Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Grass Seeds: 20 Thoughts on Wimbledon's Day 2

Centre Court brought out the emotions in defending champion Serena Williams today, as she played for the first time since last year's final.

20 thoughts on the day that was:

1. Nole's 1-match streak: Is it just me, or does it seem like Djokovic has suddenly become the forgotten man around here? It was Federer at the French, until he wagged the finger. Now it's clearly Djokovic. What a difference a Slam makes.

But not to worry, Nole was more than convincing in victory today, against the defenseless Jeremy Chardy, and even though Rafa is the defending champ let's not forget that except for one tough loss in Paris, Nole has been nothing but marvelous.

If we were saying that Nole was the best player in the world before the French, why should we not continue to say it here as Wimbledon gets underway? Well, I'll tell you why: Djokovic has never been beyond the semis at Wimbledon, and he hasn't taken to the grass surface like Rafa and Roger have.


2. Grass. More specifically, 19 beautiful patches of 100 percent perennial ryegrass, with white titanium dioxide lines all over them. Let's talk about the grass. Yes, let's do. More specifically, let's talk about how the grass is affecting the championships:

Grass and footwork: It's a different kind of footwork to be sure. And another thing to be sure about: The players who move the best on grass will play the best on grass.

Experience on grass: Older players like Lleyton Hewitt, who is about to put Kei Nishikori out of his misery on court 12, gain an advantage by cultivating a game that suits the characteristics of grass.

Allergies: I'm actually just kidding, but some players just seem to stumble around, move awkwardly, move slowly and slip and fall on grass. Are these players then allergic to grass? One player that comes to mind is Francesca Schiavone. She's like a figure skater or sprinter on the clay, but on the grass she looked indecisive and somewhat discombobulated. She's not the only one (see Sam Stosur or Albert Montanes).

3. Tears of Joy: I am so getting my popcorn ready for the next few Serena matches. Venus too for that matter. Jeez, these women (the sisters) can really just pull at your heart. During Serena's presser I found myself contemplating her spiritual make-up. Serena was addressing the media, and I couldn't help but wonder just how far Serena has come since her profanity-laced tirade at the U.S. Open in 2009. I was to amazed to hear how composed and how articulate she was in her presser. I can just totally feel this emerging woman of substance. And then it hit me: Serena might be one of the few women in the world with the potential to become the new Oprah.

So to see Serena busting into tears, in a very genuine and beautiful way mind you, was, to say the least, moving.

4. Thoughts On Soderling: As John McEnroe said during the broadcast, Soderling has certainly done a nice job of holding up his No. 5 ranking. And, as McNasty also pointed out, there are a lot of guys in the world who would love to claim that spot. So, yes, Kudos to Robin Soderling. He's done very well, and by his own admission he's become a much better player when he doesn't have his "A" game at his disposal. He finds ways to win and he's not vulnerable to massive meltdowns anymore. But what has he done for us lately? That is always the big question come Slam time.

Note: Soderling, just closed out Petzschner after 3:13 of good clean fun on court 1.

5. Masha? Serena aside (for a moment, at least), Maria Sharapova is a big comeback story of her own of late. If Serena is Miss back-from-the-dead, Maria is Miss slow-and-steady. Sharapova has been grinding it out on the tour since her return from shoulder surgery in 2009. It's taken a while for her to put also those pieces of her former championship form together, but here she is now, at the scene of her original ascent, and playing the best tennis of her post-surgery career. She's currently stomping on Anna Chakvetadze, and as I watch on Directv 703 they have just cut to a slo-mo shot of her skirt blowing in the breeze (it's artistic).

6. Kvitova, serving: I was admittedly late to the party in terms of seeing Petra Kvitova as a legit Slam threat. But considering what we've seen from her this year, I'm thinking that she's one of the few women in at Wimbledon that has the tournament on her racquet. If Petra serves and attacks at her very best, I do not see anybody beating her. But what are the odds of her serving and attacking at her very best for six more matches? Is she mentally tough enough to do it?

She's somewhat unproven, and she can be inconsistent. To think that she'll rise to the challenge and make the grass her muse a la Martina Navratilova might be a little outrageous. But I do believe that there is a tremendous opportunity at the moment for Petra Kvitova to capitalize on her abundance of natural gifts. The lack of a dominant force in the WTA at the moment should make her want to work that much harder. With her game, she could be the one. If Kvitova ever becomes the physical force that Navratilova (making the comparison becuase they are both Czech, and both lefty) was at the height of her power, than the WTA may have the new dominant queen it desires.

7. DirecTV mix package. I am constantly switching channels, looking in on five matches live, plus commentary. It's probably not better than being at SW 19 in person, but if it's not the next best thing, I'm dying to know what is. It's a little slice of heaven, to be sure. I can watch my dog fall asleep, and I can avoid paying for refreshments to boot.

Life is good, in other words. If you don't have this package, by all means call your tennis subscriber.

8. Tsonga: He's ranked a paltry 19 in the world, but make no mistake, the Frenchman has one of the best grass games in the world. Tsonga's serve just seems to get even nastier when it is bouncing off that fuzzy 8mm-length grass. The guy is a nightmare to return serve against, and his ability to capture points at net, if used at the right moments, could make him a very difficult out. Like Murray, Tsonga has to serve lights-out to keep winning. But essentially, you could say the same about anybody.

9. Serena' sniffles: I'm not talking about her crying in her chair, though that was one of the high points of day 2 in my opinion. I'm talking about the sniffles. Really. She definitely sounded like she had a cold at her press conference today (she also admitted it when asked), and since it wasn't noticeable in Sunday's presser, she must have got that cold between Sunday and today. Just another hurdle for Serena to overcome...

10. Nick Bollettieri said hi to Serena in her presser and told her how happy he was to see her play. It was kind of funny. Serena was happy to hear from him.

11. Ode to remote control: I just flipped channels and got chunks of Serena's presser and Isner's post-match interview after his easy win over his good buddy Nicolas Mahut. John may have his number on the court, but we all know that Mahut will forever be the better cross-dresser, as he proved in Australia this winter. Seriously though, now that Isner is through and fresh, does he become a dark horse candidate? Come to think of it, don't Milos Raonic and Ivo Karlovic become dark horse candidates too? The problem with that that theory? Raonic will face Rafa in the 3rd round; Isner is in Federer's quarter; Karlovic might have the clearest route to the quarters of all three big servers.

12. Can Li Na do the double? How quickly we forget in tennis, but surely none of us have forgotten the Nation-inspiring exploits of Li Na, the trailblazer from China, right? In case you have, it's time to remember. Li's footwork looked exquisite today, and as I watched her prowl the baseline against Alla Kudrayetseva of Russia, I couldn't help but think: Li could do the French-Wimbledon double, the way she is playing.

13. Oudin's freefall continues: Honestly, I just don't know if the pugnacious Georgian will ever regain that je ne sais quoi that she had at the 2009 U.S. Open. Talk about lightning in a bottle. She got annihilated by Ana Ivanovic today, and she's nowhere near the player she was in 2009. I think Oudin still wants to be great, but she's also looking a little scared out there.

On the other hand, as you watch this match, it's clear that Ana has the potential to be a great player again. Just some easy effortless power when she hits the ball right.

14. Harrison with the nice little upset: Snuffed out in the 5th set of the final round of qualifying, Ryan Harrison has risen from the ashes to live another day. Today, the No. 122-ranked Harrison pulled a stunner by defeating No. 37-ranked Ivan Dodig of Croatia in straight sets. That's a massive win for Harrison, and it's a nice reward for a young American who has been nothing but dedicated thus far this year. Harrison has managed a few big wins in his careeer (an upset of Ivan Ljubic at the 2010 U.S. Open and a win over red hot Milos Raonic at Indian Wells come to mind), but he'll need even more if he is to break the top 100 before he turns 20 next May.

He'll play David Ferrer in the 2nd round. Why do I feel like this kid has a shot?

15. Bernard Tomic? Tomic and grass make sense. The loungy, campy strokes of Tomic seem to be perfectly-tailored for the lush green grass and he obviously learned a few things from having a knock with Novak Djokovic on the practice courts before his 1st rounder.

I wasn't really that surprised that the young Australian got it done today against Nikolay Davydenko. Quite frankly, Davydenko's play has been abysmal of late, so I'm not sure how much stock we should be putting in Tomic's win. That said, the Aussie is 5 months younger than Ryan Harrison, and he's got a very unique sort of slow-moving game that features a lot of changes of pace, some great touch, and some whacky angles. What's not to like?

16. Dick Enberg: Enberg covered the Serena Williams match with Chris Evert on ESPN, and it reminded me of what a consummate professional the man truly is. Dick recently announced that his 32nd Wimbledon will be his last. Some people have mixed feelings about Dick recently because he didn't hand Juan Martin del Potro the mic when he asked to speak to his Spanish-speaking fans after the 2009 US Open final, but the slip-up is not indicitave of the Enberg that tennis fans have come to love.

17. Jovanovski? I was looking forward to seeing Serena Williams play Bojana Jovanovski in the 2nd round, but the 20-year-old Serb won only 50% of her first serve points today against Simona Halep. The kicker? She served 82%. She lost 24 of her 48 first serve points. How?

18. Speaking of Grass: When I spoke to Wimbledon Head Groundsman Eddie Seaward late this spring, he mentioned that they'd had a spell of very dry weather, which forced him and his crew to irrigate "furiously" for months. The idea was to soften the soil beneath the grass. With all the soggy weather of late, I'm guessing that it's a bit softer than usual. We're only two days in and the patches at the baseline are starting to look quite worn.

19. You think Venus Williams is old at 31? How about her opponent in the 2nd round, the 40-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm? Kimiko is old enough to be, um, Venus's older sister.

20. Is it time to write Marin Cilic Off? Nah, give the young man a break. But a sign of life would be nice. Cilic was beaten by his fellow Croatian Ivan Ljubicic in the 1st round today. Tough one for Cilic, but great for the grizzled vet Ljubicic who has enough pop on his serve and groundies to have some dark horse potential at SW 19. The 32-year-old hadn't been past the 3rd round of Wimbledon since 2007, and will face Andy Murray in the 3rd round if seeds hold.


  1. Good post, great tourney so far, and most importantly - go Roger!!!

  2. Very well written article. Check out my site if you get a chance, thebleacherbriefings.com

  3. boy, lots of tennis thoughts for the day! thanks for sharing.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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