June 28, 2009

A Day of Rest

As is tradition at the All England Club, today, the first Sunday during the Wimbledon fortnight, is not meant to be a day of battle. So at this halfway point I've decided to sit back and reflect on the biggest matches of the past few days and speculate on what's just ahead.

The Surprises

Now I have to admit I didn't expect either Ana Ivanovic or Gilles Simon to make the second week at Wimbledon -- I'd even called for Simon to be upset early and quickly by American Robert Kendrick. Yet somehow, round after round, they've been able to advance, with Ana suggesting she's playing the best tennis of her career.

Former #1 and last year's French Open champ hasn't exactly been having a banner 2009. She made early exits at Miami and Eastbourne and was stoped in her Roland Garros title defense by a strong Victoria Azarenka. She's seen her ranking drop to twelfth in the world and commands an even lower seed in the Wimbledon draw.

But so far at the All England Club, we're seeing signs of the old Ana. Though she lost her very first set to Lucie Hradecka, she quickly rebounded and even survived a long third set, which lasted nearly an hour. Since then, however, she made quick work of strong players like Sara Errani and even this year's French Open standout Samantha Stosur. Her next test, Venus Williams, will clearly be her toughest, but if she plays her best she may be able to pull off the upset.

Simon too had been having a tough year. Though he's largely maintained the ranking he began the year with, he's failed to impress me in recent weeks. He's been defeated by some surprising players -- #44 Mikhail Youzhny at Queen's Club, #54 Ivan Ljubicic in Madrid, #76 Mischa Zverev in Rome -- just to name a few.

But this week he only got behind briefly to Brazil's Thiago Alves and avenged his Roland Garros loss to Victor Hanescu in three easy sets. Next up for him is Juan Carlos Ferrero who's launching his own comeback of sorts. The former #1 was impressive at Queen's Club and even won a title in Casablanca, helping him rebound from his lowest ranking in years. If Simon can get past him he'll mark his best Wimbledon appearance and get himself back on track for the year.

The BIG Surprises

Of course these performances more examples of living up to expectations. There have clearly been some more stunning results.

Fresh off her huge victory at Roland Garros, Svetlana Kuznetsova came to London having one of her best years in quite a while. Yet despite her #5 ranking and two championship titles this year, she couldn't have felt too confident playing on her worst surface. Less than two weeks ago she lost in the first round of Eastbourne against Aleksandra Wozniak and she was taken to a tie break in her opening match here against Akiko Morigami.

Even still no one expected her to lose in the third round to German teenager Sabine Lisicki. While the match was somewhat shaky -- both women traded breaks in the first set and Lisicki lost her serve when she had the chance to take the match -- it was clearly one of the biggest wins in the forty-first ranked player's career. Though she'd beaten Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki on her way to her first title in Charleston, she's never made it past the third round at any Grand Slam -- even losing in the first round at the French. She'll have to win again against Caroline if she wants to move forward, but at least she knows that it's a challenge well within her reach.

Ivo Karlovic is another player you might be surprised to see in the fourth round -- but all evidence suggests you shouldn't be. Though the thirty-sixth ranked Croat has been sent home after just one match for the past four years, he's probably one of the most intimidating players in the draw. At 6'10" he's got a bullet of a serve, averaging 141 miles per hour, and has notched more than a hundred aces in his first three matches.

In spite of his size and strength though, he hasn't had the easiest road to the second week. In his third round match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he didn't allow the Frenchman one opportunity to break him, but he also had trouble converting on his own. Three of the four sets went to tiebreaks, none of which were runaways. Ivo was able to earn the one break of the match in the third set, and thankfully for him that was all he needed. After nearly three hours he sent home the ninth seed and matched his best Major appearance. If he wants to continue he still has to get past Fernando Verdasco, a man he has managed to beat twice. But in what will surely be a battle of big servers, this match-up will surely be one to watch.

The Downright Shocker

The most amazing performance of the Championships so far, though, has to have come from a young American who's making her Wimbledon debut.

Seventeen-year-old Melanie Oudin had to make in through three qualifying rounds -- even faced a match point in the second set against her first opponent -- to make the main draw at the All England Club. She was rewarded by an opening round match-up with twenty-ninth seed Sybille Bammer. But her best performance was clearly against world #6 Jelena Jankovic in the third round.

It's not that I expected Jankovic, who's been struggling herself this year, to advance much farther in the tournament, but I didn't think she'd lose to the 124th ranked player in such dramatic style. Oudin came back from a one-set deficit after losing a tight tiebreak and waited out a thirteen-minute medical timeout to earn the biggest win of her young career. Though she's played some strong Fed Cup matches and even won a handful of challenger tournaments, the second week of a Major was certainly not yet on her radar. It is now.

I just hope that all the attention and press she's gotten over the last twenty-four hours doesn't unnerve her. She's got a decent chance to win her next match against Aggie Radwanska as long as she stays focus and isn't distracted by her new-found glory.

I wish her the best!

Still to Come

There are of course other matches that will be attracting all our eyes, especially on Monday when all thirty-two remaining singles players will be in action.

Roger Federer and Robin Soderling will reprise their French Open final and, I think, with pretty much the same result. While Soderling is much stronger on grass than on clay, I can't imagine Roger bowing out quite yet.

Andy Roddick's match against Tomas Berdych could also get interesting -- I don't think a lot of people have paid much attention to the twentieth seed, even as he's easily progressed through the draw. Roddick will probably prevail, but there's no reason this match couldn't go four or five long sets.

On the women's side I'll be watching the all Russian pairing of two Elenas -- Dementieva and Vesnina. The fourth seed has been impressive in her first three matches, dropping only twelve games, and this after what must have been a long and frustrating spring. A win on Monday, I hope, will propel her well into the second week.

And of course top seed Dinara Safina will face former champion Amelie Mauresmo. If there's any match that could produce an upset tomorrow, I think this will be it. Dinara's played a couple of close sets and she hasn't been spectacular enough this tournament to make us take notice of her. And Mauresmo is a powerhouse -- she could easily advance at least one more round.

It's going to be an exciting Monday at the All England Club, as it always is -- and I can't wait to watch it!

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