Thursday, June 24, 2010

W.4- Forever and Three Days

Well, Court 18's long international moment in the sun finally ended on Day 4. "The Match on the Edge of Forever" was actually completed today.

Hey, all it took was three days, eleven hours and five minutes of match play (1:05 today), 183 games, 215 total aces and 980 points for John Isner to defeat Nicolas Mahut in the 1st Round of Wimbledon.

The end came in game #183, just minutes after #182 had seen Isner serve his way out of a love/30 hole at 68-68 in the 5th set. After having failed earlier in the game to convert his fifth match point of the contest, Isner strung together back-to-back winners to etch his name in the tennis history book when he won on match point #6 to claim the deciding set at 70-68. The final stats say that Mahut won twenty-four more total points than Isner over the course of the twice-suspended marathon, but the American's record-setting 112 aces (compared to the Frenchman's second-most ever 103) provided the edge that got him the victory.

After posing for photos with the once-in-several-lifetimes scoreboard and accepting gifts and momentos from the likes of British past champions Ann Jones and Tim Henman, the two men walked off the court and into immortality. Isner's "activity" page will always say that he was the only official "winner" today, but that's not really true. Mahut, like Isner, won a great many fans over the last few days. But, maybe more importantly, tennis once again showed why a "funny little game" played with stringed rackets and fuzzy balls can be as compelling as just about any other competition you'll likely to find.

See you in another life, brothers.

...for a brief period of time, it looked like a story might be ready to develop in the third match of the day on Centre Court as hard-serving Dutchman Robin Haase (the same guy who defeated the monumentally-distracted James Blake the other day) led Rafael Nadal two sets to one.

Remarkably, though, the Spaniard didn't snap at anyone talking to someone next to them in the front row. Weird.

Anyway, once Haase twisted his knee a bit, Nadal pounced and the match was essentially over as Rafa cruised through the 4th and 5th sets at 6-0/6-3. He'll face a Lucky Loser in the 3rd Round.

...Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won a 10-8 5th set today. Slacker.

...once again, the women's draw took a back seat to the men (hmmm, if Laura Robson said something about "back seat politics" it'd probably have spawned an international incident by now, huh?). So far, unlike with the likes of Federer and Nadal, the top seeds haven't really been seriously threatened.

A few results from today that WERE noteworthy: After escaping with a win in her 1st Round match, Aravane Rezai couldn't get away from Czech vet Klara Zakopalova, who won in three sets. And in what was pretty much a microcosm of her entire career, Daniela Hantuchova returned after pulling out that come-from-behind win over Vania King in the 1st Round, only to win the 1st set off Czech Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova... and then lose 1-6/6-2/6-4.

Serena Williams, left off the Centre Court schedule (not that the Queen would have stuck around to watch her, as she exited after Andy Murray won the first match scheduled), blasted through Anna Chakvetadze 6-0/6-1. She led 6-0/5-0 before the Russian got a game, which elicted a warm round of applause from the fans. Meanwhile, Svetlana Kuznetsova was dumped out of a third 2010 slam by a Russian-born player. In Melbourne, it was Nadia Petrova, followed in Paris by Maria Kirilenko, then today it was now-Australian Anastasia Rodionova who got the honors. Considering that Rodionova is older than Kuznetsova, though, we at least won't have to hear again about younger players disrespecting the vets by, you know, beating them or something.

...SISTERLY DOUBLES UPDATE: the Bondarenkos lost to Monica Niculescu and Shahar Peer, 6-2/6-2.

...UPSET QUEENS: with a late surge, the Czechs take the crown. Zahlavova-Strycova added her win over #24 Hantuchova to her upset of Elena Vesnina in the 1st Round, while Zakopalova joined her with that win over #18 Rezai. Also, Petra Kvitova has wins over Sorana Cirstea and #23 Zheng Jie. It's like "old times," with three Maidens in the final thirty-two of a slam.

...and, finally, I suppose we probably won't have to wait thirty-three years for the next visit to the All-England Club from a reigning British monarch. Though I somehow doubt that it'll be Queen Elizabeth who'll be seen in the Royal Box, barring a Murray appearance in the final. She mostly looked incredibly bored today when she was actually forced to watch tennis. Thus, the countdown likely begins now for the first appearance of the future King William.

=EARLY ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rounds=
TOP PLAYER: Venus Williams/USA
...if she wins SW19, she's the mid-season Player of the Year. (RU: Serena Williams/USA... ditto. Really, these two are really interchangable to this point in the event, though Venus' win over Makarova was enough to put her in the top spot.)
RISERS: Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...with C-Woz on a nice roll, and Azarenka currently showing no signs of the lower body pain that had her doubled over in Eastbourne, these two friends look to be on a collision course for a Round of 16 match where the prize would be the right to face a QF opponent who's never reached a slam semi. (RU: Kaia Kanepi/EST... maybe she won't have to qualify at the U.S. Open come August)
SURPRISES: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL & Anastasia Rodionova/AUS
...finally stringing a few wins together, Pironkova is a third victory over a fellow unseeded player away from reaching her first slam Round of 16, while Rodionova is allowing Aussies to say "Sammy who?" for a few more days. (RU: Angelique Kerber/GER & Jarmila Groth/AUS... one will reach the 4th Round, and probably meet Venus there)
VETERANS: Kim Clijsters/BEL & Flavia Pennetta/ITA
...Clijsters is flying under the radar in this tournament. Of course, she'll have to prove her big stage mettle again if she faces Justine Henin in the 4th Round. Meanwhile, with her draw opening up quite a bit, one wonders if Pennetta might be getting a little residual adrenaline rush from Schiavone's run at Roland Garros. (RU: Klara Zakopalova/CZE & Greta Arn/HUN... the Czech gets Pennetta next, while qualifier Arn is proving that if you're over 30 you don't have to be named Venus to win matches at this tournament)
FRESH FACES Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...Dulgheru is most definitely the Swarmette who is carrying the banner for Romanian women's tennis in 2010. Former Girls #1 Pavlyuchenkova can make her first big women's slam mark with a win over Wozniacki in the 3rd Round. (RU: Regina Kulikova/RUS... even with so many better-known Russians falling away, the Hordettes have more representatives than any other nation in the Final 32 because of players like Kulikova)
COMEBACK: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...she's avoided another SW19 early-round loss and is looking good so far. Unfortunately, Serena looms. (RU: Justine Henin/BEL... she hasn't exactly been brilliant, but her first moments of truth are coming, first in the form of Nadia, then Barbie)
DOWN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS
...they'll always have Paris. Somehow, one believes that Stosur should be capable of more, though. (RU: British women's tennis... a 0-6 1st Round record won't exactly help the LTA hold its collective head up high)
UNDERRATED: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL, Yanina Wickmayer/BEL & Marion Bartoli/FRA
...they're not in the headlines, but A-Rad is a former Wimbledon junior champ, Wickmayer was a slam semifinalist less than a year ago and Bartoli is a one-time SW19 finalist.

1st Rd. - Hantuchova d. King 6-7/7-6/6-3
...she came back from a 7-6/4-1 hole, but made it meaningless to everyone but King when she immediately lost the next day.
1st Rd. - Dushevina d. Schiavone 6-7/7-5/6-1
1st Rd. - Kanepi d. Stosur 6-4/6-4

...when the RG finalists only make cameo appearances at Wimbledon they only serve to make all the WTA critics think they're onto something.
1st Rd. - Sharapova d. Pivovarova 6-0/6-1
...Hordette Pivovarova also lost in the final round of qualifying 6-0/6-0, but got into the draw as a Lucky Loser. Apparently, she's determined to single-handedly change the definition of the word "lucky." Maybe she should have focused more on altering the meaning of the word "loser," though.

THE "Li-Slam"??: as reader Eric pointed out in a comment yesterday, Li Na is working on quite the dubious slam streak. She's lost to the eventual winner at the last three slams -- Clijsters at the U.S. Open, Serena in Oz, and Schiavone at RG. Of note with this tournament, she's set to possibly face Serena in a few rounds. If Williams wins there and goes on to take her fourth SW19 crown, Li will have pulled off a rare non-calendar "unGrand Slam."
THE ADULTS INHERIT THE TENNIS EARTH: there's another pattern at work in the slams that has nothing to do with Li. Clijsters was age 26 when she won in New York last fall. Serena was 28 in Melbourne. Schiavone was 29 in Paris. Hmmm, guess who's currently 30 and still in the draw in London? Maybe Venus has an inside track to the title at this Wimbledon, after all.

FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schaivone (lost to Vera Dushevina)
REVELATION LADIES: The Romanians (it's not quite at vuvuzela level, but the buzz on the Swarmettes is steadily picking up intensity)
ZOMBIE QUEEN?? (1r-2r): hmmm, well it might have been Hantuchova if she, well, didn't play like Hantuchova one match after a big win. While the men's side has been rife with near-losses by top seeds and come-from-behind drama, the women's draw has been fairly quiet. On the bright side, it could lead to some great Round of 16 match-ups like Serena/Sharapova, Henin/Clijsters and Wozniacki/Azarenka.
CRASH & BURNERS (1r-2r): Forget Paris. A pair of 1st Round losses at Wimbledon is a perfect wake-up call for Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur, who now need to get back to playing out a season which could end with them ranked in the Top 5.
FIRST VICTORY: Taiwan's Chan Yung-Jan defeated Patty Schnyder early on Day 1, edging out Clijsters' attempt to make quicker work of Maria Elena Camerin.
LAST BRIT STANDING: well, in reality, NONE of them ever really stood at all. They went 0-6 in the 1st Round, but teenager Heather Watson gets the "technical title" by being the final one to lose.
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Kaia Kanepi and Greta Arn are still kicking around in the 3rd Round.

and, finally...

And, last but not least, on Court 5 on Day 3, James Blake took the time out of his busy day to have an impromptu discussion with ESPN2 commentator Pam Shriver. Supposedly, he was playing a tennis match or something... though that "factoid" is debatable. When he heard Shriver talking on the new balcony above the court, he strolled over in the middle of losing his 1st Round match to say, "It's amazing you played tennis because I can still here you." After he continued to lose, he came back again and asked her, "You want to be an ass about it and act like I'm at fault?" In keeping with the World Cup storyline playing out in South Africa, it's interesting how American soccer players can play and win games with the din of thousands of vuvuzelas ringing in their ears, while an American tennis player can't do the same with a single voice lingering in the air well above the court. It'd be nice to think that a Blake opponent will complain about the "J-Block" fan section noise during a match at the U.S. Open this fall, but that won't happen -- probably mostly because Blake likely won't be around long enough in the Open draw to play on a court big enough for it to become an issue there. Being annoyed by off-court noise is one thing, but when it comes to choosing the make-a-hypocritical-fool-of-yourself route or simply asking the umpire to remove/quiet an individual, it's probably best to ask yourself, "What Would Roger Federer Do?" and take THAT course of action. Roger wouldn't have made an ass of himself while accusing another of being an ass. And that's why Federer is Federer, quite possibly the greatest AND most respected player in tennis history, and Blake is Blake, one of the most underachieving and overrated players in the past decade-plus who we're nonetheless constantly told we're supposed to love like he's a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. I've never quite understood the undeserved awe for Blake, and now at least there's finally some evidence to hold up to show that I wasn't the crazy one.

Oh, my! I just realized something. Blake is the men's tennis version of Clijsters. Now, I get why I've been so irked by this situation for so long. Whew! I feel better now.

2004 Great Britain
2005 United States
2006 Great Britain
2007 Austria
2008 Russia
2009 Germany
2010 Czech Republic

7 - Russia *
3 - Belgium (Clijsters/Henin/Wickmayer)
3 - Czech Republic (Kvitova/Zahlavova-Strycova/Zakopalova)
2 - Australia (Groth/Rodionova)
2 - Italy (Errani/Pennetta)
2 - United States (S.Williams/V.Williams)
1 - Belarus (Azarenka)
1 - Bulgaria (Pironkova)
1 - China (Li)
1 - Denmark (Wozniacki)
1 - Estonia (Kanepi)
1 - France (Bartoli)
1 - Germany (Kerber)
1 - Hungary (Arn)
1 - Poland (A.Radwanska)
1 - Romania (Dulgheru)
1 - Serbia (Jankovic)
1 - Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
1 - Ukraine (A.Bondarenko)
* -Kirilenko, Kleybanova, Kulikova, Pavlyuchenkova, Petrova, Sharapova & Zvonareva

[women, through 2nd Round]
19...Russia (19-8)
7...Belgium (7-1)
7...Czech Republic (7-6)
7...United States (7-6)
7...Italy (7-6)
5...Australia (5-3)
5...Romania (5-4)

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Venus Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Junri Namigata/JPN def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 6-2/4-6/14-12
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #24 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK def. Vania King/USA 6-7/7-6/6-3
FIRST WINNER: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Patty Schnyder/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schiavone (1st Rd. - lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: [Greta Arn/HUN & Kaia Kanepi/EST are in 3rd Rd.]
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS (RG finalists, both lost in 1st Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (last of six to lose in 1st Rd.)

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

"Blake is like a male version of Clijsters"


i literally laughed outloud at work. you almost blew my tennis peeping cover...i had to come up with something fast :)

Fri Jun 25, 01:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

It was quite the revelation for me, as well. :)

Fri Jun 25, 08:32:00 PM EDT  

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