2010 Wimbledon Coverage
Day Eight Thoughts
- LADIES' SINGLES
- GENTLEMEN'S SINGLES
- LADIES' DOUBLES
- GENTLEMEN'S DOUBLES
- MIXED DOUBLES
It was ladies' day at Wimbledon today, with the gentlemen playing doubles matches but no singles contests. We saw all four women's quarterfinal matches played out to decide the final four. And on a day rife with upsets, the only top-twenty player left standing amongst those four? Top dog Serena Williams, who picked off another of just three other top-ten players that had been standing by the quarters, Li Na. It certainly has been a strange tournament so far on the women's side. Three unseeded women made it to the quarterfinals -- two of them against one another, ensuring there would be at least one on to the semifinals. The #1, #2, #8, #9 and #21 seeds were the only top players left standing.
Compare that to the men's draw, slated to play out
quarterfinals matchups tomorrow. #1 Roger Federer and #2 Rafael Nadal
were joined by #3 Novak Djokovic, #4 Andy Murray, #6 Robin Soderling,
#10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and #12 Tomas Berdych. Only Lu Yen-Hsun, the
Taiwanese journeyman who upset #5 Andy Roddick yesterday on Court 2,
remains as the token unseeded player left in the draw; he squares off
against Djokovic for the right to play either Federer or Berdych.
But enough of the men... this, after all, wasn't to be their day. It also wasn't to be Li Na's day. Li, the 28-year-old Chinese veteran who saw her profile surge in January with her run to the Australian Open semifinals, lost once again to Serena after missing her chance at the final in Melbourne thanks to the younger Williams sister. Serena wasn't serving spectacularly, but that meant she still got two out of every three first serves into play and hit eleven aces against just one double fault. She allowed just one break to Li against four of her own and made just six unforced errors all day to close things out in a compact 80-minute straight-set 7-5 6-3 match.
Contrast that to her sister, Venus, who was sitting on the other side of the bracket as the #2 seed and awaiting the sibling rivalry match for the title that seemed so inevitable when the draw was first released. Squaring off against Tsvetana Pironkova -- the #82-ranked woman on the WTA Tour (coincidentally the same ranking as Lu Yen-Hsun, the man who brought down Roddick yesterday) -- nothing was working right for the elder Williams. Her 22-year-old opponent, eight years younger yet already a journeywoman on the tour, had taken her first professional WTA loss five years ago in the semifinals of a tournament in Istanbul against... Venus Williams.
Just seven months after that, Pironkova got her biggest win to date when she rebounded from a first-set loss to defeat Venus in the opening round of the 2006 Australian Open. It looked for a while as though a burgeoning star might be on our hands. But then she lost in the next round of that tournament and never had gone beyond the second round of any Grand Slam in the half-decade she's been a pro.
Yet as soon as the two women started playing on Court 1, it became fairly obvious which of the two was going to prevail today. We'd already seen Pironkova bounce Williams from a Grand Slam before, but given the trajectory of the two women's careers since we can still rightfully call this an upset. Divided by eighty spots in the rankings, it was the Bulgarian rather than her more accomplished American counterpart who was the superior shotmaker from the start.
The statline would be essentially reversed from Serena's match. Venus would get just one break to Pironkova's four. She connected on just 57% of her first serves, hitting three aces against five double faults. And most tellingly, Venus cranked out 29 unforced errors...
Yes -- TWENTY-NINE...
It was a dreadful performance that was held in even sharper relief given the play by Bulgaria's finest giant-slayer. Pironkova also had three aces but just one double fault, and committed nearly two dozen fewer unforced errors. She won nearly half her 64 total points on Venus' serve (30 against 34 on her own serve), breaking down the Comptonite thoroughly on the lawn in London. Never before had Venus sustained such a loss at the All-England Club. It took Pironkova just 85 minutes to eliminate the five-time Wimbledon champ, a ludicrous 6-2 6-3 scoreline staring back to the disbelievers who will undoubtedly glance a sports page and assume it to be a typo.
But at 30 years old, we have to wonder how many more chances we will get to see Venus going deep into tournaments like this. Before Pironkova, that window still looked wide open -- Williams hadn't dropped a set yet in four prior matches, only under pressure really when Jarmila Groth forced a second-set tiebreak in their fourth-round encounter. The Bulgarian, though, made her look downright pedestrian on the court. Faster, playing the match of her life, Pironkova once again proved herself capable of being Venus' Grand Slam Kryptonite four years after her first ouster...
We also saw another top-ten player, Belgium's Kim Clijsters, follow up the grudge match she won against her countrywoman Justine Henin with a baffling exit to #21 Vera Zvonareva. At least it was against a seeded opponent, but it was still a wholly unexpected result from the defending U.S. Open champion. Clijsters easily won the first set, getting the break just before serving out for the 6-3 starter, but then she began to let the match slip away.
The Russian, playing fast and loose, was making just one unforced error for every two committed by her Belgian counterpart. Her first serve was connecting at a 70% clip. Everything was going right as Zvonareva snagged a break to go up 3-1 midway through the second set, and even a break back from Clijsters couldn't deter her. Having seen her lose the break, Zvonareva came right back and snagged it back on the next service game to neutralize Clijsters' momentum and take the second set 6-4.
So it all came down to a deciding third set. And this time, Zvonareva left nothing to chance. She broke to get to 3-1 again, and then -- with Clijsters serving down 2-5 -- she broke again to claim the match. Giving away two match points, Clijsters staved off the first with a long inside-out rally that ended up getting the better of the Russian. On the second, down 30-40, the Belgian saw her forehand push into the net and spell her doom. Taking the victory 3-6 6-4 6-2, Zvonareva reached her first Wimbledon semifinal on the heels of her appearance in the semifinals at last year's Australian Open, and Clijsters was left to wonder what went wrong and begin preparing herself for her hard-court title defense at Flushing Meadows...
Of course, it hasn't been any easier for those top players on the upward trajectory of their career's flight through time. Some of the top junior girls have seen themselves tumbling far earlier than expected out of the draw. Already Elina Svitolina, the top seed and 2010 French Open champion, had seen her hopes dashed in the opening round against American Grace Min. Min lives on to challenge another high seed, #15 Yulia Putintseva, after defeating Polina Pekhova 7-5 7-5 in their second-round match.
Another young American, Sloane Stephens, eliminated #16 Daria Gavrilova 6-0 6-4 in an hour flat and booked her place against #3 Timea Babos. Of course, you may remember Babos most recently from the French Open, when she was last seen on the clay winning the girls' doubles tournament with her partner... Sloane Stephens. The two teammates, who are also playing doubles together here at Wimbledon, will have to set aside their camaraderie for a while and develop a little enmity -- after all, the quarterfinals are calling.
The biggest losses on the girls' side today, though, had to be the departure of both #4 Karolina Pliskova (against Uzbekistan's Nigina Abduraimova, 6-2 4-6 6-3) and #6 Nastja Kolar (against Czech player Denisa Allertova, 2-6 6-3 6-4). Their losses opened up the entire bottom half of the bracket. We'll see if #2 Irina Khromacheva can hold on at the bottom terminus of the draw, or if it will be domestic hopeful #8 Laura Robson who pulls through that half.
Or, just as likely, we'll have another unseeded player emerging through -- perhaps Abduraimova, Allertova or even Britain's Tara Moore, who eliminated #14 Sophia Kovalets in the opening round and would face Robson in the quarters. And if all were to play right, we could even have an all-unseeded, all-domestic final with Moore and Eleanor Dean matched up. Dean, having knocked off #7 Gabriela Dabrowski in three sets to open things up, is also on a roll right now.
After all, anything can happen at Wimbledon -- and it sure feels this year like it intends to do just that!