June 26, 2011

A Day to Reflect

There is traditionally no play scheduled for the middle Sunday of the Wimbledon fortnight, and after all the rain-delayed and interrupted matches last week, it's kind of amazing the tournament was able to stick to that scheduled. And the athletes, many of whom didn't get the usual day between rounds to recuperate due to the weather, must have appreciated the respite.

But with all round of sixteen matches set for tomorrow, the stakes only get higher when the weekend ends -- and a couple players who didn't expect to be around in Week Two have a lot to think about.

Little-known Czech Petra Cetkovska has been pro for more than a decade, but has never made much of an impact outside the ITF tournaments. Ranked just outside the top eighty, the twenty-six year old came to her third Wimbledon without ever having won a match here -- in fact she's only made it out of the opener of a Grand Slam twice. But she seems to have come to the All England Club with a mission.

After battling past a suddenly-improved Kristina Barrois, she pulled off an impressive comeback to take out thirteenth seed Aggie Radwanska in the second round. She followed up that win by devastating former #1 Ana Ivanovic on Saturday, winning eighty-five percent of her first serves and never allowing the Serb an opportunity to break. Cetkovska has now matched her best performance at a Major and has a decent chance of improving further -- though she next faces my dark horse Sabine Lisicki, if she plays up to potential, she's certainly capable of causing another upset.

In the other half of the women's draw, young Tamira Paszek has finally started to live up to her potential again. Twice a Grand Slam runner-up as a Junior, she made a splash her first year playing with the big girls, but only won two matches at the Majors since 2008. She's earned a couple trophies in the last five years, but has only qualified for a handful of events in 2011, so I certainly didn't expect her to put up much of a fight at the All England Club.

The twenty-one year old Austrian had the benefit of a few easy first rounds -- opening opponent Ayumi Morita sports a ranking about half of Tamira's but is no huge threat to the bug talents, and young American Christina McHale had taken out a talented Ekaterina Makarova in her first round, precluding Paszek from meeting a seed. Her colors truly came out, though, on Saturday, when she faced world #7 Francesca Schiavone. After dropping the first set she evened the score against the marathon woman and prevented her from serving out the match in the third a few times. After nearly four hours of play, she finally took the win -- her first over a top-ten player since 2008. And with a fourth round date with Ksenia Pervak, her opportunity to make a real statement at Wimbledon this year couldn't be better.

The men, too, have seen more than a fair number of spoilers make it to the fourth round, but perhaps none is more shocking than eighteen-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic. Long considered one of the real upcoming talents in the sport, Tomic did his part to excite the hometown crowd down in Melbourne, but with just three Tour-level wins this year -- and six losses -- he has yet to break into the top hundred.

That day may soon be coming. The qualifier at Wimbledon opened his main draw with a straight-set win over former #3 Nikolay Davydenko and then came back from two sets down to Igor Andreev in his second round. If those victories weren't impressive enough, he came on the court against fifth seed Robin Soderling with more confidence than most elite players. He ran off to a 5-0 lead in the first set and never lagged in the match, advancing to his first Major fourth round in under two hours. With veteran Xavier Malisse waiting for him next, he might just be able to put together the best qualifier's run we've seen in some time.

And though Feliciano Lopez has been around for quite some time -- he's been pro about fourteen years now -- he never had the breakthrough many of his contemporaries did. He made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon two times before, but batting just over .500 in 2011, he's fallen back out of seeding territory at the Majors.

Lopez, too, was blessed with a fairly easy draw early. Michael Berrer proved to be a fairly easy first round opponent and 2008 semifinalist Rainer Schuettler took care of Thomaz Bellucci for him. But against Andy Roddick, a man who came into their third round match with an unspoiled 7-0 record against the Spaniard, he really showed his stuff. He took early leads in the first two tiebreaks and earned the only break of serve in the third set to get the win. Next up he'll face world #93 Lukasz Kubot, a player who's been impressive in his own right -- there will certainly be challenges here, but something tells me "Deliciano" will remind us all he's not just a pretty face.

All four of these players not only have pulled off some stunning wins over their first weeks at Wimbledon, but they have legitimate chances to continue their runs at the most regal of Grand Slams. For some, it could be the start to a brilliant career, while for others it's an opportunity to finally back themselves up.

And as we approach the end of the line in London, everyone left in the field better take notice.

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