June 27, 2011

Not Just Another Manic Monday

They call the second Monday at Wimbledon the best day in tennis -- and with all Round of Sixteen singles matches scheduled for that day, it is often the case. But I'm not sure anyone expected the amount of excitement we actually got today.

It began with the ladies.

Some matches were quick -- 2004 champion Maria Sharapova survived upstart Shaui Peng in straight sets, while Victoria Azarenka got in such a one-sided win over former top five player Nadia Petrova that I forgot they'd even taken the court. The big surprises, though, came from much more unlikely sources.

Five-time titleist Venus Williams had made a successful return to Grand Slam play, staging a spectacular comeback against uber-veteran Kimiko Date Krumm in the second round and dropping only two games to advance to Week #2. But in a rematch against her vanquisher last year, Tsvetana Pironkova, she was similarly flummoxed. She got down an early break in the first set and traded serves in the second, but couldn't get back in the game. In little more than an hour, the Bulgarian -- who hasn't won more than one match at a tournament since Wimbledon 2010 -- came away with the win. Her third in a row against the former #1.

Things were even more interesting elsewhere in the bracket. Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki will be forced to endure critics a little while longer after her loss today. Despite handily beating her first three opponents at the All England Club and running off with a 6-1 first set against Dominika Cibulkova today, she again fell victim to her Grand Slam curse. The pocket-rocket Slovak forced a second-set tiebreak, which she won, and fought back from a deficit in the decider. After trading breaks again, she finally secured a lead she never gave back, earning her first ever quarterfinal at Wimbledon. It was her second win over the world #1 this year, but her first at a Major and something tells me we should see even more.

But the most shocking upset of the day may have come from the two-time defending champion Serena Williams. Sure she'd been out of the game for nearly a year, but most pundits still gave her more than a fighting chance to reclaim the title. And after she stormed back from deficits against Aravane Rezai and Simona Halep, her third round thrashing of Maria Kirilenko suggested momentum was truly on her side. But earlier today against Eastbourne champ Marion Bartoli she was caught quite wrong-footed. The Frenchwoman held on to her lead in the first set and despite failing to serve out the match in the second, stayed ever-so-slightly stronger in the tiebreak, converting her fifth match point and scoring her first ever win over the thirteen-time Slam winner.

The men weren't without their shocks either. Though Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all advanced with little drama, last year's winner Rafael Nadal didn't have quite as easy a road. Though he eventually advanced past 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, he suffered from some strange heel pain that will require an MRI. After a medical time out before the first set tiebreak, he battled through to take the early lead, and eventually toughed out the match in almost four hours. His future at the tournament is still in question though, and he's certainly got a lot riding on his performance -- anything less than a win and he loses the #1 ranking he's held for about a year. But if anyone can do it, it's Nadal.

His next opponent, though, may not be who he expected. Had seedings played out as they should have, he'd be in for a rematch of last year's championship -- but Mardy Fish had other plans for world #7 Tomas Berdych. After a tight first set Fish came away with the tiebreak and he finally converted a break opportunity late in the second. With two sets under his belt, the only American left in the draw was unstoppable. He won all but one point on his first serve in the third and pounced on his opponent. With the victory he scored his first Slam quarterfinal since 2008's U.S. Open and assured himself of his best ever Wimbledon performance.

So the action this Manic Monday was a little crazier than usual, but we sure came away with some interesting results and some even greater matches. Whether today's winners will be able to keep up their momentum remains to be seen.

But they've never had a better chance to make some magic happen -- and maybe that's the ultimate point of the greatest day in tennis.

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