June 29, 2009

Sneaking Into The Home Stretch

There are only sixteen players left in the singles draw after today's electric fourth round at Wimbledon -- some you'd expect to see and others' names you may have forgotten long ago. And on both the men's and women's sides there are a couple who have gotten to this point with very little fanfare.

Former world #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero is a wildcard in his ninth appearance at the All England Club, and he's very quietly made it to the quarterfinals for the second time. He's had an up-and-down year so far, falling out of the top 100 for a few weeks here and there, but also taking home the trophy in Casablanca -- his first title since 2003! But in London he's beaten four players ranked higher than him, including fan favorite Fabrice Santoro and eighth seed Gilles Simon who, frankly, I didn't expect to make it as far as he did. Next up he's got Andy Murray, who played an amazing match today under the shiny new roof on Centre Court. Juan Carlos lost their only previous meeting a few weeks ago at Queen's Club, but if he can elevate his play to its former level he could stand a chance -- though I don't think he'll be able to do so quite as anonymously as he has so far this tournament!

In the women's bracket it's easy to have missed the ascendancy of Francesca Schiavone. The lowest ranked player still left in that draw hasn't beaten any big names yet, but she has managed to upset three seeded players plus Michelle Larcher De Brito, a Portuguese teenager who had her breakout performance last month at Roland Garros. Schiavone has suffered a couple of early-round losses this year, but did manage a semifinal appearance at 's-Hertogenbosch, where she beat fifth seed Alona Bondarenko. Her win today earns her the right to meet Elena Dementieva, who's playing some of her best tennis at Wimbledon, but the two have evenly split their previous eight meetings. Schiavone has already notched her best appearance at Wimbledon -- one more win would send her to a Grand Slam semi for the first time in her career.

With all the attention being concentrated on a handful of big names and a few small Goliath-killers, both Ferrero and Schiavone might be grateful that they haven't had to deal with too much media pressure -- look what it did to poor Melanie Oudin! But in the last few days of Wimbledon, there's no more hope of avoiding the spotlight. Can't wait to see if these guys do as well on the big stage!

Good luck to them!

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