Thursday, June 30, 2011

W.10- Wimbledon Finalists Wobble But They Don't Fall Down

The Wimbledon semifinals ended up being an example of the "She Who Wobbles, But Doesn't Fall Down" principle. The final will probably play out in very much the same way.

In a pair of matches characterized by large swings of scoreboard momentum, Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova advanced to Saturday's Ladies final, which will pit a former champion reaching her first final at the All-England Club since she won the title there in 2004 against another who looks every bit a future slam winner, who'll be playing in her first career slam final. While one never got the notion during their matches today that either wasn't, for both good and bad, in control of the outcome, both still had to manuever their way through bad stretches that, at best, caused them to work a bit harder than necessary and, at worst, threatened to turn their days in the sun into dark ones on Day 10. In Kvitova's meeting with Victoria Azarenka, all three sets featured a player grabbing a 4-1 advantage. In Sharapova's with Sabine Lisicki, the two sets started with each player jumping to 3-0 leads.

In the day's first match, Kvitova closed out the opening game with her lefty serve hooking wide, then rode the strength of that serve and a succession of forehand winners to grab an early break for a 3-1 lead. After holding for 4-1 in a game interrupted by a loud, blaring siren (insert Azarenka grunting joke here) somewhere on the Club grounds, she went up another break for 5-1 then smashed back-to-back-to-back aces before locking away a 6-1 1st set with an unreturnable driving forehand shot at Azarenka, who'd inched close to the net.

I noted yesterday how I thought Kvitova would win this match in a fairly routine straight sets unless she experienced one of her occasional extended lapses and "gave away" a set to Azarenka. As it turned out, that's sort of what the Czech did. After taking the 1st, unforced errors began to noticably creep into Kvitova's game. The forehand that was so good in the 1st began to miss on important points. Azarenka did a much better job of climbing on top of Kvitova's serve with her returns, but in many ways she "pulled a Wozniacki" and was simply content in the 2nd to let Kvitova win or lose it. She did the latter. Azarenka took the set 6-3, but her stat line read zero errors and just one winner. I know such consistency was in her gameplan for the set, and it's hard to argue for pushing an opponent when they're giving away so much, but, Tennis Gods help me, I sometimes can't escape the nagging feeling in such a situation that it's almost as if such a measly stat line hints that the player was little more than an "Accidental Tourist" in the stanza. But, of course, this sort of thing is going to occasionally happen in a Kvitova match (look at the Pironkova QF match stats and try to solve the conundrum of how that match went three sets) as long as she continues to "throw away" at least half a set in some matches. But have no fear, Kvitova took back the wheel in the 2nd and drove herself into the final. She got an early break for 2-0, went up 3-0, then saved two break points with a drop shot and another groundstroke winner struck while approaching the net. Soon after, an Kvitova ace got a hold for 4-1. At 5-2, she reached double match point. After a forehand error used up one, Azarenka's double-fault ended the match at 6-1/3-6/6-2.

You hate to see Azarenka end the match like that, but there seems little doubt that her Wimbledon experience will serve her well and she'll continue to build up her confidence as she has throughout this '11 season. She's managed to take control of her emotions and intensity on court, and with the slam semifinal glass ceiling finally shattered, I wouldn't be surprised at all to find her back in a major Final Four very soon. Maybe even later this summer. As for Kvitova, a few big steps ahead of the Belarusian on the Champion Development Chart, this was another case of the Czech getting closer and closer to something great. As I said yesterday, where the discussion of some players centers around "if's" and "can she's?," with Kvitova, with great relief, it feels more appropriate to talk about "when?," "how many?" and "how high?" (Answers: Soon. More than two. And #1.) Kvitova held eleven of twelve service games today, saving eight break points in five different games. She may have a tendency to wobble, but she's a 21-year old taking a big career leap, so it's not a nagging issue to worry too much about at this point. She needs to sure up a few remaining cracks in the foundation, but there's too much good there to get hung up about it.

Later, Sharapova backed herself into a corner right from the jump in her match against Lisicki, double-faulting on her very first service point. After successfully getting control of her wayward point-starting stroke for almost two full weeks, she teetered on the edge of having it bring her down today. But she held on. Even while tossing in thirteen double-faults, far more than in any match all fortnight, Sharapova was able to recover after falling behind 3-0 in the 1st (with break point for 4-0) by taking up the slack with her return game. It helped, too, that Lisicki failed to take full advantage of her lead. With Sharapova struggling in the 1st set with a sub-50% 1st Serve percentage, Lisicki wasn't able to kick her service game up. As it turned out, the hard-serving German didn't have a single ace in the match, and watched as Sharapova earned back the early break, got one of her own, and then hit HER first ace of the match on set point to claim the opening stanza 6-4.

Lisicki then opened the 2nd with a particularly bad service game of her own, getting broken and then going down another break for 3-0. Lisicki at least didn't collapse, though, and even had break points late in the 2nd for a chance to earn one of the breaks back. Still, with her advantage in hand, Sharapova cruised to a 6-4/6-3 win. That she was able to win while not being fully in control of her game, managing to avoid dropping her first set of the tournament, is the best sign yet that the notion that Sharapova might arrive in London one year from now as the #1-ranked player in the world isn't at all far-fetched, whether she wins her second Wimbledon crown on Saturday or not.

That said, if Sharapova serves in the final the way she did today she might just have her skinny butt handed to her on the Venus Rosewater dish by Kvitova. The Czech isn't going to go ace-less like Lisicki, after all. That said, we could see a truly entertaining final on Saturday, though it might also be a sometimes-frustrating one with mulitple swings of momentum depending on whether it's Sharapova's errant serves or Kvitova's forehand errors altering the course of events for brief stretches from time to time. My head tells me that Sharapova's experience and focus on getting back to where she once was will come into play on Saturday, but I'm not TOTALLY sold on that scenario. If the Russian starts slowly again, Kvitova could race out to a lead and put away the 1st. If that happens, settle in, because it could be a classic back-and-forth battle that ensues.

I THINK I know what we have in Kvitova, or at least will SOON have. What I'm not certain of, though, is whether or not she's ready to show it all RIGHT NOW. She might be. If she can play a FULL match without a lapse, she'll win. I can see the Czech doing to Sharapova what Sharapova did to Serena in '04, outserving her and beating her at her own game. Feasting on Sharapova's second serves. Taking her wide with her own lefty serve, then stepping in to hit winners and greating a Davenport-esque downhill momentum filled with big serves and pulverizing, deep-landing forehands, that the Russian will be incapable of stopping. But then I remember how easily the Czech can give away half a set, allowing Sharapova back in a match that might have gotten too far away to get back into, and it gives me pause.

We haven't seen a three-set final at Wimbledon since 2006 (Mauresmo/Henin), or even a truly memorable battle since '05 (when Venus came back from MP down to defeat Davenport 9-7 in the 3rd), but we might just get both in two days. It's just a hunch, but I'll go with Sharapova by something like a 3-6/7-5/7-5 score, but I'll be fully prepared to ride the wave with Kvitova to the title if she's able to keep from feeling the pressure of the situation and/or lose her concentration just long enough to allow Sharapova to turn the momentum back in her favor.

Hmmm... can I change my mind? I sort of want to, but I guess I stick with that.

...Kvitova is the first lefty in the Wimbledon final since '94 (her idol Martina Navratilova, who was in the stands today), and the first Czech since '98 (Jana Novotna, Martina's Legends doubles partner, who one hopes will be there on Saturday, as well), but do the numbers say she's going to be the next Wimbledon champion, or just the opposite?

Well, it IS true that the last six players to defeat Azarenka have gone on to win the tournament in which they beat her. But of the thirteen other active women who've appeared in grand slam singles finals, only three of them won in their maiden trip to a major final. One was Serena Williams ('99 US), and another was Maria Sharapova (who defeated Serena in the '04 SW19 final). But only Francesca Schiavone (RG '10) has managed the feat in the seven years since then.

...The Five, taking up both finalist slots, will now end the fortnight with a combined 20-4 mark for this Wimbledon, and not unexpectedly grab the title.

...the Doubles SF and Mixed QF are nearly set, and only Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina are still alive in both draws. As a #4-seeded team, they'll face #2-seeded Peschke/Srebotnik in the Final Four, while lucky losers Erakovic/Tanasugarn will face unseeded Lisicki/Stosur, as Sabine followed up her singles loss by teaming with the Aussie later in the day to defeat #6 Petrova/Rodionova. Of some note, in the Mixed QF, former doubles partners Liezel Huber (w/ Bob Bryan) and Cara Black (w/ Leander Paes) are both one win away from facing off in the semis. the juniors, the highest Boys seed in the semifinals is Britain's Liam Broady, the #15 seed, but five of the Top 7 seeds are in the Girls quarterfinals. Today, #12 Ashleigh Barty knocked off Madison Keys (sorry, "Carl") 6-3/6-7/6-4. Along with Luke Saville and Jason Kubler, Barty makes it three Aussies still alive in the junior singles competition. Of the Girls Final Eight, following the lead of Sharapova, three players have yet to drop a set -- Eugenie Bouchard (def. Krista Hardebeck), Montserrat Gonzalez and Roehampton champ Indy de Vroome, who nearly double-bageled Risa Osaki on Day 10.

...the women's semifinals wrapped up a few big awards. Kvitova gets "Ms. Opportunity," while Sharapova garners the "Comeback Player" award that I held off on giving her in Paris.

Meanwhile, Lisicki is going to be the player who officially makes me redefine the old "It Girl" honor. I've tried to limit the age of the winners there recently, for obvious reasons, but it's become something of a losing battle. When I started handing it out it was common for a teenager to make a main draw splash at the slams, but that's become rarer and rarer. So much so that recently I've been giving it to junior players. I don't like doing that (unless maybe it's a player from the slam's nation), so "It Girl" will forever after be "It (fill in the blank, depending on the winner)," still going to the player who "moved the needle" at each slam and became a bit of a star because of her actions during the previous two weeks. So it seems fitting that Lisicki wins again, as she also won the Wimbledon "It" award as a teen in '09, since her semifinal run as a wild card is something of a "new beginning" for her.

...and, finally, I continue to confess to simpy "not getting it" when it comes to the whole grunting thing. To me, as I've said for twenty years since Monica Seles came onto the scene, the only people with a reason/right to truly complain is the player on the other side of the net. Veteran players like Navratilova and Tauziat did so with Seles way back when, but you rarely hear much from any of the players now (yeah, maybe it's because so many do it, but at least a part of it has to do with them growing up with it and becoming accustomed to tuning it out without much trouble). Yet, as usual, the hubbub continues to be stirred up by people not just attending or commentating on matches, but also those watching at home. Honestly, I've never once been annoyed by it. Never. When I do notice it as something other than background noise easily ignored by focusing on the action, I usually only find the sounds amusing. But I know I'm in the minority on that, so it is what it is.

But when the All-England Club, after two weeks of sometimes treating the women's players like second-class citizens, actually issues a statement that one might think could one day be seen as the prelude to fining or penalizing players (someone on ESPN2 today suggested using an on-court sound meter that would be used dock a player a point if their sound excedes a certain decibal... puh-leeeze, as if that wouldn't be a can a worms that would make a mockery of the sport) a year or two down the line, one longs for a player, any player, who would stand up and put a foot down. Granted, the noise from a player such as Azarenka is a bit more extreme, but it's not as if the men don't often grunt when they hit powerful serves or groundstrokes. But no one ever brings up legislating against them, do they?

Anyway, I usually just ignore the whole issue, but after seeing the two yentas with the "Please Ladies No Grunting" t-shirts in the stands today during the women's semifinals -- just giving the camera a reason to focus on them rather than the action on more than one occasion -- and silently wishing someone would slip them some rotten strawberries and curdled cream I just wanted to blow off a little steam, I guess.

#5 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB

Lisicki/Stosur (GER/AUS) vs. (LL) Erakovic/Tanasugarn (NZL/THA)
#4 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS) vs. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #6 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB)
#8 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) def. Kas/Peya (GER/AUT)

#1 Huber/B.Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #9 Benesova/Melzer (CZE/AUT)
#14 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND) vs. xx
Peer/Erlich (ISR/ISR) vs. #5 Vesnina/Bhupathi (RUS/IND)
#6 Mirza/Bopanna (IND/IND) vs. Hsieh/Hanley (TPE/AUS)

#16 Victoria Duval/USA vs. #12 Ashleigh Barty/AUS
Indy de Vroome/NED vs. #7 Yulia Putintseva/RUS
#5 Eugenie Bouchard/CAN vs. #3 Irina Khromacheva/RUS
#6 Montserrat Gonzalez/PAR vs. #2 Caroline Garcia/FRA

#15 Liam Broady/GBR vs. (WC) Jason Kubler/AUS
Kaichi Uchida/JPN vs. #16 Luke Saville/AUS

2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Severine Bremond, FRA
2007 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2008 Zheng Jie, CHN
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE

2006 Li Na, CHN
2007 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2009 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2010 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER

2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
2009 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Vera Zvonreva, RUS
2011 Maria Sharapova, RUS

1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2001 Roland Garros - Kim Clijsters
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2007 Wimbledon - Marion Bartoli
2008 Roland Garros - Dinara Safina
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Australian Open - Li Na
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova

3...Kim Clijsters, January-February (+2 in '10)
3...Caroline Wozniacki, February-March
2...Li Na, January
2...Victoria Azarenka, March-April
2...Caroline Wozniacki, April

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexa Glatch/USA def. Galina Voskoboeva/KAZ 3-6/7-6/12-10
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #23 Venus Williams/USA def. Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN 6-7/6-3/8-6 (2:55)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #9 Marion Bartoli/FRA def. #21 Flavia Pennetta/ITA 5-7/6-4/9-7 (3:09)
TOP UNDER-THE-ROOF MATCH: 2nd Rd. - #23 Venus Williams def. Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-7/6-3/8-6 (2:55)
FIRST WIN: Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #22 Shahar Peer (1st Rd. - lost to Pervak/RUS)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-3 in 1st Rd., losses by Stosur & Dokic)
LAST BRITS STANDING: Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong & Laura Robson (2nd Rd.)
IT WOMAN: (WC) Sabine Lisicki/GER
MS. OPPORTUNITY: #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE
COMEBACK PLAYER: #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
CRASH & BURN: #15 Jelena Jankovic/SRB (1st Rd. loss to Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, worst slam result since '05 RG)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #9 Marion Bartoli/FRA - down 3 MP vs. Dominguez-Lino in 2nd Rd., won 9-7 3rd set vs. Pennetta in 3rd Rd., saved 3 MP vs. Lisicki to force 3rd set in QF
Cara Black, ZIM
Erakovic/Tanasguarn, NZL/THA
Mirza/Vesnina, IND/RUS
Sania Mirza, IND
Samantha Stosur, AUS
Elena Vesnina, RUS
Ashleigh Barty, AUS
Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
Irina Khromacheva, RUS
Indy de Vroome, NED
Victoria Duval, USA
Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR

All for Day 10. More tommorow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's perfect Djokovic new #1 from Monday. Neighbours both #1 in the same sport whenever has this happened - never I guess. Little funny isn't it?

Fri Jul 01, 11:39:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Neighbors in a tax-lite nation from which neither is originally from, though. But still. :D

Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert were dating/engaged when they both won Wimbledon once, so that's a rare situation, too. I think Agassi and Graf might have been secretly dating when they both won a slam.

So, maybe Caroline and Novak should date? That's the next barrier to cross, I guess, huh? :)

Fri Jul 01, 05:55:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Todd
I wonder why people always bring up the lite-tax situation. I don't think Caroline only has chosen Monaco because of thet because it's quite expensive to live in Monaco. I think it's because she can be there without any fans running after her and have a training area which both can be fittness and tennis. Besides tennis she's running a lot and boxing too. The climate is mild all year round so she can prepare herself all year round. Taxes - she pay tax in the country she plays - not as much as normal citizens but she is paying tax. If she is going back to settle in Denmark she will pay income tax from her fortune and what she earns then - I think it's fair enough. By the way the new top 10 from Monday looks like this (nuimbers BEFORE the final today)

1(0) CAROLINE *9915
2(0) Clijsters*7625
3(0) Zvonareva *6695
4(+1) Azarenka*6465
5(+1) Sharapova*6141 (or 6741 ?)
6(-2) Li Na*5855
7(0) Schiavone*4860
8(0) Kvitova*4837 (or 5437 ?)
9(0) Bartoli*4230
10(0) Stosur*3405

Interesting to see if Maria will return to #3 won't it?

Sat Jul 02, 06:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Oh, it's not a bad thing. It's a nice place to live anyway, and the tax thing makes it even nicer. :D

Players have been doing it for a long time. It's smart.

Sat Jul 02, 09:51:00 PM EDT  

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