W.8- The Fruits of Their Frustrations
Frustration can make success so much more sweet. That being the case, the All-England Club was a virtual box of chocolates on Day 8.
In 2009, Vera Zvonareva reached the Australian Open semifinals and climbed into the Top 5. Come the spring, she was looking like a slam contender. But a nasty ankle injury in Charleston has set her back for more than a year. Tsvetana Pironkova has shown an ability in her career to be able to pull a nice upset here and there, but her ranking has hovered around #100 for a few seasons as she's rarely been able to string more than a couple of wins together. A year ago, Petra Kvitova was placed in the position of needing to win one match while playing for her country to send the Czech Republic into its first Fed Cup final since the existence of Czechoslovakia in 1988. She barely showed up that day, and Team U.S.A. ended the Czechs' FC dreams. And then there's Serena. Well, she hasn't had TOO much frustration during her career... but it doesn't take much to set her laser-like focus on a big title. Usually all it takes is losing out on the chance to lift a title that she felt like she could win. What happened to her in Paris was enough to provide Williams with the fuel to get to London without ever having to stop at a gas station.
All of that frustation led to the snacking on the fruits of success in the Wimbledon quarterfinals:
Tsvetana Pironkova def. Venus Williams 6-2/6-3
...Venus did not play a good match today. Nothing really was working. But Pironkova bears a great deal of the responsibility for that. Her gameplan was designed to thwart Williams' rhythm by offering up little of the pace of shot off of which Venus' game thrives. Making Williams hit more shots in a point has always been a time-honored tactic, and with Pironkova's shots placing the American in awkward positions it became a brilliant manuever. TZ's consistenty-employed slice forehand was a thing of beauty, and Williams never really figured out how to deal with it. Throw in Pironkova's well-timed moments of aggression when she'd thwack a hard shot that, while rarely a winner, served to put her in control of that particular point, and you had a performance that the Bulgarian should be proud of... maybe even more so than her 1st Round upset of Williams at the Australian Open in 2006 when she was just a teenager. Venus failed to convert two break points at 2-2 in the 1st set, and never really got back into the match. After Williams had led 40/15, Pironkova broke for 4-2. The big point was the Bulgarian's get of a Venus overhead, which Williams got back with a volley, only to see Pironkova's own volley clang off Venus' racket to claim the point. The Bulgarian had just one unforced error in the 1st set. For the match, she had just six versus Williams' twenty-nine. Both had three aces. The scoreline was Venus' worst ever at Wimbledon, while the player that Pam Shriver said yesterday only had one match in her entire career that was worth anything now can say that she has TWO.
Vera Zvonareva def. Kim Clijsters 3-6/6-4/6-2
...ESPN2 commentators said that after the score of the Venus/Pironkova match was shown on the scoreboard during this match, a murmur went through the crowd. And Clijsters noticably tightened up. And, thus, the "old" Kim made her return appearance, and it's not the first time we've seen her since Barbie won the U.S. Open last September, either. She had one final chance to turn things around, as Zvonareva, serving up a break at 4-1, fell behind 15/30. But the Russian held, closing out the game with an ace for 5-2. You just know you're in a bad way when YOU unravel, while Zvonareva, the most combustible player on the WTA tour, is a steady presence on the court. No matter what storyline for Day 8 might sound better if this match were to be portrayed as "a champion vs. a nobody," that surely wasn't the case here. VZ didn't just drop in from Neptune. Clijsters was the favorite, but Zvonareva has had untapped potential for so long it's sometimes easy to forget how good she can be. She seemed to have finally corralled both her head, emotions and game into a potent force in the early months of '09, only to have that Charleston injury blow it all apart. If she's finally healthy again now and for the foreseeable future, maybe this late-blooming Hordette can still carve out her own niche in the Russian tennis landscape. Thing is, now she's going to have to face the aspect that so often has felled a few of her countrywomen at this stage -- expectation. She'll be expected to win in the SF against Pironkova, perhaps opening the door for all sorts of bad things and broken equipment if the Bulgarian starts to frustrate her like she did Venus. Hopefully, she'll hold it together and the semifinal that ESPN2 thinks that nobody wants to see might be the one everyone remembers when its over.
Petra Kvitova def. Kaia Kanepi 4-6/7-6/8-6
...the underrated match-up of the day. I wonder if ESPN2 would have even showed any of if it'd taken place during its coverage block, but luckily NBC was on the air. Did I just say that? (Seriously, though, the peacock network have put together pretty good coverage in Paris and London this year.) My best memory of Kvitova is of her barely showing up in a Fed Cup match against Alexa Glatch last season when the CZE/USA tie was on the line (winning just three games), but there was no evidence of that player here. Kvitova is only 20, so she's young enough to have learned from that '09 frustration and be better equipped to avoid it now. As it turned out, it was Kanepi who'll live to regret what happened on Day 8. The Estonian had two match points in the 2nd set tie-break, but Kvitova won it 10-8. In the 3rd, Kanepi was up two breaks at 4-0 and had yet to have her serve broken in the match. Guess what happened. Yep, Kvitova finally got a break for 4-1, and it changed everything. Kanepi served for the match at 5-3, but was broken again. After a pair of non-consecutive Kvitova double-faults gave Kanepi match points at 6-5, the Czech stayed alive by saving both (the first after her 2nd serve had skidded off the net cord and landed just inside the service box, barely staying her SW19 tennis execution), the last with a good lefty serve that carried the Estonian off the court. In the next game, after a Rafa-esque defensive point that saw Kvitova cover nearly every corner of the court before putting away a half volley for a winner to get a break point, she broke yet again to go up 7-6. The Czech held at love to win the deciding set 8-6, having saved five match points in all to become the first Czech woman in the Wimbledon SF since Jana Novotna won the title in 1998. That sound you hear is coming from the Wimbledon bone yard -- the zombies are hailing the ascension of their latest queen to her throne. Musty fists of salute to Petra!
Serena Williams def. Li Na 7-5/6-3
...Serena wasn't immune to the Frustration Scenario that permeated Day 8, either. She might be the defending champion at this tournament but, remember, she actually had a real chance to claim a true Grand Slam in 2010. Well, at least she did until she lost to Sam Stosur in Paris after holding a match point in the QF. It's never good to bet against Serena when she was so recently denied something she wanted, namely her first RG title since 2002. Williams edged past Li 7-6/7-6 in the Australian Open SF en route to winning THAT title in January, and this one was nip-and-tuck for a while, as well. Williams failed to convert two break points at 2-2 in the opening set, but came back from love/40 at 5-5 on Li's serve in Game #6. She got the break, and eventually won eight of the final eleven games of the match.
So, just like everyone expected: Serena reaches the semis, along with the world's #21, #62 and #82. Who knew that Roland Garros was going to be the SANE slam?
=DAY 8 NOTES=
...one's tempted to say that, with twelve-time slam champ Serena in the Wimbledon semifinals with three other women who've never reached a slam singles final, that Williams' lucky #13 trophy could be on the way. But that's for Pam Shriver to do, I suppose.
Or maybe NOT do.
After she discounted Pironkova's chances so soon after denigrating Yanina Wickmayer at the U.S. Open last year, only to see both become first-time slam semifinalists soon afterward, I think come the Open this year players are going to be lining up asking Pam to discount their chances. Hmmm, maybe she could make up with James Blake by saying that he should go ahead and retire and get it over with?
...with two unseeded players in Kvitova and Pironkova reaching the semifinals, this is the second slam this season (Henin & Zheng in Oz) that has seen mutliple unseeded women reach the final four. The last time that happened was 1971.
...Day 8 was a virtual awards-a-palooza launch pad, as nearly every Wimbledon honor was claimed. Pironkova grabbed "Ms. Opportunity," Kvitova caused the bone yard to quake at the crowning of the latest "Zombie Queen" (wearing an "It Girl" tiara, to boot), and Zvonareva seized the "Comeback Player" award. Ah, an embarrassment of riches.
The "Junior Breakout" and "Doubles Star" appointees remain.
...with no men's singles matches to air, ESPN2 showed some of the Legends Doubles action featuring the Spice Women team of Martina Hingis & Anna Kournikova. For a few moments, it was almost hard to recognize Hingis from afar with her hair longer than I remember it ever being during her two previous careers. She looked incredibly fit, and more than ready for her upcoming WTT stint... and maybe eventual return to the WTA tour (at least in doubles) after that. She's still only 29, the same age as Serena, and younger than either Francesca Schiavone or Venus.
...well, the hammer came down on a Pliskova sister today, as #4-seeded Karolina was upset by Uzbeki girl Nigina Abduraimova in the 2nd Round of junior play, 6-2/4-6/6-3. Also, Sloane Stephens took out #16-seeded Daria Gavrilova, Laura Robson defeated Krista Hardebeck, Czech Denisa Allertova advanced past #6 Nastja Kolar, and #11 An-Sophie Mestach defeated Ana Bogdan. Meanwhile, British wild card Eleanor Dean defeated Hordette Ksenia Kirillova to reach the 3rd Round.
...if for no other reason, it's nice that Clijsters is gone from this tournament just because it means we won't have to hear Pam Shriver go on and on yet again about "a mom winning a grand slam." She was trying to push that storyline YET AGAIN this morning. It wasn't that big of a deal in New York, and it wouldn't have been here if the Belgian had done at Wimbledon what was last done by Evonne Goolagong in 1980, either. If that wasn't the most overblown sports story of '09, I don't know what was. Winning a slam after a handful of tournaments back was impressive, but many female athletes before KC have had children and come back to play their chosen sports at a high level (in track, to name one sport, it's common, as it is in basketball). The only reason that it hadn't happened in tennis for so long was because most top players, which Clijsters was when she retired, used to wait until after they'd left the game somewhere around age 30 before having kids, while Clijsters did it at a young age. Does anyone really believe that someone like Steffi Graf couldn't have come back after having a child to win a slam if she'd walked away from the sport at the same age that Clijsters did? It's just a "novelty stat."
...the story of Jennifer Capriati being rushed to the hospital due to an accidental overdose of prescribed medication is sure to dredge up a whole lot of long ago troubles in her life that are better left in the past, especially since there seems to be nothing here that would indicate anything untoward. But when it comes to recapping her tennis career, I'd expect USA Today to be capable of recounting how her career unfortunately ended not long after her three slam-winning comeback in 2000-01. Again, I ask too much. The mention in the print edition of the newspaper today concluded with the line, "She (Capriati) failed to gain any momentum from that (three-slam winning) run and soon faded from the game again." Hmmm, I guess the shoulder injury she incurred, not to mention the multiple surgeries she underwent in an attempt to find a way to be physically able to return to the sport was just a figment of my imagination.
...and, finally, I've never quite understood who died and made Jimmy Roberts the king of commentary on NBC. A few years ago, after he'd been installed in the role similarly played for ages by veteran announcer Jack Whitaker on ABC's sports broadcasts, I remarked that Roberts seemed a paper-thin addition with hardly the history, reputation or ability to be considered a "sage" of sports who deserved the role of wrapping up a day's events in a nice little, thought-provoking ball. To fill that role, a commentator has to have some dramatic weight, either in delivery or in their association with great televised events though the years. The Keebler Elf-voiced Roberts (I couldn't name any big event he's ever been associated with in his broadcasting career) has neither attribute. After a few years of seeing him forced upon NBC Sports audiences (during grand slams, as well as horse racing Triple Crown events), my opinion hasn't changed. And when today, while attempting to highlight the legitimate unpredictability of Day 8's results, he tried to cast the Clijsters/Zvonareva match as an "apparent mismatch" it led me to scold myself for even taking the time to listen to him in the first place. Clijsters was the favorite, but not in any overwhelming sense whatsoever. She's never reached a Wimbledon final, after all Plus, Zvonareva was in the Top 5 a little over a year ago, and a slam semifinalist at the Australian Open last season. Because the Russian isn't as well known as Clijsters than it MUST have been a mismatch, right? I mean, otherwise, Roberts would have had to abandon his mini-commentary theme and think of a more appropriate one. The words of a sports "sage" is supposed to be something approaching, nod-your-head-in-agreement gospel. Roberts always make me only cringe, and curl my lip in that "Elvis way."
It's time for NBC to change the channel on this experiment, just as I did today on Roberts this afternoon. Either have Bob Costas assume this role, or drop it altogether and just use some automaton studio host who'll perform the task of reading off scores, giving updates and throwing audiences back to live action. Self-important as he may be sometimes (but usually only when he's droning on about the "religion of baseball"), he's the only person at NBC Sports with anything resembling the authority and history to deliver such commentary.
A good idea excecuted poorly is simply a bad idea.
=MIDDLE-ROUND AWARDS - 3rd-QF Rounds=
TOP PLAYER: Serena Williams/USA
...does anyone think Serena will be felled by an upset-minded no-time slam winner at this point in this tournament? After Paris, I guess anything is possible. But still.
RISER: Kaia Kanepi/EST
...as great a run as she had, it'll be hard to get over the way she lost to Kvitova. (RU: Jarmila Groth/AUS)
SURPRISE: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
...finally, consistency has entered the Pironkova Equation. The result: she's the first Bulgarian slam semifinalist since Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere in 1993. (RU: Grace Min/USA)
VETERAN: Kim Clijsters/BEL
...she'll always have Justine, I guess. Unfortunately for her, ever since she won the U.S. Open last fall she's looked far more like KC 1.0 than 2.0 against everyone BUT Henin. (RU: Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs, USA/AUS)
FRESH FACE: Petra Kvitova/CZE
...Czechs -- from Navratilova to Mandlikova to Novotna -- used to always come to the forefront in London. (RU: Eleanor Dean/GBR & Nigina Abduraimova/UZB)
COMEBACK: Vera Zvonareva/RUS
...many innocent rackets gave their natural lives for this development. (RU: Maria Sharapova/RUS)
DOWN: Venus Williams/USA & Kim Clijsters/BEL
...so much for that potential SF match-up. (RU: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Elina Svitolina/UKR)
*WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, A PLISKOVA SISTER?*
Girls 1st Rd. - Grace Min def. #1 Elina Svitolina 2-6/7-5/6-3
...the Roland Garros junior champ lists grass as her favorite playing surface. Imagine her confusion now.
*A TIE-BREAK TO REMEMBER*
4th Round - #1 Serena Williams def. #16 Maria Sharapova 7-6(9)/6-4
...the tie-break was the first ever between these two. After a rollercoaster ride that included three set points for both Serena and Sharapova, began and ended with a Williams ace, and wrapped up with an 11-9 final tally, one hopes it won't be their last.
*ONE OF THOSE DAYS...again*
QF - Tsvetana Pironkova def. #2 Venus Williams 6-2/6-3
...Venus has always been susceptible to "bad days." Pironkova has been privileged enough to be on the other side of the net on two of those occasions in slams over the years... though in this match it was the Bulgarian's gameplan that led Williams down the dark alley.
*"RETURN OF THE JEDI" WAS THE LEAST COMPELLING INSTALLMENT OF THE ORIGINAL "STAR WARS" TRILOGY, TOO*
4th Round - #8 Kim Clijsters def. #17 Justine Henin 2-6/6-2/6-3
..."2.0, Part III" didn't reach the dramatic highs of the Brisbane and Miami chapters, but at this point the characters have drawn you in enough that you're willing to let slide one of these "minor storylines."
*NEVER COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH... or your Estonians in the semifinals, either*
QF - Petra Kvitova def. (Q) Kaia Kanepi 4-6/7-6/8-6
...it's debatable what Kanepi will remember most about her Wimbledon qualifier-to-quarterfinalist run: the seven straight wins, or the five blown match points and lost 4-0 lead in the 3rd set.
THE "LiSlam"??: It's still on. Li Na lost to Serena in the quarterfinals, so if Williams goes on to win the Ladies' title the Chinese vet will have completed that non-calendar "unGrand Slam" by losing to a fourth straight eventual champ at a slam.
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
IT GIRL: Petra Kvitova/CZE
COMEBACK PLAYER: Vera Zvonareva/RUS
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Petra Kvitova/CZE
CRASH & BURNER (3r-QF): Venus Williams/USA
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Kaia Kanepi/EST
"I'm obviously not pleased with the result. But I have to move on. What else can I do? Unless I have a time machine. Which I don't." - Venus Williams, after losing to Pironkova
*WIMBLEDON "Ms.OPPORTUNITY" WINNERS*
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Severine Bremond, FRA
2007 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2008 Zheng Jie, CHN
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
*WIMBLEDON "IT GIRL" WINNERS*
2006 Li Na, CHN
2007 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2009 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2010 Petra Kvitova, CZE
*WIMBLEDON "COMEBACK PLAYER" WINNERS*
2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
2009 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
*WIMBLEDON "ZOMBIE QUEEN" WINNERS*
2007 Venus Williams, USA - 2 pts. from loss vs. Kudryavtseva (1st), Morigami served for match (3rd)
2008 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE - 1 pt. from down 6-3/0-6/0-4 vs. Stosur (2nd)
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS - down set & a break, and 3-0 in 3rd set vs. Mauresmo (4th)
2010 Petra Kvitova, CZE - saved 5 MP, was down 0-4 in 3rd set vs. Kanepi (QF
*MULTIPLE UNSEEDED WOMEN'S SF AT SLAM - OPEN ERA*
1976 Roland Garros - R.Tomanova, F.Mihai, V.Ruzici
1978 Australian Open - C.O'Neil, D.Evers, C.Mathison
1971 Roland Garros - H.Gourlay, M.Schaar
1971 Australian Open - L.Hunt, W.Shaw
1975 Australian Open - N.Chmyreva, S.Barker
1983 Roland Garros - J.Durie, M.Jauvosec
1994 Wimbledon - G.Fernandez, L.McNeil
1999 Wimbledon - M.Lucic, A.Stevenson (Q)
2009 U.S. Open - K.Clijsters (WC), Y.Wickmayer
2010 Australian Open - J.Henin (WC), J.Zheng
2010 Wimbledon - P.Kvitova, T.Pironkova
*2010 WTA SF - BY NATION*
15 - Russia (2 slam)
11 - United States (2 slam)
10 - Italy (1 slam)
9 - Belgium (1 slam)
8 - Spain
6 - China (2 slam)
6 - Czech Republic (1 slam)
6 - Romania
*CAREER SLAM SF - WIMBLEDON FINAL 4*
19...Serena Williams (15-3)
2...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)
1...Petra Kvitova (0-0)
1...Tsvetana Pironkova (0-0)
*LOWEST-RANKED SLAM FINALISTS*
No Ranking - Evonne Goolagong, 1977 Australian Open (W)
No Ranking - Kim Clijsters, 2009 U.S. Open (W)
No Ranking - Justine Henin, 2010 Australian Open
#111 - Chris O'Neil, 1978 Australian Open (W)
#81 - Serena Williams, 2007 Australian Open (W)
#78 - Betsy Nagelson, 1978 Australian Open
#68 - Barbara Jordan, 1977 Australian Open (W)
#66 - Venus Williams, 1997 U.S. Open
NOTE: #62 Petra Kvitova and #82 Tsvetana Pironkova in '10 Wimbledon SF
*WOMEN'S SINGLES SF*
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Petra Kvitova/CZE
#21 Vera Zvonareva/RUS vs. Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
*MEN'S SINGLES QF*
#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #12 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. Lu Yen-Hsun/TPE
#10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#6 Robin Soderling/SWE vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES QF*
#1 S.Williams/V.Wililams (USA/USA) vs. #12 Vesnina/Zvonareva (RUS/RUS)
#4 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA) vs. Goerges/Szavay (GER/HUN)
#6 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO) vs. King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)
#7 Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) vs. #2 Huber/Mattek-Sands (USA/USA)
*MEN'S DOUBLES QF*
Chela/Schwank (ARG/ARG) def. #14 Benneteau/Llodra (FRA/FRA)
#16 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) vs. #11 Granollers/Robredo (ESP/ESP)
Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER) vs. Bopanna/Qureshi (IND/PAK)
#7 Moodie/Norman (RSA/BEL) vs. #2 B.Bryan/M.Bryan (USA/USA)
*MIXED DOUBLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Stosur/Zimonjic (AUS/SRB) vs. Clijsters/Malisse (BEL/BEL)
#6 Mattek-Sands/Nestor (USA/CAN) def. #10 Stubbs/Melo (AUS/BRA)
Shvedova/Knowle (KAZ/AUT) def. Hsieh/Soares (TPE/BRA)
#11 Raymond/Moodie (USA/RSA) def. #7 Kleybanova/Mirnyi (RUS/BLR)
#8 Yan/Fyrstenberg (CHN/POL) vs. #9 Benesova/Dlouhy (CZE/CZE)
Smith/Marray (GBR/GBR) vs. Dushevina/Tursunov (RUS/RUS)
#5 Srebotnik/Knowles (SLO/BIH) vs. #12 Chan/Hanley (TPE/AUS)
Rosolska/Zelenay (POL/SVK) vs. #2 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)
TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Kaia Kanepi/EST
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xxx
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
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - Petra Kvitova/CZE def. (Q)Kaia Kanepi/EST 4-6/7-6/8-6
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xxx
FIRST WINNER: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Patty Schnyder/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Francesca Schiavone (1st Rd. - lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Czechs
REVELATION LADIES: Romanians
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Kaia Kanepi/EST (to QF)
IT GIRL: Petra Kvitova/CZE
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
COMEBACK PLAYER: Vera Zvonareva/RUS
CRASH & BURN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Samantha Stosur/AUS (RG finalists, both lost in 1st Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Petra Kvitova/CZE (down 5 MP, and 0-4 in 3rd, to Kaia Kanepi/EST in QF; won 8-6)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (last of six to lose in 1st Rd.)
DOUBLES STAR xxx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xxx
All for Day 8. More tomorrow.