Tsvetana Pironkova

Pironkova Upsets No. 2 Seed Radwanska In Rainy Roland Garros

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria had the biggest upset of the French Open so far as she downed the No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The match, which started on Sunday but was delayed due to weather, resumed with Radwanska leading comfortably at 6-3, 3-0. After a 39 hour delay, though, Pironkova took complete control of the match, reeling off six games in a row to come back and win the set, losing only one point in her last two service games, to force a decider.

The third set was more of the same as the Bulgarian was able to win four more games in a row to start out, running her game streak to 10 overall. That 4-0 lead was cut to 4-2 as Radwanska got one of the breaks back, but that was all she could salvage out of the match as Pironkova was too good and closed out the match comfortably.

Pironkova, currently ranked No. 102 in the world, has been known as a grass court specialist as she made the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011, but has also showed her prowess on the clay courts, winning two titles.

That clay court skill was on display as she was able to take advantage of a distracted Radwanska, who seemed to be disinterested in being on the court. Pironkova made sure to not let the poor conditions get to her and just focus on what was happening on the court.

“Today I tried to leave the fact that it was raining out of my mind and just focus on each and every point. Obviously that worked. If the court is not fit for play…they would cancel the match right away. But today the court was okay, we could have played, and so we did,” said Pironkova, the former No. 31 player in the world.

Pironkova has now beaten the No. 2, No. 19, and No. 22 seeds in her run to the quarterfinals in Paris and is not done yet.

The French Open continues to be a site of struggle for Radwanska. Aside from making the quarterfinals in 2013, the Pole has lost in the first three rounds of the tournament in six out of her 10 appearances, including in 2015 when she lost in the first round to the No. 83 player in the world.

Radwanska made clear that she was happy with the court conditions.

“I’m just so surprised and angry that we have to play in the rain…it’s a grand slam. How can you allow players to play in the rain? I cannot play in these conditions,” said Radwanska. “I don’t think they really care what we think. I think they care about other things.”

Simona Halep, who lost to Sam Stosur on Tuesday, was also displeased with the court conditions.

“It was impossible to play in my opinion…no one cares about the players in my opinion,” said Halep. “I don’t care that I lost the match today, but I was close to getting injured with my back, that’s a big problem.”

Pironkova’s opponent in the quarterfinals will be Stosur, a former French Open finalist.

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Bastad and Bad Gastein Previews

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.

Bastad:

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

Bad Gastein:

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

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

ATP:

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

Buy, hold, or sell?   Buy

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

WTA:

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Buy

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Hold

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

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

Buy, hold, or sell?  Sell

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

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

ATP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WTA:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wimbledon Rewind: Favorites and Fifth Sets (Mostly) Dominate on Day 2

The first round concluded at Wimbledon today without any seismic shock similar to Day 1 but with many more tightly contested matches than yesterday.  Check out the intriguing events below.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The top-ranked American squared off against the top-ranked Australian in a five-set rollercoaster of two giants.  After Bernard Tomic eked out the first two sets in tiebreaks, he characteristically lost the plot and allowed Sam Querrey to win two routine sets.  But Tomic got the last word, repeating his 2012 Australian Open victory over the American by zoning back into the action for the final set.  When he catches fire, he can ignite a draw.

Comeback of the day:  An Eastbourne semifinalist last week, Ivan Dodig fell behind 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber two sets to none and came within a tiebreak of losing in straights.  Dominating that tiebreak, Dodig carried that momentum through the fourth set and reaped the reward of his perseverance when Kohlschreiber retired early in the fifth.

Trend of the day:  The first day featured only one five-setter, but the second day brought fans no fewer than nine.  Five Americans played fifth sets.  In four of those nine matches, one player won the first two sets before letting the opponent back into the match.  None of the nine extended past 6-6 in the final set, however, and two ended in fifth-set retirements, a strange anticlimax.

Symmetry of the day:  On the same day that Tomic defeated Querrey, a different American defeated a different Aussie in the same manner.  Denis Kudla won the first two sets, lost the next two, and then recovered to win the fifth from James Duckworth.  Taken together, those results accurately reflect the superior promise of Australian tennis at the top and the superior depth of American tennis overall.

Gold star:  A three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a champion at Eastbourne, Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on grass.  He extended his winning streak to the All England Club by knocking off the tenacious Gilles Simon in straight sets.  The upset recalled Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday, in which an unseeded grass specialist also defeated a seeded counterpuncher.

Silver star:  The volatile game of Florian Mayer does not make the easiest way to settle into a major, especially for a man who had not played a match on grass this year.  In his first match since the epic Roland Garros loss to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stood tall as the Wimbledon top seed in dispatching Mayer uneventfully.

Americans in London:  Beyond the previously noted Querrey and Kudla, the stars and stripes produced mixed results on Tuesday.  Ryan Harrison unsurprisingly fell to Jeremy Chardy, although he did win a set, while James Blake unexpectedly dominated Thiemo de Bakker for the loss of just six games.  Bobby Reynolds cannibalized Steve Johnson, who now has lost a five-setter in the first round of every major this year.  Court 9 saw the little-lamented departures of Wayne Odesnik and Michael Russell to a pair of fellow journeymen.

Question of the day:  While rivals Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro all advanced in straight sets, David Ferrer struggled through a four-setter against an unheralded South American.  He also lost his opener last week at the Dutch Open.  Do these struggles suggest an early exit for the other Spanish finalist at Roland Garros, or will Ferrer find his grass groove with time?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi sought to continue building her momentum in a comeback from a long injury absence.  Home hope Tara Moore sought to justify her wildcard and earn her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.  The two waged a relentless 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 duel in the confines of Court 17, which ended in hope for Kanepi and familiar heartbreak for Moore.

Comeback of the day:  The pugnacious Barbara Zahlavova Strycova refused to fade after dropping a tight first set to Magdalena Rybarikova.  Over the next two sets, the Czech yielded one total game to the Slovak who had reached the Birmingham semifinals (and won that tournament before).  Compatriot and Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova also fell to a Czech opponent in Klara Zakopalova as the western half of the former Czechoslovakia held their neighboring rivals in check.

Upset of the day:  Not the highest-ranked player to lose today, Nadia Petrova suffered the most surprising loss in falling to Katerina Pliskova in two tepid sets.  Petrova owes her top-15 status to a series of strong results last fall, but she could not consolidate them this year and now has little margin for error in the second half.

Gold star:  Thorny draws often have awaited Laura Robson at Wimbledon, and this year proved no exception with world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko awaiting her on Court 1.  The leading British women’s hope delighted her compatriots with her second victory over a top-ten opponent at a major this year.  Robson now eyes a relatively open draw after that initial upset, although she cannot relax her guard.

Silver star:  Both of last year’s finalists advanced with ease, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska losing six games between them.  But perhaps even more impressive was the double breadstick that Li Na served to Michaella Krajicek, a player whose massive weapons could threaten on grass.  Li has struggled for most of the spring, and she has not shone on grass since 2010, so this victory might raise her spirits for the challenging road ahead.

Wooden spoon:  A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year, Tamira Paszek fell in the first round this year to the anonymous Alexandra Cadantu.  She has dropped nearly 1,000 points in two weeks, combining Eastbourne with Wimbledon, and will plummet from the top 30 in May to outside the top 100 in July.

Americans in London:  Outside Serena, most of the main American threats are (or were) in the other half of the draw.  Two youngsters suffered contrasting fates on Tuesday, Madison Keys dismissing British talent Heather Watson and Mallory Burdette falling short in a tight three-setter to Urszula Radwanska.  The only other American woman in action, Birmingham semifinalist Allison Riske, earned an upset of sorts over clay specialist Romina Oprandi when the latter retired in the third set.

Question of the day:  It’s grass season, which means that it’s Tsvetana Pironkova season.  The willow Bulgarian, twice a quarterfinalist or better at Wimbledon, routed top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just one game.  How far can Pironkova’s grass magic carry her?

Snakes in the Grass: Previewing the Wimbledon 2013 Dark Horses

With the Wimbledon draw just a week ahead, the time has arrived to scan the ATP and WTA rankings in search of dark horses who could grab some unexpected attention.  This survey features only players outside the top 20 at the start of the grass season, likely to meet an opponent of greater note in the first week.  On any given day, these snakes in the grass could strike for an upset or two.

ATP:

John Isner:  Forever famous for his Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut, Isner never has fared as well there as top-ranked compatriot Sam Querrey.  His lack of impact surprises, considering a playing style that should flourish on grass with a nearly impenetrable serve and a preference for short points.  Isner has languished in a slump for most of 2013, but he nearly reached the second week at Roland Garros with another valiant run.  The American would benefit from exchanging his pattern of endless epics for some more efficient first-week victories, conserving his energy early in the fortnight.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Reaching the third round of a major for the first time at Roland Garros, the Bulgarian rising star tends to perform better at non-majors than majors.  But Dimitrov took Tsonga to the brink of a final set at Wimbledon two years ago, and he has threatened every member of the Big Four this year except Roger Federer, whom he has not faced.  His combination of an explosive first serve with dexterity around the net could shine on the grass.  Less impressive is his movement and his ability to convincingly take care of business against overmatched opposition.

Julien Benneteau:  He came closer than anyone last year to knocking off eventual champion Roger Federer at Wimbledon, snatching the first two sets before the match slipped away.  Benneteau has struggled to win any matches at all in singles since March, not long after he upset Federer in Rotterdam.  His doubles expertise could help on a court that rewards net-rushers, and he reached the second week in 2010.  Formidable early draws have stunted his progress in most Wimbledon appearances, but Benneteau has lost to only one opponent outside the top eight there since 2005.

Lukas Rosol:  His presence on this list should need little explanation.  Had Rosol won no matches at all after defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round last year, he still would merit a mention.  As it stands, he built upon that upset to rise from the edge of the top 100 to well inside the top 50.  Rosol faces the pressure of defending something meaningful for the first time, and he will need to insulate himself from the inevitable media scrutiny.  He often brings out his best tennis against the best while growing careless or unfocused against the journeymen of the Tour.

Ernests Gulbis:  Slinging ferocious forehands and controversial comments indiscriminately, the Latvian shot-maker once again has become someone intriguing to watch.  Gulbis upset Tomas Berdych in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and he twice has won sets from Nadal this year.  More distant achievements include victories over Federer and Novak Djokovic, showing that no elite opponent can feel safe when Gulbis finds his groove.  He may struggle to stay in that groove in the best-of-five format, perhaps a reason why his greatest headlines have come at Masters 1000 events.  Still, grass usually rewards the Jekyll-and-Hyde mixture of overwhelming power and deft finesse that Gulbis can wield.

Feliciano Lopez:  The Spaniard’s best tennis lies well behind him, and he accumulated a losing record this season through the end of Roland Garros.  Lopez has reached three Wimbledon quarterfinals behind his lefty serve-volley style, though, the rarity of which can unsettle younger opponents.  His notable victims there include Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, as well as Tim Henman in his last match on home soil.  Keep an eye on Lopez if he draws a relatively passive baseliner or grinder such as David Ferrer, who long has struggled against him on fast surfaces.

Daniel Brands:  Like Rosol, Brands typically plays to the level of the competition.  He lost resoundingly to Jan Hajek one week before he thrust Nadal to the brink of a two-set deficit at Roland Garros.  Wimbledon marks the scene of his greatest accomplishment, a second-week appearance in 2010, although he lost in the first round of qualifying each of the two subsequent years.  Beware of getting into a fifth set against Brands, who shares Isner’s asymmetry between a massive serve and a woeful return.  That stark contrast leaves him vulnerable against anyone and dangerous to everyone.

WTA:

Ekaterina Makarova:  Only one woman has defeated both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13:  not Maria Sharapova, not Li Na, not Petra Kvitova, but Ekaterina Makarova.  This fiery Russian also won Eastbourne on grass as a qualifier in 2010, her only title to date.  Her lefty serve swings wide in the ad court effectively on this surface, a valuable asset on break points.  Makarova’s doubles expertise has honed her net talents to a higher level than most of the women ranked near her, and she has proved that she can excel at majors by reaching two Australian Open quarterfinals.

Sabine Lisicki:  Four or five years ago, Lisicki looked like a future Wimbledon champion.  She honed the best serve in the women’s game outside the Williams sisters, even outdueling Venus to win a Charleston title.  In three Wimbledon appearances from 2009-12, Lisicki reached the quarterfinals or better every time and even notched her first major semifinal there in 2011.  An impressive list of marquee upsets in those appearances includes Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Caroline Wozniacki, and Marion Bartoli.  Somewhat like Gulbis in her ability to combine first-strike power with the finesse of delicate drop shots, Lisicki has struggled to stay healthy long enough to develop momentum and consistency.

Tamira Paszek:  A hideous 1-12 this season, Paszek has won barely any matches since last August but still held a seed at Roland Garros.  She defends the majority of her total rankings points during the short grass season, when she won Eastbourne and reached a second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal last year.  The good news is that Paszek rebounded from a similar sequence of futility at this time in 2012 to record those excellent results.  The bad news is that the pressure will lie heavily on her with the penalty so great for a misstep at either event.

Venus Williams:  Once a champion, always a champion, and never more so than at the greatest bastion of tennis tradition.  Venus will appear in this type of article before every Wimbledon that she plays, no matter her current form.  To be sure, that current form is far from impressive with losses this spring to Olga Puckhova, Laura Robson, and Urszula Radwanska.  Venus wins many fewer matches than she once did on her poise and experience alone, and she probably cannot ration her energy efficiently enough to survive deep into the fortnight.  But nobody wants to face that serve or that wingspan on grass, for one never knows when an aging champion will catch fire.

Laura Robson:  Combined with a junior Wimbledon title, two compelling efforts against Maria Sharapova on home soil suggest that the top British women’s talent could rise to the occasion.  Robson has proved twice in the last twelve months that she can shine at majors, upsetting Kim Clijsters to reach the second week of the US Open and outlasting Petra Kvitova in a nail-biting if ugly epic in Melbourne.  Since the serve plays a heightened role on grass, she must limit the double faults that have grown too frequent this year.  Robson never lacks for courage or belief, often aggressive to the point of reckless.

Zheng Jie:  If she had finished off Serena Williams in the first week of Wimbledon last year, the trajectory of women’s tennis since then would have followed a completely different course.  As it was, Zheng took Serena to 8-6 in the final set, displaying how well her compact swings and crisp footwork suit the low, variable bounces of the grass.  This less intuitive model for surface success than heavy serves and first strikes carried her to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2008.  Like Benneteau, Zheng has found herself saddled with some extremely challenging draws and has lost to few sub-elite opponents there.

Tsvetana Pironkova:  Two years ago, it seemed that Pironkova existed solely to prevent Venus Williams from winning another Wimbledon title.  The willowy Bulgarian defeated Venus in consecutive Wimbledons by identical scores, and she even came within a set of the final in 2010.  Proving that success no anomaly, Pironkova extended Sharapova to a final set last year.  A glance at her game reveals no clear reason why she enjoys grass so much.  Pironkova owns a vulnerable serve and little baseline firepower, earning her living with court coverage and touch.  Her Wimbledon feats show that counterpunchers can find ways to thrive on an offensively oriented surface.

WTA Katowice Gallery: Radwanska Exhibition Match; Pironkova, Minella, Peer and more

KATOWICE (April 9, 2013) — Tuesday at the BNP Paribas Katowice Open included a special doubles exhibition match featuring Poland’s top talent, Agnieszka Radwanska, and also saw two seed bow out, No. 5 seed Alize Cornet and No. 4 Julia Goerges as she was forced to retire down 4-1 in the third set. Full results and gallery below.

SINGLES – FIRST ROUND
Mandy Minella (LUX) d Vesna Dolonc (SRB) | 3 – 6 | 7 – 6 (4) | 6 – 2 |
Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) d [5] Alize Cornet (FRA) | 6 – 3 | 6 – 0 |
Kiki Bertens (NED) d Lara Arruabarrena (ESP) | 6 – 1 | 6 – 1 |
[6] Kaia Kanepi (EST) d Sandra Zaniewska (POL) | 6 – 1 | 6 – 1 |
Maria Elena Camerin (ITA) d Jana Cepelova (SVK) | 7 – 6 (2) | 6 – 3 |
Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) d Mathilde Johansson (FRA) | 5 – 7 | 7 – 6 (5) | 6 – 1 |
Shahar Peer (ISR) d Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) | 5 – 7 | 7 – 6 (4) | 7 – 6 (4) |
Jill Craybas (USA) d [4] Julia Goerges (GER) | 6 (5) – 7 | 6 – 3 | 4 – 1 retired |

DOUBLES – FIRST ROUND
K Pliskova / K Pliskova (CZE/CZE) d [1] A Groenefeld / J Husarova (GER/SVK) | 7 – 6 (3) | 2 – 6 | 10 – 4 |
[4] R Voracova / K Zakopalova (CZE/CZE) d A Cadantu / S Klemenschits (ROU/AUT) | 6 – 4 | 5 -7 | 10 – 4 |

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Their Just Deserts: The Mega WTA Indian Wells Draw Preview

Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!

First quarter:  For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha.  Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other.  In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago.  Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian.  Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd.  Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way.  Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.

The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson.  In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine.  The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki.  Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching.  Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February.  On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress.  She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Second quarter:  Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert.  Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round.  For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality.  Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne.  Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far.  Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it.  If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.

Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber.  A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before.  Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats.  At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw.  The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round.  Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency.  Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods.  Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.

Semifinalist:  Ivanovic

Third quarter:  Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders.  Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea.  Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either.  In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title.  Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011.  Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?

Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova.  Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven.  Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there.  The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros.  Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round.  Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova.  Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.

Semifinalist:  Kvitova

Fourth quarter:  Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013?  Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro.  Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards.  The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur.  Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her.  But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.

Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later).  Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival.  Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08.  If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year.  By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco.  Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!

Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional tennis photographer covering the ATP and WTA tours, scrambling to capture the top players, racing back to edit and post your photos and catching the best angle on tennis? Our resident photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Paris all week covering the WTA Open GDF Suez tournament featuring players such as Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Na Li. This is his personal and candid feature “Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Check out all of Rick’s photo galleries from Paris this week! Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

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Sunday, February 4, 2012

Yesterday really wasn’t my day. I woke up at 2 am to make my way to Paris on the icy roads, but it had already been a terrible winter’s day the day before. I arrived to the Stade de Coubertin in Paris just to find out the tournament wasn’t ready to receive press. Wrong accreditation, no press center, no internet connection and worst of all, no parking spot. Since I didn’t fancy to leave most of my belongings in my car in a very expensive, but public garage, and also didn’t like the prospect of lugging around 20 kilos of equipment (and $20,000 in value as well!) I decided to check into my hotel early and try it again in the morning. Some things are just unexpected bumps in the road!

Sunday February 5, 2012

6:30 am: Woke up this morning to a very white world! As if I didn’t have  enough problems getting to Paris yesterday, I have to drive a few kilometers to the tournament site from my hotel. Usually I am happy to stay a little further away from the site, in a quieter place, but now that means I have to travel over snowy roads. Roads? Well, there were some cars driving on a white plain, so I guess I must be on the road… Luckily the circumstances meant even the French will drive carefully.

9:45 am: Arrived at the venue without any more scratches or dents. I even found a safe and guarded parking spot right across from the entrance of the Stade de Coubertin. As I approached the accreditations desk, I noticed the staff was happily waving my prepared media card, the press center was open, the Wi-Fi was working —  the tournament could start for me now! First up is to take a few shots from the second-round qualification matches before I go to the draw ceremony at 11:oo am.

[singlepic id=3377 w=320 h=240 float=right]1:05 pm: Quickly went to see a couple of points of the first two qualifying matches of the day and tried to take a couple of shots on court, but discovered the lighting is horrendous. On center court, there is a strange yellow/red glow around everything, while on court one everything is green. I took some time to adjust my camera settings but totally forgot about the time and thus, the draw ceremony. I quickly made my way to the VIP-village for the draw ceremony, but got completely lost in the corridors of the Stade de Coubertin. Thanks to a very nice hostess, I managed to arrive in time, just to find out everything was delayed for 15 minutes. After the draw, it was back to court one for Lepchenko versus Domachowska. I still had trouble getting my camera settings right, so that means there will be a lot of post-processing on my part to adjust for the color shift. The next match I’ll shoot will be Mattek-Sands, so that leaves me with a bit of time to edit some work.

4:55 pm: Shot the last three matches. After a time, the ligh on Center Court becam very decent after all. I will be doing some post-processing for Tennis Grandstand first and  see if I can upload the pictures, before trying to slide back to the hotel where I can make a back-up of the portfolio. I do need to find some place to eat though — noticed there is a big M nearby so perhaps I’ll try that. I have survived a tournament or two just on junk food, so that’ll be no problem — although I may then easily star in the sequel to the movie “Supersize Me”. Starting tomorrow though, the tournament will offer full hospitality, so that’s one less worry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

[singlepic id=3407 w=251 h=188 float=left]9:30 am: Matches start at 12:00 pm today, so I was able to stay in bed a little longer, but that rarely happens at tournaments. Usually the qualification tournament finishes in the morning to make way for first-round matches in the afternoon. In Paris though, today will only feature the finals of the singles qualification tournament and one main draw doubles match with Lucie Safarova and Klara Zakopalova. Anyway, made myself a cup of coffee and went on my way to the site!

11:55 am: As luck would have it, I arrived at Stade de Coubertin together with Jelena Jankovic, but regrettably had my gear in my trunk so no candid photo opportunity with the Serbian. Some parking problems again, but I was saved by the lovely girls in the press center. Thank you ladies! Dumped my gear in the press center and went for my first match, Arn versus Muguruza Blanco. Hope I have plenty of time to catch before the end of the match between Brianti and Barrois.

[singlepic id=3380 w=215 h=161 float=right]1:05 pm: Checked the score on Center Court: Barrois is having Brianti for lunch! At the first possible change-over, I left Arn-Maguruza, just to witness the last couple of points by Barrois. Unable to get a decent shot of Brianti, I decided to wait it out on center court and stay for the start of Mattek-Sands versus Craybas.

2:15 pm: Went back to the press center to start editing the first three matches, but am keeping an eye out on the scores — don’t want to miss out on the last two matches. I’m hoping Craybas can make it a three-setter, and Barthel seems to have an easy start against Lepchenko.

3:05 pm: Time to get out of the press center and shoot the last two matches of the day. Everything turned out just fine: when Barthel was finished, I left for center court and the doubles teams were just being introduced.

5:05 pm: Back in the press center now to finish the pictures for Tennis Grandstand. Funny story:  as I was walking back to the press center, I went by the WTA players’ desk where I saw Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova explaining that they were really players and that they were on the entry list. “Look right here, that’s my name on the list, Julia.”…….. It was quite a site to witness.

7:00 pm: Finished for the day, time to go back to the hotel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

10:55 am: Today is sure to be busier. I arrived at the tournament, set up my laptop, readied my photo gear, and went to see Cetkovska versus Brianti. When the second set of Zahlavova-Strycova versus Barthel began, I moved over to center court.

12:25 pm: Back at the press center. Started post-processing pictures of first two matches, and have some time as Pironkova versus Li is not to start before 1:00 pm.

1:15 pm: The Pironkova vs. Li match has begun, but I have decided to go for the second set after Jankovic’s scheduled press conference – which should start soon. While waiting, I’m continuing work on photos.

[singlepic id=3421 w=100 h=75 float=left]2:00 pm: Jelena Jankovic arrived for her press conference to announce she was withdrawing from the tournament due to a left thigh strain she sustained in Fed Cup last week. I decided to then make my way over to the Pironkova vs. Li match. [singlepic id=3432 w=150 h=112 float=right]But, as irony would have it, at the change-over when I could finally enter the court, Na Li needed a medical timeout on her back. I took a couple of shots of Pironkova as she waited and tried to stay warm, bundled up in towels. When Li returned, I decided to stay with the Bulgarian for the game and then switch to Li. At 40-0, Li decided she couldn’t continue and had to retire from her match. So, no pictures of Li in action.

5:05 pm: With all that has happened, I almost forgot to update this! Not much currently happening though, just processing my pictures, uploading them etc., taking a few new ones along the way. Just when I nearly finished my editing, I noticed that I have to hurry if I want to take some photos at Goerges’ match. That girl is in a hurry to win!

[singlepic id=3420 w=150 h=112 float=left]5:45 pm: Got my pics. Am trying to finish them and upload them. There’ll be a post match interview which I’ll try to be present for as well. When I’m done with those I’ll call it a day.