Sloane Stephens

Citi Open Wednesday Gallery: Isner, Haas, Stephens and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Play was derailed by play Wednesday evening, but not before plenty of action took place including Andrea Petkovic, John Isner, Tommy Haas, Grigor Dimitrov, Sorana Cirstea, Yanina Wickmayer, Marinko Matosevic, Jack Sock, Alex Kuznetsov, and even Sloane Stephens hit the practice courts.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Citi Open Monday Gallery: Kerber, Stephens, Johnson and More

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Monday action at the Citi Open took place over five courts, with the last ball being played just before midnight, earning American Melanie Oudin a spot in the second round.

Players roamed, stretched, practice and played all over the grounds, including Angelique Kerber, David Goffin, Steve Johnson, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Dmitry Tursunov, Radek Stepanek, Juan Martin del Potro, Sloane Stephens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Alize Cornet, Bernard Tomic, Tim Smyczek, Eugenie Bouchard, and Taylor Townsend.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Turbulent Day for American Tennis as Nine Get Ousted at Citi Open Including No. 2 Seed Stephens

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite home soil advantage, it was a rocky day for American tennis players on the grounds of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. as nine players went out in the first round of play on the men’s and women’s side.

DSC_89130001Sloane StephensIn the biggest stunner of the day, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens went down to world No. 88 Olga Puchkova in very uncharacteristic form, 7-5, 6-3. From her first service game, Stephens was broken and it continued downhill through five more breaks. She continued to send balls long and mid-way through the second set, she seemed void of energy, just standing in frustration looking to her team in the stands after errors.

But Stephens herself isn’t that worried about Monday night’s performance, citing the quick turn around from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., the differing courts and her poor practice in the days prior to her match.

“Leading up (to the match), I didn’t practice that great,” admitted Stephens. “I just wasn’t feeling the ball that well. Sometimes you just have tough days like that. Unfortunate that it came today and I couldn’t really get it together.”

Physically, she “felt fine,” even joking that “when I’m injured I play great, and then when I’m healthy I can’t hit a ball right.”

Looking forward to the US Open, she feels the home pressure is inevitable based on her recent Slam results, but chooses to focus on her game, saying “I don’t care anymore” about the buzz.

“Everyone is going to be like, ‘You should do really well here because you’ve done well in all of the Slams,’” commented Stephens. “If I lose first round, you guys, just don’t be upset.”

Earlier in the day in just his fourth tournament of the year, Mardy Fish continued his comeback on unsteady ground as he found himself down a set against Australian Matt Ebden, 6-2. He opened up the second set by winning a 22-point game, breaking Ebden three times before taking it 6-1, and closing it 6-3 in the final set.

A sober Fish arrived in press, feeling healthy and “satisfied to win,” but he admitted to being drained of energy.

“It’s a process. Fitness is a big a part of playing, and sometimes that spells trouble for me … My expectations as far as winning the tournament are pretty low. I’m just enjoying competing right now.”

2002 champion James Blake also faced a tough opponent in another fellow Aussie, Marinko Matosevic, except the end results didn’t favor the American as he went down 6-2, 7-6(6).

“I never really got any real rhythm at all on my serve, and that made all the difference in the first set,” said Blake. “I got back into the second set, and had my chances … but missed it.”

Despite the early exit, Blake still has fond memories of the tournament, and enjoys the support he gets from fans

“(Washington, D.C.) was the first tournament I ever won,” he said. “It was an unbelievable week beating one of my idols, Andre Agassi in the semis. And really fond memories of beating Paradorn Srichaphan in the final.”

So, what is next for the 33-year-old father?

“I don’t know. Right now, that’s a tough question. I don’t feel great about the way I played today. My plan has always been, play through the summer and then see where I’m at. See where my body is at, where my head’s at, how I’m feeling, how much I want to travel, how much I still enjoy it all — if my body allows me to keep going.”

Monday play also included a late night win by 21-year-old Melanie Oudin. However, seven additional Americans failed to reach the second round, including Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Rhyne Williams, Rajeev Ram, Christian McHale, Jessica Pegula, and Beatrice Capra.

From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.

Carlsbad:

Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska

Washington:

Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens

Gallery: Opening Weekend at Citi Open with Del Potro, Petkovic, Raonic, Haas and More

Play is already in full swing as qualifiers took to the courts for their matches, and top players like Juan Martin del Potro, Andrea Petkovic and Tommy Haas hit the practice courts on a hot weekend in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Citi Open.

Check out the full gallery from opening weekend, including other players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Irina Falconi, Jessica Pegula, Rhyne Williams, Donald Young, Christian Harrison, Caroline Garcia, Matt Ebden, and Sloane Stephens.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Stephens, Townsend Play Tennis on National Mall; Players Hit the DC Practice Courts

(July 26, 2013) Prior to the official draw ceremony for the Citi Open in Washington, DC with Marcos Baghdatis and DC Mayor Vincent Gray, WTA players Sloane Stephens and Taylor Townsend hit the National Mall.

The duo took part in a mini-tennis exhibition with some of DC’s youth set against the incredible backdrop of the US Capitol.

Earlier in the day, several players took advantage of the quiet surroundings and practice courts, including Grigor Dimitrov, Alison Riske, Mitchell Frank, Mona Barthel and more.

Qualifying play begins Saturday at 10am at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center. Stay tuned all week for full coverage direct from the grounds!

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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Plotlines to Ponder: US Open Series Edition

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.

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Thoughts on the Women’s Quarterfinals

For the second time in three years, Wimbledon will crown a first-time champion on the women’s side.  That development seems fitting in view of the upsets that have riddled the draw.  Here are some thoughts on the women’s quarterfinals.

Match of the day:  It spanned three and a half hours, including rain delays, medical treatment, and multiple squandered leads.  At the end of it, Agnieszka Radwanska needed eight match points to close out world No. 6 Li Na and move within one victory of a second straight Wimbledon final.  The only woman in the top 10 to reach the semifinals, Radwanska cannot expect to get a better opportunity to join the elite club of major champions.  Despite a right leg injury that bothered her enough to call a medical treatment, she will do whatever it takes to secure these last two victories.

Upset of the day:  A year ago, Kirsten Flipkens did not even make the cutoff to play Wimbledon qualifying.  Now, she has moved to the brink of the final as the 20th seed after knocking off the only former major champion left in the draw.  Down a set to Petra Kvitova, Flipkens did not crumble under the onslaught of her opponent’s superior power.  An underrated serve and a surprising poise in tight moments helped the 27-year-old Belgian topple the world No. 8 in her Centre Court debut.  Her mentor, Kim Clijsters, would be proud of how crisply she played in the final set, committing just one unforced error.

Maid Marion immaculate:  Remember when Marion Bartoli struck nearly 20 double faults in a loss to Coco Vandeweghe this spring?  Or the coaching turmoil when she dismissed her father from her team before quickly summoning him back?  That same woman has won all ten sets that she has played at Wimbledon to reach her first major semifinal since Roland Garros 2011.  By defeating a top-20 opponent, Sloane Stephens, Bartoli legitimized a hot streak that previously had scorched only third-rate challengers.  Six years have passed since Bartoli’s only major final, which also came on these lawns.  A bit of déjà vu will await if she can solve Flipkens on Thursday.

Li’s lost chance:  Serving for the first set, the world No. 6 appeared to clip a line with her serve on set point but declined to challenge.  Li ultimately lost that set in a tiebreak and received the grim news in her press conference that the serve in fact did clip the line.  A correct challenge would have given her the first set and perhaps completely changed the trajectory of the second week.

No hangover for Lisicki:  Just 24 hours after she astonished the world, the woman who halted Serena Williams recorded a more routine victory over Kaia Kanepi.  Lisicki transitioned smoothly from heavy underdog to clear favorite, reaching her second Wimbledon semifinal in three years.  Like Flipkens, and arguably like the other semifinalists as well, her game suits grass better than any other surface.  Wimbledon lacks star power near its climax, but it should feature plenty of drama and high-quality tennis as these four women vie for a prize that most thought beyond the reach of any of them.

Petra, the enigma:  She looked like a serial major champion and perennial contender when she won Wimbledon two years ago, becoming the first woman of her generation to break through at a major.  But Kvitova has not reached a major final since then and has regressed even further over the last year, losing by the quarterfinals at her last five majors.  Unlike Radwanska, she could not overcome a physical issue that forced her to seek medical attention (an apparent breathing problem).  Kvitova has the weapons of a champion but not the mind or the will at the moment.

Americans in London:  With Stephens gone, we’re down to the legendary doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan.  The ageless twins moved within two victories of their third straight major title with a triple-tiebreak victory over the No. 8 seeds.  Keep an eye on the Bryans’ quest for a calendar Slam.  If they go to New York with a perfect record at majors this year, doubles could get some real attention.

Stat of the day:  The four semifinalists have reached four total major semifinals among them (Bartoli has two, Flipkens none) and two major finals (one each for Bartoli and Radwanska).

Question of the day:  Are you excited by the wide-open women’s semifinal lineup ahead?  Or uninspired by the absence of stars?

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.

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.

 

Wimbledon Ladies Quarterfinals Preview: Will History Be Made?

(July 1, 2013) What a week at Wimbledon. If your women’s draw predictions have somehow upheld to the quarterfinal stage, sincere congratulations. If your draw includes only two of the eight correct names, like mine, don’t worry. You’re in the majority. The shake-up at this year’s Wimbledon Championships has been an unprecedented event, and the draw has opened up drastically to allow a first-time winner to take the title.

Current oddmakers have Sabine Lisicki as the top contender for the title, followed by 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and 2011 French Open champion Li Na. Last year’s Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens round out the top 5.

Let’s take a further look at the four quarterfinal matchups and how the ladies stack up against each other.

Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi Wimbledon[23] Sabine Lisicki vs Kaia Kanepi

  • First career meeting
  • Plays winner of Radwanska-Li
  • Best previous Wimbledon result - Lisicki: 2011 SF (as a wildcard); Kanepi: 2010 QF (as a qualifier)

With Lisicki’s surprise defeat of Serena Williams in the fourth round, the German is now 17-4 at Wimbledon (compared to 16-15 at the other Slams). She also now has the distinct honor of having beaten the reigning French Open champ at the last four Wimbledon Championships she has played, including Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011, Maria Sharapova in 2012, and Williams this year. She did not play in 2010.

Lisicki has been looking sharp all week on her favorite surface, overpowering with her serve and improving her footwork and movement with each match. She only lost seven total games in the first two matches against Francesca Schiavone and Elena Vesnina. Sam Stosur pushed her in the third round, but she rallied back from a 6-4 first set deficit to take the next 12-of-15 games.

Kanepi, though the underdog, is in her fifth Slam quarterfinal over the last five years. She was mere points away from being defeated by Angelique Kerber in the second round here at Wimbledon, but came back to win 6-3 in the third. While two of Kanepi’s matches were against wildcards ranked outside of the top 100, Lisicki has had to come through two singles Slam champions (Schiavone and Stosur) and one doubles Slam champion (Vesnina).

Result: Lisicki in straight sets

Agnieszka Radwanska vs Na Li Wimbledon[4] Agnieszka Radwanska vs [6] Na Li

  • Li leads 6-4, but Radwanska leads 2-1 on grass
  • Plays winner of Lisicki-Kanepi
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Radwanska: 2012 F; Li: 2006, 2010 QF

Despite many of the women’s top seeds falling early, this quarter is the only one with its top seeds still intact, and last year’s finalist, Radwanska, comes in as a slight favorite. The Pole was not tested until her last two rounds against Madison Keys and grass-court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, which both went the full three sets. Her execution and court coverage have stayed consistent, and her crafty game has taken full advantage of the low bounce.

Though Li was pitted by some as crashing out early, she has kept her composure while many seeds fell and is the oldest player left in the draw. Her rollercoaster match against newly-resurgent Simona Halep in the second round gave way to another topsy-turvy match against No. 32 seed Klara Zakopalova, before she finally easily closed out Roberta Vinci in 55 minutes. She hasn’t had any remarkable play thus far and has flown under the radar, but it could be a tight match.

Results: Radwanska in three sets

Marion Bartoli vs Sloane Stephens Wimbledon[15] Marion Bartoli vs [17] Sloane Stephens

  • Bartoli leads 1-0, on hard
  • Plays winner of Kvitova-Flipkens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Bartoli: 2007 F; Stephens: 2012 Third Round

Other than Kirsten Flipkens, Bartoli is the only other player left in the draw that has yet to lose a set this Wimbledon, the Slam where she saw her best results by reaching the final in 2007 losing to Venus Williams. Her quirky game has been relegated to the smaller outside courts this week, but she is sure to give the American trouble with her variety especially in the spotlight. The French woman is making her 47th Slam appearance which dates back to 2002, and is in her third quarterfinal at Wimbledon. When on, her game can trouble even players at the top of the game, as evidenced by her brutal defeat of Petra Kvitova at last year’s US Open, so Stephens needs to come out swinging.

As the last American left in the draw (who would have guessed that last Monday?), Stephens has reached the fourth round or better in her last three Slams. Three of her first four matches went the distance, with two coming down to the wire against Andrea Petkovic and Petra Cetkovska. Her game is powerful yet still developing, and her play in the third set against Monica Puig on Monday was on another level. Stephens has risen to the challenge and her focus and endurance will surely be tested against Bartoli.

Results: Bartoli in three sets

Petra Kvitova vs Kirsten Flipkens Wimbledon[8] Petra Kvitova vs [20] Kirsten Flipkens

  • Flipkens leads 2-1, all on hard
  • Plays winner of Bartoli-Stephens
  • Best previous Wimbledon result – Kvitova: 2011 Winner; Flipkens: 2009 Third Round

Kvitova may be the only past winner left in the draw, but she has not been looking as sharp over the last year. Her play at time has been questionable, but she managed to overcome a near-upset in the first round here against world No. 108 CoCo Vandeweghe, with a 7-5 win in the third set. Since then, she has shown flashes of her tennis genius but it has been wildly inconsistent.

Flipkens, possibly the biggest surprise quarterfinalists, had never been past the third round of a Slam before this year’s Australian Open. With new mentor Kim Clijsters in tow and a renewed fitness and ball-striking ability, the Belgian came from being ranked 175 during this time last year and not even playing Wimbledon, to reaching her first Slam quarterfinal and sitting at a career-high No. 20. Despite the strong showing, her draw has been rather light, playing No. 90 Yulia Putintseva, No. 97 Vesna Dolonc, No. 39 Bojana Jovanovski and No. 166 Flavia Pennetta who used her protected ranking. It may just be the end of the road for her.

Results: Kvitova in straight sets