Thursday, June 30, 2016

W 4.5 - What a Difference a Year Can Make

Elsewhere around the AELTC grounds on Thursday, we were reminded just how much of a difference a year can make.

Well, at least if your name is Heather. Heather Watson.

A year ago, the Brit 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. Today she characterized her 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.

On Wednesday, 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. On Thursday, 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 won 3-6/6-0/12-10 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.

...there was simply too much going on on Day 4 to fitfully go over it all, so here's a thumbnail sketch rundown of the highlights:

*Doubles Partners Who Play Together, Lose Together... in singles*
Both the RG-winning all-Pastry doubles duo of #30 Caroline Garcia and #31 Kristina Mladenovic put together good grass court seasons that raised their rankings just into seed range. Garcia managed to get in a 1st Round win earlier this week, while Mladenovic didn't finally see the court in the 1st Round until today.

They both lost on Day 4, though.

Mallorca champ Garcia fell to Czech Katerina Siniakova 4-6/6-4/6-1, while Rosmalen finalist Mladenovic didn't even make it to three sets, dropping the 1st to Aliaksandra Sasnovich and falling down 5-0 in the 2nd before threatening to make a contest of things. The Belarusian had to make two attempts at serving out the match, and in her second try at 5-3 Mladenovic held a BP to get back on serve after winning a 16-shot rally. It wasn't meant to be, though. Sasnovich closed things out on her second MP.

*The Qualifiers*
Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, who'd played four straight three-setters to reach her first slam 2nd Round, finally found an obstacle she couldn't get past in Anna-Lena 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).

Other qualifiers were more fortunate on Thursday. Marina Erakovic outlasted Jelena Jankovic despite blowing a 5-3 3rd set lead and failing to serve out the match at 5-4, winning 4-6/7-6(11)/8-6 to send the thirtysomething Serb out in the 2nd Round one year after she reached the Round of 16. Mandy Minella saw Anna Tatishvili retire down a set and 3-0 in their 1st Rounder, while Julia Boserup advanced when Belinda Bencic, who arrived in London with a back injury, was forced out one game in the 2nd set of their 2nd Rounder with a wrist injury she said she began to feel a few days ago.

*North Americans-R-Us*
Sloane Stephens, who ended Day 3 about to start a TB with Peng Shuai, won it today and took a 7-6(5)/6-2 victory. She's reached at least the 3rd Round in her four previous Wimbledon appearances.

Venus Williams was made to work today. First, exciting young Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari took the 2nd set to force a decider. Williams got a break for 4-2 en route to a 7-5/4-6/6-3 win. 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 wall as the timer 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. Venus later returned to win a doubles match with Serena, their first at Wimbledon since that odd exit in 2014.

Madison Keys, too, was made to go three sets by Kirsten Flipkens. But she showed an ability to pull herself back from a bad stretch, something which has plagued her at times earlier in her career on a "less than "A" Game day, saving BP in the opening game of the 3rd set and then racing to a 5-0 lead. Flipkens tightened things up, but Keys won 6-4/4-6/6-3.

Late in the day, Genie Bouchard returned to Centre Court and ended Johanna Konta's run at this Wimbledon in the 2nd Round. So, wild card Tara Moore will now have a chance to become the sole "Last British Crumpet Standing" (she's already earned a co-honors) if she can win her 2nd Round match vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.

*Don't Look Now, but...*
Simona Halep is playing well. No Cliffs-dancing act for this Romanian... so far.

She'll face Flying Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens next, so we'll see if that gives us a better judge of how close the Swarmette might be to that crime scene tape.

And don't look now, but Sabine Lisicki has found her game, too. At Wimbledon. Imagine that.

Not sure how this will impact Sam's coaching situation with Andrew Jones.

*Speaking of Looking Out...*
Daria Kasatkina is starting to warm up to this grass court thing. The Russian, who notched her first career win on the surface in the 1st Round, got her second today vs. Lara Arruabarrena. Serving up 6-5 in the 1st, she was broken and taken to a TB. She held a SP at 6-5, saved a BP held by the Spaniard, then finally put away the breaker on SP #4 and went on to a 7-6(9)/6-3 victory. The Hordette has now reached the 3rd Round in each of her four slam event debuts over the last year. Hmmm... would that be called a "Calendar Kasatkina?"

She's 8-3 in MD matches in her slam career.

*And Last But Not Least...*
Well, maybe it IS "least," actually.

After four days, the Pliskovas -- "Pliskovae," if you will -- are no more. After Karolina survived an 8-6 3rd set in the 1st Round on Day 2, then Kristyna fell by the wayside at the start of Day 3, Karolina returned today. With her loss, she fails to advance to the Round of 16 at her seventeenth consecutive major.

She fell to Misaki Doi, the same player she'd defeated 2 & 4 en route to the Eastbourne final last week. Pliskova was up a break at 3-2 in the 1st, but after hitting two aces and saving three BP in game #6 she was broken to level things at 6-6. She saved four BP in game #12 and held for 6-6, but lost a 7-5 TB. Doi broke the Czech to open the 2nd and never gave up the advantage, winning 7-6(5)/6-3 to reach the Wimbledon 3rd Round for the first time since her debut there in 2011.

So Karolina wins "The Pliskova Stakes" for this slam, but nothing else. The "Pliskova Slam Futility Update" might have to be christened come Flushing Meadows time.

Oh, Pliskovas.

LIKE ON DAY 4: That it's always SOMETHING when Alize is involved...

LIKE ON DAY 4: When the backstage moments are often better than the on-camera ones.

The best part is how the kid in the background just couldn't be bothered to even look up once during all this.

LIKE ON DAY 4: This...

LIKE ON DAY 4: Further evidence that no one will be bringing the curtain down on this show until the performers themselves decide to bring that curtain down.

Wasn't Original Martina playing doubles (and winning a Mixed slam crown) at nearly 50? I'm just sayin'.


Look out, Rio! Here comes The Bracelet! (So at least there was SOME good news for Krunic on the day she lost to Monica Niculescu.)

LIKE ON DAY 4: A rare good moment on the ESPN set. An interview with Sloane.


LIKE ON DAY 4: Heehee. Look at Aga and Ula, a decade ago. Who knew?

Although, they were BOTH junior slam champions. Aga at Wimbledon in 2005, and Ula at SW19 in 2007, a year after this photo was taken.

Ana Konjuh could care less at the moment.

DISLIKE ON DAY 4: Naturally, there's always at least one in the mix, isn't there? You know, someone who tries to sell the notion that an athlete should suddenly be so sympathetic to an injured opponent that they're to be criticized if they actually try to win. The obvious move after the Konjuh ankle injury was to force her to run, as often and as uncomfortably as possible, no matter how merciless it may have appeared. They aren't playing a friendly game of Go Fish, after all. Truthfully, Radwanska should have tried a drop shot on EVERY point... if you can't get to it, then you shouldn't still be playing.

Too rough? Well, one can't expect an opponent to suddenly not play a quarter of their game because the player on the opposing side of the court is hurt, can they? Especially, as is the case with Aga, when it's a BIG part of her game (and Konjuh was using it every other shot, it seemed, once her forehand started to go awry). Anyway, what Ben says...

'Nuff said.

LIKE ON DAY 4: During the Keys/Flipkens match, ESPN's Pam Shriver, from her courtside position, pointing out the audible singing and humming of a song by the chair umpire into the microphone between points.

DISLIKE ON DAY 4: Bad Twittering on the official Wimbledon page...

You can't honor your tournament history, and then not tell anyone that it's HISTORY. As in, you know, saying that the Golden Set happened at Wimbledon four years ago, against Sara Errani, who isn't mentioned or even recognized in the short video clip. And with Shvedova playing today (winning vs. Svitolina, but not with a Golden Set), this sort of thing makes it easy for people to think that this happened AGAIN. TODAY. As the immediate responses to the post showed.

Here's that whole set. From 2012. Where you can see it's vs. Sara Errani. And I'm SAYING that it was four years ago. Not that tough.

It's sort of like when "First Man on the Moon" Neil Armstrong died a second time in 2013... after originally dying in 2012.

LIKE ON DAY 4: On the other hand, the person doing these little things over there is this side of genius...

LIKE ON DAY 4: The possible last line of the movie?

We already have a possible candidate for the lead role...

And product placement...

...and, finally... with the 1st Round (and some of the 2nd) complete, it's time to wrap up a few awards.

There was heated competition for the "Upset Queens" and "Revelation Ladies" honors.

Ultimately, I went with the Russians for the "RL," as their collective early-round performance had a bit of a "Maria who?" tone to it. Overall, they went 7-2 in the opening round, with the likes of qualifier Ekaterina Alexandrova (def. #23 Ivanovic) and #29 Daria Kasatkina (getting her first grass win, then another today) and wild card Evgeniya Rodina moving forward along with the likes of veterans Pavlyuchenkova (which is never a given), Makarova, Vesnina and Kuznetsova (winning over Wozniacki).

Also in the running were the veteran Italians (Vinci, Errani and Schiavone getting 1st Rd. wins, though two lost today), Czechs (6-1 in the 1st, with only Kristyna Pliskova losing, but mostly it was the usual suspects, with Katerina Siniakova being the youngest Maiden), the Japanese (Doi and Nara won, but Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from Wimbledon, wasn't around to provide the extra depth) and the Bannerettes (nine U.S. players won 1st Round matches).

With so few upsets in the first three days (though we sort of made up for that today, with eleven seeds losing), and with the winners mostly spread out amongst the nations, I settled on the Germans as the "Upset Queens" because they were leading contenders for both that award and the "RL." Seven of the ten German women won their 1st Round matches, including Carina Witthoeft (who made #25 Begu the First Seed Out, then defeated Nara today), Annika Beck (def. Watson), Mona Barthel (def. Kovinic for her first MD win since January), Anna-Lena Friedsam (def. Diyas, then won today, as well) and Sabine Lisiski (who further turned around her poor '16 season with a win over #14 Stosur today). With the bottom half of the Final 32 in place, four are Germans, including three of the four woman in Germany's own Angelique Kerber's section of the draw.

As for "The Nation of Poor Souls," the Brits (2-4 in the 1st Rd.) escaped thanks to wild card Tara Moore's victory, along with that of Johanna Konta (even w/ her loss today). Simona Halep had been the only Romanian to win until today, when Monica Niculescu made the Swarmettes 2-3 in the 1st Rd. with her win over The Bracelet. So that left the Chinese women, still trying to find their way in the post-Li era. Without the former slam champ, as well as recent new mother Zheng Jie (the only Chinese player to reach the Wimbledon semis, in '08 as a WC), the nation was 1-4 in the 1st Round, with the only win coming from lucky loser Duan Yingying, who then lost today to Roberta Vinci. So the world's most populated nation is out of the draw in a racket sport after just four days. There had been some positive movement in the year's previous slams, with Zhang Shuai reaching the AO quarterfinals and getting a win in Paris, along with Wang Qiang. 2014 U.S. Open semifinalist Peng Shuai returned to slam action for the first time since back surgery this week, but lost today to Sloane Stephens.

While we very nearly had an "Alternate Radwanska Day" on Day 4 (somewhat like the "Junior Radwanska Day" last year, on Day 7, when three of the Top 4 juniors -- including both Roehampton finalists, as well as the RG girls champ -- were upset), we ultimately lost only one of the Top 3 women's seeds on Thursday. So Muguruza gets the "Crash & Burn" designation all by lonesome.

Of course, there's still the possibility of a co-winner of the "C & B" award needing to be added to the (dis)honor roll. But, really, there's really only one player (or maybe two) of such a stature on the schedule for Friday who would qualify for inclusion. I won't curse anything my mentioning any names, but you know who they are.

How about we just pass on both?

Fellow student: "Maria, are you enjoying the tennis this week?"
Maria: "What tennis?"

Dorms...the few hours which you actually spend in them.

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

2004 Great Britain
2005 United States
2006 Great Britain
2007 Austria
2008 Russia
2009 Germany
2010 Czech Republic
2011 Russia
2012 United States
2013 Czech Republic
2014 United States
2015 United States
2016 Germany

2006 Serbia
2007 France
2008 Russia
2009 Italy (veterans)
2010 Romania
2011 Great Britain
2012 Netherlands
2013 Australia/New Zealand
2014 Czech Republic
2015 Switzerland
2016 Russia

2010 GBR (0-6 1st Rd.)
2011 AUS (1-3 1st Rd., Stosur & Dokic losses)
2012 SVK (1-3 in 1st Rd.; all 3 w/ WTA titles lost)
2013 GBR (1-6 in 1st Rd.)
2014 SVK (1-4 1st; grass champs Hantuchova/Rybarikova 1st Rd.)
2015 ITA (Pennetta "FSO," Vinci/Schiavone 1st Rd., Knapp ret.)
2016 CHN (1-4 1st; only win by LL Duan)

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: #7 Tamira Paszek/AUT d. Andrea Hlavackova/CZE 6-3/5-7/10-9 ret. (Paszek MP in 2nd, ankle injury; Paszek up 5-3 3rd; Hlavackova ret. w/ cramps, collapses onto back after match)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: #29 Daria Kasatkina/RUS (def. Duval/USA in :51)
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU (lost 1st Rd. to Witthoeft/GER)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: China (1-4 1st Rd.; only win by LL Duan Yingying)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: M.Sakkari/GRE(L), J.Cepelova/SVK(W), E.Alexandrova/RUS(L), M.Erakovic/NZL(W), J.Boserup/USA(W), M.Minella/LUX
IT ("??"): xx
CRASH & BURN: #2 Garbine Muguruza/ESP (reigning RG champ and '15 Wimbledon finalist; lost 1st Rd. in under an hour to qualifier Cepelova/SVK)
ZOMBIE QUEEN (TBD at QF): Nominees: #28 Safarova (1st Rd. - down 7-6/5-2, 5-3 in 3rd and saved 3 MP vs. Mattek-Sands); (Q) Erakovic (saved MP vs. Falconi in 1st Rd., won 10-8 3rd set; 2nd Rd. - won 8-6 3rd vs. Jankovic); Beck (1st Rd. - saved 3 MP vs. Watson; won 12-10 3rd set); #3 A.Radwanska (2nd Rd - Konjuh 3 MP, one on a net cord; Konjuh turned ankle stepping on a ball in game #15 of 3rd set, Radwanska wins 9-7)
THE RADWANSKA AWARD (June 26 official/Day 3 observed): 74 s/d matches are scheduled: due to rain, 41 are cancelled, 15 interrupted and 18 completed. Only 6 matches were both started and finished solely on Day 3, with 4 of those played under the Centre Court roof. But Aga Radwanska opens the Centre Court schedule and wins without incident, while her '16 RG conqueror Tsvetana Pironkova loses in previously unscheduled C.C. match.

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger Hoergren said...

Well - just want to mention that Julia Boserup won over Belinda Bencic - so we still have a "Dane" in the running. She's born in the US but her parents are Danish. Started in Wimbledon qualifying - won and is part of her first slam and has jumped - so far - from #225 to #139 in the rankings. Just thought it could be interesting ;)

Fri Jul 01, 01:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, I saw that about her parents and was going to mention it when I did the Q-rounds post, but then I ended up not doing it. I did make a brief mention of her win here, but I didn't think to mention it here yet again. Thanks, Leif.

Oh, and she's playing Vesnina next! ;)

Fri Jul 01, 02:03:00 AM EDT  

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