Monday, June 29, 2015

W.1- A Matter of Time...and being Serena

On Day 1, it was time to play. So it was time to put the nets up.

It was also time for Serena Williams to win. Sure, it took a few games for her to get things appropriately rolling, but we all knew she would. It was just a matter of time. After all, the 20-time slam champ was thinking about this tournament while she was still on Chatrier Court in Paris three weeks ago after winning the Roland Garros final. That doesn't mean that she's necessarily destined to lift #21 at the end of the fortnight, but her focus is true. And that generally means a great deal. At the very least, she wasn't going to lose today. Her opponent, whoever it was, was never going to be anything other than a temporary obstacle.

So, meet Margarita Gasparyan. AKA "The Temporary Obstacle." But a pretty good one, as it turned out.

The #113-ranked woman in the world surely knew what she was up against on Day 1. "This is amazing, no? It's my first time playing at Wimbledon and in the 1st round I play Serena Williams. She's one of the best. She's a star. It is for me better," the Russian said after learning that she was to play the five-time SW19 champ.

That said, Gasparyan WAS impressive early. An ITF achiever (9-1 in finals) with three '15 titles already under her belt, she's six-foot-one with a big serve and one-handed backhand. This won't be her last match on a big stage. Even Serena, who'd naturally never met her 20-year old challenger until today, was surprised to learn that Gasparyan's ranking wasn't already high enough for her to automatically be included in the main draw, rather than having to get there by making her way through qualifying (her second consecutive slam Q-run of the season, no less).

On the first point of the match, the Hordette blasted a big deep return that Williams couldn't get back. Moments later, a Serena error put the #1 seed down love/40. Gasparyan broke serve, then fired a forehand down the line to hold for 2-0. Williams opened game #3 with a 116-mph serve and let out a yell.

It was just a matter of time.

But the day wasn't easy. One year after a Wimbledon experience that included a Round of 16 loss to Alize Cornet and that strange exit in the doubles when she seemed to have lost her equilibrium and couldn't even bounce a ball and catch it, the opening half-hour of her '15 return included being issued an audible obscenity violation and a slip/split/fall at the baseline that didn't look all that different from the one that Vika Azarenka experienced on the original Radwanskian Massacre Day two years ago. Well, except that Vika let out a cry of death and curled up like road kill on a highway, while Serena simply looked a bit perturbed and immediately got to her feet.

As the big Russian was firing the sort of winners that elicited a call of, "Hey, Mar-garita!" from the crowd, Williams was slowly rounding into shape. Serena finally got things back even with a break for 3-3, then she proceeded to win nine of the next eleven games to polish off a 6-4/6-1 victory, giving her a career 59-1 mark in slam 1st Rounds. She's 31-0 in the 1st AND 2nd Rounds at Wimbledon, so Timea Babos should probably focus on her BFF doubles chances with Kiki Mladenovic. I'm just sayin'.

One down. Six more to go for Serena Slam II. Thirteen more to go for the Grand Slam.

...while there are potential early-round pitfalls ahead (i.e. Kiki Mladenovic in Round 3, then possibly multiple former-or-current world #1's soon afterward), #23 Vika Azarenka kicked off her 2015 Wimbledon experience as well as anyone could have expected. Facing off with wild card Estonian teenager Anett Kontaveit, who won a $50K grass court challenger a few weeks ago and was 11-2 on the surface in June, the two-time SW19 semifinalist cruised to a 6-2/6-1 victory -- just her second win in the last three years at the AELTC -- to become the very first player to advance to the 2nd Round.

The last time Vika was out of the gate so quickly was at the 2012 Australian Open. Not forecasting anything, but it should be noted that she won that tournament.

...of course, with the good on Day 1 of a slam comes the equally necessary bad. The "First Seed Out" was #24 Flavia Pennetta, a three-set victim of Zarina Diyas, 6-3/2-6/6-4.

This is the second time that Pennetta has been the first seed ousted at Wimbledon in the last four years, having lost early in 2012. Actually, this also marks the fourth time in the last six years that the FSO at SW19 hailed from Italy. of -- if not THE -- en vogue upset pick for Day 1 was that of grass court maven Tsvetana Pironkova over #30 seeded Eastbourne champ Belinda Bencic. Things looked good for the Bulgarian early on, as she took the 1st set. But, as if often the case, Pironkova was hampered by a leg injury and the 18-year old 2013 Wimbledon girls champ Bencic showed no pity for her opponent's situation, winning the final two sets 1 & 3 to advance.

Bencic will next face Anna-Lena Friedsam, who erased a 4-1 3rd set deficit today to knock off Hordette Vitalia Diatchenko, as she attempts to return to the 3rd Round at SW19 one year after she won two matches in her debut there a year ago.

...Brit Johanna Konta has had a great grass court tune up season, reaching a pair of QF and notching a handful of big wins in the greatest stretch of results of her career. Meanwhile, #4 Maria Sharapova hasn't played a match since Roland Garros. The two faced off on Centre Court on Monday and... well, they both played up to the level of their past career results, making the past month null and void. Sharapova handily won 6-2/6-2 to move her career 1st Round record at Wimbledon to a spotless 13-0.

...Sharapova didn't have easiest time of things among the bigger names in action today, though. There were two double bagel results. #16 Venus Williams put down fellow American Madison Brengle in forty-one minutes, showing how good she was feeling by converting 17 of 20 net approaches.

#14 Andrea Petkovic, not with a great grass history but coming off a good week in Eastbourne, handled another Bannerette, Shelby Rogers, in a second "Wimbledon bakery special" in just THIRTY-EIGHT minutes, calling up her "inner Sabine" by firing seven aces in six service games.

...and then there was Karolina Pliskova. Oh, Karolina. She almost lived down to her grand slam reputation once again. After winning the 1st set against Irina Falconi, the #11-seeded Czech led 3-1 in the 2nd but saw the Bannerette force a 3rd. Pliskova won the decider handily, but one wonders if that squandered lead might plant a tiny seed of doubt that could grow into a tournament-ender for her before she can live up to her seed and reach her first career Round of 16 (at least) at a major.

Meanwhile, Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko made her grand slam debut on Day 1. The barely 18-year old (since June 18) wild card is the second-youngest player in the draw behind Ana Konjuh, and she won the Wimbledon girls title last year. You might remember, I picked her to death at the slams in '14, finally getting her SW19 title run correct after missing out on predictions for her to lift a slam title in both Melbourne and Paris. She was immediately impressive today, destroying #9-seed Carla Suarez-Navarro and allowing just two total games.

Hmmm, I wonder who was the last teen to upset a Top 10 player in their slam debut? Even Jelena Dokic had played in two slam MD before she knocked off #1 Martina Hingis in the 1st Round at Wimbledon in '99.

...Pennetta wasn't the only Italian to have a bad day. Roberta Vinci, who reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2012-13, lost in straight sets to Aleksandra Krunic (Go Bracelet!), while in a bit of Italian-on-Italian crime it was #19 Sara Errani taking out Francesca Schiavone in three sets, 6-2/5-7/6-1.

The loss puts Schiavone right back on the bad slam slide that she finally stopped last month in Paris. Her brief RG run (which included that instant classic vs. Kuznetsova) had ended her eight-match slam losing streak. This loss means she's now been ousted in her opening match at ten of the last twelve majors, while this is her fourth straight defeat at Wimbledon since reaching the Round of 16 in 2012.

...elsewhere, Kirsten Flipkens dropped the opening set at love to Annika Beck, but the Waffle came back to win in three. Daniela Hantuchova won the all-Slovak battle with Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5/6-0, while Daria Gavrilova put up a fight but ultimately fell to #29 Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6(6)/6-1. And Sloane Stephens' good recent run continued as she quickly bounced back from a 3-1 deficit in the 1st set to take down '14 quarterfinalist #27 Barbora Strycova 6-4/6-2.

Though we really need to stop with polls like this:

...and has the OTHER big-time Czech in the draw be awakened from her post-Paris slumber? Maybe, which could make this Day 1 result very important down the road.

#6 Lucie Safarova was a SW19 semifinalist a year ago, but she improved upon even that result with her huge run to the Roland Garros final three weeks ago. She didn't have much grass court preparation, and had a potential 1st Round stumbling block in Alison Riske today. Early on, it looked as if the American was going to be much more than just that, though.

While Safarova seemed disengaged and was error-prone, Riske's grass court experience and success showed. She won the 1st set and led 4-2 in the 2nd. Safarova got a break to get back on serve at 4-3, but Riske immediately got the advantage back and served for the match at 5-4. But the Czech held on, and Riske's nerves got the best of her. The rest is history. Safarova rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd and won 3-6/7-5/6-3.

Who knows what this escape could do for Safarova. If it immediately transforms her back into the player who has been one of the best on tour over the past year, the Czech could be a "Zombie Queen" contender who really IS a contender by the end of next week.

DAY 1 QUALIFIER WINS: Richel Hogenkamp/NED (def. Wang), Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE (def. Kanepi), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (def. Van Uytvanck), Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR (def. Zhu)
DAY 1 WILD CARD WINS: Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (def. Suarez-Navarro)
DAY 1 BRIT WINS: even limiting the number of Brits in the main draw because of a lack of merit, the locals still went 0-2 on Day 1. And if Heather Watson hadn't grabbed the 2nd set late in the day against Caroline Garcia, pushing the 3rd set into Day 2, it might have been even worse.

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Pammy Shriver is back on ESPN! Yes. I never would have uttered such a thing without a hint of sarcasm a few years ago, but I do now. So there you go.


CONFIRMATION FROM DAY 1: Finally, some word on whether or not Schiavone has her eye on Ai Sugiyama's WTA record of 62 consecutive slam appearances. She does. This was her 60th straight slam.

DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: Speaking of Francesca (and Sara, too, for that matter). These match-up caricatures are usually pretty good... but I think someone needs to go back to the (literal) drawing board for these two. Is that even Errani at all, or another player altogether?


DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: A little less JJ at SW19.

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Petko being Petko (as always)

LIKE FROM DAY 1: Even Maria's post-run shots are imagined in stylish B&W.


...and, finally... leave it to Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champ, to throw in a little more drawn-out drama before he walked out the doors of the AELTC for the last time... as in losing a two sets to one lead, then saving three MP in the 5th before finally going out 11-9 to Jarkko Nieminen.

I was never really a great fan of the Aussie. But even players you don't particularly cotton to earn loads of respect when they battle through injuries and stick around as long as Hewitt has. He played his first slam match back in 1997. Belinda Bencic wouldn't be BORN for two months, and Ana Konjuh hadn't even yet been conceived. They've both won WTA titles over the past three weeks.

Remember, Hewitt was ranked #1 in the world and winning his two career slams BEFORE the likes of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Roddick and Ferrero had ever climbed into the top spot or won ANY major titles. The player he replaced as #1 when he reached the position for the first time in 2001? Gustavo Kuerten. The player who replaced Hewitt both times he was supplanted as #1 in 2003? Andre Agassi. Both players have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, three and four years ago, respectively. Meanwhile, the Aussie still has a little work to do. He won't officially call it career until after the 2016 Australian Open.

I guess Drake is all right. Not so sure about the choice of leggings.

Love this guy @champagnepapi ?? #0toa100realquick

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2005 #10 Patty Schnyder, SUI (lost to Ant.Serra-Zanetta/ITA)
2006 #28 Sofia Arvidsson, SWE (lost to Birnerova/CZE)
2007 #30 Olga Puchkova, RUS (lost to Vesnina/RUS)
2008 #30 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (lost to J.Zheng/CHN)
2009 #23 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN (lost to Schiavone/ITA)
2010 #5 Francesca Schiavone ITA (lost to Dushevina/RUS)
2011 #22 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Pervak/RUS)
2012 #16 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Giorgi/ITA)
2013 #5 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Puig/PUR)
2014 #17 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Wickmayer/BEL)
2015 #24 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Diyas/KAZ)

2009 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Cetkovska/CZE)
2010 Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Schnyder/SUI)
2011 Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN (def. O'Brien/GBR)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Suarez-Navarro/ESP)
2013 Lesia Tsurenko/UKR (def. Arruabarrena-Vecino/ESP)
2014 Elena Vesnina/RUS (def. Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
2015 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)

TOP QUALIFIER: Petra Cetkovska, CZE
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #21 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR d. Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL 1-6/6-3/12-10 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: #23 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
FIRST SEED OUT: #24 Flavia Pennetta/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Diyas/KAZ)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Hogenkamp/NED, Hsieh/TPE, Mattek-Sands/USA, Sasnovich/BLR
LAST BRIT STANDING: 1st Rd.: 0-2 so far
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #9 Suarez-Navarro (lost 1st Rd. vs. WC Ostapenko, winning just 2 games)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #6 Safarova (1st Rd. - down set and 4-2 vs. Riske, who served at 5-4 for the match, then led 2-0 in the 3rd)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD: Nominee: Pironkova 1st Rd. injury

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

Todd you had this up so fast.

- i always thought that sharapova staged her photos really well, too.

- i think the fact that ppl like pam shriver a lot more now has to do with pam improving and being better...i like to believe that our standards are still high. :)

- "cotton to" ??

- ??

- do Canadians like Drake? Zidane, please weigh in...

- it's interesting the Pennetta can do well at Wimbledon, but also be prone to crashing out. Seriously...I can't get a good read on Diyas's game...and what it all means for CiCi Bellis. I feel like Diyas is like a Pablo Cuevas... I still remember when Ryan Harrison beat him when he was 15 yo. And then...nada so far.

Mon Jun 29, 06:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I've always liked Shriver. Yes, she makes the occasional blunder, but she actually talks about the tennis and not a bunch of nonsense. She also doesn't ride on the idiot media "flavor of the week" train. And she's the only one who confronts sexism in public, on the air.

Mon Jun 29, 06:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah... there wasn't really much that happened today. Serena always provides a little fodder for an open, though.

I like that Pammy can "break the rules" and it's all right because, you know, it's Pammy.

Although, imagine if a male commentator has posted a similar Tweet about, say, Aga sunning herself in the pool on her back (rather than her stomach) when SHE was in the ESPN Body Issue. Everyone seemed to enjoy Pammy's Stan photo pic/comment today, but I think that's one of those cases where people would see it very differently if the genders were reversed. Diane?

"Cotton to" :)

Drake was good on SNL when he hosted. That's about all I can add. :D

Not sure what that second "??" was referring to. ?

Mon Jun 29, 06:52:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I think Shriver's Tweet is offensive.

Mon Jun 29, 07:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

I know Drake only by face, so I can't say. I couldn't even recognize one of his songs should I hear one, and nobody around me ever bring him up, although it might be that most of my friends just don't listen that kind of music. Also, Québec and RoC (Rest of Canada) sometimes have sharp music differences. Nickelback barely had a hit or two here, while Jon Bon Jovi publicly stated that Québec is where he has the most success.

Drake is consistently shortlisted for the Polaris, though, but he never won it. Maybe this year he will. So I guess some Canadian music critics like him. The Polaris is the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury in the UK, an award for the best Canadian (UK) album of the year according to music critics.

Mon Jun 29, 07:58:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm home now and can type more. I actually hadn't even noticed that that was Shriver's Tweet or I wouldn't have been so quick to write an apologia for her. The Body Issue is supposed to be a celebration of the athlete's body. One would hope that the leering members of the crowd will at least keep it too themselves. The leering--not the admiration.

Stan looks great. What's not to like? I'm surprised that Shriver would make a bluntly sexual comment about the photo., though. I always thought that Pam "got it." Maybe she's just given up and has decided to join the "sexualize everyone and everything" majority. Or maybe she considers this type of comment to be "payback." It isn't, because men are always considered athletes first, no matter how many thongs they wear and how many nude photos they pose for.

Mon Jun 29, 08:39:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, when I first saw that Tweet I sort of glossed over what it said. Then when I actually read it, I was, like, well, ESPN would certainly handle this differently under other circumstances. I mean, they've suspended people in the past just for going on the radio and making comments about other ESPNers' on-air clothing being a bit too revealing. But, then again, they had some bad press a few years ago with a few sexual harassment flare-ups, so I think they were doing things very "by the book" at the time.

Still, it's nice to hear Shriver on the air again... at the very least it means a little less MJF.

Mon Jun 29, 09:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

The second ?? was me still pondering "cotton to." :)

I didn't like Pam for the longest time bc she didn't know any of the non-US players waaaaay back in the day. She couldn't pronounce any of their names. She didn't give their ability or talent any credit until they had won like 99 grand slams. I remember when she first started realizing that there were players who existed outside of the US (in like 2008/2009), she proclaimed that either Lisicki or Wozniacki was a dark horse to win it all -- this was after they had won a bundle of titles. I think that was the height of my irritation. I was like, you don't need to convince me that they are good players.

But as I mentioned, she's very "with it" now. I especially like how she'll go after a story and try to get to the bottom of issues. And her occasional blunders now do make me like her more.

Mon Jun 29, 09:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

What's sexual about an open-stanced backhand? LOL.

Mon Jun 29, 09:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Zidane - That Nickelback has a following anywhere is a mystery to me.

I think the biggest thing I learned today is the acronym RoC. I can't wait to use it. Does it apply if you're from Montreal/Toronto/Vancouver? Or is it only Quebec-ian?

Mon Jun 29, 09:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Eric - RoC is a Québec thing, although Albertans started using it once in a while. If you use RoC without specifying a province or city, it is implied that the focus is Québec, and it may sound off in other circumstances.

Be careful if you use it: some English-Canadians find it offensive. They take negatively the idea of dissociating oneself from "Canadian" views or "Canadian" values, as if Canada had to be monolithic. (It intersects with my long explanation on English-Canadian national identity a while ago.)

Tue Jun 30, 01:36:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Todd, I have been looking through the history books to see if I could come up with anything close to what is happening with the mess that is Bouchard. Should be noted that Andrea Jaeger went from from N-AO/SF/F/QF- in the majors in 1983 to 1r at the French-ret, and missed the other 3 in 1984. Also note that after Ivanovic won the French in 08, it took 18 slams till she reached her next QF.

Tue Jun 30, 12:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, Ivanovic is a good recent comparison, if there is one.

Even Kournikova's '97 Wimbledon semi was followed up by six 4th Rd. results the next three years and a QF in '01.

Stevenson's '99 Wimbledon semi and what happened after than would be considered, but that was more of a one-time thing than what Bouchard did in the majors last year.

Tue Jun 30, 01:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Stevenson. Didn't think of her at all. Never went past the 2nd round at a major before or after the magical run.

Bouchard's struggles are taking some of the focus off of Halepovic. Yes, I know what I wrote, she has changed coaches so often it is getting to be reminiscent of Ivanovic. I will admit that I only saw livescore of this, Cepelova could have been lights out.

Tue Jun 30, 02:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Cepelova was lights out, but Bouchard was also sloppy. Funny how often that happens.

Wed Jul 01, 04:51:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home