Thursday, July 14, 2016

Grass Court Awards: The Match Lists

The matches of the grass season.
(Collected, chronicled and catalogued for Backspin posterity.)


[Best Match]
Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska
Anytime Aga Radwanska steps onto a tennis court armed with her wand-like racket (and magician's mind), the overwhelming sense pervades that anything might happen -- including something you may have never been ever before. Throw Dominika Cibulkova, tennis' always-in-motion version of a human sparkplug, into the mix and you get the sort of match that graced Court Three on Day 8 of Wimbledon.

A Round of 16 match that expertly doubled as performance art. A contest permeated with a menagerie of rallies that highlighted both touch and power, as well as unyielding tenacity, stubborn insistence and, naturally, a touch of magic dust (we ARE talking about a Radwanska match, after all). In the latter stages of its three-hour length, this shifting-in-momentum, marathon battle of wills left one of the most fit players on tour often bending over in exhaustion, and sometimes going so far as to roll over flat on her back and wish for it all to end. As long as she was declared the winner.

As it turned out, Cibulkova got her wish.

While much of the talk of WTA tennis in 2016 has focused on things happening OFF the actual courts on which the sport lives and breathes, something has happened a little under the radar. While Garbine Muguruza's Roland Garros title, Vika Azarenka's (brief, but hopefully just "interrupted") return to prominence, Angelique Kerber's stunning performance Down Under, Serena being, well, Serena, and various other storylines have managed to elbow their way out of the sport's high weeds and taken up a conversational position on the general sports landscape, one chapter of this season has not, and likely won't, crack through that particular glass ceiling. Namely, the burgeoning novella of dramatic excellence being co-authored over the first half of this season by Cibulkova and Radwanska.

Some may never really learn about. And it'll be their loss.

Going into their 4th Round meeting, the two women had already put together a three-match dance worthy of its own Tennis Channel marathon. In Indian Wells, Radwanska overcame Cibulkova's power shots and a 5-2 3rd set deficit, saving a MP and winning 7-5. In Madrid, Radwanska recovered from a set and 5-3 deficit to force a 3rd, then saw Cibulkova erase a break lead there and emerge the victor. Just two weeks ago in Eastbourne, Radwanska led by a set and 2-0 when rain (imagine that) put a stop to her momentum, then the two returned a day later and Cibulkova broke back and pulled out the match. She hasn't lost since, going on to take the tournament title (her first ever on grass) and then stage her current Wimbledon run, a winning streak that was at eight matches heading into this match vs. the former Wimbledon finalist and #3 seed.

Even with all that, the two outdid themselves in 2016 match #4.

In the early going, it appeared as if Radwanska might have played herself out in her "classic Aga" 3rd Round win on the Middle Sunday vs. Katerina Siniakova. Cibulkova's power and aggression seized control early and threatened to subdue the Pole's magic tendencies and, at least at this slam, her amazing run of luck, which included saving three MP (one on a net cord) against Ana Konjuh in the 2nd Round, then seeing the young Croat be largely denied the upset after stepping on a ball while running for a drop shot and stepping on the ball, badly rolling her ankle. The #19-seeded Slovak broke Radwanska for a 3-1 lead, then forced her to save two BP in game #6 just to avoid going down a double break and essentially ceding the opening set. She held for 5-2, but was never able to reach BP on Cibulkova's serve. The Slovak held for 6-3 to claim the 1st set.

Cibulkova continued to out-hit Radwanska in the 2nd. In game #3, she went up love/40 on the Pole's serve and broke for 2-1. But Aga wasn't going away. She took a 15/40 lead a game later, and broke back with a drop shot that produced an error from the Slovak, then staved off the ongoing pressure applied by Cibulkova and held for 3-2. In game #7, the Slovak went up love/30 on Radwanska's serve, staved off a GP, and broke her for 4-3 when an Aga backhand went long. Again, though, Radwanksa would not go away quietly. She broke back a game later as Cibulkova was forced into three consecutive errors to end the game.

But in a match that would ultimately be filled to the brim seesawing momentum shifts, Cibulkova's forehand winner broke yet again for 5-4, as Radwanska continued to struggle to use her full arsenal of shot variety due to the Slovak's power and pattern of consistently hitting most of her shots from inside the baseline. Finally, serving for the match, Cibulkova looked ready to put a stake through the heart of the Pole's Wimbledon dreams for yet another year. She went up 30/15 in game #10, only to see Radwanska pass her with a backhand. A Cibulkova DF followed and she was BP down. It was saved, but BP #2 arrived after Aga won a point that covered the entire court, from a drop shot at the net to all corners. Still, though, Aga had little margin for error. She netted a forehand return and Cibulkova was at MP.

Was this match not going to go the requisite three sets? Oh, come on...of course it was.

Cibulkova's wide backhand squandered her chance at a carefree afternoon and Radwanska soon reached BP #3. She stealthily moved in to the net to put away a FH volley and broke for 5-5. And away they went. Aga held for 6-5, then hit a forehand winner to go up 15/30 on Cibulkova's serve in game #12. Suddenly, momentum had turned enough to allow Radwanska to join the match midstream and quickly get up to speed. It took her nearly two full sets, but she'd finally broken down Cibulkova's defenses enough to play her OWN game. Flashing her renowned variety and knack for mind games, Aga began to fully utilize her great skills for anticipation, point construction and deft racket work.

A backhand down the line winner gave Radwanska a SP, then Cibulkova's own backhand down the line went out and, all of a sudden, the Pole had somehow managed to save a MP in another round and sneak off with a 7-5 set win that had evened the match.

Radwanska opened the 3rd set by holding to win her fourth straight game. Now, as Radwanska's game blossomed, Cibulkova's confidence began to dip. Her pressure waned just a tad, and her bigger groundstrokes were absorbed by Aga's racket. Radwanska reached BP in game #2, but Cibulkova saved it with a swing volley winner. She fired an ace to reach GP, then held for 1-1 three points later. Suddenly, just as quickly as she'd lost them, the Slovak's confidence and swagger were back.

The two would open up the throttle and go full out the rest of the way, with both players consistently grabbing leads on their opponent's serve only to see them then steer the momentum back in their favor and (usually) hold. In game #5, Cibulkova led 15/40 on Radwanska serve, but Aga saved both BP and held for 3-2. A game later, Cibulkova held from love/30. She then further upped her aggression a game later, going up love/40, this time getting the break for 4-3. But Radwanska chased down a drop shot and flipped things back in her favor again, going up 15/40 in game #8 and breaking back with a backhand winner. From 15/40 down, Aga saved three BP with two Cibulkova errors and her own reflex reaction to a ball that landed at her feet and crosscourt forehand winner. The Pole held for 5-4 two points later when the Slovak netted a backhand return.

At 5-5, Radwanska went up 40/30 on serve, but Cibulkova denied her with a forehand return winner on her second GP. It began a long dance in what would be a six-deuce game. A forehand crosscourt winner gave Cibulkova a BP. Aga fired an ace. Cibulkova's forehand down the line gave her BP #2, but Aga hit a forehand winner as a follow-up to her wide serve. The Slovak's forehand swing volley got her a third BP, but she fired a backhand out. Re-set. Another Cibulkova forehand winner down the line gave her a fourth BP, which Radwanska quickly erased with another big serve. By this point, it was getting ridiculous, as neither player would bend to the desires of the other for long enough for it to matter. Cibulkova's backhand down the line gave her BP #5. Radwanska aced her... but a replay challenge overturned the point. So Aga instead fired a serve up the "T" to Cibulkova's forehand and the Slovak netted it. Finally, the Pole got a GP and her forehand skidded off the baseline and produced a Cibulkova error that allowed Radwanska to hold for 6-5.


In the next game, Radwanska prevailed in a 20-shot rally to get to 15/15, and soon reached MP when Cibulkova fired a forehand out. But the Slovak saved it with a forehand winner, then held for 6-6. In game #13, Cibulkova's angled forehand from deep in the court allowed her to reach BP. A Radwanska forehand error secured the break for 7-6. The Slovak then served for the match for a second time. But she wouldn't put it away this time, either. She led 30/15, but missed a forehand to knot the game. Radwanska broke her for 7-7 with a forehand winner.

But it was to be Radwanska's final stand.

In game #15, Cibulkova carved out another BP opportunity. She failed to put it away and fired a forehand return long, but her second chance resulted in a Radwanska backhand error that gave Cibulkova the break for 8-7 and a third chance to serve to reach her first Wimbledon QF since 2011.

In the end, the final moments were tense. Cibulkova reached 15/15 with a forehand off a drop shot, rolling over on her back in exhaustion and staring at the sky at the conclusion of the point. But she gave the point back with an error a moment later. At 30/30, Cibulkova received a time violation from the chair umpire (come on... don't become the story, no matter how much the AELTC insists that you should over-officiate matches), setting her off but not so much that she lost her concentration. Radwanska's wide backhand gave Cibulkova her second MP. She missed on a forehand, but she got a another chance. Finally, on her third MP, Cibulkova's forehand winner (her 56th winner of the match, to Aga's own high count of 37) into the corner sealed a 6-3/5-7/9-7 victory... and gave birth to a million stories that will last a lifetime.

While Cibulkova celebrated, Radwanska gave little hint of the likely emotional turmoil roiling inside her as, once again, she has failed to get the most out of a Wimbledon experience and came up short once more in her career quest for an elusive grand slam title. She warmly hugged the Slovak at the net.

This match links them together, but only one could keep her dreams alive and survive to the next round.

It's a pity, really. But it's the suddenly stark contrast between winning and losing that makes matches like this meaningful, as well as special. As always, it's about the stakes.

They'll both play again, and likely play each other again soon (yes, please). But this one will continue to exist in the mystical tennis ether... all on its own.

[Craziest/Most Unfortunate Finish]
Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Aga Radwanska d. Ana Konjuh
Radwanska hardly seemed to be in for a dramatic afternoon when she took the 1st set at 6-2 from eighteen year-old Croat Konjuh, a two-time junior hard court slam winner in 2013 (Belinda Bencic won the other two majors that year). Konjuh won a tour title on the grass in Nottingham last year, but her bigger-hitting game hasn't quite allowed her to rise as quickly as junior counterpart Bencic has the last few years. She arrived in London as the #103-ranked player in the world, and faced off with former junior Wimbledon champ and Ladies finalist Radwanska, who came in having reached at least the Round of 16 at the event seven of the last eight years. Radwanska looked to be on her way to a straight sets match win when the momentum turned in game #5 of the 2nd set. And it turned quickly.
Konjuh got the break for a 3-2 lead, and her game suddenly turned lethal. You could tell that Aga was feeling the pressure of it, too, for (as sometimes happens vs. bigger-hitting players) her error totals began to climb as she tried to compensate. Konjuh failed to put away a set point on Radwanska's serve at 5-3, but finally did so, after saving a break point, on her fourth try in game #10 alone, taking the 2nd at 6-4 and pushing Aga to a 3rd set. The late 2nd set trend continued into the 3rd, as Konjuh's game forced Radwanska into uncharacteristic errors. The teenager broke the Pole to take a 2-1 lead, then backed it up by securing a hold on her fourth GP to go up 3-1. At 30/30 in the next game, and facing the possibility of being down 5-1 the next time she served, Radwanska hit forehand and drop shot winners on successive points to hold and bring the match back from a perilous edge. Still, Radwanska found herself having to hold to stay in the match four games later at 5-3. She did, saving a MP and once more surviving to play another game.

With Konjuh serving for the match and the biggest win of her career, Radwanska fell behind 40/15. Konjuh's forehand error (the shot would start to go awry from this point forward) lost MP #2, then on #3 another forehand shot clipped the net cord, hung ever-so-teasingly in the air for a moment, then fell onto the Croat's side of the court. If you'd listened carefully, maybe you could have heard our favorite disembodied entity gently blowing the ball back in Konjuh's direction. Or maybe not. Make no mistake, though, whether or not The Rad saw her standing there and wanted to hold her hand, for Aga, everything changed after that point. Radwanska moved in to put away a volley to reach BP. A few moments later, as the Pole began to prey on Konjuh's shaky forehand, the Croat produced back-to-back errors on that wing to give Radwanska a break at 5-5. She now had new life. It nearly didn't last long, though, as Aga fell behind 15/40 in the next game and was broken, only to turn around and go up love/40 on Konjuh's serve in game #12. A loose backhand error from Konjuh gave back the break for 6-6. A game later, Radwanska aced Konjuh to take a 30/15 lead then, after losing out (in a rare Aga scenario) on a point that involved a face-to-face at the net AND lob contest, she fired another well-timed ace to go up 40/30. A long Konjuh forehand gave Aga a 7-6 lead. Konjuh squandered a 40/15 lead a game later, but saved a MP with a smash that forced a Radwanska response to sail long. The Croat held for 7-7 in an eight-minute game on her fifth GP.

In game #14, the weirdness returned.

At 30/15, Radwanska hit a drop shot, a shot that her opponent had used often in the last few games in order to hide her own forehand inconsistency. Konjuh raced to the ball, but couldn't quite reach it. But as she lunged for the shot, she took a long stride and stepped directly on the ball. She nastily rolled her ankle and fell in a heap in front of Radwanska's changeover chair after avoiding sailing into the net post.

Konjuh, hurting badly, managed to get back to her own chair, where she cried during what seemed like a forever wait for a trainer to arrive. As she winced throughout, her right ankle was taped heavily, though she could barely stand to put pressure on it. But it was too late. You could tell by the expression on her face that she realized that she now had little hope to win a match that had been on her racket three times just minutes earlier. Still, she returned to give it a try. After having stretched and practiced serving during most of the delay, Radwanska double-faulted on the first point when play resumed. After that hiccup, she held for 8-7, then watched as a clearly limited Konjuh tried to serve and play her game. It was largely a going-through-the-motions situation, though. Finally, Aga could stand it no longer and, not wanting to compromise her own game plan because of her opponent's health, pulled out a drop shot that Konjuh had no chance of chasing down to go up 30/15. A backhand winner gave her her second MP. Finally, a last Konjuh forehand error ended it on Radwanska's third MP of the day, ending things after 2:36 as she lived to fight yet another day.

For the match, Konjuh fired 45 winners, but was ultimately undone when the match was still within her grasp by 52 unforced errors. Aga, for her part, had 28 winners of her own (high for her), and will have to live with failing to convert twelve of a whopping eighteen BP chances on the day. In the end, it was just enough... along with a fateful net cord, and an under-foot tennis ball that was in just the right place to cause enough havoc to end one player's Wimbledon dreams and resuscitate those of another.
[Closest Match]
Wimbledon Final - Serena Williams d. Angelique Kerber
In a high-quality final in which both sets were determined by just a few moments in the final games, Williams grabbed career slam win #22 by lifting her level of play at the moment of truth while AO champ Kerber blinked ever so slightly, getting the only breaks of the match in game #12 in the 1st and #9 in the 2nd. Williams and Kerber's second slam final meeting this year marks the first time two players have faced off for major titles in the same season since 2006 (Mauresmo/Henin). Serena, who at 34 broke her own record as the oldest SW19 champ in the Open era, is just a U.S. Open final away from becoming the first woman in a decade (Henin) to play in the championship match of all four majors in the same year.

[Most Dramatic Finish]
Wimbledon Q3 - Tamira Paszek d. Andrea Hlavackova
...6-3/5-7/10-9 ret.
Seeking her third consecutive successful SW19 Q-run, Paszek held MP at 5-4 in the 2nd set, but turned her ankle in the game and failed to put away the win. Hlavackova forced a 3rd set, where Paszek again took the lead at 5-3 before the Czech took the match even deeper before she started to cramp. She took a medical timeout at 8-8, and both players were treated simultaneously during the 9-8 changeover. Ultimately, Hlavackova couldn't go on and collapsed flat on her back after being forced to retire down 10-9.

Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Annika Beck d. Heather Watson
A year ago, Watson left Wimbledon in the 3rd Round. Disappointed, for sure, but also heartened by the incredible fight she'd shown vs. Serena Williams, leading the eventual champion 3-0 in the 3rd set, serving for the match and ultimately coming within two points of the upset (and being dubbed a Legendary British Tennis Superstardom for All Time, for sure). Even without the win, she left with her head held high. She characterized this loss like this:

That'll happen when, after two days of work, you lose a nearly three-hour long (more like 24-hours, really) match in a 12-10 3rd set despite having held triple match point, up love/40 on Annika Beck's serve in game #20 of the final set.

A day earlier, Beck had dropped the 1st set to Watson, then won seven straight games to take the 2nd at love and hold a 1-0 lead in the 3rd, falling and hurting her ankle in the process, when play was suspended for the day. A day later, she stretched her lead to 4-2, but saw Watson battle back to 4-4 when the German double-faulted to break her own serve in game #8. In game #13, Watson saved three BP, had a DF on game point, then saw Beck break her when the Brit failed on a drop shot attempt to take a 7-6 lead. But, in a game of back-and-forth, Beck dropped serve a game later. Four of the next five games were holds at love, as Watson led 10-9 then took a love/40 lead on Beck's serve, holding triple MP. Beck saved all three points, the last two with winners -- a backhand down the line, then a forehand that hit a line. The German reached game point, and Watson fired a shot long to knot the score at 10-10. With that, the Brit's tentative grasp on her comeback loosened. A game later, she fired her ninth ace, but followed it up with her seventh DF a point later to face a BP. A netted backhand from Watson handed a break lead to Beck, who went up 40/15 a game later. Watson, both taking and giving once again, saved one with a big backhand, but then ended the match on MP #2 with a backhand error. Beck completed the victory in nearly three hours of match play over two days, trailing Watson by a wide margin in winners (43-19) but making far fewer unforced errors (64-27), as well.

In real time, Watson only lasted one more day at last year's Wimbledon, falling to Williams on Day 5. But, my, what a difference a year can make.

On the bright side, though, Watson stuck around (even w/ back-to-back walkovers) and became the first British woman to win the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles since 1987.
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Garbine Muguruza d. Camila Giorgi
RG champ and '15 SW19 finalist Muguruza returned to action in a high-quality match (that seems to be a running theme w/ so many of her matches, win or lose, in '16) in a Centre Court meeting with Giorgi. After the Spaniard took the 1st 6-2, the hard-hitting match grew seriously tight in the 2nd set, with Giorgi holding a set point at 5-4 (Muguruza saved it by winning a baseline groundstroke battle) before converting on her second chance two games later to take the set 7-5. Muguruza began to slowly pull away in the 3rd, serving for the match at 5-4. She held at love, with a frustrated Giorgi committing four straight errors. But that didn't characterize the entire match, as it included both woman battling shoulder-to-shoulder in the winner column on the stat sheet. Garbi ultimately won 30-29, evening out her error total (30, to Giorgi's 42). Muguruza had 7 aces to six DF, while the Italian's 1-to-8 ratio was more problematic.
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Marina Erakovic d. Irina Falconi
The New Zealand qualifier nearly squandered a 4-2 3rd set lead, as Falconi won three straight games to lead 5-4. She held a MP in game #10, but failed to convert. Erakovic got the break of serve to go up 9-8, then served out the match. It was the 28-year old's first slam MD win since the 2014 U.S. Open, and her first in London since 2013, when she reached the third round. The matched that result at this Wimbledon.
Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Ekaterina Makarova d. Petra Kvitova
A three-player dance on Court 2 at the AELTC. THREE players, you ask? Why, yes. Ekaterina. Good Petra. And Bad Petra. Kvitova's career has evolved into a wonderful, horrible mash-up of frustrating, head-banging torture sessions that run the gamut of emotion from elation to pain to a feeling of relief when it's all finally over.

It was hard to tell which version of Kvitova was on the court every other minute in this one. Nothing unusual, even after Good Petra hogged the spotlight in the Czech's 1st Round. At any rate, Makarova broke Kvitova right out of the gate for 1-0, and led 4-2. A few minutes later, after the Russian failed to secure two GP in game #8, the Czech broke to get back on serve at 4-4. As the BBC commentator coverage said, "Good Petra has arrived. (But) bad Petra can appear at any given time." And she soon would. Serving to stay in the set down 4-5, Makarova held serve then broke Kvitova on the Czech's truly horrendous volley attempt. The Russian reached SP, but suddenly Kvitova surged and held a BP, then another. She converted neither. Makarova got the chance at a second SP, and Kvitova fired a ball (quite literally) a hair's-length beyond the line to give Makarova a solid/squandered/recovered 1st set victory.

Rain stopped play early in the 2nd set, and the match became another twisted day in the life of the Czech, as her long and winding 2016 Wimbledon road (she was finally looking to finish this SECOND Round match mid-way through Day 6 came to an end at the hands of the Russian. Well, and herself. Kvitova often played quite well, but only on a few brief occasions did her game rise to the brilliant level it had throughout her 1st Round win. But while Bad Petra's presence wasn't quite as evident as is often the case in a loss by the Czech, when it counted the very most, she pulled off her mask to reveal herself far too often.

Much like the 1st set, the 2nd was characterized by rain, and Kvitova failing to take advantage of her numerous opportunities while Makarova jumped on nearly all of her own. Down the stretch when Good Petra was sorely needed, it was Bad Petra who chose that inopportune time to remind everyone that she's never to far away. With the Czech leading 5-4, Makarova found herself in the same position as in the opening set, serving in game #10 to stay in it. Kvitova took a 15/30 lead, and soon held a set point. But she fired a forehand long, and donated a few more errors in the remainder points of the game as the Russian again held for 5-5. Makarova took a love/40 lead in game #11, but Good Petra arrived to save the game. She saved two BP with big serves, then a third with an ace. She then used a powerful forehand to force a Makarova error and held for 6-5. They'd go to a tie-break, where Bad Petra would have the final say.

A forehand error from the Czech put her down a mini-break at 1-0. Two more errors made it 3-0. Makarova deliverd a slow second serve which Kvitova mistimed to frame her return to fall behind 4-2, and another forehand error made it 5-2. Makarova just missed on a passing shot that would have given her MP a point later. Then the Czech closed to 5-4 and tied things at 5-5 with a Makarova DF. But the Russian reached MP a point later, and Kvitova's netted forehand finally put an end to things. Makarova would ultimately lose in the Round of 16 to doubles partner Elena Vesina, while Kvitova loss came one round earlier at SW19 than she did last year (she's 3-2 since her '14 title run) and earlier than at any Wimbledon since 1st Round exits in her two MD appearances in 2008-09 as a teenager.

Kvitova's loss wasn't even the biggest of the day, but unless the Czech can figure out this whole "multiple tennis personality" thing, this won't be the last time her Wimbledon fortunes take an unfortunately early detour. In fact, it could become a "regular" occurence. It's already half-way there.
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Yanina Wickmayer
At the two previous slams this season, Karolina's twin sister Kristyna fell in a pair of 9-7 3rd sets in matches that began in daylight but didn't wrap up until the early evening. In Melbourne, she hit 31 aces and held five MP vs. Monica Puig before losing their 2nd Round encounter; and in Paris, she fell to Teliana Pereira in the 1st Round despite fifteen aces, finally tiring in a break-fest of closing games in cold and dark conditions. A year ago, Kristyna (a former junior Wimbledon champ) actually outlasted Karolina in the Wimbledon draw, reaching the 3rd Round while Karolina fell in the 2nd. The result still ties the siblings with BOTH their best slam results being 3rd Rounds. Which is fine, except for the fact that Karolina is a recent Top 10 player, a winner of five career tour singles titles and with a history of Fed Cup (near)-brilliance. Kristyna, to date, had done NONE of those things.

After being ousted in Paris in the 1st Round, Karolina was quite possibly being the best performer in pre-SW19 grass season.

Keeping up with the recent family tradition, Karolina engaged in a late-in-the-day match on Day 1 that turned out to be the final women's match to finish. Things started off well, with her winning the 1st set 6-2. But then as Wickmayer turned up the emotion and aggression in the 2nd, Pliskova (tiring, mentally and physically, after a busy long grass season, or just slow to realize this was a slam rather than a Premier or International level event?) just went away for a while. Wickmayer took the 2nd at love. Pliskova righted herself in the 3rd, but failed to convert a BP at 2-2 when she netted what seemed to be a fairly routine backhand crosscourt return. But Wickmayer, almost desperately, suddenly began to go for too much in her game. It worked in the Czech's favor, as she got a break for 4-3, seized what appeared to be complete momentum, took a 5-3 lead and served for the match at 5-4. But right when she needed to bear down, Pliskova appeared to "double-clutch" and was once again tentative. Wickmayer put away a BP with a forehand winner to tie things at 5-5 and ultimately won a third straight game to take a 6-5 lead. In game #13 of the 3rd, Pliskova reached double BP on the Waffle's serve, but failed to convert either chance. The feeling was that if she failed to get the break the match was probably going to be over one game later. Wickmayer ultimately held three game points, but Pliskova's big forehand return winner gave her a third BP chance. The Belgian aced her up the middle. BP #4 was there for the taking, though, and when Wickmayer netted a half-volley Pliskova, having been given a reprieve from living yet another chapter in her nightmarish grand slam history, was once again serving for the match at 7-6.

Finally, she played a steady game, pounding balls deep in the court. She even let out a rare shout of celebration and a clenched fist -- not as rare as a strong mental game from AnaIvo, but hardly a common occurrence, so you knew she was in it -- as a Wickmayer shot went wide to give the Czech a 30/15 lead. On MP, Wickmayer failed to dig out a forehand off the baseline and Pliskova won as the clock read nearly 9 p.m.. The three-set match lasted only 1:39, but :54 of that came in the 3rd set alone.

A day later, Kristyna lost her 1st Round match (see below), then Karolina lost in the 2nd Round.

Oh, Pliskovas.
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Duan Yingying d. Kristyna Pliskova
After Day 1 concluded with a Pliskova twin "breaking ranks" from family history and actually surviving a tight slam match, Day 2 opened with a "return to past form" as another Pliskova twin squandered a 3rd set lead and was once again sent out in the early rounds of a major. Less than a day after #17-seeded Karolina overcame a love 2nd set to gut out an 8-6 3rd set win over Yanina Wickmayer, her sister Kristyna, one year after she reached her only career slam 3rd Round at SW19, overcame a slow start against Chinese lucky loser Duan Yingying and seemed in good position to make Wimbledon -- where she was the junior champion in 2010 -- the first slam at which she's ever won MD matches in back-to-back years. But, you know, Kristyna is still a Pliskova. And this is a slam. So, well, you know.
Kristyna led by a break at 3-1 in the 3rd set before Duan broke back for 3-3. Highlighting just how much Pliskova needed to ride her big serve on the grass, and how every BP opportunity was worth its weight in gold, it's worth noting that through the first eleven games of the set, none had yet gone to even deuce. In fact, only four games of the thirty played on the day did, and all of them had come back in the 1st set. So any small opening needed to be ripped wide, since they were few and far between as the match progressed.

So, guess what Pliskova did. Serving down 5-6, Pliskova opened game #12 of the 3rd set with a DF (her sixth on the day) and quickly found herself down love/40. What Pliskova so often failed to do in the match, the 26-year old Chinese did right then and there. Duan fired a backhand winner to get the match-winning break, recording her second straight 1st Round Wimbledon upset coming one year after she qualified and defeated Genie Bouchard at SW19 in the MD last summer. While Pliskova had ten aces on the day, much as was the case in her loss to Monica Puig in Melbourne (31 aces, 5 MP...but still a defeat), she failed to employ her biggest weapon when she needed it most. She had just a single ace in the 3rd set (coming in a rather innocuous moment in game #8 to take a 40/love lead before holding for 4-4). She hit at just a 57% clip on her 1st serves (after 75% in the 2nd set) and won only ten of the seventeen first serves she got in (she won 15 of 18 in the 2nd), along with just 7 of 13 of her 2nd serves (5/6 in the 2nd). Meanwhile, Duan doubled Pliskova's winner total in the 3rd (16-8, after having been behind 24-19 in the first two sets). Duan converted on both her BP chances in the set, making her three-for-five in the match vs. Pliskova's two-for-ten. She was clearly the big point player on the day.
Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Marina Erakovic d. Jelena Jankovic
The Kiwi outlasted the Serb despite blowing a 5-3 3rd set lead and failing to serve out the match at 5-4. JJ, 31, reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon last year.
Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Venus Williams d. Maria Sakkari
Venus was made to work by the exciting young Greek qualifier, who took the 2nd set to force a decider. Williams got a break for 4-2 en route to the victory. But the lingering memory of this one might be the overly officious chair umpire who once refused Sakkari a replay look because it took her too long to ask for it (mostly because she'd thought she'd hit a winner), and twice dinging Williams for time violations (the second time at 4-2 in the 3rd when Venus hadn't hit a wayward toss, then bounced the ball as the stopwatch at the umpire's chair hit :00). Williams had a little talk with her about that one... so you KNOW she didn't like it, since she rarely ever questions ANYTHING.
Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Elena Vesnina d. Julia Boserup
With this, Russia was assured of placing at least one Hordette in a slam Round of 16 at a 63rd of the past 64 slams. As it turned out, the Russians ended up having filled 25% of the 4th Round by the end of the day. In a tight match that included eight games that went to deuce (w/ twenty total 40/40 points), Vesnina had to scrap for everything she got against the Bannerette qualifier/Penn State student. In the 1st set, the Russian had to save a BP en route to a hold for 5-4, then saved three more in game #11. Up 15/40 a game later, Vesnina saw Boserup save three SP before the Hordette took the set with a forehand return winner. In the 2nd, Vesnina went up 3-1, fired an ace for a 4-1 lead, and led 4-2, 40/love in game #7. But, still, Boserup reached BP. The Russian hit an ace up the "T" to save it, then did the same thing on a second BP a few moments later before firing a forehand long on BP #3 that broke her serve and ended a 10-minute game. An ace got the hold for 6-5 four games later, then Vesnina reached MP when a shot off the Russian's racket dribbled over the net cord and plopped onto Boserup's side of the court. Boserup's wide crosscourt forehand ended the proceedings, sending Vesnina to her first Wimbledon Round of 16 since 2009. She ultimately reach her first career slam semifinal.
Wimbledon Q1 - Risa Ozaki d. Freya Christie
Eight British Crumpets advanced to the second round of qualifying on Day 1, but Christie saw her match continued to a second day tied 5-5 in the 2nd. The teen led 5-3 in the 3rd set and held match points, but failed to close things out. Ozaki ultimately won in three and a half hours, eliminating a teary Christie who'd been so thrilled to get a WC into the Q-rounds a week earlier.
Birmingham Q1 - Olga Savchuk d. Louisa Chirico
Savchuk saved two MP in the 2nd, then stood by as Chirico fired sixteen DF and failed to hold her break advantage in the 3rd set on three separate occasions en route to a rude welcome to the grass court season after a breakthrough clay campaign for the Bannerette.

Nottingham 2nd Rd. - Anett Kontaveit d. Caroline Wozniacki
Ranked outside the Top 30, Wozniacki, in her first action since Miami, battled back from 4-1 and 5-4 down in the 3rd set, but the Estonian held on to notch her first career Top 100 grass win. At the end of the grass season, the formerly #1-ranked Dane was down to #60

Wimbledon Q2 - Ekaterina Alexandrova d. Stephanie Vogt
Vogt had a MP at 12-11, but failed to win another point after being unable to convert. Alexandrova played a 13-11 3rd set in her next match vs. Harriet Dart to reach her first career slam MD, then upset #23 Ana Ivanovic in the 1st Round.
Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Elena Vesnina d. Ekaterina Makarova
In a match-up of doubles partners, Vesnina outlasted Makarova to reach her first career slam singles QF (and later SF). After taking a break lead in the 1st for 2-0, and led 3-0 and 4-1, Vesnina saw Makarova get back on serve and knot the score at 4-4. Vesnina got within two points of the set in game #10, but Marakova held serve then served for the set at 6-5. In a three-deuce game, she did. Vesnina again took an early break lead in the 2nd, going up 2-0 with a Makarova DF and coasting to a 6-1 win. In the 3rd, Vesnina served for the match at 5-4, only to be broken after falling down 15/40. Makarova saved two BP in game #13 and held for 7-6, but it was Vesnina who surged in the closing moments, winning the final ten points of the match, ending the 2:47 contest with an ace.

Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Anna-Lena Friedsam d. Ekaterina Alexandrova
Alexandrova, who'd played four straight three-setters to reach her first slam 2nd Round, upsetting Ana Ivanovic for her first career slam MD victory, finally found an obstacle she couldn't get past in Friedsam. But she didn't make it easy for the German. Friedsam led 6-4/5-2 and served for the match at 5-3. But Alexandrova got the break, then saved three MP in game #10 and two more in game #12 before holding for 6-6 to force a TB. Friedsam jumped out early, winning 7-1 to take the match 6-3/7-6(1).
Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Simona Halep d. Madison Keys
After a mostly-breezy trip through the first three rounds in which she was little more than a curious siteseer/adrenaline junkie who peeked over the edge of The Cliffs on occasion, just to show that she wasn't a slave to their charms, Halep once again found herself in wide open space with nowhere to hide. With Keys on the other side of the net, she was facing down a player who very well could be the current player wearing the newly-dry cleaned "next maiden slam-winner" outfit (the same one formerly rented by the Romanian two seasons ago) turned in to the proper authorities in Paris by none other than (now) actual slam-winner Garbine Muguruza. It was put up or shut up time for Simona. Again.

And, by the end of the day, Halep had put up quite lot. Oh, but the process wasn't without another game of chicken with those very same Cliffs, of course.

The two made it to 4-4 in the 1st before either faced their first BP. But Keys' back-to-back forehand errors gave Halep opportunity #1, and she responded with a forehand lob to break for 5-4. Serving for the match was to be her first real test of the day. It didn't go well. After taking a 40/15 lead, Halep hit a DF on her first set point. On SP #2, she mishit a forehand. Keys snuffed out SP #3 with a backhand return winner. Upon reaching SP #4, Halep hit another DF, then a forehand error gave Keys a BP. Moving forward for a short ball, Halep didn't take it out of the air for a volley and instead let the ball bounce and fired a shot to the corner, where a slightly off-balance Keys wristed a shot that floated over the Romanian's head down the line and landed inside the court for a winner to get the break for 5-5. But rather than sulk, Halep bounced back, getting a break in the following game by forcing two errors off Keys' racket in a love game. But, serving again for the set at 6-5, Halep fell behind love/30 and Keys forced a TB and won it 7-5.

Keys got an early break and led 2-0 in the 2nd. But rather than run away from the moment, this time Halep dug in. She held at love in game #3, then broke serve on her fourth BP chance of game #4. A game later, the Romanian saved one BP, then four more (from love/40 down) two games later to hold for 4-3. An ace gave her a hold for 5-4, and then it was Keys who blinked in game #10, letting slip a 30/15 lead with three consecutive unforced errors to hand Halep a 6-4 set and force a 3rd.

Halep opened the 3rd with a love hold, then immediately put pressure on Keys' service game. She reached BP with a backhand winner. The Bannerette held, but as the set went on, the Romanian remained steady while Keys, battling what appeared to be a leg injury that hindered her movement (she later said she began to cramp, likely partially as a reaction to physical strain, but also admittedly the stress of the moment), began to slip behind. Halep held at love for 3-2, then went up a break with a Keys DF a game later. Keys managed to extend the match with a hold for 5-3, but Halep then closed it out without too much drama in the following game.
Birmingham 1st Rd. - CoCo Vandeweghe d. Aga Radwanska
Vandeweghe follows up her Rosmalen title with a 1st round win (Her third Top 10 victory in '16) in a very bad draw for Radwanska, who'd spend most of the grass season on the wrong side of results vs. hot-as-a-firecracker-on-grasscourt opponents. Vandeweghe here, then Cibulkova in both Eastbourne and SW19.

[Classic Aga]
Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Aga Radwanska d. Katerina Siniakova
In the final women's match of the day on a rare Middle Sunday of play at SW19, Radwanska returned after having saved three MP and needing a net cord as well as Ana Konjuh stepping on a ball and rolling her ankle to advance out of the 2nd Round. She had no such trouble here, but that wasn't because of young Czech Siniakova. The 20-year old Maiden tried with all her might, will and considerable talent to dent the Radwanska exterior, but it was all of no use. She'll be having nightmares with Aga's face appearing on every horrible beast her subconscious can dream up all summer long.

Aga was, as she often is, simply naturally brilliant while seemingly barely breaking a sweat throughout the day. At one point she ran off twelve straight points to take a 5-2 lead in the 1st, pulling off a series of amazing shots made to look casually achieved with deft angles, soft wrists and expert anticipation working to create one of those "perfect Radwanska storms" that she's known for. Once again, it was a joy to watch.

[Another Day of the Williamses]
=Wimbledon, Day 5=
3rd Rd. - Venus Williams d. Daria Kasatkina 7-5/4-6/10-8
2nd Rd. - Serena Williams d. Christina McHale 6-7(7)/6-2/6-4

..with both Venus and Serena Williams still ranked in the Top 10 while playing at age 36 and 34, respectively, Day 5 was one which would stand out as a remarkable one were it to involve a pair of tennis siblings NOT named Williams. With both facing off with opponents, in Serena's case, nearly a dozen years her junior, and for Venus, nearly HALF her age, they both battled to pull out three-set victories to advance. In the end, both were also fortunate to still be playing at all after this day.

The 2016 season began for both Venus and Russian Daria Kasatina in Auckland in Week 1, with the Hordette coming back from a 3-1 3rd set deficit to upset the future Hall of Famer in the 1st Round. Here, as the oldest (36) player in the draw and the only teenager (19) remaining, they faced off again in a match that was ultimately interrupted four times due to the plague of rain that came down on the AELTC in the first week of Wimbledon. But when the five-time SW19 champ did actually get to play the grass court neophyte (this was only her fourth match on the surface), it was experience that won out early on. Williams led 5-1 through just twenty-one minutes of action when the skies opened and everyone hit "pause." When they returned, Kasatkina burst out of the gates like a drag racer while Venus was stuck in neutral and trying to catch up. She broke Williams and held serve for 5-3, winning ten of the first eleven points over a nine-minute stretch, including a DF from Venus that got things back on serve in game #9 as the match clock hit :30. The Russian's dominant run ended when she fired a forehand long in game #10, but Kasatkina still held for 5-5. Down 5-6, she appeared to have hit an ace to take a 30/15 lead, only to see the call overturned via Williams' replay challenge, and then Venus ultimately win the point. A Kasatkina DF put her down BP at 30/40, then a wild forehand error gave Williams the set at 7-5. Venus took a 3-1 lead in the 2nd, only to see Kasatkina stage a comeback with back-to-back service breaks. The Russian saved two BP from 15/40 down and held for 5-3, then saved another BP to serve out the set at 6-4.

In the 3rd, Kasatkina took a break lead at 4-3, but failed to convert a GP a game later and then had a DF that gave back her break advantage as things were knotted at 4-4. Williams held a MP at 5-4, but the teenager saved it with a forehand winner to get things to 5-5. Serving down 6-7, Kasastkina faced another MP at 30/40, but was given a reprieve from her seeming fate when heavy rain caused the tournament grounds crew to raid the court and drag out the tarp to a stunned Williams' utter disbelief.

Was this a Radwanskian masterpiece in progress?

An hour and thirteen minutes later, they returned. A Williams error on the first point brushed aside the MP and Kasatkina held for 7-7. As the score reached 8-8, Williams was assured of playing her longest-ever 3rd set in her nineteen Wimbledon appearances. Finally, in game #17, Venus utilized all her experience and longtime skill in one game, using anticipation to gain control of a rally, pulling out an overhead smash like those from the prime of her career and a big serve to hold for 9-8. Serving once again to stay in the match, Kasatkina fell behind love/30. Two points later, Kasatkina moved forward to get to a Williams shot off the net cord, then got back two Venus passing shots (with a forehand, then a backhand volley). Williams, who'd moved toward the net between her passing attempts, used her quick hands as the two were face-to-face to put away a volley shot behind the young Russian to reach double MP. On her third MP of the day, Williams saw Kasatkina net a forehand off a high-bouncing ball at the baseline and the veteran had won 7-5/4-6/10-8 in 2:41 to reach her fourteenth SW19 Round of 16.

On Centre Court, Serena had to fight on Day 5, as well. Starting play while Venus was still in action next door (Oracene had to go back and forth all afternoon), the #1 seed seemed to be well on her way to a fairly routine 1st set win over 24-year old New Jersey native Christina McHale. McHale opened the match with a break, and held her advantage while fighting off break points for a 4-2 lead. Finally, Williams broke to get back even at 4-4 and, up 5-4 and at set point, saw a McHale shot called out. Both seemed to accept the call, but a token replay look actually overturned the call as the ball hit the very definition of a "smidge" of the line. McHale managed to hold for 5-5, and then pushed things to a tie-break. There, Williams led 4-2 and 5-3, but she had two DF in the game. The second gave McHale a 7-6 lead. Down 7-8, Williams' error on a mid-court ball suddenly gave McHale a 9-7 win and a one set lead.

As she reached the changeover area, Serena cracked her racket and angrily tossed it aside (it managed to smoothly slide into a cameraman's lap, but would be returned later, under happier circumstances), perturbed at having lost a set she thought she'd won a few mintutes earlier and lamenting her inability to make things easier on herself (she was just 1-of-9 on BP chances) throughout.

Williams got an early break for 2-1 in the 2nd, and coasted to a 6-2 win to force a 3rd set. But McHale wouldn't go away quietly. She broke Serena for 2-0, firing shots at her as she camped out at the net as if it was target practice. She went up 40/15 in game #3, but went for too much on a second serve and had a DF. Down BP in the game, McHale did it again and had the same result, handing Serena back the break. But Williams was unable to break her two games later despite taking a love/40 lead, falling to 4-for-16 in BP chances on the day. McHale held for 3-2 and kept her hopes alive. In game #7, Williams reached BP on McHale's serve, but failed to convert it due to a bad forehand return error. Another Williams error gave McHale her second GP, and she took advantage, hitting an ace to hold for 4-3 despite having just two winners in the entire set. Two games later, at 4-4, McHale won a 25-shot rally in which she dragged Serena from side to side to get to 30/30. A Williams return error gave McHale a GP. Serena had almost had enough. She hit two lines in the next point to save it. After McHale hit a DF on another GP, she saved another BP (Serena was 4-for-18) with a put-away of a Serena drop shot. Williams got another BP chance with a return winner, then finally converted on BP #19 of the day when McHale hit a wide forehand.
No almost about it... now Serena had had enough.

In game #10, it was time for THAT Serena Williams to arrive. The 21-time slam champ looking to "add on," come hell or high water. She won the first point then, with a look of determination on her face (you've seen it), stepped to the line and fired an ace. Then another. Then another. Just like that, it was over. Williams won 6-7(7)/6-2/6-4 in 2:29 to reach at least the 3rd Round at all seventeen Wimbledons in which she's participated.

So, all in all, history will record that no Williams Sister lost on Day 5. Because of that, it may slip through the sieve of our collective memory in short order, as their performances at this Wimbledon will likely be remembered for Serena winning slam #22, Venus reaching the semis and the Sisters combing to take the doubles. We've come to take their career-long drama -- often double-fisted as it was here -- for granted. But what can you expect? They've given us so much. Almost too much to process sometimes.

But this WAS a remarkable day. Another one. After all these years. And it's not likely the last these two will produce before it's over, either. Not by a long shot.

[NextGen Preview]
Eastbourne 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko d. Daria Kasatkina
The 2014 Wimbledon junior champ defeats the 2014 Roland Garros junior champ. You get the feeling these two will be meeting much later in much bigger events in the future. By this time next year, both should have their first tour singles title. Or will it be by the end of 2016? Or maybe even by the end of this summer? This one even had much background noise.

[Volume, Volume, Volume]
Birmingham 1st Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro d. Elina Svitolina 7-5/4-6/7-5
Birmingham 2nd Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro d. Andrea Petkovic 4-6/7-6(5)/7-6(5)
Birmingham QF - Carla Suarez-Navarro d. Angelique Kerber 6-4/1-6/7-5
Birmingham SF - Madison Keys d. Carla Suarez-Navarro 3-6/6-3/7-6(3)
just your typical four-match, 12-set, 130-game, four three-setter, four extended third set week for CSN. After coming back from 5-3 in the 3rd (two points from defeat) vs. Svitolina, she nearly blew a 5-2 3rd set lead of her own vs. Petkovic. And she still had sixty more games to play after that.

[A Family That Plays Together...]
$10K Bethany Beach QF - Ingrid Neel d. Lindsay Lee-Waters 7-5/6-3
$10K Bethany Beach Q1 - Gabriela Arias d. Sevyn Waters 6-4/6-2
a whole new entry in the "generational" aspects of today's tennis tour, as 38-year old LLW and her 15-year old daughter both competed in Bethany Beach qualifying. Lindsay made it through and ultimately lost in the QF to 17-year old eventual champ Neel, while Sevyn lost in straight sets in debut pro match. It was LLW's best singles result since 2010. If Sevyn had won, they'd have played EACH OTHER in the second round of qualifying. As it was, mother got some revenge for daughter, handing Arias a double bagel Q2 loss.

[Best Tie-Break]
Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Angelique Kerber d. Annika Beck
.Australian Open champ Kerber defeated fellow German Witthoeft, a 21-year old who before Wimbledon hadn't won back-to-back tour-level MD matches since last summer in Toronto. The 1st set was a tight affair, despite Kerber committing half as many (14-30) unforced errors. She got a break for a 6-5 lead, but was broken at love when she attempted to serve out the set. In the tie-break, Kerber went up 6-2, but Witthoeft saved four consecutive SP and suddenly had a SP of her own at 7-6. The younger German would ultimately hold three more SP in the TB before Kerber finally put it away on SP #6 for a 13-11 win. In a rain-interrupted 2nd set, the 28-year old took control.

[Who's That Brit?]
In a $10K ITF challenger in Antalya, Turkey, Slovak Zuzana Zlochova took the title, but the real story was the other finalist -- Suzy Larkin. A 24-year old Brit who'd never had a WTA ranking and hadn't played a pro match since 2007 (she went just 2-4 then) until this past May. She qualified, then ran off wins over the #5, #4 and #2 seeds before losing to #6-seed Zlochova in the final. She earned first-ever ranking soon afterward.

[Craziest Final Game]
Wimbledon Girls Final - Anastasia Potapova d. Dayana Zastremska
In the junior final, #4-seeded Potapova squared off with #7-seeded Ukrainian Yastremska. The 15-year old Russian was looking to become the eleventh different slam-winning girl representing Russia since 1998. A win by Yastremska, 16, would add her name as the third on a list (w/ Kateryna Bondarenko and Elina Svitolina) of junior slam winners from Ukraine.

With Potapova serving for the match at 5-3, things got wild in maybe the craziest game of the tournament.

At 30/30, Potapova hit a DF. Yastremska failed to convert the BP, then had to save a MP. She put away a shot at the net and got her second BP chance. She didn't get that one, either. MP #2 came and went, and so did MP #3 when Yastremska blasted a forehand winner dead into the corner. On MP #4, Yastremska's long return seemed to end the match. Potra sat down on the court in tears. But wait. Yastremska had challenged the serve, and the replay showed Potapova's serve was out.

POTAPOVA, after "converting" the first MP

Now serving a Second Serve, Potapova returned to the baseline. She fired a shot out on the point and Yastremska had life. On MP #5, another Yastremska wide return precipitated another celebration from the Russian as she emphatically slammed down the ball with her racket. But wait, again. The Ukrainian challenged that serve, too, and it was ALSO out. Potapova threw up her hands, quickly got over it and demanded another ball to serve with, and then went back to play some more. She hit a long forehand to end a rally and Yastremka was STILL alive. On MP #6, Potapova double-faulted. Finally, on MP #7, Yastremska netted a forehand to end a rally and it was all over. No, really.

Potapova won 6-4/6-3, despite having just 4 winners to Yastremska's 21. The Ukrainian had 42 errors to the Hordette's 31. Potapova is the fourth Russian to win the Wimbledon girls title, and the second in a row after Sofya Zhuk's crowning a year ago. The two shared a hug at the net.

The last game is what will be most remembered here, I guess. It somewhat resembled the final game of the Serena/Sharapova QF match in Melbourne from January, when MP after MP went by the wayside although the match had been essentially "over." (Of course, that's the last we'll see of Sharapova as a competitor on a tennis court until... well, who knows?) Here are all 7 MP and the 2 challenges:

[Dawn of the Pantuckovas?]
$10K Velenje Final - Gabriela Pantuckova d. Kaja Juvan 4-6/6-2/6-0
$10K Velenje Final - Gabriela Pantuckova/Magdalena Pantuckova d. Pislak/Redersak 4-6/7-6(0) [13-11]
21-year old Czech Gabriela picked up her seventh career ITF singles title, then teams up with her 17-year old sister Magdalena to win their first career title as a doubles pair. Magdalena won her maiden ITF singles title earlier this season, defeating Gabriela in the final in a Bol challenger.

[Mop-Up Work in 5-or-so Minutes]
Wimbledon Doubles 1st Rd. - Daria Gavrilova/Daria Kasatkina d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova
This intriguing The Dashas-vs.-The Dynamic Duo doubles match-up had been stopped due to darkness with Gavrilova/Kasatkina having come back from a break down in the 3rd to tie Mattek-Sands/Safarova at 5-5. A day later, the two teams returned to the court. And, well, it didn't take long to wrap things up. In fact, the warm-up may have lasted longer than the match play. The Dashas quickly went up love/30 on the BMS serve in the opening game, then broke the slam-winning pair at 15 with a Kasatkina volley. With the Russian serving for the match at 6-5, Gavrilova cut off a Mattek-Sands backhand to put away a winner to reach MP. Kasatkina's forehand down the line ended the match after about six minutes of additional match time (and part of that included the changeover between games #11 and #12). The Dashas were 5-for-5 on BP chances in the match.

Eastbourne QF - Dominika Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska
Talk about a sense a deja vu. In Paris, Aga led Pironkova by a set and 3-0 when the rain suspended play. She returned two days later and lost to the Bulgarian. In Eastbourne, she led Cibulkova by a set and 2-0. After a brief interruption, Cibulkova got on the board, but Radwanska was still up a break at 3-2 when the match was suspended. The next day, the Slovak broke to get back on serve, Aga failed to convert a BP to go back up a break at 5-4 and lost the 2nd set. In the 3rd, she had points for a 3-1 lead, but failed to take that opportunity, as well, and saw Cibulkova sweep the remaining four games to get the victory (and go on to take the title). They'd meet again in the Wimbledon Round of 16, with the Slovak once more getting the better end of the deal in a three-set "instant classic" coming soon to a Wimbledon's Greatest Hits marathon near you.
Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Lucie Safarova d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
In a truly unfortunate 1st Round match, doubles partners/besties #28-seed Safarova (still coming back from illness and an inevitable loss of form and stamina>) and BMS (returning from a broken thumb) faced off in singles. It turned out to be a seesaw affair in which neither really wanted to show TOO MUCH how much they wanted to win. In the 1st, Safarova led 3-1, then 5-4 in the tie-break, only to see BMS steal it by a 9-7 score. In the 2nd, Mattek-Sands raced off to a 5-2 lead, served at 5-3 and held a MP at 5-4. But the Czech, defending a Round of 16 result from last year's Wimbledon, survived and won the 2nd in a 7-3 TB. The Bannerette again took the lead in the 3rd. BMS held a second MP at 5-3, then another on serve at 5-4. But they went by the wayside, too, as Safarova knotted things at 5-5. Up 6-5 on return, Safarova finally reached her first (and only) MP in the 2:48 match, closing out a by-the-skin-of-her-teeth victory with a forehand winner. No hard feelings, though. After all, these two still had to work to do together (though they ended up losing in the WD 1st Round to The Dashas).

Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Lucie Safarova d. Jana Cepelova
Safarova had already saved three MP in her 1st Round match vs. doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and here she added another Houdini trick to her performace record against qualifier Cepelova. Garbine Muguruza conqueror Cepelova served at 5-3 in the 3rd set, and held a MP at 9-8 on Safarova's serve, but netted a backhand off a spinning second serve from the Czech. Safarova held for 9-9, then after constantly having to play from behind in the set got a break for 11-10 to get the chance to serve for the match. During the changeover, the injury-plagued Slovak had her left knee examined by a trainer. Safarova, in Serena-esque fashion, opened game #22 with an ace. She went up 40/15, then put away the match with a volley.

Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Sloane Stephens
In the 3rd set, Kuznetsova had a heated discussion with chair umpire Marijana Veljovic after she'd issued an off-court coaching violation to Sveta. The incident seemed to put off the Russian's game for a while. Possibly not coincidentally, Stephens soon after raced to a 5-2 lead and served for the match at 5-3. She quickly fell behind 15/40 and Kuznetsova broke her with a forehand winner. The Russian then staged a comeback from love/30 to hold for 5-5. Stephens seemed to possibly tire (or maybe it was just frustration) in the later stages of the set, twice slumping to the grass after losing a point in which she really didn't outright slip and fall, once at the baseline and then again at the net after Kuznetsova had passed her. Up love/40 on Stephens' serve in game #13, the Hordette saw the Bannerette's forehand error give her a break lead at 7-6. Kuznetsova's backhand passing shot put her up 30/15 a game later, but Stephens battled back, getting to a drop shot and then putting away a volley to reach BP. But she followed up by firing a backhand long, then a forehand wide to give Kuznetsova her first (and only) MP. Another unforced backhand error from Stpehens ended it after 2:29. At the net, Stephens opened her arms wide and engulfed Kuznetsova in an embrace.

Wimbledon Q1 - Mandy Minella d. Ana Bogdan
The 30-year old's late-blooming spring/summer continues, as she survives the Swarmette twice serving for the match.

Wimbledon Q2 - Mandy Minella d. Misa Eguchi
Minella's good luck continues, as she overcomes a 5-1 3rd set deficit vs. Eguchi one day after her escape vs. the Swarmette. The 30-year old from Luxembourg had a more "routine" three-set Q3 win over Barbora Stefkova to reach her firt slam MD since 2014.

Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Sloane Stephens d. Mandy Minella
Of course, Minella's survival ultimately only led to more heatbreak, as Stephens gave her another dose of slam devastation in a two-day 2nd Rounder at SW19. Minella failed to put away Stephens in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open three years ago despite leading 4-2 in the 3rd set, and 3-1 in the deciding TB. Here, the qualifier served for the match up 5-4 in the 2nd set vs. the #18 seed, and held a MP at 6-5 in the TB before Stephens won it and forced a 3rd. They were tied 3-3 when play resumed a day later. Stephens opened with a break of serve, but Minella broke back a game later. Serving down 5-4, Stephens went up 40/0 on serve in game #10, only to see Minella twice get within two points of victory at deuce. She sprayed a return forehand on the first, then, saw a backhand trip the net cord and fall on her side of the court on the second. Stephens broke for7-6, then reached triple MP at 40/love in game #14. Minella saved all three MP, but handed Stephens a fourth try when she netted a forehand return. On MP #4, Minella's backhand slice from the baseline failed to make it over the net. As Stephens claimed the victory, Minella threw her racket across the backcourt, the victim of a 2nd Round defeat in a match in which she actually won more points (123-116) than her opponent.
's-Hertogenbosch 2nd Rd. - Madison Brengle d. Richel Hogenkamp
BrengleFly saves a MP and surges back from down 5-3 in the 3rd set to get the victory en route to the semifinals.
Eastbourne Final - Darija Jurak/Anastasia Rodionova d. Chan Hao-ching/Chan Yung-Jan
...5-7/7-6(4) [10-6].
What was more impressive? Taking out Hingis/Mirza in straights in the QF, or the comeback from a set and a break down (two points from defeat) vs. the Chans?
Wimbledon Q2 - Rebecca Peterson d. Katie Boulter
Boulter failed to secure a 6-4/5-0 lead -- and a MP -- against the Swede. This one should probably be in a "Choke" category all its own... but I'll go easy on the teenaged Crumpet (even if she's only 19 for a couple more weeks).


Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Ekaterina Alexandrova d. Ana Ivanovic
One might be tempted to chalk this one up to "wedding eve-itis," but Dominika Cibulkova proved at this same Wimbledon that such a bug did not exist on the AELTC grounds this year. In the end, it was clear that #23-seeded former #1 Ivanovic simply didn't have the same desire to be there as the 21-year old, #223-ranked qualifier who'd already won 14-12 and 13-11 3rd sets in the Roehampton Q-rounds just to get to this match. In all, the Hordette played six and a half hours over three rounds to reach her first slam MD, and did so after arriving in London not even knowing if she'd be allowed to play at all. Oh, and she'd never played a grass court match in her life, either. She was an alternate for the qualifying tournament, but it wasn't until Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor's late withdrawal that she officially secured her place in her first slam draw of any kind. When she reached her first major MD, both she and her father celebrated.
Clearly, she wanted this.
Here, Ivanovic seemed to have other things on her mind for most of the match. Which, of course, she did. Her upcoming wedding, as well as a wrist injury that she later said had been bothering for her two weeks. But would 100% health have made any difference, or would she have simply found another way to cut short her pre-honeymoon trip to London on Day 1, or maybe a few days later? Considering her history, it's an open question. And an unnecessary one, too, as nothing should be taken away from the lanky young Russian with the smooth groundstrokes and good (if sometimes inconsistent) serve. She handed it to the Serb, quite possiby demoralizing her at some point, or at least making her realize that if she was going to win her 1st Round match she was going to have to work much, much harder than she was prepared to on this day.

Birmingham 2nd Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko d. Petra Kvitova
The 2014 Wimbledon junior champ defeats the 2014 Wimbledon Ladies champ, and Ostapenko lays down another signpost win in a career quickly picking up steam, albeit with an accompanying reputation for testiness. Not that that's a bad thing, especially in these parts. As for Petra... (shaking head).

Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Jana Cepelova d. Garbine Muguruza
Muguruza's exit turned out to be the least dramatic crash-and-burn 2nd Round departure of a Roland Garros champion/Wimbledon finalist/#2 seed, well, probably ever. Once again, and not for the first time this year, the 22-year old slam champ just never seemed to show up for her Court 1 match vs. #124-ranked qualifier Cepelova. Her lacking-the-will-to-right-her-course outing was more than a little disheartening, but it's far from something we haven't seen before from the tour's recent sudden stars, and gives no indication (yet) that Muguruza is in store for a maddening, Kvitova-esque career.

Of course, this result had as much to do with 23-year old Cepelova's great play as it did Muguruza's poor effort. The injury and illness-plagued (she had pneumonia last year, and missed the Australian Open in January) career of the Slovak is one of the tour's most star-crossed, even while it's been punctuated by wins over the likes of Serena Williams, Simona Halep (at last year's Wimbledon) and now Muguruza. Here, she never let the Spaniard up once she got her down, winning in 59 minutes and converting four-of-four break point chances while Muguruza failed to make her pay for a poor 42% 1st Serve percentage.
Mallorca 1st Rd. - Kirsten Flipkens d. Garbine Muguruza
Garbi's first match since winning Roland Garros, and her first '16 match on grass. Which was more important? And did this loss really mean anything for the '15 Wimbledon finalist, even with paired with her later 2nd Round loss at SW19. Neither managed to take the shine off her win in Paris, and Angelique Kerber's two-slams-later rebound in London after her AO title in January can only give the Spaniard hope, as well a break from needless criticism and layers of upcoming pressure. Also, Flipkens is a good grass courter, so that gets factored into the equation, as does that her AELTC conqueror, Jana Cepelova, having a history of knocking off highly-ranked players. Stll, an upset is an upset.
's-Hertogenbosch 1st Rd. - Elise Mertens d. Genie Bouchard
Now that we've finally "sort of" gotten a decent read on the likes one former Wimbledon finalist ('15 RU Muguruza = who's risen still higher this year w/ her RG title run), it's time for '14 SW19 RU Genie to do something to produce a little clarity of her own. At this point, she's bound to defeat or lose to almost anyone on a any given day.

Eastbourne 3rd Rd. - Johanna Konta d. Petra Kvitova
Oh, Petra. The Czech had to battle back from a 5-2 1st set deficit to avoid dropping the opener vs. Konta, but with a straped thigh possibly hindering her movement she gradually went away as the match progressed as Kvitova shook hands with yet another opponent experiencing a "career moment" (in AO semifinalist Konta's case, on the grass) at her expense in 2016.


[A Day on Court 17]
On Day 10 of Wimbledon, on the very same court, both of Roland Garros' girls single finalists were knocked out of in the 3rd Round of the SW19 draw. First, #3-seeded RG runner-up Amanda Anisimova (USA) fell to fellow Bannerette Claire Liu in a 13-11 3rd set in a 2:41 match in which the seeded girl had 13 DF (and 0 aces) while Liu put in 8 aces (w/ 5 DF). In the very next match on the schedule, #2-seeded RG champ Rebeka Masarova was knocked out by British wild card Gabriella Taylor 6-1/6-1. Having not played at Roehampton, this was Masarova's first grass court event of the year, as she continued to play clay events well after Paris because, one would suspect, she just wasn't losing on the surface and was closing in on the #1 ranking, which she just missed out on by losing in an event final a few weeks before Wimbledon. She won 16 straight clay matches this spring, including a 20-2 closing run, and went 26-3 on the surface from March to June, winning three additional titles other than her RG girls crown.

[A Day 11 Doubles Massacre]
It may not have been the work of The Rad, but it was surely a day that saw the women's doubles draw bloodied, as the #1 and #2 seeds (the AO and RG champions) both fell in the QF.

#1 seeds and defending champs Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza were taken down in straights by Timea Babos & Yaroslava Shvedova. The Hungarian/Kazakh duo got an early break in both sets, winning the 1st 6-2 and then having to battle a bit to put out the top-ranked team in the world a set later. Shvedova served for the QF match up 5-2, but failed to secure the hold. Two games later, the big-serving Babos did the honors, winning at love to advance 6-2/6-4.

#2-seeded Roland Garros champs Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic lost in straights, as well, but it was all more complicated vs. Julia Goerges and, wouldn't you know it, a Pliskova! Karolina, to be more specific, bucking the family trend (at least since her and Kristyna's junior years) and still lurking around the grounds in the latter stages of week two at a slam. Goerges served down 5-6 in the 1st set, saving a SP and forcing a tie-break. There the French pair went up 3-1, only to see the German/Czech duo get back to 3-3 in short order. A Garcia backhand volley into the open court gave the team a second SP at 6-5, but on the very next point she crouched for a volley smash of a low ball and, despite just being a few feet from the net and with her racket appropriately out in front of her, somehow didn't get the shot over. A third and fourth SP went by the wayside, as well. Finally, Goerges/Pliskova did put away their own SP #2 for an 11-9 TB win. They then took a 5-1 lead in the 2nd, and held a MP at 5-2 on the Pastries' serve only to see the French duo get the hold. On MP #2, Pliskova acted as if she was playing Fed Cup deciding doubles and put away a volley winner up the middle off a service return to get the 7-6(9)/6-3 victory.

And, with that, we officially close the book on the 2016 grass court season. Until next year, you scoundrel!

All for now.


Post a Comment

<< Home