Tuesday, June 28, 2011

W.8- To Infinity and Beyond?

It's great for the ATP that the world's Top 4 players might be about to reach the semifinals of a second straight slam, but the Wimbledon women's semifinals -- even without a Top 4 player or a Williams Sister -- has already turned out just as good. Ultimately, it may even be seen as great.

Maria Sharapova. Victoria Azarenka. Petra Kvitova. Sabine Lisicki.

It's a final four that one could feel confident about were the group to form of "the heart" of the WTA over the next four or five years. Sprinkle in a few occasional veterans, an odd Sister or two, some unnamed teens and maybe even the current world #1 (for a little variety), and for the first time in a very long time one can look at a slam's Final Four and read a bright FUTURE for the tour in between the names of the women left in the draw. After a succession of slams (over?)populated in the late stages by nearly-thirty year old veterans, finally members of the "next frontier" -- as well as a 24-year old in the "older woman" role -- have seen fit to show their heads. That recent run of late-career blossomers has been fun, but make no mistake about it that much of the worry about what was going to come "after" was legitimate. For any sport to thrive it needs to have its talent pool replenished by winning personalities and/or great athletes (with luck, more than a few will embody both sides of that particular coin) on a regular basis, and to fulfill their roles, for the good of the future of that sport, they need to be able to thrive in the most important moments of the season. While the collection of revolving #1-ranked players has been entertaining, that none has been able to be a consistent slam threat/winner has ultimately managed to create the picture of a WTA -- whether the notion be bankrupt, ill-informed, both or neither -- populated by a awful lot of players not "worthy" of the attention one should expect them to demand because what the do when everyone is watching.

At this slam, at least on the surface of things, that has changed. With Sharapova the only semifinalist with a slam title or even a slam final appearance, at least one of the other 21-year old women will be attempting to break new ground in her career on Saturday. Maybe even two will get the opportunity. Most impressively, after world #1 Caroline Wozniacki once again left a slam followed by criticism that her game style and mindset isn't aggressive enough to compete for a slam title, all four women used their quarterfinal matches as auditions to show that they won't be accused of the same malfeasance.

Lisicki was up first against Marion Bartoli in a match that pitted two doctor's daughters who'd stared down match points earlier in the tournament in order to reach the Final Eight. As expected, she used her serve as her biggest weapon. But Lisicki's employing of a series of well-timed drop shots, along with a few lobs, kept the Frenchwoman off balance and exempted the German from facing the full wrath of the player who so outplayed Serena Williams yesterday. With Bartoli's edge noticably (finally) worn just a bit following her series of do-or-die heroics at this Wimbledon, Lisicki led 6-4/5-4 before her opponent found her way into the match enough to make things sticky. Not yet ready to quit, Bartoli saved three match points and forced a 2nd set tie-break, which she won 7-4 after the server managed to hold just once in 11 points. After being "over the moon" after her previous SW19 defeat of #3-seed Li Na, one had to wonder if the German might now go "under the bridge." At Roland Garros, she'd led Vera Zvonareva by the same 6-4/5-4 score and ended up losing after holding match point, ultimately being carried off the court on a stretcher (adding RG to the list of slams she'd needed assistance leaving, after being wheeled away after injuring her ankle at the '09 U.S. Open) after cramping up and collapsing, blowing another 5-2 lead in the final set. This time, it didn't happen. Yes, Bartoli sort of let Lisicki "off the hook," since she was obviously exhausted and was ready to physically hit the wall... well, she would have had she not needed it to lean on. Bartoli was huffing and puffing, shaking out her sore leg, taking a rest on a linesperson's chair between games and, generally, looking like she might hit the deck at any moment. She pulled through, but so did Lisicki, winning 6-4/6-7/6-1 and garnering her own little page in Wimbledon lore with a semifinal run that began when she personally wrote the All-England Club requesting a wild card entry into the draw after having missed the tournament last year while recuperating from injury and seeing her ranking fall outside the Top 200. Since her Paris disppointment, Lisicki has gone 11-0 on the grass courts. Assuming she can continue to stay on the court, the hard-hitting German with the brilliant smile will long be remembered as having first become a star at this tournament.

Later, Sharapova reached her first Wimbledon SF in five years without having to survive a nail-biter through her first five matches, always a necessary harbinger for any slam success she might attain. After bursting onto the scene at SW19 seven years ago, a seeming tennis "lifetime" later, she's now the oldest of the four semifinalists, but she's got more than a few slam contending years left. While Dominika Cibulkova took Wozniacki to the woodshed yesterday, the Slovak was never able to dent Sharapova's exterior today, losing 6-1/6-1. And the Russian did nothing to help her, either. And after struggling for two years to regain her serving confidence following shoulder surgery, THAT is a sure sign that Sharapova's past might finally be about to be actually put in the past.

Kvitova came into today having never been challenged in any set, and led Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3/2-1 before being broken for just the second time in the tournament. The moment ultimately led to Pironkova making something of a match of it by winning a 2nd set tie-break. But the Czech didn't allow her brief spell of errors to snowball and steal away her momentum as she did in Paris against Li (when she blew a 3-0 3rd set lead). Taking charge from the outset, she ran away with the final set, sealing the deal with ace #9 for a 6-3/6-7/6-2 victory that somehow looked closer on the scoreboard than it did in the stats, as Kvitova led 54-10 in winners (while also being fairly close, 24-18, in errors) and 76%-56% in 1st Serve Winning Percentage. Even if Kvitova doesn't win THIS Wimbledon title, she WILL someday. Her strengths -- a big lefty serve, flat groundstrokes and a willingness to be aggressive (she was 24-of-31 in net approaches today, though she could work that particular skill into her game even more, ala her idol Martina Navratilova) -- seem to play too well to the particulars of the grass to prevent her ascension for long.

In the end, though, Azarenka was the MOST dominant of the four, outhitting and outclassing Tamira Paszek, winning 6-3/6-1 while not allowing Day 8's rain delays and the mid-match re-location of the match to hinder her concentration. Few players act as if they want success more than the Belarusian does when she's on the court, and now she'll get her chance to get a bigger chunk of it for herself.

Take your pick. Whoever ends up winning this title, it will be a big deal. Either a new face with "the goods" is about to become a rare first-time slam champion at Wimbledon, or one of the women who previously won HER first slam title on the grass is going to signal to the rest of the tour that she's back in Supernovic form. Whatever the outcome, it'll count as a powerful shot across the collective bow of the rest of the field, and one that will have to be answered by any player who wishes to be part of the ongoing story in women's tennis for the next few years. While it might be "bad" news for some players whose slam windows could close over the next year or two, it will ultimately be good for women's tennis. Heck, even the player who will be most adversely effected by this result, the still slam-less world #1, if she takes this result as the challenge and "call to arms" that it SHOULD be, could ultimately look at being "beaten to the slam punch" by a member her own tennis generation as the best thing that ever happened to her career if she decides to do what needs to be done to compete against the sort of players that fill this Wimbledon Final Four.

That thunder clap that nearly scared Lisicki out of her shoes when it cracked through the air outside Centre Court and resounded throughout the fabled arena might not have been a simple act of nature at all. It might have been the Tennis Gods celebrating. Yep, so many good things could be coming down the line because of what's happened in London at this Wimbledon. It has to start somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any.

To infinity and beyond.

...Sharapova has reached two straight slam semifinals. In 2011, besides the Russian, the only other woman who has reached the Final Four in two of the season's three slams is Li Na, the runner-up in Melbourne and champion in Paris. Her SF results gives the Hordettes at least one woman in twenty-seven of the last thirty slam semifinals

Lisicki became the first player not named Andy Murray, and the first woman, to twice play under the Centre Court roof. Both of Lisicki's matches, as is the case with all three of Murray's, have been played in their entirely indoors. Later, after having her Court 1 match moved to Centre Court after one game, Azarenka became the third player to play parts of multiple matches under the roof. She's now won two matches partially played inside.

=MIDDLE-ROUND AWARDS - 2r/3r to QF (Days 5-8)=
TOP PLAYER: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...in a month's time, Sharapova has gone from being the youngest of the Four Four in Paris to the oldest in London. With experience on her side, she's two matches away from getting into position to possibly, by the end of the summer, reclaim the (mythic and otherwise) "top" spot in the game she inherited when Henin retired back in '08... only to see her shoulder problems take her down rather than still higher.
RISER: Petra Kvitova/CZE
...aside from a brief slip in the "cleanliness" of her game for less than half a set against Pironkova, she's been virtually untouchable this fortnight. (ALSO: Victoria Azarenka/BLR... finally a slam semifinalist, now what comes next?)
SURPRISE: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
...well, I guess we won't hear from her again until next June. (ALSO: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK)
VETERAN: Marion Bartoli/FRA
...the youngters stood up at SW19, but so did the 26-year old Bartoli. Who says she can't be the next late-twenties player to grab a first career slam by this time next year? (ALSO: Nadia Petrova/RUS)
FRESH FACE Tamira Paszek/AUT
...four years after a Wimbledon QF run as a 16-year old, the Austrian was back for more. (ALSO: Ksenia Pervak/RUS)
COMEBACK: Sabine Lisicki/GER
...her performance at this Wimbledon sort of makes you EVEN MORE upset now about all the injuries and illness the German has had to endure the last two years. (ALSO: Melinda Czink/HUN)
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN, Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova & Daria Gavrilova
...all #1 seeds. All out before the quarterfinals.

"Definitely not our best day.'" - Venus Williams, after she and sister Serena both lost in the 4th Round on "unlucky" Day 7, a single day first for them at Wimbledon

2nd Round - Bartoli d. Dominguez-Lino 4-6/7-5/6-2
...Bartoli saves three match points
3rd Round - Bartoli d. Pennetta 5-7/6-4/9-7
...in 3:09, Bartoli survives Pennetta, and ejects her parents from the stands.
3rd Round - Paszek d. Schiavone 3-6/6-4/11-9
...in 3:41, just four minutes off the standing women's Wimbledon match record, Paszek wins despite seeing the Italian vet serve at 8-7 and 9-8 in the 3rd.

3rd Round - Pironkova d. Zvonareva 6-2/6-3
4th Round - Pironkova d. V.Williams 6-2/6-3

...the Bulgarian got a measure of revenge for her loss to Zvonareva in last year's SF, then literally repeated her QF win -- scoreline and all -- over Venus from '10. Actually, oddly enough, both these matches ended up with the same score.
4th Round - Cibulkova d. Wozniacki 1-6/7-6/7-5
...after looking for three and a half matches as if she might have learned from her past slam failures and decided to turn her in-game aggression up a notch, it all collapsed around Wozniacki's ankles (again) in the 3rd set against Cibulkova. The Dane's second 2011 loss to the diminutive world #24 Slovak gives her six defeats this season against players ranked between #23-31. Only two of her nine losses on the year have come against Top 10 players (with another vs. a #11).

"I don’t care what people think or say or do." - Caroline Wozniacki, after her Round of 16 loss, sounding slightly childish, at worst, and, at best, definitely defensive and overly weary

ZOMBIE QUEEN: For her cumulative efforts at the All-England Club, Marion Bartoli is the QC for this Wimbledon. From her comeback from three match points down in the 2nd Round against Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, to her 11-9 survival against Flavia Pennetta one round later, and even including her saving of three match points against Sabine Lisicki in the QF to at least force a 3rd set. So what if she was exhausted once she got there... how could she NOT have been?
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Sabine Lisicki, still alive and kicking in the semis, she's the fifth wild card to reach a slam Final Four, and the first German woman to get as far in a slam since Steffi Graf in 1999

"I can only get better. And that can potentially be really scary because I can only go up from here, and I can just do so much more." - Serena Williams

...and, finally, Serena Williams' ranking will fall to #174 after this Wimbledon. With her schedule never likely to be Wozniacki-like (the Dane's not REALLY going to play in Sweden next week, IS she?), she's not likely to garner enough ranking points on the North American hard court circuit to raise her ranking high enough to be seeded at the U.S. Open. And since the USTA can't bump up the seedings like the All-England, that means that she could end up being the Mother of All Floaters in the Flushing Meadows draw at the end of the summer. Considering how things have been going for the Dane in the slams, who wants to bet that SHE ends up drawing Serena in the first two or three rounds?

#5 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. (WC) Sabine Lisicki/GER
Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #8 Petra Kvitova/CZE

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #10 Mardy Fish/USA
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. Feliciano Lopez/ESP
#12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI
(Q) Bernard Tomic/AUS vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB

xx vs. xx
#3 Huber/Raymond (USA/USA) vs. (LL) Erakovic/Tanasugarn (NZL/THA)
Llagostera-Vives/Parra-Santonja (ESP/ESP) vs. #4 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS)
xx vs. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

xx vs. xx
Cerretani/Marx (USA/GER) vs. xx
#8 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) vs. Clement/Dlouhy (FRA/CZE)
(WC) Fleming/Hutchins (GBR/GBR) vs. Kas/Peya (GER/AUT)

2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 Marion Bartoli, FRA

[2011 WTA SF]
9...Caroline Wozniacki (7-2)
6...Marion Bartoli (3-3)
5...Li Na (3-2)
5...Vera Zvonareva (1-4)
5...Peng Shuai (1-4)
4...Daniela Hantuchova (2-2)
4...Jelena Jankovic (1-3)
NOTE: 2- Lisicki (1-0)
[career slam SF - since 2006]
8...Justine Henin (7-1) -retired
8...Serena Williams (7-1)
7...Kim Clijsters (3-4)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
[2011 slam SF]
[2010-11 slam SF]
3...Belgium, United States
2...Denmark, Czech Republic, Italy
[Russians in Wimbledon SF]
1974 Olga Morozova (RU)
1997 Anna Kournikova
2004 Maria Sharapova (W)
2005 Maria Sharapova
2006 Maria Sharapova
2008 Elena Dementieva
2009 Elena Dementieva & Dinara Safina
2010 Vera Zvonareva (RU)
2011 Maria Sharapova

[Open era]
1968 Billie Jean King, USA
1978 Martina Navratilova, TCH (CZE)
1994 Conchita Martinez, ESP
1998 Jana Novotna, CZE
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2011 slam-less semifinalists: Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Sabine Lisicki

12...Kim Clijsters (January-February)
12...Victoria Azarenka (March-April)
11...Li Na (January)
11...Petra Kvitova (May) *
11...SABINE LISICKI (June-current)
10...Julia Goerges (April-May)
10...Maria Sharapova (May-June)
* - Kvitova lost match in $100K challenger during stretch

AO: Serena Williams, USA (champion)
RG: Samantha Stosur, AUS (runner-up)
WI: Serena Williams, USA (champion)
US: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (lost in SF)
AO: Li Na, CHN (runner-up)
RG: Li Na, CHN (champion)
WI: Maria Sharapova, RUS (????)

[full matches]
3-0 = Andy Murray
2-0 = Sabine Lisicki
[partial matches]
2-0 = Victoria Azarenka

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: Nominee: 2nd Rd. - V.Williams d. K.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.)
Tamira Paszek, AUT
A junior
Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Petra Kvitova, CZE
Sabine Lisicki, GER
Huber/Raymond, USA
Sabine Lisicki, GER
Nadia Petrova, RUS
Maria Sharapova, RUS
A doubles player
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

All for Day 8. More tommorow.


Blogger Jeppe said...

Now that Marion is gone, I hope Vika takes the title. Maria would be fine to, whereas I don't feel Petra and Sabine have done enough on the Tour to 'deserve' a Slam yet.

And of course Caroline is playing in Båstad next week. She always honours her commitments and is scheduled to play her first round match in the Sunset session on Tuesday night. It's a fine little tournament held in a great location, the Swedish organisers are giving her the royal treatment, and she enjoys playing there. What's wrong with that? Can't she have a bit of fun without getting in trouble with the scheduling police?

Wed Jun 29, 04:29:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a bit of fun for Caroline to be able to play in front of her Sweedish fans so of course she is playing in Bastad and i agree with Jeppe that she'll be treated as a queen and who wouldn't like that. Away from all the negative reporters and slam fighters. And then back to Monaco and have some fun with Djokovic and his girlfriend. Fun to see if he also reaches #1 not often that happens in the tennis world neighbors #1 i mean.

Wed Jun 29, 11:12:00 AM EDT  

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