Thursday, June 30, 2016

W 4.0 - Aga Gets By with a Little Help From Her Friend, while Garbi Says Goodbye Rather than Hello

Perhaps The Rad was offended by the lack of worry yesterday over the Day 3 machinations that saw nearly four dozen matches cancelled due to the rain? Whatever the cause behind it, Thursday made up for the relative calm on the women's side of the tournament through the first three days of the week.

On Day 4 alone, eleven women's seeds fell. And the damage could have been even worse. In fact, it probably SHOULD have been. But it's nice to have a, ummm, "friend" in your corner. Just ask Aga.

At the 2015 Wimbledon, Garbine Muguruza burst forth into her first slam final, losing to Serena Williams. Aga Radwanska, meanwhile, reached at least the semifinal stage at SW19 for the third time in four years. Radwanska's grass court run sparked the WTA tour's greatest back-half of the season by any player in 2015, culminating in the Pole's win over Muguruza in the semis of the WTA Finals in Singapore and her then claiming her biggest career title with a victory over Petra Kvitova in the final. During the first half of 2016, Radwanska has climbed as high as the #2 ranking, and she arrived in London as the #3 seed. Muguruza, for her part, had been THE star of that "season-ending all-star" tournament, going 3-0 and also reaching the doubles final soon after picking up Sam Sumyk as her new coach. This season, the Spaniard has played quite a few high-quality matches, winning some (but not all), while also often alternating back and forth between shockingly low-energy and out of it performances (when she's not arguing with Sumyk during a coaching session) to stunningly brilliant and on-point moments between the lines, surging to the Roland Garros title earlier this month with her second career win over Williams and moving to #2 in the rankings. She arrived at this Wimbledon seeded directly behind #1 Serena, and was the latest WTA player to be bestowed with the "next star" label.

Of course, none of those good vibes had anything to do with the fate of either player today, which very nearly turned into the most helter skelter afternoon at the AELTC since the well-remembered dismemberment of large chunks of the draw three years ago. By the time the tarps were pulled up over the courts for the night, one of the women's top two seeds was gone, while the other had needed quite a new "freaky" Thursday moments to go her way to avoid the same woeful fate. Muguruza, as it was, said goodbye just as everyone was looking to say hello, while Radwanska managed to barely get by, quite possibly with a little help from her perhaps-still-malevolent "friend."




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 Jana 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. She sort of fell apart for a while after her SW19 final run a year ago, as well.



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 least-recalled (and totally forgotten by some, judging by the commentary on ESPN today) just-how-good-could-she-REALLY-be? storylines of recent years. Remember, without a coach and playing injured (naturally), Cepelova still managed to defeat Serena and reach the Charleston final in 2014. Last year she upset Simona Halep in the 1st Round of Wimbledon. But, unable to stay healthy long enough to take advantage of her abilities, she's never risen higher than #50 in the rankings and was forced to qualify (she didn't lose at set, and still hasn't this week, either) just to return to the MD at SW19.

But, once again, we got to see the high side of Cepelova's potential on Day 4. She simply never let Muguruza up once she got her down, making her look like a fool on the hill who was cruising for a hard day's night when things were over. The Slovak raced to a 5-2 lead in the 1st set, served at 5-3 and secured the set with a forehand winner into the corner. With the Spaniard's game out of rhythm due to Cepelova's variety of shots/speeds, she was soon out of sorts before she was out the door. Cepelova burst out to a 4-0 lead in the 2nd before Muguruza could even get on the board. It didn't matter. Serving up 5-2, the Slovak held again with the match on her racket, winning 6-3/6-2 in just FIFTY-NINE minutes. She converted four-of-four break point chances, and was not made to pay by Muguruza for a poor 42% 1st Serve percentage.




Like a blackbird singing in the dead of night, Cepelova had seemingly only been waiting for her moment to arise. Again. This is already her best slam result, matching her 2012 finish at this same tournament (when she was also a qualifier... she just refuses to be a day tripper in London). But how long can it last? Cepelova has now put up huge Wimbledon upsets in back-to-back years, and has won three of her last four matches vs. Top 5 players.

Maybe the worst thing for her future in this slam is there are no more Top 5 seeds in her section, and only one seed (#28 Lucie Safarova, her next opponent) at all.

Meanwhile, Radwanska hardly seemed to be headed toward dealing with a similar fate as Muguruza when she took the 1st set at 6-2 from eighteen year-old Croat Ana 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 today with a former junior Wimbledon champ and Ladies finalist who has 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 (likely not named "Dr.Robert") 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. The Radwanska's "silver hammer" had already come down upon her head. 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 becuase 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. She won 6-2/4-6/9-7 in 2:36, living to fight yet another day. Maybe with a new/old "friend" having returned to her corner.



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.



Whether help came from "across the universe" or not, it's now clear that Aga is playing under a slightly brighter cloud at this Wimbledon than others. Remember, she was the one player to not be bothered by Day 3's rain due to her schedule-opening slot on Centre Court. And now this. Thus, her 2016 Wimbledon Magical Mystery Tour continues. I guess it pays to have "friends" in high places.

Coo-coo cachoo?






*WIMBLEDON "CRASH & BURN" WINNERS*
2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st; RG finalists)
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1st Rd.)
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2014 Sloane Stephens, USA (1st Rd.)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN & Simona Halep, ROU (both 1st Rd.)
2016 Garbine Muguruza, ESP (RG champ; 2nd Rd.)


=DAY 4 NOTES=
...The Rad has sort of gotten me today, as well. So I'll be back later tonight with the rest of Day 4's recap, including the other matches of note and a few of the usual early-round awards.

Yeah, I know that's usually sort of a U.S. Open thing... so I guess this two-parter is a Daily Backspin Wimbledon first.

Oh, I will include this before I go, though. Just to make it official.






*WIMBLEDON "CRASH & BURN" WINNERS*
2008 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st; RG finalists)
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1st Rd.)
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2014 Sloane Stephens, USA (1st Rd.)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN & Simona Halep, ROU (both 1st Rd.)
2016 Garbine Muguruza, ESP (RG champ; 2nd Rd.)




All for now. More on Day 4 in a bit.

4 Comments:

Blogger colt13 said...

OK i'll play. This day was just bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Bertens-with no tape on calf fell, and almost won the point. Seemed to have no damage.

Stat of the Day-7- Karolina Pliskova's career high ranking. Have my expectations been too high? The statistical weirdness of this may amuse you, and also change your expectations of her. At the end of 2015, there have been 88 women in the Open Era who have been ranked in the Top 7. All of the #1 and #2 players(33) have reached a slam final.No surprise there. When we get to #3, all 11 have reached the SF, with only Coetzer, Petrova and Maleeva-Fragniere not reaching a final. Oddly enough, of the 26 players with a career high of 4 or 5, Magdalena Maleeva is the only one without a slam SF. Even weirder, the only #6(out of 5)not to have reached a slam SF? Katerina Maleeva. So this gets us to Pliskova at #7. Making the QF the goal, 11 out of 13 have made one. The other? No, not another Maleeva, but Andrea Temesvari, whose statline is suprisingly close to Pliskova. Both have a 3rd round best at both AO and USO, the difference is that Temesvari F/W best is 4th where Pliskova is 2nd for both. Both also have 5 titles. But one thing that stands out is that neither Temesvari or Pliskova have been in the year end top 10. Of the 88, it only applies to 4(Jausovec and Durie are the other 2). Even the overlooked Greer Stevens(Leo-Smith) was Top 10(1980). Until Pliskova shows that type of staying power, we shouldn't expect a deep run.

Thu Jun 30, 07:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yep, it might be almost time to employ a Pliskova Slam Futility Update.

All she has to do is get to ten titles (though that might take a while after her slow start this year), and she'd meet the old Smashnova/Medina-Garrigues Slam Futility standard of 10+ titles and no Slam Round of 16 result.

Thu Jun 30, 08:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

She's a real nowhere woman.

Thu Jun 30, 08:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

That one was on my unused title list. ;)

Thu Jun 30, 09:03:00 PM EDT  

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