By Randy Walker
What else can you say about Serena Williams?
This woman never seemingly ceases to amaze, continuing to stake her claim as the greatest tennis player of all time with a fourth year-end WTA Championship title. Her win in Istanbul was her 57th career singles title and concluded 2013 winning $12.4 million in prize money (she’s won $53.9 million in prize money in her career.)
Serena’s competitiveness and refusal to lose is the signature attribute of her championship mettle – a topic that her first coach Rick Macci discusses in the forthcoming book “Macci Magic: Extracting Greatness from Yourself and Others” (per order here: http://www.amazon.com/Macci-Magic-Extracting-Greatness-Yourself/dp/1937559254/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382983133&sr=1-1&keywords=macci+magic)
But, what is so ironic about Serena is how relatively uncompetitive she was in her first professional match.
Unlike her sister Venus, who at age 14 beat world No. 57 Shaun Stafford in her pro match and led world No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-3, 3-1 in her second pro match, Serena’s pro debut was not nearly as celebrated, successful or competitive, as documented below in the October 29 chapter of my book and mobile app ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY (www.TennisHistoryApp.com).
October 29, 1995 – Fourteen-year-old future world No. 1 Serena Williams makes an auspicious, humbling professional debut, losing in the first round of qualifying of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City, Canada to 18-year-old, Anne Miller 6-1, 6-1. The match is played at Club Advantage, a private tennis club in Quebec with little fanfare. Writes Robin Finn of the New York Times, ”Instead of a stadium showcase, she competed on a regulation practice court at a tennis club in suburban Vanier, side by side with another qualifying match. There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate.” Says Williams, “I felt bad out there because I lost. I didn’t play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur.” Says Miller, “I guess I played a celebrity…She has as much power as anybody around, but maybe she needs to play some junior events the way Anna Kournikova has to learn how to become match-tough. There really is no substitute for the real thing. I felt like a complete veteran compared to her.”
Miller would go on to a career that was so obscure that only a shell of a bio appears on her on the WTA’s website, but she did achieve a top 50 ranking.
The Emirates Airlines US Open Series begins next week with tournaments at Atlanta (ATP) and Stanford (WTA). More events on both Tours follow during each of the five weeks between now and the US Open, including consecutive Masters 1000/Premier Five tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati. As the action accelerates toward the final major of 2013, here are seven key narratives to follow.
1. Will Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray seize the upper hand?
The top two men in the world have contested the finals at the last three non-clay majors and enter the summer hard courts as co-favorites for the US Open. Fittingly, Djokovic and Murray each have won once in New York, although the Serb has reached four finals there to the Scot’s two. While Murray has won multiple titles at both Masters 1000 tournaments this summer, Djokovic never has conquered Cincinnati despite winning three times in Canada. A victory for either man over the other at one of those events would earn that player an edge heading into New York. So would a Canada/Cincinnati sweep, a feat that has occurred only three times on the men’s side in the Open era. Back on their best surface for the rest of 2013, Djokovic and Murray have an opportunity to take their rivalry another step forward. Abrupt shifts have defined it so far, so predict at your peril.
2. Will Serena Williams restore order in the WTA?
The world No. 1 has compiled a somewhat strange season, dominating Roland Garros and racing undefeated through the clay season but losing by the quarterfinals at the two non-clay majors. Serena usually responds with courage to adversity such as her stunning loss to Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon. One need think back barely a year to the second-half surge that she reeled off after a much more disheartening setback against Virginie Razzano. The dominance of the top three women since the start of 2012 prepared few viewers for the implosion at Wimbledon. That fortnight echoed the chaotic period in the WTA that preceded the current Serena/Maria/Vika Rule of Three. For reasons developed further below, the top-ranked woman and defending US Open champion stands the best positioned of that trio to curb her inferiors. Even as she approaches 32, her aura still intimidates.
3. Will Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal pose the greater challenge to the top two?
On the surface, literally and figuratively, this question seems easy. Federer has compiled the superior record of the two in the US Open Series and at the US Open. For most of their careers, he has been the better man on hard courts and the better man in the second half, when his rival’s energy wanes. That said, Nadal has surpassed Federer in recent years at the US Open, notching consecutive finals in 2010-11. He also has produced the stronger season of the two by far, reaching the final at every tournament except Wimbledon, claiming a key hard-court title at Indian Wells, and overcoming Djokovic at Roland Garros. Federer has won just one title in 2013 and has not defeated a top-five opponent. The two superstars never have met in the US Open Series or at the US Open. They responded in contrasting ways to early Wimbledon losses, Nadal resting his ever-fragile knees and Federer entering two clay tournaments in July.
4. Can the Wimbledon women’s finalists consolidate their breakthroughs?
Hovering over Murray’s quest to defend his US Open title is the question of how he will respond to his Wimbledon feat. The women’s champion there also faces the task of overcoming the inevitable post-breakthrough hangover. Like Murray, however, Marion Bartoli may have the maturity to avoid that lull. She has earned some of her finest successes on North American hard courts, including a Stanford title won from Venus Williams, finals at Indian Wells and San Diego, and semifinals at Miami and the Rogers Cup. Bartoli might return at Stanford next week.
Much more a grass specialist than Bartoli, the woman whom she defeated in the Wimbledon final has reached four quarterfinals there but none at any other major. Sabine Lisicki still looks to build on her victories over two top-four opponents at Wimbledon, and there is no reason why her massive serve cannot shine on fast hard courts. Her main challenge has consisted of staying healthy long enough to build momentum, so her ranking could climb if she does.
5. What to expect from Wimbledon’s walking wounded?
About five top-eight players limped out of the grass season with injuries that may linger. On the men’s side, Juan Martin Del Potro should recover quickly from a minor sprain caused by hyper-extending his left knee. The Wimbledon semifinalist and former US Open champion should prove the most compelling threat in New York outside the Big Four. World No. 3 David Ferrer may need more time to recover from his ankle injury, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has voiced uncertainty over whether he will return from a knee injury by the Open.
Eager to ignite her partnership with Jimmy Connors, Maria Sharapova withdrew from Stanford next week to rest a hip injury incurred at Wimbledon. Sharapova posted playful photos of her rehab work, not sounding overly concerned. Still, both Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka may need to brush off some rust early in the US Open Series. Limited to one match since Roland Garros, Azarenka has played only five tournaments in the last five months. Her coach, Sam Sumyk, reported that her knee incurred no structural damage, though.
6. Will home soil inspire the American men?
At the US Open last year and at Wimbledon this summer, nobody in this group reached the second week, something once taken for granted. With Andy Roddick retired and Mardy Fish chronically ill, American men’s tennis has plunged down an elevator shaft with embarrassing velocity. Not much light shines into the bottom of the shaft from former phenom Ryan Harrison, who has developed into an uninspired journeyman. The more explosive Jack Sock may evolve into a future star, as French sports magazine L’Equipe thinks, but his time will not come for at least a few years. Until then, the two lethargic giants John Isner and Sam Querrey remain the only real hopes for the US. The good news is that they have played their best tennis on home soil, winning 10 of 13 career titles there. The bad news is that neither has done anything meaningful on hard courts this year.
7. Which rising stars on each Tour will shine?
In the wake of a Wimbledon semifinal appearance, many eyes will focus on Jerzy Janowicz over the summer. The boyish, lanky Pole has virtually nothing to defend during the US Open Series as he aims to rise toward the top 10. Grigor Dimitrov has drawn attention mostly on account of his resemblance to Federer and his relationship with Sharapova, but he impressed at both Indian Wells and Miami this year. And the deeply talented, deeply enigmatic Bernard Tomic could build on a promising Wimbledon if he finds more discipline on the court and stability off the court.
The women’s game features some youngsters who have advanced faster than their male counterparts. One of three women to reach the second week at every major in 2013, the 20-year-old Sloane Stephens offers the home nation its most genuine threat outside Serena. Stephens needs to transfer some of her feistiness from verbal barbs to her game, not an obstacle confronted by the powerful Madison Keys. American fans should relish the sight of Keys this summer, showcasing a serve reminiscent of the Williams sisters and the penetrating groundstrokes designed for WTA success. Reaching the second week at Wimbledon and at last year’s US Open, meanwhile, British teenager Laura Robson has shown the power and belief to strike down the elite.
Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title. This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.
Top half: The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure. One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford. But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least. Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy. The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon. Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.
The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals. On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week. Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring. Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals. At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.
Bottom half: Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils. Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women. Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans. The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.
Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer. She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise. One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles. After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback. Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential. And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.
Final: Serena vs. Halep
Top half: To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word). On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last. The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay. Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity. Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year. Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.
As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home. Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site. A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic. Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress. But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section. Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency. Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.
Bottom half: Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu. This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo. While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far. Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final. The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year. Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner. Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week. Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.
Final: Petkovic vs. Beck
Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women. As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective. (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.) What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.
7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9
The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished. Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open. Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis. By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could. Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity. The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon. For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.
6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4
On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game. But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1. By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail. When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall. Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4. Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner. The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final. It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances. Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.
Honorable mention: Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.
5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5
Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began. No, I thought not. And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire. To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008. The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface. Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different. Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her. She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris. Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.
4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3
When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA. But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry. As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence. The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set. Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak. She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third. Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove. (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.) All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.
3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0
Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well. Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history. For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead. But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum. Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket. Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight. She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.
2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4
With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger. Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal. Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry. A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match. At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading. There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors. Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points. The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama. When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.
1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3
Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top. The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens. When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity. The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve. Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries. Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court. But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense. With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself. She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.
By Maud Watson
Who to Watch
With Wimbledon wrapped and the summer hard court season upon us, it’s worth taking a look at some of the storylines to keep tabs on as the rest of the year unfolds. We’ll start with who to watch, and after her run at Wimbledon, Sabine Lisicki is the player to follow on the WTA. As previously noted, she’s got a big game, but she also possesses touch and feel and still has youth on her side. She’s never played consistently well outside of SW19, but after breaking new ground at the All England Club by reaching the final, perhaps she’s ready to do the same at other venues across the globe. On the men’s side, you have to like what you saw from Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon. He gave Djokovic all he could handle before bowing out in five enthralling sets in the semifinals and after that defeat, stated he felt he was ready to be back in the mix with the Big 4. As an added bonus, del Potro managed to engage the crowd much more by conversing with spectators and even joking throughout the course of that important match. He may have ultimately lost that semifinal, but he won a lot of fans sure to watch him going forward.
Who Will Feel the Love
After holding her nerve to grab the opportunity of a lifetime, newly-crowned Wimbledon Champion Marion Bartoli deserves some serious respect. The Frenchwoman has been better known for her quirks and some unfortunate disparaging remarks regarding her looks, but she deserves to be known for her game. Her relentless attacking style makes her a tough customer for the game’s best – as she proved six years ago – and with the confidence that comes from winning a major, she should be solidly back in the thick of it this summer. She also has a delightful personality that should have fans warming to her. For the men, it’s about time Ferrer got some kudos. He’s now in the top three, and he’s not there by accident. He consistently shows up week in and week out and just reached his first major final a month ago in Paris. At 31, he doesn’t have the same kind of upshot as a del Potro, but with the Spaniard likely to continue to produce throughout the remainder of 2013, it’s about time he was fully appreciated and respected for the tenacity and consistency that have played a big part in him surpassing Nadal and Federer in the rankings.
How Will They Respond?
Despite winning Roland Garros, Serena was undoubtedly unhappy to fall short at Wimbledon. To be fair to her, Lisicki did play a great match. But Serena also looked nervous. It’s unclear if that had to do with fear of Lisicki’s ability or if the pressure of defending her title – and a heavy favorite to do so – was getting to her. If it was the latter, things could get tricky for the American in the second half of 2013. She has a boatload of points to defend thanks to a stellar second half of 2012, and particularly if she wants to maintain the top WTA ranking, the pressure will only mount. She’s responded well to adversity before, but at 31, she’s bound to feel it a little more. As for the ATP, it’s a tossup as to whether it’s Federer or Nadal facing more questions going into the second half of the season. Both suffered shocking early exits at Wimbledon. Federer is looking to get back on the horse immediately by playing a couple of European clay court tournaments before heading to North America. How things transpire at those events will likely dictate just how freely he’s swinging as he preps for the US Open. In regards to Nadal, it’s unclear when he will return and how much the knee may or may not be hampering him. How his knee responds, as well as how mentally confident he feels about his game and body on the hard courts will determine just how much success he’ll enjoy the remainder of the season.
Will They Return?
The two players facing this question both represent the Stars and Stripes. Venus Williams continues to battle a back injury and is questionable for the US Open. It will all depend of if she is healthy enough to play a tune-up event before Flushing Meadows. If you factor in her age and other outside interests, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if we see little to no play from her until the autumn or even 2014. Mardy Fish is the other player struggling to make a comeback, though he is set to compete in both Atlanta and Washington DC in the coming weeks. Fish remains upbeat about his chances of tasting success, citing the recent resurgence of veteran Tommy Haas as a point from which to draw inspiration. But as Mardy has admitted, so many of his issues have stemmed from the mental side of things. He’s also already suffered a couple of comebacks that have failed to get off the ground this season. Again, at his age, you have to wonder how many setbacks he’s willing to overcome before he decides to hang it up.
Race for No. 1
It’s a three-way race on both tours. For the WTA, it’s your top three, with Serena, Sharapova, and Azarenka the most likely candidates to finish in the top spot. On paper, Serena has a bit of a cushion, but she has more to defend than the other two. Still, if she stays healthy, you have to like her odds of defending the bulk of her points from 2012. If not, with Azarenka struggling with injuries, this could prove a great opportunity for Sharapova to step it up. On the men’s side, it’s looking like a race between Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal. Similar to Serena, Djokovic has an apparent cushion but also has a number of points to defend. The good news for Djokovic is that World No. 2 Murray also has a large share of points to defend, and particularly with his early loss at Wimbledon, Nadal has to log exceptional performances at a number of the bigger events throughout the remainder of 2013. Assuming he doesn’t fall apart, Djokovic is still the favorite to finish atop the rankings.
Wimbledon Rewind: Serena Stunned, Djokovic Dominant, Radwanska Resilient, Li Lethal, Ferrer Fierce on Manic Monday
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.
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?
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.
(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.)
Wimbledon Rewind: Djokovic and Serena Thrive, Radwanska and Li Survive, Ferrer and Kvitova Rally, Grass Specialists Sparkle on Day 6
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.
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.
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.
(June 29, 2013) Twelve. That’s how many times 20-year-old American Sloane Stephens has used the phrase “play hard” in her last two press conferences at Wimbledon this week.
After her turbulent season on the WTA Tour since debuting in the top 20 for the first time in January, that’s all Stephens can focus on – playing hard.
Now through to the fourth round after a rollercoaster of a match against qualifier Petra Cetkovska, Stephens is rebuilding the confidence she lost earlier in the year.
Combined with her fourth round appearance last month at Roland Garros, which she called “pretty good … after not having that many great results over the year,” Stephens said that run helped her “build a lot of confidence.” Now, she comes into Wimbledon “feeling (even) better.”
After becoming an instant celebrity with her surprise win over an injured Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, Stephens is now third at odds, according to ESPN, to win Wimbledon behind Williams and 2011 titlist Petra Kvitova. That’s a pretty tall task for a player who has never been past the fourth round of Wimbledon and has yet to even reach a Slam final.
Stephens’ main draw debut at a Slam occurred in 2011 on her favorite surface, the red clay of Roland Garros. And since then, she has gone a respectable 21-8 during her young career. Despite her rather quick ascension up the Slam ranks, she jokes about still being a relative newcomer.
“Even though I played a lot slams, I feel like it’s all new,” Stephens said on Monday. “I came (to Wimbledon) and I … didn’t even know how to get to the locker room.”
Stephens’ young career on court has been an inspiring one, but her off-court presence has quickly outshone her well-crafted style. With many seeds now out from Wimbledon, it’s another opportunity for the young American to revert attention back to her game.
At age 17, Stephens finished 2010 ranked world No. 198, followed it up with a top 100 debut just nine months later and ended the year as the youngest player in the top 100. In July of 2012, she broke into the top 50 for the first time after reaching the third round at Wimbledon, then a left abdominal injury derailed her and she missed the last four months of the season.
Then, the tournament that made her a household name occurred.
Stephens came into the 2013 Australian Open already ranked a proper 25th in the world, but many had still never seen much from the budding 20-year-old. She was carefree, energetic and youthful, and was flying under the radar as she defeated then-world No. 3 Serena Williams on her way to the semifinals.
Then came the media downfall. Clouded by her own words and misrepresentations from some members of the press, Stephens had to combat against comments that she said her and Williams being “besties” and that the elder American was a “mentor.” Though the media blew Stephens’ comments out of proportion, she did little initially to put out the fire.
Another well-timed release of a two-month old interview for ESPN just last month caused an additional stir. In the article, Stephens blasted Williams for being cold to her after her Australian Open win, and Stephens quickly commented that the statements were taken out of context and that she had already sorted it out with Williams directly.
But gone was the lovable interviewee in her post-match press conferences, and her match play during much of this time suffered as well. She again came under heavy scrutiny and she admitted that all of the media attention became too overwhelming for her.
By the first week of May, Stephens’ win-to-loss record on the season outside of the Slams had dropped to 3-6, including five opening round losses.
But looking deeper into Stephens’ results, this statistic shouldn’t be that alarming. She has, for some reason, always performed better at Slams than at WTA-level events.
In 2011, Stephens’ best results came in Carlsbad where she reached the quarterfinals, and the US Open where she reached the third round. Outside of that, she failed to even qualify for seven other WTA events, and additionally lost in the first round of a lower-ranked ITF event to a player outside of the top 400.
In 2012, Stephens reached the third round or better in three of the four Slams, but failed once again to even qualify for three WTA events, though she did reach two semifinals in lower-ranked WTA events.
In 2013 so far, Stephens has reached the fourth round of a Slam twice and the semifinal once, but outside of that, her best showing was once again the semifinal of a lower-ranked WTA event.
All things considered, Stephens has yet to appear past a WTA Premier-level quarterfinal or International-level semifinal, and has only won one ITF title in 2011, yet she is making the fourth rounds of Slams without too much difficulty.
So the question begs to be asked: Why does Stephens perform considerably better at Slams than at WTA-level events?
Well, if you’re looking to Stephens to answer the puzzle, you’ll be disappointed.
“I don’t know,” says Stephens when asked about her Slam performance consistency compared to the rest of her WTA results. “Maybe it’s the food I eat. I’m not really sure.”
Analyzing Stephens’ Slam and Premier events statistics, particularly in three-set matches, from May 2011 to present day, as well as a breakdown of the last twelve months gives some interesting insights.
- When winning the first set in a three-set match at Slams, Stephens has won 85.7% of the time, or 6 out of 7 matches. Compare that to Premier events during the same timeframe where she only won 28.6% of the time, or 2 out of 7 matches.
- In three-set matches won over the last two years, Stephens holds a record of 8-2 at Slams, and 7-8 at Premier events. Over the last twelve months, her Slam record is 7-2 and 3-7 at Premier events.
- Over the last twelve months, the average ranking to which she lost to in three-sets at a Slam was 14, and at Premier events was 38.
- Over the past twelve months, Stephens holds a 15-4 win-to-loss record in all Slam matches, compared to an 11-13 record for all Premier event matches.
- In all Slam losses over the past twelve months, the average ranking of her opponent was 8. Compare that to a ranking of 35 at Premier events during the same time frame.
The statistics breakdown of her matches could continue, but the conclusion is clear: Stephens, whether consciously or not, exerts more into her Slam performances to secure those three-set wins, in particular. Stephens tends to win and lose straight set matches in rather similar ratios across Slam and Premier events – it’s only the three-set matches that show any marked difference.
This week in Wimbledon, after easily getting by her first round opponent Jamie Hampton in straight sets, Stephens was tested with back-to-back three set matches against first Andrea Petkovic then Petra Cetkovska. After winning both first sets in a tiebreak, she had uncharacteristically poor middle sets (6-2 and 6-0, respectively), before bouncing back and winning both nail-biting matches in the third.
Perhaps her confidence at Slams is still somewhat wavering given her results the past few months, but she would be wise to keep that elevated focus and translate it into the other WTA events, and not just at Slams. A few bad draws at a couple of Slams or another injury, and she could see her confidence and ranking faltering. She needs to find a way to win those three-set matches which are being played on smaller stages, and build a proper foundation.
In other words, she needs to take her own advice for every event she enters, and simply “play hard.”
By Maud Watson
One of the two biggest upset of Week 1 at Wimbledon was that of Rafael Nadal losing to Steve Darcis. Nadal meekly succumbed to the inspired play of the Belgian in the opening round, leaving many questioning his future in the game. The knees are the obvious first concern. That his knees could deteriorate as quickly as they appeared to in that first match after the performances he’s put on the past five months seems a stretch. But his condition is a tricky one, and the grass does force his knees to work harder. There are also rightfully questions about his scheduling – both before and after SW19. Before Wimbledon, he put in a lot of tennis for someone with documented knee issues who had sat out seven months. Post Wimbledon presents the question of how much more mileage Nadal will be willing to put on those knees, since it will primarily come on hard outdoor and indoor surfaces. But the other question that has to be asked is how much of this is also between the ears. When Nadal walked out onto Centre Court, it was likely with the bad memories of 2012. The slightest niggle is also apt to have a major impact on his level of play, which given his injury history, is understandable. It also explains why he has become noticeably more irritable when things aren’t “just right” for his needs/wants (like his uncharacteristic griping about scheduling at Roland Garros). No matter how you slice it, what we saw from Nadal at Wimbledon was troubling. We know he can play on surfaces outside of clay, but he has to 100% believe his body will allow him to the second half of the season, or being a factor on anything outside of clay may just be a pipe dream.
The other upset vying for the biggest shocker of the tournament is that of Roger Federer by Sergiy Stakhovsky. If ever there was a moment when it felt Federer was truly in decline, it was this match. It’s the first time in nearly a decade that the Swiss has lost before the quarters of any major, let alone Wimbledon. But the days of Federer being able to consistently find his best or escape from the jaws of defeat with great frequency are behind him. It happens with age, and Federer’s is finally starting to catch up with him. It doesn’t mean he will never win another major (see Sampras, Pete in 2002), and Federer insists he doesn’t view himself as in decline. He still feels he has the game to win the big ones, and bottom line, his belief is the only one that matters. So though he’ll likely need some help to win the slams, don’t be too quick to send him off into the sunset. He still has game, and there are still some moments of pure genius left up his sleeve.
One of the biggest controversies at this year’s Championships has been the condition of the courts. There have been many slips and falls, with some alleging that the courts are dangerous, while others simply chalk it up to typical grass court tennis. Though the weather has possibly had a negative impact on the grounds, there are a few things to consider before condemning Wimbledon and its grounds crew. First, the bulk of the complaints have come from the losers, while the winners (many of whom have managed to stay upright) see no real issue. Additionally, many of the withdrawals and retirements were due to either freak accidents or pre-existing injuries the players picked up in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon. And perhaps the biggest culprit of all is the players’ movement on the court. As Darren Cahill pointed out, many of the players are guilty of not taking enough of the tiny steps, which you have to do on grass, to maintain balance. Video footage of many, but not all, of the tumbles shows players hitting the turf after taking a large, wide step or getting completely wrong-footed. It’s a perfect storm that has left the folks at Wimbledon to do damage control, but hopefully going forward, especially with an extra week between Wimbledon and the French beginning in 2015, we’ll see far less of these unfortunate events.
Love is blind. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard. It’s also a phrase that we typically think of as relating to romantic love, but it applies to other types of love, too. Sometimes it can refer to familial love, as is the case with Bernard Tomic. The Aussie, who had an impressive five-set win over Sam Querrey in the opening round, lashed out at the ATP for banning his father due to pending assault charges dating back to Madrid. He feels that they’re hurting his game by not just banning the man that is his father, but the man that he still views as his coach. It’s understandable where Tomic is coming from, but it’s a sad situation. His dad is too physical with others, including his own son. With any luck, Tomic will find success without his father by his side so that he can see he doesn’t need him to enjoy a fruitful career. And hopefully, he’ll one day look back and realize what a favor the ATP has done for him by putting its foot down.
Bring It On
Event organizers’ brains are probably just whirling with the possibility of a showdown between Andy Murray and Serena Williams in what could once again be billed as an intriguing “Battle of the Sexes.” The Scot responded to a Twitter follower who introduced the idea that he should take on Serena Williams, and it turns out the Scot is game. When Williams heard about it, she also expressed enthusiasm at the idea. It’s of course all in good fun, but if organizers can find a way to turn this talk into a reality, it’s a guaranteed success. And better yet, stage it in Vegas as Murray suggested. It would be a spectacular show sure to bring plenty of good publicity to tennis.