W.7- The Bigger They Are...
Did you hear it? Bam. Bam. Bam. No, it wasn't the sound of a series of concussive Sabine Lisicki serves. It was the dashing of big-time Wimbledon hopes, one right after the other. First it was those of two-time defending champ Serena Williams that went down with a thud. Then it was world #1 Caroline Wozniacki's. And, finally, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams' hopes bit the dust, as well.
Of the three, Wozniacki's loss is the most unconscionable. After breezing through the first three rounds, showing a willingness to move forward and put away points at the net, the Dane easily won today's opening Round of 16 set against Dominika Cibulkova by a 6-1 score. She lost the 2nd in a tie-break. But after taking an early break lead in the 3rd, the world #1 gradually went away, watching as a more aggressive Cibulkova took advantage of her bigger forehand while the Dane stood back and let it happen, losing earlier that she probably should have at this Wimbledon by a 1-6/7-6/7-5 score to the same diminutive Slovak she defeated in straight sets at last year's U.S. Open.
No matter what sort of tactics Wozniacki employed earlier in this tournament, she didn't follow through with the gameplan when it mattered in a slam "money" match. And with the reality that quite a few of the younger stars of her generation -- Azarenka, Kvitova and Lisicki among them -- ARE succeeding at this slam, this is precisely the wrong time for her slam results to continue their worsening trend over the seven-slam time frame since she reached the '09 final at Flushing Meadows. At the very least, she needs to look at the video footage of how she played leading up to last year's U.S. Open, when she employed a hybrid offensive/defensive style on North American hard courts and looked like she might be ready to win a slam in New York last September. It didn't happen, and this latest loss is only yet another step back for the world #1. With other players stepping up their games at future slams, things aren't going to get any easier for her. In fact, it'll only continue to get more and more difficult, if not impossible, for her to make her way through a seven round slam draw if she doesn't make the changes in her game (well, her mindset, really... as it's her willingness to do it more so than an inability) that will allow her to give herself a decent chance to compete. Cibulkova is an overachieving player who gets far more power out of her small body than one has any right to expect, but a healthy world #1 with no legit ready excuses for Round of 16 losses should not get dumped in a slam by a player who has never won a tour singles title. At least not if she wants to stay #1 for much longer, and/or ever outrun her critics. As a slam contender, Wozniacki risks being swallowed up by those aforementioned young players, and still others just like them, over next year or two if she doesn't do something about it. If that happens, no matter how often the Dane talked about the loads of "time" she had a while back, no player is ever assured of EVER winning a slam. Not even a single one. Ever. If it doesn't happen over the next five slams, it might never happen at all. Tick-tock, Caroline.
At least the Sisters lost to players with a resume of Wimbledon success.
Serena's conqueror, Marion Bartoli, reached the '07 final and defeated Justine Henin en route, meaning the Pastry can now boast SW19 wins over the two best players of her generation. Not too shabby. Sort of like La Trufflette's game today. Coming in, it was easy to think that Bartoli might be at the end of her rope. After all, more than a month ago she said she needed a "miracle" to be healthy enough to even play at Roland Garros, then she went out and had her best-ever result there by reaching the semifinals. In winning the Eastbourne final, she seemed to injure herself yet again. Add to that, she's twice teetered on the edge of defeat at this Wimbledon, feeling nauseated and becoming ill-tempered while facing three match points in one match and enduring 9-7 3rd set in another, and becoming so angry in between winning those two contests that she ordered her parents to leave their courtside seats in mid-match. Even more eyebrow-raising, they followed her orders... then dutifully showed up once again to watch their daughter play ot Court 1 today.
As usual, going all the way back to the odd techniques her father has always employed in her training regimen, while such situations and tactics might prove unmanageable for many players, they work for Bartoli. Where others might crack, the Frenchwoman gets stronger.
She was certainly the better player against Serena today. Serving as consistently as Williams herself traditionally has, Bartoli pounded an ace to lock away the 1st set 6-3, and continually put pressure on Serena in the 2nd. At 2-2 and 3-3, she forced Williams to buck up and hold in games that began at 30/30. At 5-5, the Pastry was bouncing around inside the baseline to receive Serena's FIRST serve... and doing more than just getting away with it. Then Williams failed to put away a volley, sending a ball down the middle of the court, leading to a Bartoli lob that Serena couldn't get back on a high backhand overhead attempt that garnered a break that made the score 6-5. In the next game, Bartoli hit an ace to get to double match point. Serena saved them both, as well as a third, to get a break of serve to keep the match alive. It's at such a point that Williams is generally expected to bend the match back in her favor and walk away with a victory. But it didn't happen.
Instead, after Williams went up a mini-break in the tie-berak at 2-1, she came up short on a drop shot that prevented her from taking an important advantage. She was never able to reclaim the momentum. When Serena missed on a backhand passing attempt, Bartoli had her fourth match point at 6-5. Serena saved that one, too. But on match point #5, Bartoli slammed a service winner to advance by a 6-3/7-6 score.
While Bartoli outserved Serena, Tsvetana Pironkova did the same in pretty much every category against Venus, an upset loser to the Bulgarian in last year's QF (and the '06 Australian Open 1st Round). From the start, she appeared to be existing under a gloomy sky just after Serena's exit, and it never really changed as Pironkova beat her in nearly every battle. This was such a repeat of last year that it had the same score, a 6-2/6-3 Pironkova victory. But her win was even more comprehensive this time around. Venus was NEVER in it. The Bulgarian raced to the 1st set win, and held game point for 4-1 in the 2nd just as quickly. It wasn't until then that Venus even got her FIRST break point opportunity of the match. She converted it, but then threw in enough errors to be broken back immediately in the next game. In Game #7, Pironkova saved three break points, confidently holding on the back of a strong 1st serve and backhand. A year ago, Pironkova joyfully collapsed on her back in victory. This time, she lustily pumped her fist. She EXPECTED to win this time.
Speaking of expectation. The difference in it when it came to Wozniacki and the Sisters coming into this Wimbledon was quite stark. Hardly anyone gave the world #1 a chance to win, while the Sisters' ultimate result is looked at as "disappointing" even though Serena had played just one event since last Wimbledon, and Venus only two slams and Eastbourne over the same timespan. It says a lot about the reputation of all three. Holding to form, it's hard to believe that Serena won't be back in top form soon, maybe by the end of the summer. Even if nowhere else, Venus will again be a contender at this time next year on the grass, too. Wozniacki? It's getting harder and harder to stand behind the notion that she definitely WILL win a slam at some point. Through the first three rounds at this Wimbledon, that belief got a hopeful injection of life. After today's loss, I'm sort of back to square one with her... waiting for the Dane to "give me a reason."
As it stands, a first-time finalist will emerge from the bottom half of the draw (and maybe from the top, as well), and that final will be without a Williams Sister for only the second time since 2000. The young generation of players seems to FINALLY be making a move at SW19. Azarenka and Kvitova are real-time, every slam title contenders. Lisicki, if she can stay healthy, might be, too. Certainly at Wimbledon, at the very least. Paszek was touted as a future Top 5 player by Justine Henin a few years ago, and may now be living up to the promise she showed as a 16-year old. Meanwhile, Bartoli seems to be following the recent pattern of players reaching their peak in their late 20's. All in all, this is a GOOD thing for women's tennis. Naturally, it'll be met by shrugs, especially if Maria Sharapova, the sole marquee name left for casual fans -- also known in some parts as "anyone involved in sports reporting who doesn't follow tennis on a weekly basis, which is about 99.99% of said group" -- loses before the final. Those people don't pay attention, then complain that they don't know the players when they have a big-time result in a slam. There are a lot of great potential stories left in the final eight women in the draw. If Sharapova isn't the last woman standing, though, getting more people to give the appropriate respect to whoever it may be is the dilemma that the tour will next face. But such is WTA life.
The opportunity is there for SOMEONE to grab the sport by the neck over the next five days. If Wozniacki's not going to do it, then another woman must. Thus, we wait.
=DAY 7 NOTES=
...Prince William and Kate Middleton were in the Royal Box to watch the Andy Murray match today, and with the way Rafael Nadal was sometimes hobbling around against the equally sometimes hobbling around Juan Martin del Potro today, the chances that the near future could very well see the two young royals -- or maybe someone even a good bit older and little higher up on the royalty ladder, maybe? -- return on Sunday to watch the Scotsman in the final are looking a little better today. Of course, considering this is Murray we're talking about (and add in that I picked him to reach the final before the tournament, too), that likely means it WON'T happen.
...elsewhere, while the Sisters and the Dane were being shown the door, Petra Kvitova had another no-drama day. Actually, there was probably more "drama" before the start of her match, when people were wondering whether she should have attended that rock festival in Scotland on Sunday night. Apparently, it had no ill effects on her game, as she wiped the lawn with Yanina Wickmayer 6-0/6-2. The Czech has yet to drop a set, or even come close to doing so (she hasn't lost more than three games in any stanza). She'll face fellow 2010 semifinalist Pironkova next in a match-up of the only two women to repeat their Final 8 results from a year ago.
Victoria Azarenka also easily moved forward, getting to within one win of her long-awaited first slam semifinal. She handled Nadia Petrova 6-2/6-2. Oh, Nadia. Unlike Kvitova, Azarenka HAS lost a set at this Wimbledon, but she gutted out a three-set win against Daniela Hantuchova. The last time Kvitova played a close match, she lost it, to Bartoli in the Eastbourne final. We'll see if the lack of any real competition so far will hurt the Czech down the line. As for the Belarusian, she'll next get Tamira Paszek, who won in three today over Ksenia Pervak to follow up on her victory in that marathon 11-9 3rd set against Francecsa Schiavone.
The Austrian is a previous Wimbledon quarterfinalist (in '07), but if Azarenka loses one has to think she'll exit London, at this point, even more disappointed that either the Sisters or Wozniacki, considering the golden opportunity that has fallen into her lap at this slam.
In the top half of the draw, things look to be playing out rather well for Maria Sharapova. She, too, hasn't lost a set at this Wimbledon following her win today over Peng Shuai. She lost to her next opponent, Cibulkova, in the QF at Roland Garros in '09, but the Russian will be the heavy favorite this time around. Of course, any Sharapova run to her first final at SW19 since 2004 might have to deal with Sabine Lisicki. The German became the eighth female wild card to reach a slam quarterfinal with her win over Petra Cetkovska, reaching her second Final Eight at Wimbledon in the last three years while winning her tenth straight match in this grass court season. But Lisicki's fate will likely rest on whether or not she can continue to serve as well in pressure situations as she has so far this fortnight. Her next opponent is Bartoli, who's won nine straight.
...there are two of The Five left, Sharapova and Kvitova, and there's still a good chance that both could reach the final.
...the women's quarterfinals consist of women from eight different nations. It's the third time in the last four slams that that's happened, as eight nations provided the quarterfinalists at both the '11 Australian Open and '10 U.S. Open, as well.
...Day 7's upsets weren't restricted to women's singles action. The doubles competition took some big hits, too, as the #1 seeded team of Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova (the defending champions) went out at the hands of Lisicki & Sam Stosur. So much for King going after that #1 doubles ranking, I guess. Also, #5 Mattek-Sands/Shaughnessy lost to Llagostera-Vives/Parra-Santonja, #10 Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova went down against lucky losers Erakovic/Tanasguarn, and #11 Martinez-Sanchez & Medina-Garrigues were defeated by Dushevina & Makarova.
A few intriguing upcoming doubles match-ups: #2 Peschke/Srebotnik vs. #14 Peer/Black, #8 Peng/Zheng vs. Date-Krumm/Zhang, and #4 Mirza/Vesnina vs. #13 Hantuchova/A.Radwanska.
In the Men's Doubles, the #2, #3 and #4 seeds are already out before the quarterfinals, as well.
...18-year old Australian Bernard Tomic is the youngest Wimbledon quarterfinalist since Boris Becker (also 18) won his second straight title in 1986. And Roger Federer extended his record streak of consecutive slam QF results to twenty-nine.
...and, finally, while everyone was paying attention to Wimbledon, champions were still being crowned on the ITF circuit.
24-year old Italian Karin Knapp, ranked #35 back in 2008 but carrying a #251 ranking last week, gets the "ITF Player of the Week" for claiming her second circuit title of '11 by defeating Laura Thorpe (following earlier victories over Kristina Mladenovic & Evelyn Mayr) in the final of the $25K challenger in Rome.
Also, on the high and low end of the winner's age scale, 31-year old Pastry Severtine Beltrame (in Perigueux, France) won a singles title, while 17-year old American Kyle McPhillips (in Cleveland) claimed the first pro title of her career.
*WOMEN'S SINGLES QUARTERFINALS*
#24 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK vs. #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
(WC) Sabine Lisicki/GER vs. #9 Marion Bartoli/FRA
Tamira Paszek/AUT vs. #4 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#8 Petra Kvitova/CZE vs. #32 Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
*MEN'S SINGLES QUARTERFINALS*
#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #10 Mardy Fish/USA
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. Feliciano Lopez/ESP
#12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI
(Q) Bernard Tomic/AUS vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB
*WILD CARD TO SLAM QF*
1995 US Open - Monica Seles (RU)
2002 Roland Garros - Mary Pierce
2006 Australian Open - Martina Hingis
2008 Wimbledon - Zheng Jie (SF)
2009 Australian Open - Jelena Dokic
2009 US Open - Kim Clijsters (W)
2010 Australian Open - Justine Henin (RU)
2011 WIMBLEDON - SABINE LISICKI
*WTA SLAM QUARTERFINALISTS*
[career slam QF - active]
[2011 QF - individual]
1...10 players with 1
[2011 - by nation]
2...BELARUS, China, CZECH REPUBLIC, FRANCE, Italy
1...AUSTRIA, Belgium, BULGARIA, Denmark, Poland, SLOVAK REPUBLIC
[Last 2 seasons - by nation]
3...BELARUS, CZECH REPUBLIC, Denmark, GERMANY
2...Australia, BULGARIA, Estonia, FRANCE, SLOVAK REPUBLIC
1...AUSTRIA, Kazakhstan, Poland, Serbia
*WOMEN'S OVERALL WON/LOST - BY NATION*
[through 4th Rd.]
13-10...Czech Republic (Kvitova)
6-2...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
TOP QUALIFIER: Alexa Glatch/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexa Glatch/USA def. Galina Voskoboeva/KAZ 3-6/7-6/12-10
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #23 Venus Williams/USA def. Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN 6-7/6-3/8-6 (2:55)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xx
TOP UNDER-THE-ROOF MATCH: Nominee: 2nd Rd. - V.Williams d. K.Date-Krumm 6-7/6-3/8-6 (2:55)
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)
UPSET QUEENS: Russia
REVELATION LADIES: Great Britain
LAST BRITS STANDING: Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong & Laura Robson (2nd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Misaki Doi/JPN (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Sabine Lisicki/GER (in QF)
IT GIRL: xx
MS. OPPORTUNITY: xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
CRASH & BURN: #15 Jelena Jankovic/SRB (1st Rd. loss to Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, worst slam result since '05 RG)
* S.Lisicki (down 2 MP vs. Li in 2nd Rd.)
* M.Bartoli (down 3 MP vs. Dominguez-Lino in 2nd Rd., wins 9-7 3rd set vs. Pennetta in 3rd Rd.)
* T.Paszek (Schiavone served for match in 3rd Rd., wins 11-9 3rd set)
DOUBLES STAR xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 7. More tommorow.