Monday, June 20, 2011

W.1- The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune (i.e. being a devoted follower of the Fair One)

Hmmm, I'm thinking a bit of collusion has been going on between the Tennis Gods and their weather-making demigod friends. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Such is the life of a Jelena Dokic supporter. Sigh.

Yep, Monday was just "one of those days." If you've ever been a fan of a particular player, you know what I mean... especially a player who's been put through the ringer on more than one occasion over the course of a decade, still managed to come out of her trouble in one whole piece, and even managed to experience a few additional glimpses of past glory. Oh, not as much as when things were new and great and all things seemed possible, but enough to both leave a very good taste in the mouth, just in case it's never sampled again, but also to whet the appetite for more tastes... even if it's become "gospel" to never EXPECT such things to happen, even while hoping that they do, but never allowing that hope to mean you can't see the proverbial forest for the trees, or even bring yourself to (for a few days) continue to watch the sport that made such internal push-and-pull possible, and even enjoyable.

Yeah, it's a dangerous high-wire act. But I'm been walking it from afar with Dokic for parts of three different decades now, so I've got the procedure down pretty well by now. You watch with one hand covering half your face for a few points, then edge up close to the action for a few after that. Let your mind wander to the thought of a big victory... but not TOO far ahead. Then, when things don't turn out the way you'd hoped, you let out a sigh, let it bug you for a few minutes, then remember, "hey, there's still the Open," and "a good back half of the year, and then it's time for Melbourne." It's a sickness, I tell you. But I'm not ready for it to come to an end. Not for a while. And, right now, there doesn't seem to be any reason to think it will, either. Of course, maybe that's just the inner Backspinning Fair One fan talking.

(All right, repeat the mantra: JD said she wants to play six more years... JD said she wants to play six more years. Okay, existential, Kierkegaard-unrelated, crisis averted.)

Any sort of expectations, though, always leaves one open to hurt. I mean, unless you're a HUGE Esther Vergeer fan -- seriously, how GREAT must that be? -- you always have to guard against being crushed under the boot of another player and HER legion of nameless warriors rising and falling on every point in some corner of the globe. Today, at least, that player wasn't someone ranked #265 or something... it was Francesca Schiavone. A women I'd generally wish all the best to. I just didn't particularly want to do that today.

Now, about that "collusion."

Two days after seeing Dokic reach the 's-Hertogenbosch final without dropping a set, then going up 7-6/2-2 while serving well against Roberta Vinci, the last thing I wanted to see on Day 1 was more rain. In the Netherlands, the rain came and Dokic's serve numbers went way down. She lost three games in a row to start the post-rain action, dropped the 2nd set, double-faulted six times in the 3rd and found herself down triple match point not that long afterward. Sure, she saved three in a row in thrilling fashion against the Italian, but she lost on the fourth. Still, SW19 was around the corner, offering a chance to immediately forget the lost opportunity.

Better yet, her opponent was Schiavone. Another Italian. NOT good, for sure, but Dokic was 4-0 against her in junior and tour action in their careers. She'd NEVER lost to her. Her Wimbledon draw was pretty good, too. In her section was Andrea Petkovic, who's never won a main draw match at Wiimbledon, sometimes-head case (and maybe injured) Daniela Hantuchova, and Victoria Azarenka, whose body is the "retiring kind" even if her personality isn't. If Dokic could just get past #6-seeded Schiavone, who she defeated earlier in '11 en route to a title in Kuala Lumpur, maybe her 2009 Australian Open QF run wasn't "one more for old times sake," after all. If she could win and get to Wednesday, she'd be able to gain strength from the 12-year anniversary of her breakthrough upset at SW19 of #1 Martina Hingis when the Aussie was just 16 years old. Better yet, the match was scheduled for Centre Court, the scene of that '99 crime. As the match began, there was brother Savo and fiance Tiko in the Player's Box. Damir? No where to be found. Good. Good. And good.

Sure, Dokic blew a big chance in the 1st set when she missed a seemingly easy high backhand volley on a point that would have given her a 5-3 lead. She then lost her concentration, then the set at 6-4. Give her a mulligan... there were still two sets left. It seemed like a good way to go, too. In the 2nd set, she got break chances to go up 2-0. After seeing her break point numbers for the match get to 0-for-6, she finally converted on #7 with a backhand passing shot. 2-0. Then 3-0. But a turned ankle on the getting-slippery court in the spitting rain caused the heart to skip. Was it bad? No, apparently not. Dokic got the break for 5-1 on the next point. Serving well, she locked away the set, and opened the 3rd in good form.

The clenched fists of old, as well as the long-remembered excitement, was back. Even if, simply by sight, it was apparent that she's not quite where she needs to be physically in order to continue her latest climb up the rankings -- which has her back in the Top 50 after her Netherlands runner-up result -- all the rest that was necessary was there. Especially at the All-England Club, where a little belief and a few hard, flat groundstrokes can take you pretty far. At 1-1, 40/40 on Schiavone's serve, Dokic edged close to a break that could put the momentum on her side of the net and maybe usher the Italian out of Wimbledon in the 1st Round for the second straight year.

But then it started to rain. Again. Hard enough to stop play. Again. Seriously, can't Jelena get her hands on some blackmail-initiating, Weiner-esque photos of God Goolagongis or something?

As the weather closed down all the other matches, once again all eyes would be on Dokic at Centre Court in a 1st Round match at Wimbledon. It felt good. This is the moment when the past and the future would converge to produce another memorable winning moment. Ah, such is an example of the little white lies we, as fans, often tell ourselves. Even as ESPN2 commentators talked of momentum and the indoor conditions on CC with the roof closed playing to Dokic's advantage, in the back of my mind, I cringed. I knew Schiavone wasn't locked in a box in the lockerroom, only hearing her own voice in her head. She was listening to a coach, too. I knew that Franesca's attacking style and willingness to volley COULD be used to great effect on the grass. Mauresmo, Mauresmo, Mauresmo... Navratilova, Navratilova, Navratilova. More importantly, I also remembered the Netherlands.

Unfortunately for the Fair One, the worse case scenario came true. Well, maybe not the WORST, but not good, either. After a 51-minute break while everything was set up to play under the roof, Schiavone opened up by charging the net and putting away two volleys for winners to hold serve. Oh, no. Obviously, she HAD been talking to someone. Dokic missed another high backhand volley to give Schiavone a break point. An error gave her the break, and the Aussie was down 3-1. But as has often been the case in her career on the court, when she faced adversity in this match, Dokic charged head-first toward the source of the problem. This is precisely why her rise and fall has been so addictive around Backspin HQ for so long. A forehand return winner put away a break at love and Dokic was back on serve at 3-2. But at 4-3, a two-double fault game -- with the second coming on break point -- put her down 5-3. The Aussie managed to carve out four break points in Game #9, but was never able to string together back-to-back great points. Oh, Jelena... there you go again. One match point was saved when Schiavone sailed a shot long, but Dokic wasn't so lucky on the second.

Schiavone won 6-4/1-6/6-3. Or, more accurately for a fan of the Fair One, Dokic lost 4-6/6-1/3-6. Sigh. Oh, well. We got to see a little of the old Jelena today... and that's enough to hold onto the hope that there are still a few more appearances of her to look forward to in the future. At least that's the story that I'll tell myself until the goings-on at this slam push the memory of today's match totally to the back of my mind. Then I'll learn to not have any expectations... until I do again, that is.

Of course, I don't really believe anything sneaky is going on above the clouds, but sometimes you have to at least try to sell yourself on the notion that the world -- or something even more otherwordly -- is against your "most-favored" player when they lose. Otherwise, you know, you have to put everything on THEIR shoulders. And, really, where's the fun in that? And, otherwise, where'd the hope be that everything could be all better as soon as tomorrow? I'm sure all the Wozni-maniacs can relate.

Anyway, now I'm without a TRUE horse in this race. Or, more appropriately, without a ride that I'd willingly lose the nest egg for in order to see them succeed on the final Saturday of the fortnight.

So, Ms. Kvitova... you're up. Maybe these two weeks ARE the time for you to finally achieve a little of that "most-favored player" status I've been talking about the last few months. You might never get the same Gold status that Jelena has enjoyed for more than decade now... but the status most certainly wouldn't be Tin, either.

...I guess it won't ultimately matter, since Venus Williams generally handles any disrepect thrown her way rather well. But she has to be feeling at least a little of it from the tournament officials. She's won five Wimbledon titles, and until last week she'd been out since January... and got her seeding bumped up to #23 (with a #33 ranking). Not a big jump, but not TOO bad, but four-time champ Serena, who just ended her 11-month absence last week, was lifted from a #26 ranking to the #7 seed. Then, with neither Serena, Sharapova, Li, Wozniacki or most other Centre or Court One-worthy women scheduled for an early match today, she was given Court 2 on which to conduct her 1st Round affairs.

She won the first game of the match at love, and finished off her opponent by a 6-3/6-1 score.

Hmmm, maybe there was a reason why Akgul Amanmuradova had to wait five or ten minutes on Court 2 before Venus finally showed up to begin play. Of course, considering Venus had to make what looked like a marathon-length, four guard-assisted trek to get out to the court assigned her -- one that should really be below a five-time champion on Day 1 -- I'm perfectly fine with her giving it as good as she's gotten it so far from the Club.

You go, Venus. By the way, the last time V was seeded #23, in 2007, she won the title.

...and the first winner of the 2011 Wimbledon was... Kimiko Date-Krumm, who defeated Brit Katie O'Brien 6-0/7-5, just barely beating Pauline Parmentier (def. Sorana Cirstea) across the finish line to become the inaugural singles match winner of the fortnight. Of course, at nearly 41, the Japanese vet will have to stick around another seven Wimbledon fortnights to break Martina Navratilova's record -- at 47 years, 8 months at the '04 Wimbledon -- for being the oldest Open era slam singles match winner. Well, I suppose she could also retire for a few years and then make another comeback, too.

...meanwhile, the free fall of Shahar Peer continued on Monday. As I've noted so often, back in April she was one victory in Charleston away from accumulating enough ranking points to move into the Top 10 for the first time in her career, becoming the first Israeli to do so. But she lost that 3rd Round match in straight sets to Julia Goerges, and on the following Monday she was still #11, just five points behind then-#10 Serena Williams. Since then, Peer's results have really bottomed out. At Roland Garros, with her ranking drop having left her with the #19 seed, she lost in the 1st Round to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez to become the first women's seed ejected from the tournament. Soon afterward, her ranking fell out of the Top 20. She came to London and was installed as the #22 seed and, wouldn't you know it, she was ONCE AGAIN the first women's seed to fall when she was dumped out in three sets today by Ksenia Pervak. Since she failed to win that match against Goerges, Peer has now lost in the 1st Round in five of six tournaments. other matches of note: Svetlana Kuznetsova finally was able to stop her four-year results slide at SW19. After seeing her Wimbledon results the last four years go from QF to 4th Round to 3rd Round to 2nd Round, she teetered on the edge of continuing the downward trajectory in the 1st Round today against Zhang Shuai, but finally prevailed 3-6/6-3/6-4. Of course, if Kuznetsova HAD loss, I suppose she could have taken some solace in the fact that she couldn't have done WORSE in '12. Well, I guess she COULD have been living in fear that she'd get an invitation to the spring wedding of another of Kim Clijsters' cousins. Don't RSVP, Sveta! Don't do it!

Vera Zvonareva was a finalist at this slam a year ago, and is tucked away as the #2 seed in the bottom half of the draw, waiting to see if the big hitters -- namely Venus and Kvitova -- self-destruct and clear a path for her to slip through once again. But after barely escaping an upset at the hands of a very dramatic Sabine Lisicki in Paris, she had to weather another minor storm today against the grass court-loving American Alison Riske. After a nervous start, Riske pushed back to get the match into a 3rd set, and was serving at 30/30, just two points from knotting things at 4-4. Zvonareva got the break for 5-3, though, and won 6-0/3-6/6-3.

I've seen many people -- including my good "pal" Carl -- picking Zvonareva to return to the final, but I don't know if anyone's picking her to win. With good reason, though, since even though she's ranked #3 at the moment, she just never seems to WIN much of anything. Over the last two seasons, #1 Caroline Wozniacki hasn't won a slam, but she's notched eleven titles. #2 Kim Clijsters has grabbed six, including two slams. #4 Li Na has three and a slam. Zvonareva has won two, a small tournament in Pattaya in '10 and then in Doha this year.

...for a bit, it looked as if Christina McHale might have to run off and play another challenger event after this Wimbledon, but she managed to stick around THIS slam for a little while longer by upsetting #28-seed Ekaterina Makarova on Day 1. In the 1st Round in Paris, the American lost to Sara Errani after having led 5-0 in the 3rd set. After that match, she talked of her "panic" while trying to close out the match, then she decided to go play (after having to qualify) a $50K challenger event in Rome to get the memory out of her head. She ended up winning the event to claim her first pro singles title. After taking the match to a 3rd set today, McHale went up 2-0 early then seemed to slip back a little bit. But she managed to hold on this time, winning 2-6/6-1/8-6.

After coming back to the tour after winning the challenger, McHale met up with Errani again in Birmingham. She lost in three sets. If she can get three more wins at this Wimbledon, she might actually another shot at the Italian, too. Today, Errani knocked off #17-seed Kaia Kanepi, who held match points to reach the Wimbledon SF last year. There's a (verrrrrry small, though I may be a little conservative on the r's there) chance they could meet in a if-you-say-you-predicted-it-you're-lying quarterfinal match. Talk about second, or third -- or is it fourth? -- chances.

The ESPN2 commentators talked about all these things regarding McHale today. Sure, Brad Gilbert said with a flourish that she'd lost in Paris to Roberta Vinci -- who's actually Errani's doubles partner, but wasn't McHale's opponent at Roland Garros, but I'm surely not going to hit him for that since I'll likely make a few similar off-the-top-of-my-head-and-on-the-seat-of-my-pants mistakes of my own over the next two weeks. And I'd rather smirk at him for saying today that "fifteen or twenty women" could win the Ladies title... though he DID pick one of the just Five that I think could, Petra Kvitova. But what stunned me a little was that in all the talk of McHale playing the challenger, including when they talked to HER on set, no one ever mentioned that she actually WON the event. Deciding to play in the challenger was one thing, but winning it -- for her first title -- said a great deal about McHale. Anyway, I was just wondering why it never came up... well, at least not until many hours later.

...there's just something about Andy Murray and the rain at Wimbledon. There hasn't been much of it the last few years at SW19. Naturally, it's been since the Centre Court roof was installed and ready for action beginning in 2009. In fact, before this tournament began, only parts of three actual singles matches had been played indoors, and only one FULL match. That match was in '09, and it featured Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka. Guess who got the second full match under the Centre Court roof? Yep, the Scotsman.

For a bit, it looked as if my picking of Murray to reach the final at this tournament was going to -- bazinga! -- put the ol' zinger on his chances. He'd expressed issues with playing under the conditions-changing Centre Court roof before, and he didn't look too pleased while losing the 1st set to Daniel Gimeno-Traver, either. But he ultimately prevailed in four sets against the Spaniard, who injured himself and eventually just went away entirely even though he didn't actually retire from the match. Murray won the final two sets at love, taking the final fifteen games of the match.

...Rafael Nadal notched his fifteenth straight Wimbledon match win today. Tomorrow, Serena is scheduled to go for HER fifteenth straight victory. She'll play Aravane Rezai. I noticed's Jon Wertheim giving all kinds of respect to the Opinionated Pastry's chances in the match (though he DID pick Serena to win the Ladies title), but I'm wondering if he's really been following how she's been playing over the course of the last year. Remember, she's now won one or fewer matches in twenty straight events, and is on a 9-22 slide, mostly since all those stories about her family being banned from tournaments broke. She was blasted 1 & 2 by Elena Baltacha last week in Eastbourne, but DID at least push Riske to three sets the week before in Birmingham. Still, I can't imagine the old fire & fury that the Frenchwoman was bringing to court a while back will show up tomorrow. But I guess you never know.

...Donald Young lost his 1st Round match to Alex Bogomolov Jr., 7-5/4-6/6-3/6-1. I guess he's (thankfully) no longer Tweeting, so I'll use my "powers" and call forth what DY WOULD have said if he could: "F---ing All-England Club! They're full of sh--! They have f---ed me for the last time!"

Oh, I'm sorry, that's what he Tweeted after the USTA didn't give him a wild card to the Roland Garros main draw after he lost in the USTA's qualifying playoff tournament. I just substitued "All-England Club" for "USTA." Hey, honest mistake. Soooo sorry.'s no Carillo/Navratilova, but I enjoyed the first day of a Chris Evert (not "Everett", Cliffy Drysdale... you really should know better) & Pam Shriver commentating booth on ESPN2. The best moment? Well, probably the first one... and it didn't even involve any of today's matches. It was the showing of the clip of the end of the pair's 1981 Wimbledon semifinal match, with the grumpy-looking Shriver losing, kicking at the ground, trudging to the net to "shake" Evert's hand and then bending her wrist in a very "attitude-heavy" (I know, it sounds impossible, but she managed to do it) way while offering her hand to the chair umpire. Pammy... always "making friends and influencing people." Haha. Tennis Gods help me, though, I've really gotten to enjoy her sometimes-make-you-laugh, sometimes-make-you-cringe style. When you get Hannah Storm -- who twisted yet another of my nerves with her way-too-giddy work during the NBA finals, only further highlighting how perfectly passionless she often is while faking/forcing herself through her tennis hosting duties -- in the studio between matches, you have to have something to look forward to, you know?

...and, finally, the biggest question for Day 2 has been answered. Namely, who'd be the poor souls scheduled to play the match AFTER the Isner/Mahut rematch. Well, the "lucky" twosome has been named, and they're Heather Watson & Mathilde Johansson. Good luck, ladies. Actually, Isner/Mahut is the FOURTH match scheduled on Court 3, so it's pretty much assured that it'll likely end too late to finish tomorrow (maybe Venus should talk to them about being disrepected by the organizers). If it rains at all, something which it seems to be doing every day in England the last week or two, it probably won't even be played at all... pretty much submarining the chances of the winner of being able to mount much of a tournament afterward if the match has any length to it atall. And, I mean, what are the chances that something like THAT will happen?

Actually, Heather and MoJo have it "easy." They can just make other arrangements for their afternoon in London SW19 or, more likely, prepare to walk a long distance to get to whatever court their match ends up being relocated to... maybe not as long as the one Venus was forced to walk to to begin her fifteenth Wimbledon today, but still likely a pretty fair distance from Court 3.

2005 #10 Patty Schnyder, SUI (lost to Antonella Serra-Zanetta/ITA)
2006 #28 Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (lost to Eva Birnerova/CZE)
2007 #30 Olga Puchkova, RUS (lost to Elena Vesnina/RUS)
2008 #30 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (lost to Zheng Jie/CHN)
2009 #23 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN (lost to Francesca Schiavone/ITA)
2010 #5 Francesca Schiavone ITA (lost to Vera Dushevina/RUS)
2011 #22 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Ksenia Pervak/RUS)

2009 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Cetkovska/CZE)
2010 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Schnyder/SUI)
2011 Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)

4th Rd. - Dinara Safina def. Amelie Mauresmo (partial)
4th Rd. - Andy Murray def. Stanislas Wawrinka (full)
1st Rd - Novak Djokovic def. Olivier Rochus (4th/5th sets)
1st Rd. - Francesca Schiavone def. Jelena Dokic (3rd set)
1st Rd. - Andy Murray def. Daniel Gimeno-Traver (full)
[latest finishes]
10:59 pm - Djokovic/O.Rochus (2010)
10:29 pm - Murray/Wawrinka (2009)
9:51 pm - Murray/Gimeno-Traver (2011)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexa Glatch/USA def. Galina Voskoboeva/KAZ 3-6/7-6/12-10
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WIN: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #22 Shahar Peer (1st Rd. - lost to Pervak/RUS)

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


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