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By Thaddeus McCarthy
The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.
David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.
Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.
In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.
On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.
All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.
So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.
By Thaddeus McCarthy
As I have just returned home from covering the ASB Classic, and the Heineken Open is already underway, I thought that now would be a good time to give you a summary of the Classic and an intro to the Open.
The ASB Classic was a fantastic six day event played at the ASB Tennis Centre, Auckland. It was (pleasantly) sunny, even though the forecast had predicted rain. The play did not disappoint, and from a personal perspective, as it was my first time covering a tournament, it was brilliant, and the experience certainly lived up to expectations. It was also the dream final, the one everyone had wanted from the start, Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic. Now sometimes these sort of the matches can be disappointments; like many of the long awaited finals in our sport e.g. any number of the Federer/Nadal French Open finals. But this was different; it was tight and the tennis was electrifying. In the first set, Ivanovic cruised to win 6-2. Venus saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and went on to win it 7-5. In the final set though Ivanovic’s younger legs proved to be springier. She caught a break at the early stages of the set, and did not let go from there, eventually prevailing 6-4, and taking the title.
Both Venus and Ivanovic said in the post-match interviews, that this tournament was the perfect preparation for the Australian Open. I think after watching both players, I would expect at least one of them to go into the second week there. They are both on comeback trails right now, but I think that Ana is the more likely one to do so. She has the younger legs, still only being 26. And has a number of weapons on disposal, such as a blistering ground strokes and strong service game. Whereas with Venus you have to say that age is catching up with her. The other player that most impressed me from the tournament was American Jamie Hampton. I was at the press conference where she announced that she was pulling out of her semi-final with Venus, due to a hip injury. Something about her struck me. She seemed in a way similar to the Mighty Fed, in that she spoke almost in third person. She seemed very sure of herself, and I am certain that if she gets over her injury in time, by the Australian Open she will do well. In her quarterfinal against Lauren Davis, I was impressed by the all-round strength of her game.
The NZ Festival of Tennis continues this week, with the Heineken Open. David Ferrer is the defending champion here, and has come back (now as the World No. 3) to defend his title. The other headline acts will be Tommy Haas and John Isner. Gael Monfils, the flamboyant Frenchman unfortunately pulled out this week citing fatigue. Being the first month of the year this is pretty doubtful, but understandable that if he is not feeling totally right, he doesn’t want to ruin himself for the coming Slam. The tournament organisers were in talks with Andy Murray’s manager about potentially getting him in on a wild card, after his early exit from the Qatar Open. Unfortunately though, this was not to be the case. In reality it was too much of a rush for Murray to suddenly come down here to play a tournament after his Qatar loss. Tournament Director Karl Budge insisted after the Murray and Monfils announcements that the tournament does still have some exciting talent, such as young American Jack Sock, not to mention Marcos Baghdadis, Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. Ferrer’s path to the title, will no doubt still be a difficult one, even without a Murray in his way.
As the Classic proved for the ladies, the Heineken Open will serve as a good preparation for the Australian Open, as that Slam begins on the 15th. If I were to predict a player from this tournament who has the potential to win it though, it would not be David Ferrer. Although he has a very high likelihood of winning the Heineken again, I just don’t think that he has enough firepower to win a Slam. Yes, he did reach the French final last year (where he was dually shellacked in straight sets by Nadal), but Slam winners traditionally need to have a weapon arsenal at their disposal. It is very uncommon for journeyman (such as Ferrer) to win Slams. One-Slam-Wonder Journeyman who immediately come to mind include Andrei Gomez (1990 French) and Thomas Johanseen (2002 Aussie). Now in both these cases they were lucky; in Gomez’s case, Agassi was more worried about his hair piece falling out than winning the final. In Johanseen’s case, he had a very favourable draw that year, and played the volatile and unstable Marat Safin in the final.
My pick for the surprise run of the tournament is Benoit Paire. He is a tall man, with surprising balance, and of course has a booming serve. Although he has not yet gone beyond the third round of a Slam, the Australian as we all know is notorious for unexpected runs. Marcos Baghdadis, 2006 anyone? Or how about Fernando Gonzalez, 2007, or Tsonga, 2008. All of those players had weapon arsenals; the Gonzalez forehand was, is still is legendary. Whatever the case though, surprise run or not, for all of the players involved in this lead-up tournament, the Heineken will be great preparation for the Aussie Open.
You will hear from me again at the completion of the tournament. So for now, keep well.
By Thaddeus McCarthy
By Dear Fans,
As I am sitting right now in the media box at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, I thought that now would be a good time to do some running commentary. Now obviously this article will come out after these matches have been completed, so this is out-of-date technically. But I feel that right at this moment this is a useful conversation to have.
As I write this, the match-up between Ana Ivanovic and Kurumi Nara, the world no. 16 vs no. 81, has just ended. Ana Ivanovic has taken the match 6-2, 6-3. The crowd seated, of which there is about 1,300, got to enjoy some wonderful rallies at the end of the match. A favourite of mine was one where Nara finished the point with a backhand drop volley. The match currently under way is between Lauren Davis and Jamie Hampton. Hampton would have to be the favoured one of these two, as she is about 40 ranks above her. Hampton has just broken Davis’s serve for the 2nd time, and the match stands at 5-1. The next match coming up is Garbine Muguruza vs. Venus Williams. No doubt who the crowd favourite will be in this one.
I think it is the common consensus with fans is that they do want to see a Williams/Ivanovic final, as these are the tournaments two biggest drawcards. There are many players who will be doing their best to stop that happening, Muguruza will be no exception. The top seed, Roberta Vinci was knocked out in the opening round by a largely unheard of player, Ana Konjuh. Seeing the form that Ana displayed in the last match I would highly expect her to reach the final stage. In the Hampton match currently into the second set, and with Hampton the superior player at this stage, I will assume that she comes out on top here. She will move on from this to face Venus in the semi-finals. Venus will find it tough going against Hampton, and I think we can look forward to a very good match tomorrow. In the other semi-final we will see Ivanovic face off against Kirsten Flipkens. My expectation for this match is that Ivanovic will come out ahead, watching the Flipkens quarter-final I noticed that she does not have a top spin backhand shot. I would think that this weakness could leave her open. Time will tell.
In the doubles, we are seeing a similar pattern emerging, although somewhat more pronounced. The top seeds, Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova were knocked out in the quarter-finals. The only one’s of the top four seeds remaining are the fourth seeds, Mona Barthel and Megan Moulton-Levy. Again, time will tell whether the top seeds can make it through to the final and become champions. Although I think that is good to have diversity when it comes to tournament winners on the ATP and WTA, I think it is also good to have a strong bunch of players at the top. Much of the hype around the men’s game currently has been to do with having the ‘Big Four’ rivalry. The problem with the women’s game worldwide currently has been that there is not really a strong group of players at the top. Lets hope that the womens game in 2014 will see a very strong bunch of players emerging at the top.
It is my hope that the ASB Classic will set the tone for a great year of women’s tennis in 2014!
By Thaddeus McCarthy
As I will be covering the ASB Classic in New Zealand for you all , I thought that now would be a good time to give you a rundown of what’s in store.
The tournament will run from the 30th of December, and the final will be played on the 4th of January. Current world no. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska is the reigning champion, but unfortunately will not be defending her title this year. The two big names that will grace the first event of our 11 month season will be Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, both former number 1’s and Grand Slam winners. Venus is undoubtedly the bigger name of these two. Sister of Serena, 7-time Grand Slam Winner, 44 career titles and arguably the main reason why women get equal pay today. It is for this last reason that I have requested an interview with her. If I manage to get one, I will be sure to let you all know how it goes. Ana Ivanovic won the 2008 French title, and 11 career titles. She has had many struggles since then, dropping to No. 65, but she has since gone back up to No. 16. It will be one of the main interests of the tournament will be to see if she can regain some of her No. 1 form. Ana will arguably be the most keenly watched player, particularly amongst the boys, as she is definitely one of the better looking females’ on tour.
Some other very recognizable names include young Laura Robson from Great Britain, Yanina Wickmayer, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Georges. The latter three are all former top 20 players, and are seeking to regain some of their earlier form. Laura Robson is a promising teenager, and did reach a WTA final in 2012 in China. The expectations for her, mostly as she is the top ranked British female, are very high. Personally I like her playing style, and being a similarly tall individual, I hope she does well. Julia Georges is another tall player, who’s a big hitter and uses lots of top spin. Along with Ana she is another popular player on tour.
Players who I have requested interviews with, include (obviously) Venus, Yanina, New Zealander Marina Erakovic, and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. With Venus I will talk about gender equality in tennis, and by extension, in sports in general. She was instrumental in getting equal pay for women at the French and Wimbledon, as it was her essay which eventually swayed the debate. With Garbine I will (hopefully) discuss with her about the development of younger players in Spain, and how they are working to continue producing quality. Following on from this I will talk with Marina about the development of the game in New Zealand, and how we can start to emulate countries (such as Spain) in producing some more tennis stars. My talk with Yanina will be about how she plans to return to (near) the top of the game. If I manage to get an interview with Ana, my chat would be on the same topic.
Well, that’s the end of my discussion today; I would appreciate any suggestions you guys may have in regard to interview topics.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – By 16, she was a top 10 junior player in the world. Only three years later, she took the WTA Tour by storm, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open en route taking out two top 10 players.
Romanian Sorana Cirstea is a seasoned tennis veteran despite being only 23-years-old. Her time in juniors combined with her quick ascension in the pro ranks primed her to succeed for years to come. But her good initial results in 2009 were clouded by injury and letdowns. It would be three more years before she found her best tennis and a ranking to go with it. Just last month, she reached her career-high ranking of world No. 22.
After her semifinal appearance in Stanford over the weekend, Cirstea had a quick turnaround into the humidity of Washington, D.C. to play in her first Citi Open tournament.
Following her first round win over Lesia Tsurenko, I chatted with the friendly, engaging Cirstea about the tough time her injury presented her with and how she bounced back, as well as her close friendship with Ana Ivanovic.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Probably it would be when I won Orange Bowl when I was 13 because I was such a kid. Now, I’ve become a little more mature towards everything. I don’t get that excited or that down anymore. But when I was a kid, I was so excited. I felt like I could move mountains when I won the Orange Bowl. It was just pure euphoria. I think I will never experience that kind of feeling. That moment was one of the most important for me, and from there on (tennis) started to become a proper career.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I loved school, so I was one of those kids that were really good students — like an ‘A’ student. Even when I playing tennis, I still went to school and had really good marks. I’m not sure what I would have pursued, but probably I would be really good in school in whatever subject I would choose; I was always a very disciplined student. For example, I like different areas now, but I’m not sure how my life would have turned out if I was not a tennis player. Maybe I would have been interested in politics, economics, languages, communications.
What is one thing that scares you?
Getting to the end of my life and not reaching the dreams that I have. Probably this is the thing that scares me the most.
You and Ana Ivanovic are very close. How did that friendship come about?
(Smiling) She is my best friend. We are like sisters. It’s so nice to have someone like that on tour. We actually discovered each other a little bit late. I think I was 19, she was 22 or something. So maybe like four years ago when we first started to train together because of the adidas team, and interact.
And suddenly we realized that we had the same values, same way of seeing life, same background, same kind of families, same education. Because we are so similar in everything, now a lot of times we don’t even have to speak, we know what we are feeling. It’s just so nice to have someone like her on the circuit and just be able to share this time together because we spend so much time at the tournaments. So it’s nice to have someone you can call almost family.
After a successful first season on the WTA Tour in 2009, there were some struggles for a couple of years. How did you deal with all the trials and what have you learned about yourself?
I think I was a really good junior, so the transition to the WTA happened for me quite fast. I was quite talented. The first years on tour were very easy for me. Then players started to (know my game) a little bit. I had a very bad injury, I broke my heel, and that took me a little bit out of the game. So it was a little like a domino. It took me back and I fell in the rankings. And then it actually took me a while to get back. But I really really appreciate this time because I fell down to 100 and then I really had to work hard to get back.
Now I achieved my best ranking last month – I was 22 – so now I actually I feel that I do deserve to be here. I belong here; I worked hard to be here. I feel that I’m way more disciplined and appreciate things way more than I did when I was climbing the rankings. So I think it’s a learning process.
I’m very grateful for things good and bad that happened in my life because otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. So it’s a different way of thinking now than when I was 19. But, of course, everyone develops, gets experience and matures, and start seeing things different. But at the moment, I’m quite happy with the way things are going.
As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts. The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.
Top half: World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season. Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February. Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week. Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents. An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika. Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros. Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs
The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics. Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb. The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test. Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals. This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic. The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.
Semifinal: Azarenka vs. Vinci
Bottom half: Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati. The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis. A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round. Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead. A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far. That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013. An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.
The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances. Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here. She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically. Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko. That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.
Semifinal: Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska
Final: Azarenka vs. Radwanska
Top half: Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard. World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered. Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford. Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova. Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.
Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss. Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages. The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then. More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia. These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend. Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.
Bottom half: Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections. Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis. Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May. But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.
By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer. American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago. The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013. Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries. A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.
Final: Makarova vs. Stephens
(June 30, 2013) Current and former WTA world No. 1s gathered together on Sunday in London to celebrate “40 Love” – the 40th anniversary of the WTA, founded by trailblazer Billie Jean King.
The WTA and its leaders have strived to bring equality, recognition and respect to the tour over the years. The organization is now the global leader in women’s professional sport, and proudly counts many pioneering accomplishments, including the successful campaign for equal prize money.
Seventeen of the 21 WTA No. 1s were in attendance, including three of the original nine, displaying elegance and beauty. Can you name each one in the photo below?
Emcees Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo introduced each of the No. 1s in style, referencing the “sassy sour” Maria Sharapova to the ever elegant Monica Seles. Each lady then had the chance with the mic, and afterward, it was time to mingle and celebrate.
The “pink” carpet arrivals were no less stunning.
Teenagers Eugenie Bouchard and Madison Keys were also invited guests, with the WTA calling them “potential future world No. 1s.” Quite an honor.
Watch all the pink carpet interviews with the World No.1s, gala speeches from the legends and much more with a full replay of all the Sunday celebrations. (Begins around the 24 minute mark.)
A wild Wednesday swept through the All England Club. We glance back through the avalanche of upsets that rendered some sections of both draws almost unrecognizable as a major.
Roger rolled: 36 straight quarterfinals at majors. Seven Wimbledon titles in the last ten years. None of his legendary opponent’s credentials mattered to the 116th-ranked Sergei Stakhovsky, who became the lowest-ranked man to defeat Roger Federer in a decade. His moment of truth came in the fourth-set tiebreak, as crucial for the underdog as it was for the favorite considering the momentum that Stakhovsky had built by winning the second and third sets. Federer had started to reassert himself late in the fourth, and he surely would have secured the fifth set if he had reached it.
Unlike Alejandro Falla in 2010, and Julien Benneteau in 2012, Stakhovsky made sure that the Swiss did not survive the crossroads. A barrage of unreturnable serves early in the tiebreak, a clutch backhand down the line, and a sequence of magnificent lunging volleys brought him to match point on his serve. Sure enough, Federer saved it with a pinpoint passing shot. But Stakhovsky kept his composure through what felt like an interminable rally with the champion serving at 5-6 in the tiebreak. Finally, a Federer backhand floated aimlessly wide as time seemed to stand still on Centre Court, where things like these never happen.
Maria mastered: Off the WTA radar for years, former prodigy Michelle Larcher de Brito had gained most of her publicity from distinctively elongated yodels. She entered the main draw as a qualifier, though, which meant that she had accumulated more grass matches than her heralded opponent. Former Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has stumbled early in the draw there more often than not in recent years. Slipping and skidding around the site of her first major breakthrough, she never found her rhythm or range from the baseline in a loss that recalled previous Wimbledon setbacks to Alla Kudryavtseva and Gisela Dulko.
The finish did not come easily for de Brito, as it never does against Sharapova. The girl who long has struggled with her serve deserves full credit for standing firm through deuce after deuce as five match points slipped past until the sixth proved the charm.
Vika victimized: Injuring her leg during her first-round victory, world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka never reached her scheduled Centre Court rendezvous with Flavia Pennetta on Wednesday. Azarenka withdrew from Wimbledon while blasting the All England Club for creating unsafe playing conditions. She now needs only a retirement or walkover at Roland Garros to complete a career injury Slam, and she will hand the No. 2 ranking back to Sharapova after the tournament.
Jo-Wilfried jolted: Also on the retirement list in a day filled with injuries, world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga handed Ernests Gulbis a ticket to the third round after losing two of the first three sets. A semifinalist at Roland Garros and at Queen’s Club, Tsonga had seemed one of the tournament’s leading dark horses at the outset. But Gulbis, the most dangerous unseeded man in the draw, eyes an open route to a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.
Caro curbed: An Eastbourne semifinal aside, Caroline Wozniacki has struggled without respite since reaching the Indian Wells final in March. Another early loss thus comes as no great surprise for someone who lost in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Wozniacki secured just four games from Petra Cetkovska, not the first upset that the Czech has notched on grass.
Tall men toppled: Their opponents had nothing to do with it, but the tenth-seeded Marin Cilic and American No. 2 John Isner added themselves to the exodus of retirements. While Isner did not harbor real hopes for a deep run, Cilic reached the final at Queen’s Club barely a week ago and had reached the second week of Wimbledon last year. Of the top-16 seeds in the bottom half of the men’s draw, only Murray and Nicolas Almagro remain.
Serbs swiped: More comfortable on slower surfaces, former No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic departed in straight sets on Wednesday. Ivanovic’s loss came at the hands of rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, who may rival Laura Robson (or Larcher de Brito?) for the breakout story of the women’s tournament. The proudly patriotic Jankovic may take some comfort in the fact that her misfortune came at the hands of a fellow Serb. Her conqueror, Vesna Dolonc, is the only Serb left in the women’s draw.
Hewitt halted: The 2002 champion soared to a straight-sets victory over the 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, only to tumble back to earth against flashy Jamaican-turned-German journeyman Dustin Brown. Lleyton Hewitt’s defeat leaves Novak Djokovic as the only former champion and only No. 1 in the Wimbledon men’s draw.
And more…: The seeded casualties did not stop there. Fernando Verdasco bounced No. 31 Julien Benneteau in straight sets, No. 22 Sorana Cirstea lost two tiebreaks to Camila Giorgi, and No. 27 Lucie Safarova let a one-set lead get away against another Italian in Karin Knapp. Nadal’s nemesis, Steve Darcis, also withdrew from Wimbledon with a shoulder injury.
Hanging on tight: In the women’s match of the day, No. 17 Sloane Stephens narrowly kept her tournament alive against Andrea Petkovic by surviving an 8-6 third set. Stephens will have a real chance to reach her second semifinal in three 2013 majors with both top-eight seeds gone from her quarter. Also extended to a third set were No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro and No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova, the latter of whom overcame rising Spanish star Garbine Muguruza. Meanwhile, men’s 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny needed five sets to survive Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil as hardly anyone escaped at least a nibble from the upset bug.
Rising above the rubble: But a few contenders did. Extending his winning streak to seven, second seed Andy Murray notched another routine victory as he becomes the overwhelming favorite to reach a second straight Wimbledon final. Murray’s pre-final draw might pit him against a succession of Tommy Robredo, Youzhny, Gulbis, and Benoit Paire or Jerzy Janowicz—hardly a murderer’s row, although the Gulbis matchup might intrigue.
In the wake of a difficult first-round victory, 2011 champion Petra Kvitova caught a break today when Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew. Kvitova becomes the only top-eight seed to reach the third round in the bottom half of the women’s draw. She could face a compelling test from Makarova on Friday, but her most significant competition might come from Stephens or Marion Bartoli in the semifinals. Struggling mightily for most of the spring amid coaching turmoil, 2007 finalist Bartoli has picked an ideal time to find some form again. She ousted Christina McHale in straight sets today and has become the highest-ranked woman remaining in her quarter.
Matches and events fly past in the fortnight of a major too quickly to absorb everything that happens. But, now that the red dust has settled, here are the memories that I will take from Roland Garros 2013.
Gael Monfils and the Paris crowd making each other believe that he could accomplish the impossible, and then Monfils accomplishing it.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands looking completely lost at the start of her match against Li Na and then gradually finding her baseline range, one rain delay at a time.
The courteous handshake and smile that Li gave her conqueror despite the bitter defeat.
Shelby Rogers justifying her USTA wildcard by winning a main-draw match and a set from a seed.
Grigor Dimitrov learning how to reach the third round of a major, and learning that what happens in Madrid stays in Madrid.
Bojana Jovanovski teaching Caroline Wozniacki that what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome.
Ernests Gulbis calling the Big Four boring, and former top-four man Nikolay Davydenko calling him back into line.
Petra Kvitova and Samantha Stosur settling their features into resigned masks they underachieved yet again at a major.
John Isner winning 8-6 in the fifth and then coming back the next day to save 12 match points before losing 10-8 in the fifth.
Virginie Razzano winning twice as many matches as she did here last year.
Tommy Haas dominating a man fourteen years his junior and then coming back the next day to save a match point and outlast Isner when the thirteenth time proved the charm.
Benoit Paire losing his mind after a code violation cost him a set point, and Kei Nishikori quietly going about his business afterwards.
Ana Ivanovic telling journalists that “ajde” is her favorite word, and sympathizing with Nadal for the scheduling woes.
Tommy Robredo crumpling to the terre battue in ecstasy after a third consecutive comeback from losing the first two sets carried him to a major quarterfinal.
Sloane Stephens calling herself one of the world’s most interesting 20-year-olds.
Nicolas Almagro swallowing the bitter taste of a second straight collapse when opportunity knocked to go deep in a major.
Victoria Azarenka reminding us that it is, after all, rather impressive to win a match when your serve completely fails to show up.
Fernando Verdasco clawing back from the brink of defeat against Janko Tipsarevic to the brink of an upset that would have cracked his draw open—only to lose anyway.
Alize Cornet pumping her fist manically in one game and sobbing in despair the next.
Mikhail Youzhny remembering to bang a racket against his chair instead of his head.
Francesca Schiavone catching lightning in a bottle one more time in Paris, just when everyone thought that she no longer could.
Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet putting on a master class of the one-handed backhand.
Svetlana Kuznetsova walking onto Chatrier to face Angelique Kerber and playing like she belonged there as a contender of the present, not a champion of the past.
Roger Federer joining alter ego @PseudoFed on Twitter, and fledgling tweeter Tomas Berdych telling one of his followers that his most challenging opponent is…Tomas Berdych.
Agnieszka Radwanska proving that her newly blonde hair wasn’t a jinx, but that major quarterfinals still might be.
Jo-Wifried Tsonga showing us his best and worst in the course of two matches, illustrating why he could win a major and why he has not.
Sara Errani looking the part of last year’s finalist while tying much bigger, stronger women up in knots.
Novak Djokovic overcoming a significant personal loss midway through the tournament and standing taller than ever before at the one major that still eludes him.
Jelena Jankovic completing a dramatic come-from-behind win and a dramatic come-from-ahead loss against two top-ten women in the same tournament.
David Ferrer, the forgotten man, reaching his first major final at age 31 in a reward for all of those years toiling away from the spotlight.
Maria Sharapova staying true to her uncompromising self and ending a match in which she hit 11 double faults with—an ace.
Serena Williams consigning her last trip here to the dustbin of history.
Rafael Nadal collapsing on the Chatrier clay just as ecstatically the eighth time as he did the first.
Staying up until 5 AM to watch a certain match, and wanting to stay up longer for one more game or one more point.
Looking forward to jumping back on the rollercoaster at the All England Club.
The schedule of play in singles has shrunk to two courts as the second week starts at Roland Garros. Categories have started to shrink as well in the latter stages of these recaps.
Match of the day: That pesky Gilles Simon just won’t do the decent thing and retreat respectfully from Roger Federer, bowing every two steps. Simon has defeated Federer twice and now taken him to a fifth set in both of their major meetings. Reeling off 10 of 13 games in one stretch, the Frenchman even led the former champion by two sets to one until Federer compiled a seven-game surge of his own and eased through the final set without drama.
Comeback of the day: Maybe we should rename this category the “Tommy Robredo Comeback of the Day.” The Spanish veteran became the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive matches at a major after losing the first two sets. At least Robredo did not need to save match points this time, as he did against Gael Monfils, but he trailed Nicolas Almagro by a break in both the fourth and fifth sets. Of course, this was Nicolas Almagro.
Gold star: Assigned the tallest man in the draw, David Ferrer trimmed him down to size with a clinical efficiency worthy of Procrustes. Serena Williams also would have appreciated Ferrer’s demolition of Kevin Anderson and his massive serve, which ended with consecutive breadsticks. Alone among the men in his half, he has not dropped a set or played a tiebreak through four matches.
Silver star: Like Ferrer, Tsonga has not lost a set en route to a second straight quarterfinal here. His victory over Viktor Troicki produced a routine scoreline like those before it, a departure from his usual trends but good news for his future here.
Stat of the day: By rallying against Simon, Federer extended his streak of consecutive quarterfinals at majors to 36. That’s nine years, reaching back to Wimbledon 2004.
Question of the day: Tsonga threw quite a scare into world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at the quarterfinal stage here last year, holding four match points in the fourth set. He took Federer to a fifth set in the same round at the Australian Open this year. Does another heart-stopping epic lie in store?
Match of the day: A 48-winner barrage from Svetlana Kuznetsova avenged a loss in Madrid to world No. 8 Angelique Kerber. Kuznetsova has reached the quarterfinals at both majors this year, something that at least half of the WTA top ten cannot say pending tomorrow’s results. Unseeded former champions plowing deep into the draw always adds an extra layer of interest to the second week of a major.
Comeback of the day: Her first three matches had tumbled into the win column almost too easily. Like Federer, Sara Errani encountered her first serious test of the tournament today against Carla Suarez Navarro and nearly flunked it. She regrouped to secure her tenth win at Roland Garros in the last two years, having won one match in four previous appearances. Predictably, neither woman hit an ace.
Gold star: Never at her best on clay, Agnieszka Radwanska seemed ripe for an early upset when she lost early at the key clay non-majors and withdrew from Brussels last week with a shoulder injury. Radwanska thus has surprised by reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set, comfortably knocking off 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic to set up an intriguing clash with Errani. All of the top four women are still in the draw.
Silver star: To Roberta Vinci’s credit, she gave Serena Williams something to ponder in the second set as she stayed level until 3-3 and made inroads toward a break in the seventh game. Unwilling to throw her opponent a lifeline, Serena snuffed out the threat, broke, and then served out her 28th straight win. Four matches, ten games lost.
Stat of the day: In five years and 20 majors since she won her in 2008, Ana Ivanovic has reached one major quarterfinal.
Question of the day: Four years ago, Serena and Kuznetsova combined on a quarterfinal thriller that the Russian snatched late in the third set. Could we see a worthy sequel in the same round on Tuesday, or is Serena simply too bulletproof at present?