June 12, 2011

In Opposite Corners

It's a crazy calendar professional tennis players endure.

With just two weeks between the French Open and Wimbledon, most players were eager to make the quick switch to grass courts and get whatever practice they could before the year's next Grand Slam. But others, for better or worse, skipped right past the lawn season and went straight to the hard courts. We'll see who got the better deal.

In Copenhagen, where the eBoks Sony Ericsson Open was contested several months earlier than it had been last year, players may have gotten some prep for New York rather than London, which might explain why reigning champion Caroline Wozniacki was the only top thirty player entered in the draw. Still she got through her matches without dropping a set on the way to the finals -- her seventh of the year.

There she met Lucie Safarova, one of my perennials favorites who can never seem to gain enough traction to make the jump into the highest levels of the sport. The Czech survived four straight three-set matches in Denmark, and might have been slightly exhausted by the time she reached Sunday's final. She won just four points on the world #1's serve in the first set, and got down on the count in just over twenty minutes. She put up a slightly better fight in the second set, but Wozniacki was just too much for her. After just over an hour of play, the hometown hero had gotten the win and reiterated her position at the top of the sport.

But did she get the preparation she needed? Over in Birmingham the ladies were put to the test on grass, and though a rain-soaked Sunday kept the ultimate winner from being determined yet, the two ladies who are going for the title have so far proven to have made the adjustment to the slicker lawn.

Fourth-seeded Daniela Hantuchova is fresh off a solid French Open, having dealt Caro a tough third round loss and putting up quite a fight against 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova a few days later. But the Slovak, a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon way back in 2002, reminded us she shouldn't be discounted on this surface either. She dropped a handful of games in her first three rounds and stayed study after losing a first set tiebreak to Ana Ivanovic in the semis. She didn't drop serve again that match, and truly earned her second final of the year.

There she'll face former world #22 Sabine Lisicki, a surprise quarterfinalist at the All England Club two years ago. She lost a bit of ground last year when an ankle injury kept her out of contention for the better part of 2010. But she's shown signs of brilliance this year, nearly taking out Vera Zvonareva in Paris as a qualifier and battling past three seeds this week in Birmingham. Now certain of breaking well back into the double-digits rankings, she finally seems to in the shape to do real damage at the Majors.

We might not yet know whether Hantuchova and Lisicki's early statements on the lawn have served as proper warm-ups for Wimbledon, or if Wozniacki's seventeenth career title gives her the confidence she needs to finally make her Slam splash. They've all certainly made different arguments for their own cases. And which, if any, will ultimately prevail is still an open question.

But the title bout is about to begin

No comments: