W.3- Another Day, Another "The"
In Wednesday's late-starting "Most Interesting Match of the Day," Maria Sharapova found herself with an intriguing task. The Russian had already (not that successfully, it must be noted) faced down one spooky WTA presence this season, and in her 2nd round match at the All-England Club today she found another staring back at her from across the net. This time, instead of The Radwanska, it was The Pironkova.
Some refer to her as "The Grass Monster," while others simply "Tsvetana." No matter the name that is used, The Pironkova came into this Wimbledon having sent home from SW19 none other than Venus Williams the last two years en route to SF and QF results. In her history at the event, in total, she's knocked out seeded opponents on five different occasions. Aside from five-time champ Williams, her list of victims also includes a pair of former finalists in Vera Zvonareva and Marion Bartoli. A little more than a week ago, The Pironkova even took out The Radwanska on a grass court in Eastbourne.
Unlike The Rad, which often employs invisibility to allow It to sneak up behind Its victims, The Pironkova prefers coming directly at her challengers in broad daylight. Of course, although she hides in plain sight, she does employ a variety of tricky tactics -- the not-seen-all-that-often sliced forehead, a varied plan of action and a series of sneak attacks are among her favorites -- to accomplish her goals. Sure, her ONLY preferred battlefields are the grass courts at London SW19. But, as luck would have it, that's exactly where she was set to meet Sharapova on Day 3.
Early on in their hand-to-hand tussle, The Pironkova showed why this 2nd Round match was stamped as a "Handle with Care" package for Sharapova the moment the draw was announced. The P broke Sharapova's serve in the second game of the match to take a 2-0 lead. Soon, it was 3-0, then 4-1. With her hailing-from-Bulgaria opponent pushing her back, the Russian was consistently on the run and had little time to adjust to and prepare for The Pironkova's attacks. Not yet able to anticipate The P's service patterns, Sharapova fell behind 5-2. A deep return of serve pushed Sharapova back on the baseline, causing her to sail her own shot long and give The Pironkova a set point.
And that was when Sharapova reared back and punched The Pironkova in the face. A few times, in fact.
Pulling out a bigger serve, Sharapova saved the SP and held for 5-3. One game later, she got back on serve with a crazy, (Monica Seles-would-be-proud) angled shot across the net on break point. More aggressive and managing to step into the court more often, Sharapova was soon up 40/love on her own serve. But The Pironkova battled back to hold a second set point. Still, Sharapova held back the tide and kept the set alive. Down 6-5, Sharapova once again was forced to hold to stay in the match's opening stanza. But a double-fault put her down love/40 and it looked like The Pironkova was going to take her first-ever set off the Russian after being shut out in three previous battles. Once again, though, Sharapova pulled out a bigger serve to save three more set points and hold for a tie-break.
It was there that The Pironkova, after being held at bay on five occasions already, truly stumbled.
With an open court winner within easy reach at the net, The P fired a shot beyond the baseline in the first point of the tie-break. It immediately gave Sharapova a mini-break, and the Russian never looked back. She was soon up 3-0, and won 7-3, taking the 1st set after saving five total set points. With evening approaching, darkness was looming. But the battle wasn't suspended at that point. The two played on. By the time Sharapova got a service break to go up 3-1 in the 2nd, though, it was time to call it a night.
So, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out whether or not The Pironkova can take a punch and bounce back. Stay tuned.
=DAY 3 NOTES=
...last night, the Caroline Wozniacki/Tamira Paszek match ended up not being completed when the All-England Club decided that since the match wasn't originally scheduled to start on Centre Court on Day 2, then it didn't deserve to have the roof employed so that it could be finished there. Needless to say, as is often the case, the Club sometimes takes itself and its selective "rules" a little too seriously.
Paszek arrived in London from Eastbourne, where she claimed the title after coming back from a 6-4/4-0 deficit against world #9 Marion Bartoli in the semifinals, then from five match points down to #8 Angelique Kerber in the final. Wozniacki arrived with her parents and new "coach" Thomas Johansson in tow, Rory McIlroy on her mind and her former #1 ranking feeling more and more like it was a lifetime ago. With the Dane ranked at #7 in the world, the tasty notion that the Austrian would continue her climbing-the-ladder-one-rung-at-a-time momentum was more than front of mind.
Luckily, the resumption of the match WAS scheduled for the court on Day 3, so when the rains came once again with Paszek ready to serve for the set at 5-4, the roof was allowed to be closed. Well, actually, as it turned out, nothing turned out to be all that lucky for Wozniacki on this day.
With the starting score on Day 3 being 2-2, Paszek opened Part II of the match with a break of serve to go up 3-2. At 5-4, the roof was closed. But, not accustomed of late to being in a position of power, Paszek failed to convert four set points in the game as Wozniacki got a break of serve to knot things at 5-5. The Dane was trying to move a bit more inside the baseline in the set's closing games, and the tactic seemed to work. But, still, Paszek failed to grab the set because of unforced errors that stretched over the final few games. Wozniacki ultimately won the set 7-5.
As is often the case when Wozniacki faces a player with more pop than she possesses (which Paszek more than does, especially in her lethal forehand) -- and a willingness to use it (which the Dane has to be practically forced to do, and only when times are getting rough) -- the Austrian often-times overpowered her in this match. But Paszek's errors prevented her from having an easy time of it. In fact, Wozniacki held two break points in the 2nd set for a 5-3 lead and a shot to serve out a straight sets win. It seemed like she was on her way to a great escape. But Paszek has been at her best of late when her back has been pressed against the wall, and that was the case today, too.
With Paszek serving down 6-5, Wozniacki held two match points. But as happened against Kerber in Eastbourne, Paszek wasn't ready to quit playing. She held serve to force a tie-break, and won it 7-4 with a clean forehand winner.
In the 3rd, Wozniacki got an early break for 1-0 and backed it up with a hold of serve. But Paszek got things back on serve, then used another forehand winner to break for a 5-3 lead. The Dane broke back in the next game, but wasn't able to hold her own serve to extend the match. A wide shot gave Paszek her first match point, and another forehand winner took the match 5-7/7-6/6-4. Over two days, the pair played for 3:12.
In this match, Wozniacki displayed a different service stance that seemed to allow her to generate a bit more consistent power on the shot. But it's still a work in progress. Same with her willingness to move inside the baseline and occasionally abandon her passive, behind-the-baseline approach. It worked, at times. But it really means nothing... until it actually does. She's shown in matches before this that she CAN be more aggressive if she has to be, but she generally isn't UNTIL she must be. Against a power player like Paszek, by the time she finally sees fit to do something different it's often too late. She almost got away with it in this match, but she couldn't win the big points when the match was truly on the line. While the idea that she might learn something from her occasional inside-the-baseline success here SOUNDS good, there's no evidence that it's anything other than a hopeful fantasy at this point. Maybe one day that won't be the case. Until then, though, it's nothing more than a myth.
Truthfully, it's more likely that someone will soon be offered up as a sacrificial scapegoat for the Dane's worst slam result since her debut at Roland Garros in 2007. Thomas J., I hope you've got your next job lined up. Because it'd be no shock at all if, by the time the U.S. Open arrives, I'll have already grown tired of cracking wise about how every time a bell rings it means the Wozniackis have fired another "coach."
After winning twelve singles titles over the last two seasons and spending 67 weeks at #1, including as recently as five months ago, it says a great deal about where the Dane finds herself now that her exit won't even cause the beginning of a mild ripple in this Wimbledon draw. The "Irrelevancy Era" is now officially in full swing.
Now, as for PASZEK's continued presence in that same draw? Well, IT just might be very relevant.
...in this space, I've often sung tunes of praise about Sloane Stephens' future over the last year. But I really didn't think she was going to win today. Even as she's continually climbed the WTA ladder, the teenager has shown a not-quite-ready-for-primetime trait in several big matches against higher-ranked players, being unable to hold leads or win close sets that could have led to very, very big things.
At last year's Roland Garros, she had a 5-3 lead in the 1st set against Elena Baltacha, but lost in straights. She lost a tight 7-6/7-5 match to Svetlana Kuznetsova earlier this year in Melbourne. In Indian Wells, she lost a set and 5-2 advantage over Angelique Kerber. Last month in Paris, she served for the 1st set against Sam Stosur, only to again lose in straights. So when she continually failed to take the proverbial bull by the horns today against Petra Cetkovska, I figured she was on her way to another "learning experience" that looked a whole lot like a winnable match that was lost.
Up a break in the 1st, Stephens couldn't grab the double-break that would get her close to securing the set. She led 3-1 and 40/15, but didn't get convert any break point. At 4-2, she couldn't convert another break point. At 5-3, she went up 30/love on Cetkovska's serve, but the Czech managed to hold. When Stephens served for the set at 5-4, she was broken at love. Trying to get to a 1st set tie-break, down 6-5, she took a 30/love lead, but still ended up having to save three Cetkovska set points. After getting to the tie-break, she went up a mini-break at 3-2, but fell behind 6-4 and ended up having to save three set points.
But Stephens did, and she won the breaker 8-6. Maybe the experience helped her later in the match. After dropping the 2nd set, Stephens fell behind 0/30 on four consecutive service games in the 3rd. She went 4-0 in those games, though, and won the deciding set to take the 7-6/4-6/6-3 victory.
About the "situations" today that resembled others she's sometimes gotten herself into on the court, Stephens said, "I was saying to myself, 'Oh, my God, this is just ridiculous.'" "I'm 19 and I still do have some lapses where I have a brain fart. They’re less now than I used to have in the past. I really don’t get as upset when I lose points now. I’m not that emotional anymore.”
Of course, we can't talk about Stephens without talking a little Sloane, too. Stephens was asked about Gilles Simon's criticism of the equal pay the women get at the slams. "Whatever he says means nothing to me," she said. She then told everyone about her first run-in with the Frenchman as a 10-year old ball girl. He hit her in the chest with a ball and didn't apologize, she said. The next year, he attempted to push her off a practice court in Portugal. "Yeah, whatever," Stephens said.
Stephens plays Sabine Lisicki, who defeated Bojana Jovanovski in an 8-6 3rd set, next. I predict someone will have a great big smile on their face when it's over.
...elsewhere, after becoming the first British woman to win a Centre Court match in 27 years the other day, Heather Watson defeated Jamie Lee Hampton today to reach the 3rd Round. She plays some Polish player next. Speaking of...
..."THE QUARTER THAT TIME FORGOT" UPDATE: the search for a fourth semifinalist continues in one of the craziest-looking quarters in recent slam memory. Not much got any clearer on Day 3.
So far, four of the eight seeds in the section are already gone (and that's not counting Venus Williams or Melanie Oudin). #16 Flavia Pennetta was the OVERALL first seed to lose, followed soon by #27 Daniela Hantuchova. Ousted today were #11 Li Na and #5 Samantha Stosur, with the Aussie dropping to 21-22 for her career on grass in a wild-and-wooly defeat at the hands of 21-year old Dutch player Arantxa Rus.
Stosur won the first two games of the match. Then Rus went 6-0 in the next six. Then Stosur went 6-0. Then Rus 3-0. And then Stosur 2-0. Finally, late in the 3rd set, the two settled into a more give-and-take pattern. Rus broke for 4-2, and served for the match at 5-3. She double-faulted on her first match point, then Stosur won a 24-stroke rally to save MP #2 and got the break. Down 5-4, Stosur went up 40/15, but couldn't hold her lead and Rus eventually won her MP #3 when Stosur's backhand landed in the net to end the 6-2/0-6/6-4 match.
Of course, not all the seeds are gone. #30 Peng Shuai and #17 Maria Kirilenko won today, while #20 Nadia Petrova's match was suspended with her leading 6-4/5-5 over Timea Babos. Oh, and Miss Agnieszka Radwanska faced off with Elena Vesnina, the woman who destroyed Venus Williams... and destroyed HER, 6-2/6-1.
Hmmm... are plans behind made?
...while there were many contenders for the (dis)honor, the "Nation of Poor Souls" has been awarded to the woman of the Slovak Republic. Dominika Cibulkova's 1st Round loss today to Klara Zakopalova dropped the Slovaks to 1-3 in the 1st Round. Now, Cibulkova lost to a good opponent, while Daniela Hantuchova (def. by Jamie Lee Hampton) came to London injured, and Magdalena Rybarikova was taken out by a cetain Pole who is quietly rising to the top of the section of the draw that the #3 seed actually OFFICIALLY heads. But all three of those women have WTA titles to their names, while the only Slovak still alive in the 2nd Round is 19-year old qualifier Jana Cepelova, who'd never even played a main draw slam match in her career until a few days ago. Sounds like an award-winning combination to me.
Meanwhile, the Romanians (1-5), Aussies (1-5, with Stosur's 2nd Round loss) can all breath a "sigh of relief." Especially the Swarmettes, who just won the "NOPS" marker in Paris for another 1-5 1st Round effort, though Sorana Cirstea did get a win today over Li.
...DISLIKES FROM DAY 3:
-- Not to trash the enthusiasm that ESPN2's Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale showed while commenting on Paszek's great play, but after the match Evert called her a "bright new face" after earlier saying she was rendered "speechless" by the Austrian's performance. Not in a Kvitova-in-the-SW19-final sort of way, but in a way that said, "I've never heard of this person, but she plays REALLY well." If you didn't know, you'd think that Paszek had just emerged from the anonymity of a dark cave located somewhere on a deserted island, rather than having actually just come off taking down two Top 10ers in Eastbourne, being a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last season, and winning her first WTA singles title as far back as 2006 (when she was 15, and none other than Justine Henin said the Austrian had the talent to be a Top 5 player). Also, her match with Wozniacki had been circled by just about everyone who knew anything as a potential upset waiting to happen when the draw came out.
Of course, all that can be overlooked. What really can't is Evert and Drysdale mispronouncing Paszek's name for three long hours without anyone correcting them on it. They continually called her "ta-MYRA," rather than the WTA's LISTED (if anyone chose to check) pronunciation of "ta-MEER-ah." Since she came onto the scene in '06, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say her name like that. And, honestly, I don't know how someone looking at it for the first time would choose to say it that way, either. It was sort of like some of the ESPN SportsCenter and ESPNEWS hosts who take seemingly they-sound-just-like-they-look names -- like, say, "Vesnina" -- and somehow twist them into something totally incomprehensible.
I actually did hear one guy on ESPN Radio the other day say "Vesnina" correctly, then apologize for his error, and say it "Vesninia." Or maybe he meant it as "Vesniña." Either way. (Rolling eyes.)
-- During the on-set interview with Heather Watson, Hannah Storm using her "baby talk" voice -- well, that's going too far, let's call it "kindergarten talk" voice -- when asking the Brit, who's 20 and not 6, questions. Oh, and I'll throw in Hannah's fake smile, as well, in a two-for-one deal. And, to think, no coupons were needed for that bargain!
-- ESPN2's "updated scores" on the bottom of the screen during coverage, which has continually given wrong scoreline updates through the first three days of the tournament. The problem is that rather than running scores, ala Tennis Channel, so that they read, say, "Maria Sharapova leading Tsvetana Pironkova 7-6/3-1," ESPN2's goes with the "Maria Sharapova vs. Tsvetana Pironkova" format, with a score following that. Problem is, sometimes the order of the scores aren't corresponding with the order in which the competing players are listed. For example, today, the scoreline read "Sabine Lisicki vs. Bojana Jovanovski 6-3/1-2," when actually BoJo had won the 1st set, and Lisicki was leading the 2nd.
-- Prince Charles showing up at Wimbledon today. Not because I have anything against him. But because it's the first time he's been there SINCE 1970! At the time, he was 21 years old and had only recently gotten his university degree. Really, Chuck, did you leave a tassel behind and just remember it now after all these years?
...LIKES FROM DAY 3:
-- Just to (try) to be a little "fair" to Storm, I WILL say she was good in pressing Patrick McEnroe for an answer to an apparently unscripted question. When Mary Joe Fernandez and McEnroe were asked to pick the all-time best grass court player, MJF picked Martina Navratilova, while P-Mac chose Pete Sampras. Although, he noted, he picks Roger Federer as the overall all-time best player. But will Federer win another Wimbledon title during his career, Storm asked. Taken slighty aback by the question, McEnroe DID admit that he thinks that, while he CAN, Federer won't win title #7 (which would match Sampras' SW19 total).
...?????? FROM DAY 3:
-- Hannah Storm and Kim Clijsters on the same ESPN2 set late in the day. I say "??????" because I have no idea what was said... I just turned the sound down because I didn't even want to risk listening to what might be said. Hey, I AM trying my best to stay on "good terms" with KC as she passes by these last few times because, after all, her role in the Backspin "cast" is going to be especially hard to re-cast. Although, I will say that there IS a certain Danish ingenue that is looking as if she might just fit the bill.
...and, finally, there's an "interesting" little tidbit of information on the WTA site. In a Q&A interview with A-Rad called "Just a Minute with Agnieszka Radwanska," the Pole is asked what superpower she'd like to have. Her answer: Invisibility.
Of course, SHE would say that. Why am I NOT surprised?
*SLAM "NATIONS OF POOR SOULS"*
WI: Great Britain (0-6 1st Rd.)
WI: Australia (1-3 1st Rd., Stosur & Dokic losses)
US: Czech Republic (2-5 1st Rd., Kvitova loses)
AO: Great Britain (0-4 1st Rd.; all on Day 1)
RG: Romania (1-5 in 1st Rd.; Cadantu double-bageled)
WI: Slovak Republic (1-3 in 1st Rd.; all 3 w/ WTA titles lost)
*SLAM MATCH WINS - OPEN ERA*
239...Roger Federer (post-2r)
212...Serena Williams (post-1r)
*WIMBLEDON CENTRE COURT ROOF MATCHES - BY YEAR*
4th Rd. - Dinara Safina def. Amelie Mauresmo (partial)
4th Rd. - Andy Murray def. Stanislas Wawrinka
1st Rd - Novak Djokovic def. Olivier Rochus (partial) - 10:59 pm finish
1st Rd. - Francesca Schiavone def. Jelena Dokic (partial)
1st Rd. - Andy Murray def. Daniel Gimeno-Traver
2nd Rd. - Venus Williams def. Kimiko Date-Krumm
2nd Rd. - Rafael Nadal def. Robin Sweeting
2nd Rd. - Robin Soderling def. Lleyton Hewitt
2nd Rd. - Sabine Lisicki def. Li Na
2nd Rd. - Roger Federer def. Adrian Mannarino
3rd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka def. Daniela Hantuchova (partial)
3rd Rd. - Andy Murray def. Ivan Ljubicic
QF - Sabine Lisicki def. Marion Bartoli
QF - Maria Sharapova def. Dominika Cibulkova
QF - Victoria Azarenka def. Tamira Paszek (partial)
1st Rd. - Tamira Paszek def. Caroline Wozniacki (partial)
2nd Rd. - Kim Clijsters def. Andrea Hlavackova
2nd Rd. - Novak Djokovic def. Ryan Harrison
TOP QUALIFIER: Sandra Zaniewska/POL
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: #12q Mirjana Lucic/CRO d. #24 Bibiane Schoofs/NED 7-5/6-4
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP UNDER-THE-ROOF MATCH: xx
FIRST WINNER: Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. C.Suarez-Navarro/ESP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #16 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost to C.Giorgi/ITA
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Slovak Republic (1-3 in 1st Rd.; 3 players w/ WTA titles lost)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: xx
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (in 2nd Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Baltacha, Keothavong in 2nd Rd; Watson in 3rd Rd.
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominees: V.Williams/USA (lost 1st Rd. to E.Vesnina/RUS, first opening round loss at Wimbledon since 1997 debut), C.Wozniacki/DEN (lost 1st Rd. to T.Paszek/AUT, worst slam result since debuted at '07 RG)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: T.Paszek/AUT (down 2 MP vs. C.Wozniacki/DEN in 1st Rd.)
DOUBLES STAR xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 3. More tomorrow.