Monday, July 2, 2012

Wimbledon triumph for Maria....

Maria Kirilenko, that is. The can't-quite-meet-her potential Russian Maria with the lovely all-court game advanced to her first Wimbledon quarterfinal today by defeating Peng Shuai 6-1, 6-7, 6-3. However, the "other" Maria--Maria Sharapova--was bundled out the tournament by an extremely in-form Sabine Lisicki. Last year, Sharapova beat Lisicki (who was playing as a wild card) in straight sets in the semifinals. Today, the German returned the favor, beating the world number 1 6-4, 6-3--the exact scoreline from last year, but with the winner reversed.

When Lisicki is really on, she takes control of most points. Today, anything Sharapova did, Lisicki did better. The final point was a microcosm of the match: Sharapova saved two match points, then Lisicki hit a second serve ace to advance to the next round.

Lisicki's next opponent will be countrywoman Angelique Kerber, whom she has never beaten. Kerber rolled over Kim Clijsters in the round of 16 like a lawn machine rolling over a Wimbledon court. The German got 77% of her first serves in, and had first and second serve percentage wins of 81 and 75. She beat Clijsters 6-1, 6-1 in just 49 minutes. Lisicki is the flashier player of the two Germans, but Kerber is the more consistent. The quarterfinal match might be good.

Kirilenko, the winning Maria, will face 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the next round. The 3rd seed put an efficient end to the run of a very nervous Camila Giorgi. Giorgi made 30 unforced errors; Radwanska made six. Radwanska has never gotten beyond the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and now she has a chance to improve her record. I'm really looking forward to the quarterfinal match because I really like watching both of these players and admire the way they maneuver their opponents on the court. I find both their games a real pleasure to watch.

Both Tamira Paszek and Victoria Azarenka won their matches easily. For Paszek, it must have felt strange, since her specialty is coming back dramatically from near-defeat. Today, she defeated Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-2. Azarenka defeated Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-0, and that about says it all. The world number 2 will play Paszek in the semifinals.

Things weren't as easy for Serena Williams. She took the first set against Yaroslava Shvedova--6-1, in 26 minutes. I had the feeling, though, that things were about to change, and I was right. Shvedova pulled herself together in between sets and won the second set 6-2. At 4-all in the second, Shvedova served at 0-40 and saved three break points. At 5-all, though, Willliams broke. Serving at 6-5, she hit possibly the best shot of the day to arrive at match point, which she immediately turned into a victory.

Today's match was the second in a row in which Williams was seriously challenged. Her next challenge will come from defending champion Petra Kvitova, who put herself through a small hell in order to win her round of 16 contest against Francesca Schiavone. It helped that Schiavone found it hellish, too. The Italian star, who has been quick to fly off the handle all season, was upset that the match was not suspended when rain began to fall. She tried to explain to the umpire--who said she would stop the match if Schiavone slipped on the grass--that she was also worried about the slippery nature of the ball. She didn't get her way, though, later, there was enough rain to cause a suspension.

For her part, Kvitova displayed the sloppiness she has shown all season, even giving away set point in the first set by slamming a ball into the net when she had an open court. After she lost that set 4-6, she continued to struggle in the second set, which she finally won, 7-5. Schiavone was pretty much unglued by the third set, and Kvitova also found her game, and took the set 6-1. And as talented and tough as the Italian is, playing Serena Williams in the quarterfinals will be an entirely different matter. Kvitova needs to eat the pineapple and stop the thinking.

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