Tuesday, June 30, 2015

W.2- Up, Down and Out in London SW19

One day after 2014 semifinalist Lucie Safarova had to scrape and claw her way just to survive to play another day, the other three Wimbledon semifinalists from a year ago were making their own headlines on Day 2. For them, Tuesday was a day of one superior high... and two crashing lows.

First, the good (Petra) news.

After seeing the likes of #1 Serena Williams and #4 Maria Sharapova move on to the 2nd Round with nice (though not perfect, especially in the case of the former in the first thirty minutes of her match) wins yesterday, #2 seed and defending champ Petra Kvitova returned to Centre Court and knocked the rest of the women in the draw on their backsides, then pretty much scared the grass stains off their all-white outfits. Well, all of the remaining women save one, I guess.

In a 1st Round that has seen some dominating performances, none was more lethal than the Czech's today. She was more than Good Petra, she was Merciless Petra, and Kiki Bertens has the psychological scars to prove it.

Kvitova didn't double-bagel the Dutch woman, winning 6-1/6-0. So at least Kiki has that. But Petra did win a WTA season-best :36, and she was literally untouchable in her service games, losing just one of twenty-nine points (22/22 on 1st serves, 6/7 on 2nd... with the one lost point being a DF). Overall, the Czech won 48 of 61 points on the day, committing just three unforced errors (two off the ground) and sending an early message that she once again means business at SW19.

Well, unless, you know, Bad Petra unexpectedly shows up one day... which does sometime happen.

Ah, and then we had "the others."

As the season has gone on, two players who were first-time slam finalists a season ago, and even faced off in the Wimbledon semifinals in a battle to play in their first Ladies final at SW19, have seen more questions raised about their games and mental states than they've had answers to keep the raised eyebrows lowered in 2015. #3 Simona Halep and #12 Genie Bouchard are simply not the players they were, or at least most thought they were, a year ago. Both went out to players ranked outside the Top 100 today.

Halep, at least, seems more immediately redeemable. She's won three titles this year, and at times has looked like the player who was recently ranked #2 in the world. She's been open about her difficulties with dealing with the pressure of the new expectations for her career back home in Romania, as well about allowing her nerves to get the best of her in tight situations in several matches this season, including a hard-to-watch loss at the Australian Open to Ekaterina Makarova in which the Swarmette seemed to give up. Halep chalked up her disappointing clay season to an attempt to play an aggressive style of game that wasn't suited to the surface, but which she felt would be a better fit on the grass. After winning just two matches and falling in the QF in her only grass tune-up event in Birmingham, Halep parted ways with coach Victor Ionita (he'd replaced Wim Fissette, who'd helped to guide Halep's great '14 campaign), after having also cut loose consultant Thomas Hogstedt earlier this season. Needless to say, the message and direction of Team Halep seemed a bit confused heading into the third slam of the year.

Today, at least, the result was understandable. Halep played with a blister on her middle toe that hurt her ability to serve (she had seven DF), and her usual consistency was absent in an error-strewn (34 UE) day. It took her two attempts to serve out the 1st set, but she did to take the lead in the match. But #106 Jana Cepelova is no fluke. The Slovak only had one MD tour win in '15 coming into Wimbledon, but her ability to jump up and beat ANYONE on a given day is well known. Her Charleston final run last year included a win over Serena Williams, but today's victory over Halep might be considered the biggest of her career just because of the bigger stage.

"It is of course better because it's Wimbledon, a grand slam," Cepelova said. "Simona's a very good player but today was my day."

Halep dropped serve in her final two games to lose the 2nd set, and Cepelova served for the match in the 3rd at 5-3. The Slovak fell behind love/40 as Halep threatened to extend things by getting back on serve. But Cepelova swept the final five points of the match, which ended, appropriately, with Halep's final error of the day. Cepelova won 5-7/6-4/6-3.

While Halep, with time and effort, will likely be fine, Bouchard is a tougher case to crack. The Romanian has often been unfailingly forthright about what is ailing her and contributing to disappointing results, so the confidence is still high that at some point she'll rediscover her great on-court problem-solving abilities on a consistent basis and learn to deal with her new pressures. But the Canadian should maybe don an outfit full of question marks for the rest of the summer (or, maybe better, take a bit of a break... as Chris Evert suggested today on ESPN), because nothing seems quite so easy.

Bouchard's second straight 1st Round slam exit occurred today when #117-ranked qualifier Duan Yingying, called by some "the Lindsay Davenport of China" because of her size and power-from-the-baseline game, out-hit her in a 7-6(3)/6-4 victory that will knock the '14 finalist outside the Top 25 after losing for the fourth time in the last year to a player ranked outside the Top 100. 2-12 in her last fourteen matches, Bouchard has fallen seven times in the 1st Round since March, and her decision to steal away coach Sam Sumyk from longtime pupil Vika Azarenka earlier this year seems to have been accompanied by a particularly disheartening karmic backlash.

While Bouchard has been the subject up myriad photoshoots and dubbed the "most marketable" athlete in the world over the last year, anyone who has followed her actual tennis no longer can view her as the competitively pugnacious jock with the unlimited supply of confidence who never seemed to know how to back down from a challenger over the first half of the 2014 season. In less than a year, she's developed the reputation of a somewhat childish, unsportswomanlike player who consciously chooses to separate herself from competitors she talks about never wanting to be friends with, even going so far as to openly sneer at the traditional handshakes shared by sporting opponents, which really has only served to make her the target of occasionally public mocking (see Alexandra Dulgheru in Fed Cup) that it's difficult to see as anything but justified. Maria Sharapova, with whom Bouchard was so often compared as far as her "rising star" status was concerned (all those old photos of an elementary school-aged Bouchard and a still-just-a-teenager Sharapova didn't hurt the storyline, either), was never friends with her opponents on the way up, either, but she never talked about it in a way which made her a target for scorn. She was always smarter than that. Worse yet, as winning usually smooths over a lot of ill feelings, Bouchard can't win a match to save her life these days.

And, unlike Halep, she's mostly at a loss for answers to why. Just type in "Bouchard problems" into a Google search and you'll get a litany of articles and theories about why the Canadian has slipped so far in less than a year, but the one constant in all of them is that Bouchard herself hasn't gone on record with any sort of comments that speak to a self-awareness that would give even official merchandise-clad members of the Genie Army reason to avoid worry.

Whether it be lingering injuries, a too-stubborn and/or entitled attitude or flaws in her game (a one plan and one plan only approach, little margin for error on her shots and inadequate defensive abilities that would otherwise allow her to stick in games and maybe use the obstinate personality that we saw in '14 to her advantage) that's the cause, or some combination of them all, Bouchard's fall will likely only put her even more under the microscope of public opinion. In truth, maybe the biggest problem is between her ears. She's not been the same player since she was dissected by Kvitova in last year's Wimbledon final (3 & love), and then her other best result over the last year (Wuhan final) also ended in a commanding loss at the hands of the same Czech (3 & 4), a defeat that likely did her confidence no favors. The Canadian who acted as if she was the most confident 20-year old on earth last summer doesn't seem to have enough of the good stuff to fill a thimble when she's on the court nowadays.

Perhaps this is just the sort of virtual gauntlet that is necessary for young players to make their way through. After similarly tough sledding over the past two years, Sloane Stephens looks to finally be seeing the light at the end of the expectation tunnel in recent months. Not surprisingly, it has been accompanied by a lower social media profile that has allowed her -- if just a bit -- more room to grow. Or, maybe more accurately, to begin to grow up. It's possible that if Bouchard goes through a process not all that different from her North American counterpart, she, too, will find her footing down the line. She's still just 21 years old.

Watching too closely, though, will probably only lead to more troubling days and nights... for her fans, as well as herself.

...while those two were crashing and burning, creating a bit of a mini-massacre on the bottom half of the draw on Day 2 (just missing on bringing to mind the original Radwanskian Massacre on Day 3 two years ago), this was happening...

I'm just sayin'. Now, if only someone or something could drag Bad Petra out into the light, well, we might have to bring out the ol' Threat Level chart for the bottom half of the draw (at least).

...yesterday, Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic served up a pair of double-bagel victories in :41 and :38 matches, respectively. On Day 2, Angelique Kerber looked across the net at Carina Witthoeft and decided that she'd like to dish out some bakery good of her own.

The Birmingham champ didn't allow a game against her countrywoman, though her 6-0/6-0 victory DID take a bit longer than Kvitova's 1 & love win later in the day, as the German became the first winner to advance on a very hot (for England, at least) Tuesday just forty-four minutes after the start of play.

...along with the Crash & Burn co-winners, some additional Wimbledon awards were handed out on Day 2.

The Last Brit Standing was determined when Laura Robson ended her 17-month slam absence with a 6-4/6-4 defeat at the hands of Evgeniya Rodina, presenting the honor to Heather Watson no matter happened in her continued-from-Day 1 match with Caroline Garcia.

As it turned out, Watson actually got a win as Garcia yet again crumbled on a big slam stage. After being the First Seed Out on Day 1 at Roland Garros, the Pastry was the First Seed Out on Day 2 of Wimbledon today despite holding three MP at 5-4 in the only set the two woman were scheduled to compete in today. Garcia dropped her final two service games in the 1-6/6-3/8-6 Watson victory, meaning the French woman has now exited in the 1st Round at five of the last seven slams.

Since the AELTC only handed out five of a possible eight wild cards for this event, Robson (who got #5) going out means that the Last Wild Card Standing is 18-year old Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, the '14 Wimbledon girls champ who notched a win over CSN on Day 1.

...elsewhere, Karolina Pliskova was joined in the 2nd Round by her sister Kristyna (meaning there are two Williamses, two Radwanskas AND those two Czechs still alive in the final 64), who battled back against fellow Maiden Tereza Smitkova, who reached the Round of 16 last year, to win 3-6/7-5/7-5. Smitkova led 6-3/4-2 and served for the match at 5-4.

#17 Elina Svitolina dropped the opening set to Misaki Doi but won in three, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova saved a MP in the 2nd set of a 6-7(3)/7-6(4)/6-2 win over Mona Barthel and, as usual, Yaroslava Shvedova managed to squander a lead on her way out the door of a slam singles competition. The Kazakh led Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 3-1 in the 3rd before losing to the Croat by a 7-5/6-7(5)/7-5 score.

And leave it to #28 Jelena Jankovic to have her Wimbledon past resemble her present, and her present resemble her past. Ten years after losing at SW19 to a Russian (Anastasia Myskina) in a 10-8 3rd set, today she prevailed over one (Elena Vesnina) in a 6-4/3-6/10-8 come from behind victory. The Hordette had led 4-2 in the 3rd set, and served for the match at 7-6.

#5 Caroline Wozniacki rebounded from a slow start to take down Zheng Saisai, winning the 2nd set at love; while #18 Sabine Lisicki fired eight aces while taking out Aussie Jarmila Gajdosova in straights sets. Rosmalen champ #31 Camila Giorgi won, but Nottingham winner Ana Konjuh lost 6-2/6-2 to #25 Alize Cornet.

Another teenager who seemed to have a chance at making some noise at this Wimbledon, Katerina Siniakova, fell to fellow Czech Denisa Allertova 2-6/6-4/6-3.

...late in the day, Yanina Wickmayer had the chance to put her 1st Round match away against young Hordette Elizaveta Kulichkova, but she failed to convert a MP in the 2nd set tie-break and the Russian pushed things to a 3rd. The match was suspended tied 1-1 in the 3rd.

In the final women's match of the day, #21 Madison Keys looked to be on her way out. But I always go back to the lesson she learned early last season in Fed Cup against Alize Cornet about never giving up, and just as I invoked it at last year's Wimbledon when she strung out a 3rd Round match against Yaroslava Shvedova until it was suspended (as it turned out, Keys was too injured to play when the match was to resume after the middle Sunday) and when she came back from a set and 5-0 down to win a match earlier this season I'll do it again here. The AO semifinalist and Charleston runner-up has had troubles at times maintaining the consistency of her big game this season, and it looked as if time was getting late for her to find her groove today against Stefanie Voegele. But she kept trying and, wouldn't you know it, things began to go her way.

Keys trailed 7-6(6)/3-1, with her serve and forehand not being particularly effective. But she turned it on just in time, running off a string of five straight games to force a 3rd set in the fading light. This time, though, she'd probably have been better off finishing the match today with the momentum in her favor, but things were stopped at 2-2 in the 3rd. Still, she'll be able to get advice from Lindsay Davenport overnight and should be ready to go tomorrow.

...in doubles, Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova began their attempt at winning a third straight slam with a 1st Round victory (they're 22-2 as a duo), while Day 1 losing-but-shining-brightly-anyway Serena Williams victim, Margarita Gasparyan, picked up a win with partner Alexandra Panova.

DAY 2 QUALIFIER WINS: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Bouchard), Olga Govortsova/BLR (def. Mitu)
DAY 2 BRIT WINS: Heather Watson (def. Garcia)

DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: Although, isn't it always a case of "I'll believe it when I see it" when it comes to Sisters Doubles?




LIKE FROM DAY 2: Amelie (& future Co.) sighting!

DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: The moment when it becomes even more obvious than usual that stupid rules are there just to screw with people and give others a flimsy sense of superiority and, really, nothing else.


LIKE FROM DAY 2: Good Petra and... "Merciless Petra?"

...and, finally, with the 1st Round mostly complete, here are the overall records of the nations with at least (or w/ the chance to have) three players still remaining in the women's 2nd Round:

7-8...USA (w/ Keys to finish)
5-3...RUS (w/ Kulichkova to finish)
NOTE: SUI (2-0 w/ Voegele to finish)

The "Upset Queens" title is still too close/muddled to call, while the "Revelation Ladies" crown looks to be a race between the Czechs (both Pliskovas, Allertova), the Belarusians (qualifiers Sasnovich & Govortsova) and the Swiss (Bacsinszky, Bencic and maybe Voegele). Since the Maidens won the award at last year's Wimbledon on the backs of runs by Safarova, Strycova and Smitkova I'll go with the Swiss partially based on the big jump in overall results this season from the women of Switzerland (and that they've never won this award).

Ah, but what about the "Nation of Poor Souls?" Well, it's always easy to give it to the Brits at Wimbledon, but the carnage was lessened a bit by the relatively few local favorites in the draw (only four), and Watson's survival today meaning that they at least didn't go winless.

Here are some particularly bad national numbers:


It's tempting to go with Romania after Halep's loss, but #29 Begu advanced along Niculescu, and they're big enough names to avoid the full national black mark. China was really successful in the Q-rounds, pulled off the Bouchard upset, and really isn't expected to do much anymore without Li Na around (and Peng Shuai injured). Estonia, especially with both Kontaveit and Kanepi having good grass court histories, is a possibility... but I'll go with the Italians. While Giorgi and Errani advanced (the latter by defeating another Italian), Pennetta was the first seed out (making it four Italian FSO's at SW19 in six years), Vinci was a disappointment, Knapp retired and Schiavone lost yet another 1st Round slam match.

Also, on the eve of the OBSERVED Radwanskian Massacre Day (Day 3), be alert for signs of looming darkness. I've actually added that swooping-seagull-vs.-Aga incident on the OFFICIAL Rad Massacre Day last Friday in Eastbourne on the nomination list for the first Wimbledon "Radwanska Award." It would seem sort of fitting to go with the inaugural winner... but we'll see what happens tomorrow.

More Award updates as they become available.

I love to have fun ???? just walking is not for us #dowhatyoulike ???? video cred to my bro @vagen007

A video posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Samantha Stosur, AUS [1st Rd. - both RG finalists]
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1st Rd.)
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2014 Sloane Stephens, USA (1st Rd.)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN & Simona Halep, ROU (both 1st Rd.)

2006 Serbia
2007 France
2008 Russia
2009 Italy (veterans)
2010 Romania
2011 Great Britain
2012 Netherlands
2013 Australia/New Zealand
2014 Czech Republic
2015 Switzerland

2008 Elena Baltacha & Anne Keothavong (2nd Rd.)
2009 Elena Baltacha (2nd Rd.)
2010 Heather Watson (GBR 0-6 in 1st Rd., Watson last to lose)
2011 Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong & Laura Robson (2nd Rd.)
2012 Heather Watson (3rd Rd.)
2013 Laura Robson (4th Rd.)
2014 Naomi Broady & Heather Watson (2nd Rd.)
2015 Heather Watson (in 2nd Rd.)

2008 Zheng Jie, CHN (SF)
2009 Elena Baltacha/GBR & Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR (2nd Rd.)
2010 none to 2nd Rd.
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER (SF)
2012 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ (4th Rd.)
2013 Alison Riske, USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Vera Zvonareva, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2015 Jelena Ostapenko, LAT (in 2nd Rd.)

2010 GBR (0-6 1st Rd.)
2011 AUS (1-3 1st Rd., Stosur & Dokic losses)
2012 SVK (1-3 in 1st Rd.; all 3 w/ WTA titles lost)
2013 GBR (1-6 in 1st Rd.)
2014 SVK (1-4 1st; grass champs Hantuchova/Rybarikova 1st Rd.)
2015 ITA (Pennetta "FSO" - ITA 4/6 Wimb. FSO; Schiavone loss, Knapp ret.)

TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): 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
FIRST WINNER: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (Pennetta "FSO" - ITA 4/6 FSO at Wimbledon; Schiavone another 1st Rd; Knapp ret.; Vinci disappointing)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Duan/CHN, Govortsova/BLR, Hogenkamp/NED, Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA, Sasnovich/BLR
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (in 2nd Rd.)
LAST BRIT STANDING: Heather Watson/GBR (in 2nd Rd.)
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: #12 Genie Bouchard/CAN (1st Rd. loss to qualifier #117 Duan; was '14 finalist; two con. slam 1st Rd. losses) & #3 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd. loss to #106 Cepelova; lost to Bouchard in '14 SW19 semi)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #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); Watson (1st Rd. - down 3 MP as Garcia served at 5-4 in 3rd set, won 8-6)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD: Nominee: (pre-Wimbledon) seagull swoops at Aga Radwanska on original Radwanskian Massacre Day date (6/26) in Eastbourne, foretelling the Pole's eventually title-less week


All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


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