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:

ANGIE KERBER (11)
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)

SERENA WILLIAMS (25)
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.