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.

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