Friday, June 25, 2010

W.5- Waiting with Bated Belgian Big Bang Breath

The Belgian Big Bang awaits.

Come Monday evening, we'll know a little more about the 2.0 careers of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. Their 3rd Round wins on Day 5 have set Monday as the scheduled date when they'll meet in a grand slam (and at Wimbledon) for the first time since 2006. With their career head-to-head history currently knotted at 12-12, one could look at their upcoming Round of 16 match as something of a "tipping point." It'll be their earliest meeting in an event since playing a 3rd Round match in Indian Wells in 2001.

For her part, Henin is doing all she can to lower expectations. She said today that she feels less pressure to succeed at this Wimbledon since she isn't entering as the #1 seed or having just won Roland Garros. She's currently not even fully admitting that winning Wimbledon was the main reason she decided to return to the tour -- just "one of them" -- nor that claiming an elusive SW19 title is her goal for 2010, which she has taken to calling a year of "transition."

Well, that's easy to say in the Round of 16. But if she manages to continue to get closer to such a goal, it WILL become bigger and bigger in her head as she senses the opportunity at hand, and failing to get it THEN would indeed be quite a downer. Just ask Sam Stosur.

Meanwhile, Clijsters is looking for her first big slam performance since winning the U.S. Open nine months ago. She was nearly double-bageled on her way out of the Australian Open in January, and missed Roland Garros entirely with a foot injury. After looking great in Eastbourne early last week, she was ultimately bested on a multitude of big points by Victoria Azarenka. She's been in command of all her Wimbledon matches in her first non-exhibition action at the All-England Club in four years, defeating Maria Kirilenko 6-3/6-3 in the 4th Round, but what will her response be when she faces her first real test?

Henin is currently riding an eight-match grass winning streak after having won a tune-up title in the Netherlands. She's one of only two women who've reached the Round of 16 at all three slams this season (along with Venus Williams, who could be joined by Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki as three-timers on Day 6), and after continuing to have a few fade-out moments in her first two Wimbledon matches she managed to play her best match overall today against her best competition so far. Overcoming an early 3-1 2nd set deficit, Henin was able to maintain a high first serve percentage throughout the match and closed things out quite tidily because of it. In her last eight service points today, she hit four aces against Nadia Petrova and had two unreturned serves. She won 6-1/6-4, and heads into the BBB with a head of steam.

Overall: tied 12-12 (KC 2-0 since comebacks)
3-set Matches: tied 5-5 (KC 2-0 since comebacks)
2-set Matches: tied 7-7
In Grand Slams: Henin 5-2
At Wimbledon: Henin 1-0
On Grass Courts: Henin 3-1
Outdoors: Henin 11-9 (KC 2-0 since comebacks)
Winner of 1st Set Match Record: 19-5 (KC 2-0 since comebacks)

Will Clijsters continue to assume her leading 2.0 role since the Belgians returned from retirement? In both Brisbane and Miami earlier this year, she grabbed an early lead but had a difficult time putting Henin away. In their first meeting, Henin even battled back to hold two match points. In both, Clijsters failed on her first three match point attempts, but converted two #4's to win each contest. Those two matches were "instant classics," but that was mostly the case because there was the belief that they were an intriguing prelude to something bigger and better to come later on down the line.

Well, that time has arrived.

How much has Henin progressed since then to think that she can finally get on top of Clijsters early and put herself in better position to win the match? Has Clijsters moved past her rather obvious regression of a few months ago? Coming into this Wimbledon, I was trending toward giving Clijsters a slight advantage were these two to meet in this tournament. But, after the way she played today, maybe Henin WILL rise to the occasion after so often drifting in and out of focus this season. Of course, LPT 2.0 has faked me out before. Just when you think she's standing on stable ground, her game has tended to wobble rather than soar. Plus, surely no one has ever felt safe being assured that Clijsters would show up in full force in a big match, especially one against her countrywoman.

But maybe Wimbledon 2010 will be different.

So many of the Henin/Clijsters matches in the past have been "highlighted" by one of the two losing big advantages, or Clijsters failing to rise to Henin's level of intensity when they met in a slam. What if they BOTH come out on Monday and play their best? Imagine the drama.

After what we've see so far at this Wimbledon, there's reason to believe we might not have to imagine anything.

...once again, the women's draw failed to seize any sort of spotlight on Day 5. Just wait, though. The first week has belong to the men, the second will feature the women. The first true day in the sun looks like it'll arrive on Monday, when the BBB takes place, as well as possibly the Serena vs. Maria showdown. A potential Wozniacki/Azarenka meeting won't get as much attention, but it very well could produce the best match of the three.

All eight of the women's 3rd Round matches played today were decided in straight sets. As has quickly become the norm in this tournament, Venus Williams made quick work of a potentially troubling opponent. After handling Ekaterina Makarova with ease in the 2nd Round, she took down another Hordette today when she defeated Alisa Kleybanova 6-4/6-2.

Three players who are getting absolutely NO attention at this slam -- Jelena Jankovic, Vera Zvonareva and Marion Bartoli -- all advanced, and at least one will reach the QF as JJ and Zvonareva will face each other in the 4th Round. Also, Tsvetana Pironkova defeated Regina Kulikova to reach her first career slam Round of 16.

...POP QUIZ: Name an Australian woman who has posted two Round of 16 slam results in 2010.

Yeah, Sam Stosur is correct, but she's not the ONLY correct answer. Jarmila Groth, too, has managed to pull it off.. Her win today over Angelique Kerber puts her in her second consecutive slam 4th Round, following a run in Paris after being awarded a wild card into the main draw.

...Liezel Huber and Cara Black both won their doubles matches on Day 5. With different partners, of course. Huber is teaming up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands at this Wimbledon, while Black is partnering Daniela Hantuchova.

...and, finally, proving that no good deed goes unpunished, John Isner returned to the All-England Club to play his 2nd Round match today against Thiemo de Bakker. Sporting shoulder and neck injuries, plus a nasty blister on his foot, he followed up his longest-ever eleven-hour-plus match and record-breaking 112-ace performance in Round 1 with a straight sets loss (the shortest men's match so far at this Wimbledon) and his first career ace-less match. It goes without saying, though, that we sort of saw this one coming. It tarnishes nothing.

*HENIN vs. CLIJSTERS... with notes*
$25K Ramat Hasharon QF - Henin 6-1/7-6
$25K Reims Final - Henin 6-4/6-4
Indian Wells 3rd Rd - Clijsters 1-6/6-4/6-3
Roland Garros SF - Clijsters 2-6/7-5/6-3 (JH led 6-2/5-2)
's-Hertogenbosch Final - Henin 6-4/3-6/6-3
Sydney QF - Clijsters 7-6/6-2
Australian Open QF - Clijsters 6-2/6-3
Rome SF - Henin 7-5/6-2
WTA Championships QF - Clijsters 6-2/6-1
Sydney SF - Clijsters 6-2/6-3
Antwerp SF - Clijsters 6-2/7-6
Berlin Final - Henin-Hardenne 6-4/4-6/7-5 (KC 3 MP, led 5-4 in 3rd)
Roland Garros Final - Henin-Hardenne 6-0/6-4
's-Hertogenbosch Final - Clijsters 6-7/3-0 ret. (KC 3 SP in 1st; JHH injured hand)
San Diego Final - Henin-Hardenne 3-6/6-2/6-3 (KC playing for #1 ranking)
U.S. Open Final - Henin-Hardenne 7-5/6-1 (KC 2 SP in 1st)
Filderstadt Final - Clijsters 5-7/6-4/6-2 (KC keeps #1 ranking)
Australian Open Final - Henin-Hardenne 6-3/4-6/6-3 (JHH led 4-2 in 2nd)
Toronto Final - Clijsters 7-5/6-1
Roland Garros SF - Henin-Hardenne 6-3/6-2
Eastbourne SF - Henin-Hardenne 6-3/5-7/6-1
Wimbledon SF - Henin-Hardenne 6-4/7-6 (KC served 6-5 in 2nd)
Brisbane Final - Clijsters 6-3/4-6/7-6 (KC led 6-3/4-1; JH up 3-0 in 3rd, had 2 MP; KC on 4th MP)
Miami SF - Clijsters 6-2/6-7/7-6 (KC led 6-3/3-0; KC on 4th MP)

#8 Kim Clijsters/BEL vs. #17 Justine Henin/BEL
#21 Vera Zvonareva/RUS vs. #4 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL vs. #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA
Jarmila Groth/AUS vs. #2 Venus Williams/USA

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #16 Jurgen Melzer/AUT
#12 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. Daniel Brands/GER
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #15 Lleyton Hewitt/AUS
Lu Yen-Hsun/TPE vs. #5 Andy Roddick/USA

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 5. More tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did see that coming but Isner did not even serve an ace? This I didn't..

Still don't like this "Sunday is a rest day at Wimbledon" thingy.

Do you watch the World Cup, Todd?

Sat Jun 26, 02:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm liking the Sunday rest day... for me. I really don't care if the players get a day off. :D

Of course, the first time the weather forced them to play on the middle Sunday a good many years ago, it was one of the most exciting days the tournament has ever seen. They even did "The Wave" on Centre Court. Actually, it was the first time I've ever really enjoyed The Wave. (When I used to go to Redskins games I would steadfastly refuse to play along.)

I'll probably watch the WC more now that they're in the knock-out stage. The draws are annoying, and I think most of the times teams play not to lose rather than to win. (All right, no one make a Wozniacki comment now.)

The most fun I have with the WC is rooting for whichever team is playing against the U.S. :)

I picked Brazil to win. But, of course, I always do that since I don't really know too much about any of the teams. I picked Germany in the final, which I don't think too many predictions I saw came close to matching. So maybe, by some dumb luck, that'll work out. I DID pick more Group winners (5-4) than Sports Illustrated did, though. Ha! Germany was the difference there. Who needs actual knowledge!?

Sat Jun 26, 09:26:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem very happy today, Todd :D Excited for the US game?

Rest day is a day without tennis for me :/ Certain round of 16 matches would be great to end the weekend, Justine vs Barbie!

I don't like the WC draw too. The Germany/England and Spain/Portugal games, just too early. Good for the US team though, likely to make the semis with such favorable draw. Oddly, I starting to like the US team XD

Italy was my initial pick. Well, I don't watch a lot. I guess I will go with Spain? Maybe US :D

Sat Jun 26, 10:17:00 AM EDT  

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