Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wimbledon doubles quarterfinals set

Here is the quarterfinal lineup for doubles at Wimbledon:

Black and Huber (1) vs. Llagostera Vives and Martinez Sanchez (11)
Williams and Williams (4) vs. Groenefeld and King (12)
Barrois and Garbin vs. Stosur and Stubbs (3)
Kleybanova and Makarova vs. Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual (2)

Groenefeld usually plays doubles with Patty Schnyder, but Schnyder is not playing doubles at this tournament, which seems rather odd.

The Williams sisters are the defending champions.

Wimbledon--what they said

Five years ago your career started in Oakland. That night when you played, did you have any idea where your career was going, and do you remember much about that night?
"Oh, yeah, I remember a lot about that night. I got to the tennis and I left my clothes on the bed in the hotel. So that wasn't the best start."
Venus Williams

"...I say like, 'Okay, go down, go up, do this.' Then I toss the ball and I'm already by the fence running. I am just escaping the serve....I go away from the serve. Okay, I start the serve, but I don't end up the shot. I'm going away. That's why I'm serving double‑faults. I'm not finishing the serve. It's kind of technical."
Dinara Safina, deconstructing her double faults

Did you ever feel like you were actually ever in the game today?
"Not really. I tried. I tried many time. I was not totally out. I did my best to try to play, but I couldn't."
Agnieszka Radwanska

"She has every shot. She's very strong mentally. She fights until the last moment. I think she just has the whole package, what makes her a great champion."
Victoria Azarenka, referring to Serena Williams

Are you working specifically on the mental side of your game?
"If I would work, I would not serve 250 double faults today...."
Dinara Safina

"I do have strategy. Maybe it doesn't look like it, but I do. I think that's my secret weapon, that it doesn't look like I'm thinking, but I am."
Venus Williams

"I think I learned how to play on grass actually. I know that I can play on grass now and that I don't have to be afraid to come back next year and play all the grass court tournaments."
Sabine Lisicki

"...it will be a really good matchup to me. She's playing really well on the grass. She hasn't been stretched too much in any of her matches either, so she's kind of like going undercover, you know, and bam."
Serena Williams on her next opponent, Elena Dementieva

People might be expecting an all‑Williams final. Do you think we can have an all‑Russian final instead?
"Can we play just two finals instead?"
Elena Dementieva

Venus, Serena and Elena all win straight-set quarterfinals

As predicted by just about everyone who is following Wimbledon, Venus Williams easily defeated 11th seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in her quarterfinal today. The third seed, who hit five times as many winners as her opponent, won the match with a 6-1, 6-2 score.

The 4th seed, Elena Dementieva, found it just as easy to defeat surprise quarterfinalist, the unseeded Francesca Schiavone. She won the match 6-2, 6-2, but old habits die hard: Dementieva double-faulted 9 times.

2nd seed Serena Williams defeated 8th seed Victoria Azarenka 6-2, 6-3 in as good a match as one could hope to see Williams play. She made few errors, was great at the baseline, great at the net, rapid and precise in her movement and footwork, served very well, and hit 9 aces. I've seen Azarenka play better, but she would have had to play a lot better to defeat Williams today.

She will play the unheralded Elena Dementieva in the semifinals, and her sister Venus will play world number 1 and top seed Dinara Safina.

Safina wins error-filled match and moves to Wimbledon semifinals

Sometimes you watch a match and you think "no one deserves to lose." Watching world number 1 Dinara Safina and Sabine Lisicki playing their Wimbledon quarterfinal today, all I could think was "no one deserves to win." This was a messy affair, with each player bringing her collapsible nerves onto the court, along with a bag of racquets and strings. Safina double-faulted 15 times, including three times in a row when she up 40-0 in the sixth game of the third set. For her part, Lisicki--once again--saw her estimable forehand go astray over and over.

The unseeded Lisicki went up a break early in the first set, but--serving for the set at 5-4 and obviously tense, she double-faulted, went down 0-40, and was soon broken. The set went to a tiebreak, during which Lisicki double-faulted again. She had an easy put-away on her second set point, and missed it. But then Safina double-faulted, giving Lisicki her third set point, which she converted to a set victory.

In the second set, down 3-5, , Lisicki had a break point against her, but held. Safina served for the set, starting with--you guessed it--a double fault. At 30-all, there was an intense 21-shot rally, which Lisicki won. But then she slipped on a bare patch before striking a ball, and failed to break. Safina went on to win the set at 6-4, on her second set point.

Safina broke early in the third set, and Lisicki's serves suddenly lost their sting. Down 1-4, she called for a trainer because of a right calf strain. Safina managed to win the game in which she double-faulted three times in a row, and she went on to win the set, 6-1.

Safina's 15 double faults were all the more glaring because she did not hit any aces. Lisicki double-faulted a half dozen times and hit 12 aces. She made only four more unforced errors than Safina, and hit 10 more winners. Clearly, the reality of playing in a quarterfinal match on Centre Court had an effect on the German player, but so did her level of fitness. In her post-match interview, Lisicki said she thought that physical fitness was what made the difference, and--considering that her opponent was as mentally shaky as she was--she is probably right. You don't see Safina getting a calf strain or a thigh strain in a third set.

Lisicki would be wise to make fitness a goal for the rest of the season. But even with her third set problems today, it is obvious that she has what it takes to be a top player. As for Safina--her mental fitness continues to need work.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Only 8 remaining

There are only eight women left in the Wimbledon draw. In some ways, order prevails: Former champions Venus and Serena Williams are still around, as is world number 1 Dinara Safina. Elena Dementieva, though she has never won a major, is also somewhat we would expect to see in a quarterfinal, and--at this point in her career--it is no surprise to see Victoria Azarenka in the last eight.

Here is how the draw breaks down:

Dinara Safina vs. Sabine Lisicki: Possibly to her own surprise, Safina is looking pretty comfortable on the grass. The same could be said of Lisicki, who--until this tournament--had never won a match on grass. It is notable that, in her round of 16 match, Lisicki cut out the excessive double-faulting, while retaining the positive parts of her impressive serve. Though Safina is capable of serving well, she is often hampered by inconsistency. Both players are excellent returners of serve, and both are good volleyers. There is every reason to think this will be a high-quality match. And while one might expect Lisicki to experience a major case of nerves, one might be wrong.

Venus Williams vs. Agnieszka Radwanska: Radwanska is a tricky, cerebral, instinctive player who is a delight to watch. I could go on and on about Radwanska's game, which I admire, but the hard truth is--Williams will demolish her serve. Radwanska has been not been serving very well at all lately, and unless she corrects that, Williams will make short work of her. It should be noted that Williams--though she is being quite coy about it--is having an issue with her knee.

Francesca Schiavone vs. Elena Dementieva: Who knew that this pairing would be part of the Wimbledon quarterfinals? These two talented veterans could provide us with a very entertaining match, to be sure. Dementieva made it to the semifinals last year; the farthest Schiavone has ever gone was the third round, and that was in 2003. The pressure is on Dementieva, whereas Schiavone is kind of a novelty quarterfinalist (and I don't mean that in a bad way). Enjoy!

Victoria Azarenka vs. Serena Williams: Talk about having history. Azarenka decisively took the first set off of Williams in their Australian Open match, but then she had to retire because of food poisoning (note to commentators--stop talking about Azarenka's vulnerability to heat illness "like she had in Australia"). When the two met in Miami, there was unfinished business, and Azarenka proceeded to finish it, upsetting Williams in straight sets in the final. Now they meet again, and the consensus among many fans and experts is that Azarenka is one of two players in the final eight who could defeat Williams. The other, of course, is her sister, the five-time Wimbledon champion. Azarenka is somewhat of a hothead, which could hurt her, and Williams--in her words--occasionally "goes crazy" toward the end of a major. Each of these players is likely to being out the best--and the worst--in each other. Williams appears to be on a course to meet her sister (again) in the final. Can Azarenka stop her?

Wimbledon doubles news

10th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova were upset today in their third round match at Wimbledon. Defeating them 6-4, 7-5 were Alisa Kleybanova and Ekaterina Makarova.

Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez advanced to the fourth round when their opponents, Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina, gave them a walkover because of Vesnina's heat illness.

And Zheng Jie and Yan Zi--while they no longer enjoy the very high ranking they used to have, because of injury issues--nevertheless were seeded 13th at Wimbledon. Today, though, they failed to win one game against 4th seeds Venus and Serena Williams.

In mixed doubles, 3rd seeds Marcin Matkowsky and Lisa Raymond were upset by 15th seeds Iveta Benesova and Lukas Dlouhy. Top seeds Cara Black and Leander Paes defeated 13th seeds and 2009 Australian Open champions Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati.

Wimbledon--what they said

"I had to bring my best tennis to beat her."
Dinara Safina, referring to Amelie Mauresmo

"I was aware for the first time I think in my career that I was on a winning streak."
Serena Williams, referring to her quarterfinal match against Daniela Hantuchova

At least you have to be very happy with how you played in the first set: aggressive, controlling everything, seemed to be clicking pretty well.
"Yeah, I'm a control freak...."
Venus Williams

...ball‑striking‑wise do you feel like you're playing at your A level or almost 100 percent?
"Well, it's never 100 percent. I mean, it's grass...."
Elena Dementieva

"She's a very smart player. I like the way she plays. Very crafty. Has a lot of different shots. Plays very good defense. My hat's off to her. Pretty good match."
Melanie Oudin, referring to Agnieszka Radwanska

Sounds like you're not really that pleased with how you've played so far.
"Yeah...like I said, I feel like I can play better. I know I can. So the fact that I actually know I can get to a higher level is good for me."
Do you need someone to push you to find that next gear?
"Maybe I just need an espresso."
Serena Williams

"...out of all the matches I've played against her, I think this was one of her best performances."
Daniela Hantuchova, referring to Serena Williams

"...the last year, you know, I had those good shots, but I couldn't play consistently. And I think the first time I did that well, it was in Charleston. And I proved to myself that I can actually beat the big players and keep on playing consistent in a tournament. And I think it's going pretty well now, as well."
Sabine Lisicki

"Venus put on a show today, and I would call it the Venus Williams Show."
Richard Williams

"I am playing mixed third match and I look forward to it, as I love playing mixed. It's a different pressure, more fun and enjoyable, and I will get a chance to take one of the men's towels."
Rennae Stubbs, from her Wimbledon blog

2 upsets, new roof, new hope for world number 1

A lot went on today at Wimbledon in the round of 16. It would have been nice if I could have seen most of it. As it is, I saw a little and heard a lot. The new roof was used, and 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo became the first person to strike a ball under it. Her opponent, world number 1 Dinara Safina, became the first person to win under that roof, as she defeated Mauresmo 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. I am a fan of both players, but Mauresmo is my absolute favorite player, and when she went up 3-0 in the third set, I was thrilled. It didn't work out for her, though. When she left the court (I saw half of the match after the fact), she looked a bit stunned by the crowd's enormous response to her. It was touching. The Radio Wimbledon commentators indicated that this match was one of the best--if not the best--so far. Naturally, I couldn't see it.

Safina has never before gotten past the third round of Wimbledon, and now, here she is, in the quarterfinals. And in that round, she will face Sabine Lisicki, who upset 9th seed Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 6-4.

The other upset today was pulled off by Francesca Schiavone, who defeated 26th seed Virginie Razzano 6-2, 7-6. Schiavone's run is one of the standout stories at this year's Wimbledon. Not only has the Italian veteran faded from the top portion of the rankings--she is not a player you would expect to win big at Wimbledon. But she does have that slice, and--though known to fade away in finals--Schiavone is a fighter from way back.

Both Williams sisters easily advanced, though Venus's move to the quarterfinals involved a retirement by Ana Ivanovic. At the beginning of the second set (Williams won the first set, 6-1), Ivanovic sustained a painful groin injury and could not go on. Serena needed only 56 minutes to defeat Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets (6-3, 6-1), so the two biggest favorites to win the title get a nice rest.

Elena Dementieva (remember Elena Dementieva?) also won in straight sets. She defeated Elena Vesnina 6-1, 6-3. Victoria Azarenka needed three sets to defeat Nadia Petrova, which she accomplished with a score of 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 (despite double-faulting 10 times). And Melanie Oudin's outstanding Wimbledon run was stopped by Agnieszka Radwanska, who hit fewer winners than Oudin, but also made fewer unforced errors. She took the close match 6-4, 7-5.

If it's raining, it must be Wimbledon

Today, around 4:30 p.m. British time, it finally happened--it rained during Wimbledon. It has been dry for days, but the showers came during the busiest day of the tournament. All play was suspended and the roof was placed over Centre Court, a process which took a really long time. Dinara Safina and Amelie Mauresmo were in the middle of their round of 16 second set when the delay occured, and once play resumed, Mauresmo became the first player to strike a tennis ball under the roof.

Once play resumed, it took a while for the electronic scoreboard to begin working again. In the meantime--for those of us who were unable to view the match--Radio Wimbledon was available.

It turns out that the showers did not last long. Simply waiting for them to end would have taken about the same amount of time as it did to put the Centre Court roof on. However, there is no way of predicting how long a storm will last, and putting the roof on keeps the grass from getting wet.

For those who enjoy historical moments at tournaments, it must seem fitting that the first players to play under the new roof were the world number 1 and a former Wimbledon champion.

Pardon me for saying it again, but...

NBC is evil. Nothing has changed since the French Open. ESPN does not show women's matches unless someone named Williams or Oudin is playing in them. In many cases, they do not show even parts of other matches. This morning, in the U.S., we were able to watch most of Oudin and Radwanska, and Williams and Hantuchova. That was it. No Petrova and Azarenka, no Wozniacki and Lisicki, no Razzano and Schiavone.

In my time zone, ESPN's non-broadcast (I did get to see Federer) ended at 9 a.m. But NBC's broadcast did not begin until 10 a.m. It didn't matter. While live matches were taking place, NBC showed the third set of the Federer-Soderling match, then went directly to the Williams-Ivanovic match. And once again, there are matches that ESPN is not allowed to show, so people who want to see them are forced to watch them after the fact on NBC.

This viewers' nightmare is almost identical to what we had to go through during the French Open. I say "almost" because it is worse: ESPN and NBC also conspired to deny U.S. viewers the right to purchase Wimbledon Live. When we had Wimbledon Live, a great service, it didn't matter what kind of shenanigans ESPN and NBC were up to--we could watch good matches. I like Radio Wimbledon, but it would be nice to actually see Wimbledon matches.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Middle Sunday blues

For your middle Sunday entertainment, here is some Wimbledon memorabilia and miscellany:

Virginia Wade, Joyce Williams and Ann Haydon-Jones show off their 1969 Ted Tinling outfits.

Here are some details about the Venus Rosewater dish.

Only two left-handed women have ever won the Wimbledon championship.

Lawn tennis in the Wimbledon area was originally played at the All England Croquet Club. In order to have more space, a move was made, and the organization's name was changed to All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The new courts were officially opened by King George V, who banged a gong three times as the court covers were removed. As play began in the first match, the rain came.

Finally, here's another look (and listen) at "Evonne," the song tribute to two-time Wimbledon champion Evonne Goolagong. The graceful Goolagong won the title in 1971 and 1980.

Round of 16 to be played on Monday

Monday is a busy, busy day at Wimbledon, with men and women playing round of 16 singles matches, as all manner of doubles and junior matches take place at the same time. Here is the women's round of 16 draw:

Dinara Safina vs. Amelie Mauresmo: The world number 1, never that keen on grass, faces the 2006 Wimbledon champion, a master on the surface. Of course, there are several other factors involved, such as Safina's struggle to win a major, and the pressure she may feel, and Mauresmo's efforts to be a meaningful factor on the tour again.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sabine Lisicki: The two friends meet for the first time since Lisicki defeated Wozniacki for the Charleston title. This has the potential to be a wonderful match because neither player is likely to fold easily. However, Lisicki has been double-faulting a lot, which could hurt her at this point in the tournament.

Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic: I thought Williams would be playing Sam Stosur in this round, but Ivanovic has made a bit of a turnaround at this tournament. She's still having trouble with her ball toss, but her confidence appears to have increased. Williams looks simply great.

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Melanie Oudin: Radwanska didn't look that great today, but she still found a way to defeat Li Na in the third round. If she gets herself straight on Monday, she can stun Oudin with her groundstroke lines and angles, and with her spooky anticipation. But Oudin could stun her right back with all the shot variety she displayed in her third round match.

Virginie Razzano vs. Francesca Schiavone: Is that a typing error? No--Fran Schiavone really is in the fourth round of Wimbledon. The respected clay veteran has been having a high old time in London, taking out Eastbourne semifinalist Aleksandra Wozniak, rising star Michelle Larcher De Brito, and grass court specialist (and 2007 Wimbledon finalist) Marion Bartoli. You'd think it was Fed Cup. At the rate she's going, who's to say she won't also defeat Razzano? Razzano, like Bartoli, is a very aggressive player. Expect a lively match.

Elena Vesnina vs. Elena Dementieva: Vesnina hurt her back in the third round, but won her match anyway, upsetting Dominika Cibulkova. Unless she has a disastrous summer hard court season, I'm ready to give Vesnina the Most Improved award; this just isn't the same player we've seen for the last few years. She has become clever and instinctive, and a fine shotmaker. She'll be playing against one of the finest athletes on the tour. A superb shotmaker herself, Dementieva will probably give Vesnina all she can handle.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Nadia Petrova: For reasons unknown to me, Petrova showed up at Wimbledon wearing a dress covered in wide ruffles. Aside from the fact that such a dress just doesn't suit her frame (or probably anyone's frame), there is also something gently ironic about the sight of a mass of ruffles unleashing the kinds of serves and groundstrokes that Petrova delivers on a good day. Petrova eeked out a 7-6, 7-6 win over Azarenka in the third round last year, so the revenge factor should be in play. If Petrova has a good day, ruffles will fly.

Daniela Hantuvhova vs. Serena Williams: The last time these two played each other at Wimbledon, it was also in the round of 16, and it wasn't pretty. Two years ago, Williams felt pain in her calf, took a fall, and sustained a very painful leg injury; it looked as though she would retire. She was in a lot of pain, though a lengthy rain delay did allow her to get some rest and some extra strapping. What many people didn't realize was that Williams had also injured her thumb when she fell. The upshot of all this is that Williams, playing with one functioning leg and one functioning hand, won the match. To make things even more interesting--the year before--Hantuchova had defeated Williams at the Australian Open when Williams was the defending champion. They have, you could say, some history.

Hantuchova is a very fine tennis player, but is known for choking as much as for anything else. One never knows how she is going to handle things when she pulls ahead in a match. So far, at Wimbledon, she has defeated 2008 Wimbledon junior champion Laura Robson, 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie, and Ai Sugiyama. These matches were challenging, but the real challenge will appear on Monday. Will Hantuchova's past with Williams motivate her? Or will it be part of her undoing?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wimbledon miscellany

So-called journalists continue to ask inane/offensive questions:
It looked like mirror images. You had your left leg all taped and she had her right leg all taped. Is this for the cripple's championship or what?
Do you think about the girls ahead of you? Steffi Graf has seven; Martina has nine.
Unfortunately, players very rarely call these people out. It would make a difference if they did.

9th seed Christina McHale was upset in the first round of junior girls competition today.

128 people had to be treated for heat illness at Wimbledon today--128 if you count Jelena Jankovic. And one had to be taken to the hospital. The temperature went up as high as 28C, which--where I live--would constitute a mercifully cool day right now. I remember, decades ago, traveling to London in the summer, and feeling so relieved that the temperature was much lower than it was here. Imagine my surprise when I saw heat wave precautions posted everywhere.

Here's a unique take on Melanie Oudin.

Though I generally try to avoid Sports Illustrated, I was relieved to find someone there who, like I, cannot understand why screaming is called "grunting."

Can someone please tie up Brad Gilbert, put a sock in his mouth, and lock him in a closet until Wimbledon is over? Actually, the sock part would be good enough. There is probably no greater philistine or yahoo on the sports airwaves--and that's saying something. It isn't just his constantly calling the French Open champion "KOOnetSOva" his "Double J" moniker for Jelena Jankovic, or the fact that he calls Tammy Tanasugarn "Tammy Sue Garden." His extreme "masculine" posturing, matched only by his tiny frame of reference, can be maddening.

Today, he was astonished by the idea of moving outer court matches to Centre Court if there is rain and Centre Court is not being used. Seriously, he was amazed that someone suggested this clever probability. And he made a series of lame "Simon says" jokes about Gilles Simon, whose name, of course, is not pronounced "SImon."

He also tried to "reassure" Tommy Haas that it just wasn't so when Haas described himself as emotional. Patting him on the back, Gilbert said in an avuncular tone, "No, you're not." It wasn't irony--he needed for Haas to stop thinking of himself as "feminine," I suppose.

If you've ever been to a gathering--maybe just your office--and noticed there is one man who just has to blurt out anything, no matter how inane it is, then you know what Gilbert is like. Several of the commentators are annoying, but next to Gilbert, they're all class acts.

Hanuchova and Sugiyama upset at Wimbledon

6th seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama were taken out of Wimbledon doubles competition today by Alisa Kleybanova and Ekaterina Makarova, who defeated them 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.

The other doubles upset today involved 15th seeds Chuang Chia-Jung and Sania Mirza (I still can't get used to not writing Chan and Chuang). They were defeated, 6-2, 6-3, by Alla Kudryavtseva and Monica Niculescu.

Wimbledon--what they said

"...I felt okay, and then all of a sudden I won that first set. I felt, you know, I was like a ghost, you know, white in the face. Really, I didn't know where I was."
Jelena Jankovic

Can you afford to have a fun middle Sunday, or is it going to be all business tomorrow?
"I haven't quite planned out what I'm doing. I always enjoy myself, so every day's fun that I'm alive. It's good."
Venus Williams

"We know each other pretty well now. No big surprise today. "
Amelie Mauresmo, referring to Flavia Pennetta

"...something maybe, you know, that someone can, you know, push me a little bit harder. I needed I think some more intensity on the court. And that's something that I feel maybe was lacking a bit."
Ana Ivanovic, on why she returned to the Adidas coaching team

"She's actually been more aggressor of the two."
Brad Gilbert

"Then once I reached position number 1, it's like, 'Okay, what's next?' So then, you know, when I had some setbacks, I sort of didn't know how to deal with it because there is no higher position than the number 1."
Ana Ivanovic

"...I went out there and actually did really well. Was just thinking that she was any other player and this was any other match and I was at any other tournament, you know, not like on the biggest stage at Wimbledon playing my first top 10 player."
Melane Oudin

"...I felt like I was standing, I was not moving anything. Her game is not--you cannot adjust. You cannot have long rallies so you've got to be quick and at maximum level all the time, and I haven't done so today. That's why I lost."
Svetlana Kuznetsova

"She wasn't even born when I played my first Wimbledon, I mean that's ridiculous, right? Anyway enough about me, holy cow, she knocked off Jelena Jankovic today in three sets."
Rennae Stubbs, writing about Melanie Oudin

"... mentally you just learn from playing matches, and nothing can really replace that."
Amelie Mauresmo

"That racquet bag is bigger than she is."
Pam Shriver, referring to Melanie Oudin

Does that (being asked whether she is a legitmate number 1 without a major title) bother you?
"Annoying. But what can I do? They keep asking this."
Dinara Safina

You've had such great support from the strap on your leg. Is this something that you plan to use after this tournament because it's given you such great support?
"That's a good idea. You know, I was thinking maybe I could, like, totally get a permanent one. So maybe you'll see me with one that's just not tape, that's neoprene and Velcro and all that good stuff. So you never know."
An artificial leg?
"Not yet."
Venus Williams

3rd Wimbledon round shakes up the status quo

Two young players pulled off two big upsets today at Wimbledon. Melanie Oudin defeated a (literally) shaky Jelena Jankovic, seeded 6th at the tournament. And Sabine Lisicki, who has struggled to regain her form after experiencing back-to-back health problems, took out 5th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

A small upset occurred when 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo, seeded 17th, defeated 15th seed Flavia Pennetta in straight sets, and though many (myself included) thought that Samantha Stosur would overcome Ana Ivanovic, the 13th seed held her own, also in straight sets. In fact, with the exception of the Jankovic-Oudin match, all of the wins were in straight sets, though some were more straightforward than others.

Venus Williams did not allow Carla Suarez Navarro to win one game in the opening set, but Suarez Navarro found her game in the second set, only to lose it 4-6. Dinara Safina had a tight first set against Kirsten Flipkens (Flipkens held a set point), a player I like to watch (but that didn't seem to impress ESPN, who showed nothing of the match), but easily won the second. And Caroline Wozniacki defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-2, 6-2.

More complicated was the contest between 11th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 19th seed Li Na. Very little of it was shown on television here, but the last part of the third set was a drama all unto itself, with the relentless Li making it next to impossible for Radwanska to close the match. It took Li a long, long time to break Radwanska when she served for the match at 5-4, but Radwanska broke her right back, and went on to win, 6-4, 7-5.

For some, the distance between Paris and London is overwhelming

It was only a matter of time before Sabine Lisicki got herself back on track, and with her big-serving game, what better time than this week? After her Charleston win, Lisicki suffered from both an injury and a mystery illness, and her game suffered just as much. She had trouble winning matches, so she wasn't able to get match-tough. Some said that Lisicki had simply returned to her old, inconsistent ways, but--after seeing her in Charleston--I felt pretty sure the slump had more to do with her health problems.

Despite still having Safina-like double-faulting problems, Lisicki managed to reach the third round at Wimbledon, and today, she took out 5th seed and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets. Kuznetsova was never really there--perhaps she was wondering why someone had planted grass on the court. She did come in a lot, but was only moderately successful at the net. Her service stats were respectable, but she was outserved by her opponent.

Lisicki, however, had a bit of trouble closing the match, despite Kuznetsova's going down 2-5 in the second set. Lisicki served for the match at 5-3 and was broken. She said later that having to serve with new balls was difficult for her. Kuznetsova saved a match point on her own serve, and when a second one came up, a nerve-ridden Lisicki threw the ball into the net. She then saved a game point, and then had a third match point, which she handled with a big mishit. Kuznetsova then managed to hold.

Lisicki held, too, and shortly, Kuznetsova was serving at 5-6, 40-0, but Lisicki reeled off three points in a row, bringing the now-crucial game to deuce. Kuznetsova got a game point, which Lisicki saved, then Kuznetsova saved a fourth match point with a sharp cross-court forehand. Finally, Lisicki won the match, 6-2, 7-5, on her fifth match point.

"It just goes to show you, it's always something"

If Roseanne Roseannadanna were with us, she could do her entire tangential routine on Jelena Jankovic. A few days ago, it was one of Jankovic's chronic foot problems. Today, it was dizziness, in addition to the foot. No one is more of a JJ fan than I am, but the fact remains: It really is always something with the talented but under-achieving Serb.

Melanie Oudin could have lost her nerve and let a less-than-stellar Jankovic win the match. And she could have become distracted after holding four set points in the first set. But Oudin didn't do that. Oh, she had her anxious moments and made some errors because of them, but when it mattered, the 17-year-old was there with the right shot. She used the drop shot successfully and often, a combination pulled off by few players (Sabine Lisicki comes to mind right away), and she covered the court very well. She stayed tough, and her reward was a 6-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory.

In the round of 16, Oudin will play the winner of the third round match between Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It's always about team sports--even when it isn't

The great Muriel Spark wrote one of my favorite lines in all of literature: "Cleopatra knew nothing of the team spirit...."

One of the things I like best about professional tennis is that it is not a team sport. I have nothing against team sports--they just don't hold my interest the way individual competition does. I'm jut not a "team" kind of person the way other people are, though I totally understand how people can develop strong loyalties to teams, and I respect that loyalty. I have, on occasion, even enjoyed watching team sports myself, but never with the enthusiasm I have for watching someone struggle alone on a tennis court.

But in the U.S.--perhaps in other places, but I cannot speak for other countries--just about every sport somehow gets turned into a team sport. ESPN, as I and several of my readers have complained, is so U.S.-centric that it is sometimes difficult for us to find a television match that does not involve Americans. The most boring match imaginable can be televised, and a thriller can be played at the same time, but if the boring match has an American in it, we're stuck with watching it.

Part of that U.S.-centric syndrome, as I have written about on several occasions, is the U.S. televisin commentators' unwillingness to perform the basic courtesy (and job description item) of correctly pronouncing the names of non-Americans. (I recall a woman looking at the photos of tennis players in my office. She asked me who they were, and when I told her, she said "Well, you certainly know how to pronounce their names," as if I had just performed neurosurgery with a penknife.)

I recently heard from a man who used to be a fan but gave up following the ATP because the golden age of American tennis ended several years ago. I wanted to ask him "But what about Roger Federer? What about Rafa? What about Safin and Hewitt?"

A year or so ago, I listened to a woman go on and on about that fact that she cheers for American players only. When I suggested that some of us were fans of non-Americans, too, she would have none of it. Instead she told me what a die-hard fan she was of Chris Everett. Right. No need to even know what her name is--just know that she is American. (I was especially put out by this because I am a long-time fan of Evert's.) Some of you may recall that during the Family Circle Cup, I blogged about some women who wondered how I was related to the Bartoli family because I happened to be cheering for Marion while she was competing against an American player.

On some blog or other this past week, I saw a comment someone made about the British players who have been trying so hard to advance in their sport. The commenter said she supports them because she wants more English-speaking players to win. Let's see...just about every player in the top 50--maybe the top 100--speaks English. I wondered whether the commenter was bi- or multilingual; my instinct told me she wasn't.

Aside from the obvious and ridiculous fact that dozens of players are English-speaking, there is the darker reality of what this woman really meant: Too many non-Anglo Eureopean and Asian players have "invaded" the sport. I also read a comment somewhere else about the "Asian robots" who have "taken over" the LPGA (and of course, the comments included an ethnic attack on Lorena Ochoa).

Such chauvinism is part of the reason that tennis isn't as popular in the U.S. as it might be. As a person who has never been into "rah-rah country" (or "rah-rah" anything), it is hard for me to understand this attitude.

My understanding is that a twist on this problem exists in Great Britain. I have heard from both fans and players that the British ignore tennis the other fifty weeks of the year to the same degree that they go slightly nuts over it during Wimbledon. So if a British player doesn't do something spectacular at the All England Club's showcase, s/he is a failure.

The world of sports is, of course, merely a microcosm of the rest of life's business: It is filled with racism, ethnicism, sexism, misogyny, gay-hating, and chauvinism. Sticking with the topic of tennis, however, it's a shame that so many Americans cannot see their way to enjoying the likes of Jelena Jankovic, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta, or Daniela Hantuchova (who speaks English--and probably two or three more languages than they do).

Wimbledon--what they said

And two, one or two of the top players, such as yourself, who complained about being put on outside courts. Are you happy with your scheduling?
"Well, I'm happy to have gotten my match over. I'm happy to have won. You know, I always play on Court No. 2. You know, it's not a court for Roger, but it's definitely a court for me. But I haven't won Wimbledon five times."
You won it two times.
"Hey, I guess it's not enough."
Serena Williams

"I think some people are just too noisy. I understand that they grunt or when she hits the ball, says, 'Uhh,' or something, but not like extra noise until their opponent hits the ball. That's, I think, way too much."
Ai Sugiyama

"I thought I was playing against a wall; the ball keeps coming back, keeps coming back, and it was really hard to make one winner."
Marion Bartoli

It's three magnificent wins for you. How do you really explain that progress?
"I think to grow up and stay a little bit alone, you can think much more to yourself and stay more focused. So I think to be alone is a step that I need to do it. And now I did, and I feel good."
Francesca Schiavone

You have to face Sugiyama again to team up in the doubles. Are you going to say sorry when you meet her?
"Yeah, I already said sorry after the match. You know, it was quite funny before the match. We were warming up at the same place. We just had to make sure we were not going to sit on the same bench."
Daniela Hantuchova

"I was keeping hitting the ball, hitting the ball, hitting the ball, and the ball keeps coming back, keeps coming back. So when I was trying to come to the net, if my approach shot was not absolutely perfect, she was passing me all the time. So I had to come up with the perfect shot on each point, which is really difficult to do."
Marion Bartoli

Have you ever played your sister in any other game or sport and who won?
"I don't know. I mean, we play ping‑pong."
Who won?
"I'm terrible at ping‑pong. I hit too hard. Court's too small."
Serena Williams

Melanie Oudin: Win or lose tomorrow, she's a standout

Tomorrow, Melanie Oudin plays her third round match at Wimbledon. She will play former world number 1 Jelena Jankovic, and--given Jankovic's recent form, her declared decrease in motivation, and her preference for non-grass courts--there is talk about an upset. I'm not expecting one, but I won't fall over from shock if one occurs, either.

The former junior world number 2, at 17 years of age, has an intense and no-nonsense persona on the court. I saw her play several times in Charleston this year, and she has a mature game. She is a good returner of serve, has a crisp forehand, and is not afraid to use a variety of shots to outplay her opponent. At the Family Circle Cup, Oudin had to win two qualifying matches to get into the main draw, and she was the last qualifier standing in the third round. She defeated a significantly injured Olga Savchuk in the first round, but then went on to defeat (with one 6-0 set) Aleksandra Wozniak in the second. Marion Bartoli overwhelmed her in the third round, but Oudin nevertheless played well.

At Wimbledon, Oudin upset 29th seed Sybille Bammer in the first round, then upset Yaroslava Shvedova in the second round. The five-foot, six-inch American considers herself a clay player, and has told the press that she is suprised to see herself in the third round of Wimbledon.

8 matches, 2 upsets, 1 walkover

Virginie Razzano got a nice rest today when Vera Zvonareva gave her a walkover in the third round. Zvonareva, who injured her right ankle in Charleston, discovered this week that it has not yet healed.

In a tennis plot twist, it was her opponent--and not Dominika Cibulkova--whose back went out in their third round match. Elena Vesnina, who won the first set, had to have treatment after she began having back problems in the second set. I, and I'm sure many others, assumed Vesnina would not be able to do much in the third set, but she did enough to win the match, upsetting the 14th seed 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

The other upset was Francesca Schiavone's 7-6, 6-0 victory over 12th seed Marion Bartoli.

Victoria Azarenka defeated Sorana Cirstea, 7-6, 6-2. It is a pleasure to watch Cirstea play on any surface, especially when one contrasts her game with so many others. What's not to like?

It took Nadia Petrova three sets to defeat Gisela Dulko. Elena Dementieva, Serena Williams and Daniela Hantuchova all advanced in straight sets, defeating Regina Kulikova, Roberta Vinci and Ai Sugiyama, respectively.

In doubles, the Williams sisters advanced to the third round, as did the teams of Kuznetsova/Mauresmo, Stosur/Stubbs and Medina Garrigues/Ruano Pascual.

Wimbledon and the media

I have already discussed the extreme sexism of the British press with regard to Wimbledon (and everything else, for that matter). In the U.S., on both ESPN and Tennis Channel--and I'm sure NBC will be no exception--the mispronunciation of players' names continues, with Pam Shriver taking this offense to new depths. And I also continue to hear those lazy, tennis-demeaning other-sports pseudo-metaphors almost all the time.

Today, describing himself, Darren Cahill used a pseudonym for a word that--in the context in which he was speaking--meant that he was weak and scared--like a woman. Since I hear people more intelligent than Cahill using the same term frequently, I certainly wasn't surprised, but doesn't anyone ever stop and think about what s/he is actually saying? (And yes, I realize that many people actually believe that weak and scared = woman.)

Among the mispronunciations, sloppy tennis-insulting metaphors and the sexism, there often isn't a lot to like about television commentary. But I would be willing to tolerate at least some of the nonsense if ESPN could just remember that women are playing tennis at Wimbledon. I no longer have access to Wimbledon Live--the U.S. is now excluded from using the service--so if a match isn't on ESPN (or NBC on the weekends), I cannot watch it. And women's matches have been few and far between on ESPN so far. If we're lucky, we get to see a segment of a women's match. The exception, of course, involves matches in which Venus and Serena Williams play.

The Williams sisters are very important people at Wimbledon, and one can understand ESPN's preoccupation with showing their matches. But who wants to watch an entire match consisting of Serena plowing over an opponent when there is a really interesting WTA match going on at the same time? I don't. But for now, it's lots of Williams sisters and only snippets--if we're lucky (not a moment of the Vesnina-Cibulkova match)--of other women's matches.

Friday cat blogging--Wimbledon edition

Thursday, June 25, 2009

3rd round pairings

There's a lot going on in the third round of Wimbledon, in terms of who plays whom.

They meet again: Carla Suarez Navarro defeated defending champion Venus Williams in the second round of the Australian Open, and now they meet again in the third round of Wimbledon. That was a hard court and this is grass, which--for Venus Williams--changes the dynamics dramatically.

Excuse me, you're on the wrong side of the net: Daniela Hantuchova has to play her doubles partner, Ai Sugiyama, in the third round. Probably not fun for either of them.

How many Russians does it take to change an outcome? There are seven in the 3rd round, and two of them--Regina Kulikova and Elena Dementieva--play each other.

I didn't catch your name: Four of the third round pairings feature players who are playing each other for the first time: Dinara Safina vs. Kirsten Flipkens, Sabine Lisicki vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Melanie Oudin vs. Jelena Jankovic, Roberta Vinci vs. Serena Williams.

Wimbledon--what they said

"I think the best thing about this sport is you can choose your own destiny."
Venus Williams

"So I'm getting very bored in the afternoons after my matches and practices. I want to go shopping and see London. Not tourism though, because you get tired. I need just two, three hours to spend some cash."
Svetlana Kuznetsova

"...that's kind of the thing about tennis, that you can have such a good preparation, great three, four weeks of great results, great performances, and then you have that one day where it's just -- it's not quite there."
Elena Baltacha

So you don't try to change your game or the way you play or anything like that?
"No. I should not change."
Won't see any slice, dropshots?
"I can do this if I need to. But if I'm not pushed to do this, why to do it?"
Dinara Safina

But on grass do you think it's any more of an advantage to be short sometimes?
"It's good to--it's an advantage to be short when you return, and on serves you have to grow a little bit. Let's put it that way."
Svetlana Kuznetsova

"...I think everyone goes really crazy over the one week. I think the public and everyone kind of expects someone to do so fantastic, otherwise you're deemed as a failure."
Elena Baltacha, on the British press and public's Wimbledon expectations

"...once I got to the top position, it was sort of --you know, it had some setbacks. It was a little bit hard for me to accept it. I just thought it's always going to be up the hill and it's always going to be better and better. But it's not always the case."
Ana Ivanovic

What have you been up to since Paris?
"You know, party every day until 6:00 in the morning and then sleep during the day, and now I play these two days."
Svetlana Kuznetsova, at her cheeky best

And then there are the idiotic things they (the sports press) said. I'm glad that more and more players are refusing to answer personal and other inappropriate questions asked at their press conferences, as a couple of players did yesterday. Today, the inane questions included:

Do you feel as well as athleticism and talent and dedication, there's an important place for grace and beauty and femininity in the sport?

Larry Scott gave his final press conference this morning. You were the one current player he singled out for having a leadership role, being on the Player Council for the whole time he's been in charge of the WTA Tour. Not only have you done that, but you've actually been proactive, telling him that you wanted to be involved in gender equality. What interests you, and why are you doing that? Do you feel responsible, or are you just interested in that stuff?

But what do you expect?

Day 4 at Wimbledon less eventful than previous days

There were no upsets in singles today at Wimbledon, but there were very close calls. 11th seed Agnieszka Radwanska had to fight for three hours to ward off Peng Shuai, who made 45 unforced errors and hit 54 winners in an intense second round contest. Radwanska did prevail, though, with a score of 6-2, 6-7, 9-7.

Also facing imminent loss was Sam Stosur, who--having lost the first set to Tatjana Malek--was down a break in the second, then down 0-4 in the second set tiebreak. As if that weren't enough, she was also down 1-4 in the third set. That's a lot of tough fight for someone who, until recently, was not known for mental toughness.

Sabine Lisicki improved on her ace/double fault ratio, but only by a tiny bit. Today, she hit nine aces and made seven double faults. She is into the third round, but she is going to have to clean up that stat quickly.

Vera Zvonareva, who has been struggling with her injured ankle since she arrived in London, retired in doubles today because of that ankle. Whether this was a precautionary move or whether she will withdraw from singles is unknown at this time. One way or the other, it doesn't look good at all.

5th seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai were upset in the first round today by Sorana Cirstea and Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

Wimbledon official site no less sexist than the rest of the British press

I recently wrote that the British press is so sexist, it makes the U.S. press look relatively good. It turns out that even the official writers for Wimbledon are typical of sexist British journalism, which hardly surprises me. Greg Couch, writing for Fanhouse.com, brings to our attention the sexist garbage that was written yesterday on the official Wimbledon site about Maria Sharapova, Gisela Duklko and the tour in general.

Apparently, someone associated with Wimbledon was as repelled as Couch, for the article was later replaced by one that was appropriate, written by the same person.

One of the lines Couch quotes is "For all that the ladies of the WTA Tour wish to be taken seriously as athletes, there are times when they are fighting a losing battle." In context, this line is not pretty. But I'm not sure how seriously some of the women in the Sony Ericsson WTA do want to be taken seriously as athletes. One famous player's official website features photos of her posing topless (not explicit, but topless, nevertheless). And several top tour players have participated in a tour promotion that has them striking undeniably "sexy" (actually more of a cheesy sendup of sexy) poses, in which their faces have been airbrused all the way to Stepford. This promotion appears in a number of venues, including the tour's official site.

It is expected that some players will do photo shoots outside of their tour obligations. Some ATP players do them, too, though none of those players ever has to prove that he is, first and foremost, a good athlete, and that he just happens to be attractive, too. That is the diference between the selling of sex in the WTA and the selling of sex (rare as that sale is) in the ATP. Female athletes who want to be taken seriously as athletes should be objecting to their being marketed as sex objects, not colluding with the exploiters.

Bigotry and prejudice directed toward girls and women is generally accepted and encouraged, regardless of where one lives, and internalized sexism makes girls and women part of the problem. As I have said on more than one occasion, marketing female tennis players as sex objects does nothing to help the tour, but plenty to help the agents, photographers, makeup artists, publishers, copyright thieves, and webmasters who provide space for people to make obscene remarks about players' bodies.

Bloggers can write until we are blue in the face about the offensive "journalism" of the British press, including the official Wiimbledon website, but it is the players who need to put a stop to it.

(Thanks to After Atalanta for finding this story.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wimbledon miscellany

Rennae Stubbs is fed up with the littering behavior of some of her colleagues.

Several years ago, Mary Carillo coined the term "Big babe tennis." Today--on ESPN's "Technically Speaking" segment--Carillo, Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez did a cheesy--and hilarious-- send-up of themselves--with a little help from Maria Sharapova.

New roof rule: Any player hitting a lob or service return and striking the ceiling loses the point.

Note to certain unevolved fans (and writers): Using or suggesting the word "feminine" to insult a man is actually much more insulting to women and girls. If you don't like a player's outfit, fine. But just once, could you leave gender out of it?

IMG is trying to sign Laura Robson again.

Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle doesn't think a Venus-Serena final would be such a good thing.

Wimbledon--what they said

You've always been a crowd favorite here. Did you detect a groundswell of support for Gisela as the underdog today?
"That was the least of my worries today. I was just trying to win a tennis match."
Maria Sharapova

"I was very nervous in the end. The last game was forever for me."
Gisela Dulko

"I'm happy the way I'm playing. I've changed my serve a little bit, and obviously that's coming into play, so it's going to take some time before it starts to get better. But I already feel like I am playing much better, I'm moving better."
Sania Mirza

"I have been doing it since I was 10 years old. I wasn't really strong and that was what helped me to accelerate more, to put more power to the ball. I cannot change it, that's what helps me to play. I have to keep going with the thing that helps me play."
Victoria Azarenka, on her screaming (which even she incorrectly calls "grunting")

You did a good job getting back into the match. You won seven straight games.
"Not good enough."
Maria Sharapova, on her loss to Gisela Dulko

The surprises keep coming

Italian clay specialists are showing their versatility at Wimbledon this year. Francesca Schiavone moved to the third round today, having defeated Michelle Larcher de Brito, 7-6, 7-6. She has already defeated Eastbourne semifinalist Aleksandra Wozniak. In the meantime, Barcelona champion Roberta Vinci showed the door to a talented young Russian, 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

As of now, there is one British woman still standing at Wimbledon. Elena Baltacha has made it past only the first round, but she made it with a big win--she defeated Alona Bondarenko. Next for Baltacha is a match against Kirsten Flipkens.

Victoria Azarenka made a statement in her match against Iona Raluca Olaru, defeating her 6-0, 6-0 in the second round.

There were a few upsets. In addition to Vinci's victory over Pavlyuchenkova, Gisela Dulko defeated 24th seed Maria Sharapova. Daniela Hantuchova upset 16th seed and 2008 semifinalist Zheng Jie, and Regina Kulikova upset 27th seed Alisa Kleybanova.

Upcoming second round matches of interest include: Tathiana Garbin vs. Anabel Medina Garrigues (two players whose games I really enjoy), Venus Williams vs. Kateryna Bondarenko, and Iveta Benesova vs. Jelena Jankovic. Benesova is one of the best servers on the tour, and it's a pity her great serve isn't enough. It should give JJ plenty to think about, though.

Dulko performs Heimlich maneuver on herself, takes out Sharapova

There wasn't much that Maria Sharapova--or anyone--could do about Gisela Dulko's first set in her second round Wimbledon match. Slicing, dropping, serving way out wide, and generally gliding around the court, Dulko put on a gorgeous display of tennis. I sometimes wonder why Dulko--whose small frame belies her big hitting--isn't ranked much higher than she is, and then I am reminded.

I was certainly reminded today in the middle of the second set, when she choked away a 3-0 lead. Dulko had a complete meltdown, allowing Sharapova to gain a bit of confidence. The 2004 Wimbledon champion began to look like herself again, though--at 4-3, on Sharapova's serve--Dulko forced the game to deuce. Just when it looked like the second set was still up for grabs, Sharapova held that serve, and went on to win the set.

The third set, many of us thought, might be a cruise for Sharapova, since Dulko's mind had clearly gone somewhere else. But Dulko came to life again and regained the sharpness of her game, breaking Sharapova and holding tough through five match points to win the match, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. Once again, in that set, Sharapova--though she had her moments--was a step behind, and her shots lacked the fire we have seen from her in the past.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wimbledon--what they said

"...this wanting to win a Grand Slam, it took over me."
Dinara Safina, on her French Open loss

"...although right now it's really hard to look at all the positives, I've still...got a lot to look forward to in the summer, you know, and have another bash at it."
Anne Keothavong

"...it's very easy to lose your rhythm on grass and very easy to lose a couple games in a few minutes, you know, without even blinking."
Jelena Jankovic

There's a comfort level having won. Do you go out there and say, Here I am again, time to win?
"No, I wish it was that easy. The way you said it, though, I'll try to do it that way."
Venus Williams

"He says, 'I sit there and I'm hopeless, because you're doing completely opposite thing from what you know how to do.'"
Dinara Safina, on her coach's frustration

"Once again, I've said it a million times: I have absolutely nothing at all to do with him. So I don't see why people would think that I would reunite with my dad when every single question I answer is about me not doing that."
Jelena Dokic, after being badgered repeatedly by reporters about her father

"A Grand Slam of course is a big tournament, but if you lose, what happens? Nothing really happens. Life goes on."
Caroline Wozniacki

"...I did constantly keep saying to myself, 'You are going to win this. You are definitely within a shout. There's no doubt, you're going to come through this.' When I did actually come through, I didn't believe it."
Elena Baltacha

"Playing on grass gives me quite a hard time. It's nothing like on other surfaces, where I have time to prepare, where I have time to set up for my shots."
Jelena Jankovic

When was the last press conference when you were only asked about tennis?
"Never, unfortunately."
Jelena Dokic

Upsets continue on day 2 of Wimbledon

It was a day of upsets, injuries, illness, and close calls at Wimbledon. Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic both benefited from the poor health of their opponents, Vera Zvonareva is still dealing with a weak ankle, Dinara Safina has tendonitis of the knee, Amelie Mauresmo had to make it up as she went along, and there were several upsets.

25th seed Kaia Kanepi lost to Carla Suarez Navarro in three sets, 30th seed Agnes Szavay was defeated by Kirsten Flipkens, who is almost always fun to watch (unless you're Szavay). Vera Dushevina defeated 22nd seed Alize Cornet, former junior number 2 Melanie Oudin defeated 29th seed Sybille Bammer, and Sabine Lisicki upset 32nd seed Anna Chakvetadze.

Lisicki has been strugging with consistency since she had to deal with the consecutive problems of a bad shoulder and a mysterious abdominal illness. She struggled today, hitting 8 aces and 8 double faults.

Though not an upset on paper, Elena Baltacha had a win over Alona Bondarenko. It is hard to understand why someone of Bondarenko's considerable talent keeps losing, but the good news--if you cheer for Great Britain--is that there is still one Brit standing.

Though many expected Alexa Glatch to win a couple of rounds, she is out in the first round, defeated by Peng Shuai. Jelena Dokic is out, too, as is Nicole Vaidisova, whose early exits are now the norm.

Dokic's bad luck follows her to London

Jelena Dokic, who was in the midst of defeating the world number 3 when her back went out at the French Open, today experienced dizziness and weakness during her first round match at Wimbledon. She didn't retire, but her level of play went down considerably, and she was defeated by Tatjana Malek. She says she thinks she has some type of virus; she has been dizzy on and off for about a week.

Some of Dokic's bad luck rubbed off on Lucie Hradecka, whose thigh looked seriously bandaged when she played Ana Ivanovic. At one point in the match, Hradecka's movement was obviously compromised, though she continued to play as tough as she could. Ivanovic saved two match points, had a bit of her Wimbledon netcord good luck, and showed the kind of pull-from-behind spirit that has won her many a match.

Faring no better was Kimiko Date-Krumm, whose classic grass play had Caroline Wozniacki befuddled in their first set. Date-Krumm, however, sustained a thigh strain and an abdominal strain, and--though she played out the match--she was never the same again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wimbledon--what they said

What was going through your mind in the dressing room beforehand, just about to go out there?
"Nothing really. I was kind of thinking about what the towels were going to look like this year. They're really nice."
Laura Robson

"I was able to give her a little bit of her own medicine there."
Maria Sharapova, on her comeback against Victoriya Kutuzova

"I haven't read one article where people say 'She beat number 15 in the world at Roland Garros on her way to the third round.' Nobody realizes that, because the only thing they're really focusing on is my grunting."
Michelle Larcher de Brito

"It's such an unattractive sound, isn't it?"
Laura Robson, on the screaming phenomenon

"I always feel like if people can believe in me, then I should, too."
Serena Williams

"...with my kind of game I play, I think it's most of the time about me. If I did the right things, I think I can beat anybody. If I play badly, I can lose to anyone."
Daniela Hantuchova

After years and years of press conference after press conference, what is the thing you're most utterly fed up of talking about that you get asked?
"How does it feel to play your sister? I might start boycotting that."
Next question. How does it feel to play your sister?
"It feels great."
Serena Williams

"...she has nothing to lose and she can just swing at the ball. So I was thinking, gosh, that felt so good when I was at her age."
Daniela Hantuchova, on playing Laura Robson

"I'm just here for myself. I'm not here really to be quiet for anybody. I'm here to play. I'm here to win. That's it. If people don't like my grunting, they can always leave."
Michelle Larcher de Brito

"When I have confidence in my fitness, I think I can keep playing at the top level. "
Ai Sugiyama

There are so many new names in the game, many not from our country. Is it hard to follow who's who?
"I just know the standard: Everyone is from Russia. Sometimes I think I'm from Russia, too...."
Serena Williams

1st day of Wimbledon is eventful

A lot went on today at Wimbledon. Maria Sharapova's elegant dress probably has some grass stains on it; she fell twice in her first round match against Victoriya Kutuzova. Sharapova was down 1-5 in the first set, but came back to win the match, 7-5, 6-4. Serena Williams faced an unknown opponent, Neuza Silva, who gave her a fight in the second round, with Williams prevaling, 6-1, 7-5.

There were two retirements: Tamira Paszek retired against Virginie Razzano with a lower back problem, and Severine Bremond Beltrame took a nasty fall, hurt her knee, and had to retire against Victoria Azarenka.

Marion Bartoli delivered two bagels to Chan Yung-Jan. Bartoli thought she might have to withdraw from the tournament, but--so far, so good--with the thigh injury.

Michelle Larcher de Brito survived Klara Zakopalova, and even won in straight sets. Laura Robson was up a set and a break against Daniela Hantuchova, but it was all too much for her. She wound up hitting 10 aces and 14 double faults, and losing in three sets.

Nathalie Dechy and Anna-Lena Groenefeld are both out, losing to Ioana Raluca Olaru and Sania Mirza, respectively.

There were two official upsets: Aleksandra Wozniak lost to Francesca Schiavone, and Patty Schnyder lost to Ai Sugiyama.

Finally, four of the six top 2009 grass season winners were eliminated today.

Birmingham champion, Ordina Open champion, Ordina Open finalist, and Eastbourne semifinalist all out in 1st round of Wimbledon

The glory was as brief as the grass season for four of that season's top stars in 2009, as they fell in the first round of Wimbledon. Eastbourne semifinalist Aleksandra Wozniak was defeated by clay specialist and Italian tour veteran Francesca Schiavone, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. The young Birmingham champion, Magdalena Rybarikova, also went out, defeated by Italian clay expert Roberta Vinci. Also going out was Ordina Open finalist Yanina Wickmayer, who lost to Elena Vesnina, 6-1, 6-1.

The big shock, at least for me, was the defeat of Ordina Open champion Tammy Tanasugarn. Tanasugarn saved three match points, but ultimately lost to Arantxa Parra Santonja, 6-4, 6-4. Parra Santonja hit seven aces, as well as almost twice as many winners as Tanasugarn, who never saw a break point. Last year, grass specialist Tanasugarn made it the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time, after having reached the round of 16 six times.

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour introduces mobile phone-controlled video game

Vera Zvonareva may have been off of the tour for several weeks, but--as part of her comeback--she gets to play against a crowd of people. Today and tomorrow, in London's Covent Garden, fans will "compete" against Zvonareva in the new "Challenge a Hero" video game that is controlled by mobile phones. Fans will press phone keys to return Zvonareva's blistering groundstrokes (watch out for that backhand!), and prizes will be awarded.

If you're in London, get out your Sony Ericsson phone and see how you can do against Vera. And be careful--she doesn't need to go over on that ankle again.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quote of the week

"What--and drive us into oblivion?"
Ana Ivanovic, on the idea of playing five sets

Experts' picks for Wimbledon--updated

Jon Wertheim--Venus Williams
Steve Tignor--Serena Williams (originally chose Venus)
James Martin--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Victoria Azarenka
Mark Hodgkinson--Serena Willliams
Tom Perrotta--Victoria Azarenka
Abigail Lorge--Serena Williams
Bonnie D. Ford--Venus Williams
Greg Garber--Venus Williams
Matt Wilansky--Dinara Safina
Kamakshi Tandon--Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha--Serena Williams

Wimbledon first round matches

The first round of Wimbledon, for me, is not nearly as interesting as the first round of the French Open was, and that's not surprising, because several otherwise competent players do not do that well on grass, and my expectations are lowered. Here are a few matches I have my eye on:

Anna Chakvetadze vs. Sabine Lisicki: Neither is at her best. Chakvetadze hasn't been at her best for a long, long time, though she shows occasional flashes of the former top 10 player. Lisicki hurt her shoulder, then became ill, and has played very few matches lately. She was unable to get much of anything--including her amazing serve--going at the French Open. There is probably also a loss of confidence at this point. So if either player can find some of her potential, she wins. Should they both find it (which I doubt), it will be a very good match. And should neither find it--it will be one to skip.

Alexa Glatch vs. Peng Shuai: This is a chance for Glatch to show off her grass skills. Should she win, though, she will almost certainly have to face Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.

Sybille Bammer vs. Melanie Oudin: I don't know what Oudin is like on grass, but she's pretty good on clay. Bammer runs hot and cold, so Oudin has a chance here.

Aleksandra Wozniak vs. Francesca Schiavone: One doesn't think of Schiavone as a grass player, but she has done pretty well this grass season. Of course, so has Wozniak.

Yanina Wickmayer vs. Elena Vesnina: Vesnina had a really good clay season, but she may be vulnerable on grass, and she may be vulnerable to Wickmayer.

Vera Dushevina vs. Alize Cornet: The Frenchwoman has the ranking, but Dushevina knows a thing or two about playing on grass.

Maria Sharapova vs. Victoriya Kutuzova: Why isn't Kutuzova ranked higher? She knows how to do some damage with that forehand, and could give Sharapova a workout.

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Laura Robson: The luck of the draw isn't very good for last year's junior champion.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Petra Cetkovska: Two talented young players compete.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wimbledon and other miscellany

Laura Robson is keeping a very low profile these days. Virginia Wade and Martina Navratilova think that she and her family are handling her career nicely.

A recent study shows that--surprise!--sports reporters have problems writing or speaking positively about gay athletes and Title IX. The problem with Title IX, of course, is that the great majority--I'd say 90%--of "experts" who write about it do not have a clue about what is included in the legislation. It has to be the most misinterpreted piece of legislation ever. But writers and television reporters, like so many other people, refuse to let facts get in the way of their prejudices.

All week long, Tennis Channel has shown the 1973 Wimbledon final between Billie Jean King and Chris Evert. King won the first set 6-0, and the second set 7-5. It's an interesting match to watch, and it was just Evert's second Wimbledon (she got to the semifinals in her first Wimbledon); she would win the tournament in 1974.

A reader was kind enough to direct me to this feature in the New York Times.

The Telegraph has listed the top 10 "grunters." The problem is that only two of them--Kournikova and Clijsters--grunted. You could actually stretch that to three because Seles did something that was not really a grunt but certainly not a scream. It seems that no one can get this rather significant distinction right.

Laura Golarsa was the first woman to win what used to be called the DFS Classic in Birmingham. But she is probably better known for being two points shy of taking Chris Evert out of the 1989 Wimbledon quarterfinals. Here's a look at a bit of that match--take note of Evert's three consecutive passing shots!

A brief history of fashion trouble at Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova suggests that, every few years, the All England Club allow players to wear colors. I disagree (I also disagree with her that Radek Stepanek is a tennis fashion disaster; I think he looks old-school great)--if you are going to have a (benign) tradition, stick to it.

The wearing of white is as classic as you can get when it comes to tennis. But there have been many interesting attempts to push the white rule--and all that it implies--as far as possible. No one worked harder at this than Ted Tinling, who first began causing trouble in 1947--when the white rule was implied, rather than written--when he designed a white dress with a colored border for Joy Gannon. Color was almost banned from Wimbledon the next year because Hazel Wightman was undone over a white-with-color dress Tinling designed for a Wightman Cup player.

In 1949, color was indeed banned at Wimbledon, and one of Tinling's designs instead incorporated white-on-white shimmering satin. The dress, designed for Gertrude Moran, included a pair of lace-edged underpants, and also included a 33-year-ban from Wimbledon for Tinling, who was not only a designer, but who had served as a liason between the players and the All England club. Players at Wimbledon continued wearing his dresses, however, and starting in 1952, every champion for ten years wore a Tinling design. He also designed for the other major tournaments.

In 1962, Maria Bueno caused a stir when she appeared at Wimbledon in a dress with colored diamond-shaped petals on the skirt lining, and across the underpants. Bueno's outfit provoked another total ban of color at Wimbledon.

Of all the players, however, Tinling was probably the most enamored of Rosie Casals; he turned her into an ongoing display of his various design fancies. There was trouble again at Wimbledon in 1972, in fact, when Casals showed up on court in a Tinling-designed white dress with purple squiggles on it. The dress was predominantly white, according to the new rules, but the referee's sensibilities were disturbed by the color purple (go figure), and the dress was banned. Casals thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, and later joked that her Wimbledon dress beat her to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Then there was Anne White. In 1985, the suitably named American player appeared on court in her Wimbledon first round wearing a full-length white lycra bodysuit. Alan Mills was not amused. When the match had to be stopped because of darkness, he told White to return the next day in something more appropriate.

Moran's lace-trimmed underpants were not the first undergarments to create controversy at Wimbledon. In 1920, Suzanne Lenglen dared to play at Wimbledon without a corset, and was promptly named "the French hussy." In 1958, Karol Fageros wore gold lame underpants. And in 2007, Tatiana Golovin played around with the "spot of color" rule in a way that was unusually cheeky: She wore bright red underpants, a first for Wimbledon.

You can see Golovin's red drawers, White's bodysuit and Moran's lacy underpants here.

Amanmuradova and Sugiyama upset Stosur and Stubbs in Eastbourne

Yesterday, Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs upset the world number 1 team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber, but today, it was they who were upset. The AEGON International championship was won by Akgul Amanmuradova and Ai Sugiyama. Amanmuradova and Sugiyama defeated Stosur and Stubbs 6-4, 6-3.

Larcher de Brito wins Liverpool International exhibition

Michelle Larcher de Brito won the Liverpool International today. The Liverpool International is Europe's largest exhibition tennis tournament. Larcher de Brito defeated Laura Robson, 6-4, 2-6, 10-6 (super tiebreak) in the final. The winner last year was Caroline Wozniacki, who won the AEGON International today. Wozniacki also won the Liverpool exhibition in 2006.

Tanasugarn defends her Ordina Open title

Tammy Tanasugarn did today what few players do these days--she defended a title. The 2008 Ordina Open champion won the championship again, defeating Yanina Wickmayer 6-3, 7-5. To get to the final, Tanasugarn knocked out three seeded players--Iveta Benesova, Flavia Pennetta, and top seed Dinara Safina, whom she also defeated at the tournament last year.

It's a shame the Wimbledon organizers--who pride themselves on giving special seedings--didn't give one to Tanasugarn, who made the quarterfinals last year, and has advanced to the round of 16 on a number of occasions. As a grass specialist, she has a very short season and therefore has trouble obtaining ranking points.

Wozniacki wins Eastbourne

Caroline Wozniacki, playing a high quality match against Virginie Razzano, won the AEGON International today, 7-6, 7-5. Both players served well, and both returned well. Razzano wound up with almost twice as many winners as Wozniacki.

The match also had some unusual drama. Wozniacki was up 6-1 in the first set tiebreak, when Razzano began making point after point. Toward the end of the tiebreak, Wozniacki hit a ball which appeared to be in, but which the chair umpire overruled as out. The point was replayed, and Razzano won it. Justice was served in the end, though, when Wozniacki--serving at 6-5--immediately own the set on her first serve.

In the second set, there was another moment--again toward the end of the set--when Wozniacki thought she had hit a winner and won the championship, only to have her ball called out as she was approaching the net to shake hands with her opponent (reminiscent of what happened to poor Nathalie Dechy last year during the second round of Wimbledon). She and Razzano both had a good laugh, then Razzano proceeded to win the next two points. Wozniacki prevailed in the end, however.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Quote of the day

"To say what she said yesterday in the French newspaper, that is not really brilliant. I guess that is just the way she is."
Marion Bartoli, on comments Virginie Razzano made about her in L'Equipe

Bartoli may miss Wimbledon

Marion Bartoli is having her quad strain--sustained today in Eastbourne--evaluated so that she can determine whether she will play at Wimbledon. Her doctors have not yet issued a diagnosis, but--according to Bartoli--it doesn't look good.

Long time gone

This Wimbledon marks the return of a couple of players most of us have missed for a while. Vera Zvonareva is back, after enduring a nasty fall in Charleston and injuring her ankle. Last year, Zvonareva was taken out in the second round by grass expert Tamarine Tanasugarn, who went on to remove Jelena Jankovic from the tournament, also.

Returning after a long injury break is Katarina Srebotnik, who lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year to Julia Goerges, a player who is 2-0 against her. Srebotnik has been off of the tour all season with an Achilles injury.

And though she is not as well known as the others, it's also nice to see Tatiana Perebynis's name in the Wimbledon draw. Perebynis has been out all season with a back injury.

Mallory Cecil wins Honda Sports Award

Duke freshman Mallory Cecil, who recently won the NCAA singles title, has received the Honda Sports Award for tennis. Cecil is now eligible to win the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year award.

Errani and Pennetta win Ordina Open

Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta, known more for their clay and hard court play, won the Ordina Open today. They defeated Michaella Krajicek and Yanina Wickmayer 6-4, 5-7, 13-11.

Tanasugarn upsets Safina in s'Hertogenbosch

For those who follow grass court tennis, it could not have been much of a surprise that defending champion Tammy Tanasugarn took out the world number 1 at the Ordina Open today. With her 7-5, 7-5 win, Tanasugarn goes to the final, in which she will meet Yanina Wickmayer. Wickmayer defeated Francesca Schiavone 7-6, 2-6, 6-3.

Black and Huber upset in Eastbourne semifinal

Top seeds and defending champions Cara Black and Liezel Huber were defeated today in the AEGON International semifinals by 4th seeds Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs, 6-4, 7-6. Stosur and Stubbs will meet Amanmuradova and Ai Sugiyama in the final. Akgul Amanmuradova and Sugiyama defeated Vania King and Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-4.

Razzano and Wozniacki to compete for Eastbourne title

I didn't get to see the semifinal match between Virginie Razzano and Marion Bartoli, but I remarked last night that it was either going to be an outstanding affair, or Bartoli was going to retire--nothing in between. Well, Bartoli retired at 4-6, 0-1, with a thigh strain, so there you are.

I also missed the first set of the match between Aleksandra Wozniak and Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniak took that set, 6-4. The infamous Eastbourne wind howled, which I think may have caused Wozniak to become too conservative; she just stopped taking necessary risks. Wozniacki raised her level of play, came in more, and took the next two sets, 6-3 and 6-4.

There was a very amusing moment when Wozniacki, having slipped and fallen on the grass (for the second time), returned a shot when she was practically lying on her back. It was a good return, but Wozniak sped it back to her while she was still on the ground.

At one point in Tennis Channel coverage, there was a brief clip shown of the 1998 Novotna-Tauziat final, and I was thinking that I would like to see Jana Novotna terrorize today's (comparatively boring) baseline grass players. One of the commentators then said something similar. Enjoy Amelie Mauresmo while you can.

Friday cat blogging--fight club edition

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wimbledon begins Monday

I have already discussed my mixed feelings about Wimbledon, but there is more: I also have confused thoughts about Wimbledon. This confusion occurs every year, when I have no clear idea about who, other than Venus Williams, might win the tournament. (Actually, it didn't happen in 2006, when I knew that Amelie Mauersmo had a very good chance to win, which she did.)

So here we are, just a few days away from the event, and when I think of who might win, my list is short.


Venus Williams--Williams is the current queen of Wimbledon. She has won it five times, and--whatever other problems she may be having on the tour--she always shows up in London as The One To Beat. This means that she can play with a lot of confidence, and that she can also probably count on players going off-track against her, as Tammy Tanasugarn did at one point last year during their quarterfinal match. Williams uses her big serve, fast pickup, considerable net skills, and superior athleticism to win on grass with considerably less effort than it might take her to win on other surfaces. She remains The One To Beat.

Serena Williams--Williams won Wimbledon in 2002 and 2003, so we know she can do it. She tried to do it last year, competing against her sister in the final, but she was not able to pull it off against TOTB. She is the better server of the two, but her sister is the better grass mover. There is always the possibility, however, that Venus's younger sister will find a way--she has found a way so many times before.

Maria Sharapova--Sharapova says she believes she will win Wimbledon again some day, but not this year. She is currently struggling with using a new service motion, which she adopted in response to her serious shoulder injury. She was also off the tour for a long time. If she continues to have trouble getting used to her modified service motion, I don't see her going that far in the draw. But if it suddenly clicks for her, I make her a contender. Because she's Maria Sharapova.


Dinara Safina--She's the number 1 player in the world, though she just flubbed another major final. She has never gotten beyond the third round at Wimbledon, though last year doesn't count because she sustained an injury in the middle of her third round match.

Svetlana Kuznetsova--Clay is clearly her best surface, though she is no slouch on hard courts. But with her athleticism and variety, there is no reason she could not--theoretically--win Wimbledon. She just went out in the first round in Eastbourne, but we'll let that pass for now.

Elena Dementieva--Technically speaking, there is nothing to keep Dementieva from winning any major, but the irony is--now that she finally has a good serve--she has returned to having a not-so-good mentality.


Ana Ivanovic--This hasn't been a good season for Ivanovic, but if she can get her ball toss somewhere within reason and regain her serve, she could still do well in London.

Jelena Jankovic--What is there to say that hasn't been said? I've certainly said enough about one of my favorite players, who just can't seem to get it together.

Victoria Azarenka--Fiery and unpredictable, the very talented Azarenka has been plagued by injuries lately. As I write this, she is out of Eastbourne because of a hip injury. If she is healthy going into Wimbledon, she could go quite far--if she can keep a lid on her emotions, that is. I had originally picked Azarenka as a contender on paper, but her recent injury caused me to change my mind.

Marion Bartoli--The 2007 Wimbledon finalist is about as good on grass as she could get, but mental and physical vulnerabilities keep her from the attaining the glory she briefly experienced two years ago.

Zheng Jie--Last year's outstanding semifinalist just doesn't seem to be up to the job this year, judging from her pre-Wimbledon grass play. Still, one never knows.

Amelie Mauresmo--The 2006 champion says she wants another Wimbledon win. Her grass skills are hard to beat, but Mauresmo's comeback hasn't been what some of us hoped it would be.

Caroline Wozniacki--Is Wozniacki a Player to Watch or a Contender? I don't know, but I believe she may go far into the draw.

Vera Zvonareva--She's always a player to watch. Right now, though, she's returning to the tour after a couple of months off to heal a bad ankle injury, so this may not be her best Wimbledon opportunity.

Jelena Dokic--We haven't really had a chance to see what Dokic can do since the Australian Open because she has been either ill or injured. Here's hoping she's healthy for Wimbledon.

Samantha Stosur--Her French Open run looked like a mental breakthrough, but her second round in Eastbourne looked like business as usual for the mentally shaky Stosur. Her serving and volleying certainly are good grass court skills, though.

Patty Schnyder--Because it is probably her last Wimbledon, and because she is always worth watching.

Virginie Razzano--Because she plays so aggressively, she is going to be a player to watch on grass. Also, the entertaining Frenchwoman appears to have made some progress in her own battle against mental instability on court.

Nathalie Dechy--Because her game is so lovely.

Kai Kanepi--I hope to watch Kanepi as much as my limited coverage will allow me; she could very well succeed in London with her big serve.

Tamarine Tanasugarn--Veteran Tanasugarn comes to life during grass court season, which is--for her--regrettably short. Last year, after making several rounds of 16, the 2008 Ordina Open champion made it to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time, but kind of fell apart when she saw Venus Williams on the other side of the net. But it is always great fun to watch her on the Wimbledon courts.

Daniela Hantuchova--Because I can't give up my Hantuchova-watching habit.

Agnieszka Radwanska--What a mystery she is, in every way. Last year's Eastbourne champion isn't looking her best right now, and she has not progressed enough to put herself into the next level of play. All the same, she is almost always worth watching, with her great anticipation and her sometimes laser-like groundstrokes.

and, regrettably, with some reservation...Sabine Lisicki--She has everything it takes to win on grass, but since her shoulder injury and intestinal illness (one directly followed the other), she hasn't done much of anything. If she can somehow pull herself together for next week, she is very watchable, but I'm not holding my breath.