Monday, June 27, 2011

Grass Seeds: 10 thoughts on Wimbledon's 4th Round

Failing to convert four match points against Serena Williams didn't stop marion Bartoli from cashing in on the 5th.

1. Bartoli d. S. Williams, 6-3, 7-6(8) -- The talk centered around Serena and Venus throughout week 1 of the championships, and the general consensus was that if each of the sisters could get through their first three matches, it'd be hard to stop them in the later rounds. Enter Marion Bartoli. The inspired efforts of the Frenchwoman kept Serena on her heels for much of this match, and even as Serena mounted a determined charge late in the second set, Bartoli did not wilt. Credit Bartoli for having the wisdom to know just how important it was for her to finish the match in straight sets. Somehow, someway, she got it done.

2. Pironkova d. V. Williams, 6-3, 6-2 -- Last year wasn't a fluke after all. Neither is the tone of the following quotes, made by Venus Williams after the match: "I just didn't put the ball in the court. Simple as that." It's a recurring theme for Venus in the last few years; she's just not healthy enough to play consistently brilliant tennis. But Venus is taking solace in the fact that she is getting her health turned around. "I got ready for this tournament so fast -- you wouldn't even believe how quick that happened -- so with more time I think I can definitely play better."

I think the onus is now on the Williams sisters to commit themselves to a fairly rigid practice regiment between now and the US Open. As alluring as their story was for all of us, their chances of actually achieving Grand Slam titles with little to no match play are not as great as they were a few years ago. It wouldn't have been surprising to see an all-Williams final at Wimbledon, but when we consider the form that the sisters entered the draw in, what we actually got isn't surprising either.

3. Nadal d. Del Potro, 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 -- This one had an epic feel to it. In the waning sunlight on Centre Court, two intensely committed adversaries matching wits, clutch serves and otherworldy ground strokes. The fact that Del Potro's grass court game appears to be coming together has to be heartening for his camp, but in the end this match was about Nadal's ability to play the tiebreakers without fear, or any signs of nerves. Yes, his foot injury could be a concern moving forward, but of greater concern to his next opponent (Mardy Fish) will be just how lethal his game is on the grass (see 61 winners and 16 UFE's).

4. The Last Americano: Mardy Fish is setting the bar pretty high for his fellow Americans these days. He blasted through Tomas Berdych (a finalist last year here) in straight sets, and in doing so Fish has reached the Wimbledon quarters for the first time in his career. It's a fitting reward for Fish, who has stayed the course through some difficult times this year. The 29-year-old has reached the top ten, and supplanted Andy Roddick as the top dog in the USA. It's inspiring, to say the least.

5. Tomic: Qualifying Genius: One more win and 18-year-old Bernard Tomic will equal the best Wimbledon performance by a qualifier of all-time. Only two players (John McEnroe, 1977 and Vladimir Voltchkov, 2000) have gone to the semis as a qualifier, and even if Tomic doesn't get by Novak Djokovic in the quarters, he's still the youngest player to go this far in the Wimbledon draw since Boris Becker in 1986. How has he done it? He's done it with guile, poise, and an eclectic array of dinks and dunks that are complemented nicely by his catlike movement, big popping serve, and uncanny accuracy. To top it off he's only 18, but he seems like the most relaxed and least overwhelmed of the remaining 8 men in the draw.

6. Wozniacki doesn't care what anybody thinks: In the face of constant criticism, the Great Dane remains obstinately defiant of her approach to the game. "I really don't care what people think or say or do," said Wozniacki when pressed about her Slamlessness after falling at the hands of an inspired Dominika Cibulkova today in three sets. It's great that Wozniacki won't allow her current status as the WTA Tour's No. 1 player be defiled, but at the same time it's worrying that she seems to be running up against the same wall time and time again in the Slams -- and is unwilling to change.

7. No Five-Setter for Murray This Time: Andy Murray took care of business in a very forthright manner today against his old rival, Frenchman Richard Gasquet. No need to fight back from two sets down, and some very decisive serving for Murray, who didn't surrender a break to Gasquet. 44 winners and 10 UFE's are more proof that Murray's offensive capabilities are heightened on the grass.

8. Marion and Her Dad: It's one of those whacky side stories, the incident between Marion and her coach/father Walter Bartoli that occurred during Marion's third round match with Flavia Pennetta, but in a weird way it had to be a pretty big moment for Bartoli. She banished her father from his seat, and Walter -- good sport that he is -- gathered up his numerous bags and did what she said and left the premises. If Bartoli had lost the match her year might have been in shambles, but since she went on to beat Pennetta, doesn' t Bartoli now have a little more ownership of this Wimbledon run, and could the confidence gained by her be that little extra something that fuels the former finalist as she heads into the quarterfinals? I guess we'll find out.

9. Sabine, the Wildcard: Soft spoken, almost delicate off court, Sabine Lisicki is a real thunderbolt when she steps on the court. If that court happens to be made of grass, than so much the better. Lisicki has fired the fortnight's fastest serve (124) on the women's side and she's also notched a total of 35 aces in her first four matches. Additionally: She's 11-0 on grass this season, she's winning hearts and minds with her unbridled passion and respect for Wimbledon tradition, and, most of all, her sizzling play. On top of that Lisicki is one match away from becoming only the second Wildcard to ever make the semifinals of the ladies singles draw (Zheng, 2008) at Wimbledon.

10. The Big Four: Juan Martin del Potro and Mikhail Youzhny gave it a shot, but it's looking like the top four seeds in the men's draw are destined to reach the semifinal of a Grand Slam for a second straight time. It's a testament to the abilities of all four, as not only is each's individual game remarkable, their levels of consistency are as well. Djokovic has lost one match this year, Federer has reached his 29th straight Slam quarterfinal, Nadal is looking for his 5th Slam of his last six, and even though Andy Murray appears stuck at No. 4, he's a pretty solid player in his own right. (Damn solid indeed, say the Brits!) As we head into the quarterfinals, expect the Centre Court aura to become even more special than it was today for the spirited Nadal-del Potro affair.

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