Wednesday, June 22, 2011

W.3- Invasion of the House-Rearranger

Good grief. Well, at least Venus Williams gave everyone something to talk about on Day 3 other than whether or not they liked her toga-inspired outfit.

Even with the prospect of facing the "wily veteraness" of a player such as 40-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm in a 2nd Round match, it was hard not to expect the five-time Wimbledon champ to figure out a way to win without having to have her entire Wimbledon (Venus isn't in the doubles draw) flash before her eyes. But Williams wasn't ready for what the Japanese vet had decided to bring with her to Centre Court today. Throwing everything she had at the American, Date-Krumm managed to put Venus back on her heels and cause her to play tentatively for much of the day. Performing in the totally-different environment of CC with the roof closed probably didn't help matters much, either. It had to feel to Williams as if someone came into her home, rearranged all the furniture and turned up the heat while she was away, and then she walked through the front door wondering exactly where she was... and why Date-Krumm was acting like SHE owned the place.

It WAS Centre Court, though, Venus. And it almost turned out to be where your 2011 Wimbledon went to die.

With the English rain ruling the schedule early in the day, this was the first women's match in Wimbledon history that would be fully played under the closed Centre Court roof, and it was apparent that Williams -- who'd never played under the roof -- had a hard time immediately adjusting to the new humidity, sound and different feel of the ages-old arena in its new-fangled form. She opened the match with a double-fault and a missed forehand, and lost her first three serve games. Of course, Date-Krumm only made matters far, far worse for Venus. While Williams was shaky, Kimiko was playing out of her mind. Blocking back groundstrokes and serves, catching them on the rise and flatly delivering them back deep into Williams' court. Utilizing drop shots. Charging the net to volley. Hitting nearly four times as many winners as Venus. Date-Krumm was determined to not have any stone go unturned on Wednesday.

The woman from Japan who only a few seasons ago returned from a 12-year retirement, jumped to a 5-1 lead in the 1st set, and served for the stanza at 5-2. She didn't close things out, but she had another set point on Williams' serve at 5-3. She couldn't quite put Venus down there, either, as Williams battled back and, on her third break point, finally knotted the score at 5-5, then pounded an ace to go up 6-5. But after SHE, too, couldn't put away a set point of her own on Date-Krumm's serve, things went to a tie-break. There, the fortysomething again took the early lead, only to see Williams edge her way back. KDK led 1-0 with a mini-break, then 3-0, 4-1 and 6-2. But, as the game got progressively more and more tense, Venus saved her seventh set point, then used a big serve and forehand shot to draw even at 6-6. But then Williams didn't put away a volley, and Date-Krumm blocked it back from the baseline, sending the ball floating toward the right sideline. It caught the edge of the line, and Venus was facing her eighth set point of the 1st. She didn't save it this time, as KDK won the tie-break 8-6 to lock away a set in which she led 19-5 in winners.

With Serena, we've come to expect her to be able to rebound from poor play in a match, to find a way to gain control of a contest against a player who had been so clearly outplaying her for most of the match up until she no longer was doing so. But, when it comes to Venus, we never really know whether she'll be able to get her game back on the rails on any given day. Since she never much changes her approach to accomodate different match situations, it usually comes down to whether or not her shots will eventually start landing in and her serve will start popping. Oh, she can get herself to better maintain her mechanics, keep her feet moving and (in one of her few in-game tactical improvisations) get to the net as often as possible, especially on the grass at Wimbledon. But since Date-Krumm was often just as intent on getting to the net, and moved the ball around in ways that made it hard for Williams to do so, this match was a continual struggle for Venus until it was over. She'd occasionally flash the sort of tennis that has made her a champion at the All-England Club, but it was usually a fleeting glimpse.

Still, she grabbed an early break in the 2nd set to go up 2-1. While still playing tentatively, she also managed to save two break points at 3-2, then held firm to take the set at 6-3. In the 3rd, she got another early break to go up 2-0, but then she double-faulted on break point to get things back on serve one game later. At 2-1, Venus got to break point... but then saw the Japanese woman "pull a Williams" and serve an ace. Good grief. After saving a sixth break point, Date-Krumm served and volleyed on her own second game point and managed to hold for 2-2. As the two traded off holding serve games, Venus' play continued to be choppy. But her serve came through when it absolutely had to. She held with an ace for 5-4, then kept a nose ahead of the veteran (well, the MORE veteran, compared to 31-year old Venus herself) by securing a very dicey, "loose" hold for 7-6, even while she was spinning in second serves that Date-Krumm was more than happy to pounce upon throughout the game.

But there's something to be said for just holding on.

In the thirty-sixth game of the match, Date-Krumm finally cracked. After pushing, pulling and surprising Williams all day long, while serving down 7-6 in the 3rd, she picked the entirely wrong time to start making mistakes. With a pair of errors, KDK fell down love/30. She then framed a forehand for error #3 to put herself down 15/40 and double match point. When Date-Krumm pushed a passing shot attempt wide, Venus finally managed to advance to the 3rd Round by a 6-7/6-3/8-6 score after two hours and fifty-five minutes of work under the Centre Court roof.

It'd be easy to overract to this match. But I won't. If this was Maria Sharapova who'd just escaped with a win in this fashion, I'd be talking once again about how she's never won a slam after nearly being tripped up in the early rounds. But neither Venus nor Serena are great slam frontrunners. Well, I take that back. They ARE capable of that, as well. But they've won just as many slams playing the tortoise in the first week as they have when they've assumed the role of the hare over the course of two.

It's a bit more worrisome a performance for Venus than had it been Serena who'd put it on the table. But this is Wimbledon, and this is Venus, too. If there's anywhere she can take a match like this and use it to make herself better the next time out -- and she'll likely have to be, considering her opponent -- than the All-England Club is that place. She's found magic inside those walls before. Maybe this is where she starts to find it once again.


...hmmm, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez got a win over Monica Niculescu today, and will next face Venus. If anyone is paying attention, we've got a little side story brewing for this one.

Remember, in the 3rd Round of Roland Garros in '09, Serena faced MJMS. Williams won in three sets, but the big story was a point in which one of Serena's shots appeared to graze the Spaniard's arm before sailing long. But Martinez-Sanchez would not admit that it had touched her, which would have given the point to Serena. So Martinez-Sanchez got it. Needless to say, Serena was a BIT upset and, in her post-match press conference, she called MJMS a cheater, saying, "So the ball hit her body, and therefore she should have lost the point -- instead of cheating."

So, in other words, after being taken aback a bit by Date-Krumm's tactics today, Venus shouldn't be surprised by anything that might come her way in the 3rd Round.

...recently, Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been making a lot of headlines, for everything from her sun reflecting eye black to her tattoos to her clothes, but one wonders if it's been something of a step backward. She got to be the center of attention at the Wimbledon players party when she debuted the yellow tennis ball dress put together by Lady Gaga's designer. Today, she made a big show out of her walk to Court 14, on which she debuted an accompanying all-white tennis balls-and-tassles adorned warm-up jacket. It actually looked quite good. Well, considering.

Unfortunately, then the #30-seeded Mattek-Sands went out and lost her 1st Round match to qualifier Misaki Doi in three sets. At match point down, a Mattek-Sands shot sailed out, but the American didn't agree with the call. With no replay review available on the outside court, and after the umpire wouldn't change the call (it DID appear to be out), Mattek-Sands was quite upset as her singles run at Wimbledon came to a quick end before it'd barely begun. Afterward, she didn't shake the chair umpire's hand. Ultimately, her '11 SW19 journey (though she's still in the doubles) closely resembled how things went for her a few years ago when she'd get all sorts of attention for everything BUT her tennis. After her results improved, though, she toned all that down a bit. She's ramped it up again, and now she's out of Wimbledon in the 1st Round. Coincidence? Maybe not. But maybe, too. It might be a good idea to try to sharpen her focus for the U.S. Open. You know, just to find out.

Doi, by the way, became the third qualifier to reach the 2nd Round with her win. Marina Erakovic lost her 2nd Round match today to Daniela Hantuchova, but fellow qualifer Tamarine Tanasugarn is still scheduled to play her 2nd Rounder tomorrow. Either way, the field for the "Last Qualifier Standing" race is thinning pretty quickly. about another shot of Hope? After Victoria Azarenka advanced yesterday in a match that ended in SOMEONE ELSE'S retirement, another match today involving a Belarusian ended due to injuryn't. Again, the retiring sort was NOT Azarenka, though. Instead, it was Olga Govortsova, who also had to quit early in Birmingham two weeks ago (hmm, have the Sisterhood of the Traveling Belarus Retirement Pants been passed along?). Govortosova went out to Agnieszka Radwanska after dropping the first nine games of the match. Even if the Tennis Gods have decided to smile a little on Vika this slam, it'd still be best for her to be swaddled in bubble wrap every night just to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, Mirjana Lucic is still looking for her first main draw win at Wimbledon since she reached the 1999 semifinals. She lost in an 8-6 3rd set today in her 1st Round match against Dominika Cibulkova. Wild card Sabine Lisicki beat up on Anastasiya Sevastova, winning 6-1/6-1, and will face Li Na next. 2010 semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova advanced past Petra Martic and will face Vera Zvonareva (who narrowly escaped having to go three sets against Elena Vesnina, winning 6-1/7-6), the same person who beat her in the Final Four a year ago. If the Bulgarian would happen to win, she could face Venus in the 4th Round. Williams was the player that Pironkova defeated in last year's quarterfinals to get to her first career slam semi.

Petra Kvitova, still (so far) in good form, again blasted through another opponent, taking down Brit Anne Keothavong 6-2/6-1 in the 2nd Round. While one Brit exited the Final 64, though, another finally filled the 64th slot when 17-year old Laura Robson notched her first career main draw slam win with a three-set triumph over Angelique Kerber. After suffering thorugh a few public relations rough spots (brought on by her big mouth, it should be noted) and injuries since she won the Wimbledon Girls title in 2008, Robson fired her coach just five days before the start of this tournament. She'll next face another player who found great success at SW19 at age 17 -- 2004 champ Maria Sharapova. Hmmm, I see a Centre Court match in Robson's immediate future.

...with the 1st Round finally complete, a few numbers are worth mentioning. Not unexpectedly, more Russians (9) won 1st Round matches than women from any other nation. The Czechs (even with more than one Czech-vs.-Czech 1st Round match-up) had the second-highest total, with seven, while France and Italy both had four. The best result, though, has to have come from the Brits. One year after going 0-6 in the 1st Round in their home slam, three -- Keothavong, Baltacha and Robson -- got opening round wins this year. As a result, they've probably got an early leg up on the "Revelation Ladies" award.

What about the "Nation of Poor Souls," though. Well, the U.S. was a pretty-woeful 3-9, but since two of the advancers were named Williams the Americans are ruled out. Nine nations with participants in the 1st Round failed to get a win, but the hopes of eight were riding on a single player's shoulders. Only Sweden, with losses by Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson, had multiple players in the draw but failed to notch a victory. But on this front I think I'll go with the poor Aussies, who went a combined 1-3, including losses by a slam finalist (Stosur) and former Wimbledon semfinalist (Dokic). Jarmila Gajdosova is the only Australian still alive in the draw.

Hmmm, I think I'm going to start giving away a "NoPS" award for each slam starting now. Actually, retroactively, I'll officially include the Brits' winless run at last year's Wimbledon -- since it was so mightily bad -- as the first "dishonorable" performance in the Backspin book of facts.

...and, finally, as has become a tradition at the slams, I must now spotlight the exit of one Anabel Medina-Garrigues. She lost 6-0/6-3 in the 1st Round today to Julia Goerges, once again failing to reach her first career slam QF. Remember, with the Spaniard's tenth career singles title in Estoril earlier this season, she matched the feat of the Russian-born Israeli Anna Smashnova, who won double-digit tour singles titles but never reached a slam singles quarterfinal. No other women in WTA history can say as much.

It's the Spanish vet's sixteenth career 1st Round loss in thirty-seven slam appearances. Of course, AMG has nothing on Smashnova in that category. The Israeli lost her opening match in twenty-eight of forty-eight slams, including eleven times in twelve years at Wimbledon.

[in 1st Rd. matches]
7-4...Czech Republic
3-4...Great Britain
3-9...United States
2-1...Slovak Republic
1-0...New Zealand
0-1...Estonia, India, Israel, Kazakhstan, Latvia, South Africa, Taiwan, Uzbekistan

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)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-3 in 1st Rd., losses by Stosur & Dokic)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Anne Keothavong, Elena Baltacha & Laura Robson in 2nd Rd.
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Misaki Doi, Marina Erakovic & Tamarine Tanasugarn in 2nd Rd.
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Sabine Lisicki & Eleni Daniilidou in 2nd Rd.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: V.Williams (survives 8-6 3rd set vs. Date-Krumm in 2nd Rd.)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


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