Google Down the Line!: 2014-06-29

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kvitova crushes Bouchard for second Wimbledon title

I admit it. I didn’t believe Petra Kvitova would win Wimbledon.

Not because I didn’t think she had the goods. She's won the title before, but since then the sometimes fragile Czech has been the epitome of inconsistency. She came into Wimbledon having lost in the third round of Roland Garros and first round in Melbourne. Between the Slams, it wasn’t much different.

Even after the three-set classic against Venus Williams in the third round where she was only broken once, I thought she still might succumb to a few of those typical “P3tra” matches – first set: blow opponent off the court; second set: cue internal turmoil and lose lead; third set: lose match. But to my surprise, she kept winning and playing strongly. With each match, the 24-year old got more confident. By the final, where she faced first-time finalist Eugenie Bouchard, her game and mentality were on point. But would she be able to play another solid match, the biggest one of them all, from start to finish? That she did.

The way Petra won today was extraordinary. Her 6-3, 6-0 victory over the Canadian was a devastating display of power grass-court tennis. I wrote that it would come down to holding serve, quality returns, and first-strike tennis. Petra landed 68% of her first serves and won 82% of those points. She also won 58% of her return points and had 28 winners to only 12 errors. The consistency of the attack was the biggest surprise today. It’s a tough proposition for any opponent when she has these numbers. Just ask Genie.

For the entire fortnight, the 20-year old was able to step inside the baseline and control the tempo of matches; she fought mightily to play them on her terms. Genie hadn’t lost a set en route to the final. But today, like us, she became an observer of the type of explosive tennis we’d come to expect from Petra. Winners flew past in a flash and serves were pummeled back at her shoe strings. Genie's usually stoic expression melted into confusion and helplessness. All she could do was watch and hope for a let down. It never happened. Unfortunately for Genie, Petra saved her best for last.

Today, Petra made a believer out of me again. I happily accept it.

[Photo(s) credit: Wimbledon twitter]

Friday, July 4, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Djokovic vs. Federer, Sharapova gets squirmy, and thoughts for Duval

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer kept the kids at bay, and they will now get to continue their long rivalry when they meet for the men’s Championship at Wimbledon. And a rivalry it is; their head-to-head is 16-18 in favor of the Swiss. They’ve met three times this year with Fed leading 2-1, and they haven’t met in a major final since the U.S. Open in 2007.

The top seed was on fire at the start of his semifinal against Grigor Dimitrov, landing 19-straight first serves. After closing out the first set, things got tricky. When Nole would grab leads, he would allow Grisha back in. It’s a trend we’ve all seen in his recent matches especially at the majors. The match would go from patches of solid play and acrobatic moves to strange errors and tentative ball striking. Both ballers struggled to find consistent form – blame the wind, the moment, whatever. It was more about survival than beautiful tennis, and in the end the Serb was the last man standing. He won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(7).

What the Nole-Grigor match lacked in consistency, the Federer-Raonic match lacked in tension. It was always going to be a tall order (get it – TALL???) for the Canadian to beat the 7-time champ. Even though his cannonball of a serve is tough on the grass, Federer doesn’t mind the challenge. In fact, he seems to relish the challenge a big server presents on the grass (see: Roddick, Philippoussis). Fed started strongly, breaking right away, and he was able to expose Milos’ movement throughout the match. The former top baller also attacked the net successfully which he has been doing the entire fortnight. In the end, Federer’s game was all too much for the Canadian to handle in his first major semifinal, and he won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. For Milos, it would be good to see him develop more grit and stubbornness in his matches, something his countrywoman, Eugenie Bouchard, has in spades. Maybe next time - and I do think there will be a "next time" for him.

Unlike these two semifinal matches, I think the final will be very competitive and high quality. At least I’m hoping so since the men’s draw hasn’t had the same level of quality as the women’s draw this year (a nice change actually). I mean, it's the finals of Wimbledon and both ballers will leave it all out there. They each have a lot on the line; the Serb could regain the number one ranking from Rafael Nadal with a win and reestablish himself at the majors, and Fed could add to his record haul of 17 majors and create more distance between Rafa, who sits at 14, and him. Basically, IT'S ALL ABOUT RAFA. So, vamos!!

There certainly won’t be any surprises between the two; but based on today’s form and their stats coming in, you’d have to give the edge to Federer.

Remember how I mentioned there were times Nole and Grisha entertained with some acrobatic moves? This wasn't one of them. They brought their best stuff – it just wasn’t their tennis.


Lastly, my thoughts go out to Vicky Duval, her family, and friends. The 18-year old, who memorably knocked out Sam Stosur in the first round of the US Open last year, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was reportedly caught early and she's currently undergoing treatment. The prognosis is good. Apparently she was told of the diagnosis before the first round of qualifying at Wimbledon but decided to continue. She went on to make the main draw and defeated the 29th seed Sorana Cirstea before bowing out to Belinda Bencic. The outpouring of support from the tennis community was immediate:

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images, EPA]

Thursday, July 3, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Kvitova and Bouchard for the ladies' title, Li and Rodriguez split, and Fognini in the flesh (NSFW)

It’s Petra Kvitova versus Eugenie Bouchard for all the strawberries, cream, Pimm’s, and what the hell else? Both of today’s ladies’ semifinals mirrored each other in the way the sets played out. The first of each match were tense affairs with Petra and Genie eeking out the match lead in tiebreaks. The second sets seemed more like formalities when each of them broke early and led the rest of the way. Petra beat Lucie Safarova 7-6(6), 6-1 and Genie ousted Simona Halep 7-6(5), 6-2. But, that’s where the similarities end.

Where Lucie was simply outclassed in the second, Simona was dealing with the lingering effects of an ankle injury she picked up in the beginning of the first set. Credit the Romanian for keeping it close initially (she led 4-2 in the tiebreak) but her movement, a core part of her game, was hampered, as was her serve. What sets Genie apart is her ability to shut everything else out and focus on the work ahead – no matter an injured opponent, a fan who fainted in the stands during the tiebreak, a questionable call from the chair on her first match point, or a dapper TV star in her baller box. She’s all about the biz.

Petra has been to this dance before, and she’ll be looking to prove that the first time wasn’t a fluke. She and Lucie are friends and that added more pressure in their match; but in the end, her quality and belief got her through. To me, when Petra is healthy and in a positive mindset, her game is deadly on the slick stuff. DEAD-LY. At the start of the tourney, I didn’t have my eye on the Czech because her results this year have been pretty sketch (hello first-round loss in Oz to Luksika Kumkhum). But coming to Wimbledon where she’s had her greatest success, and beating 5-time champ Venus Williams in an absolute classic, clearly gave her the boost she needed.

The final will come down to serve and return - who can hold onto their serve, and who can get a high percentage of quality returns in play - and apply first-strike tennis to control the points. I give the edge to Genie.

It was reported today that Li Na and coach Carlos Rodriguez have ended their full-time partnership. He’s under contract with a tennis academy in China, and they have asked him to return. According to her agent, Max Eisenbud, they were essentially “borrowing” him from the academy. While Li is in China, they will work together but no longer on a full-time basis. She was reportedly unaware of the decision and very upset by the news, which was told her after her third-round loss at Wimbledon.
Let's see...Venus, Tomas, now Fabio. Sure, why not. Let’s all get BUTT NEKKID! For a good cause, of course. Duh. You'll probably get your pic banned from Instagram, too. But don't worry; Tomas has your back so to speak.

Most importantly, is that one of the Seven Dwarfs on Fabio's hip? Doubt it's Bashful.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Dimitrov downs Murray, William and Kate arrive, and Serena's asleep

I mean, really. What kind of Championships defense was THAT? Andy Murray was completely off his game today and Grigor Dimitrov showed him the door with a 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-2 drubbing in the quarterfinals. I was going to write the Bulgarian “gladly” showed him the door, but, because they’re bros, Grisha was somewhat muted in his post-match point celebration.

Nothing was working for Muzz; his backhand misfired repeatedly and his speed was a non-factor because the 11th seed was quicker off the mark. Grisha seemed to be everywhere, sliding and gliding around the court with ease, and playing like he was the reigning champ. The Bulgarian opened his bag of tricks and clearly confounded the Brit baller from everywhere on the court.

Muzz admitted he was off his game (even Grisha noticed it in the warm up) and was clear on what needs to happen next.
“Today was a bad day from my side,” he said. “I made many mistakes. The younger guys are becoming more mature and improving all the time. I need to take some improvements to my game."
Yes, you do or the British press will NEVER ACCEPT YOU BACK.

Grisha’s now into his first major semifinal where he’ll take on Novak Djokovic. Roger Federer, who defeated his compartriot, Stan Wawrinka, will battle another first-time semifinalist, Milos Raonic. The Canadian ended the exciting run of the Rafa-slaying Aussie, Nick Kyrgios. On the ladies side, Eugenie Bouchard gets Simona Halep, while Petra Kvitova will face off against countrywoman, Lucie Safarova.


Sooooo, there was more strangeness coming from Serena Williams. She posted this photo of her sleeping in front of her laptop with no explanation on her Instagram feed. I guess it means ReRe’s fine, or sleeping a lot, or she was watching the Muzz match and fell out after the first set (understandable). Martina Navratilova, never one to hold back her opinion, jumped into the fray with some words that were one part concern and another part outrage that ReRe was ever let on the court in the first place.
"I find it distressing," she said. "I think virus, whatever they're saying it was, I don't think that was it. I think it's clear that's not the case. I don't know what it is, but I hope Serena will be OK. And most of all, I don't know how she ended up walking onto the court."
Okay, I agree with her if the signs were obvious that ReRe was in such bad shape before heading onto the court. But, if she was walking to the court normally, not speaking to anyone, and got prepared for the warm up, the officials from the WTA and the tournament may not have known to stop it. Obviously, when the top lady baller began serving it became very clear something was wrong and should’ve been called off from that point. Not sure if we’ll ever know what really went on. But until we do, the questions will come.

Other notables: Nick Kyrgios may be gone, but he’s not forgotten. He even left us another ridiculously insane shot to remember him by. Good on ya, mate!

UPDATE: According to Andy Roddick, he texted ReRe to find out how she was doing and she texted back "I'm not well." He also says he's never known a tournament doctor to call a match due to a baller's medical issue. They can give a recommendation but the baller has to make the decision. (h/t 4AllSurfaces)

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Kyrgios' stunner, Kerber's seventh, and Serena's scary retirement

“Manic Monday” may have been more meh, but Tuesday?

As I wrote over the weekend, I was excited to see how 19-year old Nick Kyrgios was going to do against Rafael Nadal. The brash Aussie showed his mettle when he saved 9 match points against Richard Gasquet last week. But beating Rafa in your Centre Court debut is a HUGE task. With all do respect, he's no Richie. As he walked onto the iconic grass court with his ubiquitous pink Beats by Dre headgear, Nick may not have had the experience but he surely had the belief. When he was asked in his presser after winning his third round match whether he thought he could beat the world’s top baller, Nick kept it simple: “Yeah, definitely.”

And "believe" he did. Pink Beats announced his arrival on tennis’ biggest stage by upsetting Rafa 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3. It was an extraordinary display of power, athleticism, confidence, and a fair share of entertainment. I mean, check out this shot. This 144th-ranked kid can play the tennis. The Aussie, who grabbed a wild card to get into the main draw, kept his nerve in check (if he was ever nervous I didn’t see it) and simply outhit and outplayed the 14-time Grand Slammer on the big points. When all was said and done, Pink Beats hit 70 winners, including 37 aces. All you can do is say well done…and welcome to the BIG TIME. As for Rafa, he's got more immediate plans.
Seeing a newcomer, a teen, burst onto the scene in such phenomenal way doesn’t happen that often anymore. In fact, Rafa was the last teen on the ATP tour to defeat a world number one at a major. It was Roger Federer at – where else? – Roland Garros in 2005. Those moments are pure magic and I miss them. And, today, I soaked up every last bit of it. Thanks Pink Beats.

I had a feeling about this. In my ladies’ preview, I pointed out that the last time Maria Sharapova won the French Open in 2012, she was beaten in the fourth round at Wimbledon. I thought she might only get that far again. I’d prefer not to think I jinxed her; but, in any case, on her seventh match point Angelique Kerber upset Maria 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4 in the fourth round today. It was a hard-hitting Centre Court classic with both lady ballers going toe-to-toe with power groundies, sharp angles, and fierce competitiveness. The shot making was breathtaking at times, and the German’s determination to get to every one of Maria’s balls was extraordinary. Although some commies were saying this match bested the Venus-Kvitova battle royale, I think the matches were on par. Whatever the case, this is for sure – the ladies have brought the quality and drama so far. You still have time to make it, boys, and today’s Nadal-Kyrgios match was a solid start.

There were some scary moments today in the doubles draw when Serena Williams and Venus Williams arrived to the court to play their match against Kristina Barrois and Stefanie Voegele. In the warm up, ReRe was way out of sorts; she could barely catch the ball and missed simple groundies. Afterwards, she convened with doctors and then decided to play on. What happened next was strange and slightly disturbing since no one knew what was going on. You can see it here. Fortunately, they retired and eventually released a statement explaining the ReRe has been suffering from a "viral illness." The WTA site has the entire statement. In typical style, V was there to support her little sister, holding her hand off the court. Hope she is well.

And then there's this guy. Because Wimbledon.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

Monday, June 30, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Czech ladies flying high, shot clock watch, and Stan the Man

"Fist pumping? It's a Czech thang!" (No. It's not.)
Soggy and wet - my least favorite kind of day, especially at Wimbledon. But what was exciting to see were the lady ballers of the Czech Republic taking a stand in their fourth round matches. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Petra Kvitova, and Lucie Safarova all reached the quarterfinals - an historic feat for their country. Now if only the three of them could do something else exactly the same - what could it be...

Does tennis need a shot clock? If we’re being completely honest, then, HELL YES, tennis needs one. There are some high-profile offenders (yeah, I’m looking at you, Rafa and Maria) who push the limits with all of their tics and uber-deliberate prep, and often don’t get called for going over the amount of time allotted between points (20 seconds at the majors and 25 at other tourneys). Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki were both asked about it in their post-match pressers and they’re into the idea. Certainly, it would make it absolutely clear to the ballers how much time they had to serve and it would speed up play for us, the viewing public. Win-win. Now, if we could only do something about the amount of service tosses ballers are allowed to catch in a match. GAWD, that’s annoying (my eye is still on you, Shrieka). Oh yeah, and on-court coaching. What else?

Yeah Stan. We know...we know. You went for the monochromatic look. Got it.

Other notables: There are still a bunch of Round of 16 matches to be completed, and that means some ballers will need to play 3 consecutive days. Not the best scenario, but it is what it is. Stupid rain.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images, AFP]

Sunday, June 29, 2014

WIMBLEDON: Serena Williams is out and she doesn't even know why

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it myself. You know I’m talking about Serena Williams getting bounced by Alize Cornet in the Wimbledon third round, her second consecutive loss to the Frenchie this year. The top seed, looking to tie Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 majors, went down 6-1, 3-6, 4-6 to the award winner. I was surprised she was beaten because she and the grass have always been a perfect fit – big serves, power groundies, and an aggressive mindset. Plus, after her loss in Paris, she made it very clear that she would come back stronger than ever.

But I was even more stunned by the passive way ReRe went down, playing more like a counter puncher and less like a woman on a mission with something to prove. And she had much to prove this fortnight after her dismal losses at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. On these courts, at this tournament, ReRe was going to rewrite her storyline this season and reclaim her aura of invincibility. Except she didn’t. Or couldn’t.

We’re used to seeing ReRe so clutch down the stretch; she’s pulled out matches she had no business winning over the years more times than anyone could count. It was automatic and seemingly part of her DNA. But this year, when she’s tried to get going by berating herself, staring down her opponent, and giving her thigh a slap, nothing has happened. Her much vaunted serve was nowhere to be found in her loss to Alize, and her footwork was atrocious. When the going has gotten tight lately, she’s been stuck in second gear with nowhere to go but down. Maybe it’s all the expectation, or mental fatigue after a stellar 2013. Even she’s not sure what happened. “I thought I was doing pretty decent,” she said. “I think I’m going to have to watch this film and see what I can do better and what went wrong.”

The downfall of dominance is cumulative; a top baller has a bad loss and then the confidence takes a hit. Other ballers start to feel a bit more confident in their chances, play harder, and, most importantly, believe they can win on the day. And then they start to make good. At the majors Ana Ivanovic did, as did Garbine Muguruza, and now Alize. ReRe will have to find the will to win again.

Other notables: There are still a few third round matches to be completed on the men’s side, including Wawrinka vs. Istomin, Lopez vs. Isner, and Nishikori vs. Bolelli. For the ladies, Ivanovic vs. Lisicki and Keys vs. Shvedova still need to be finished. Of the matches already set, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Nick Kyrgios does against Rafael Nadal in their fourth round battle. A true test for teen if there ever was one.

[Photo(s) credit: Getty Images]

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