Tuesday, June 21, 2011

W.2- The Hope and the Hopeless

In a day when ninety-five singles matches were scheduled, quite a bit got done. All but fourteen women's 1st Round matches have been completed, with three on the men's side still to be wrapped up tomorrow.

Somehow, though, with all that action going on around the grounds of the All-England Club, nothing much "of note" happened. Well, other than an impromptu Tuesday afternoon episode of "The Hope and the Hopeless," that is.

(Hey, just because all the soap operas keep getting cancelled doesn't mean I have to stop making references like that, you know.)

We always like to begin our little stories with a note of optimism, and #1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki might have provided at least a touch of encouragement that hope still resides in "them thar hills." She handily won her opening round match on Day 2 against Arantxa Parra-Santonja by a 6-2/6-1 score. More importantly, though, after more than once hoping that she'd occasionally use quick matches such as this one to work on trying to utilize a few aggressive offensive tactics under in-game conditions, the Dane actually did manage to do just that in the last few games. Up a set and 4-0, she actually served and volleyed in the final two points of her service game. She hit two aces up the "T" and didn't have to hit a volley, but the intention was there and she was in position. That's a good step. Later, she moved in for another take-control volley. She ended up missing on her attempt to put back the surprisingly high shot from the Spaniard, but her heart was in the right place. Good enough. For now. Later on ESPN2, she attempted to defend her going to play that indoor hard court event back in Denmark right after Roland Garros, saying switching from hard court to grass is easier for than making the immediate jump from red clay to grass. Well... ooookay. Let's just close the book on that discussion, since all that matters now is what happens in London. Wozniacki also noted that she's "learned" from her inability to close out the Australian Open semifinal match against Li Na in which she held match point. She didn't try to take control of the point, then watched Li do it instead. My immediate thought when she said it was that she might have learned something, but that she's never really been in position too many times since then to prove it. She's either won employing her normal mostly-defensive style, or was defeated convincingly by more aggressive players who've outplayed her. Maybe we'll see if she shows in SW19 if she really IS a good student. Her 1st Round was at least a hopeful sign.

Speaking of "signs," it should come as no surprise that a retirement occurred in the resumption of Victoria Azarenka's 1st Round match with Magdalena Rybarikova. But the SHOCKING note here is that it wasn't Azarenka who retired. Amazing, huh? As it turned out, it was Rybarikova who was the Poor Soul, taking a nasty-looking spill, and nearly doing the splits, when she slipped while running along the baseline not long after the two resumed playing their suspended match from Monday. The Slovak twisted her knee, and retired with Azarenka in the lead 6-4/3-2. Hmmm, might this mean the Tennis Gods have finally decided to shine a little warm, hopeful light on the Belarusian at this slam?

I don't want to think we're seeing the slow, sad disintegration of Queen Chaos' career, but that might be wishful thinking. #15-seed Jelena Jankovic lost today to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez 5-7/6-4/6-3. It's the continuation of a bad trend for the Serb. Once upon a time, I always tried to make note of JJ's slam results from the '04 Australian Open to the '08 U.S. Open. During that stretch, Jankovic made seventeen returns to slams in which she'd played the previous year. Impressively, she was able to match or improve upon her previous season's result at all seventeen of those slams. It was that sort of progression of results in her career that allowed her to somewhat-surprisingly rise to the #1 ranking for eighteen non-consecutive weeks beginning in August '08. But it was after the career high that JJ went on that trip to Mexico for offseason training, attempting to get stronger and add heft to her game. When it backfired, and the too-pumped-up Serb lost much of the on-court movement that made her defensive-heavy game work, she began a slide that she's never really been able to stop. It's especially noticable in her slam results. After that seventeen-slam run, her next five slams produced worse results than the previous year. Then, after marginal improvements in 2010's slams, she's now on another three-slam run of putting up worse results than the previous season. In 2011, in order, she's gone out in the 2nd Round, 4th Round and 1st Round in the slams. Her loss today is her earliest since Roland Garros in 2005, when she only had three career slam match wins under her belt. From 2006-08, a span that ended with her appearance in the U.S. Open final, Jankovic had six QF-or-better results over a nine-slam stretch. In the eleven since then, she's had just one, a SF in Paris last season. One hopes that QC hasn't left us forever. But, with her ranking set to fall out of the Top 20 soon, it's becoming harder and harder to hold onto that hope.

At least with JJ, there's still a chance of her producing a few fun moments down the line. It's hard to say that about Samantha Stosur. With her, it's often better to just shield your eyes to avoid having the memory of a player who's seemingly wasted so much talent over the years seared into your memory. Back at the start of the season, I was already pretty much writing the Aussie off as a potential slam winner in '11. As the season has gone along, she's actually played even worse that I'd thought she would. After a pair of earlier 3rd Round slam exits, she was dumped out in the 1st Round of Wimbledon (for the second straight season) today 6-3/6-4 by Melinda Czink, the 28-year old Hungarian ranked #262 but in the main draw because of her protected ranking after missing much time last year with multiple injuries, including to her elbow and shoulder. Czink was a Top 40 player in '09, and has won a pair of ITF crowns this season, but she'd lost her only other match against Stosur (in Hobart, way back in' 04) and had just a 1-5 career Wimbledon record. Of course, Stosur, the first Top 10 player out of this slam, herself doesn't have a history of success at SW19 (this was her fifth 1st Round exit in nine appearances) despite the doubles success and strong serve that so many people years ago thought would bode well for success on the grass. Her lack of movement, and somewhat less effective bounce on her kick serve on the lower-bouncing grass, has bedeviled her on the faster courts of Wimbledon. But one has to assume as much of her failure to live up to her potential has to do with her head as any specifics in her game. The Aussie's lack of belief in her own game, other than maybe in Paris (though it didn't help this year), has always held her back. And at this point in her career, it's hard to see that changing. Maybe ever.

In Sydney last year, Aravane Rezai led Serena Williams 6-3/5-2 in a SF match. After Williams charged back to win, the always Opinionated Pastry said she "wasn't impressed" with what the American did. Rezai should have known to hold her tongue, as Serena then went on to win the Australian Open and follow it up with a Wimbledon title later that summer. When the two met again today it was on the occasion of Serena's first slam match since she lifted career slam #13 last July. The Frenchwoman started well, getting an early break and going up 2-0 before losing six of the next seven games to drop the set. Rezai won the 2nd set, but Williams did what she's always been expected to do over the course of her career -- take control of the 3rd set and move on to play another day. She won 6-3/3-6/6-1, notching her 200th career slam match win. The extra set just provided her with a little more grass court preparation as she tries to win her third straight Ladies crown. That's how things have normally been for Williams.

But after the match Serena did something she says she's NEVER done. Cry tears of joy. "I've never cried with joy for anything," she said. After having said that she was on her "death bed" at one point in a past year that has included sliced-up feet (she says she still doesn't know how it happened in that restaurant in Munich... it's "the biggest mystery since the Loch Ness Monster," she chirped the other day), surgeries, blood clots and an embolism, it was apparent in that moment that Williams herself, no matter what she's ever said, truly did question whether or not she'd ever be able to again do the sorts of things she found herself able to do on Centre Court today. Certainly, careers have been ended by seemingly less serious ailments than her's, and when an athlete who has made a career with her body is rushed into emergency surgery because of problems occurring inside that body that she had no control over it can't help but be a sobering experience. And one that might only serve to make her cherish all the more everything that she can accomplish after nearly losing the ability to ever do so again.

That sound you hear might be a collective "oh, no" from the WTA field. Of course, that sort of thing is nothing new where Serena is concerned. It's why the should-be-absurd notion of her winning this Wimbledon after missing nearly a full year is really nothing of the sort simply... because... we're... talking... about... Serena... Williams.

An athlete with an aura that makes "anything" possible is still a rare thing, even in an age when an individual winning a single big prize is often used as an excuse to dub them the next "greatest ever" in a sport (as with the way-too-early accolades a certain Irish golfer was getting over the weekend). But Williams has EARNED all her compliments and acknowledgements. And today, judging from the CC crowd's reaction, she might have finally opened at least a few of those minds who've held off embracing her over the years. Maybe she won't be fully appreciated AFTER she's gone, after all. And, hopefully, she won't be gone for still a good while longer.

We should be as thankful as Serena is about that.

...as expected, the John Isner/Nicolas Mahut 1st Round rematch of last year's historic 11-hour, 3-day marathon didn't live up to the original. But, hey, it's summer movie season, so you can't expect sequels to be worth all the fuss. Oh, well. The All-England Club didn't need to have two more statues of those guys commissioned to commemorate yet another occasion, anyway.

After holding serve for 168 consecutive games between them last year, Isner faced a break point in Game #2 today. He held, and the set went to the expected tie-break. Isner won, ending the stanza after :49. It turned out to be the only thing reminiscent of last year's drama. Mahut was broken in Game #4 of the 2nd set, and Isner went up 3-1 and cruised to a 6-2 win. In the 3rd, it looked as if Mahut may push things to a 4th set, and likely a second day, but Isner ultimately won in another tie-break, taking the match in about two (measly) hours.


Still, the contest began late enough in the day that the match that was ridiculously scheduled to be played after Isner/Mahut on Court 3 ended up being cancelled. See, I told Heather Watson and Mathilde Johansson they could make other plans for Tuesday.

...the expected mostly held up on the women's side of the draw. Maria Sharapova (2 & 1 over Anna Chakvetadze), Li Na (3 & 3 over Alla Kudryavtseva), Petra Kvitova (2&2 vs. Alexa Glatch) and Marion Bartoli (love & 2 over Kristyna Pliskova) were the biggest names to coast into the 2nd Round with fairly easly straight sets victories.

In some other matches of note of the ton of them scheduled and completed on Tuesday, Virginie Razzano took out Sania Mirza in three sets (she'll face Wozniacki next), and Daniela Hantuchova survived a scare against qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko. The Slovak apparently took it in stride, though, considering as the tournmament began she didn't even know if she was going to be able to play following her retirement in the Eastbourne semifinals on Saturday. She won 4-6/7-6/6-3.

...Stephanie Dubois didn't make it through qualifying, but Irina Falconi did. But after they met in a 1st Round match today, "lucky loser" Dubois is the one who will hang around for a 2nd Round match. After her win over Coco Vandeweghe, Eleni Daniilidou is the first wild card to advance. Sabine Lisicki, Heather Watson and Laura Robson have yet to play. As for the qualifiers, so far they're a combined 2-9 (with Misaki Doi still to play). The two women still alive so far for "Last Qualifier Standing" are Marina Erakovic (def. Chang Kai-Chen) and Tamarine Tanasugarn (def. Yaroslava Shvedova).

A year ago, the British women went a combined 0-6 in the 1st Round. So far, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha have already reached the 2nd Round (Watson and Robson play tomorrow) this time around.

...in the Roehampton junior grass court event, Krista Hardebeck opened things up by knocking off #1-seed Daria Gavrilova 6-4/4-6/6-1.

...and, finally, it's pretty bad when a player can come up with a better interview question as a joke than an actual interviewer can. When Wozniacki joined Chris Evert and Hannah Storm on the ESPN2 set after her 1st Round win, Storm opened up with a time-honored, probing query about the Dane coming into Wimbledon as the #1 seed. "What's that feel like?," she asked. Umm, probably not that different from how it felt when she came into the last three slams as the top seed? Just a guess. Much more entertaining was the clip of Wozniacki's question to Novak Djokovic when she stuck around after her Saturday press conference to ask the Serb a question in the Q&A session of her Monte Carlo neighbor. "How are you going to break your losing streak... of one match?," she wondered.

Hey, maybe it's not the sort of investigative inquiry that could lead to a Pulitzer, but it at least had a twist on it.

Just to complete the thought, Djokovic DID give an answer. He said he was going to try to be like that women's player -- "Caroline Wozniacki" -- and be more consistent in his results. It's always nice when the athletes play along, you know?

306...Martina Navratilova
299...Chris Evert
278...Steffi Graf
210...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
207...Venus Williams (post-1r)
200...Serena Williams (post-1r)
232...Jimmy Connors
224...Andre Agassi
222...Ivan Lendl
220...Roger Federer (post-1r)
203...Pete Sampras

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 2. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

I know she lost and she's not an up-and-comer but I totally think Kimiko Date-Krumm should be on the shortlist for IT Girl awards... Based on her high level of play today and guts/courage -- to even come back to such a physically demanding sport.


The placement of her volleys today was tremendous...not to mention her timing on hitting the ball and returning with interest.


Her "advanced" years!


I hope she gets a lot of endorsements from this match...I'm thinking Move Free or OsteoFlex (glucosamine for the joints)...


just WOW!

Wed Jun 22, 04:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm thinking of maybe -- possibly -- having some sort of award linked to performances "under the roof." She'd probably be on the short list, if not atop it, for that.

Wed Jun 22, 06:29:00 PM EDT  

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