Friday, May 28, 2010

RG.6- The Core Four



Day 6 was a rare day indeed. In fact, it might have produced a true "first." Thanks to all of yesterday's rain, today's schedule was so star-packed that it was enough to make even the most jaded a bit jazzy.

A few weeks ago, Sports Ilustrated ran a cover story on the "Core Four" of the New York Yankees -- Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. They're the four veteran players who rose to fame at the same time, and have experienced the team's recent World Series runs over the past fifteen years. Well, women's tennis has it's "Core Four," too.



While one could argue about their order of ranking, there is no question which four players have been THE top four stars of women's tennis over the past decade-plus -- Serena & Venus Williams, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova. For maybe the first time ever in a slam (surely this early in a slam, at least), they were all in action on the same day on Friday. So were the top four players in men's tennis -- Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray -- making THAT a combined has-to-be-the-first-time occurrence in the first week of a slam.

The four women hold the top four positions on the active slam singles title list, are four of the top five active players in career tour titles, and hold three of the top five spots on the active career match win list. Serena and Venus were once consistent opponents in slam finals and, as they're likely positioned at opposite ends of the draw over the next few months, might be again this spring and/or summer. Venus defeated Henin in the Belgian's first career slam final in '01. Sharapova burst onto the scene in '04 by defeating Serena in the Wimbledon Ladies' championship. And, this past January, the one major head-to-head hole in the "Core Four's" resume, though they'd surely met in slams before, was finally filled when Serena faced off and defeated Henin in Melbourne in the pair's first meeting in a slam singles final.

Still, even with the foursome's tour-dominanting careers over the past decade, due to various injuries and the ebb-and-flow of their careers, they've never all reached the semifinals of the SAME grand slam (so they didn't all play on the same day under THOSE circumstances). They won't at this one, either. But by the time the final is played on the last Saturday of this Roland Garros, we might have witnessed a "Six Degrees of Separation" through-line that links the four future Hall-of-Famers in this draw.

As far as I can tell, I believe that would be a grand slam first, too. The Henin/Sharapova winner could face Serena in the quarterfinals, then the winner there might see Venus in the final. Also, while certainly no player has ever swept through the FULL Core Four en route to a slam title (though a few have taken out two in the seven matches), I couldn't find a slam champ who's even taken out THREE in the same event, either. It could happen in Paris, if the winner of the Henin/Sharapova 3rd Rounder knocks out both Serena and Venus, as well. It would be fitting that it'd be one of the Core Four who'd be the first to climb over three of these superstars, and it would make the champion of this Roland Garros the survivor of quite possibly the most star-studded individual woman's slam draw in more than a few decades.

As far as what actually happened when the Core Four hit the court on Day 6, things pretty much went totally their way. After saying she wasn't pleased by any part of her game after her 1st Round match with Stefanie Voegele, Serena made sure that Julia Goerges didn't have as much court time with her as the young Swiss player had. Serena won 6-1/6-1 (she still only gave herself a grade of "B"), running her 2010 slam mark to 9-0 and looking like she's rounding into fine Big Bang form.

But will Henin be there in the quarterfinals to face her?

Having to complete her 2nd Round match with Klara Zakopalova that she led 6-3/3-2 after Day 5, the Belgian managed to open play with an immediate break. Problem is, then the Czech broke her back. Then Justine broke HER back -- at love.. Serving at 5-3, some sanity seemed to have returned to the match when Henin went up 40/love and held triple match point. But... nope. Soon, Zakopalova had put together a four-point streak and held a break point. Henin still ended up serving it out for a 6-3/6-3 win, but with a "Little Bang" meeting with Sharapova (who won all four games versus Kirsten Flipkens to complete yesterday's rain-interrupted match, 6-2/6-3) up next, then maybe another with Sam Stosur before any possible meeting with Serena, HER road to the BB looks a good bit more daunting than that of Williams. Still, she's 8-1 in slam matches this season.

As for Venus. Well, all she did was take out '09 RG semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova by an easy 6-3/6-3 score. Maybe at some point her tennis will become the top story about her during this tournament, but I won't hold my breath.

And so ended a very interesting, and quite possibly historic, morning and afternoon in Paris. No matter what happens the rest of this tournament, we'll at least have had Day 6, when everyone came to the party.

Long live the "Core Four."



=DAY 6 NOTES=
...after the red dust had settled on this busy day, there were two qualifiers still standing. Chanelle Scheepers knocked off Akgul Amanmuradova to reach the Round of 16, while Anastasia Pivovarova took out Zheng Jie in their rain-delayed 2nd Round encounter.

With Olivia Sanchez losing to countrywoman Marion Bartoli, the final wild card remaining in the draw is Jarmila Groth. Meanwhile, Bartoli and Aravane Rezai are still to in the race for "Last Pastry Standing."

...Ana Ivanovic is maintaining an optimistic attitude about her tennis (and new coach-pupil relationship with Heinz Gunthardt). Not that that mindset necessarily means that things are hunky-doory with ALL of her tennis relationships. When questioned about Jelena Jankovic, who mimicked AnaIvo's fist pump a few weeks ago (and whose mother lashed out at Ivanovic when she decided not to play Fed Cup for Serbia), Ivanovic said, "Sport doesn't build character. It shows it."

OH, no she DIDN'T! Ouch.

...and, finally, oh, if the Tennis Channel Powers That Be only knew how funny some of TC's on-screen graphics are. During the morning coverage on Day 6, the network ran a viewer reminder about ESPN2's "continuous live coverage" picking up at Noon on the East Coast. Oh, those (unintentionally) funny tricksters.

As if ESPN2 would think of having any live coverage when there was oodles and oodles of dated, already-been-aired-on-TC match video of the likes of Serena, Venus, Justine, Maria, Roger and Rafa playing six or seven hours before the network came on air. As it turned out, ESPN2 ran zero live coverage during its programming block on Day 6.

So, while U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki was somehow showing that all her pre-RG injury/poor play drama was apparently something of a mirage, taking out Alexandra Dulgheru 6-3/6-4 in the 3rd Round, ESPN2 showed Serena and Nadal matches (and remarked how odd it was to see Rafa playing "so early in the morning," since he'd been in the first scheduled match of the day, somewhere around 5am "real people's time" in the U.S., and at ESPN HQ, by the way). While two-time slam finalist Elena Dementieva was outlasting Aleksandra Wozniak in three sets, and defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova was showing that her "near-death" experience in the 2nd Round really wasn't going to spark her to something great (as predicted, it was more an AnaIvo "Kiss of Life" stay of execution than Serena "Soul Survivor" resurrection), as she lost in three sets to Maria Kirilenko, ESPN2 was showing Roger Federer beat up on some guy as the commentators talked about how much of a testamen it was to Federer that so many people came out to watch a match they knew wouldn't be much of a contest. And while Nadia Petrova and potential-Pastry-star-of-this-tournament Rezai were engaging in a knock-down, drag out battle in the final match of the day, ESPN2 was showing Venus going against Cibulkova... in the middle of the 1st set.

As it turned out, serving up 6-7/6-4/7-6, Petrova got to match point on the Frenchwoman, but failed to convert. She was soon broken for 7-7, and play was suspended due to darkness. Could the latest "Zombie Queen" be in the process of being born? Maybe. Not that ESPN2's normal viewers would ever have know about the drama going on under the network's star-distracted nose this afternoon. With a coverage window that stretched from 12-6:30pm, one would think that the "big name" matches would have been held for the "SportsCenter" hours when more eyeballs would have been watching, while live coverage of tight, three-setters with recent slam winners and/or finalists would have been allowed to be spotlighted. But no. Even the scores of the ignored matches were intentionally withheld from the bottom-of-the-screen sports ticker.

Oddly enough, Tennis Channel contiuned to provide more up-to-date coverage during all of this by at least running a Roland Garros results ticker at the bottom of the screen... while showing a replay of a Chris Evert/Evonne Goolagong match from 1976 (with Billie Jean King and her mile high hair doing a post-match interview with Evert and her father Jimmy).

So, a tip of the hat to ESPN2 for once again showing that the network really has little regard for the sport, no matter how many millions of dollars are spent to attain the rights to these grand slam events.

The crazy thing is that this sort of uninspired "coverage" will probably be more than trumped (in a bad way) at some point by NBC's coverage of the tournament, which will set its first all-taped-delayed foot on the scene for the first time this weekend. Yes, the "NBC Zone" is back, ready to create more mayhem.




*WOMEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16*
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD
#30 Maria Kirilenko/RUS vs. #17 Francesca Schiavone/ITA
#14 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #3 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
#5 Elena Dementieva/RUS vs. (Q)Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
#15 Aravane Rezai/FRA or #19 Nadia Petrova/RUS vs. #2 Venus Williams/USA

*MEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #20 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI
#10 Marin Cilic/CRO vs. #5 Robin Soderling/SWE
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #15 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#11 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS or Viktor Troicki/SRB vs. #8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD
TBD vs. TBD




*ACTIVE WTA LEADERS*
[slam titles]
12...SERENA WILLIAMS
7...JUSTINE HENIN
7...VENUS WILLIAMS
3...MARIA SHARAPOVA
[career titles]
43...VENUS WILLIAMS
42...JUSTINE HENIN
37...Belgian Barbie
36...SERENA WILLIAMS
22...MARIA SHARAPOVA
[match wins]
1. VENUS WILLIAMS
2. Elena Dementieva
3. Patty Schnyder
4. JUSTINE HENIN
5. SERENA WILLIAMS





TOP QUALIFIER: Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Kurumi Nara/JPN d. Monica Niculescu/ROU 4-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd: #6 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS d. Andrea Petkovic/GER 4-6/7-5/6-4
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xxx
=============================
FIRST WIN: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (1st Rd. - def. Ekaterina Ivanova/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (1st Rd. - lost to Dulko/ARG)
UPSET QUEENS: The Australians
REVELATION LADIES: The Germans
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: xxx
IT GIRL: xxx
MADEMOISELLE/MADAM OPPORTUNITY: xxx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xxx
CRASH & BURN: #9 Dinara Safina/RUS, 2008-09 Runner-Up (1st Rd. - lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN)
ZOMBIE QUEEN:
*Nominees*
Kuznetsova/RUS down 4 MP vs. Petkovic/GER (2nd Rd.)
Rezai/FRA down MP vs. Petrova/RUS (3rd Rd)

LAST PASTRY STANDING: xxx
DOUBLES STAR xxx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xxx




All for Day 6. More tomorrow.

1 Comments:

Blogger Milos said...

After that first part of the match yesterday I was no longer optimistic. I was reading till late and then fell asleep some time in the morning but something strange happened. She came into my dream. I was on a party but not into the mood for dancing when she suddenly appeared. I was shocked and started to yell at her that she should get ready for a match against Scremapova and that she served horribly and….But she was quiet and said everything was ok. This woke me up…It was around 1pm local time and I went to check the result. She was loosing 0:2 and 0:40 on her serve….Maria to lead 3:0. No way! (Maybe after all she should have listened to me :D) I left the room, took the shower and the next thing I now JuJu leads 3:2…I knew then that she was right telling me to enjoy the party…

Sun May 30, 07:59:00 AM EDT  

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