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Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday

The grass snake stings, then smiles.

Monday got manic in a hurry with a titanic upset in the women’s draw, only to settle down into more predictable outcomes for most of the day.  Catch up on any of the fourth-round action that you may have missed with the daily Wimbledon rewind.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Twists and turns pervaded the clash of rising star Jerzy Janowicz and grizzled veteran Jurgen Melzer.  In the intimate surroundings of Court 12, Melzer started the match on fire but gradually lost his momentum in the second set and later trailed two sets to one.  Able to rally in the fourth, he secured a clutch break in the tenth game to force a deciding set.  With his first major quarterfinal on the line, though, Janowicz refused to let the opportunity escape him as he edged across the finish line 6-4 in the fifth.

Comeback of the day:  The other half of an all-Polish men’s quarterfinal, Lukas Kubot trailed Adrian Mannarino by a set and later by two sets to one in the most important match of his career so far.  Nobody would have expected Kubot to reach a major quarterfinal in singles, yet he wrested away this five-set encounter from his fellow journeyman.  His semifinal chances may hinge on whether Janowicz or he can recover from their draining victories more efficiently.

Upset of the day:  None.  Tomas Berdych deserves credit for snuffing out the most plausible upset threat in Bernard Tomic.  Splitting the first two sets in tiebreaks, Berdych gradually asserted himself against the Aussie talent in the next two sets and avoided the nerve-jangling scenario of a fifth set.

Gold star:  Before 2013, Juan Martin Del Potro never had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.  This year, he has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set.  Del Potro overcame a knee injury to defeat Andreas Seppi after wondering whether he would be fit to play on Monday.  Despite all of the surprises at Wimbledon this year, all of the top-eight seeds in the men’s top half reached the quarterfinals.

Silver star:  Winless in two previous grass meetings with Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic seized control of the third from the outset and never let the veteran catch his breath.  Like Del Potro, Djokovic has not lost a set en route to the quarterfinals, but this victory impressed more than those that came before because of his history against Haas.  He will seek his fourth straight Wimbledon semifinal, not bad for a man whose worst surface is grass.

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  World No. 4 David Ferrer has not won any of his four matches in straight sets, three of them against unseeded opponents.  Struggling with a painful ankle injury, Ferrer fell behind early again on Monday before dominating the latter stages of the match, as he had in the third round.  Wimbledon is the only major where he has not reached the semifinals, so he will aim to end that futility by repeating last year’s victory there over Del Potro.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  Even with Nadal’s early exit, two Spaniards reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.  Joining Ferrer there was Fernando Verdasco, who rolled past Kenny de Schepper in straight sets.

Stat of the day: In addition to Agnieszka Radwanska in the women’s draw, the quarterfinal appearances of Kubot and Janowicz gave Poland more Wimbledon quarterfinalists than any other nation.

Question of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray again took care of business efficiently today, dispatching 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Can Murray continue his uneventful progress to the final, his path barred only by Verdasco and one of the Poles?  Or will the escalating pressure of the second week lead to some unexpected drama in the bottom half?

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of the greatest grass specialists in WTA history, Sabine Lisicki reached her fourth Wimbledon quarterfinal by shocking heavy title favorite, defending champion, and world No. 1 Serena Williams in three sets.  Serena had not looked as sharp in the first week as she had at Roland Garros, but one expected her to prevail once she recovered from a dismal first set.  The defending champion dominated Lisicki in the second set and rolled to an early lead in the third, at which point many underdogs might have surrendered.  Lisicki is a different player on this court than she is anywhere else, though, and she swung freely with the match in the balance at 4-4 in the final set.  Hitting through her nerves and a staggering Serena, she scored perhaps the biggest upset in an upset-riddled draw.

Comeback of the day:  When Tsvetana Pironkova claimed the first set from Agnieszka Radwanska, Wimbledon suddenly looked in danger of losing all of the top five women before the quarterfinals.  But grass specialists would split their two meetings with top-four seeds on Monday as Radwanska ground through a second straight three-set victory.  As has been the case with much of her 2013 campaign, she has not shown her best form while doing just enough to win.

Gold star:  Li Na had survived consecutive three-setters to end the first week, including an 8-6 epic against Klara Zakopalova.  She needed to fasten her teeth into the tournament more firmly, and she did by losing just two games to the 11th seed, Roberta Vinci.  Having defeated Radwanska in a quarterfinal at the Australian Open, Li will hope to repeat the feat in a Tuesday match between the two highest-ranked women remaining in the draw.

Silver star:  Only one woman has reached the quarterfinals without losing a set or playing a tiebreak.  Take a bow, world No. 15 Marion Bartoli, who has threatened only occasionally at majors since reaching the Wimbledon final in 2007.  Granted, Bartoli has faced no opponent in the top 50 to this stage.  She participated in a bloodbath of Italians by ousting Karin Knapp for the loss of just five games.  (None of the four Italians who reached the fourth round won a set on Manic Monday.)

What doesn’t kill you…:  …makes you stronger?  The only former Wimbledon champion left in the women’s draw, Petra Kvitova had dropped sets in both of her first-week victories and easily could have done so again on Monday.  Former nemesis Carla Suarez Navarro took Kvitova to a first-set tiebreak and the brink of an emotional meltdown, but the Czech steadied herself once she survived it.  Kvitova can look ahead to a quarterfinal against Kirsten Flipkens, also fortunate to avoid losing a first set for which her opponent served twice.  Flipkens won their previous meeting this year in Miami.

All eyes on Andy:  A round after she upset Angelique Kerber, Kaia Kanepi sent home local darling Laura Robson in two tight sets.  The match could have tilted in either direction, so Kanepi’s experience probably proved vital in securing her second Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance.  She also earned the last laugh on British tabloids that lampooned her burly physique before the Robson match.

Americans in London:  In the wake of Serena’s loss, the United States plausibly might have gone home without a single quarterfinalist in either singles draw.  Sloane Stephens averted that disappointment by winning a second straight three-setter, this time against Monica Puig.  Trailing by a set, Stephens showed resilience in battling through a tight second set and then dominating the third.  She has won twelve matches at majors this year, more than many higher-ranked women.

Stat of the day: In Lisicki’s last four Wimbledon appearances, she has defeated the current Roland Garros champion every time.  Her repeated denials of Channel Slams protect a record held by compatriot Steffi Graf, who completed the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double four times.

Question of the day:  The first three majors will crown three different women’s champions for the third straight year.  With all of the top three gone before the quarterfinals, who becomes the new title favorite?  One might favor Kvitova, the only woman who has won here before, but conventional wisdom has taken it on the chin all fortnight.

 

Buy, Hold, Sell: The Unseeded Thirteen (Plus Memo on Wimbledon’s Middle Sunday)

Should we stay on the Laura Robson bandwagon for another round?

Although I enjoy most Wimbledon traditions, one of the exceptions is the Middle Sunday.  Before I launch into today’s topic, the unseeded players who have reached the second week, I wanted to share some thoughts about this lacuna.  Feel free to jump down below the asterisks if you’d prefer.  Otherwise, let me explain why I would dispense with the Middle Sunday.

Not just because Great Britain is a secular state, and the AELTC a secular organization.

Not just because it seems capricious to toss aside a quarter of your tournament’s weekend days.  (You know, the days when people are best able to actually sit on their couches and watch things like tennis.)

Not just because it seems slightly elitist to separate the haves of the second week so sharply from the have-nots of the first.

Not just because arbitrarily removing an entire day from your schedule makes every rain delay loom that much larger.  (This is exacerbated by the tournament’s refusal to start play on show courts earlier than 1 PM, leaving room for only three matches on each.)  Nature has a sense of humor, by the way.  Rarely does it rain on Middle Sunday.

Not just because “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” is one of the worst possible justifications for doing anything.

No, my main issue with Middle Sunday, and really the only issue that matters, is its impact on the schedule for the rest of the tournament.  Almost a tradition in its own right, Manic Monday has a certain gaudy appeal at first glance.  Lots of exciting stuff is happening!  All at the same time!  Everywhere!  It’s a channel-surfer’s paradise:  instant gratification, saturating the senses.

But the day rushes past before you know it, leaving no time to thoroughly savor and digest the delicious matches on the menu.  We could appreciate each of these fascinating encounters better if the tournament divided the fourth round, the round that usually separates contenders from pretenders, into two days of four ATP and four WTA matches apiece.

Even more importantly, Middle Sunday and Manic Monday result in a gender-based bifurcation of the entire second week.  At other majors, for example, fans can watch two men’s and two women’s quarterfinals on Tuesday, and the same lineup on Wednesday.  At Wimbledon, fans must watch the ladies on Tuesday, the gentlemen on Wednesday, and so forth alternating each day to the end.  Doubles is an exception, of course.

While I never have attended Wimbledon in person, I know that I prefer watching tournaments that interweave the men and the women in their schedules.  General fans who follow both the ATP and the WTA appreciate the variety that the rich contrasts between them offer.  The Australian Open has the ideal schedule in my view:  two quarterfinals from each Tour on Tuesday, the rest of the quarterfinals on Wednesday, women’s semifinals and one men’s semifinal on Thursday, the remaining men’s semifinal on Friday, and night sessions for each of the singles finals.  By the time that Friday arrives, obviously, there is almost no alternative to splitting the Tours.  But starting that rigid alternation on Tuesday takes away part of what makes a major feel like a major:   the chance to see the best players of both genders trading places with each other on the same court.

The US Open has scrapped its version of Middle Sunday, the “Super Saturday” on the second weekend that forced the men’s finalists to play best-of-five matches on consecutive days.  That version of cruel and unusual punishment died a slower death than it should have.  It’s time for Middle Sunday to start dying its slow death too.

***

At any rate, on to the tennis!  The chaos of the first week has left us with thirteen unseeded players in the fourth round.  This article takes a look at how each of them reached Manic Monday, the biggest stage on which many have starred.  And we discuss which of these underdogs you should buy, hold, or sell.

ATP:

Bernard Tomic:  Into the second week of Wimbledon for the second time, he knocked off top-25 opponent Sam Querrey to start the tournament.  Unlike many of those who started the tournament with a bang, Tomic used that victory to light the fuse of two more. His latest came against world No. 9 Richard Gasquet.  Now looms his first career meeting with Tomas Berdych at the ATP level.  While Berdych enters that match as the favorite, dark horses have intercepted him at majors before.

Buy, hold, or sell?   Buy

Ivan Dodig:  A bit of a Typhoid Mary last week, Dodig received two retirements in three matches.  The Croat fell behind Philipp Kohlschreiber by two sets in the first round, but he recovered to sneak out the next two before Kohlschreiber’s odd “I feel tired” retirement.  Not one to let this sort of opportunity go for naught, Dodig has not lost a set since.  Now he faces David Ferrer, who has not had an easy win in the tournament and needed five sets to escape Alexandr Dolgopolov.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

Lukas Kubot:  Sandwiched around a walkover were two straight-sets victories, the second against a seeded opponent in Benoit Paire.  Kubot’s game fits the grass neatly with his reliance on quick strikes and ability to open the court.  He looks to arrange an intriguing all-Polish quarterfinal in the section where everyone envisioned an epic Nadal-Federer collision.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

Adrian Mannarino:  The man who vies with Kubot for that quarterfinal berth never had reached the second week at any major before.  Like Kubot, Mannarino enjoyed a second-round boost when his opponent withdrew.  John Isner’s retirement opened the door for him to exploit the sequence of upsets when Dustin Brown defeated Lleyton Hewitt, who had defeated Stanislas Wawrinka.  Mannarino’s presence here thus seems more fortuitous than ferocious.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

Jurgen Melzer:  Emerging from Roger Federer’s section of the draw, Melzer has advanced this far at a major before.  A Roland Garros semifinalist in 2010, the veteran lefty has played exactly four sets in each of his three matches.  He slew the man who slew the defending champion, benefiting from Sergiy Stakhovsky’s predictable lull.  Jerzy Janowicz’s thunderous serve and youthful exuberance should prove a test much more arduous.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

Fernando Verdasco:  2013 could not have started much worse for Verdasco, who sagged outside the top 50 by the clay season.  Wimbledon could turn his entire season around if he can take care of business against the anonymous man below him on this list.  Verdasco did not benefit from the injuries of those around him, straight-setting both Julien Benneteau and the dangerous Ernests Gulbis.  If his lefty serve keeps firing, his attitude of relentless aggression should play well on grass.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

Kenny de Schepper:  Ranked somewhat higher than Mannarino, de Schepper is only the tenth-best Frenchman in the ATP.  His presence in the fourth round reveals his nation’s tennis depth.  Although he ousted the grass-averse Juan Monaco to end the first week, his debut in the second week of a major pits him against the far more experienced Verdasco.  De Schepper’s best hope consists of a Verdasco letdown, which is not implausible, but he also must manage a moment to which he is unaccustomed.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

WTA:

Laura Robson:  The darling of local fans caused British hearts to palpitate when Marina Erakovic served for the match against her in the third round.  Lackluster in the early stages of that encounter, Robson found the poise to regroup as she turned the fraught atmosphere to her advantage.  She upset world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko to start the tournament and can penetrate the grass smoothly with a massive lefty forehand.  But she faces a daunting test in the next round against former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kanepi.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

Kaia Kanepi:  Eager to engage in a slugfest with Robson, Kanepi knows what it feels like to reach this stage of this tournament.  A quarterfinalist as a qualifier in 2010, she built on those memories by upsetting the seventh-ranked Angelique Kerber in the second round.  Kanepi showed as much toughness in that match as Robson did against Erakovic, mounting a similar comeback from a deep deficit.  She struggled against a British journeywoman in her opener, which might not bode well for Monday, but Robson can expect a battle.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

Tsvetana Pironkova:  Perhaps the least surprising of the unseeded women in the second week, Pironkova announced her presence by nearly double-bageling top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to start the tournament.  Her form has dwindled a bit since then, including a three-setter against Petra Martic, and Radwanska has owned her for most of their careers.  Pironkova lacks the power to hit through the Pole consistently, but she did defeat Radwanska on grass last year.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

Monica Puig:  Scoring an upset against a top-five opponent is an excellent achievement in itself, as Puig did against Sara Errani.  Building upon it is even more impressive, and that is where Puig separated herself from Steve Darcis, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Michelle Larcher de Brito last week.  Her lack of experience at majors may catch up with her against the suddenly seasoned Stephens, one of only three women to reach the second week at every major this year.  Still, Stephens looked far from formidable in a three-set struggle against qualifier Petra Cetkovska.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

Karin Knapp:  A victory over the ever-enigmatic Lucie Safarova highlighted Knapp’s unexpected three-match winning streak.  The world No. 104 won just a single game from Marion Bartoli in their only previous meeting, though, and she would shock the tennis world if she solves the 15th seed.  A 2007 finalist here, Bartoli has played surprisingly steady tennis and did not lose a set in the first week.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

Flavia Pennetta:  When world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka withdrew, Pennetta sniffed a chance to reassert her presence.  Her ranking has tumbled outside the top 150 after injury, but the Italian veteran twice before reached the second week at Wimbledon and can threaten on any surface.  A stirring comeback against Alize Cornet brings her into a Monday match with the 20th-ranked Kirsten Flipkens.  Reaching the final at the Dutch Open a week ago, Flipkens has won all of her matches in straight sets as the grass has rewarded her deft touch and forecourt skills.

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6

This draw is wide open!

Miraculously after the rain on Thursday and Friday, Wimbledon has set all of its fourth-round matchups for Manic Monday.  More than half of the top-ten players there (five men, six women) fell in the first week, and Saturday featured its share of drama despite the welcome sunshine.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Even with the cloud of his father hanging over him at a distance, Bernard Tomic has compiled an outstanding Wimbledon campaign.  The enigmatic Aussie has upset two seeded players to reach the second week, most recently No. 9 seed Richard Gasquet.  Showing his taste for drama, Tomic played five sets in the first round against Sam Querrey and reached 5-5 in every set against the 2007 Wimbledon semifinalist.

Upset of the day:  Few tennis fans knew much about Kenny de Schepper entering this tournament.  The 26-year-old Frenchman benefited from a Marin Cilic walkover in the second round and made the most of the opportunity.  Not losing a set in the first week of Wimbledon, de Schepper upset No. 20 seed Juan Monaco to reach this stage at a major for the first time.

Comeback of the day:  Imperfect in his first two matches, world No. 4 David Ferrer predictably fell behind the mercurial Alexandr Dolgopolov two sets to one.  After Dolgopolov steamrolled him in the third set, though, Ferrer regrouped immediately to drop just three games in the next two sets.  His far superior stamina gave him a valuable advantage against an opponent who struggles with sustaining energy or form.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There’s death, there’s taxes, there’s Nadal winning on clay, and there’s Tomas Berdych beating up on poor Kevin Anderson.  Nine times have they played since the start of 2012, including at four majors, with Berdych winning all nine.  At least Anderson took the first set this time and kept the match more competitive than most of its prequels.

Gold star:  Considering Kei Nishikori’s promising start to the tournament, Andreas Seppi merits special attention for his five-set battle past the Japanese star.  Like Ferrer, Seppi trailed two sets to one before digging into the trenches and holding his ground with an imposing fourth set that set the stage for a tight fifth.  As a result of his efforts, Italy leads all nations with four players in the second week of Wimbledon, an odd achievement for a clay-loving nation.

Silver star:  One day after demolishing an unseeded opponent, Tommy Haas overcame a much more worthy challenger in Eastbourne champion Feliciano Lopez.  Haas bounced back from losing the first set to prevail in four, arranging an intriguing Monday meeting with Novak Djokovic.  The German has won both of their previous grass meetings—four years ago—but lost to Djokovic at Roland Garros.

Wooden spoon:  At a minimum, one expected some entertaining twists and turns from a match pitting Ernests Gulbis and Fernando Verdasco.  The firecrackers fizzled in a straight-sets victory for the Spaniard, who now eyes his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with de Schepper awaiting him on Monday.  Gulbis joined a string of unseeded players unable to follow their notable upsets with a deep run.

Stat of the day:  World No. 2 Andy Murray cannot face a top-20 opponent until the final.  (No. 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny, his Monday opponent, is seeded higher than his ranking because of the grass formula used in making the draw.)

Question of the day:  Top seed Novak Djokovic seems to grow more formidable with each round, dismantling Jeremy Chardy today for the loss of only seven games.  Can anyone slow his path to the final?  Juan Martin Del Potro, the only other man in this half who has not lost a set, might have the best chance.  He defeated Djokovic earlier this year at Indian Wells and on grass at the Olympics last year.

WTA:

Match of the day:  One of many players who rallied to win after losing the first set, Li Na rushed through a second-set bagel against Klara Zakopalova but then found herself bogged down in a war of attrition.  Li finally opened the door to the second week in the 14th game of the final set.  She continues to show more tenacity at this tournament than she has in several months.

Upset of the day:  Sabine Lisicki’s victory over the grass-averse Samantha Stosur came as a surprise only on paper.  In fact, the greater surprise may have come from Lisicki dropping the first set before dominating the next two.  Lisicki has reached the second week in four straight Wimbledon appearances, proving herself the epitome of a grass specialist.

Comeback of the day:  British hearts quailed when Laura Robson started a winnable match against Marina Erakovic in dismal fashion.  The feisty home hope did not quite recover until late in the second set, when Erakovic served for the match.  Needing some help from her opponent to regroup, including a string of double faults, Robson asserted control swiftly in the final set and never relinquished the momentum once she captured it.

Foregone conclusion of the day:  There was no Williams déjà vu at Wimbledon, where Kimiko Date-Krumm could not repeat her epic effort against Venus Williams there two years ago.  Notching her 600th career victory, Serena surrendered just two games to the Japanese star as she predictably reached the second week without losing a set.  Since the start of Rome, the world No. 1 has served bagels or breadsticks in nearly half of the sets that she has played (15 of 31).

Gold star:  In trouble against Eva Birnerova when Friday ended, Monica Puig rallied on Saturday to book her spot in the second week.  Unlike most of her fellow upset artists, she used a first-round ambush of Sara Errani to light the fuse of two more victories.  An almost intra-American match awaits between the Puerto Rican and Sloane Stephens.

Silver star:  Tsvetana Pironkova extended her voodoo spell over these lawns with a third second-week appearance in four years.  A non-entity at almost all other tournaments, Pironkova could not have chosen a better place to plant her Bulgarian flag.  thou

What a difference a day makes:  Shortly before play ended on Friday, Petra Kvitova had lost seven straight games to Ekaterina Makarova and narrowly avoided falling behind by a double break in the final set.  When she returned in the sunshine of Saturday, Kvitova won five of the last six games to abruptly wrap up a match full of streaky play from both sides.

Americans in London:  Also able to collect herself overnight, Sloane Stephens recovered from a second-set bagel to outlast qualifier Petra Cetkovska.  Stephens became the only woman outside the top four to reach the second week at every major this year.  Nearly joining her was Madison Keys, who gave 2012 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska all that she could handle in a tight three-setter.  The impressive serve and balanced baseline power of Keys suggest that we will see much more of her at future Wimbledons.

Question of the day:  In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Sabine Lisicki halted the previous month’s Roland Garros champion at Wimbledon.  Can she do to Serena what she did to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na, and Maria Sharapova?  Plenty of massive serves will scar the grass on Monday.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Tsonga, Monfils, Ivanovic, Kuznetsova, Errani and More on Day 6

Talk to my fist.

Here are ten matches to note on Friday at Roland Garros, five from the men and five from the women.  Roger Federer vs. Julien Benneteau makes a fine eleventh offering, but Yeshayahu Ginsburg gives you all of the details that you want to know about that pairing in another article on this site.  (Also note that many of the postponed matches from Thursday feature in that day’s preview.)

ATP:

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Jeremy Chardy:  This clash of January’s Australian Open quarterfinalists may divide the loyalties of the Paris crowd.  The flamboyance on both sides should thrill spectators as both men aim to pummel with a forehand the first attackable ball that they see.  While both Tsonga and Chardy easily lose focus, both have kept their eyes on the ball through two straight-sets victories.  A quarterfinalist at Roland Garros last year, Tsonga rode his usual rollercoaster through a clay season with a semifinal in Monte Carlo and a second-round loss in Rome.  The two Frenchmen rarely have clashed, splitting their two matches by identical 6-4 7-6 scores.

Gael Monfils vs. Tommy Robredo:  After he slugged a path past two fellow shot-makers, the story of the men’s tournament faces a different challenge altogether.  In a contrast of styles, Monfils will look to break through the defenses of a resilient veteran who has compiled his greatest successes on clay.  For his part, Robredo will look to grind down his opponent and exploit any lingering fatigue from the Frenchman’s overstuffed recent schedule.  If Monfils blows a massive lead, as he did against Berdych, Robredo probably will punish him.

Feliciano Lopez vs. David Ferrer:  The second-ranked Spaniard has planted himself firmly in the driver’s seat of his quarter, although Monfils might beg to differ.  With two comprehensive victories, Ferrer has looked more formidable than anyone here except Roger Federer.  He often has found fellow Spaniards trickier than expected, though, even beyond the inexorable Rafael Nadal.  Fortunately for him, Lopez poses a much greater threat on a faster court with his lefty net-rushing style.  Their head-to-head illustrates this trend with Ferrer sweeping their clay matches and Lopez dominating on hard courts.  Still, the latter held match point in Barcelona last year before Ferrer fastened his jaws around him.

Andreas Seppi vs. Nicolas Almagro:  Few would have given Seppi much chance to reach the second week for the second straight week here, but he is a plausible upset from doing exactly that.  Seppi had won only two matches at six clay tournaments entering Roland Garros, only to eke out consecutive five-set victories.  Laboring through an equally poor season at clay Masters 1000 events, Almagro did reach the final in Barcelona and has dropped just one set through his first two matches here.  The Italian has won both of their previous matches, although neither came on clay.  Whoever wins will be favored to reach the quarterfinals against David Ferrer.

Milos Raonic vs. Kevin Anderson:  This match sounds more like Wimbledon than Roland Garros, and in fact their only previous meeting came on an indoor hard court.  Each man has recorded one notable result on his least favorite surface, Raonic reaching the semifinals in Barcelona and Anderson reaching the final in Casablanca.  Doubtless glad to see his perennial nemesis Tomas Berdych gone from this section, Anderson has produced somewhat more consistency on clay than Raonic with victories over Juan Monaco and Marin Cilic.  But this match will hinge on a few key points, as it would elsewhere, and on the ability of both men to execute fundamentals while finding timely first serves.

WTA:

Virginie Razzano vs. Ana Ivanovic:  Much improved from the first round, Ivanovic started her second match with another flurry of winners and this time largely continued her dominance through the second set.  She can take nothing for granted against a woman who refuses to go away when she falls behind here, no matter the opponent.  Razzano will benefit from the support of those who remember last year’s miracle, which will encourage her to believe that anything is possible.  As remarkable as Razzano’s repeat run is, however, her two victories came against Claire Feuerstein and Zuzana Kucova.  And they were close, which this match will not be unless Ivanovic has a bad day, when anything can happen.

Bojana Jovanovski vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova:  Some players specialize in clay, some players specialize in grass, and Bojana Jovanovski specializes in tormenting Caroline Wozniacki on clay.  Jovanovski defeated the Dane twice this month while notching just one other victory since the Australian Open, where she reached the second week.  One win from doing the same here, the Serb perhaps saves her best tennis for the biggest stages.  While she went AWOL for a set in the second round, as she often does, Kuznetsova regrouped impressively to dictate play from there.  She should have a decent chance to face Serena in the quarterfinals, not that anyone envies the honor.

Sabine Lisicki vs. Sara Errani:  The greatest contrast of styles on the WTA schedule should test Errani much more than her first two opponents.  Living up to her billing as a member of the top five, last year’s finalist has dropped just five games in the tournament, or one more than Serena Williams.  A first meeting with Lisicki may require an adjustment period to the weight of the German’s explosive first serve, able to penetrate surfaces of any speed.  Fans could see plenty of drop shots as both women love to use that gambit more often than most rivals.  Very steady on outdoor clay this year, Errani has lost only to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Petra Kvitova on her favorite surface.  All of those women can and did pounce on her serve, which will be the key for Lisicki and her less lethal return.

Varvara Lepchenko vs. Angelique Kerber:  Losing just ten games in two matches, Lepchenko owns three clay victories this year over the daunting Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.  This battle of lefties pits her against a woman at her least effective on clay, so the American should hold the surface edge.  On the other hand, Kerber did reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals last year and has produced consistent if not outstanding results over the last few months.  Perhaps her best performances of the year came in two three-set semifinal losses when she battled Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova to the finish.  Kerber wins fewer of those epics now than she did last year, but she won’t play an epic if she brings that form here.

Monica Puig vs. Carla Suarez Navarro:  Progressing by leaps and bounds, the charming Puig stands within range of the second week at a major.  Puig did not reach this stage by feasting on cupcakes, upsetting top-15 opponent Nadia Petrova in three sets and winning a clash of future stars from Madison Keys.  While Suarez Navarro should be favored with her superior clay prowess and overall experience, she has not looked this week like someone enjoying the best year of her career.  The finalist in Acapulco and Portugal dropped the first set in both of her matches, including against anonymous American Shelby Rogers.  Suarez Navarro can’t afford to overlook Puig, although she dismantled her in Portugal.

 

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Azarenka, Serena Cruise, Monfils Leads French Parade on Day Four

Azarenka made her Roland Garros 2013 debut today after a four-day wait.

Profiting from more cooperative weather, Roland Garros produced a Day 4 replete with action.  Here’s the review of how it all went down.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Ah, the French in Paris.  Sometimes they dazzle, sometimes they implode, sometimes they puzzle, and sometimes they do all three.  Julien Benneteau achieved the trifecta in a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, completing his first pair of consecutive victories since February.  En route to the third round, Benneteau a) won a 20-point tiebreak b) blew a two-set lead c) ate a bagel in the fourth set and d) won anyway.  Richard Gasquet, it’s your move.

Worth the wait:  After a 14-game fifth set, the epic between Horacio Zeballos and Vasek Pospisil finally ended a day and two sets after Zeballos could have ended it in a third-set tiebreak.  A young Canadian talent, Pospisil showed grit by rallying from the brink of a straight-sets loss to the brink of a five-set victory.  But Zeballos, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win a South American clay title this spring, relied on his greater experience to get the last word.

Comeback of the day:  Dutch heavy hitter Igor Sijsling looked ready to knock off the lowest men’s seed when he swept two tight sets.  Continuing a surprisingly solid clay campaign, Tommy Robredo surged through the next three sets for the loss of five total games.  The pattern of the scores recalled Roger Federer’s comeback over Juan Martin Del Potro here last year.

Surprise of the day:  Surely elated by his upset over Berdych in a first-round epic, Gael Monfils might have fallen victim to a hangover against the dangerous Ernests Gulbis.  Although he dropped the first set for the second straight match, Monfils outlasted his fellow erratic shot-maker for another quality win that jangled the nerves of his compatriots a bit less.  Up next is a more compelling test of his consistency against Robredo.  Check out the more detailed recap of Gael’s win on this site by colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg.

Gold star:  A few of the less notable home hopes fell today, but all of the leading French men prevailed.  Like Monfils, Benoit Paire completed a comeback from losing the first set to win in four.  Gilles Simon hurled three consecutive breadsticks at clay specialist Pablo Cuevas after he too spotted his opponent a one-set lead.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga roared through in straight sets for the second consecutive match, as did Jeremy Chardy.  And don’t forget the wacky win by Benneteau explored above.  Plenty of reason remains for French patriots to return as the third round unfolds.

Silver star:  Struggling to win matches this year, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki both survived potentially tricky encounters.  Tipsarevic cruised past local hero Nicolas Mahut, perhaps helped by the schedule shift away from Court Philippe Chatrier after the rain.  Troicki weathered five taxing sets and two tiebreaks against clay specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who had upset 17th seed Juan Monaco.

Marathon man:  For the second straight round, Andreas Seppi prevailed in five sets.  Halfway to defending his fourth-round points from last year, Seppi seemed to have a stranglehold when he bageled Blaz Kavcic in the first set.  He later would allow a two-set lead to escape before regrouping when the match hung in the balance.

Stat of the day:  All 15 men’s seeds in action today advanced, eight in straight sets.

American in Paris:  After winning just one match in his first six Roland Garros appearances, top-ranked man Sam Querrey has won two in his seventh trip here without losing a set.

Question of the day:  Second seed Roger Federer entered this tournament as a distant third favorite for the title after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  Looking at least as sharp as either of them, Federer now has lost just 12 games in two matches, albeit against weak competition from two qualifiers.  Should we start taking his title hopes more seriously?

WTA:

Match of the day:  After Victoria Azarenka outlasted her in a long match at the Australian Open, Jamie Hampton secured a happier ending to another three-setter at a major.  Hampton stunned 25th seed Lucie Safarova after winning the first set in a tiebreak, withstanding Safarova’s second-set surge, and closing out a 9-7 final set.  That 16-game affair was the longest set of the women’s tournament so far.

Worth the wait:  Delayed by rain, world No. 3 Azarenka did not start her Roland Garros campaign until Wednesday.  Needing to issue a strong statement, as all of her rivals had, Azarenka delivered with a resounding victory over former doubles partner Elena Vesnina.  None of the top four women has lost more than five games in a match so far.

Comeback of the day:  For the second straight tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova ate a first-set breadstick from an unseeded opponent.  Whereas the Rome breadstick from Simona Halep preceded another breadstick, the Roland Garros breadstick from Magdalena Rybarikova spurred the 2009 champion into action.  Kuznetsova dropped just four games over the next two sets, responding much more forcefully to adversity.

Surprise of the day:  Surviving a first-round flirtation with disaster boded well for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s chances here.  She almost always has ventured deep into draws this year when passing her first test.  This time, though, Pavlyuchenkova fell short in the second round to Petra Cetkovska in another tight three-setter.  The victim of painful losses here as well, coach Martina Hingis can empathize.

Unsurprising surprise of the day:  Unseeded 2012 quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi continued her momentum from winning a Premier title in Brussels last week.  Kanepi dispatched 23rd seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets on a difficult day for Czechs.

Gold star:  Famous forever after what happened last year, Virginie Razzano technically surpassed that performance this year.  Razzano more than justified her wildcard by reaching the third round, perhaps bolstered by the memories of her landmark victory over Serena Williams.

Silver star:  In the first match of her career at Roland Garros, promising Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty made her presence felt.  Barty stunned last week’s Strasbourg runner-up Lucie Hradecka in three sets, overcoming dramatic disparities in power, experience, and clay expertise.

Marathon woman:  Eight of Petra Kvitova’s last nine matches have reached a third set, the latest against the fossilized Aravane Rezai today.  That recent capsule from clay reflects a trend typical for Kvitova overall, for she has played 18 three-setters this year and a staggering 39 in 2012-13.  Whether caused by slow starts or mid-match hiccups, those rollercoasters illustrate her unreliability.

Stat of the day:  Bojana Jovanovski has won three matches since January, two of which have come against Caroline Wozniacki.  The Dane predictably became the first top-ten woman to lose at Roland Garros as Jovanovski accomplished what the more talented Laura Robson could not.

Americans in Paris:  Blasting past Caroline Garcia today, Serena Williams has lost just four games in two matches and 18 games in seven matches since Rome started.  While the top seed continues to look every inch the title favorite, several other American women acquitted themselves well.  Varvara Lepchenko notched a second straight routine victory, while women’s wildcard Shelby Rogers swiped a set from 20th seed Carla Suarez Navarro despite the gap between their relative credentials.  On the other hand, Madison Keys dropped a winnable match to Monica Puig, and Mallory Burdette could not find any answers to Agnieszka Radwanska.

Question of the day:  All of the top four women have roared through their early matches, confirming their elite status.  Outside that group, who has impressed you the most so far?

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Serena Shine on Day 1; Venus Falls

Roger Federer's outfit was dull, but his play was scintillating on Day 1.

Today marks the first in the series of brief daily recaps that will keep you updated on several of the key storylines at Roland Garros.  Roland Garros Rewind will be followed by Roland Garros Fast Forward each day, a preview of the next day’s notable matches.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Defending fourth-round points in Paris, Andreas Seppi brought little momentum here after staggering through a miserable clay season.  His opening match against unheralded Argentine Leonardo Mayer showed plenty of the reasons for his 2013 woes, but the Italian finished strong to win in five after several momentum shifts.

Comeback of the day:  Gilles Simon never had rallied to win a match after losing the first two sets, so things looked grim after he won just four games in two sets against Lleyton Hewitt.  On the other hand, he had not lost in the first round of a major since this tournament five years ago.  That statistic endured as the other disappeared when Simon eked out a 7-5 fifth set after blowing a 5-0 lead.

Surprise of the day:  None.  All of the men’s seeds won their matches, most much more comfortably than Simon.  Marcel Granollers did end the day in a spot of bother against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, suspended for darkness before starting the fifth set.

Gold star:  Pablo Carreno-Busta had sparked plenty of chatter among tennis fans for his success earlier this clay season and long winning streak at ITF events.  Roger Federer showed him no mercy in conceding just seven games on Court Philippe Chatrier, the first Grand Slam match of the qualifier’s career.  The combination of opponent and setting proved too much for the youngster to overcome.

Silver star:  David Ferrer took care of business efficiently too, meeting little resistance from Marinko Matosevic.  Ferrer has a very promising draw this tournament as he seeks his fourth semifinal in the last five majors.

American in Paris:  Aided by a severely slumping Lukas Lacko, Sam Querrey won just the second match of his Roland Garros career and did so handily.  In other words, the USA avoided the ignominy of its top-ranked man losing in the first round of a major.

Question of the day:  Three tall men won today:  Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Querrey.  Who will go the furthest this year?

WTA:

Match of the day:  In over three hours filled with tension, Urszula Radwanska upset Venus Williams for arguably the most impressive victory of her career.  Urszula easily could have faded when Venus slipped away with the second set in a tiebreak, but her youth may have helped her outlast a fading veteran troubled by back injuries this spring.  An all-Radwanska match could end the first week.

Surprise of the day:  The Puerto Rican phenom Monica Puig knocked off 11th seed and former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova.  Granted, Petrova has not accomplished much this year, building her ranking upon two hard-court titles last fall.  Puig still deserves a tip of the hat for rallying from a one-set deficit despite her lack of experience.

Comeback of the day:  The first step often has proved the last for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year, as it had in Madrid and Rome.  Déjà vu lurked just around the corner when Andrea Hlavackova served for the match against her in the second set and came within two points of the upset in the ensuing tiebreak.  Pavlyuchenkova not only held firm at that tense moment but managed to hold serve throughout a tight third set, a good omen for her future here.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes.  Gone in the first round last year to Virginie Razzano, Serena Williams sent home Anna Tatishvili with a gift basket of a bagel and a breadstick.  The world No. 1 looked every bit as intimidating as she had in her dominant Rome run.

Silver star:  The last woman to lose at Roland Garros last year was the first woman to win at Roland Garros this year.  Now the fifth seed rather than an unknown dirt devil, Sara Errani responded well to the target on her back by conceding just three games to Arantxa Rus.

American in Paris:  In her first main-draw match at Roland Garros, Mallory Burdette started her career here 1-0 with an impressively convincing victory over teenage talent Donna Vekic.  Nerves surfaced when Burdette squandered triple match point as she served for the match, but she saved two break points before closing it out.

Question of the day:  Ana Ivanovic started proceedings on Chatrier with a bizarre three-setter that she could have won much more easily than she did.  Should we chalk up her uneven performance to first-round nerves on the big stage, or is it a sign of (bad) things to come?

See you shortly with Day 2 previews.

 

Pica Power: Monica Puig Impresses in Portugal

Monica Puig has talked big in 2013, but she's letting her racket do some talking too. (Photo: Zimbio)

In a nation dominated by boxers and baseball players, Puerto Rico has never been a breeding ground for successful tennis players. Gigi Fernandez won 17 grand slam doubles titles and two Olympic medals representing the United States. The most successful women’s player to play under the Puerto Rican flag was Kristina Brandi, who peaked at a career high ranking of No. 27 in 2001, won one WTA singles title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1999 and represented her country in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

One of the leaders of the WTA’s current Generation Tweet, Puerto Rican teenager Monica Puig first appeared on the radar for most tennis fans in January, when she qualified for the Brisbane International, gave Angelique Kerber all should could handle and held match point before Kerber rallied for the 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7) win.

Also in January, she was incredibly candid in a sit-down with the WTA; her goals include finishing 2013 in the top 20, and she posed a frank and self-assured analysis of her game. “I wouldn’t say that I have that many weaknesses – all I know is that I have a lot of strengths.” While her more experienced (and to date, more successful) contemporaries including Laura Robson and Sloane Stephens have struggled under the weight of expectations and shied away from the media spotlight, Puig possesses confidence in droves. Her seemingly endless self-confidence (and dare I say swagger?) are all the more impressive when one considers that she has played a total of eight WTA main draws in her young career, and has never even qualified for the main draw in a major.

Well, we know Puig’s talked the talk, but can she walk the walk?

Much like any teenager in her early days, Puig’s 2013 results have been decidedly mixed. She pushed Kerber one week, then fell the Qiang Wang in the first round of Australian Open qualifying the next. She pushed Venus Williams too in a long three setter in Charleston, but then lost to Kurumi Nara in an ITF event in Pelham, Alabama and to Nastassja Burnett in Stuttgart qualifying while on the cusp of the top 100. Consistency is a key skill for any young player but especially for one with lofty goals for her second full WTA season.

This week in Oerias, however, that’s all changed.

Puig’s week in Portugal started as poorly as she could’ve possibly imagined when she found herself 0-6, 0-1 down to rising Spaniard Maria-Teresa Torro Flor in the opening round of qualifying. It seemed as though she was headed into yet another valley in her roller-coaster 2013; however, Puig’s now trademark fighting spirit and feisty demeanor had other ideas, and she came away with a 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. After rolling over Claire Feuerstein in the second qualifying round, Puig fell at the final qualifying hurdle to Galina Voskoboeva. Nonetheless, she still found a way into the main draw as a lucky loser when Alize Cornet withdrew from the event. She defeated fifth-seed Julia Goerges in straight sets in the opening round, her career-best win in terms of ranking.

When Francesca Schiavone turned pro, Puig was five years old. When Schiavone won Roland Garros in 2010, Puig was the fifth seed in the girl’s event, and reached the quarterfinals; the following year, she was runner-up in the junior event. The gulf in experience didn’t seem to matter on Centralito on Wednesday as Puig systematically dismantled her veteran opponent 6-3, 6-2 to reach her first WTA quarterfinal.

As a result of her exploits in Portugal, Puig will finally break into the top 100 for the first time on Monday. At a slight (for women’s tennis standards) 5’7”, the Puerto Rican plays bigger than she is in more ways than one. A flat hitter who’s agile and can scramble when needed, she has all the tools to make inroads on the WTA. Couple that with a better than good head on her shoulders and some serious moxie, and Puig might be ready to embrace the big time when it comes to her.

 

Wozniacki, Kvitova, Stosur among the fallen in Brisbane

Caroline Wozniacki with father Piotr

By Chris Skelton

When the first WTA Premier tournament of the 2013 season began, fans looked forward to seeing a series of marquee matchups in a Brisbane draw that featured eight of the top ten women. Only Radwanska (in Auckland) and Li (in Shenzhen) did not join this star-studded field, which threatened to produce classics from the quarterfinals onwards. But, by the time that the dust settled from the first two rounds, only three of the elite eight remained in the tournament—and one of those three barely. We discuss each of the unexpected plot twists that started the new year.

Pervak d. Wozniacki: During her prime, the former #1 excelled both in finishing matches when she took a lead and in winning the crucial points late in matches through a mixture of consistency and composure. Since her decline began about eighteen months ago, however, she has dwindled in both of those characteristics. Wozniacki dropped a third-set tiebreak in her 2013 opener to the lefty Russian qualifier after winning the first set comfortably and then struggling to hold serve thereafter. Often praised for her maturity when she held the #1 ranking, she grew flustered by train whistles outside the stadium in another symptom of her crumbling confidence. The loss especially surprised because Wozniacki had finished 2012 in encouraging fashion, winning small titles in Seoul and Moscow.

Arvidsson d. Stosur: Much less surprising was the setback that the Australian #1 suffered on home soil, where she regularly has underwhelmed in front of her home fans. The tournament trumpeted the opportunity for Brisbane locals to celebrate New Year’s Eve with their leading lady, which did not turn out as anticipated when she lost her first match to Sofia Arvidsson. Like Wozniacki, Stosur also had ended 2012 on a promising note with a quarterfinal at the US Open, a semifinal in Tokyo, and a final Moscow, but she could not extend her momentum through the offseason. Arvidsson’s flat, uncompromising, but erratic ball-striking recalled the manner in which Cirstea bounced the Aussie in the first round of her home major last year, and her fans must look ahead to Melbourne with apprehension.

Pavlyuchenkova d. Kvitova: In a sense, this match raised eyebrows more because Pavlyuchenkova won it than because Kvitova lost it. The 2011 Wimbledon champion had tumbled down the rankings throughout a 2012 campaign filled with disappointment, culminating with her withdrawal from the year-end championships that she had won the previous year. Dogged by illness and injury throughout her dismal season, Kvitova has achieved her greatest successes in Europe and predictably struggled to shine in the torrid heat of Brisbane. But Pavlyuchenkova endured a year equally frustrating at a lower level of the WTA, failing to capitalize on her two major quarterfinals in 2011 while struggling simply to string together victories. The double faults that have hampered her progress did not surface when she served key games late in the two tight sets of this match, when her groundstrokes matched Kvitova’s in power and surpassed them in consistency. Just as importantly, she looked fitter than she ever has before.

Hantuchova d. Errani: A year or two ago, this result would not have seemed like an upset at all. Hantuchova had led their head-to-head 4-2, and most would have rated the Slovak a far superior talent with her time spent in the top five and two titles at Indian Wells. But Errani drove further into a major at Roland Garros last year than Hantuchova ever had, while the elder woman seemed to drift further into the twilight of her career. In a wild third set filled with break after break, the mentally unreliable Hantuchova managed to outlast the usually sterner-minded Errani as the pressure mounted. Perhaps memories of reaching last year’s final brought confidence to the Slovak, who feasted on arguably the weakest serve in the top 20. As 2013 progresses, Errani faces the same task that Schiavone did in 2011: proving that a single season represented a breakthrough rather than an anomaly.

Sharapova (withdrew, injury): A true coquette, the world #2 has flirted with Brisbane in each of the last two seasons only to withdraw with injuries, this time a curious collarbone issue. Sharapova’s participation in the Australian Open does not lie in question, however, for she simply deemed herself insufficiently prepared to participate in a tournament this week at the current stage of her recovery. Considering her finals appearance in Melbourne last year, similarly without preparation, her fans should not concern themselves too much with this news. Rarely has Sharapova played more than a few exhibitions before the Australian Open in any year, and still she has recorded more semifinal appearances at this major than at any other.

Kerber d. Puig: If you haven’t heard of the Puerto Rican Monica Puig, who reached only a handful of main draws before this week, you’re probably far from alone even among diehard tennis fans. Kerber likely hadn’t heard of her second-round opponent either before this week but somehow suddenly found herself mired in a grueling three-setter against her. Only after a third-set tiebreak that lasted sixteen points did she escape the persistent underdog, after having needed three sets to win her first match as well. Kerber played a huge quantity of third sets in 2012, however, and probably could have won most of them more easily if not for focus lapses. To bolster her longevity on the Tour, she will need to find ways to win more efficiently. In conditions as draining as the Australian heat, few players can afford to play one marathon after another.

***

All the same, Kerber at least survived to fight another day, which is more than many of the notable women in Brisbane could say. Much more impressive were the performance of Azarenka and Serena Williams, who now stand just one victory apiece from meeting in the semifinals there in a rematch of 2012 encounters at Wimbledon, the Olympics, the US Open, and the year-end championships, all won by Serena. We’ll take a close look at that match, if it happens, next.

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