June 30, 2013

Wimbledon Week Two Preview: Time to Sober Up

So things got a little crazy this first week at Wimbledon, and more than a couple of us are left holding our heads in agony, wondering if we're remembering things quite right. We've only just reached the point in the tournament where the favorites should be getting tested, but in fact barely half of those remaining are actually seeded. And while both world #1's are still alive, plenty of others in the draws might never have imagined they'd be standing the second week of this Major. But now we've had a full day to sleep off the last couple wild nights, and it's time we get really serious.

Odds-on favorite Serena Williams has looked unstoppable so far, as should be expected, and hasn't lost a set yet, while, somewhat surprisingly, last year's runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska has been on point herself, advancing to her fifth straight Slam fourth round. But that's not to say their fates are set quite yet. Sabine Lisicki, a semifinalist here two years ago, if she's playing at the top of her game, could give Williams a run for the money in their next round, while Tsvetana Pironkova, a Cinderella at the All England Club a couple times herself, might give Aga a tough time herself.

But the biggest opportunity may lie in the section of this half where no one is seeded. Kaia Kanepi, who made the quarters here three years ago as a qualifier, has struggled to come back from injury time and again, and has already taken out world #7 Angelique Kerber this past week. And hometown hero Laura Robson -- she who ended Kim Clijsters career in New York and then made the finals in Guangzhou, ousted tenth seeded Maria Kirilenko in her opener. She's never made the quarterfinal of a Major, but with the cards seeming to stack up in her favor this week, it might just be time for a real breakthrough.

The bottom half of the women's draw has a couple more holes poked in it. With both favorites Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova out by the second round, the top seed remaining is 2011 champion Petra Kvitova -- a winner here, yes, but also one who's won just two matches for every one she's lost this year. That could open the door for rising star Sloane Stephens or 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli. But teenager Monica Puig might have some different ideas -- the nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican, who's fresh off a third round appearance at Roland Garros, opened by upsetting fifth seeded Sara Errani here. She, along with world #104 Karin Knapp, might be the least likely picks to make the quarters, but if we've learned anything from the first week at the All England Club, it's to expect the unexpected.

The men's draw, if you can believe it, has been even more decimated in the first week of play. Two-time champion Rafael Nadal crashed out in the first round while seven-time winner Roger Federer followed a match later. Their exits, plus that of 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt, leave Novak Djokovic as the only man in the field who's ever won a Wimbledon trophy. But Juan Martin Del Potro, winner in New York nearly four years ago and Bronze medalist here last summer, hasn't dropped a set yet. And French Open finalist David Ferrer, despite having hiccups here and there, will be eager to prove his run at Roland Garros was no fluke. But pressure might be most on 2011 quarterfinalist Bernard Tomic, who's already taken out big-serving Sam Querrey and tough-as-nails Richard Gasquet. A good run this year might cement his position among the sport's elite, instead of gaining him attention for the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile Andy Murray seems to have a clear path to the final in the bottom half of the draw -- the only other seeds in his section are #20 Mikhail Youzhny, who he's never lost to, and #24 Jerzy Janowicz, who'll be playing his first Major fourth round at this Wimbledon. This half is really more about the comeback stories. Jurgen Melzer, out of the top thirty now, hasn't made the fourth round at a Slam in over two years and has mostly faced clay court specialists in the first week, but might be on the verge of breaking through again at the All England Club. And Fernando Verdasco, well out of his top-ten ranking phase, is coming off a quarterfinal run in Eastbourne, and has gotten past Xavier Malisse, Julien Benneteau and Ernests Gulbis in his first three rounds. He may not be known for his lawn game, but he might be able to change that after this week ends.

But there are a couple other stories to tell in this half. Thirty-one year old Lukasz Kubot has benefitted from, first, the upset of Rafael Nadal and, second, the withdrawal of Steve Darcis, but backed up his good luck by ousting twenty-fifth seeded Benoit Paire in the third round. It's the veteran Pole's second trip to Wimbledon Week Two and, slated to meet fellow triple-digit-ranked Adrian Mannarino next, he could go farther still. It's hard to predict his future much beyond the next round, but in a half of the draw that's so incredibly wide open, he might not have a better opportunity to make a stand.

After a week of outrageous results and huge surprises, the second week of this Slam features some unfamiliar faces. And while this is precisely when the favorites should take the reins and remind us who's boss, the upstarts need to make sure their hangovers don't get in the way of the success they've had.

Because there's a lot on the line the next couple days, and something tells me we'll all want to remember what's coming next.

No comments: