July 1, 2009

The Quest to Shake Things Up

The four men left in the singles draw at Wimbledon have fifteen Grand Slam trophies between them -- the four remaining women have seventeen. Of course all that metal is concentrated on just a few mantles. Roger Federer, of course, has the lion's share with fourteen and Serena Williams follows closely with ten of her own. Poor Andy Roddick only has the one trophy he received at the 2003 U.S. Open.

But more so than in years past, this looks like the year in which someone new can take home their very first championship crown.

Dinara Safina certainly wants it -- she's ranked #1 in the world and has played in the last two Major finals, losing in straight sets both times. But Dinara's shown some signs of weakness in her recent matches, getting behind a set to Amelie Mauresmo and, more disturbingly for her, to unseeded Sabine Lisicki. Though she did manage to pull off a win over her semifinal opponent, Venus Williams, in Rome a few months ago, there's been a lot said about her inability to perform on the big stage -- and there's nothing bigger than facing the five-time defending champ on Centre Court.

No, I believe the woman with the best hope to force a non-Williams final is the fourth ranked Elena Dementieva -- and not just because she's my personal favorite. After starting the year with a bang, though, Elena has had a tough spring -- she lost in early rounds all season on clay and in her second match at Eastbourne. I actually thought she had a pretty rough draw at Wimbledon, facing Alla Kudryavtseva, who reached the fourth round here last year, and Strasbourg champ Aravane Rezai right off the bat.

But for the past ten days Dementieva has played nearly perfect tennis, never having dropped a set and spending barely an hour on court per match. And she's done so quietly -- I don't think I've seen coverage of a single one of her matches on the major channels. Plus she has the advantage of knowing she can beat Serena -- Elena has a respectable 3-5 record against the second seed, having won matches at last year's Olympics and in Sydney this past January. It won't be an easy task to score the upset on Centre Court, especially as the younger Williams has been equally impressive, but I won't count her out quite yet.

On the men's side all talk is over Andy Murray who is the obvious hometown favorite, and often the critics' choice, in his quest to capture his first Grand Slam trophy. By I just can't bring myself to root for him.

While of course I am cheering for the other Andy -- Roddick -- to send home the Scot, I'm also hoping world #34 Tommy Haas is able to score a career-changing win over Roger Federer on Friday. Haas won his twelfth career tournament a few weeks back in Halle after more than two years without a title and is clearly out to work his way back into the tennis elite.

I began to develop a tiny crush on the gorgeous German when, after his retired match with Michael Llodra, he played a pick-up game with a lucky ball boy. And since then he's more than proved his mettle, surviving a sleepover match against Marin Cilic and earlier today outmatching fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic -- incidentally, the runner-up at Halle -- in his quarterfinal match.

Tommy hasn't defeated Roger since the 2002 Australian Open when the Swiss giant was ranked a middling twelfth in the world, but he certainly put up a fight last month in Roland Garros by running off to a two-set lead in the fourth round. There is certainly momentum on the side of both players, and if we've learned anything this year, it's that no one is unbeatable.

Besides, I wouldn't mind having my dear Pete Sampras share his spot in the record books a bit longer.

So here's to a little bit of excitement in the last few days of this great tournament! I mean, how much fun is it when everything goes as planned?!

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