Saturday, June 02, 2012

RG.7- Blonde Bombshells Rule

Blondes were dropping bombs all over Roland Garros on Day 7. And, for three players in particular, what remained when the smoke had cleared might just say a great deal about their careers, in the near future and beyond.

Maria Sharapova has so far looked like the Queen of Paris at this year's event. But she's been a fairly merciless monarch. Pity poor Alexandra Cadantu, Ayumi Morita and, today, #28 seed Peng Shuai for having the bad luck to cross her path. After the Russian's 6-2/6-1 win today over Peng, she's 36-5 in total games won through three rounds, better than during her first three matches at any of the three previous slams she's won (she lost 15 at the '04 Wimbledon, 9 at the '06 U.S., and 11 at the AO in '08). With a 27-8 advantage in winners today, she upped her absolutely insane tournament advantage over her opponents to 67-9 (yes, her opponents are averaging THREE winners a match... that's even less than a Dane).

Of interest, only seven of those 67 winners have been aces, the same number of double-faults Sharapova has accumulated thus far. It stat proves that Sharapova hasn't needed to serve her opponents off the court to win. If her confidence and comfort level on clay coming into Paris continues to hold up, though, she might be able to overcome it if the ratio doesn't start to tilt more her way come the time when the opposition begins to be named things like "Na" or "Petra" in the coming days. Needless to say, right about now, things are looking pretty good for this blonde.

One of the names of the opponents that won't be showing up on the other side of the net for Sharaprova is "Caroline," blonde or otherwise.

After falling from #1 to #9 since the start of the season, -- quite a more-precipitous-than-thought-possible drop for a player heretofore known for her consistency of results during the tour's "regular season" -- Caroline Wozniacki came into Day 7 having cruised through her first two matches in Paris, while having not really shown any change in her overall game that might hint at the sort of deep slam run that eluded her when she topped the rankings. For a bit today, she looked like she'd be ridden out on a rail by yet another blonde, Estonia's Kaia Kanepi.

After losing the 1st set 6-1, and then falling behind in the 2nd, Wozniacki stopped play in the middle of a rally to challenge a call on a ball hit by Kanepi to the baseline directly in front of the Dane. She circled a mark and the chair umpire took a look... and called the shot in. It set the Dane off. In truth, the Hawkeye replay -- not employed at RG -- showed the ball WAS out, but Wozniacki didn't need to see any video. She told the umpire that he'd "be embarrassed" if he could see Hawkeye right now, calling him "arrogant" and pointedly asking, "Did you go to school?" not once, but twice. It all riled up the fans, but whether or not it stoked Wozniacki at all is debatable.

Admirably, Wozniacki didn't give up. But as far as the course of this match was going to go, or not go, Kanepi, sort of had that covered. And not in a good way. At least for a while.

She led 6-1/5-1 and served for the match at 5-2, holding two match points in the game. But, with the memory of her five blown match points against Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon QF in '10 likely rising into her mind like bile in the back of her throat, Kanepi hit the skids. And Wozniacki let her. Largely keeping the ball in play and letting the Estonian beat herself, Wozniacki broke serve, held and broke serve again. In all, she won fourteen straight points. As Kanepi served for the match for a third time in the set at 6-5, the Dane broke her again to force a tie-break. Wozniacki won it to send things to a 3rd.

It was easy to think that Wozniacki was going to continue her surge, and maybe make something out of this Serena-less Roland Garros for herself, after all. It was even easier to think that Kanepi might fold.

As it turned out, Kanepi jumped to another 5-1 lead, then had to once again fight off her grand slam demons. She served for the match for a fourth time, double-faulting on her third match point and getting broken yet again. Fighting off a game point on Wozniacki's serve, Kanepi got a fourth match point, but the Dane held for 5-3. Serving for the match for a FIFTH time as the match clock ticked toward 3:00, Kanepi finally buckled down and got the job done. It was actually a Wozniacki error that ended things on match point #5, as Kanepi won 6-1/6-7/6-3.

She drew a heart symbol into the terre battue, and maybe finally put some of her demons to rest. For now, at least.

The same can't be said of Wozniacki, dumped out of yet another slam by a player with a bigger game. In her two lost sets today, Wozniacki was out-hit 29-4 in winners by Kanepi (18-2 in the 1st, 11-2 in the 3rd). The Dane could actually rise or stay put in the rankings after RG, with Marion Bartoli and possibly Li Na dropping in points from above her. But she might find herself outside the Top 10 for the first time in more than three years come before or after Wimbledon, where she's never advanced past the Round of 16.

It'll be interesting to see if fomer AO champ Thomas Johansson, the new (co-)coach who didn't manage to get to Paris to fulfill his duty to work a bit with Wozniacki, will be able to pick up the Dane and be able to do what Piotr never has been able to (or never wished to do). Namely, convince Caroline (or see Piotr allow him to do so) to play with the same sort of intent when the match is in play that she sometimes does when she's seemingly-hopelessly behind. So far, she hasn't been able to break free from her life-long patterns on the court, and the on-court results are catching up with her inaction, getting worse and worse because of it.

We saw three faces of Wozniacki today. The power-avoiding player who gets manhandled by a more forward-playing and big-hitting opponent on the big stage, the sometimes-petulant star who can be just as dismissive of officials on the court as some of her more-under-the-microscope counterparts (only now the "sunshine" of the #1 ranking doesn't make her immune to criticism on that particular front) and the competitor who isn't willing to simply let a match go, even when she's behind 6-1/5-1. Victoria Azarenka managed to combine such three sides of HERSELF to made a better player.

With Wozniacki, we're still talking about a disjointed collection of serviceable parts scattered across the WTA landscape

Three blondes. Three very different stories. All took place on Day 7.

...unlike Sharapova, Petra Kvitova didn't exactly sail into the Round of 16. She had something of a 2nd set hiccup against Nina Bratchikova, but turned herself around again to win 6-2/4-6/6-1. She'll next face American Varvara Lepchenko. Or, should I say, "NATURALIZED American" Varvara Lepchenko? As that is how ESPN2 has taken to calling her at nearly every opportunity the last two days.

I'm not exactly sure of the reasoning behind this. Of course, it's linked to Lepchenko only recently finally getting her American citizenship -- after living in the States for quite a while -- and now being eligible for the Olympics. Her RG run is putting her in position to possibly grab one of the four singles slots for London, behind Serena and Christina McHale, with the likes of Venus and Sloane Stephens the other players in the running. Is ESPN2 trying to kick up a bit of early controversy -- not that it'll need any help to get started -- by slyly questioning NOW whether Lepchenko SHOULD be eligible for the Olympics at all? Just wondering.

As was mentioned on air today, nobody yelped when NATURALIZED American Monica Seles made the U.S. Olympic team in '96 and '00. Of note, Mary Joe Fernandez DID talk about whether or not Venus might decide to skip singles in London, and only play Doubles and Mixed, which would open up a singles slot for one of the younger players.

Anyway, Lepchenko arguably had the biggest win of the day. The 26-year old showed great resilience in not crumbling late in her three-hour three-setter against '10 champ/'11 runner-up Francesca Schiavone. Lepchenko served for the match at 5-3, only to see the Italian vet prove to be not yet ready to go quietly. Schiavone got the break for 5-4.

Lepchenko got another chance to serve out the win at 7-6, but fell behind love/40. Once again offered an opportunity to curl up and go away, she didn't. She battled back to deuce, leaving Schiavone 5-for-22 on break points for the day, and held to win 3-6/6-3/8-6.

Thus, Lepchenko joins Stephens as the second of two Americans -- "real" or naturalized -- in the women's final sixteen.

The winner of the Kvitova/Lepchenko match will face the survivor of the match between Yaroslava Shvedova, the last qualifier in the draw, and defending champion Li Na, who dropped the 1st set today to McHale, but came back strong to win 3-6/6-2/6-1.

...late in the day, Arantxa Rus knocked off Julia Goerges in three sets in the fading light. Or at least it was fading in Goerges' eyes, who tried with all her might to get the match suspended after she fell seemingly hopelessly behind in the 3rd. As it turned out, she double-faulted on match point, giving Rus a 7-6/2-6/6-2 win and her first trip to a slam 4th Round.


Rennae Stubbs' post-match interview with Maria Sharapova on Tennis Channel. When a player's first words to a reporter after a match are about the quality of said reporter's shoes, you KNOW that player is feeling pretty confident and optimistic about her chances.

-- Sveta's "note to self"

-- That nothing has really changed about NBC. Even with Wimbledon now out of the network's reach, NBC still has Roland Garros to screw around with. And no matter how much live coverage and good commentary that is produced, it all gets thrown out the window when the network goes off air from Paris at the top of the hour this afternoon, just as Kanepi's serve was broken for 5-2 in the 3rd, to air Track & Field (a sport which actually gets FAR LESS attention in the U.S. than tennis... but this IS an Olympic year) coverage. At the same time, Tennis Channel was coming on the air, but apparently isn't allowed to air any live coverage during an hour in which NBC had the option to air it. Instead, Kvitova's match -- from ten hours earlier -- was shown as it had been live this morning.

So, I guess I'll throw a LIKE out to Radio Roland Garros, which filled the gap left by the American networks, while the commentators there talked about the messages they were getting from U.S. viewers talking about being left out in the cold by NBC.

Ah, just like old times. With ABC/ESPN talking over at Wimbledon later this month, though, those sort of situations should be avoided in a few weeks.

...and, finally, the RG Girls draw is out. Here are the Top 10 Girls seeds:

1. Taylor Townsend, USA
2. Annika Beck, GER
3. Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
4. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
5. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
6. Anna Danilina, KAZ
7. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
8. Donna Vekic, CRO
9. Chalena Scholl, USA
10. Sachia Vickery, USA

#8 Donna Vekic/CRO d. #13 Daria Gavrilova/RUS
#12 Anett Kontaveit/EST d. #6 Anna Danilina/KAZ
#12 Anett Kontaveit/EST d. #8 Donna Vekic/CRO

#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #15 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
Sloane Stephens/USA vs. #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#26 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS vs. #21 Sara Errani/ITA
#10 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. Petra Martic/CRO
#7 Li Na/CHN vs. (Q) Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
Varvara Lepchenko/USA vs. #4 Petra Kvitova/CZE
#23 Kaia Kanepi/EST vs. Arantxa Rus/NED
Klara Zakopalova/CZE vs. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #22 Andreas Seppi/ITA
#18 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. (LL) David Goffin/BEL
#9 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #7 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#6 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #20 Marcel Granollers/ESP
#17 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#8 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB vs. #12 Nicolas Almagro/ESP
#13 Juan Monaco/ARG vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

xx vs. #12 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP)
#4 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. #6 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
#7 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) vs. xx
#5 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. xx

[by age]
19 - Sloane Stephens
21 - Petra Martic, Arantxa Rus
22 - Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova
23 - Dominika Cibulkova
24 - Angelique Kerber, Yaroslava Shvedova
25 - Sara Errani, Maria Sharapova
26 - Kaia Kanepi, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Varvara Lepchenko
28 - Samantha Stosur
30 - Li Na, Klara Zakopalova
[by ranking]
#1 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
#2 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
#4 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
#6 - Samantha Stosur, AUS
#7 - Li Na, CHN
#10 - Angelique Kerber, GER
#16 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
#23 - Kaia Kanepi, EST
#24 - Sara Errani, ITA
#28 - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
#44 - Klara Zakopalova, CZE
#50 - Petra Martic, CRO
#63 - Varvara Lepchenko, USA
#70 - Sloane Stephens, USA
#88 - Arantxa Rus, NED
#142 - Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
[by career slam Round-of-16's; w/ number at RG]
24...Maria Sharapova (8) *
23...Svetlana Kuznetsova (8)
12...Li Na (3) *
11...Victoria Azarenka (4) *
8...Petra Kvitova (3) *
7...Samantha Stosur (3)
5...Dominika Cibulkova (2)
4...Kaia Kanepi (2)
2...Sara Errani (1) *
2...Angelique Kerber (1)
2...Yaroslava Shvedova (2)
2...Klara Zakopalova (1)
1...Varvara Lepchenko (1)
1...Petra Martic (1)
1...Arantxa Rus (1)
1...Sloane Stephens (1)
* - also reached 2012 AO Rd. of 16
[by preseason "Grand Slam Master List" rankings]
2 - Kvitova
4 - Stosur
5 - Azarenka
6 - Sharapova
9 - Kuznetsova
11 - Li
23 - Cibulkova
26 - Kanepi
41 - Kerber
48 - Stephens
unlisted - Errani,Lepchenko,Martic,Rus,Shvedova,Zakopalova

4...Spain (Almagro,Ferrer,Granollers,Nadal)
3...Czech Republic (Berdych,Kvitova,Zakopalova) *
2...Argentina (del Potro,Monaco)
2...France (Gasquet,Tsonga)
2...Italy (Errani,Seppi) *
2...Russia (Kuznetsova,Sharapova)
2...Serbia (Djokovic,Tipsarevic)
2...Switzerland (Federer,Wawrinka)
2...United States (Lepchenko,Stephens)
1...Australia (Stosur)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Belgium (Goffin)
1...China (Li)
1...Croatia (Martic)
1...Estonia (Kanepi)
1...Germany (Kerber)
1...Great Britain (Murray)
1...Kazakhstan (Shvedova)
1...Netherlands (Rus)
1...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
* - players remaining in both women's & men's draw

40...Venus Williams, USA
38...Serena Williams, USA
24...Kim Clijsters, BEL
20...Nadia Petrova, RUS
16...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
16...Francesca Schiavone, ITA
16...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
13...Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
12...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
12...LI NA, CHN
12...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
12...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
[since 2010 - last 10 slams]
8...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
6...LI NA, CHN
6...Francesca Schiavone, ITA
6...Serena Williams, USA
6...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5...Venus Williams, USA

[through 3rd Rd.]
15-10...United States (Lepchenko,Stephens)
13-8...Russia (Kuznetsova,Sharapova)
8-7...Czech Republic (Kvitova,Zakopalova)
7-4...Italy (Errani)
6-4...Germany (Kerber)
6-3...China (Li)
4-2...Belarus (Azarenka)
4-3...Kazakhstan (Shvedova)
4-4...Australia (Stosur)
3-0...Estonia (Kanepi)
3-1...Croatia (Martic)
3-1...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
3-2...Netherlands (Rus)
[no players left in draw]
7-6 = ESP
7-12 = FRA
3-2 = POL
3-3 = SRB
2-1 = DEN
2-3 = CAN
1-2 = JPN,SWE
1-3 = HUN,TPE
1-4 = GBR
1-6 = ROU
0-2 = AUT,UKR

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #1q Kiki Bertens/NED d. Annika Beck/GER 6-1/4-6/9-7
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Virginie Razzano/FRA d. #5 Serena Williams/USA 4-6/7-6(5)/6-3
FIRST WINNER: #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Mona Barthel/GER (lost 1st Rd. to Lauren Davis/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (1-5 in 1st Rd; A.Cadantu double-bageled & 18 total points)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (in 4th Rd.)
LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Claire Feuerstein/FRA, Melanie Oudin/USA & Irena Pavlovic/FRA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Mathilde Johansson/FRA (3rd Rd.)
IT: Nominees: A.Rus/NED, S.Stephens/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Spanish women, S.Kuznetsova/RUS & Y.Shvedova/KAZ
CRASH & BURN: #5 Serena Williams/USA (lost 1st Rd. to Razzano/FRA; led 6-4 & 5-1 in 2nd set tie-break; was 46-0 in career slam 1st Rd. matches)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #1 Azarenka (down 7-6/4-0, BPs for 5-0 to Brianti in 1st Rd.; avoided earliest exit by RG women's #1 seed)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Nominees: V.Razzano/FRA, M.Sharapova/RUS & S.Stephens/USA
DOUBLES STAR Nominees: Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA), Y.Shvedova/KAZ, K.Peschke/CZE & K.Srebotnik/SLO

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


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