Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wimbledon Men's Quarter Finals: Previews and Picks

The collective British heart will no doubt be palpitating wildly tomorrow, as Andymonium round five takes to Centre Court with a chance to get one step closer to the holy grail.

Murray Mania survived it's most aggressive challenge on Monday, as Stan the Man Wawrinka, clearly inspired by all the attention and fanfare surrounding this tilt, pulled out all the stops in his attempt to derail the huffing and puffing locomotive known as Andy Murray.

In the end his herculean effort fell just short, with Murray fending off break points and repeated assaults from perhaps the most sizzling one-handed backhand in the sport.

Tomorrow's match doesn't look to be as challenging on paper, but they don't play Wimbledon quarter finals on paper - the chosen surface is grass, in case you've been in a dark and tennisless closet since before 1877.

Here's a closer look at the Murray - Juan Carlos Ferrero match, along with the other three quarter final match ups that are set to take place tomorrow.

Andy Murray vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero:

You don't have to search very far to find the results of the last meeting between these two: Murray put a thrashing on Juan Carlos in the semis at Queens Club, 6-2, 6-4. That was June 14th. The story of that match was that Murray won 86 percent of his first serves, while Ferrero only won 64 percent of his.

Murray's 9 aces were also a factor, and he needs to reconnect with his serve to make this quarter final match relatively easy compared to what he had to go through with Wawrinka yesterday. Make no mistakes, Stan the Man played out of his head yesterday.

But the good news for Murray is that he was able to deliver yesterday on the big points against Wawrinka. Even with the hopes and aspirations of a whole nation shadowing his every stroke, Murray can swallow up the tenseness and spit it back out as a break point saved. He saved 10 of them yesterday.

The only bad news for Murray is that he served only 44 percent in the first set and 42 percent in the third against Wawrinka. Imagine what Federer will be able to construct against him if he does that in a possible final that is truly too far off to even bother getting your hopes up for. Yet.

Pick: Murray in 4

Andy Roddick vs. Lleyton Hewitt:

What? What year is it?

Roddick made the point in one of his recent and typically fabulously hilarious pressers that the average age in the top (insert the number he actually said here - was it 100?) players was 26.

At 26, the other Andy is definitely not over the hill, and the way he has been training this year, and playing inspired tennis, is a true testament to the mans character. You don't have the nastiest serve in the sport (sorry Karlovic, but be real) without having loads upon loads of character. Slice it any way you like it but the results are going to come out the same, this is Roddick's match to win.

Hewitt is 28, but he did have the hip surgery. He also just had a tough five-setter against Radek the worm Stepanek, and had to call for the trainer for a rubdown in the process.

The Aussie's run here at the All England Club has been the stuff of dreams. A return to past glory is nothing to be scoffed at, and the 2002 champ is really showing that he loves to play on the grass. But Roddick is making a homecoming of sorts as well. He's a two-time runner up At Wimbledon and only Federer could stop him in those years.

Pick: Roddick in 4

Roger Federer vs. Ivo Karlovic:

Can you believe that Federer is actually taking a back seat to Andymononium at the moment? Perhaps the greatest player in the history of the sport going for perhaps the most important statistic of all? Are you kidding me?

I'm not sure if you caught the applause that he was given by the Centre Court crowd as he exited after his eleventh consecutive victory against Robin Soderling. It was really warm. It's almost as if the British crowd senses that they might have to turn against him in the final so they are making sure they give the Swiss maestro his props in the next few rounds.

Look for them to lend a hand to him against Dr. Ivo.

Murray is 8-1 vs. the Croatian giant. And don't think that the King of Grass isn't lying on his back next to his wife and the growing child inside her belly and reflecting on these 8 victories. Or maybe he's reflecting on the 1 loss? Only Federer himself knows how Federer himself works. All we as fans know is that he is a genius. How dare us to even speculate? We that chastised him earlier in the year for not taking on a coach. How could we?

And look at Federer now. It is obvious that releasing the part of his brain that was previously devoted to Rafa has released the uninhibited dare-we-say perfection possessed by the man.

Look for him to slice and dice the Karlovic serve. He'll be challenged just like Karlovic's previous four victims, but this is Roger Federer we're talking about.

Karlovic has been impressive in his four breakless victories, no doubt. He hasn't even faced a break point since the first round. How is that even possible? The 6'10 mammoth man won two tiebreakers in his victory over Federer at the Cincinnati Masters event in 2008. But that's only 1 win in 9 tries. And Federer won their last meeting (and while in the midst of his slump), this year at Indian Wells.

Federer is 8-3 in career tiebreakers against Dr. Ivo.

Federer is 25-4 in his last 29 Wimbledon tiebreaks.

That says it all to me. Roger is the essence of the word clutch. And He's going for 15, while Rafa's icing his knees. For him there is no better scenario.

Pick: Federer in 5

Novak Djokovic vs. Tommy Haas:

The forgotten man at Wimbledon 2009 has definitely been Novak Djokovic. That may have something to do with the fact that he was nowhere to be found in the second week at Roland Garros this year.

But like Roland Garros, Wimbledon's semis have also seen the red-blooded Serb take part in them. Novak was a semi-finalist in 2007, and in spite of his Roland Garros loss to Kohlschreiber, I think he's got to be the favorite against the oldest man left in the draw.

Tommy Haas had that wonderful suspense-filled match against Marin Cilic in the third round (the one that had my vote for match of the tourney until the Murray 4th rounder), and then the 31-year-old German cruised to victory against Igor Andreev in the fourth round.

Haas possesses an elegant game that features a gorgeous one-hand backhand and a classic serve motion. It is always fun to see him in top form.
This will be a battle of former No. 2' s in the world, with Novak's stint at the top being much more recent.

After playing a sloppy first round match, the salacious Serb has delivered some of his most inspired tennis of the season. He made easy work of Mardy Fish in the 3rd round, and then did the same against Dudi Sela in the 4th. Haas will be a step up from that level of competition, but Djokovic will be playing to avenge the loss he suffered against Haas earlier this month in Halle, Germany.

You can look at that grass court final, won by Haas in 3 sets (6-1 in the 3rd), in two ways: as a sign that Haas is ready for the semis, or as a sign the pain and suffering that this loss caused Djokovic to suffer will be paid back in double by the in-over-his-head Haas.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 7: Williams Sisters Breeze into Quarters

Wham bam, thank you ma'am. If you could summarize the Williams Sisters performance on Manic Monday at Wimbledon today with one phrase, that would be it.

In a decade that has only witnessed one final that didn't feature at least one of the Williams Sisters (Mauresmo vs. Henin in 2006), the likely scenario appears to be unfolding again, as both sisters rolled easily into the quarters, neither losing a set in the process.

Serena was dominant against unseeded Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova today, and she needed only 56 minutes to close out the 6-3, 6-1 victory. She was able to win 57 of the 87 points that were played in spite of landing only 54 percent of her first serves.

"I have definitely have been solid and playing consistent," said Serena, who like Venus has yet to lose a set in the tournament. "Obviously there's always room for improvement in my game...I definitely felt like I could have served a little better today."

While it's hard to imagine her playing much better today, her perfectionism may be exactly what she needs in the quarterfinals against Victoria Azarenka, a player that many people consider to have the best shot at usurping the Williamses Wimbledon supremacy.

Serena's big sister Venus, the reigning Wimbledon champion and five-time title holder, was equally methodical in her assault on No. 13 seed Ana Ivanovic of Serbia.

The fleet footed Venus converted on 10 of her first 12 net approaches and stormed to a quick 5-0 lead against Ivanovic. After closing out the first set 6-1, things would take a turn for the worse for Ivanovic.

While serving at 30-40 in the first game of the second set, Ivanovic felt a sharp pain in her left thigh. After seeing the trainer and getting the leg treated and wrapped, the Serb tried to continue but was forced into a teary retirement after the conclusion of the first game of the second set.

Venus expressed sympathy for Ivanovic in a classy post game press conference, but when she takes the court against Agnieszka Radwanska tomorrow in the quarter finals, she'll undoubtedly be feeling fresher as a result of her relatively easy forty-seven minutes spent on court today.

Slammin' Sisters

Proving that it is truly all in a days work, the sisters joined forces on the doubles court to put an emphatic beat-down on their Chinese opponents, Zi Yan and Jie Zheng, 6-0, 6-0.

The forty-six minute victory lands the sisters in the quarterfinals of the ladies doubles draw, where they will face the German-American tandem of Groenefeld and King.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 7: Women's 4th Round Preview/ Picks

For the last decade at Wimbledon it's been Venus Williams party. Sometimes she invites her sister Serena, but for the most part, the rest of the top women tennis players in the world have found themselves on the outside looking in.

Ana Ivanovic would like nothing more than to spoil Venus's party.

But she'll need some luck. With the way the former No. 1 from Serbia has played in 2009, it looks to be an uphill battle. Venus, a five time champion, and Ivanovic, who entered last years Wimbledon ranked No. 1 in the world, will highlight a heavy ticket that features all eight 4th round matches.

Here's a look at what's on tap:

1. Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic:

Ana looked so bad in her first round match against Lucie Hradecka from Czechoslovakia, that many were predicting more doom and gloom for the emotional Serb. But somehow she found her game in time to score straight set wins over Sara Errani and Samantha Stosur.

But the most daunting challenge in women's tennis awaits her now, and the lack of confidence that she concealed in her last two matches will more than likely come back and bite her again on Centre Court.

Venus is riding a seventeen match winning streak here, and she is hell bent on becoming the first woman since Steffi Graf to win three consecutive titles. This would be a monumental win for Ivanovic if she could get it, but it just seems too far fetched given the turbulence that has permeated Ana's game since her French Open title in 2008.

Pick: Venus in 3

Dinara Safina vs. Amelie Mauresmo:

Poor Dinara, all dressed up in that No. 1 ranking with no place to go. The combative Russian has been zealously pursuing a title for over a year now, but nerves seems to catch up with her whenever she reaches a final.

Perhaps she'll benefit from the fact that all eyes are on Venus and Serena and make a sneaking mad dash for the crown? She's not known for her grass court expertise, but she is the world No. 1, and hasn't lost a set in the tournament.

To advance she'll have to face the 2006 Wimbledon Champion, Amelie Mauresmo, who at 29 is playing like she has nothing to lose. That's probably because she hasn't. She's already won Wimbledon, and nothing can take that away from her. If Safina gets a case of the yips look for Mauresmo to casually capitalize.

Pick: Safina in 3

Caroline Wozniaki vs. Sabine Lisicki:

19-year-old Sabine Lisicki is on a tear. 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki is on a tear. Okay now, who is gonna tear who apart then? Good question.

The two teenagers have split their two meetings to date, with Lisicki winning their last meeting in straight sets in Charleston. But overall Wozniacki has been the better player in 2009. The great Dane has been steadily climbing up the rankings, and her grass court title in the Wimbledon tune-up at Eastbourne has given her confidence a boost.

Pick: Wozniacki in 2

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Melanie Oudin:

What a difference a week makes. Melanie Oudin played her way into Wimbledon by winning three qualifier matches, and now she finds herself with a good shot to make the quarter finals.

Why? Because as good as Radwanska is, she doesn't have the tools to hammer the 17-year-old American like most of the other ladies in the draw.

Expect this to be a wild topsy-turvy affair, as Oudin has lost the first set and come back in all of her matches, and Radwanska is rolling second serves in at around 60 mph, hardly a recipe for domination.

pick: Radwanska in 3

Serena Williams vs. Daniela Hantuchova:

Hantuchova might have the edge in swimsuit modeling, but when it comes to the 4th round of slams it's all about Serena.

The Slovakian is 1-6 in her career against Serena, with one of those wins coming at the Australian Open in 2006. Hantuchova is only 21-15 on the year and has seen her ranking drop to 32.

Serena is searching for her 3rd career Wimbledon title, and is also dead set on making sure that her big sister Venus doesn't outdo her.

pick: Williams in 2

Victoria Azarenka vs. Nadia Petrova

Victoria Azarenka is still playing with the bitterness of bowing out in Roland Garros to Dinara Safina after taking the first set easily. She's the type of player that doesn't need to learn the same lesson twice. It's been a great year for Azarenka: She reached her first Slam quarter final and she has earned a spot in the WTA's top-10. Most players would be satisfied with that, at least for a little while.

Not Azarenka. The powerful and exceptionally quick and intense Belarusian seems to be the player on tour with the greatest fire in her belly.

Expect Azarenka to come out fast and furious, looking to avenge last years Wimbledon 3rd round defeat at the hands of none other than the cagey veteran Petrova.

Pick: Azarenka in 2

Elena Dementieva vs. Elena Vesnina:

In this battle of Elena's it is Dementieva who has the edge in experience. Dementieva made it all the way to the Wimbledon Semis just last year, and she has taken both career meetings against Vesnina, one of which came on grass.

The 22-year-old Vesnina scored a huge upset in taking out Dominika Cibulkova, but she is in uncharted waters now against the ever-dangerous Dementieva.

pick: Dementieva in 3

Virginie Razzano vs. Francesca Schiavone:

This is a gravy match because neither Schiavone or Razzano has ever been past the third round at Wimbledon, so it's all gravy from here.

Schiavone has won all three of their previous meetings so maybe it will be Razzano's turn on Monday.

Pick: Razzano in 3

Day 7: Men's 4th Round Preview and Predictions

The most overworked lawn in all of England gets a well deserved breather on the middle Sunday of the Wimbledon Championships.

Hopefully some of those bare patches can grow back because when Monday morning rolls around a frantic race to the finish will officially begin.

All 16 men and women left in the singles draws will compete on various courts tomorrow, with star-studded action on six different courts. This plethora of quality tennis gives holders of grounds passes the opportunity to view high profile matches in the intimate settings of Wimbledon's lesser known side-courts.

Here's a sneak preview of all of the 4th round match ups that are on the docket:

MENS, 4th Round:

1. Roger Federer vs. Robin Soderling, Centre Court:

Soderling did the unthinkable in Paris in the 4th round against Nadal, and that is good enough reason to consider him a threat, even though he has lost to Federer in all 10 of their previous encounters.

Of the six sets they have played on grass, Soderling has only won one, but half of them have gone to tiebreakers. So it's not like Soderling has been getting blown off the court by Fed. Still, it takes a pretty fecund imagination to visualize Roger getting beat here, on the surface he likes more than any other.

Pick: Federer in 5

2. Andy Murray vs. Stanislas Wawrinka, Centre Court:

Murray Mania is a beautiful thing for the English, and you can bet if the loyal enlistees of Andymonium are needed to get the wildly hyped Scot through a rough spot in this match, they will perform admirably.

That being said, the way Murray has performed in the Championships thus far, the more likely scenario is that those lucky enough to have Centre Court tickets can sit back and enjoy another classic Murray puppet act (with Andy pulling the strings, and Stan the Man reacting).

In their last big time match, Andy scored a decisive 4th round victory over Wawrinka at the U.S. Open in straight sets. It's hard to imagine the results here being any different. Wawrinka has taken 3 out of the 7 matches that the two have played, but Murray has taken 4 out of the last 5.

Pick: Murray in 4

3. Fernando Verdasco vs. Ivo Karlovic, Court 1:

Serving more aces than a Vegas dealer, Ivo Karlovic is the man that no one wants to face. And there's good reason for that. Karlovic leads all of Wimbledon with 102 aces, and he hasn't been broken in his first three matches (faced 4 break points in his first round match against Lukas Lacko, but saved them all).

But before you start anointing Dr. Ivo the new King of Grass, realize that Karlovic has never been beyond the 4th Round at Wimbledon, and he suffered losses in the first round for the previous 4 years.

That being said, he did beat Verdasco last year in their only previous encounter on grass (in a third set tiebreak at the Nottingham Finals), and Verdasco has never been beyond the 4th round at Wimbledon either (lost in both attempts in 5 sets).

Someone has to give here, and it'll be fun to see who does.

Pick: Verdasco in 4

4. Tomas Berdych vs. Andy Roddick, Court 1:

For those of you who were miffed when Berdych suddenly retired against Roddick after one set and 2 games at the 2007 U.S. Open (4th round also), here is your long awaited rain check.

Both heavy hitters come into this match riding a nice wave of momentum. Berdych is one of only two players to not lose a set thus far in the tournament, while Roddick, boasting a 36-6 record in 2009 under new coach Larry Stefanki, is looking more like the 2004 and 2005 Roddick who appeared in two consecutive finals.

This should be a high octane affair, as the two thrashers are both sensing that a win here might propel them into the semis.

Pick: Roddick in 5

5. Lleyton Hewitt vs. Radek Stepanek, Court 2:

Hewitt is 2-0 vs. Stepanek, but this one will feel more like a strange encounter than a familiar one. Both meetings were in 2003, and while the born again Hewitt is interested in reproducing the glory of yesteryear, Stepanek seems to be getting smarter as he gets older.

So throw the records out the window for this match.

This one will be won on heart and soul, not past accomplishments.

One thing to note is that Hewitt has come through the draw without losing a set, and Stepanek has been forced to labor through consecutive five-setters against Starace and Ferrer. Plus the rowdy Aussie supporters will be there to pick up Lleyton when he's down.

Hewitt, as a former Wimbledon champion, will be the favorite coming in, but Stepanek is one of those guys that you can never count out.

Pick: Hewitt in 4

6. Novak Djokovic vs. Dudi Sela, Court 3:

After his 3rd round loss in Roland Garros, and amidst all the hype surrounding Federer and Murray and Nadal these days, Novak Djokovic has become the forgotten man around the All England Club. Guess what? He likes it, and if there was ever something to put that chip back on Novak's shoulder, this might be it.

His straight set annihilation of Mardy Fish was impressive, and he has been a Wimbledon Semi-finalist before, so he knows the lay of the land.

Meanwhile, Sela has become quite the giant killer. He entered the tournament with a record of 12-11 on the year, but since his first round five-set thriller against qualifier Santiago Gonzalez, he has knocked off last year's semi-finalist Ranier Scheuttler (in 4) and No. 15 seed Tommy Robredo (also in 4).

Could the 5'9" 147 giant killer have another giant upset in him? Or will the forgotten man be remembered?

Pick: Djokovic in 4

7. Juan Carlos Ferrero vs. Gilles Simon, Court 3:

The diminutive yet indefatigable Simon is finally doing some damage after a long and disappointing slumber for much of this season. He's still ranked # 7, but big wins have been hard to come by for the 24-year-old. He's benefited from a fortunate draw, and the only seeded player that he's had to play so far was No. 31 seed. Victor Hanescu. Nonetheless, he's come through, and he's now one match away from his 2nd Slam quarterfinal of 2009.

Ferrero, a Wildcard, has a 21-8 career record on the Wimbledon grass, and is looking to match his 2007 quarter final performance with a win over the Frenchman. Ferrero's five-set upset over Fernando Gonzalez was grueling, but if he can recover nicely on his day off, he'll have a good shot to derail Simon.

Pick: Ferrero in 4

8. Igor Andreev vs. Tommy Haas, Court 4:

After blowing a 2 set lead against Roger Federer in Roland Garros, Tommy Haas has rebounded nicely. First he took a grass court title in Halle, Germany, and now, after winning a nail biter extraordinaire against Marin Cilic, he'll get another chance to make good in the 4th round of a slam.

His opponent on Monday, No. 29 seed Igor Andreev, has never been this far at Wimbledon, so he is going to have to cross his fingers and hope that youth trumps the experience of Haas, who is the oldest man left in the draw.

Pick: Andreev in 4

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 6: Murray Mania, Part 3

The only thing that 22-year-old phenom Andy Murray couldn't do today was raise the roof.

The weather, threatening for most of the 3rd round victory by Murray over helpless Serb Viktor Troicki, held. In six days of play, the only function of the 150 million dollar retractable roof has been to provide shade for the royal box.

Troicki, disillusioned in the same fashion as Murray's last two Wimbledon opponents, did not hold.

Murray gained his first break in the 5th game of the first set and he never looked back.

Rolling out his full arsenal of tricks - rally changing slice, booming serve, exquisite angles - and once again displaying a remarkable ability to play error free tennis, Murray glided easily past Troicki, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, much to the delight of the capacity Centre Court crowd (and the hordes of Murray Mania enlistees frolicking on Henman Hill).

"I've got to be happy with the first week," said Murray afterwards, "I felt better and better with every match. But I have to play better if I want to come away with the title next week."

Murray, who faced only one break point during the match (he fought it off with an ace), only committed three errors in the first set, and then took a total of seven consecutive games to pretty much put Troicki out of the picture.

"The crowd is behind him," said a shell shocked Troicki. "He might be a champion. If not this year then next year. Even this year, he's looking good."

Not to disagree with Troicki, but he's looking better than good. This may be perhaps the best tennis that the young Scot has ever played. He appears to be embracing the pressure and enjoying the unabashed support of the crowd, a responsibility that some feared might prove to be too much for a young and unproven player in terms of Grand-Slam victories.

But Murray has been the consummate professional throughout, both on the court and off the court. His play has been as sparkling as his vintage Fred Perry attire in all three matches, and Murray's uncanny sense for the courts geometry has been complemented nicely by his ability to mix speeds and locations - he never allows his opponents to gain a sense of comfort out on the grass.

The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not Murray can remain this hot. It's hard to fathom that he'll be able to navigate all seven matches without a few nervous moments. And he hasn't faced the real heavy hitters yet.

Stanislas Wawrinka lies in wait as Murray's next opponent. The 19th seed will be the highest seeded player that Murray will have seen thus far. Wawrinka was Murray's victim in straight sets in the 4th round of the U.S. Open last year.

Murray's already soaring confidence level will likely benefit from that fact, and from the support of the fastest growing cult that tennis may have ever seen.

Murray maniacs can now enjoy their Sunday high tea in a relaxed mode - their hopes and dreams a.k.a. Andymonium, are alive and well.

Day 6: Mauresmo and Hewitt Draw From Past Experience

Once a champion always a champion.  

Amelie Mauresmo, Wimbledon Champion in 2006, and Lleyton Hewitt, Wimbledon champion in 2002, are both heading into the second week of the fortnight with a lot of confidence.

"Yeah, I guess when you're at the top of your game and you're No. 1 in the world, you kind of take it for granted." said a jubilant Hewitt, referring to his past glory at Wimbledon, after his 3rd round defeat of German Philipp Petzchner.   "When you're unseeded, it's not always that easy to get the easy draw to come through the Round of 16 and make the second week of these kind of majors."

"That's what's pleasing this week, is to come through and do it against worthy opponents. You know, and not drop a set so far is nice, as well."

In a grass court season that is so short that many players don't even play a single match on the surface before their first match at Wimbledon, past champions like Hewitt and Mauresmo have a distinct advantage over much of the competition, regardless of what the draws look like.  

Mauresmo, who defeated Justine Henin in the 2006 final, dealt with the pressure quite admirably today, as she fought off 9 of 10 break point opportunities against Flavia Pennetta.

The 7-5, 6-3 victory advances Mauresmo to the round of 16 for the first time since 2007. During her illustrious career, the no. 17 seeded Frenchwoman has reached the semi-finals three times ('02, '04, '05) in addition to her victory in 2006. 

Mauresmo will face the No. 1 seeded Dinara Safina in the round of 16 on Monday.  It is an intriguing match up, and Mauresmo may be able to take advantage of the Russian's relative inexperience on the grass surface.  Additionally, Mauresmo already has the one thing that Safina is dying to get:  A Grand-Slam title.  

Mauresmo, in the latter stages of her career, may be able to pull the upset.  She knows the pressure is not on her, and she knows how to play the grass.  

Meanwhile, Hewitt will face a very beatable opponent in Czech Radek Stepanek.  Hewitt is 2-0 against Stepanek in his career.  

For the moment, both Mauresmo and Hewitt are pleased as punch to be heading into the second week of Wimbledon.  

The 29-year old Mauresmo is all about keeping it in perspective these days, and her relaxed mindset has definitely helped her on the court.  

"To keep playing for me was really a matter of enjoying myself on the court and being able to live some other great moments of emotion on the court, which I had already a few times this year," she said. "Hopefully I'll have some more."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Roland Garros Fans or Wimbledon Fans: Which are better?

Many people this week, both players and commentators alike, have been making the point that Wimbledon is the most prestigious tournament of all four Grand-Slams.  While it may not lend any more credibility to the debate, Wimbledon's official website makes the same claim.  

All four Slams are so divine in my opinion, and divinity is something that you can't quantify, so why try?  Isn't it pompous to regard your own event more highly than other events that are worth equal points in the rankings?  Let the players and fans decide, but please, by all means, avoid placing your own tournament on a pedestal in your own website.  It's tacky at best. 

Which brings me to my next point, about something equally as unquantifiable - the fans.  

I've come to the conclusion, after the first five days of Wimbledon, that the British fans are flat-out better than the French fans.  I know what you're thinking.  You're saying what kind of a nut ball compares fans, right?  Fans are just there to root for their favorite players and buy tickets and merchandise so the show can be paid for, right?  

But there truly is a nuance to being a fan, and in my opinion, the Wimbledon fans get it, and the Roland Garros fans do not.  

Take for instance Sunday May 31 at Roland Garros.  Why the heck were the French fans so eager to get behind Robin Soderling as he pulled the upset of the millennium against Rafael Nadal?  As John McEnroe later said, "they're cheering for Soderling in the 4th set tiebreaker? A guy that doesn't even get cheered for in Sweden?"  

While I won't go so far as to take away the French fans right to do whatever the heck they want and root for whomever the heck they want to root for, I just have to admit that I'll never understand their reaction to that match.  It was strange.  Fatalistic.  And it made me wonder about just what it is that makes the French fans tick.  

Why do they insist on heckling the female ladies whenever they question a line call?  Why do they shout and whistle at any player who is showing frustration out on the court?  Do they really frown upon this behavior?  Are they morally opposed to tossing a racquet in frustration? And, if they are morally opposed to that, wouldn't it make sense that they'd be morally opposed to infuriating hard working tennis players by unnecessarily heckling them at times when they are seriously stressed?  

Okay, enough.  I'm not writing this to rip the French fans - I merely had a few things to get off my chest after watching Rafael Nadal - the heart and soul of the French Open for four years running - be sent off to a smattering of jeers and cheers for Robin Soderling.  The guy deserved a thirty minute standing ovation after that match, and the fact that he got nothing from the French fans is a travesty.  

Somehow I feel that if an upset of that magnitude would have taken place on Wimbledon's Centre Court there'd have been an entirely different reaction.  Why?  Because the English fans get it.  

Decorum is second nature in Great Britain, and this has a lot to do with it.  But there is also a certain empathy that is detectable in the reactions of the collective British fan.  It is apparent that they respect the game of tennis immensely.  They are silently reverent when a player is riddled and becomes frustrated out on the court.  When a player argues a line call, they may giggle or sigh, but they most certainly do not whistle and cat-call like the French love to do.  

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking I'm bashing the French.  I'm here to tell you that I'm not.  Ask the players.  Ask anyone who attended the French Open.  This is how they behave at Roland Garros.  

Thankfully, it's not how they behave at Wimbledon.  One tournament with a rude and insensitive fan base out of four Grand-Slam's is enough.  I'm all for diversity,  and I wouldn't dare deny the French fans their right to indulge themselves in any fashion that they see fit.

They paid good Euros for those tickets, and they are running a world-class event in Paris.  And while I don't necessarily care for the behavior of the French fans, I will admit that their enthusiasm and boisterous banter makes the event a truly unique and memorable one.  They've got great energy and Roland Garros is electric - it's just got too much negative energy for me.  

In my opinion the fans at Roland Garros should turn on their televisions and watch some of Wimbledon - There's a lot to learn from the British fans, and the Roland Garros fans, in my opinion, should take heed.  

Day 5: Dr. Ivo Aces Another Exam

55 Aces wasn't enough to get Ivo Karlovic over the hump at the French Open on clay.  

46 was just fine on grass today.   

Karlovic's 7-6 (5), 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(5) over a downtrodden Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was more like a serving clinic than a tennis match.  

Tsonga never gained a break point in the match, and although he served well himself, his almost juvenile approach to dealing with the 6'10" Croatians thundering serve was ineffectual at best. 

After the No. 9 seeded Frenchman fought back to take a second set tiebreaker, there was a glimmer of hope that he might make some very necessary adjustments against the Karlovic serve, which averaged 127 mph for the match.  

Instead, Tsonga chose to haphazardly try to guess the direction of Karlovic's serve while the toss was in the air.  It was a puzzling technique by Tsonga - on most of Karlovic's aces he never even moved in the direction of the ball - and he just ended up conceding most points to Karlovic without even getting his racquet near the ball.  

As the tiebreakers rolled around, Tsonga actually tried to return serve, and he looked much better during the three tiebreakers that were played, but in the end Dr. Ivo was just too amped up for the bewildered Tsonga to handle.  

46 Aces gives Karlovic the tournament lead with 102, and he has yet to be broken in his first three Wimbledon tilts.  His first round opponent, Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, is the only opponent to manage a break point against the Croat.  He had four of them in his straight set defeat.  

While there wasn't much that Tsonga could do against the big man today, it was still very disconcerting to see the lack of effort that he put forth on his return of serve.  For a player with so much athletic ability, and such quick hands, he could have at least tried to string a few good games together.  

It raises questions about the dedication of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  He is certainly one of the most dynamic and athletic players in the game today.  But his performance today was so devoid of those trademark characteristics that define champions - mental toughness, tenacity, and patience -  that it is very hard to imagine him ever recreating the form that led him to the finals of the Australian Open in 2008 if he doesn't steepen his commitment.  

As for Karlovic, he is dangerous on grass, and Fernando Verdasco will have his hands full when the two meet on Monday.  Hopefully, for the sake of the fans and for his own sake, Verdasco will approach the daunting task with more fervor than Tsonga showed.  

Karlovic had lost in the first round in each of the last four years at Wimbledon, and his previous best performance was a 4th round appearance in 2004, in which he was defeated by Roger Federer in straight sets.

The Croatian is 2-1 against Verdasco in his career, including a win on grass in the Nottingham finals last year.  

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cilic vs. Querrey: The Psychology of a Heartbreaker

Wednesday's third and final match on Centre Court between Marin Cilic and Sam Querrey was a battle of lesser known players that turned out to be thrilling beyond expectations.

Search the globe far and wide and you'll not find a tennis venue that is either more daunting or more inspiring than Wimbledon's Centre Court. For two young players like Cilic and Querrey it is the sort of thing that causes heart palpitations. Idyllic and pristine, it ignites this almost other worldly electricity, for it is home to so much compelling history.

The passage of time in the tennis world has always been marked by the exploits of iconic legends of the game who have come of age on the hallowed grassy grounds that Cilic and Querrey, each for the first time in their promising careers, alighted upon with reverence.

The glorious cathedral of tennis that these two lanky phenoms went to work in, each with his sights set on the third round of the tournament, and possibly another chance to do it all over again, immediately became the setting for a brand of tennis warfare that was physical and spiritual; but most of all, as the match wound toward its conclusion in waning daylight, it was psychological.

But that shouldn't be a surprise. Psychology is the prevailing theme that runs through each and every tennis match. Sometimes it is implicit, camouflaged behind the prowess of the competitors, almost as if it didn't exist at all.

At other times, as in yesterdays struggle between these two boys desperately hungry to become men, psychology becomes as important as the techniques - topspin forehands, kick serves, footwork, or what have you - that these world class players seek to employ.

When 20-year-old Sam Querrey found himself up a set and leading 5-2 in the second set, there was a feeling that Querrey was driving a sports car off into the sunset - all he had to do was keep his foot on the accelerator and he'd reach his destination. Cilic at this point, seemed little more than an afterthought. A quiet objector that was soon to be forgotten.

But somewhere along the road, Querrey stopped to put the top down and fully enjoy his Wimbledon moment. Perhaps he felt that his work was done and he could just coast to victory. Perhaps he was tired and thought this was a perfect moment to take a breather. Whatever the reason, this was his big mistake; the psychological gaffe that led to the the unravelling of circumstances that he should have never had to face.

There is a certain instinct that the great ones have, call it a special ability to see the future, vision if you will. It is something that tells them to strangle the life out of a half-dead opponent, and to make sure that he breathes no more. True champions have this killer instinct, and that is why they can, at times, be boring to watch.

But Querrey, green as a summer squash and lacking the nerve to kill, seemed content to prolong the ride.

Instead of opening a vitally important internal dialogue with himself (the one where he convinces himself that this is the time for his best tennis, that he needs to pull out all the stops here, because blowing a 5-2 lead and a huge chance to put a stranglehold on a career changing upset on Wimbledon Centre Court is not what he has trained all these years for) he fell asleep at the wheel.

Querrey should have been saying to himself the following words: "Sam...you passed on a USC scholarship for this! You are kicking the snot out of this guy...choke him out and break his will...keep doing what you've been doing except now do it with more conviction...this match is yours!"

But Querrey had the top down. He's only 21 after all. The stereo was cranking, and he couldn't hear the thoughts. Maybe he didn't think them at all. Maybe this is why he's never, in spite of his atomic serve and triple-digit ground strokes, been past the fourth round of a major.

But here was his chance. And as Cilic scratched and clawed and found a way to force a 2nd set tiebreaker, and later as he won that tiebreaker, you could feel the Querrey vehicle start to decelerate.

The psychological advangage was clearly shifting hands.

Now Cilic, quiet as a mouse for the better part of two sets, suddenly realized that he had been near death, and that his opponent was nice enough to lack the stomach to put him out of his misery. Give a world class tennis player almost two hours, and he'll more than likely start to find his game. Cilic, world class striker that he is, must have felt like he was born again.

Emotions. Psychology. Tennis warfare. Boys trying to become men. Sweating it out on the most timeless, ageless stage known to tennis. What could be better?

After the two players traded sets beneath the balmy British sun, it became clear that both players were feeling that this could be their day. But neither seemed quite convinced.

As the fifth set began, a duality set in. Querrey finally did what he should have done in the second set when he held what was very close to being an insurmountable lead. He pulled the top down, gritted his teeth, and placed his foot firmly on the accelerator. He was near his destination and he played like a maniac.

After winning seventeen consecutive points on his serve, however, he still hadn't managed to gain an advantage on the scoreboard.

Cilic had no answer for Querrey's atomic serve. But he did have courage to keep fighting. He hung on to his serve, but it wasn't pretty. He couldn't seem to dial in his first serve, but he didn't let it phase him. Querrey, meanwhile, was cruising. If this were a race, Querrey would have already been at the finish line, waiting to shake hands with his opponent.

But you can't win a fifth set in tennis without a service break. No matter how superior Querrey looked compared to Cilic for the first nine games of the set, no matter how much faster his sports car was travelling, nothing was gained.

And when Querrey stepped up to serve in the tenth game, needing only to reproduce exactly what he had been doing in the last four games to prolong the match, everything was lost.

Tennis isn't about how good you are. It's about how you good you are when you need to be good. When Querrey absolutely needed to be good, he couldn't muster the form that had been with him all set. A double fault and some uncharacteristically nervous points later, he was still a boy on a man's stage. His final backhand sailed long and Cilic sank to his knees in celebration.

Grace under pressure and a killer instinct are the tools of men who have helped write the storied history of Wimbledon's past. Unfortunately for Querrey, he possessed neither.

Perhaps someday he will.

Sometimes the only way to learn to succeed is by being so painfully close to victory that the sting of falling short never leaves you.

In Querrey's case, we know he was so close. The question that remains, is how much it will sting.

Day 4: Murray Marches on; Outclasses Gulbis in Straights

Andy Murray is hoping that beating Ernests Gulbis in the 2nd round of the Wimbledon Championships will do the same thing for him that it did for Rafael Nadal one year ago. 

So is the Rest of Great Britain.  

Murray left little doubt that he is serious about living up to the hype that has been surrounding him ever since the grass court season began, as he shellacked the down and out Latvian 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 in front of an enamored Centre Court crowd.  

Murray made a strong statement in the second game of the match, fighting back from 15-40 with four clutch serves to hold.  The match may have taken on a different complexion if Murray hadn't delivered the goods at that point, but the hyper-intuitive Murray, keen on sensing big moments in big matches, was up for the task from the get go.  

Murray proceeded to keep Gulbis off balance with a dazzling array of slice, defense, and angled runners - to which the discombobulated Latvian had no answer.  Other than his booming first serve, Gulbis was lacking the tools to stay in the points with Murray.  

After Murray took the first set, the two hard servers were locked in a struggle for supremacy for much of the second.  For a moment it appeared that Gulbis may crawl back into the match, but another dose of slow and slower slices finally rattled Gulbis, and he was broken on the first and only break point of the set.  

Murray served out the set, and closed the match out after earning another pair of breaks in the third.

It was a stunning display of grass court tennis for the 22-year-old Scot, and he obviously has it in his head that he is destined to be thriving on the pressure rather than succumbing to it. 

If this match is any indication, Andymonium a.k.a. Murray Mania may be alive well into the second week of the fortnight.  

Murray will face the winner of the Viktor Troicki vs. Daniel Gimeno-Traver match in the third round on Saturday. 

Day 4: Hewitt Turns Back the Clock

Ah, the sweet smell of the grass.  No summer would be complete without it.  

Lleyton Hewitt can breathe it in for another few days, as he has pulled the upset of the tournament, a straight set 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 victory over no. 5 seeded Juan Martin Del Potro.

"When you can handle the pressure of a final out here, a 2nd round shouldn't be much," said an elated hewitt, who was the Wimbledon Champion in 2002.

While the Aussie was on top of his game from the start, Del Potro appeared to have left his heart in Paris. After coming so close to defeating Roger Federer in the Semis at Roland Garros, the lanky Argentine appeared to be running on fumes on Centre Court.

Hewitt used tough serving to remain unbroken for the better part of three sets. Finally he was broken late in the third, but he immediately broke back, then casually served out the match without much resistance from the No. 5 seed.

As usual, the feisty 28-year-0ld, who has been called a mongrel by compatriot Patrick Rafter for his uncanny pugnacity on the court, kept a strong internal dialogue going, and pushed himself to stay focused even as the play of an uninspired Del Potro didn't demand it.

Hewitt's grass court savvy was too much for Del Potro, who has yet to reach the 3rd round in three attempts at the All England Club.

Hewitt will play the winner of the Philipp Petzschner vs. Mischa Zverev match on Saturday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 3: Fed Express Rolls Into Third Round

The word Spaniard doesn't seem to bother Roger Federer as much now that Rafael Nadal is out of the draw.

Roger Federer, fresh off the heels of his record setting rendez-vous on the Paris clay, made it look easy on Centre Court today against a Spaniard with quite a bit less cachet than the Majorcan who unseated the King of Grass in last years epic final.

The Swiss Maestro needed only eighty nine minutes to routinely dispatch over matched Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Federer was unbroken for the match, as he was able to win a remarkable forty-five of forty-eight first serve points. It is strong serving like this that he hopes will enable him to avoid falling prey to an upset minded Philipp Kohlschrieber of Germany in Fridays third round match.

Kohlschreiber, who upset Novak Djokovic in the third round of the French Open, was forced to play five sets today, finally prevailing over Ivo Minar 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 8-6.

Federer has never lost a set against the 25-year-old German, including two wins on grass.

Winning Wimbledon will not only vault Federer into the top spot with fifteen Grand-Slam titles, it will also catapult him into the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings over Nadal. It would be the first time he was ranked No. 1 since Nadal passed him in the rankings in August of 2008.

Day 3: Serena, Azarenka On Pace For Quarter-Final Tilt

A lot can happen over the course of two rounds, but if today was any indication, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are headed for what might be the most anticipated match of the women's draw in the quarter finals.

The fiesty Belarusian continued her stellar play today by completely annihilating Romanian Ioana Raluca Olaru, 6-0, 6-0. Azarenka will undoubtedly face a stiffer test against another Romanian, Sorana Cirstea, in the third round. The 19-year-old is looking to make it beyond the third round at Wimbledon for the first time in her career.

Serena Williams also breezed to a straight set victory today, taking apart Australian Jarmila Groth without much of a sweat, 6-1, 6-2.

Both players looked intimidating in the process, and it is hard to imagine either of them getting beat before the quarters.

If Azarenka and Williams do meet in the quarter finals, it would be their third meeting of the year.

Azarenka was up a set in her fourth round match against Serena at the Australian Open in January before she was forced to retire with a stomach illness. Serena went on to win the tournament.

When the two met again in Miami Masters final in April, Azarenka steamed to straight set victory against Serena, who was suffering from a quadricep injury that definitely affected her caliber of play.

What Azarenka lacks in experience she makes up for with attitude.

What Serena lacks in youth she makes up for with attitude.

If the two end up clashing in the quarter finals, there will be a hell of a lot of attitude on display, not to mention two of the most dynamic games on the woman's side today.

Day 3: Sharapova Bounced by Bouncy Dulko

Maria Sharapova was rudely knocked out of the Wimbledon Championships in the second round today by Gisela Dulko, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

The 6'2" Russian fashionista, considered by many to be a legitimate contender for the title, was unable to complete another comeback against Dulko, who hung on to take a very closely contested deciding set.

It is Dulko's first career win against Sharapova in three attempts. Dulko will face another Russian, Nadia Petrova, on Friday.
The Buenos Aires resident is making her third trip to the 3rd round in eight years at Wimbledon. She also reached the 3rd round last year, losing to Elena Dementieva in straight sets.

It has been a fast and furious few weeks for Sharapova, who returned to tennis after a ten month absence in mid May. After a surprisingly strong run into the quarter finals at Roland Garros, her loss to Dulko has to be viewed as a major disappointment.

The 2004 Wimbledon Champion was one of four previous Wimbledon Champions in the ladies draw, but she couldn't make her experience pay off against Dulko, who broke Sharapova five times, including twice in the third set.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Andy Murray: Embracing the Pressure is his Only Choice

If pressure is a privilege, then Andy Murray is a privileged man.

While it isn't easy to have the hopes and dreams of an entire nation sitting squarely on your shoulders, the 22-year-0ld Scot appears unfazed by the tremendous weight of Great Britain's collective desire. Well, maybe that's a stretch, but he does appear to be dealing with it in a positive manner.

Murray knows that it's better to have his tennis-crazed nation in his corner than to have them against him.

The razor-thin margins that win or lose tennis matches can often be swayed by the intangibles. Murray is cognizant of the fact that the advantage he'll gain from the support of the British will far outweigh any pressure that may come packaged with their expectations. One or two pivotal points, fueled by emotion, can turn a losing proposition into a winning one. A chest thump after an ace, that brings the faithful to their feet. A raised fist after saving a break point, as the crowd roars in approval and the player on the other side of the net cringes.

Murray is not naive enough to overlook the obvious advantage that crowd support can provide him with. More importantly, he is mature enough to realize that the pressure is not something to shy away from. He may be young, but he isn't foolish. The kid gets it.

"I mean, I think anytime you can play in front of a home crowd in any sport, you know, it's a huge advantage," said Murray during a pre-Wimbledon presser. "I think a lot of people try and say that playing here at Wimbledon - that it's not - but I don't understand why... in football and in basketball, home court or playing a home match is a huge advantage. I view tennis as being the same thing. You've got 15,000 people behind you."

Murray, in three previous Wimbledon's, has improved upon his performance in each successive year. Last year's five set thriller in the 4th round against Richard Gasquet is testament to the influence that a crowd can have in a tennis match - they practically willed the young muscle-flexing Murray to victory.

Tim Henman, Murray's predecessor, was privy to the same benefits. His Wimbledon career was stellar while the rest of his results on tour were less so. The serve and volley virtuoso never reached higher than no. 4 in the rankings over the course of his thoroughly entertaining career, and yet, somehow, Henman was able to produce magnificent results nearly every time that he played at Wimbledon.

Four semi-finals, and four quarter finals, in fourteen appearances. This is truly remarkable, considering that in thirty-five other Grand-Slam appearances, all Henman could muster was two semi-finals (one at the U.S. Open and one at Roland Garros).

If Murray can surf the waves of crowd support as Henman did, he should be able to eclipse Henman's results quite easily. Why? Because at this juncture in his career he is better than Henman ever was.

Clearly, Murray has the higher ceiling of the two players, and it doesn't take a tennis genius to know it. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not Murray will be able to harness the tremendous power of the crowd support as well as Henman did. If he does, than the field at Wimbledon better watch out.

Murray is not above using Henman as a role model, and drawing upon his vast experience at the Championships. This can only help Murray in his quest to break the seventy-two year Wimbledon title drought for British players.

"Tim, I'm sure, played some of the best tennis of his career here. I think the crowd has something to do with that."

In becoming the first British player since Bunny Austin in 1938 to win the coveted trophy one week ago at Queens Club, Murray has further ignited the fury of the British media and fans.

Now all that remains is for Murray to perform a minor miracle at the All England Club. The way that roger Federer has been playing, anything less than a miraculous effort might not get the job done.

Luckily for Murray, he will not be alone. Each time he takes Centre Court, he'll have 15,000 of his closest friends cheering his every shot.

It doesn't get much better than that for a tennis player, and the more Andy Murray realizes this, the better his chances will be.

Monday, June 22, 2009

DAY 1: James Blake: Not Breaking Back

James Blake used to make a habit out of overcoming obstacles. Now, he's making a habit of letting them overcome him.

For the second straight Slam, Blake has come in on a roll only to go out with a whimper in the first round. Todays 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (5) upset at the hands of unseeded Italian Andreas Seppi is a major disappointment for American tennis fans who are desperately seeking a reason to believe that their heroes are more than just one dimensional hard court gurus.

The 29-year-old Blake is undoubtedly one of the good guys in the sport. He's a charming kid who conducts himself with dignity on and off the court, and he's a perfect example of the kind of sportsmen we should all aspire to be.

Unfortunately, Blake's sportsmanship seems to drain him of his killer instinct. He's prone to firing blanks in the big matches and he seems resolved to accept this fate rather than to push himself through the obvious barriers that are separating him from the major players on tour.

Blake has fought hardship ever since he was diagnosed with scoliosis as a 13-year-old. He wore a back brace for 18 hours a day. The mere fact that he has been a force in professional tennis given his obvious physical limitations is miraculous. Add to that his recovery from a freak injury in which he broke his back on the tennis court, and his subsequent return to the upper echelons of the men's game, and you'd think that there is nothing that can stop this guy.

But Blake seems to lose his sense of belief at the most inopportune moments, and for his supporters, it can be painful to watch.

After fighting his way to the finals of the grass court tune-up in Eastbourne, James should have been high on confidence. He wasn't, and much to American tennis fans chagrin, he was bounced like a fresh Slazenger, out of the Championships.

At 29, Blake's days at the top of the sport are numbered. Regardless of how he finishes his career, he will always be remembered as an inspirational figure for tennis fans and players alike. Sadly, however, his lack of a breakthrough major, in spite of all his great play, will also be remembered.

He's got a few years to get over this one final hump. He's never been past the quarters of a slam, and with the type of athletic prowess that he possesses, it'll be a shame if he never does.

As one of the true shining stars in the murky celestial body known as American tennis, it would be a beautiful thing if Blake could summon the spirit that got him where he is today, and crank out a big time performance on a grand stage.

Sadly, another opportunity to do just that was squandered today, and without very much of that fighting spirit that we all know Blake possesses.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Women's Preview: Williams Sisters Look to Maintain Dominance

There has only been one Wimbledon women's final this decade that didn't include a Williams sister, and seeing how they are on opposite sides of this years Wimbledon Drawsheet, it looks like at least one of the sisters will be wearing all white when Saturday July 4th rolls around.

At The All England Lawn Tennis Club, decade long periods of domination seem to be the norm among the women. The 80's were ruled by a superior specimen known as Martina Navratilova while the 90's were owned by the invincible Steffi Graf.

But the new millenium has featured a sister act that has made the hallowed grounds at Wimbledon's Centre Court seem as if it were the setting for an annual Williams family reunion.

Venus Williams, with five titles and two runner-ups in the last nine Wimbledon's, will look to equal the legendary Billie Jean King's record of six this year. Of the dynamic sisters, Venus definitely has the more favorable draw, with a possible 4th round match with Samantha Stosur (2009 French Open semi-finalist) or Ana Ivanovic, and possible contention in the quarters from struggling Serbian Jelena Jankovic.

If she advances to the semis, Venus will more than likely face either Dinara Safina or Svetlana Kuznetsova, who have the disadvantage of being drawn in the same quarter.

"I think she's every one's worry," said Serena, when asked about the threat of her sister in this years event. "You know, I think she has proven herself to be the best grass court player in our generation."

Serena, who last year was thrashed by Venus in the final 7-5, 6-4, will have to overcome some hurdles if she is to gain a chance to avenge that loss.

With 2004 champ Maria Sharapova and 2009 French Open quarter finalist Victoria Azarenka in her quarter, the two-time champ and two-time runner-up will be tested. Serena, who lost to Sharapova in the 2004 Wimbledon finals, is 5-2 lifetime against the 6'2" Russian.

Serena is 2-1 against Azarenka in her career, but their last match was won by the Belarusian in Miami and it has helped Azarenka springboard her career - the No. 8 ranked 19-year-old appears to be one of a handful of young ladies on the tour destined for a breakthrough.

Threats to the Dynasty

The Williams Sisters quite clearly have the edge going into the fortnight, but their dominance on grass can't last forever. As sensible as it would be to put your money one or both of the Williams sisters to get to the final, there are a handful of girls who are hell bent on ensuring that their reign of terror at Wimbledon finally comes to an end.

Here's a look at a few of the hopefuls:

Dinara Safina - As disappointing as her loss in the French Open final was, Dinara is not going to give up her dream of winning a slam that easily. While she's never been past the 3rd round at Wimbledon, her power game and vicious serve (when she's not a mess of nerves out there) can definitely cause a world of trouble for the competition.

Caroline Wozniacki - If she wants to do some damage, she'll have to get through a quarter of the draw that also includes Safina and Kuznetsova. It'll be tough, but winning the title yesterday on grass in Eastbourne can only help her confidence.

Maria Sharapova - Maria looked so good in Paris that it's hard to not consider her a threat to win here on the grass. If her shoulder holds up, and she's not too worn down by playing five grueling matches at Roland Garros, Maria could find herself staring across the net at Serena Williams in a quarter final match.

Victoria Azarenka - She's got the game, but does she have the maturity? The 5'10" dynamo has made major strides this year. She was close to a breakthrough at Roland Garros (took first set from Safina in the quarters) and there is no reason to believe that she won't be close to a breakthrough at Wimbledon either. But close doesn't mow the grass.

Svetlana Kuznetsova - It's not like Svetlana to play two good tournaments in a row. Since she won the French, a flame out seems more likely than another title, but there is something about the calm that the 24-year-old has been exuding of late - it says that anything is possible.

You Never Know

Will this be the year that the dark horse tramples the freshly manicured lawns of the Centre Court, or will Wimbledon 2009 prove to be another episode in dominance by a pair of sisters with a couple of battery-sized chips on their shoulders? Most would say the latter, but as Nadal's upset in Paris proves, nothing is engraved in silver, and only the strongest will survive.

Let the games begin.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Men's Draw Analysis: Nadal Withdraws!

On the Friday before the start of play at Wimbledon, the biggest story is one of withdrawal.

Just moments ago, last years champion Rafael Nadal has decided to opt out of this years Championships due to lingering effects from knee tendinitis. "I'm just not 100 percent," Nadal said in a news conference at the All England Club. "I'm better than I was a couple of weeks ago but I just don't feel ready."

Nadal's absence opens the draw immensely for two men: Roger Federer, seeking his sixth Wimbledon title in seven years, and Andy Murray, seeking to become the first player from Great Britain since Fred Perry in 1936 to take the title.

Andy Murray initially drew Rafa Nadal in his half of the draw. What seemed like a stroke of terrible luck hours ago is actually a godsend for Murray, as Nadal's withdrawal makes the Spaniard just the 2nd man in thirty-five years to not defend his title. The other was Goran Ivanisevic in 2002.

According to Wimbledon rules, 5th seeded Juan Martin Del Potro will inherit Nadal's place in the draw, and could likely become Murray's semi-final opponent later next week.
But there is lots of tennis to be played between now and then.

Elsewhere, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Fernando Verdasco, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all in the lower half of the draw.

Nadal's withdrawal, and Del Potro's resultant move into his place, is yet another stroke of good fortune for Federer as he sets his sights on his sixth Wimbledon title and his fifteenth Grand-Slam.

As we saw in Roland Garros, there are no guarantees for Federer. With Fernando Verdasco and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lurking in his quarter, along with a possible third round tilt with Philip Kohlschreiber ( who upset Dkokovic at Roland Garros) and a possible round-of-16 match with Robin Soderling, things are certain to be interesting for the 27-year-old Swiss legend.

Another player who stands to benefit from Nadal's absence from the top half of the draw is American Andy Roddick.

The two-time Wimbledon finalist will have a tough match with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the first round, and a possible intriguing match against the highly heralded 18-year-old Wild Card (last year's Junior Wimbledon champ) Grigor Dimotrov in the second, but if he gets through, his chances to make the quarters appear to be good. The only other seeded players between Roddick and the quarter finals are #12 Davydenko, #20 Berdych, and #26 Jurgen Melzer.

If Roddick makes the quarters, his record against Del Potro is 0-1.


All eyes have been on the 22-year-old Scot as he became the first player from Great Britain in 71 years to hoist the ginormous trophy at the Queens Club in London. It was a relatively easy week for Murray, and his greatest challenge was downplaying the tremendous expectations that are building as the Wimbledon fortnight sets to begin.

Not since Fred Perry in 1936 has a player from Great Britain taken the title. Tim Henman was admired for his four semi-final appearances, but in Murray, the locals see the potential for more.

Last years quarterfinal run was ended in straight set defeat at the hands of Rafa Nadal, but on the way to that match Murray brought the crowds to life, especially during his emotionally enthralling comeback victory against Richard Gasquet.

Last years 11th seed, Murray is now seeded #3. Though he'll tell you otherwise, anything less than a semi-final appearance will be a bitter disappointment. While expectations are high, fortunately for Murray, so is the caliber of his recent play.

After a career best run to the quarters at Roland Garros, Murray does appear ready to give the locals what they are so desperately hoping for. A first round match with American Robert Kendrick may be followed by a second round match with sinking Latvian Ernests Gulbis. Other pitfalls, such as hard-serving American qualifier Taylor Dent, last years semi-finalist Marat Safin, and always-dangerous Stanislas Wawrinka could pose threats for Murray in rounds three and four.

If the seeds hold, swashbuckling Fernando Gonzalez would be Andy Murray's quarterfinal opponent, but Gonzo hasn't been past the round-of-32 at Wimbledon since 2005.

Notable First Round Matches

Fans wont have to wait at all to see some very desirable match ups. The first two days of the fortnight are littered with intriguing tilts. Here are a few samples:

Sam Querrey vs. Ivan Ljubicic, Robin Soderling vs. Gilles Muller, Nicolas Almagro v. Juan Monaco, Marcos Baghdatis vs. Felicano Lopez. Juan Carlos Ferrero vs. Mikhail Youzhny.

If the Seeds Hold

We know they rarely do, and we know that chaos reigns supreme in Grand-Slam events, but if the seeds did hold, here are some of the mouth-watering matches that we'd get to see in the intermediate rounds:

2nd round

Dent vs. Troicki

Murray vs. Gulbis

Del Potro vs. Hewitt

Roddick vs. Dimotrov

Querrey or Ljubicic vs. Cilic

Fish vs. Tipsarevic

3rd round

Djokovic vs. Fish

Cilic vs. Haas

Tsonga vs. Karlovic

Soderling vs. Feliciano Lopez

Federer vs. Kohlschreiber

Wawrinka vs. Safin

Blake vs. Andreev

Stepanek vs. Ferrer

4th round

Del Potro vs. Ferrer

Verdasco vs. Tsonga

Roddick vs. Davydenko

Murray vs. Safin

Federer vs. Soderling