Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sharapova gets a lesson in German engineering

Aga Radwanska may be gone from Wimbledon, but the now-famous "Radwanska squat shot" lived on today in Germany's Angelique Kerber (we've seen it from Alize Cornet, too), who squatted, stretched, ran, and generally gutted her way to a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champion--the one who got "lucky" when Serena Williams dropped out of her quarter of the draw.

Luck will take you only so far, and while Sharapova put up a mighty fight, saving six match points, she couldn't hit accurately enough to save seven. For her part, Kerber played perhaps the match of her career, making only eleven unforced errors in the entire 2-hour and 47-minute slugging exhibition. Kerber was everywhere, changing the direction of the ball on the turn of something even thinner than a dime, and never allowing Sharapova's almost super-human will to break her down.

The German star hit "only" 27 winners to Sharapova's 57, but Sharapova made 49 unforced errors, and that was her undoing.

From the beginning, Kerber showed a strong mentality. Leading 5-3 in the opening set, she was broken and had to go all the way to a tiebreak to claim the set. No problem. She dropped the second set. No problem. This isn't necessarily a familiar Kerber. The German tends to get down when things are tight, but today, she seemed to get only more confident. And if you're going to try out a new attitude, who better to test it against than Sharapova, the queen of "never give up."

"Slugfests" don't generally interest me too much, but there was something about this one that I found oddly compelling. The third set was compelling, no matter what one's personal tennis tastes are. Kerber raced to a 3-0 lead, but Sharapova pushed the score to 2-5, and saved a match point on her own serve with a ball that just clipped the line. She broke Kerber when the German served for the match at 5-3, then saved five more match points on her own serve. At this point, there seemed to be a freeze on the entity we know as time, while Sharapova found the will to survive again and again.

But Kerber never let up. She was fast, flexible, reliable, and also able to stop and start when she needed to. There was no sputtering or sign of breakdown.

It was also around this time that ESPN commentators Mary Joe Fernandez and Cliff Drysdale were editing their already-composed eulogy for Kerber. What a shame, they were saying--in various phrasing--that Kerber worked so hard and played so well, only to wind up losing to the mighty Maria. When it was over, and Sharapova had hit a ball out to give Kerber the match on her seventh match point, Fernandez and Drysdale didn't seem to even notice.

Hello, Mary Joe and Cliffie! Maria lost. Just in case you haven't figured it out yet.

But that wasn't the only match played today. Simona Halep, the only one of the top four seeds left standing, quickly dispatched Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-0, and advanced to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time in her career. Halep practically doesn't exist to the commentators, and that may be just the way she likes it.

2013 runner-up Sabine Lisicki moved the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win over Yaroslava Shvedova. Lisicki had some shoulder problems, however, and had to be treated.

The schedule is, of course, off, because of rain delays. But playing successful catch-up was Lucie Safarova, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-1 to advance to the semifinals! And Makarova's lackluster performance, which followed her brilliant performance in the round of 16, answers our always-frustrating question: Why isn't she ranked higher?

The bottom half of the quarterfinal draw could have been called the "Czech half," for having three Czech players in it, or it could just as well have been called the "lefty half," for having three left-handed players in it. 

Top seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Mike Bryan lost their second round mixed doubles match to Oksana Kalashnikova and Chris Guccione.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, finishing a match that started yesterday, saved five match points and defeated Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok in the second round of doubles. And Kristina Barrois and Stefanie Voegle advanced to the third round when their opponents, the Williams sisters, retired after playing just three games.

Serena's blood pressure was checked right before the match. The younger Williams sister had already acknowledged that she felt faint, she cried for a while, but she chose to play. Serena had difficulty bouncing and catching the ball for her serve, and then could not serve. Most of her attempts hit the net, a few went outside the court. There appeared to be some kind of left/right confusion going on, as well as general weakness, and it was scary to watch. According to Wimbledon officials, she has a viral illness.


Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, it was interesting/humorous/aggravating to listen to Drysdale/MJF during that match go from essentially handing Sharapova the trophy to actually calling the match that was playing out in front of them.

Sure, Sharapova could have won this tournament, but that they were acting as if she was the definitive "favorite" to win the title before the match is one of big problems with ESPN's coverage: too often the commentators have no idea what is going on in the sport, or they think the audience is so casual that no one knows more than two or three of the players, so they have to dub them the favorite to win, then act stunned and amazed when they lose (Kyrgios def. Nadal is another example today... a big result, but not stunning on grass). Drysdale was reading off Kerber's bio as if no one had ever heard of her before.

Before the match, you'd have thought that the only people left in the to half with Sharapova were amateur weekend players, since neither Drysdale nor MJF could see anyone beating her. Ummm, Kerber was always capable if she didn't implode down the stretch (for a point or two, there was a LITTLE question), and the same was surely true with Bouchard and Lisicki, too. And, of course, there's Halep, who apparently everyone at ESPN missed the news about her winning a grass title last year. Apparently, none of them counted, though. Well, until Kerber did.

And, really, if Kvitova is on form, she was the true favorite going into today anyway. Granted, one never knows with her, but still... at Wimbledon, she's been at her most consistent.

Eric said...

Halep is getting the Dementieva treatment.

Eric said...

The Czech, Lefty, Ova half. LOL

Eric said...

I honestly thought that Shazza was going to take out Serena in the QFs...so that we could a trivia stat -- Maria beats Serena in years that end in 4 and at Wimbledon. SIlly, I know....

Jim Lumpkin said...

The likes of Cliffie and MJF are what have driven me to Eurosport to watch tennis. There, the Brits reign objectively reporting, not massaging their chauvinism and kneeling to the corporate make-believe gods. If Americans want clean, unbiased reporting, they could try Jim Courier and Johnny Mac more often. At least they are interesting. Tracy Austin is not that great either, working too hard to sound erudite and missing the point too often.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing. The media will never like Halep or Kvitova. They are not viewed as 'hotties,' and both are neither impressed by nor crave the media.
Halep committed the unpardonable crime of having breast reduction surgery. Kvitova committed the crime of not winning everything is sight after her first big year, but even then, they do not really like her. The media's ignorance leads to their loss. Both are women of high personal integrity, happy, nice and preternaturally talented. Most writers can only dream of having those traits. Dare I utter the word 'envy.' After all, we are only equal under the law, as it should be. These girls are unequal on and off the court, going against the irrational and vicious pragmatic egalitarianism that suffuses world culture today.

Diane said...

I dislike Jim Courier so much as a commentator, I would actually rather listen to Tracy Austin :). Sorry--I can't tolerate Courier's constant, embarrassing attempts at "humor." On the plus side, someone must have gotten to him because he has cut out the world-class sexism this year. He does not like women.

This Maria-is-winning! when she's actually losing thing has happened before; I've written about it before. MJF is a repeat offender, and so is Drysdale (who I believe knows little or nothing about the WTA). It was so ridiculous today that my jaw probably dropped. There is absolutely no excuse for it and it's insulting to Kerber.

Diane said...

Eric, for what it's worth, I thought Maria was likely to beat Serena, too. But I certainly didn't think she was "safe" with Kerber. When Kerber keeps her head on straight, she can be lethal.

Doug said...

I know little about Courier. I do know that I don't like any of the American commenters. And I like the WTA tour far more than the ATP tour. The men's game has become prosaic, primarily endless topspun shots until somebody finally flinches and misses or doesn't get back to the center and gets passed. A lot greater variety of shots and tactics among the women. No bs male bluster; only a few shriekers who should shut up. Tolerable, but barely.

Todd.Spiker said...

I've never particular liked Courier, but I think some of that goes back to when he was a player. I didn't like him them, and I've never quite gotten over it. I think there's always been something condescending in his delivery, but he had improved on that a bit the last time time I heard him.

McEnroe said the other day that he'd picked Bouchard to win the tournament before it began, so at least we know there was someone at ESPN that saw beyond just a few names in the draw. ;)

Dougy said...

I've pondered it a bit. The "squat shot" allows a two hander to swing the racquet through the most comfortable height with reference to the waist. The two hander is weak unless the frame stays close to its optimum path. A one-hander is far more adaptable to different ball heights. So, to return a low ball with some pace, the player squats to hit the shot. Some, like Kvitova just do a deep knee bend. Then again, she is not a woman in a desperate search for power; she has it in spades.

Diane said...

Exactly, and a good tactic on a low-bouncing court--for the "not tall" players. Squatting is a pretty natural movement for a fit female, and an advantage for one who is lower to the ground to begin with.

Anonymous said...

So glad Kerber won!! Hoping for a speedy recovery for Serena. Would love for her to win the US Open, get her 18th major. But if not, there's always next year.

sunny nine said...

I don't think I would call the Kerber/Sharapova match a slugfest. It was much more thought out by the players than just slugging the ball. They used the whole court, changed directions and looked for opportunities. Just because the shots were often flat and hard doesn't mean it is a slugfest. Also, I feel that everyone here is dissing Sharapova because the commentators had her winning. All I am saying is that both women put on a hell of a match worthy of center court and the appreciation they were given. So I think they should both be given a shout-out. It is good to see Kerber's back is better as it is often a problem. She seemed to play with such freedom. Sharapova was pushed to run a lot more and was often up to the task of what was asked of her with regard to her movement. Like I said I was thoroughly intrigued by intelligent hitting and dogged determinism of both women. Sharapova never had herself automatically winning here.

And yes, Halep is flying under the radar-no one has really talked about her or recognized her abilities. On that alone I wish she or some other under-appreciated person would win the whole thing. What a Lucie-Simona final-people wouldn't know what to do. :)

Diane said...

I don't think anyone is criticizing Maria. She was great. It's the ESPN commentators who are shameful.