Posts Tagged ‘Venus Williams’

PostHeaderIcon Petra, Genie, Novak, and Old Man Federer: My Wimbledon Final Thoughts

Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon Facebook page)

Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon Facebook page)

Much was made about a possible changing of the guard with all of the talented youngsters making waves on both tours. Though it never really materialized, we got a few glimpses of the future, and it looks pretty terrific. (Hello Genie, Madison, and Nick!) But for now, let’s get back to the matter at hand with my 25 “Final Thoughts” from the lawns of the AELTC.

  1. Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Petra Kvitova (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Petra Kvitova – I’ve been waiting since early ’12 for Petra to step up and show the type of dominance that she showed this past fortnight in winning her second Wimbledon title. It was vintage Petra (strong serves, sharp angles, and blistering pace) without the also-vintage walkabouts that have accompanied her play the past couple of years. I’ll only mention her former boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, for the purpose of showing that, since their breakup, she’s regained focus, improved her fitness, and looks to be back on track for a well-deserved shot at the top of the WTA food chain.
  2. Novak Djokovic – Even though I’d picked Novak to win the title in my pre-tournament preview, I had no idea his journey would be so fraught with angst and peril. Usually one of the cleanest players in the game, Novak struggled badly at times in the later rounds. If not for a missed overhead and a few ill-timed double faults from Roger, this could have been one more dispiriting Slam final. To his credit, he hung in there after Roger saved Championship point in the fourth set, and eventually came away with the title in five. And if you couldn’t tell by his tears, this one meant a lot to him. I’m still not sure Boris Becker had that much to do with it, but it makes great grist for the commentator mill.
  3. Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

    Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

    Genie Bouchard – A semifinalist in Melbourne and Paris, and a finalist in London, Genie Bouchard continued her meteoric rise up the rankings after yet another astounding run at Wimbledon. Her confidence could easily border on arrogance if it weren’t so well backed-up by gutsy and aggressive play. She’s all business on and off the court, looking only for the “W” in her quest to be the best. This attitude makes her a legitimate future No. 1, but also could be problematic. It was troubling to hear Genie say, “I’m not sure I deserved all the love you gave me today” on court after the match. Hopefully her coach, Nick Saviano, can help her be mindful next time that you shouldn’t discount the love of fans that are proud of you no matter the result. Be gracious, keep your head down, and get ready for the next opportunity; because I have no doubt that it WILL come.
  4. Roger Federer – I hate to say that the old guy’s still got it, but the old guy’s still got it! With his back troubles from last year in the rear view mirror, Roger played, more or less, like the Roger of old against an opponent who was slightly better on the day (186 total points for Novak versus 180 points for Roger). Even in defeat, I’d say this was sweet revenge for a guy who everyone was pushing out the door at the end of 2013. When healthy and comfortable with his equipment, Roger can still play like the Roger we remember. A lot still need to go right for him at the Slams in order to have a legit shot at the title, but it feels like a lot less than last year.
  5. Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock (Wimbledon Facebook page)

    Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock – PopSock, as the newly-crowned Wimbledon doubles champions have become known, bested the great Bryan brothers in a hard-fought 5-set battle to win the Gentlemen’s doubles in their first tournament together. Given the rigors of the ATP tour, this probably won’t become a weekly occurrence. But after years of lamenting the lack of younger singles players in doubles, how great was it to witness their shotmaking, energy and enthusiasm? My only hope is that someone on either of their team’s has copyrighted that great name.
  6. Bob and Mike Bryan – In one of the few successful “passing of the torch” moments at this year’s Wimbledon, the Bryans battled hard but often looked their age against a pair of guys who could almost be their sons. The Bryans are one of the greatest doubles teams ever, if not ‘the’ greatest, and have done an immense amount to legitimize doubles at the top of the tennis food chain. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine it’s gonna be easy for them to keep working this hard to overcome Father Time, injuries, family demands, and younger, stronger opponents like PopSock.
  7. Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani – On the heels of a disappointing final loss at the French Open, Vinci and Errani won the Ladies doubles title over Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, giving them a career Grand Slam in doubles. It’s well-deserved, and hopefully makes up for a disappointing singles showing.
  8. Nenad Zimonjic and Sam Stosur – With her miserable record on grass, any title on the green stuff is a good thing for Sam!
  9. Simona Halep – Simona may have lost the Wimbledon semifinal battle of emergent WTA stars in straight sets to Genie Bouchard, but I’m sure there are great things for her on the US Open horizon.
  10. Serena Williams (AP)

    Serena Williams (AP)

    Serena Williams – I had a feeling this would be a tough Wimbledon for Serena, but I don’t think any of us knew just how tough it would be. It started with her loss to Alize Cornet. Two days later, Serena appeared on court for a brief but notable bit of drama on Court 1 with her sister Venus before their first-round doubles. (They ultimately retired down 0-3 in the first set after 4 Serena double faults.) I was critical of Serena at the time because I felt she should have foregone the drama and not played, especially when the tournament doctor says, “If you can’t see the ball then you shouldn’t play.  But I’ve had a hard time listening to all of the ridiculous theories on the incident. One person I know even went so far as to say that he’s convinced she has a pill addiction because of her past medical issues. Come on people: STOP THE NONSENSE!
  11. Venus Williams – Venus played a tough 3-set match against Petra Kvitova that was worthy of a final. It was a pleasure to see from a player we love who’s struggled mightily with fitness in the wake of her Sjogrens diagnosis. On a per match basis, she can still play phenomenal tennis. But that was only a third round match. Her ranking is such that she will likely have to play at least 3 or 4 of these types of matches if she ever hopes to reach a Slam final again.  Though that’s probably never going to happen, we can (and should) still appreciate her best level at those few and far between moments when she’s able to bring it.
  12. Li Na – I just don’t know where to begin with Li Na. There are many who dismiss her disappointing results at the French and Wimbledon by saying that she’s best on the hard courts. To those apologists, I’d like to point out her loss to Serena in Miami and remind them that those results were NOT an aberration.
  13. Maria Sharapova – She may have come up high and dry again at SW19, but that’s okay. She’s got Grigor AND a French Open title to keep her company.
  14. nadal2-wimbledonRafa Nadal – Rafa avoided another Lukas Rosol upset, but still lost in four sets to young Nick Kyrgios of Australia. I’m not necessarily surprised that Rafa was knocked out of the tournament. I am, however, surprised that Rafa lost in the middle rounds, not the early or later rounds. I hope he takes enough time off before the summer hard court season so that he can come back relatively fresh, physically and mentally.
  15. Andy Murray – Andy, please don’t blame your horrific play on Amelie Mauresmo’s coaching, or Ivan Lendl’s spring departure. This dispiriting loss to Grigor Dimitrov was all on you. It’s your duty as an elite player to surround figure out what you need to help propel yourself forward, not back.
  16. Milos Raonic – It’s been impressive to watch Milos work hard with his team to overcome his physical and technical deficits on court. It was also fairly sobering to watch how surgically he was cut down by Roger in a straight-sets semifinal loss. I hope that he was able to enjoy his first solid showing on a surface that’s so well-suited for his big serve game. Okay coach (Ivan) Ljubičić, help him figure out those next steps!
  17. Grigor Dimitrov – For years, Grigor has been burdened with expectations of greatness. From his Federer-esque single-handed backhand game (earning him the nickname “Baby Fed”) to his scampering defense, Dimitrov, along with Raonic, has been touted as one of the next wave of ‘Young Guns’. The big problem for Grigor was that his fitness, and shot selection, was never sufficient enough to withstand the grind of tough matches against the top guys… until now. Off-court conditioning has rendered his all-too-frequent bouts of cramping almost non-existent. On top of that, he’s a more mature player now and has a better handle on shot selection with all of his tools.  Next time (because there will be a next time), I hope the nerves of the moment won’t be quite so cruel to his serving arm (double-faultitis).
  18. Marin Cilic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova both lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions after some very fine play. I’ve always rooted for both but was disheartened to see people respond to positive tweets by bringing up their past drug suspensions. If someone has served their suspension, and fought their way back to a respectable ranking in order to have a chance at Slam success, give them their due. We all make mistakes, and all deserve to be forgiven if put in the work for redemption.
  19. Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

    Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

    Nick Kyrgios – This kid has a ton of talent and the physical stature/attitude to go with it. He came into Wimbledon with 3 Challenger titles under his belt and now a Slam quarterfinal for good measure. Though his mid-match exuberance can come across as brash he’s exciting and LOVES the competitive fight. I wonder if there’s a way that the USTA can lure him away from Australia without starting a war?
  20. Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov – Noah and Stefan, the all-American duo that contested the Wimbledon boy’s final, should help dispel rumors that all isn’t completely lost for American tennis…at least for a few more weeks.
  21. I have a few broadcast notes. The first is that the popularity of tennis, and potential ad revenues, will continue to be hurt if the average Joe can’t get adequate match coverage without special cable sports packages. And even if you have a few of those packages, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see all available matches. Take it from me, a Sonic.Net ISP user and DirecTV viewer: not everyone has access to ESPN3!
  22. My second broadcast note harkens back to this piece on Sloane and Paul Annacone. I don’t want to single them out, however, because the conflicts of interest abounding in the commentary booth are almost too numerous to count at this point. I can accept conflicts of interests, but you’ve got to be more upfront about it to your viewers. Who’s getting paid by who makes all the difference in the world when you’re listening to “expert commentary”.
  23. Raise your hand if you’d like to see if Andy Roddick in the Centre Court commentary booth is better than Andy Roddick on Twitter!
  24. Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing commentators saying “How bitterly disappointed Player X will be” after missing a shot!
  25. Wimbledon schedulers – Was it really necessary to leave several notable matches on court so late that fireflies started to come out?

That’s all for now. Until next year

PostHeaderIcon French Open Champs Maria & Rafa Sent Packing: A Wimbledon Centre Court Edition of Shock or Not

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

There were some shocking scenes on the courts today at Wimbledon…well, mainly on one court. SW19’s famed Centre Court became the graveyard of both reigning French Open champions today. Sharapova was knocked out by Kerber, and Nadal was sent packing by Kyrgios. Not content to play second fiddle, Serena was involved in her own drama on Court 1. Here’s a quick R16 “Check-In” Shock or Not before I throw myself into my second set of quarterfinal previews.

Angelique Kerber (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Angelique Kerber (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Angelique Kerber defeats Maria Sharapova: Shock or Not?  Big Shock.

In spite of the fact that Maria won her first Slam at Wimbledon, grass hasn’t historically been a great surface for her. She reached the semifinals in the two years following that win, but didn’t make another deep run until her loss to Kvitova in the 2011 final. Still, she’s a multi-Slam winner and great competitor. Her chances looked very good to face Bouchard in the quarterfinals.

Conversely, Angelique Kerber came into this match with a losing record against Maria. On top of that, she’d also had limited success at Wimbledon; usually exiting well before R16 matches like today. She did, however, reach the semifinals in 2012. I guess that taste of success was that she needed to upend the script in this match, and knock Maria out of contention for the rare French-Wimbledon double.

Maria’s 49 unforced errors probably didn’t help either…

Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Nick Kyrgios defeats Rafa Nadal: Shock or Not? Even Bigger Shock.

I had a strong suspicion that Rafa wouldn’t make it out of this quarter after looking at the draw. However, there was nothing that indicated young Nick Kyrgios would be the one to knock him out of contention. Sure, Kyrgios is a talented up-and-comer, but beating the World No. 1, a 14-time Slam champion, on Centre Court? No way, right? Unfortunately for Rafa, yes!

Nick came out on court acting like he belonged, and that he had just as much of a chance for victory as Rafa. He then proceeded to serve huge, and smack backhand winners from everywhere on the court. His forehand wasn’t quite as lethal, but Rafa nullified that aspect of the Aussie’s game by continuing to play his backhand no matter how many times he got burned.

There is a distinct brashness to Nick that could be off-putting to some: like the manner in which he jumps around on the court (like a victory dance) after big points, or the loud manner in which he excoriates himself after bad misses. Moreover though, he’s a breath of fresh air in a sport that hasn’t really experienced one since the appearance of Novak on the Slam stage. And that’s definitely a good thing.

Rafa was fairly gracious in defeat, but one could sense a smidgen of sour grapes when asked about his young opponent.

“Everything is easier when you are arriving. Everything is new, nothing to lose, everything is good, everything is positive. You can do whatever and everybody see just the good things on you.”

“We’ll see if he’s able to improve and to play at very high levels for a long period of time.”

However, Rafa did end on a laugh by saying “For me… beach!”

Nick was hoping to crack the 25k level of Twitter followers during Wimbledon. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble now. I’ll help him out by ending with his first tweet after the big win:

Serena Williams (AP)

Serena Williams (AP)

Serena Williams makes dramatic exit from Wimbledon Doubles: Shock or Not? Not.

Serena came out for doubles with her sister Venus, and it was quickly obvious that something was wrong with her. After a lengthy visit from the trainer and doctor after warm-up, the sisters decided to forge on with the match. It unraveled quickly, however, with a retirement from the match while trailing 0-3.

The initial word is that Serena was suffering from a viral illness. Given her previous medical episodes, I hope that it’s nothing serious. But honestly, if she was feeling as poorly as it appeared earlier, why not just stop. Did we really need to suffer through such an odd and sad scene? No.

In this current iteration, Serena is (in most ways) an excellent example of a champion. This was not the case earlier in her career when she was, admittedly, much more prone to drama queen theatrics. I’m not questioning the legitimacy of her illness, just the lack of judgment from both her and Venus in such a late decision to throw in the towel.

When the doctor tells you, “If you can’t see the ball, you shouldn’t play”, maybe you should listen.

PostHeaderIcon Serena Stumbles (Again): A Wimbledon Weekend Edition of “Shock or Not”

serena-shock-header

Serena came to Wimbledon looking for a 2014 Major reset, but it wasn’t meant to be. She fell in the fourth round at the Australian, the second round at the French and, after losing on Saturday to Alize Cornet, in the third round at Wimbledon. It’s not often that a prohibitive favorite falters this badly in the Majors, but it makes for a great weekend Shock or Not. Read on for my (slightly less glib than usual) breakdown of Serena’s loss, Berdych’s nighttime distress, Gasquet’s loss to the exciting Aussie youngster, Kyrgios, and Venus’ Alamo-like stand against Kvitova.

Alize Cornet defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? Shock AND Not!

Without taking too much away from Cornet in her victory over the 5-time champion, this match was as much about Serena’s inability to play consistently at her highest level as it was about Cornet’s ability to keep her inner drama queen at bay for the biggest Slam win of her career.

I had no expectation that Serena would rebound after a disappointing French Open to win her first Major of the year at Wimbledon. After some initial hedging, I updated my preview piece with the caveat that she had a good chance at the title only if she made it to the quarters. With Cornet and a surging Genie Bouchard in her path, that was going to be a tall order; and tall orders haven’t been Serena’s strong suit this season.

There are many reasons for Serena’s disappointing performances at the Slams. (I won’t use any of this space to discuss her horrific volleys.) And though I hate to say it, many of them can be attributed to her advanced age. Thirty-two isn’t “old” by any stretch of the imagination, but for an athlete who’s been playing at the top of the game for over fifteen years, it’s clearly taking a toll.

I’m not generally a big fan of ESPN’s crowded commentary booth, but there was some good discussion, especially by Chris Evert, on the challenges Serena faces in her thirties. Declining serve speeds, varying levels of daily motivation, and varying levels of physical output to name a few.

I’d also add the crushing burden of expectation. Previously loathe to discuss inner weaknesses, Serena has pointedly mentioned – in several interviews – the pressure she feels from the world to win every match and tournament she enters.

Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic in darkness (Ben Curtis/AP)

Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic in darkness (Ben Curtis/AP)

There’s also the pressure she puts on herself to reach Slam title #18, placing her in the lofty company of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. She wants it so badly that it so badly that it nearly cripples her ability to hit the most basic shots.

Outer expectations, inner struggles, a body that sometimes doesn’t perform as she needs… It’s been too much for her in 2014. The question now is not about whether she can regroup for the US Open, but whether she can find motivation to keep going against this new generation with that burdensome target on her back.

Marin Cilic defeats Tomas Berdych: Shock or Not? Let’s call it “Nighttime Shock”.

I picked Tomas to come through this match in my men’s preview. Then again, that was before Wimbledon decided to give them flashlights to finish their match. Cilic, a former Queen’s Club champion, is no slouch, and took it to Tomas in this match. Cilic was the aggressor throughout, and was rewarded for his efforts.

BUT, and this is a big one, there was absolutely no need for the tournament referee to keep these guys on court until after 9:30pm. With his back against the wall facing a tough opponent, Tomas felt like he got a raw deal from the tournament referee; and he did.  With as many matches as had been carried over in previous days (Tsonga-Querrey, for one), it wouldn’t have killed them to let this one slide as well.

Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

Nick Kyrgios (from his Twitter)

In a tense match where keeping focus and nerve means everything, it all goes to crap when a player feels they’re getting screwed. And when you can barely see the ball for your shots, know that the chair umpire and linespeople can’t see much better, and Hawkeye is turned off because of fading light, it stands to reason that you might feel like you’re getting screwed.

Sorry Tomas.

Nick Kyrgios defeats Richard Gasquet: Shock or Not? Shock, but I like it A LOT!

This kid is awesome! He’s interesting, likeable, talented, and fights on court like few in his age bracket. Gasquet may have come in as the favorite, but he hasn’t always responded well to big match pressure. We all know about his inner struggles with confidence, but it’s tough to take him too seriously anymore as a legitimate threat at the Slams.

Kyrgios, on the other hand, has no pressure, and always looks to be playing with house money. He’s got a big game, and is great to watch.  This year has proved a breakout year for him, with 3 Challenger titles firmly under his belt. The last one, in Nottingham on grass, gave him entry into the Wimbledon main draw. Three victories later, he’s in his first Wimbledon R16. The kid’s got game!

Though Kyrgios’ match against Rafa Nadal on Monday is going to prove too tough ‘an ask’ for the talented teen, there’s absolutely no doubt that we haven’t seen the last of him on the big stage.

Venus Williams (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Venus Williams (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Petra Kvitova defeats Venus Williams: Shock or Not? No Shock, and heckuva match!

For anyone who may have thought Venus couldn’t produce in a match of this caliber over three tough sets against another former champion, myself included, this should be enough to give us heart that she might still surprise us with another tour title if not a Slam title.

Great win, Petra! Now please stop shrieking.

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams’ Tough Road to Number 6 at SW19: My Wimbledon Women’s Preview

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Serena Williams [1] – Eugenie Bouchard [13] *

Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)

Angelique Kerber [9] – Maria Sharapova [5] *

Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)

The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.

The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.

Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.

(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Simona Halep [3] – Carla Suarez Navarro [15] *

Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)

Ana Ivanovic [11] – Jelena Jankovic [7] *

Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)

The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.

The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.

After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Victoria Azarenka [8] – Dominika Cibulkova [10] *

Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)

Sara Errani [14] – Agnieszka Radwanska [4] *

Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)

It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.

On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.

In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies.  Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Petra Kvitova [6] – Flavia Pennetta [12] *

Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)

Caroline Wozniacki [16] – Na Li [2] *

Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)

I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.

The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.

I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.

Quarterfinal Picks

Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li

Notable First-Round Matches

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) [26] v Alison Riske (USA)

Klara Koukalova (CZE) [31] v Taylor Townsend (USA)

Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [27]

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams’ Centre Court Snub: A Pre-Wimbledon Shock or Not

wimbledon-serenawilliams-snubshock

Serena Williams (Thomas Lovelock/AELTA)

Why wait for the first upsets of the tournament when the All England Lawn and Tennis Club (AELTC) has already given me more than enough material for my first Wimbledon “Shock or Not”.

Serena Williams was passed over to open Ladies play on Centre Court: Shock or Not? Huge Shock, Huge Message to SW!

This is what Jon Wertheim, wrote about the selection criteria for that first Centre Court match honor:

“The good folks at the All England Club explained to us that they have a few choices: the slot can go to the champion two years ago, the current top seed or most recent finalist. Given that Serena Williams meets two of those three criteria, the guess is that she gets the call.”

That guess was wrong. The good folks at the AELTC saw fit to tap Sabine Lisicki, the 2013 finalist, for that honor. The social media reaction was swift, yet familiar in its’ polarization between those who felt Serena was snubbed and those who felt the 5-time champion wasn’t entitled to any Centre Court privileges.

To all of the Serena Haters, let’s be clear that this was a ‘monumental’ snub. Lisicki is a fine player, but doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of credibility as Serena, be it at Wimbledon or anywhere else. Sabine’s won 3 singles titles (clay, grass, and hard court), the last coming in 2012. She’s had a solid, if injury-filled, WTA career; but nothing apart from her finalist status to warrant this honor.

Conversely, Serena’s won 60 titles. Included in this massive haul are 17 Slam singles titles, 5 of which came from the grass at Wimbledon. Her last title at Wimbledon came in 2012, the year she also won an Olympic gold medal at – you guessed it – Wimbledon. There is absolutely no denying the fact that she, along with her sister Venus, has owned Centre Court for well over a decade: and that she’s more than deserving of the selection.

Then again, Serena hasn’t been the best representative of AELTC membership. Her temperamental outbursts are infamous, and also embarrassing to the WTA brass that so desperately needs her as the face of the tour. So while it’s true that she’s a deserving Wimbledon champion, that’s more a function of her dominance on the grass rather than her comportment off of it. And I’m certain that the AELTC is much more concerned with the latter.

If this selection involved Venus Williams, for example, instead of Serena, I doubt there would’ve been any consideration of another choice. Venus has proven her worth at Wimbledon while also setting an excellent standard as an off-court leader. Her stand for equal pay at Wimbledon is just one of the many ways that Venus has used her platform as a champion to try and make a difference.

I’m not suggesting that Serena should be more like Venus, because that’s never going to happen. But I do believe that if she had less infamy in her career and more standards of off-court excellence, Lisicki would have been relegated to Court 1 or Court 2: as Serena has been at various points the past few years as part of the subtle messaging from the AELTC that she’s a tolerated, but not a preferred, champion.

Most likely, this mini-controversy will lead to title number 6 for Serena. Few women thrive as spectacularly as Serena when they feel the world is against them. It’s when she’s most dangerous, and most likely to crush her opposition. It’s just a shame that, for all of her good achievements, she’s more often than not judged by the bad.

PostHeaderIcon A Serena Shock, And A Venus Not: Day Four “Shock or Not” from Roland Garros

Serena Williams after her 2nd round loss to Garbine Muguruza at the French Open

It’d be great to wake up just one morning this week and NOT have to immediately start writing a brand new Shock or Not! Then again, what do I expect from a Slam that boasts one-and-done champions such as Iva Majoli and Gaston Gaudio?! (No disrespect intended, but you get the point.)

Anyway, past women’s Slam champs are dropping like flies at this year’s French Open. First to go was Li Na. Now it’s defending champion Serena Williams. And, as is often the case with the Williams, Venus lost her second round match in a show of sisterly solidarity. And in a surprising twist, Taylor Townsend is the lone African-American from the US to reach the third round.

Serena Williams (© FFT)

Serena Williams (© FFT)

Buckle up for those three, and more, in today’s edition of “Shock or Not”.

Garbine Muguruza defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? Another Epic Shock, but…

… a third French Open title was never a sure thing.

Still, it’s a shock anytime Serena loses in the early rounds. After devastating the competition in Rome, she appeared to be primed for a French title defense. But therein lays the problem for Serena in Paris. Primed to win doesn’t mean that she will win. Only 2 of her 17 Slam titles are from the French Open, and they’re separated by a span of 11 years. We’ve seen this pattern played out before.

Also, it’s no secret that clay blunts Serena’s power and challenges her movement more than any other surface. Though she can still hit most players off the court, clay gives a select few the chance to capitalize on her occasional off days. Muguruza has two titles on the year (singles: Hobart, doubles: Marrakech), and is undoubtedly a player to watch. She played a great match on a day when nothing was working for Serena.

So even though this is an epic shock, there’s a reason that “Serena the Great” only has two French Open titles.

Venus Williams  (© FFT)

Venus Williams (© FFT)

Anna Schmiedlova defeats Venus Williams: Shock or Not? Sorry, but Not.

I love Venus, and am glad to see her still trying to compete in spite of both age and health challenges. Unfortunately, the reality is that Venus will always struggle when the conditions push her body beyond what it’s capable of enduring. This is true of the Melbourne heat, the Parisian clay grind, the slowed Wimbledon grass, and the oppressive New York humidity.

Sometimes, however, it’s not the conditions. Because of her current health status, the wheels can (and have) inexplicably fallen off her game; causing her to lose matches in three tough sets when she looked likely to win in two. Such was the case against Schmiedlova. After being up a set and break, Venus lost 8 of the final 9 games.

Venus is long past her prime, and likely won’t lift another Slam trophy before she retires. But that’s okay. We love her anyway.

Taylor Townsend  (© FFT)

Taylor Townsend (© FFT)

Taylor Townsend defeats Alize Cornet: Shock or Not? Shock, but I LOVE It!

Taylor has come a long way since her “attempted benching” by the USTA in 2012. She turned pro, hired a coach (Zina Garrison), and has worked hard to make a successful transition from the junior ranks to the WTA. Slowly but surely, the results are starting to come. In fact, they were on full display today against Cornet, who gave her the best compliment that one player can give another. I can’t find the direct quote, but Cornet basically said, “She does everything that I don’t like.”

Fitness questions, and I’m not just talking about her weight, may always be something with which Taylor must handle in terms of the press. But if today is any indication, I think she’ll be just fine!

Jerzy Janowicz defeats Jarkko Nieminen: Shock or Not? What do you think?

Coming into this year’s French Open, the slumping (and moody) Janowicz was 0-4 on clay. Now he’s into the third round. I can’t be the only one who finds this perplexing, can I???

Radek Stepanek defeats Mikhail Youzhny: Shock or Not? Mild Shock.

I guess the old guy still has it.

johnson-shock

Steve Johnson (© FFT)

Dmitry Tursunov defeats Sam Querrey: Shock or Not? Not.

I don’t want to give up on Sam, but…

Johanna Larsson defeats Flavia Pennetta: Shock or Not? Not.

Flavia had a brilliant moment in the sun with her win at the BNP Paribas Open. Everything else in 2014 will be like Mary Pierce’s “I’m just glad to be here” moment at her US Open final against Kim Clijsters.

Steve Johnson defeats Laurent Lokoli: Shock or Not? No Shock, but definitely impressive!

After a tough first year on the men’s tour, Johnson did some soul-searching and LOTS of hard work on the mental part of his game. All of it showed in his come-from-behind win over Lokoli. He faced long odds and a partisan crowd, but overcame it all in a mature performance that he wouldn’t have managed as well even a year ago.

Marcel Granollers defeats Alexandr Dolgopolov: Shock or Not? Mild Shock.

Come on Dog!?!?!?!?

 

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