Friday, August 17, 2018

The Fab Four are ready!

clockwise, from top left: Petra Kvitova, Kiki Bertens, Aryna Sabalenka, Simona Halep (all photos by Daniel Ward)

We're down to the final four in Cincinnati. They played in rainy conditions, they waited--and waited-- for the rain to stop; a couple of them played two matches in one day. Tomorrow, they vie to see who makes the final.

World number 1 Simona Halep had to play twice today. In her first first match, she defeated Ash Barty 7-5, 6-4. In her quarterfinal, she defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 6-1. The Rogers Cup champion will next face Aryna Sabalenko, an unseeded upstart from Belarus who has been going after top players. So far, in Cincinnati, she has knocked out Jo Konta, 9th seed and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova, 6th seed Caroline Garcia, and 13th seed Madison Keys.

Her match tonight against Keys marks the first time that Sabalenka has won in straight sets in this tournament. She's an exciting and confident player, and we should expect a good match.

Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova has reached the final four, having played her most dramatic and exciting match today, against Elise Mertens. Kvitova, who is seeded 8th, will face the unseeded (please don't let that fool you) Kiki Bertens. Bertens, once known as a clay court specialist, has torn up that script and has become a threat on every surface. She gone after the top 10 in a way that must surely make her one of the last players that anyone wants to see on the other side of the net.

In the meantime, both the number 1 and number 2 seeds were knocked out of doubles today. French Open and Wimbledon champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova were defeated by Elise Mertens (the busiest woman in Mason today!) and Demi Schuurs, and Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic were defeated by Lucie Hradecka and Ekaterina Makarova.

Scattered thunderstorms are forecast for tomorrow, so there will most likely be more interruptions.

They call her "Dr. Buz"--they call HIM "Dr. Buzz"

This is Mihaela Buzarnescu, whose story we all know. Shoulder and knee injuries, and subsequent surgeries, forced her off of the tour for two years. During that time, she earned a doctorate at Romania's National Academy of Physical Education and Sport. This year, Buzarnescu won her first WTA title, a premier event, in San Jose, California. Also this year, she reached the round of 16 at the French Open, upsetting Elina Svitolina along the way.

Because of her academic status, Buzarnescu has earned the nickname, "Dr. Buz." 

This is Ziggy Stardust, one of my cats, though he no longer lives with me. Because of his agility and speed, we always thought that--when we weren't around--he was showing off on the tennis court. Even as a kitten, he had a very loud purr, which earned him the nickname, "Dr. Buzz." This nickname because even more appropriate when he began "tending" wounds and sore places on my body.

Dr. Buz and Dr. Buzz--"pickup" doubles, anyone?

Kvitova defeats Mertens in a long, grueling roller coaster match

player photos by Daniel Ward

The first set of Petra Kvitova and Elise Mertens' quarterfinal match, played on The Grandstand at the Western and Southern Open, looked like it was going to be all Kvitova--unless, that is, you knew anything about Mertens. Down 0-4, the 15th seed came to life and fought back until the set was even at 5-all. Kvitova then got a break and was able to serve our the set.

By this time, Mertens, confident that she had found her game, went up a quick 3-0. It was a mirror image of the first set: Kvitova caught up, but this time, Mertens got the extra break and won the set 7-5.

By the time the third set rolled around, it was anyone's guess as to who would advance. Kvitova won that set 6-3, but she had to fight--just as she had fought the entire match--through deuce after deuce, because Mertens was relentless. The match took two hours and 42 minutes to play, and there were 15 breaks of serve. The weather was very pleasant throughout, making it a perfect match to watch.

The Barking Czech will next face either Elina Svitolina or Kiki Bertens.

The Cincinnati quarterfinals are set

world number 1 Simona Halep (photo by Daniel Ward)
It took a while, but we finally have a quarterfinal draw for singles in Cincinnati. Here's how it looks:

Simona Halep (1) vs. Lesia Tsurenko
Madison Keys (13) vs. Aryna Sabalenka
Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Elise Mertens (15)
Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Kiki Bertens

Halep has now played eight straight matches since she began her title run in Montreal. There have been multiple rain delays and changes conditions. She did receive a medical timeout a couple of nights ago, but has shown no other signs of wear and tear. All the same, it's fair to wonder if--at some point--some type of fatigue will set in.

Win or lose, Tsurenko has had a good tournament, taking out both Ekaterina Makarova and the defending champion and world number 7, Garbine Muguruza.

Keys got her second win over Angie Kerber yesterday, and now faces another big hitter in Sabalenka. Sabalenka is on a roll in Cincinnati, where she has already shown the exit to Jo Konta, 2016 champion and 9th seed Karolina Pliskova and 6th seed Carolina Garcia, who held a match point in their third round contest. The Belarussian has had to go three sets in every round, which is never helpful to any player. On the other hand, she possesses healthy doses of both grit and confidence.

The cooler weather has been a boon to Kvitova, but the humidity, if it intensifies, could be a problem. Kvitova has never played Mertens before, which could create some discomfort. A lot of this will have to do with serving: Both players possess very good serves (though different kinds of serves), and both can be inconsistent with their serves.

Perhaps the most interesting of the four matches will be the one to be played by Svitolina and Bertens. They have played each other once, in 2016, on a hard court. It went to three sets, and Svitolina won. But this is a more aggressive, more confident Bertens than we saw two years ago. No longer a threat just on clay, the Dutchwoman is looking good on all surfaces. Speedy Svitolina, however, can given any player headaches on the right day.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Elise Mertens advances to Cincinnati quarterfinals

photo by Daniel Ward

Elise Mertens' 2018 season continues to gain momentum in Cincinnati, where--today--she defeated 3rd seed Sloane Stephens and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open. Mertens has a really good serve, not that fast and powerful, but often placed with precision. She weathered a first set tiebreak, in which each player had chances to take the set, but it was Mertens who grabbed it with a 10-8 score. The second set was easier for her, as she elevated both her first and her second serve, and won the match 7-6, 6-2.
Petra Kvitova (photo by Daniel Ward)

Mertens' next opponent will be a woman whom she has never played--Petra Kvitova. Kvitova, who defeated Serena Williams Monday night, played an efficient match against Kiki Mladenovic, whom she defeated 6-4, 6-2. After the match, the Czech star said that she wasn't that pleased about her serve, but was very happy with her returns. (Asked what she did during the many long rain delays, Kvitova said that she "slept, read, ate--nothing.")

Another player whose winning ways were on full display today was Arnya Sabalenka. Sabalenka, already the victor over Jo Konta and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova, went a step farther today and took out 6th seed Caroline Garcia. In each of her Cincinnati matches, Sabalenka has lost the first set. Her next opponent will be Madison Keys, who had her second victory over Angie Kerber tonight.

Madison Keys (photo by Daniel Ward)
Kerber was totally dominant in the opening set, winning it 6-2. The second set was much tighter, and went to a tiebreak, in which Kerber lost her way. Toward the end of the final set, Keys broke the German star (and 2016 runner-up), and went on to win the match.

Lesia Tsurenko also had another good day. After taking defending champion Garbine Muguruza out of the tournament yesterday, she beat Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets today.

Simona Halep (photo by Daniel Ward)
Two matches left over from last night were also completed today, with world number 1 and top seed Simona Halep defeating Ajla Tomljanovic, and Amanda Anisimova defeating Petra Martic.

There was hope that today would be a catch-up day after yesterday evening's rain, but it didn't work out that way. My much anticipated doubles clash between the world number 1 team of Krejcikova/Siniakova and Mertens/Schuurs could not be played.

In fact, it's raining as I write this. Anett Kontaveit and Kiki Bertens are in a second set (Bertens won the first), and two doubles matches had commenced.

It's a rainy morning in Cincinnati


It's probably a good thing for Simona Halep, but not so much for the rest of us, that the rain is coming down in Cincinnati, and--more important--in Mason. Last night, after both Halep and her opponent, Ajla Tomljanovic, took medical time-outs, their match was suspended because of rain (it had also rained a lot earlier in the day).

When play stopped, Halep was up 4-3 in the third set. The physical (and undoubtedly, mental) rigor of the world number 1's last several days have no doubt taken a toll on her, as they would on anyone. If Halep defeats Tomljanovic, she'll have to play yet another match today, in order to do rain delay catch-up.

The other match that was interrupted last night was the contest between Amanda Anisimova and Petra Martic. When play was suspended, Anisimova was up 5-4 in the first set, with a set point on Martic's serve. The delay certainly isn't a gift for Anisimova.

There is likely to be rain on and off throughout the day today. The question, of course, is: how hard will it come down? Rain like what we had yesterday causes long delays because it takes so long to dry the courts.

One of the biggest matches scheduled today puts Angie Kerber against Madison Keys. Kerber is 7-1 against Keys, and 6-0 against her on hard courts. Kerber's last hard court victory against Keys occurred in the quarterfinals of this year's Australian Open.

Petra Kvitova returns to the courts today, and will play Kiki Mladenovic. Kvitova is 5-1 against Mladenovic; they last met in the 2018 St. Petersburg final, which Kvitova won, 6-1, 6-2.

Mladenovic, with partner Timea Babos, is also scheduled to play doubles today. However, the doubles match to watch today is the quarterfinal that features top seeds Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova and 6th seeds Elise Mertens/Demi Schuurs. The Czechs--who won both the French Open and Wimbledon--are on fire, but so is Schuurs, and having Mertens as a partner is a plus.

The early evening singles match is of interest because it features two "clay court specialists" who are turning out to be something more. At least one of them, Kiki Bertens, has already proven that she can be a terror on other surfaces, too. Her opponent, Anett Kontaveit, has already defeated two good players--Barbora Strycova and Maria Sakkari.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lesia Tsurenko rains on Muguruza's parade

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion

The umpire said "Game, set, match--Tsurenko." Then, no sooner than the handshake was finished and the defending champion had walked off the court, the clouds dumped heavy rain all over the Western and Southern Open. 

Was it falling on Garbine Muguruza's head like a memory? Probably, but maybe not like a new emotion.

It was cloudy and a bit dark when the match began. I was sleepy and exhausted, so I assumed that I was projecting my own state onto the event. It wasn't just that, however. The match was a languid ordeal that never really caught fire. There were some nice rallies and some good shots. Muguruza, when she was switched on, was--as always--a joy to watch. 

But there was just something dark and cloudy about the entire affair, despite Muguruza's kit, which cheered some of us.

But let me stop here and give credit to Lesia Tsurenko, who didn't allow the sight of the defending champion to take her off of her own mission. The first set, won at 6-2, belonged to Muguruza, but anyone who watches the tour regularly knows that--with certain players--that doesn't "mean" anything. In the second set, the defending champion started to mugu around the court, hitting fourteen unforced errors, and letting a suddenly precise Tsurenko take over. The Ukrainian player took that set 6-4.

The third set looked like the script for the expected plot. Muguruza regained her momentum and accuracy to go up 3-0. Soon it was 4-1, and then it happened: Tsurenko was able to break back, and at 4-all, the writing wasn't yet on the wall, but the wall looked like it might crack. Tsurenko served for the match at 5-4 and double-faulted, which is often a sign that a lower-ranked player has the match-closing blues, but Muguruza couldn't take advantage. A shot into the net and then a long forehand ended the match, and Tsurenko walked away into the rain with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Muguruza made 43 unforced errors in the two-hour contest. Afterwards, she conceded that she hadn't played at the right level, but that she was controlling the match before her opponent came back, "so I'll take that." 

Garbine Muguruza brings a strange kind of inconsistency to the tour. She loses when we think she should win, and then--sometimes, when we don't necessarily expect it--she wins the biggest prizes in the sport. When she's "herself," she plays with a fluidity that we rarely see. Other times, she loses in her first round at a Premier 5 event.

As for Tsurenko, she'll next face Ekaterina Makarova (my most memorable player from last year), who defeated Alize Cornet in straight sets in the second round.

Myrtle McAteer--Cincinnati's first champion

In 1899, a new tennis tournament emerged in Cincinnati--the Cincinnati Open. The Open was played at the Avondale Athletic Club (now the site of Xavier University), and featured both female and male players. All matches were best of three except for the finals--singles and doubles--which were best of five. The surface was described as "elastic clay and brick dust."

The singles champion in 1899 was Myrtle McAteer of Pittsburgh, who--at the time--was 20 or 21 years old, and was the reigning U.S. doubles champion.  In the final, she defeated future Hall of Fame member Juliette Atkinson of Brooklyn. McAteer and Atkinson also won the doubles title that year, defeating two players from Cincinnati. The crowd for the final day of play was estimated at 2,000.

McAteer's prize was a Brookwood vase, valued at $100. For their doubles achievement, McAteer and Atkinson were awarded a three-piece Silver Berry set.

The next year, McAteer won the U.S. National Championships (now the U.S. Open). In 1901, she won a second doubles championship at the U.S. Nationals.

McAteer died in Los Angeles in 1952, at the age of 74.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On her eighth try, Karolina Pliskova defeats Aga Radwsanska

For 2016 Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova, winning the first set against Aga Radwanska was a big deal; in her seven failed attempts to defeat the Polish star, Pliskova had never taken a set. Today was different, though, as the Czech player needed only to two sets to banish her opponent. Pliskova said, after the match, that she liked her chances from the beginning, partly because this was Radwanska's first hard court match since her return from injury in June. Also, Pliskova said that she liked the conditions: "'s flying, it's pretty fast, so I felt like there was no wind, so it was perfect for me today."

 Pliskova has begun working with Rennee Stubbs, who she describes as "always positive." They are going to work together for the rest of the season and then re-assess. Pliskova indicated, however, that she's leaning toward continuing their contract. Asked whether Stubbs' influence has caused her to feel more positive, Pliskova said: "Look, I've been around her like, four days, so it's not much, but actually I feel positive, and I beat Radwanska for the first time in my life!"

Pliskova said that "I think maybe Tomas (Krupa) sometimes wanted too much from me and I just was not able to do it...." She added that "I feel like he's a little bit negative; I am also negative."

Regarding the tendency of Czech players having Czech coaches, Pliskova responded, "I'm done." She also concurred, in that wry, Pliskova way, that she'd "used them all up," and there weren't any more Czech coaches she could hire.

Maria Sakkari beats Naomi Oksaka and advances to Cincinnati second round

On a cloudy, but very hot, day in Cincinnati, Maria Sakkari and Naomi Osaka met on the Grandstand court for an hour and fifty-minute backhand blitz, from which Sakkari emerged the victor. Both women are big hitters, and both have (perhaps not "typical" of big hitters) athletic flexibility. The latter was put to good use, as both players kept the ball as low as they could (and yes, a lot of balls went into the net).

Not surprisingly, both hit more unforced errors than winners. The difference, though not great, lie in both offense and defense. Sakkari wound up with an impressive first and second serve win ratio of 80/69. And she saved the only two break points against her in the match (Osaka saved seven of nine).

Sakkari won the first set 6-3. Osaka's serve, especially her second serve, improved in the second set, and there were some close calls for her opponent as Osaka forced break points. The set went to a tiebreak, in which Sakkari saved three set points and won the tiebreak 10-8.

After the match, Sakkari said she thought she'd played a great match and that she'd served really well, especially when Osaka had set points. Asked to consider how her belief in herself had changed, she reflected on how having played the same top players more than once has helped her, and she has improved in her consistency.

Sakkari said that her lack of height and big power has caused her to use every tactic she can to win matches. "My goal," she said "is to become a very solid player." She named Kim Clijsters as the player she most admired when she was growing up.

Sakkari said that working with Thomas Johannson has helped her, partly because "he inspires me." She said that they understand each other, both on and off the court, and that is what makes the relationship strong. She also said that she was very inspired by the success of her countryman, Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom she considers a role model. Sakkari said that the two of them "look after each other."

Asked to reveal some things about herself, she said "I can tell that I'm a nice person, I'm polite." She also said that if she weren't a professional tennis player, she would "for sure be an athlete, I don't know what kind of sport."

The young Greek will next face Anett Kontaviet, another young player of considerable talent. Sakkari and Kontaviet have played each other three times, twice on hard courts and once on clay. Sakkari won both of the hard court contests in straight sets.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Top players take a seat at the round table in Cincinnati

The top players did their round table discussions with the media in Cincinnati today, and they didn't disappoint. Defending champion Garbine Muguruza said that in both San Jose and Montreal, she didn't feel that her injured arm was in the shape that it should be in, and that she's had to learn more patience. Muguruza said that she was utilizing both rest and treatment to heal her arm, but that she was also training, and "trying to be more wise."

The Spanish star said that experience has helped her a lot. For example, how she dealt with not defending her French Open title helped her to deal with not defending her Wimbledon title. She said that she has gotten much better at letting go of a feeling or a reaction and moving on.

Muguruza also talked at length about sports psychology, saying that--while the extra pair of ears and the advice are helpful--it's also sometimes difficult to discern whether a clinician truly understands what a player goes through.

(As a mental health specialist, I find this argument flawed. Not every one of us has had the experience of every other one of us, but we have all experienced the same feelings. Also, a good clinician knows appropriate interventions to use for just about every person/situation.)

Elina Svitolina had an interesting thing to say about the new shot clock. She has noticed that she has plenty of time to spare. " I can take my time more....I think I'm really, really quick. Sometimes I don't even make a decision where I'm gonna serve next, so now...I can take my time."

Asked about her new, more slender, physique, Svitolina responded to concern that lost muscle mass might affect her game. She said that this is an experiment--that her team wanted to try something different, and that she and her team will assess the outcome. She added that "I think I'm on the right path already."

The 5th seed went on to talk about how she has learned to stay in the present. She said that she had to start changing her mentality when she made the transition from junior to playing on the regular tour. "I had to be ready to compete with women...Everyone is really focused on each point."

Montreal champion Simona Halep, looking remarkably fresh after a grueling week in Montreal, said that she's now better able to manage the pressure of being the world number 1. After acknowledging her turnaround after her coach, Darren Cahill, stopped working with her for a while, Halep said that another thing that has helped her mentally has been her work with a psychologist. "She makes me feel like I'm able to do some things, to change some things. Finally, she gave credit to her team for pushing her "past my limit." And then she added, in that self-deprecating way of hers: "I'm not perfect."

Caroline Garcia told us about what it was like to be a teenager and have her father as a coach. Not surprisingly, it wasn't always easy. She said that the things she needed to hear were perhaps more painful coming from a parent than a regular coach. Garcia also talked about the tour's depth. "You can see it's getting more and more athletic. ...Every match is very tight, and it doesn't matter, the rankings, there is some good fighter on."

Asked about the shot clock, Petra Kvitova had a typically deadpan response: "Actually, I'm fine with it. I got a time violation already--but I don't think it was my fault."

Kvitova said she was "trying to have a Plan B, and I think it's paid off this season already. She said that sometimes, it's taken her some time to know when to shift to Plan B, but "mostly, it's clicking."

The Czech star was realistic about the pitfalls of being an offensive player. "That's where the bigger hitters have the problem, because they need to hit one, two, three balls more--which is kind of stressful for us sometimes, though. You know, when you see the opponent is still running and putting the balls back when you just wanted to have the winner, and it's just not coming, so that's probably why we make mistakes...."

She went on to talk about the difficulty of competing against exceptionally talented defensive players: "Well, it tough to find a balance, playing those great players. Well, you just need to still kind of put the pressure, but you need to find a balance, but sometimes it's really tough when you are not really clear in the mind and you don't really know what's happening on the court--it's a bit of a mess. Just talking from my side."

Wimbledon champion Angie Kerber said that she still needs some time to fully realize her achievement in London, but that her post-victory time was better after Wimbledon because she has learned when to say "yes" and when to say "no."

For the last six months, the German star has been working on making her game more aggressive. She also changed her serve a little bit, she said.

"You know, I think it is also life, how it was with my tennis," Kerber said in response to a question about making the transitions from a glorious 2016 to a not-so-memorable 2017 to winning another major in 2018." She looked back at the arc of her career, and all those years prior to 2016, a year that she says would be "impossible" to repeat. She said she learned a lot in 2017, and it was helpful to her.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The dark side of being a fan

Two and a half years ago, I wrote about what it means to be a fan. My main points (for those who want a summary) were that we can be overcome by the beauty of a player's game or athleticism, we can be inspired by a player's personal struggles, or we can conveniently project our own insecurities and other uncomfortable feelings onto players. This last process can make it easier for us to carry our own pain (my favorite players are scared, insecure, anxious, fill-in-the-blank, too!), but it can also make it easier to lash out at them rather than examine the motives behind our very strong feelings.

In most cases, I suspect that real fans are emotionally involved because of all of these things. Athletes are living metaphors for everything about life: working hard, sacrificing, developing skills, overcoming obstacles, taking risks, handling defeat. Their inspiring behaviors are larger-than-life, and their losses and embarrassments are, also. And both are very public, exposing players' vulnerabilities to the world.

There's also a dark side of fandom. The Nadal camp vs. the Federer camp is a good example of enthusiasm run amok, with some fans on both sides finding it "necessary" to insult the other camp (and player) at every opportunity. But it happens in women's tennis, also. There are--it should go without saying--always people who attacks WTA players because of their race, and of course, there are many ATP fans who attack the entire women's tour because it is composed of women, a gender which they consider inferior and not capable of playing "real" sports.

Bigotry is the worst kind of fan behavior, but it isn't the only aspect of "dark" fandom. On social media, players are attacked by fans who are big on opinion but extremely short on fact (something we know a lot about here in the USA). Expressing strong opinion without having the facts is not only intellectually lazy--it's mean-spirited. It may also represent a need to have an "enemy."

And then there are the fans who absolutely insist that your favorite player must be compared with theirs. And you know where this scenario goes--their favorite is "better." Or the fans who can't resist making snarky comments about players who are not their personal favorites.

And then there are the fans who cannot tolerate personality styles with which they are not personally comfortable. Here's the thing: If there weren't a lot of different personality styles on the WTA tour, the tour would be a lot less interesting. Alize Cornet's theatrics may not be your cup of tea, but so what? Simona Halep's tendency to get angry on court may not be your style, but so what? Alona Ostapenko's extreme expressiveness may not appeal to you, but--so what?

Finally, there are intense verbal attacks made toward players who slump or choke or don't appear to make progress with strengthening their weaknesses. This, I can assure you, is pure projection on the part of fans. (It's also about sports betting, yes, but that isn't the subject with which this post is concerned.) Are we disappointed when players exhibit stunning errors or weaknesses? Yes. But becoming enraged and delivering attacks or posting insults isn't about the player--it's about the "fan."

The WTA, as The Backspinner describes it, is "the most interesting tour in the world." Why waste our time and energy using it to project our own dark and uncomfortable feelings, reject what we don't understand, or insist that we are "right" and that we are on the "superior" team?

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Wimbledon top 10

Here are my top 10 Wimbledon occurrences, in ascending order:

10. We are Wimbledon: When the first men’s semifinal went on and on for hours, it might have occurred to those in charge to go ahead and start the second one on a different court. But that didn’t happen, so the second one—not exactly a brief affair itself—was postponed when the 11:00 p.m. curfew was reached. That meant that it had to be continued the next day on Centre Court when the women’s singles final had been scheduled to begin.

So the women’s finalists had to wait. Everything got backed up, and—as of Friday night—the women’s doubles final wasn’t even assigned a court; it wound up on Court number 1. The logical argument was made that the men’s semifinal couldn’t be scheduled after the women’s singles final because the winner needed to rest. I agree with that. The problem was that the “planners” didn’t exactly plan, and—surprise!—it was women who were forced to wait to play one of the biggest matches of the season, and women who were forced to play on a court that should have never featured a major final.

9. Ostapenko’s face: Probably a top 10 at every major

8. Diede De Great does it again
: Mentored by world-class athlete Esther Vergeer, Diede De Groot, at the age of 21, has already made a name for herself in the tennis world. She just defended her 2017 Wimbledon wheelchair singles title, and--with Yui Kamiji--she won the doubles championship, too. (Kamiji has now won five consecutive doubles majors.) De Groot also won the Australian Open singles title. For the past couple of years, the world number 1 wheelchair player has been collecting big trophies all over the world, and--while the competition is strong--she appears to have a very bright future.

7. The ballet artist vs. the running wonder: It was a thing to behold, the quarterfinal match played by Dasha Kasatkina and Angie Kerber. The Russian—in the tradition of such graceful icons as Suzanne Lenglen, Maria Bueno and Evonne Goolagong—is sometimes mesmerizing on the court. Her easy-to-watch athleticism was put to the test by the equally dazzling athleticism of Kerber. Kerber prevailed, but Kasatkina left everyone wanting more.

6. A potent mix: The doubles landscape is changing, and nowhere has that been more obvious than at Wimbledon. USA player Nicole Melichar, hardly a "tennis household" name, made appearances in both the women's doubles final and the mixed doubles final. She lost the first, but--with Alexander Peya--she won the mixed championship. Melichar and Peya defeated the formidable team of Vika Azarenka and Jamie Murray 7-6, 6-3 in the final. Melichar was born in the Czech Republic, which means that--according to a certain way of looking at things--Czech women cleaned up in doubles at this event.

5. It’s all about Germany!: Julia Goerges has re-invented her career, so it’s no surprise that she would wind up, for the first time, in a major semifinal. The surprise was that she wound up in one at Wimbledon. A superb clay court and hard court player, the German has never felt very comfortable on grass. But it turns out that the re-invention brought about a new set of beliefs, and Goerges—with her big serve—moved skillfully through the draw. She was stopped by Serena Williams, but what a run it was!

4. Lots of grass, but few seeds: You had to start watching early if you wanted to see some of the tour's top seeds at Wimbledon. In the first round alone, we lost French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens, 5th seed Elina Svitolina, Coco Vandeweghe, Magnalena Rybarikova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, two-time champion and favorite-to-win Petra Kvitova, former champion Maria Sharapova, and Caroline Garcia. In the next round, we lost defending champion Garbine Muguruza, Jo Konta and former finalist Aga Radwanska. It was a brutal opener for the tournament.

3. The Rock rolls away: I fully expected Petra Kvitova to end last week by holding up her third Venus Rosewater dish; her lead-up to Wimbledon made her an easy favorite. It was, therefore, a shock when she was upset in the first round by Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Kvitova appeared to be in pain/discomfort throughout the match. She said, afterwards, that her problem was nerves. I don’t imagine we’ll ever know the whole story. I should add that Sasnovich—playing a lot like Kvitova herself—gave a stunning performance.

2. Czech them out!: They won the French Open, then turned around and won Wimbledon. Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, seeded 3rd in London, defeated Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 in the final, and--when no one was looking--became top WTA threats.

Krejcikova was coached by Jana Novotna, who--20 years ago--won both the singles and doubles championships. In 2013, Krejcikova and Siniakova won the junior doubles title at Wimbledon. That same year, they also won the championships at the French Open and the U.S. Open. It was after this last victory that the Czech pair gave us a gift that I do hope they give to us again, and very soon, please:

1. 2017? What 2017?: When you’re as busy as Angie Kerber is, time races by, and who knows?—you might suddenly realize that you lost twelve months or so. Oops. But when you’re Kerber, you also remember how you took yourself from journeywoman-plus status to that of elite champion. So she went through the steps again, getting better every tournament, and now, she’s the 2018 Wimbledon champion.

Hers wasn’t an easy draw, either. She had to defeat former Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva, a tricky Claire Liu, 18th seed Naomi Osaka, the once-again dangerous Belinda Bencic, Russian trickster Daria Kasatkina, and a very in-form Alona Ostapenko. Then came the real test, as Kerber faced off, yet again, with Serena Williams. Kerber’s amazing defense, paired with the accuracy of her shot-making, earned her a third major championship, and put her one win shy of a Career Slam.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Call her Angie. Call her KareBear. Call her Wimbledon champion!

Angelique Kerber won her third major today when she defeated Serena Williams 6-3, 6-3 in the Wimbledon women's final. Kerber is now one major--the French Open--shy of having a Career Slam, and, given her expertise on clay courts, it's certainly possible that she'll accomplish that feat.

I considered this match a toss-up from the beginning. Yes, Williams has been amazing at this tournament, but there were other factors to be considered. One is that, until she reached the final, she had not encountered a human wall such as Kerber. Another factor is that Kerber had already beaten Williams in a final, which had to be a real confidence-booster. And finally--Kerber had lost a Wimbledon final to Williams, and that fact had to be highly motivating for the German star.

Obviously, Williams was not at her best in this final. She seemed frozen at times. But, at the same time, Kerber was spot-on almost every moment. Consider that she hit only five unforced errors in the match. Kerber's ability to run down balls, combined with her laser-like accuracy, took her all the way to the championship, in which she lost only one set. She also emerged with very respectable 70/59 first/second serve win percentages. And it was her down-the-line shots that did the damage at crucial moments.

Every match has a context (though you wouldn't know it by reading social media posts). And a big part of the context of this match was that Williams not only gave birth ten months ago, but almost died in the process. That she was suddenly in the Wimbledon final at all is a testament to her force-of-nature persona, her self-belief and her extreme athletic prowess. She lost this one, but we probably won't have to wait long for her to win her 24th singles major.

There's also a dramatic context regarding Kerber. In 2016, she "came out of nowhere" (not true, but you know the sports media) to win the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, become the Wimbledon runner-up, and grab a silver medal at the Olympic Games. Then, in 2017, she experienced a year-long flop. But this year, having made changes she thought were appropriate, she returned, looking more and more like herself every month. It was only a matter of time until she did something big--six months, to be exact.

There has been a lot of contentious discussion about the postponement of this final, which has included a lot of contentious discussion about the men playing best-of-five with no fifth set tiebreak at Wimbledon. I have a whole lot to say about this (and have already said some of it), but I don't want to use this post about two great champions to say it. Well, except for two things:

1. The incredible barrage of misogyny on social media is heartbreaking.

2. The "you're upset about wealthy players' tennis matches is ridiculous when there are so many other problems in the world, including wonen's problems" enrages me. Rich or poor, tennis or anything else, it's about equality. For example:

Those of us who object to sexist language (and women are still using it to attack sexism, which drives me mad, like the Twitter post about Wimbledon's needing to "grow a pair" and give women their due--sorry, but courage is simply not an exclusively male attribute) vehemently challenge the "it's just language" dismissal. Language is the most important medium of exchange we have. It isn't about "language"--it's about equality.

One of the other favorites in my country is the dismissal of "women in the U.S. don't know how well off they have it." Yes, we do. It's about equality.

Now back to something more pleasant: The remarkable Angie Kerber, long considered a journeywoman, is now a three-time major champion. And the remarkable, totally stunning sportswoman, Serena Williams, is back and playing very well.

And to all the people (you know who you are) who consider women's tennis (and women's sports, in general) inferior because it isn't men's sports: In the interest of fairness and human evolution, maybe you need to grow a pair--of X chromosomes.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Angie and Serena--together again, as you always wanted to see them

This has been a strange Wimbledon, with so many seeds going out early, and with the most highly favored seed going out very early. But now we're down to two, and the tennis gods have so conspired to make that pairing a very tasty one indeed. Angie Kerber and Serena Williams, who bring out the best in each other, will contend for a major title for a third time on Saturday.

I expected the semifinal played between Kerber and Alona Ostapenko to go three sets, but it didn't, despite Ostapenko's strong second set resurgence. My main takeaway from the match was that Ostapenko--who has made a real improvement in her serve--still needs to calm down a bit with the hitting. She continues to remind me of early Kvitova--swings that are hard and laser-accurate. Except when they aren't.

Ostapenko is very young, and has plenty of time to add some nuance and safety to her already impressive game. Today, she was unable to take so many risks and still dominate. After all, she was playing against a human wall, but a clever wall who also has a lot of offensive skills.

Kerber's 6-3, 6-3 victory puts her into her second Wimbledon final. In 2016, she was the runner-up, defeated 7-5, 6-3 by Serena Williams. The German had beaten Williams earlier that year in the Australian Open final, in which Williams was the defending champion.

Now, Kerber and Williams will meet again on Centre Court to determine who is the 2018 Wimbledon champion. Williams defeated Kerber's countrywoman, Julia Goerges, 6-2, 6-4 today in the semifinals. It was a wonderful run for Goerges, who has more or less re-invented her entire career, and who handled the biggest match of that career with poise and grit.

Because of an injury, Williams wasn't able to serve for a while, and had no serving warmups before Wimbledon. Her service speed hasn't been as fast as it it's been in the past, but her placement remains spot-on. 

Here are the players' paths to the final:

1st round--def. Vera Zvonareva
2nd round--def. Claire Liu
3rd round--def. Naomi Osaka (18)
round of 16--def. Belinda Bencic
quarterfinals--def. Daria Kasatkina (14)
semifinals--def. Alona Ostapenko (12)

1st round--def. Arantxa Rus
2nd round--def. Viktoriya Tomova
3rd round--def. Kristina Mladenovic
round of 16--def. Evgeniya Rodina
quarterfinals--def. Camila Giorgi
semifinals--def. Julia Goerges (13)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The fearless, fabulous four!

When Wimbledon began, I thought Petra Kvitova would take home a third Venus Rosewater dish. But, barring that, I was looking at Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Angie Kerber, and Alona Ostapenko as potential champions. Well, three of them are still standing. (A few weeks ago, I mentioned Julia Goerges as a dark horse, and--what do you know?).

Theoretically, Williams had the easiest job today, yet it took her three sets to defeat the hard-hitting Italian, Camila Giorgi. Giorgi was all over Williams in the opening set, winning it 6-3. But we know how this story goes: The seven-time champion found her game early in the second set, and that was pretty much that. She defeated Giorgi 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Giorgi wasn't the only hard hitter on the courts today. Two of them--Dominika Cibulkova and Alona Ostapenko--faced off in another quarterfinal. And Ostapenko, who has yet to drop a set at Wimbledon, emerged the winner, 7-5, 6-4. Ostapenko hit 33 winners and made 26 unforced errors. Her newly improved serve (it's always nice when you can tell a player has been working on weaknesses) helped her to hit five aces, too.

Close friends Kiki Bertens and Julia Goerges also played each other. Bertens lost her way a little in the second set and by the third, Goerges pulled away emphatically. Nevertheless, this has been a wonderful event for Bertens, and one in which she took out both Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova. Goerges won the match 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. The tour's ace queen hit only three of them in this match. But she hit 36 winners and made only 21 unforced errors. She also had very respectable first/second serve percentages of 72 and 68.

Finally, Dasha Kasatkina and Angie Kerber played one of the finest matches of the tournament, so far. The Russian's ballet-like athleticism and the German's rugged athleticism clashed in ways that had the crowd "oohing" and "ahhing" throughout the match. It was beautiful to watch. Kerber won 6-3, 7-5, and--toward the end of the second set--Kasatkina went all Flavia Pennetta on her opponent and saved six match points with a series of stunning shots. At one point, the Russian fell down, but it didn't stop her from keeping the ball in play.

With all the woe-are-we talk about the upsets of the top seeds, we wound up with four very fine semifinalists--three who have won majors (one of them, a lot of majors), and one who has practically re-invented her entire career. Also, there are two Germans remaining in the draw, and that hasn't occurred in London in a very long time.

Here is the semifinal draw:
Alona Ostapenko (12) vs. Angelique Kerber (11)
Julia Goerges (13) vs. Serena Williams (25)

Now, on to the doubles draw. Top seeds Timea Babos (our new world number 1) and Kiki Mladenovic are still around, as are the 3rd seeds, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. And--so is the team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova. This time last year, they were seeking a Career Slam at Wimbledon when Mattek-Sands fell and sustained a truly horrible knee injury.

The wheelchair draw is out, and top seed Diede De Groot will play Sabine Ellerbrock in the quarterfinals. In doubles, De Groot is paired with Yui Kamiji, and they are the top seeds.

Demi Schuurs didn't play women's doubles at this event, but you can bet she's still around--in mixed doubles. Schuurs and Jean-Julien Rojer have reached the quarterfinals.

Viewing the tournament this morning was so frustrating. Because one of the men's matches was held over, ESPN kept pulling away from the Cibulkova-Ostapenko match, which I really wanted to see. The problem was that it wasn't being shown on ESPN Plus. So I had the Kasatkina-Kerber match on my computer, but could watch the other match only when ESPN decided to show it to me. It was the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, but we weren't permitted to watch it all.

It's bad enough that the Wimbledon organizers put two quarterfinals on at the same time, but then ESPN makes it so that you can't watch them.

Also, someone needs to tell Chris Evert that Ostapenko won the junior Wimbledon title. She was amazed that Alona said she preferred playing on grass.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Bertens defeats Pliskova and advances to Wimbledon quarterfinals

The Charleston trophy has always served as somewhat of a good luck charm for its champions. And now that good luck (as well as a lot of hard work and great tennis) has brought together the 2018 finalists in a way we might not have anticipated: Champion Kiki Bertens and runner-up Julia Goerges will meet in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Bertens, having already defeated Venus Williams in the third round, took out 7th seed Karolina Pliskova (the last of the top 10 seeds) today in the round of 16. Bertens out-served the Czech, which isn't usually easy to do, and used all of her variety and new-found grass acumen to defeat Pliskova in straight sets.

Meanwhile, Goerges defeated Donna Vekic, also in straight sets.

In Charleston, Goerges played almost flawlessly, and seemed to be on a clear track to win the title. But she arrived very flat for the final (she later said she was really tired) and Bertens--made easy work of her. Bertens' victory was especially dramatic because, due to a rain dealy, she had to play a grueling semifinal that same day. Bertens said later that, after winning that semifinal, she was determined not to lose her last match.

The only player who needed three sets to win today was Dasha Kasatkina, who defeated Alison Van Uytvanck. Van Uytvanck got off to a very good start, winning the first set in a tiebreak, but then proceeded to make too many errors.

Dominika Cibulkova--doing pretty well without that seed--defeated Hsieh Su-wei, and Camila Giorgi defeated Ekaterina Makarova,  And then there was this:

Alona Ostapenko defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-6, 6-0. Ostapenko's serve, by the way, has improved tremendously, which makes things interesting.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams, looking like she hasn't taken even a  month off, beat Evygniya Rodina in just over an hour. And then there was 11th seed Angie Kerber, the 2016 runner-up. Kerber defeated Belinda Bencic 7-6, 6-3 in a match that was entertaining to watch. Both players wound up with good winner/unforced error ratios, and it's been nice to see Bencic back in form.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Alona Ostapenko (12)
Daria Kasatkina (14) vs. Angelique Kerber (11)
Kiki Bertens (20) vs. Julia Goerges (13)
Serena Williams (25) vs. Camila Giorgi

This is the first time that Goerges and Giorgi have ever been in a major quarterfinal.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"I hate middle Sunday" is back!

During the past few years, I stopped blogging about middle Sunday, but today, my "acknowledgement" of the dreaded day is again a thing.

I hate middle Sunday. For one thing, Sunday is a perfect day for people to relax and watch big-time tennis, but there isn't any to watch. Another reason is that, if it rains, the tournament schedule becomes even harder to manage. And then there's this: If there were play on middle Sunday, we wouldn't have to deal with the dreaded Manic Monday. Wimbledon bills Manic Monday as a glorious thing, but for viewers, it's a nightmare. We're into the business end of the tournament, when we like to believe we can watch every--or almost every--match we want to watch. But no--AELTC makes it all as frustrating as possible. At Wimbledon, that's how they roll.

So, to amuse yourself on middle Sunday, here are some things you can do:

Enjoy this song about the only mother (so far) to win Wimbledon, the great Evonne Goolagong. (Her first Wimbledon victory was the event that drew me into professional tennis.)

You can also enjoy one of my favorite Wimbledon moments of all time, Amelie Mauresmo's 2006 victory over Justine Henin:

And another of my favorites:

Take a moment to remember the lovely (and very talented) Tatiana Golovin and her sublime interpretation of the Wimbledon white rule.

Players who got in trouble for their Wimbledon outfits include Gussy Moran, Maria Bueno, Rosie Casals, and Anne White. (Designer Ted Tinling was banned from Wimbledon because he was the cause of several clothing infractions; he was especially fond of dressing up Rosebud in ways that "skirted" the rules.) And of course, there was La Divine, who was nicknamed "The French Hussy" because she showed up at Wimbledon without a corset.

And speaking of the great Maria Bueno, here is the conclusion of her first Wimbledon championship, in 1959:

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Long Tall One stands alone

Down they went, top 10 seed after top 10 seed, and today, number 1 seed Simona Halep joined them when she was upset by Hsieh Su-wei, who is a bit of an upset specialist. "Why is Hsieh not ranked higher?" (she's currently ranked no. 48) is a question that gets asked from time to time, and is probably being asked right now. She's primarily a doubles player and has won 20 doubles titles, but her bag of tricks is so impressive that, once in a while, she turns a match into a nightmare for a higher-ranked player.

That happened today, when the aggressive trickster let loose on Halep, trading huge groundstrokes with her, then confounding her with slices, drop shots, spins, and whatever came to her mind at the time. On ESPN, during the match review, Renee Stubbs was practically yelling "Come to the net!" every time Halep stood back during a rally (which was almost always). The world number 1's instincts took over, and she froze herself to the baseline. That works for her on clay much of the time, but on a quick surface, more is required. Hsieh had that "more."

This is part of what Halep had to say after the match:

I just was too negative to myself, talking too much. I was leading the match and I couldn't finish it. I'm just realistic and honest with myself. I accept that it was an unprofessional attitude from me. I am too tired. My muscles are gone. I couldn't stay focused.

I had a great year. Six months have been great, but even though the final [at the Australian Open] in Melbourne is a long time ago, all the pressure and tension is still in my body. I have pain everywhere. I am tired from everything. I’m quite relaxed about saying this. I don’t want to hide anything.

So, the world number 1 is gone, the defending champion is gone, and the two-time Wimbledon champion who I really thought was about to become a three-time champion, is gone.

Of the top ten seeds, the only one left is Karolina Pliskova, who is seeded 7th, and--considering her Wimbledon history--who would have thought it? But there are two other seeds in the draw who--though they may not have the numbers 1-10 next to their name--loom as the two most dangerous competitors remaining.

One, of course, is seven-time Wimbledon champion and all-around slayer Serena Williams. Back from maternity leave and looking fit and spot-on Serena-like, the 25th seed is looking for an eighth title, and is quite likely to get one. Her next opponent is Evgeniya Rodina, the last qualifier standing. Anything can happen (especially at this year's event!), but--assuming Williams wins her round of 16 match--next for her would be either Camila Giorgi or Ekaterina Makarova. I'm guessing it will be the Russian, and--if she stays in form--she'll present a challenge to Williams. If she stays in form. (If she beats Giorgi.)

Makarova is the mother of all big-stage players, though her results have dwindled in the last few years. But she's looking great in London, and when she's "on," she plays with a fluidity that's a pleasure to watch, and she also adds a lefty serve that has proven to be quite helpful to her.

And then there's 11th seed and 2016 runner-up Angie Kerber. Kerber is looking more and more like herself, and I do expect her to go far in this draw. Her next opponent is Belinda Bencic, who's also looking more and more like herself. If Kerber gets past the Swiss player, she'll face either Alison Van Uytvanck or 14th seed Daria Kasatkina.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Hsieh Su-wei vs. Dominika Cibulkova
Alona Ostapenko (20) vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich
Alison Van Uytvanck vs. Daria Kasatkina (14)
Angelique Kerber (11) vs. Belinda Bencic
Karolina Pliskova (7) vs. Kiki Bertens (20)
Julia Goerges (13) vs. Donna Vekic
Serena Williams (25) vs. Evgeniya Rodina
Camila Giorgi vs. Ekaterina Makarova

Cibulkova is on a roll, possibly fueled by her pique over losing her seeding. She's a much more consistent player than Hsieh, though she has more grass court skills.

Ostapenko is performing so far under the radar, she could blow down the stadium and no one would notice. Sasnovich, who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round, has made a name for herself--first, in Fed Cup, and now, at Wimbledon. If Ostapenko can keep the unforced errors down, though, it will be she who advances.

The pairing of Van Uytvanck and Kasatkina intrigues me; I don't expect it to be easy for either of them. Kasatkina, by the way, is a bit of a surprise here, given her propensity for playing on a slower court.

And that brings me to the clay-loving Kiki Bertens, who suddenly finds herself not only in the second week of Wimbledon, but as the player who knocked Venus Williams out of the tournament. Bertens' success in London doesn't appear to be "one of those things"--she's actually figured out how to play on the grass and looks pretty comfortable doing it. She has a fairly good chance, I think, of pulling an upset.

Finally, Goerges--also not known for grass court play--may have her hands full with Vekic, if the young Croatian player doesn't let the occasion get to her.

Friday, July 6, 2018

The bleeding continues on day 5

Yesterday, I mentioned some clay court specialists who were still in the Wimbldon draw, and I wondered how far they would go. Well, today, the most "clay court specialist" of all of them--Kiki Bertens--went right into the round of 16. And she did it by defeating five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. It was a long, hard-fought match, in which Bertens suddenly looked as though she does this grass thing all the time. She defeated Williams 6-2, 6-7, 8-6, winning on her third match point.

Meanwhile (literally--they were playing at the same time), seven-time champion Serena Williams had all she could handle with Kiki Mladenovic, but she persevered, 7-5, 7-6.

While these two matches were being played, thee was some very high entertainment going on on Court No. 2. I had really been looking forward to watching Julia Goerges play Barbora Strycova; it felt to me like a possible thriller in the making. I wasn't wrong, but it was really hard for me to concentrate on the match with both Williams matches going on at the same time.

I did get to see a lot of it, though, and it was a great thing to behold. The third set was epic, and featured Goerges serving for the match three times. It finally ended, after almost three hours, and--if I had the time (and I might have to find it)--I'd watch it all in replay because it was the match to watch today. This match had everything--great serving, fine shot-making, crucial breaks, and a very speedy Czech. Strycova darted all over the place, at one point, careening right into the stands, and later, crashing into the chairs and dumping Goerges' stuff all over the court.

Venus Williams wasn't the only major exit today; Madison Keys also went out. Evgeniya Rodina defeated the 10th seed 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

Also winning were Katya Makarova (def. Lucie Safarova), Donna Vekic (def. Yanina Wickmayer), Camila Giorgi (def. Katerina Siniakova), and Karolina Pliskova (def. Mihaela Buzarnescu). The Pliskova-Buzarnescu match was a bit painful to watch, in that the generally rather even Romanian had a prolonged meltdown and just couldn't summon the steady calm that she has shown for a while.

There were a few upsets in doubles today. The team of McHale/Ostapenko defeated 7th seeds Chan/Yang, Maria/Watson defeated 11th seeds Atawo/Groenefeld, and Rosolska/Spears defeated 5th seeds Chan/Peng.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Defending champion out of Wimbledon, adding to a week of chaos

This evening, the commentators spent an inordinate amount of time "discussing" her surname, while Alison Van Uytvanck spent her time confounding--and eventually defeating--Wimbledon defending champion Garbine Muguruza. The Belgian player lost the first set 5-7, but didn't bat an eye about that; she went on to win the next two sets 6-2 and 6-1.

The first two rounds of play has had our heads spinning with the upsets, and Muguruza's wasn't even the first one today. Earlier, 22nd seed and former top 10 player Jo Konta was defeated in straight sets by Dominika Cibulkova. The Slovak player missed out on being seeded and wasn't too happy about it (I can't blame her), but, as Li Na once said: "Anger is stronger than sorrrow, and anger can keep you from collapsing." Hell, yes.

Meanwhile, world number 1 Simona Halep quietly slid into the third round, as did 2016 runner-up Angie Kerber, and 12th seed Alona Ostapenko, who defeated Kirsten Flipkens in under an hour. It's going to get really interesting now (as opposed to just over-the-top dramatic). Several clay court specialists--Elise Mertens, Dasha Kasatkina, Kiki Bertens, Carla Suarez Navarro, Lucie Safarova--are still around, and one wonders how far they can go on the grass.

And--in addition to Halep, Kerber and Ostapenko--there are some other big names who are still around, like seven-time champion Serena Williams--and five-time champion Venus Williams. Also still in the mix are 7th seed Karolina Pliskova and 10th seed Madison Keys. Both Pliskova and Keys have reached major finals before; both, in fact, reached the final of the U.S. Open.

Speaking of Ostapenko--the commentators stuck verbal pins in her throughout the match, doing what commentators do worst: mind-reading. This talk was interspersed with a good dose of sexism about boys and girls and sports. It was not amusing. (Also, an anatomy lesson is badly needed--the heart is a muscle, not the brain). Meanwhile, while the commentators were finding numerous things wrong with Alona, she was wiping Flipkens off the court.

Halep and Cibulkova (who has to first get past Mertens) could meet in the round of 16. If that happens, it could be a thriller. Both players are happy to stay on the court until half past Kuznetsova, so things have the potential to get dicey.

A third-round match I'm looking forward to is the one that will be competed by Julia Goerges and Barbora Strycova. I enjoy watching both of them play.

Next for Serena is Kiki Mladenovic, who's looking good at this tournament. If Serena wins, there's a good chance she'll face Keys in the round of 16.

Some good news: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, finally back togeher, won their opening round against Lyudmyla Kichenok and Alla Kudryavtseva. Last year, Mattek-Sands and Safarova were seeking a Career Slam at Wimbledon when Mattek-Sands fell in the second round and sustained a terrible injury. A dislocated kneecap and ruptured patellar ligament caused her to undergo surgery. After a long rehab, she's back to seek another major title with her Czech partner. These two have been through a lot in the past few years.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Two former champions exit Wimbledon, and I'm not feeling so good myself

I missed some of the first set of Petra Kvitova's first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, but settled in for the rest of it. I was alarmed to see Petra breathing hard, obviously laboring under the heat, and periodically bending over in pain or discomfort. This is how we expect to see her in Flushing Meadows, but not in London.

She lost in three sets (0-6 in the third), and said afterwards that it was a case of nerves--that she wanted it too badly, her feet were heavy, her hand didn't work, etc. I believe her, but I have to wonder whether those nerves created what were obvious physical symptoms. It doesn't take much for that to happen.

On the other side of the net, things were quite different. Sasnovich played like--well, she played like Kvitova. Petra had a bit of a taste of what it's like for her opponents when she's firing on all cylinders. This happens so often in pro women's tennis: An elite player is off in some way, and this provides a sometimes super-human boost for a talented opponent.

I thought this was Petra's tournament--that she was going to add a third Venus Rosewater Dish to her collection, and I'm still stunned by what happened. It will probably take me the full two weeks to get over it.

But that wasn't all. Vitalia Diatchenko, qualifier from Russia, handed former champion Maria Sharapova her fourth first-round loss at a major, defeating her 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted over three hours.

Those two losses were such big news, it would be easy to overlook a couple of other big results from today. 6th seed Caroline Garcia also went out, to Belinda Bencic. The other seeded player (30) to lose today was Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but who can be surprised by that?

Defending champion Garbine Muguruza advanced to the second round, as did world number 1 Simona Halep, former runner-up Angie Kerber, Alona Ostapenko, and British hope Jo Konta.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Upsets, yes--but the usual suspects

The first day of Wimbledon has come and gone, and Sloane "Get Me Out of Here" Stephens is gone with it. Donna Vekic was always going to be a potential threat on grass, but she really didn't have to do anything remarkable to defeat Stephens. The U.S. Open champion/French Open runner-up/4th seed spent the entire match looking like she just didn't want to be there. Stephens played no grass warm-up tournaments, and didn't even arrive at Wimbledon until Friday. Maybe she didn't feel well--or maybe she was just being, you know, Sloaney.

Then there was 5th seed Elina Svitolina, whose tendency to crash out in majors has recently taken on an even worse turn than usual. Out in the 3rd round of the French, today, the Ukrainian made an exit in the first round. She was defeated by 57th-ranked Tatjana Maria, who does know her way around a grass court.

A few days ago, I wrote that I didn't think Coco Vandeweghe was a reliable contender for the title. She's gone, too--a victim of Katerina Siniakova. We can cut Vandeweghe a lot of slack, though; she played injured throughout the match, but still managed to drag it out for three hours. Vandeweghe took a bad spill during the match, and her ankle was troubling her quite a bit.

Three other seeds were upset today--grass specialist Magda Rybarikova, Anastasija Sevasatova and Zhang Shuai, who were defeated, respectively, by Sorana Cirstea, Camila Giorgi and Andrea Petkovic.

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova made another three-set, first-round exit, going out to Kiki Mladenovic. Grass is probably Schmiedy's most difficult surface. At least she's going three sets now.

I had trouble focusing on watching today's matches. There were too many that I wanted to watch that were being played at the same time, and my inability to settle with one took me all over the place and destroyed my concentration. Also, other things were going on. My worst "performance" today was not watching one moment of Aga Radwanska's match. Normally, I would be glued to anything featuring Radwanska, but I let this one go, only to learn that she saved six match points against Elena-Gabriela Ruse.

And speaking of Romanians--that Buzarnescu-Sabalenko match (I did get to see some of it) was a pretty good one, as far as I could tell, but--as predicted--Aryna Sabalenko was a bit drained from all of her recent match play. Mihaela Buzarnescu now has a main draw victory at Wimbledon, and who knows how far she might go? Next for her is Great Britain's Katie Swan.

The most dramatic thing that occurred today, in my opinion, was the defeat of Svetlana Kuznetsova by Barbora Strycova (7-6, 7-5), which will knock the Russian out of the top 100 for the first time since August of 2002.

Meanwhile, Serena Williams won her opening match, as did Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams, Julia Goerges, Madison Keys, and Vika Azarenka.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Wimbledon first round matches to watch

Here are some intriguing first round matches at Wimbledon:

Alize Cornet vs. Dominika Cibulkova: The unpredictable Frenchwoman will try to eliminate the hard-hitting, not-too-happy-these days Cibulkova. The Slovak lost her seeding because of the decision to seed Serena Williams as number 25, and she has been clear about her disagreement with that move. Cibulkova is not one to hold back (which I like), though sometimes, what comes out of her mouth (I'm talking about her nastiness toward Sharapova here) can be totally uncalled for.

But in this case, I wish fans and media would cut her some slack. While I stand by the decision to seed Serena, I can't imagine any player who loses her seeding because of that not feeling upset. At any rate, there's some built-in drama now, and of course, Cornet loves some drama. It could be a very straightforward thing--or not.

Heather Watson vs. Kirsten Flipkens: Watson, whose star has been eclipsed by that of Jo Konta's, is nevertheless a player who has been known to do well at Wimbledon. Flipkens is especially good on grass. I think we could see some good tennis here.

Angie Kerber vs. Vera Zvonareva: Zvonareva is back and through qualifying, but the tennis gods didn't want to make it easy for her. It's hard to imagine that she can get past Kerber, but it might be a nice match to watch--just to see Vera again.

Monica Niculescu vs. Naomi Osaka: Niculescu vs. Anybody is always a good match to watch, especially on a big stage, where the Romanian tends to get show-offy, sometimes in a deadly way.

Aryna Sabalenka vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu: Well, this is the one. It feels so unfair that these two have to meet in the first round. Buzarnescu is arguably the hottest non-elite player on the tour right now, and Sabalenka just showed the world what she can do on grass. What a shame that one of them will have to leave so early. Sabalenka, who made it all the way to the final in Eastbourne, may be a bit tired, which could affect the outcome.

Julia Goerges vs. Monica Puig: Goerges is best known for her clay and hard court play, but now that she's so much more consistent with that big serve of hers, she can probably do some damage on grass. Puig is a talented player whose inconsistency is puzzling. If they both show up in form, this could be a great match.

Donna Vekic vs. Sloane Stephens: This will be all about Stephens. If she shows up in form, that will be that. But if she doesn't, Vekic is just the kind of player who could make it hard for the U.S. Open champion to maneuver on grasss.

Crashing the lawn party

A few days ago, I wrote about the women who are likely (and a few not as likely) to contend for the Venus Rosewater Dish. Today, I want to look at the women who can make life miserable for some of those contenders. There aren't nearly as many grass court specialists as there are clay court specialists, but there are a few. Also, there are some players who are dangerous on all surfaces.

Magda Rybarikova
She is a grass court specialist. The Slovak player made it to the semifials last year, and could cause problems for those in her draw.

Coco Vandeweghe
I mentioned Vandeweghe in my other post, but I do look upon her more as a trouble-maker than a contender, at this point. I could be wrong. At any rate, she's capable of doing some big damage.

Aryna Sabalenka
Her performance in Eastbourne this week made it obvious that she's ready for Wimbledon.

Ash Barty
Barty's game is looking more stable, and she'll feel at home on Wimbledon's lawns. 

Genie Bouchard
She could get it all back. What if she does it next week?

Kirsten Flipkens
When she's "on," she tends to be "on" on grass.

Maria Sakkari
I now consider the Greek upstart a danger on all surfaces. She made it to the third round last year, and could do even better this year.

Aga Radwanska
She's back, and she's looking good. The 2012 runner-up loves the grass, and she's still capable of driving her opponents absolutely crazy.

There are others who, of course, will surprise us--some of them are known for their clay expertise. Julia Goerges, Andrea Petkovic and Caroline Garcia (who made it to the fourth round last year) could all make good runs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Strawberries, grass, white dresses, and tone-deaf organizers--it's almost here!

Having just recovered from the drama of my favorite major, I now must prepare for the drama of my least favorite major. Wimbledon is almost here, whether I like it or not. I do like the looking at the lawns, at least for the first few days.

The powers that run the tournament have decided to seed Serena Williams as number 25. Whatever they decided would probably have upset people, and--in the end--does it really matter? Williams, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, wasn't really ready for the French Open, but fans have reason to believe that she's more than ready for the grass.

Another player who's ready is 8th seed and two-time champion Petra Kvitova. The Barking Czech has stormed through the 2018 season, winning five titles and generally looking as scary as she ever has. I thought she would do better at the French Open, since her clay season was excellent, and while she lost a very tight match in the third round to a very tough clay opponent--Anett Kontaveit--I was nevertheless surprised.

But this is grass, where Kvitova always feels at home. The bad news is that she withdrew from Eastbourne on today with a hamstring injury which she first noticed during her championship run in Birmingham the week before. The good news is that she has some time to tend to that injury.

Aside from Kvitova and Williams, are there other players who can contend for the Wimbledon championship? There are:

First, there's the defending champion, Garbine Muguruza, who is seeded 3rd, and who--as we all know--could romp through the entire draw, or crash out in the second round. There's simply no predicting the mercurial Spaniard, but if anyone could defend a big title, it's Muguruza.

Anyone else? I'm going to throw a couple more names into the mix. The first one is 11th seed Angie Kerber, who was the finalist in 2016, which was pretty much the Year of Kerber. The German's fortunes haven't been as good since that year, but lately, she's looked pretty good, and I think it's only fair to include her as a contender.

My other name is Alona Ostapenko. The 2017 French Open champion and former junior Wimbledon champion isn't very happy with her performance at Roland Garros this year. She has also changed coaches. And while this combination of occurrences might sound like a recipe for instability with any other player, it very likely isn't for the woman that Todd Spiker calls Latvian Thunder.

Ostapenko gets past negative emotions pretty well. The dancing upstart lets emotions out quickly and moves on quickly. Her fast, hard hitting can get her into trouble when she does what I call the "early Kvitova" routine. But it also blows a lot of opponents off of the court. And she's won a major and knows what it feels like to advance through seven big-stage matches.

I know that 2017 runner-up Venus Williams is a favorite among many fans. Her performances last year (finalist at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon) were astounding. And while that kind of thing could happen again on her best surface--she's won Wimbledon five times--I don't consider her as likely to win the event as I do others.

And what about world number 1 Simona Halep? I think her chances will be better at the U.S. Open, but--having taken a great load off of her back--nothing would surprise me, either. The same goes for Caroline Wozniacki--we don't think of her as a potential Wimbledon champion, but now that she has a major win and and a game that just keeps improving, we can never count her out.

Elina Svitolina has yet to show us that she can do well in majors, and grass is probably the last surface on which we'd expect her to break through, but stranger things have happened. Coco Vandeweghe has the game, but if she isn't playing in a Fed Cup competition, she can't be counted on to have the mental focus necessary to win.

Madison Keys has the game, but can she make her biggest breakthrough in London? I don't know. And then there's Sloane Stephens, who is now officially scary everywhere she goes. But she's also Sloane, and it just isn't like her to make two really deep runs in succession.

I wish I could say that there's Maria Sharapova, but the 2004 champion--while playing at a better level as the season progresses--doesn't appear to have reached the level that took her to five major championships.

I'll mention Karolina Pliskova, whose game has been uneven as of late. But the big-hitting Czech is certainly someone we'll all be watching. And finally, Jo Konta appears to be coming alive on grass after having had some rough months on the tour. It's her home tournament, and with the right draw, she could make her countrywomen and -men very proud.