. JJ, version 2.0, with a slightly bigger game, enough youth to believe there's still big-time improvement around the corner, and just enough of an edge-of-your seat combination of excitement and worry that follows her around like a lost puppy that you can't take your eyes off any match she's involved in. While Jankovic's drama is usually the byproduct of chaos, Wozniacki's drama follows along on something of a pre-scheduled path.

In an act of slightly cheeky scheduling, both Jankovic and Wozniacki, were both playing at the same time today on Courts 3 and 2, respectively, on Day 2. While JJ pushed through Julia Goerges in straight sets, Wozniacki found herself in a heap of trouble against 38-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm, who was making her way in the sport before C-Woz had even learned to walk, as it took her quite a while to learn how to handle the Japanese veteran's unorthodox ("old-school," as the ESPN commentators dubbed it) game.

After missing an opportunity to break Date-Krumm and take a 5-4 1st set lead when she missed an open shot down the line, things got very sticky. Date-Krumm held serve, won the set 7-5 and quickly jumped to a 3-1 lead in the 2nd. But, when it comes to Wozniacki, even a deficit like that isn't the time to panic. "Give her time and she'll find a way to get herself back in the match" is the way to go, and that's just what happened against Date-Krumm.

In the nick of time, Wozniacki turned things in her favor. Then, as a limping Date-Krumm was visited by trainers on multiple occasions in the 3rd set, she closed out the match by winning by a deceptively "easy" 5-7/6-3/6-1 scoreline.

Just how close to a major slam breakout is Wozniacki? Even though she's proven to never be out of a match no matter what the score, it's hard to tell. She's won hard, clay and grass court titles over the past eleven months, but her tendency to go "the long way around" to get them means her chances of making it through two weeks (and five, six or seven matches) without being tripped up on a bad day when she CAN'T reel back a match that nearly gets away from her aren't all that great. At Roland Garros, she survived a tight three-setter against Vera Dushevina... only to lose in the 3rd Round to Sorana Cirstea.

Wozniacki might not lose her 2nd Rounder to Maria Kirilenko, but it'll certainly be one to keep on eye on... and not just because C-Woz just replaced the Russian as the player who'll be sporting the tennis designs of Stella McCartney, either. Though that certainly IS an interesting little match note, isn't it?

Wozniacki's 1st Round win DID prevent a three-match sweep of all the women who won pre-Wimbledon tuneup events, but it didn't ease the lingering worty that C-Woz's SW19 show might have a short-lived engagement at THIS Wimbledon.

But, hey, give her time... she'll figure things out eventually. For now, enjoy the fun for as long as it lasts.

...late in the day, we were "treated" to another Jankovician ride on a rollercoaster courtesy of the other Serb, Ana Ivanovic, as another chapter in AnaIvo's constant post-Roland Garros struggle was written on Court 4 in her match against Lucie Hradecka.

It was late in the proceedings that things really got interesting, as Ivanovic served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 and was broken twice, the second coming just moments after she'd held a match point against the Czech. But when the Serb slipped in the backcourt on break point, it was suddenly 5-5 and she was dancing with yet another early round slapdown in a slam.

It was like watching somebody slap themselves across the face, straighten up, then deliver more stinging self-punishment. Down 6-5, Ivanovic had a game point to knot the 3rd set, but couldn't convert. Hradecka held two match points on Ivanovic's serve, but AnaIvo won them both and held, flashing that close-to-the-body clenched fist that became her signature move last spring. She then broke the Czech at love to go up 7-6. In what turned out to be the final game of the match, a net cord shot that dribbled onto Hradecka's side of the court game Ivanovic another match point.

She won 5-7/6-2/8-6, and lives to "fight" another day. Of course, if form holds, she'll go out in the 2nd Round to Sara Errani. Remember, a year ago AnaIvo escaped a 2nd Round match with Nathalie Dechy by way of the "Kiss of Life," but rather than breath a sigh of relieve and collect herself she quickly went out to Zheng Jie in straights the next time out.

Is AnaIvo a "Zombie" or a "Crash & Burn" waiting to happen? I doubt even she could harbor a confident guess... which really isn't a good thing when it comes to her chances to survive much longer in this tournament.

...hmmm, Last Brit Standing? Well, by default, it was going to be Elena Baltacha, no matter what. There were six British women in the main draw when the 1st Round began. On Day 1, Laura Robson and Melanie South lost. Today, Anne Keothavong, Katie O'Brien and Georgie Stoop did the same. Yep, that was an 0-5 after both Keothavong and Baltacha won opening round matches in 2008. Why was Baltacha going to be the LBS then? Well, of course, because her match against Alona Bondarenko was the last scheduled to be played. As it turned out, though, Baltacha DID win and became the only British woman to advance. Thus, order was restored to the Backspin SW19 Awards... but probably not to British women's tennis.

With only Laura Robson seen as a real threat down the road (though teenager Amanada Carreras has been doing well on the ITF circuit lately), the LTA is surely going to get hammered for its lack of organization and player development again, if not after this "near-miss" shutout then some other time. Already, Keothavong and others have made a regular habit of coming down quite hard on the country's tennis "hierarchy," though, so it'll be nothing new.

Just throwing something at the wall to see if it might stick, maybe there should be some consideration given to importing players, ala Australia and Kazakhstan?

...as it turned out, even Wimbledon couldn't stop the rapid descent of one Nicole Vaidisova. After going from slam semifinalist to forgotten thought-to-be-future star, the Czech at least had QF results at the past two Wimbledons to keep her head above water. Now, that's gone. Today, after at first looking as if she was going to be run out of Londontown on a rail in straight sets, she battled back and managed to win a tie-break and force her match against veteran Rossane de los Rios to three sets. She still lost, as DLR prevailed 6-4/6-7/6-4. Who knows when Vaidisova will reach "rock bottom." But now she can see the day from here.

All the "sure-things" of 2009, from the likes of Azarenka to Wozniacki to Larcher de Brito and Robson, should take heed. Every rising star has weapons, but also an Achilles heel that can overrule any talent, drive or so-called destiny. If the past travails of former Top 5ers Dokic, Hantuchova and Chakvetadze weren't enough to remind everyone that NOTHING is assured in the tennis world, then Vaidisova should be.

...speaking of Dokic, her three-set loss to qualifier Tatjana Malek on Day 2 must have provided her a case of deja vu for all the wrong reasons. Remember, it was exactly ten years ago YESTERDAY that a 16-year old Aussie qualifer named "Jelena" made a name for herself by taking out #1-seed Martina Hingis on Day 2 of another Wimbledon. Malek isn't likely to make a run into the final eight as Dokic did back then, transforming the story from one about Hingis' fall to one about Dokic's rise, but I guess one never knows, does one?

Now Dokic heads off back to Serbia to visit her jailed father. Oh, joy. Her past life always seems to intervene in the Aussie's current one, doesn't it? Maybe some day she'll be able to experience a happy balance, or at least come close.

...and, finally, I'll keep talking about it until I fully understand it (which is never, so I'll keep talking about it). While I understand that ESPN shows additional court coverage on 360.com, and other sites do the same, I don't think I'll ever get why the powers-that-be don't attempt to make the actual live television broadcast as entertaining and expansive as possible. Why follow the general rule that it's better to show nearly all the action on one court (usually Centre) rather than moving around throughout the match and showing action in other matches, too, rather than waiting for ends of sets and the like to do it? The way ESPN has covered this tournament the first two days, when a slam is really buzzing with over a dozen matches taking place at the same time, it's as if the network isn't covering a tournament, just a court. In the early rounds, he WHOLE is what makes a slam great, and gives it its personality. Someone just doesn't seem to understand that simple fact.

Years ago, HBO understood it, though. During it's twenty-five years of airing Wimbledon, it made a practice of shifting between matches and getting a sense of all the big moments happening around the grounds without losing focus on whatever happeend to be the "feature" match of the moment. On ESPN, a close "outer court" match is talked about and some points shown... then ignored for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. Once things are updatedm some interesting things have already occurred in the interim... while the network was airing the routine middle games in a 1st set of a match on Centre Court.

Again, I understand the multiple sources for coverage during the day and many ways for things to seen by viewers. But if you're going to cover a TOURNAMENT, then cover a TOURNAMENT. It's far more entertaining.

But I guess that's why I'm not a producer and/or director for ESPN, huh?

AO: Casey Dellacqua, AUS (4th Rd.)
RG: Alize Cornet & Emilie Loit, FRA (3rd Rd.)
WI: Elena Baltacha & Anne Keothavong, GBR (2nd Rd.)
US: Serena Williams, USA (W)
AO: Jelena Dokic, AUS (QF)
RG: Virginie Razzano & Aravane Rezai, FRA (4th Rd.)
WI: Elena Baltacha, GBR (xxx Rd.)

Kristina Kucova, SVK (LL)
Regina Kulikova, RUS
Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR (WC)
Tatjana Malek, GER
Melanie Oudin, USA
Arantxa Parra-Santonja, ESP

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Vesna Manasieva/RUS d. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA 6-7/6-4/6-1
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN (1st Rd.-Schiavone/ITA)
IT GIRL: xxx
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (Temporary: Ana Ivanovic/SRB - saved two MP vs. Lucie Hradecka/CZE in 1st Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Elena Baltacha/GBR (xx)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I think Woz is fun, too, though I think she got a bit lucky with Kimiko's injury. She keeps surprising me, though, with her level of fight.

She is on a collision course with Mauresmo, but I don't think the wreck will ever take place. But if things get completely crazy and it does--Amelie will be Date x 10.

Thu Jun 25, 10:19:00 PM EDT  

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