Tuesday, May 27, 2014

RG.3- How Much is That Pastry in the Window?

Hmmm, a two-time slam champion currently ranked #2 in the world vs. the world #103 whose poor serve and bundle of nerves have conspired to lead her to continually be given the backhanded compliment about being a "doubles specialist" the last two seasons.

Easy-peasy day, right?

Uhh, not so fast.

Li Na's destiny to ride the Day 3 rollercoaster was apparent from the start in her 1st Round match against Kristina Mladenovic. The French Pastry went up a break at 3-1 in the early stages of the opening set, only to quickly lose her advantage. She went up a break again a few games later, but lost that advantage, too. Li held a set point in the tenth game of the 1st set, but couldn't make use of the moment or seize upon her opponent's poor serving. Mladenovic held on and went up a break once more. This time, she served out the set at 7-5.

In the 2nd, Li finally looked like herself. Not perfect, but surely expected to advance to the 2nd Round past a former junior star who has struggled to find her footing in singles on the WTA tour. Even one that won the RG junior title back in 2009. Mladenovic, who just turned 21 less than two weeks ago, had lost in the 1st Round in four of five appearances at Roland Garros, and has never done better than the 3rd Round in any slam. Li won in Paris in 2011, and is the defending Australian Open champion. After quickly taking the 2nd set, one expected Mladenovic's nerves to kick in and Li to pull away in the 3rd.

Instead, it was the Pastry who raced to a 5-1 lead, while Li somewhat played the role of an abandoned amusement park. So much fun could be hand there, but... ummm, it wasn't happening on this day.

Three straight forehand errors from Li gave Mladenovic triple match point. The match ended, naturally, on another error by the veteran, as the Pastry won 7-5/3-6/6-1 to add a long-awaited highlight result to her career singles resume. As for Li, she didn't sugar-coat her own (lack of) good tennis on Day 3. "I think doesn't matter who plays today against me, I always lose the match today, because I don't think she was put a lot of pressure from me," Li said. "I think today just I gave it away for the match."

Li's loss marks the fourth time in the Open era that the women's AO champ lost in the 1st Round in Paris. It's the first time it's happened since 2000, and just the second time in the last thirty-five years. Still, I don't think it has changed anything for this Roland Garros, nor for the bottom half of the draw that is now missing its #2 seed. Honestly, I never really saw Li as any sort of threat to reach the women's singles final, anyway, and maybe not even the semifinals. Her continued in-match lapses and recent form, as well as her ages-old mediocre clay results over the course of her career, left me pinning all sort of notes to my ranking of her at the top of the quarter in my RG preview. As I said then, "While I list her #1 here, I just quite bring myself to think that she'll live up to her #2 seed, or maybe even reach the final four. Inconsistency, especially on clay, is still a part of her game. And at RG, it's probably a deal breaker."

In the end, this loss will be just a blip on the radar for this slam. It's become clear that Li's 2011 title run was the aberration, while her great results in Melbourne on hard court represent the REAL Na. Her early exit likely won't even impact her ranking, as it appears that she'll maintain her #2 ranking once the tournament concludes. Well, unless #3 Aga Radwanska wins the title.

But, I mean, what are the odds of that?

Nawww... It's not listening.

(I say, then slyly check behind me to make sure there's nothing lurking there.)

...needless to say, this has been a Roland Garros that the Chinese women would like to forget. It all began when Zhang Shuai was the first player sent packing in the main draw (by Aga Radwanska, no less) on Sunday. Her loss was followed by Zheng Jie's to 19-year old Anna (hmmm, "Anna") Schmiedlova yesterday. Li's "Crash-and-Burn" upset wasn't the end of China's misery on Tuesday, either. Peng Shuai, 2-0 with two clay wins and no lost sets against Sloane Stephens before today, lost 6-4/7-6(8) in their 1st Round match to leave the women's draw without a Chinese woman remaining.

The combined 0-4 record steals away the "Nation of Poor Souls" award for this slam from the Italians, who rebounded today with wins by Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani. Other nations who can now release the death grip on their rackets: Croatia (1-3, with three losses today alone) and Ukraine (1-3).

...in the final women's match of the day, Errani had to put in a bit of work against Madison Keys, though. After jumping to a 5-1 1st set lead, she failed to put away two set points at 5-3 and had to gut out a 7-5 win. Keys took the 2nd set at 6-3, and forced Errani to stave off a break point in game #3 of the 3rd. Once she did, Errani's experience and fight prevailed over Keys, who couldn't get back her momentum down the stretch.

Still, Keys keeps getting better and better results in 2014. The stick-to-it nature she showed in Fed Cup play seems to have stuck, but her inexperience still shows at times. It was mentioned during Tennis Channel's coverage that Keys actually has the highest average groundstroke speed -- man or woman -- at this RG at around 79 mph. Of course, that says a lot about her power, but it also says much about her lack of variety. Ironically, Keys will likely be a more well-rounded and more successful player with better results once that average groundstroke speed goes down.

If she can do that, what with Sloane Stephens' other "issues," might Keys actually be the better American player three years from now? Hmmm, maybe it'll be Team MADISON vs. Team Genie.

Speaking of Stephens, as she's wont to do at the slams, she stepped up and had a better-than-usual result today. Against Peng Shuai, who she's never even taken a set off, Stephens won in straights, even pulling out a long tie-break to seal the victory at 6-4/7-6(8). Of course, it didn't happen until after Current Sloane had blown a 4-2 2nd set lead, failed to convert two match points in the tie-break and then saw the Chinese woman hold a set point of her own. Stephens finally won 10-8 on her fourth MP. But, hey, why quibble with a victory, right?

Stephens joins a handful of NextGen Bannerettes in the 2nd Round, including Alison Riske, Coco Vandweghe and Taylor Townsend.

...well, Simona Halep sure looked like a potential threat to reach the final, didn't she? Citing afterward that she had fun on the court, something which she credits for her year-long rise as maybe an even bigger key to success than her increased aggression and recently-improved serve, the Swarmette jumped all over Alisa Kleybanova today. She led 6-0/5-0 before the Russian finally got on the board. Kleybanova eventually won two games in the 2nd set.

During ESPN2 coverage, it was mentioned how the #4 player in the world has "only" reached one slam QF, which is true. But, really, Halep's ranking is based on her last twelve sterling months of results, not her entire career. Looked at that way, she's had two Round of 16 or better slam results in her last four slams, including back-to-back best-ever results in majors in New York in Melbourne. She very well may make it three in Paris. So, I'd say her slam results have actually been "impressive," rather than "surprisingly underwhelming."

...some other awards have been decided, as the two upsets of seeded players (a total of five lost in the 1st Round) by Mladenovic and Pauline Parmentier (#17 Vinci) are enough to garner the Pastries the "Upset Queens" honor, while, in keeping with their results during the regular season, the Spanish have taken the "Revelation Ladies" prize. Four Spanish women, three of whom have been first-time tour singles champions this year (CSN, Muguruza, Torro-Flor) and another (Soler-Espinosa) who was a first-time finalist just last week, won 1st Round matches.

...so much for that "great" 1st Round match between Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Garcia, huh? The nervous Pastry, perhaps showing that she's not as immune to pressure as she appeared to be in Bogota and the Fed Cup, was never really in the match. Said Garcia, "I have experienced many things over the last few months. I have made lots of progress. I have lived through many emotions. Today it probably was a bit too much for me. I'm going to take as much as I can from this experience. Ivanovic played a very good match today. She didn't give me any opportunity." She added, "But the pressure has been building up around me for the last few weeks, and I couldn't be the person I usually am. Sometimes stress can be positive, but this time I didn't manage it. I had my feet stuck on the ground, and when you play Ivanovic, things go very fast and you need to be very fast on your legs. I was totally stuck. So I was like a tractor out there."

AnaIvo won 6-1/6-3, and now jumps with both feet into the Li-less conversation about who'll be the other player in the final who'll face, likely, either Serena or Sharapova from the top half.

Meanwhile, Jana Cepelova's post-Charleston final swoon continues. She lost 6-2/6-3 to Polona Hercog. Jelena Jankovic won out in her to-be-completed match against Sharon Fichman, finishing off the final game of the 2nd set and taking the 3rd to win 5-7/6-1/6-3. Fichman's loss, along with one today by Aleksandra Wozniak, leaves Genie Bouchard as the sole Canadian woman in the 2nd Round.

...two more qualifiers advanced to the 2nd Round, as Kiki Bertens knocked out Alexandra Cadantu and Heather Watson defeated Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova. In total, four qualifiers and three wild cards remain.

We also lost a Radwanska.

No, not that one. Ula was forced to retire down 3-0 in the 3rd set against Magdalena Rybarikova. Not good news, but at least it wasn't her recently-repaired shoulder. It was an ankle injury that forced her out.

...the Final 64 includes seven players from the U.S., more than any other nation. Germany has six remaining, while Russia has five and France, Spain and the Slovak Republic all have four.


the oft-mentioned "Hawk-Eye Pete" from Tennis Channel's coverage.

Speaking of, Roland Garros not using replay technology because the balls leave marks on the clay wreaks of an "old school" situation that will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century -- sort of like Wimbledon's took-too-long-to-establish equal prize money. Haven't we all seen those marks near the lines where "divining" where the ball ACTUALLY hit is akin to deciphering World War II secret codes with an unsharpened pencil and a stick of bubble gum? When the agree-upon technology is there, even if it probably isn't TOTALLY accurate, why allow it to rust in the corner? Stupid.


Pam Shriver lamenting that the 1st Round losses by Stan Wawrinka and Li -- the first ever double opening match exits by reigning AO champs in Paris -- now means that we'll go another year without a Grand Slam. Come now, Pammy. We all know that the fact that Wawrinka and Li WON in Melbourne pretty much sealed the fate of a Grand Slam-less season in 2014, didn't we? Did anyone really think either was a contender to win all four slams? Only AO wins by Nadal, Djokovic or Serena (and maybe Sharapova), considering the ability or lack thereof of some top players to win major titles on all surfaces, would have allowed the prospect of a GS to be alive coming into Roland Garros.

...and, finally, of course, the biggest head-shaking Pammy moment ever came five years ago at the U.S. Open, which springs to mind today because, unlike in the '09 U.S. semis, Caroline "Other Things on Her Mind" Wozniacki actually lost today to Yanina Wick-mayer, her first 1st Round exit in Paris since her grand slam debut there in 2007.

By the way, kudos to Shriver for managing over the last few years to rise above that little moment and end up being beloved, in her own odd way, in this space. Her admiration of the "magic killer" moves of a certain Pole was the final piece to that puzzle, of course.

Speaking of turning things around, has the Dane's recent off-court trouble set the stage for her to now become a truly "sympathetic figure" after a few years of really being anything but that? Something to watch. Or not. We'll see.

=1st Round=
1978 Chris O'Neil
1979 Barbara Jordan
2000 Lindsay Davenport
2014 Li Na
=2nd Round=
1987 Hana Mandlikova
2004 Justine Henin
2011 Kim Clijsters

2004 Ukraine
2005 France
2006 United States
2007 Romania
2008 Czech Republic
2009 Kazakhstan (ex-Russians)
2010 Australia
2011 Romania
2012 United States
2013 Slovak Republic
2014 France

2006 France
2007 Italy
2008 Czech Republic
2009 Australia
2010 Germany
2011 North America
2012 France
2013 North America/Atlantic
2014 Spain

2008 Serena Williams, USA (lost 3rd Rd.)
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS (lost 3rd Rd.)
2010 Dinara Safina, RUS (lost 1st Rd.)
2011 Kim Clijsters, BEL (lost 2nd Rd.)
2012 Serena Williams, USA (lost 2nd Rd.)
2013 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (lost 2nd Rd.)
2014 Li Na, CHN (lost 1st Rd.)

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)
US: Germany (four of nation's five highest-ranked players out in 1st Rd.)
AO: Australia (1-6 in 1st Rd., 1-7 overall)
RG: Czech Republic (2-8 in 1st Rd.)
WI: Great Britain (1-6 in 1st Rd.)
US: Australia (1-4 overall, Stosur out 1st Rd., Rogowska double-bageled)
AO: Italy (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st Round)
RG: China (0-4 in 1st Rd.; Sh.Zhang "First Loss" & 2 seed Li "Crash-and-Burn")

191 - Victoria Azarenka
165 - Maria Sharapova
138 - Aga Radwanska
112 - Serena Williams
106 - Angelique Kerber
94 - Li Na
35 - Petra Kvitova
34 - Jelena Jankovic
18 - Simona Halep
9 - Dominika Cibulkova

[through 1st Rd.]
[North America/Atlantic]
0-1...Puerto Rico
7-7...United States
[South America]
[Russia & Eastern Europe]
[Western Europe & Scandinavia]
3-4...Czech Republic
1-0...Great Britain
4-1...Slovak Republic
1-0...New Zealand
[Africa/Middle East]
0-1...South Africa

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Cagla Buyukakcay/TUR d. Alberta Brianti/ITA 6-3/5-7/10-8
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Aga Radwanska/POL (def. Sh.Zhang/CHN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost 1st Rd. to Niculescu/ROU)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: The Chinese (0-4 in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: T.Bacsinszky/SUI, K.Bertens/NED, T.Paszek/AUT, H.Watson/GBR
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: C.Feuerstein/FRA, P.Parmentier/FRA, T.Townsend/USA
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: A.Cornet, C.Feuerstein, K.Mladenovic, P.Parmentier
IT "??": Nominee: K.Mladenovic/FRA
CRASH & BURN: #2 Li Na/CHN (lost 1st Rd./Mladenovic - 1st AO champ out early since 2000)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Nominee: Aga Radwanska's dress
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: Medina-Garrigues lost in second round of qualifying to Smitkova/CZE (ends streak of 41 con. appearances in slam main draws)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

Both Williams out today. Serena lost to a better player on the day GarbiƱe Muguruza 62 62. Serena never were allowed to play her game because of the agressive Spaniard who played a consistent game htroughout the match. Nice to see the gesture from Serena after the match - she knew she'd lost to a well playing youngster. Lot's of surprises this year - exciting ;)

Wed May 28, 08:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I'm so glad I had decided to stick with my Sharapova prediction despite her being in the same quarter as Serena!

Wed May 28, 08:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

(Hmmm... my ability to spot danger notes that while the 2nd round isn't even completed, a certain Radwanska is the highest-ranked player remaining...)

Let's see if she handles that pressure better than last Wimbledon.

Wed May 28, 09:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Things are happening at this RG in pairs: AO champs Wawrinka & Li. #2 Li & #1 Serena. Serena & Venus.

Looking for another...

Wed May 28, 10:51:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

So does it matter when Maria hasn't won against Serena in 10 years? Mmm. It's looking like wimby last year, losing star power early in the tournament. Halep, ivanovic , jankovic?

Wed May 28, 11:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, while upsets are exciting, it does make you wonder how things are going to look by the end of next week.

I guess that's why it's good to try to keep track of as many players as possible. So, in other words, ESPN and NBC are sweating bullets right about now. :)

Wed May 28, 01:49:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I hope Simona is traveling with a good physio, a doctor, a nurse, an acupuncturist, a Chinese medicine practitioner, and a podiatrist.

Been thinking about those "pairs" The Serbs? Say it isn't so!

I wonder if Muguruza will be able to calm herself down.

Wed May 28, 05:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

I hope so. A QF run seems open for her, and a match vs. Sharapova there could be very interesting.

Nice that Muguruza seems to have finally shaken off the "Radwanska bug" she picked up in Australia. :)

Wed May 28, 06:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

After Djokovic's endearing video you posted, this one with Mahut is, to say the least, in another category...


Wed May 28, 06:17:00 PM EDT  

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