June 27, 2010

Time-Out: Middle Sunday Reassessment

After one of the most amazing weeks in tennis history, we're just about at the halfway mark of the Wimbledon fortnight. As usual, some things have played out according to plan, while some surprises continue to rock the draws. But with only sixteen players left both on the men's and women's side, all of the top seeds are still alive, and a few look good to go farther than they have before. And with just two rounds left before the final four are decided, the best, if you can believe it, is still to come.

The Men

Roger Federer has actually gotten better over the week, having survived a big scare in the first round and almost getting pushed to a fifth set in the second. But his biggest threats have also made it through their challenges, and both Jurgen Melzer and Tomas Berdych still loom large in coming matches. They've both fried some big fish this year -- Berdych even beating Federer handily in Miami -- so this is no time to rest if he's going to resurrect that semifinal steak.

Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, has had to struggle a bit more in more recent rounds, coming back from two sets to one down against both Robin Hasse and Philipp Petzschner. He might get a bit of a reprieve against Paul-Henri Mathieu, the man who beat the man who beat the man who made history on Thursday. More worrisome for my forecast are the two other men battling for that next spot in the semis -- David Ferrer has exceeded my expectations for him and Robin Soderling continues to improve year-by-year. Rafa will need to get his game back in check if he's going to reclaim the crown.

The third section of the men's bracket promised to hold more than a few surprises, but so far the biggest has been the ascent of Yen-Hsun Lu, who's made the first Major fourth round of his nine-year career. And though his progress has been impressive, he'll unfortunately meet Andy Roddick, last year's runner-up, next and seeing as how he hasn't met a seeded player yet this tournament, Lu's chances to go farther are slim. Just as intimidating are the two other men left in the quarter -- third seed Novak Djokovic and 2002 champ Lleyton Hewitt. Though I'm pleasantly surprised that Nole's made it so far, I have to admit that Hewitt has been even more solid this week, with only one hiccup in the first round. If he faces Roddick in the quarters it could be a good fight, and I would love for the American to disprove my forecast for this quarter.

The final section for the gentlemen has proven to be just as contentious as I predicted. Fourth-seeded Andy Murray has advanced easily while his three remaining colleagues have all progressed without facing another seeded player. His next match-up with Sam Querrey, the man who replaced him as the champion at Queen's Club, could be a battle and I know I'm calling for a big upset, but I still think it's possible the American makes it through -- if only to avenge the loss of his friend.

The Women

Defending ladies' champion Serena Williams has been unstoppable, only dropping serve once in her first three matches. She's set up a rematch of the 2004 title round with Maria Sharapova, in which she was definitively beaten by the rising star. And while I predicted the Russian would once again be victorious, I doubt it will be such a one-sided win if it happens this time around. But it's been more than two years since these two have met, so anything truly can happen.

Venus Williams has been just as impressive as her sister in the last week, but her section has had a few more upsets than the first. Tsvetana Pironkova has notched her best-ever Slam appearance, as has Jarmila Groth, who took out thirty-third seed Melanie Oudin in the second round. It looks good that we'll see another final rematch in the quarters, with Venus taking on the woman she beat to claim the 2007 crown, Marion Bartoli, and I stand by my original call for the five-time champ to once again prevail.

If you thought the second quarter was full of upsets, that's nothing compared to the third. Caroline Wozniacki has again made it through, once again reassuring me of her mental and physical ability, but she's the only seed to have survived. Petra Kvitova took out Jie Zheng and Eastbourne runner-up Victoria Azarenka, Klara Zakopalova ousted Madrid champ Aravane Rezai and tenth seed Flavia Pennetta, and qualifier Kaia Kanepi stunned everyone when she dismissed Roland Garros finalist Sam Stosur in the first round. I'd said this quarter was wide open, and stand by that prediction -- I see no reason why Kanepi or Klara won't shock us all by making the semis.

Then there was the super-stacked quarter which, not surprisingly, only the strong survived. Jelena Jankovic continues to look good while former top-ten player Vera Zvonareva is making the case for her return to the elite. But the real story is that of the Belgians, with Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters earning the right to meet for the third time this year. Kim has won both matches since they returned from retirement, but Henin's come to the All England Club with a mission -- twice a runner-up and three times a semifinalist, she's made it her goal to win. Given her amazing handling of Nadia Petrova in the previous round, I still think she'll be the one to survive this section.

We're less than a week away from crowning the newest -- or maybe not so new -- champions at Wimbledon, and with so much talent left, it sure looks like we're in for an exciting couple of rounds. If you can believe it, there's still a chance for more magic on the court, more surprises to come, and even more history to be made.

So stay tuned -- we've only just begun!

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