Monday, June 27, 2011

Two former champions and number 1 seed all knocked out of Wimbledon today

If Dick Enberg is correct, then most of the spectators have been queuing in the Pimm's Cup line too frequently at Wimbledon. "They didn't expect Bartoli to come up with this kind of fight...," he said. Really? The Frenchwoman has done nothing but fight--against opponents, against nausea, against exhaustion--for a week. Today she had to fight a defending champion determined not to be eliminated from the tournament in the round of 16.

Every once in a while (think Indian Wells), Bartoli gets into a real zone with her service game. She was in it today, hitting ten aces, and I lost count of how many unreturnable serves. The 9th seed's aggression serves her so much better if she can dictate with her serve, which she did today. She went up 5-2 in the first set, at which point things took a bit of a turn. Williams saved three set points on her own serve, and another when Bartoli served at 5-3. On her fifth set point, Bartoli hit another wonderful serve, but then hit what almost certainly would have been a winner into the net. On set point number 6, however, she cannon-fired an ace down the T.

When Bartoli held at love for 4-all in the second set, she confirmed that her confidence was still high. The first break point of the set occurred in the 11th game, and the 9th seed converted it. Serving for the match at 5-4, Bartoli hit long on her first match point, then missed an opportunity to win on her second match point. A weak (one of her few) second serve then took the players to deuce, after which followed the best rally of the match. Both players hit groundstrokes from the far, far corners, and Williams prevailed, saving yet another match point. Then, attempting to deal with a huge return of serve from Serena, Bartoli hit a ball out, giving Williams a break point.

At a time like this, another player might well have caved, but Bartoli kept right on. She double-faulted, however, on her next match point, then hit a routine second serve that was pounced on by Williams, thereby forcing a tiebreak. The tiebreak score was close. After hitting a service let, the Frenchwoman hit an ace to even things at 5-all. When she went up 6-5, she gestured for the crowd to cheer her on; the crowd obliged. Williams hit an ace. But Bartoli won the next point, and on her fifth match point, she hit a serve deep into  the corner. Williams could not return it, and Bartoli advanced to the quarterfinals.

Someone probably needs to tell ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez that Bartoli won. Fernandez did the same thing today that she usually does when she's calling a Sharapova match (well, it wasn't quite as outrageous as her Maria obsession); she behaved as though Bartoli were just someone hanging out on the court, waiting to cheer Williams on as she went to the next round. Serena Williams is the greatest champion of her generation, and she is to be commended for playing as well as she did after missing--for all practical purposes--a year of tennis, and going through a medical hell. But Fernandez's dismissal of Bartoli was really over the line.

Bartoli's fitness has been her main demon throughout her career, but, as I mentioned yesterday, she is now fighting through the nausea and injuries, something I wish she had done years ago.

Dominika Cibulkova
The exit of the defending (and four-time) champion was just the beginning of today's drama. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki's time at Wimbledon was going to end soon (so thought many of us), and Dominika Cibulkova was glad to take on the duty. The 24th seed got off to a slow start, and lost the first set 1-6. She fought to win the second set in a tiebreak, and had to fight through several games in the third set. At 5-all, she broke Wozniacki on her third break point, and won on her third match point.

The drama continued. Though some may find it hard to believe, Tsvetana Pironkova did it again. She took Venus Williams out of a major for the third time, and for the second time in a row at Wimbledon. Pironkova played well and served extremely well. She used her signature forehand slice, and hit backhands with such finesse, there wasn't much Williams could do about it. There was another side to this story, though. Williams looked awkward. She missed overheads and just made too many errors in general. She was off the tour for four months, and her focus isn't always as sharp as it used to be. Still, she's looked good since she arrived at Wimbledon, and there was talk that she might take a sixth championship.

On top of everything else, you have to wonder whether the mysterious ("mercurial" and "streaky" just don't get it) Pironkova is in Williams' head. The Bulgarian defeated her 6-2, 6-3, and that's the score by which she defeated Williams last year.

This is the first time the Williams sisters have made an exit from Wimbledon on the same day, and the first time in five years that neither of them has made it to the quarterfinals.


svente said...

I was thinking along similar lines this morning regarding the shock (!!) that Serena, Venus and Caroline lost.

Either the women's side has "so much depth" and therefore the road to the championship match is more difficult than in years past or the women's side is "unraveling" bc the top players are losing. It can't be both.

Throughout the first week, Chris Evert could not stop talking about depth and talented "unknowns" (maybe to hyper casual fans) and how even the first week is truly competitive. I agree with that, I thought there were great matches the first week. But then today it was "oh no! What's happening? What are these ladies doing winning?" I mean they were acting like I just showed up and ran circles around Venus.

So a note to tennis commentators: there are more than four women playing talented, tough, smart, strategic and entertaining tennis. Research them. It's your job.

Wayne said...

Is it me or has the women's tournament been absolutely phenomenal this year ?

Wow, what a day... shocks, spills and high drama.

Anonymous said...

Lol, you can't win them all. Their were no upsets today imo! The women who played aganist the William sister's should have won. Venus and Serena are two of my favorites on tour, I'm just happy to see them back! From 2000 to 2010, these two sisters have held up the winners dish nine times and 4 times in double. Like I said they can't win them all. As far as the Bulegarian being in Venus head, don't think so. She will get her win, just like she did over Davenport. But any way, congrates to the winners, they have the "W" on their side today. All I can say is Welcome back Venus and Serena, hoping you stay healthy so you can play the rest of the season getting better an injury free!