W.1- A Matter of Time...and being Serena
On Day 1, it was time to play. So it was time to put the nets up.
It was also time for Serena Williams to win. Sure, it took a few games for her to get things appropriately rolling, but we all knew she would. It was just a matter of time. After all, the 20-time slam champ was thinking about this tournament while she was still on Chatrier Court in Paris three weeks ago after winning the Roland Garros final. That doesn't mean that she's necessarily destined to lift #21 at the end of the fortnight, but her focus is true. And that generally means a great deal. At the very least, she wasn't going to lose today. Her opponent, whoever it was, was never going to be anything other than a temporary obstacle.
So, meet Margarita Gasparyan. AKA "The Temporary Obstacle." But a pretty good one, as it turned out.
The #113-ranked woman in the world surely knew what she was up against on Day 1. "This is amazing, no? It's my first time playing at Wimbledon and in the 1st round I play Serena Williams. She's one of the best. She's a star. It is for me better," the Russian said after learning that she was to play the five-time SW19 champ.
That said, Gasparyan WAS impressive early. An ITF achiever (9-1 in finals) with three '15 titles already under her belt, she's six-foot-one with a big serve and one-handed backhand. This won't be her last match on a big stage. Even Serena, who'd naturally never met her 20-year old challenger until today, was surprised to learn that Gasparyan's ranking wasn't already high enough for her to automatically be included in the main draw, rather than having to get there by making her way through qualifying (her second consecutive slam Q-run of the season, no less).
On the first point of the match, the Hordette blasted a big deep return that Williams couldn't get back. Moments later, a Serena error put the #1 seed down love/40. Gasparyan broke serve, then fired a forehand down the line to hold for 2-0. Williams opened game #3 with a 116-mph serve and let out a yell.
It was just a matter of time.
But the day wasn't easy. One year after a Wimbledon experience that included a Round of 16 loss to Alize Cornet and that strange exit in the doubles when she seemed to have lost her equilibrium and couldn't even bounce a ball and catch it, the opening half-hour of her '15 return included being issued an audible obscenity violation and a slip/split/fall at the baseline that didn't look all that different from the one that Vika Azarenka experienced on the original Radwanskian Massacre Day two years ago. Well, except that Vika let out a cry of death and curled up like road kill on a highway, while Serena simply looked a bit perturbed and immediately got to her feet.
As the big Russian was firing the sort of winners that elicited a call of, "Hey, Mar-garita!" from the crowd, Williams was slowly rounding into shape. Serena finally got things back even with a break for 3-3, then she proceeded to win nine of the next eleven games to polish off a 6-4/6-1 victory, giving her a career 59-1 mark in slam 1st Rounds. She's 31-0 in the 1st AND 2nd Rounds at Wimbledon, so Timea Babos should probably focus on her BFF doubles chances with Kiki Mladenovic. I'm just sayin'.
One down. Six more to go for Serena Slam II. Thirteen more to go for the Grand Slam.
=DAY 1 NOTES=
...while there are potential early-round pitfalls ahead (i.e. Kiki Mladenovic in Round 3, then possibly multiple former-or-current world #1's soon afterward), #23 Vika Azarenka kicked off her 2015 Wimbledon experience as well as anyone could have expected. Facing off with wild card Estonian teenager Anett Kontaveit, who won a $50K grass court challenger a few weeks ago and was 11-2 on the surface in June, the two-time SW19 semifinalist cruised to a 6-2/6-1 victory -- just her second win in the last three years at the AELTC -- to become the very first player to advance to the 2nd Round.
The last time Vika was out of the gate so quickly was at the 2012 Australian Open. Not forecasting anything, but it should be noted that she won that tournament.
...of course, with the good on Day 1 of a slam comes the equally necessary bad. The "First Seed Out" was #24 Flavia Pennetta, a three-set victim of Zarina Diyas, 6-3/2-6/6-4.
This is the second time that Pennetta has been the first seed ousted at Wimbledon in the last four years, having lost early in 2012. Actually, this also marks the fourth time in the last six years that the FSO at SW19 hailed from Italy.
...one of -- if not THE -- en vogue upset pick for Day 1 was that of grass court maven Tsvetana Pironkova over #30 seeded Eastbourne champ Belinda Bencic. Things looked good for the Bulgarian early on, as she took the 1st set. But, as if often the case, Pironkova was hampered by a leg injury and the 18-year old 2013 Wimbledon girls champ Bencic showed no pity for her opponent's situation, winning the final two sets 1 & 3 to advance.
Bencic will next face Anna-Lena Friedsam, who erased a 4-1 3rd set deficit today to knock off Hordette Vitalia Diatchenko, as she attempts to return to the 3rd Round at SW19 one year after she won two matches in her debut there a year ago.
...Brit Johanna Konta has had a great grass court tune up season, reaching a pair of QF and notching a handful of big wins in the greatest stretch of results of her career. Meanwhile, #4 Maria Sharapova hasn't played a match since Roland Garros. The two faced off on Centre Court on Monday and... well, they both played up to the level of their past career results, making the past month null and void. Sharapova handily won 6-2/6-2 to move her career 1st Round record at Wimbledon to a spotless 13-0.
...Sharapova didn't have easiest time of things among the bigger names in action today, though. There were two double bagel results. #16 Venus Williams put down fellow American Madison Brengle in forty-one minutes, showing how good she was feeling by converting 17 of 20 net approaches.
#14 Andrea Petkovic, not with a great grass history but coming off a good week in Eastbourne, handled another Bannerette, Shelby Rogers, in a second "Wimbledon bakery special" in just THIRTY-EIGHT minutes, calling up her "inner Sabine" by firing seven aces in six service games.
...and then there was Karolina Pliskova. Oh, Karolina. She almost lived down to her grand slam reputation once again. After winning the 1st set against Irina Falconi, the #11-seeded Czech led 3-1 in the 2nd but saw the Bannerette force a 3rd. Pliskova won the decider handily, but one wonders if that squandered lead might plant a tiny seed of doubt that could grow into a tournament-ender for her before she can live up to her seed and reach her first career Round of 16 (at least) at a major.
Meanwhile, Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko made her grand slam debut on Day 1. The barely 18-year old (since June 18) wild card is the second-youngest player in the draw behind Ana Konjuh, and she won the Wimbledon girls title last year. You might remember, I picked her to death at the slams in '14, finally getting her SW19 title run correct after missing out on predictions for her to lift a slam title in both Melbourne and Paris. She was immediately impressive today, destroying #9-seed Carla Suarez-Navarro and allowing just two total games.
Jelena Ostapenko, junior champion in 2014, just knocked out 9th seed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-0! One to watch? pic.twitter.com/FP6TFY6BCM— Live Tennis (@livetennis) June 29, 2015
Hmmm, I wonder who was the last teen to upset a Top 10 player in their slam debut? Even Jelena Dokic had played in two slam MD before she knocked off #1 Martina Hingis in the 1st Round at Wimbledon in '99.
...Pennetta wasn't the only Italian to have a bad day. Roberta Vinci, who reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2012-13, lost in straight sets to Aleksandra Krunic (Go Bracelet!), while in a bit of Italian-on-Italian crime it was #19 Sara Errani taking out Francesca Schiavone in three sets, 6-2/5-7/6-1.
There's a lot of Italian angst out on Court 17 with Schiavone knocking her own head and Errani shouting "STUPIDA" at top of her lungs.— René Denfeld (@Renestance) June 29, 2015
The loss puts Schiavone right back on the bad slam slide that she finally stopped last month in Paris. Her brief RG run (which included that instant classic vs. Kuznetsova) had ended her eight-match slam losing streak. This loss means she's now been ousted in her opening match at ten of the last twelve majors, while this is her fourth straight defeat at Wimbledon since reaching the Round of 16 in 2012.
...elsewhere, Kirsten Flipkens dropped the opening set at love to Annika Beck, but the Waffle came back to win in three. Daniela Hantuchova won the all-Slovak battle with Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5/6-0, while Daria Gavrilova put up a fight but ultimately fell to #29 Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6(6)/6-1. And Sloane Stephens' good recent run continued as she quickly bounced back from a 3-1 deficit in the 1st set to take down '14 quarterfinalist #27 Barbora Strycova 6-4/6-2.
Though we really need to stop with polls like this:
...and has the OTHER big-time Czech in the draw be awakened from her post-Paris slumber? Maybe, which could make this Day 1 result very important down the road.
#6 Lucie Safarova was a SW19 semifinalist a year ago, but she improved upon even that result with her huge run to the Roland Garros final three weeks ago. She didn't have much grass court preparation, and had a potential 1st Round stumbling block in Alison Riske today. Early on, it looked as if the American was going to be much more than just that, though.
While Safarova seemed disengaged and was error-prone, Riske's grass court experience and success showed. She won the 1st set and led 4-2 in the 2nd. Safarova got a break to get back on serve at 4-3, but Riske immediately got the advantage back and served for the match at 5-4. But the Czech held on, and Riske's nerves got the best of her. The rest is history. Safarova rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd and won 3-6/7-5/6-3.
Who knows what this escape could do for Safarova. If it immediately transforms her back into the player who has been one of the best on tour over the past year, the Czech could be a "Zombie Queen" contender who really IS a contender by the end of next week.
DAY 1 QUALIFIER WINS: Richel Hogenkamp/NED (def. Wang), Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE (def. Kanepi), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (def. Van Uytvanck), Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR (def. Zhu)
DAY 1 WILD CARD WINS: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (def. Suarez-Navarro)
DAY 1 BRIT WINS: even limiting the number of Brits in the main draw because of a lack of merit, the locals still went 0-2 on Day 1. And if Heather Watson hadn't grabbed the 2nd set late in the day against Caroline Garcia, pushing the 3rd set into Day 2, it might have been even worse.
LIKE FROM DAY 1: Pammy Shriver is back on ESPN! Yes. I never would have uttered such a thing without a hint of sarcasm a few years ago, but I do now. So there you go.
Too bad not an open stance one handed backhand pic.twitter.com/iwg0haP4kV— Pam Shriver (@PHShriver) June 29, 2015
SISTER FACT FROM DAY 1:
CONFIRMATION FROM DAY 1: Finally, some word on whether or not Schiavone has her eye on Ai Sugiyama's WTA record of 62 consecutive slam appearances. She does. This was her 60th straight slam.
Francesca Schiavone future plans? To open a Tennis Accademy. But first she wants to play 62 slam events— Angelica Fratini (@angelikf) June 29, 2015
DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: Speaking of Francesca (and Sara, too, for that matter). These match-up caricatures are usually pretty good... but I think someone needs to go back to the (literal) drawing board for these two. Is that even Errani at all, or another player altogether?
UPDATED SISTER FACT FROM DAY 1:
DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: A little less JJ at SW19.
LIKE FROM DAY 1: Petko being Petko (as always)
Taking candy from a baby like pic.twitter.com/GbbsCOkaRa— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) June 29, 2015
LIKE FROM DAY 1: Even Maria's post-run shots are imagined in stylish B&W.
"FUN WITH AUDIO" CLASSIC FROM DAY 1:
When you're no longer in the running towards becoming Wimbledon's Next Top Umpire pic.twitter.com/pafEHQH95j— WTA Reactions (@WTAreactions) June 29, 2015
...and, finally... leave it to Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champ, to throw in a little more drawn-out drama before he walked out the doors of the AELTC for the last time... as in losing a two sets to one lead, then saving three MP in the 5th before finally going out 11-9 to Jarkko Nieminen.
I was never really a great fan of the Aussie. But even players you don't particularly cotton to earn loads of respect when they battle through injuries and stick around as long as Hewitt has. He played his first slam match back in 1997. Belinda Bencic wouldn't be BORN for two months, and Ana Konjuh hadn't even yet been conceived. They've both won WTA titles over the past three weeks.
Remember, Hewitt was ranked #1 in the world and winning his two career slams BEFORE the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Roddick and Ferrero had ever climbed into the top spot or won ANY major titles. The player he replaced as #1 when he reached the position for the first time in 2001? Gustavo Kuerten. The player who replaced Hewitt both times he was supplanted as #1 in 2003? Andre Agassi. Both players have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, three and four years ago, respectively. Meanwhile, the Aussie still has a little work to do. He won't officially call it career until after the 2016 Australian Open.
Good morning ?????????????????? pic.twitter.com/roRnGu5Auh— Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) June 29, 2015
*WIMBLEDON "FIRST SEED OUT"*
2005 #10 Patty Schnyder, SUI (lost to Ant.Serra-Zanetta/ITA)
2006 #28 Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (lost to Birnerova/CZE)
2007 #30 Olga Puchkova, RUS (lost to Vesnina/RUS)
2008 #30 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (lost to J.Zheng/CHN)
2009 #23 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN (lost to Schiavone/ITA)
2010 #5 Francesca Schiavone ITA (lost to Dushevina/RUS)
2011 #22 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Pervak/RUS)
2012 #16 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Giorgi/ITA)
2013 #5 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Puig/PUR)
2014 #17 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Wickmayer/BEL)
2015 #24 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Diyas/KAZ)
*WIMBLEDON "FIRST VICTORY OF FORTNIGHT"*
2009 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Cetkovska/CZE)
2010 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Schnyder/SUI)
2011 Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Suarez-Navarro/ESP)
2013 Lesia Tsurenko/UKR (def. Arruabarrena-Vecino/ESP)
2014 Elena Vesnina/RUS (def. Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
2015 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #21 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR d. Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL 1-6/6-3/12-10 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: xx
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Hogenkamp/NED, Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA, Sasnovich/BLR
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Day 1 win: Ostapenko/LAT
LAST BRIT STANDING: 1st Rd.: 0-2 so far
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #9 Suarez-Navarro (lost 1st Rd. vs. WC Ostapenko, winning just 2 games)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #6 Safarova (1st Rd. - down set and 4-2 vs. Riske, who served at 5-4 for the match, then led 2-0 in the 3rd)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD: Nominee: Pironkova 1st Rd. injury
DOUBLES STARS: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 1. More tomorrow.