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Monday, June 27, 2011

Wimbledon: Manic Monday Part 2

Take a look at part 2 of our fourth round coverage. (Part 1 HERE)

Cibulkova def. Wozniacki
Fans of world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki are going to be bitter today after the Dane failed to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals, forcing the question once more: is she really worthy of her ranking? In her defense, she didn't lose today's match—Cibulkova won it. At 5'3'' small, Cibulkova looked twice her size on court, striking with such monstrous velocity you might have thought she was trying to smack the cover off the ball rather than hit winners. The feisty Slovak tallied 44 winners on the match, making her blistering forehand look easy. Wozniacki did have chances, having won the first set 6-1 and entering a second set tiebreak, but Cibulkova was a bit too good. Looks like the "best in the world" will have to wait for another chance to win a slam.
Score: 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5

Pironkova def. Venus Williams
It was deja vu on centre court when Pironkova knocked out Venus Williams. The Bulgarian has Venus tagged here at Wimbledon, defeating her last year by the same exact scoreline on her way to a semifinal birth. To be honest, it was not Venus' best performance, but Pironkova was spot on with low-flying backhands and sharp-angled forehands that the 5-time Wimbledon champion just couldn't put back in the court.
Score: 6-2, 6-3

Bartoli def. Serena Williams
Today wasn't a good day to be a Williams sister. Bartoli took down the defending champion in straights, despite a late surge from Serena. After wining the first set quite routinely, Bartoli looked to be playing the best tennis of her life—quite reminiscent, in fact, to her win over Henin a few year sago. But like every tennis fan knows, you can't count Serena out. Down two match points at 6-5 in the second set, Serena played her best point of the match followed by a return winner to take Bartoli's service game to deuce. Flash forward a few minutes later and we were in a tiebreak. Surely Serena would win, having fended off such dramatic points, but in a stunningly display of mental toughness, Bartoli stayed calm and prevailed 8-6 in the breaker.
Score: 6-3, 7-6 (6)

Paszek def. Pervak
Out on court 14, two surprise fourth rounders duked it out for a spot in the quarterfinals—a true highlight  in these women's careers. I don't know much about them, nor did I see the match, but it was Paszek who survived a tight three-setter. The Austrian went the distance in her last match against Schiavone and has shown some serious athletic ability. Will she have gas in the tank for the future?
Score: 6-2, 2-6, 6-3

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wimbledon: Manic Monday Part 1

It's the second Monday at Wimbledon and that means it's a full-schedule day complete with every fourth round match the championship has to offer. The final sixteen competitors will be duking it out all day for a place in the quarterfinals, and here's a look at who has advanced so far.

Azarenka def. Petrova
It took less than an hour for the powerful Belarusian to screech, howl and sing her way into yet another grand slam quarterfinal. After pulling out of a Wimbledon tune-up tournament (yes... another injury retirement) I held little hope for Victoria on the All-England courts, but here she goes again. Azarenka's speed, power and consistency have helped her cruise past her first four opponents, and although she has struggled with health, she has a great opportunity at a spot in the championship. She's never been able to capitalize on her grand slam quarterfinal appearances, but this might just be the one.
Score: 6-2, 6-2

Sharapova def. Peng
After a semifinal appearance in Paris and a championship victory in Rome, Sharapova entered Wimbledon as the tournament favorite. She's had her share of shaky play in her first three matches, but the 3-time grand slam champion has settled down nicely, defeating Shuai Peng in a match that showcased hard, flat hitting. Though Peng was able to shovel shots at the baseline, Maria showed her grass-court prowess, toppling the Chinese woman in straights. Sharapova still looks to be the favorite.
Score: 6-4, 6-2

Lisicki def. Cetkovska
With eight aces and zero double faults, Lisicki is proving once again she has the serve to lift her to victory—must we refer back to her clutch win over Li Na? It took a first set tiebreak to fully wake the surging German, but once the gears were in motion, Lisicki steam rolled through her opponent. She doubled the Czech's winner count (26 to 13) and went four for four in break opportunities. Sabine Lisicki is a surprise quarterfinalist for sure, but her play has been fantastic.
Score: 7-6 (3), 6-1

Kvitova def. Wickmayer
The big-hitting lefty from the Czech Republic has made a name for herself this year, winning in Madrid and knocking out big names in big moments, but after fizzling out in Paris, we didn't know what to expect at Wimbledon. Kvitova may have been the in-style pick for a surprise champion here in London, but I don't think anyone expected the performance she gave today against Wickmayer. Kvitova routed Wickmayer, preventing the Belgian from earning a single game in the first set. With a total of 31 winners in only 45 minutes during this fourth round match, Kvitova will roll into the quarters with a lot of confidence.
Score: 6-0, 6-2

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wimbledon: Day 3 and 4 Update

Along with the Sweet Victory for Sabine Lisicki, there have been a number of amazing early round matches at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. Here's a quick overview along with links for full match results:

Venus hit a total of 46 winners
to Date-Krumm's 45.
Venus Survives Thriller
If you didn't see the amazing match between Venus Williams and the ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm, you missed one of the best matches on the women's side. It was incredible to watch both players attack with such drastically different assault tactics—Venus blasting cannons from the baseline while Kimiko moved in for a variety of flawless volleys. In the end, it was Venus who prevailed, striking down the 40-year-old Japanese woman 8-6 in the third.
Final Score: 6-7 (6), 6-3, 8-6

Qualifier, Doi, Stuns Mattek-Sands
America's Bethanie Mattek-Sands is as quirky in her appearance as she is capable of tremendous tennis (for those who don't know what she wears on court, let's say she is VERY quirky), but despite a fantastic 2011 record, she met a tough first round match-up with a qualifier from Japan. The young Misaki Doi dictated play with forehands far too powerful for someone her size. After three sets of grueling rallies, Bethanie was overwhelmed by the young-gun's desire to win.
Final Score: 6-4, 5-7, 7-5

Ivanovic Finds Form
Ana Ivanovic has struggled since plummeting away from her world no.1 ranking, but the beautiful Serbian has shown sparks of brilliance since the end of 2010. Here at Wimbledon, she clobbered her first opponent and did the same in the second round against Eleni Daniilidou. Does Ana have a shot at the crown?
Final Score: 6-3, 6-0

Petrova Pounds Pavlyuchenkova
Unseeded Nadia Petrova is familiar with the big stage, having been highly ranked in the past and making a few deep runs at majors. Since falling off in the world ranking, however, she has had a wide array of questionable losses. Stepping onto the grass court against world no. 14, however, she wasn't going to back down. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova could not find her rhythm against her fellow Russian, and fell meekly in straight sets.
Final Score: 6-3 6-3

Serena has won Wimbledon
a total of four times.
Serena Needs Three, Again
Will Serena win Wimbledon this year? If she believes so, she will need to clean up her act a bit. After going the distance in the first round against Rezai, Serena was forced into another third round battle against Simona Halep. What is promising about these two matches, however, is that Serena has shown brilliant play in the final sets, cleaning up her errors and striking winners freely. It will be an interesting tournament for her, no doubt.
Final Score: 3-6, 6-2, 6-1

Full results here: DAY 3 and DAY 4.

Due to rain delays, Wimbledon is still behind in its schedule matches. Look out for more second round matches on Day 5, including Maria Sharapova's match against Laura Robson.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wimbledon: Sweet Victory for Sabine Lisicki

Many in my circle of tennis friends thought I was foolish for predicting an upset in Li Na's second round match, but then again, many of those friends aren't familiar with Sabine Lisicki.

Lisicki def. Li 3-6, 6-4, 8-6
AP Photo Credit
When the German-Polish Lisicki stepped onto Centre Court today, I was thrilled beyond belief. Would the match live up to its expectations? Or would Li trample Lisicki's dreams of a comeback in straight sets? The first six games were all held convincingly, but Li Na was not to be outdone, earning the first break of serve and taking the set at 6-3. We knew Li would come out firing, having just won her first major title in Paris, but what we didn't know was that the few aces we saw Lisicki pound down the service box would be a foreshadowing of great things to come.

There was a clear switch in momentum in the second set when Lisicki's returns began to find the court. The spunky 21-year-old spent much of the first set swinging at Li's serves with misguided rage, missing her marks when she should have been focusing more on getting into rallies. Her risks paid dividends, however, once she settled down, rocketing shots at the baseline from both her forehand and backhand sides. Early in the match Li had been winning over 60% on her second serve, but when that number began to plummet, Sabine took control, and despite losing her break at 5-3, she shut the door on a Li's surge, breaking and taking the set at 6-4.

Once again momentum shifted and Li Na looked to be on top. Who could bet against the Australian Open runner-up and French Open Champion when she was up a break in the final set? Not only that, but Lisicki is only just returning from her injuries, climbing back into the 60's for her world ranking after fading to 200+ due to ankle injuries. Surely Li Na could convert one of the two match points she earned on Lisicki's serve at 3-5... that is, of course, unless Lisicki could do the impossible.

Just as the crowd settled down from an eruption of applause, Lisicki stepped to the baseline to facedown the first of two match points. Sabine tossed the ball into the air and hammered it down at Li, clocking 122mph for a service winner. One match point gone. Again, Lisicki unleashed on her serve, blasting a 123mph service winner at Li's forehand. As fast as the match points had come, they were gone, and even quicker went the next two points—Lisicki swatted 124mph and 122mph aces to force Li Na to serve for it at 5-4.

Despite being up a break (and ranked fourth in the world), Li Na looked rattled as she went to serve for the match. Lisicki found her range and pushed Li back, earning a total of 32 winners in a battle that would take well over two hours. Soon, Lisicki broke back, and the match was level at 5-5, but surprisingly enough Li Na would scramble her way to another break, edging toward what had to be an inevitable victory as Lisicki sent a routine swing-volley wide.

And this is where Lisicki showed the fans watching Centre Court that she is truly back and a force to be reckoned with. She unleashed on Li's serve and broke down her forehand, commanding all momentum to break to 6-6 and then ace her way through her service game. The young star tallied a total of 17 aces on the match—a number worthy of a double take, unless of course your watching the Williams sisters. At 15-40 on what would be Li's final service game, the feisty Chinese woman knocked two unreturnable serves, reminiscent of what Lisicki had done only a few games before. But unlike Lisicki, Li was unable to keep the big serves coming.

Lisicki found her way into the rallies, pushing Li off the court with heavy strokes and earning herself a third match point. As the final Li forehand sailed wide, Lisicki dropped to her knees in joyous tears. It was a victory she deserved, and a victory she had been wanting for so long.

AP Photo Credit

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wimbledon: First Round Follies and Fortune

For some high class players, like Sharapova and Wozniacki, the first round of Wimbledon was as straightforward as they could hope, but the first two days were also full of upsets and surprises as a handful of unsuspecting players dropped the hammer on their top seed match-ups. A few big names managed to dodge what looked like deadly bullets, securing victory in three sets, but that wasn't the case for everyone. Here's a quick look at the ups and downs of Wimbledon days one and two.

Going the Distance
Serena Williams, Francesca Schiavone and Vera Zvonareva are the three most notable names to have prevailed through tough first round matches. Williams had to pick apart the quick strokes of Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai, a player who knocked out Venus Williams the previous year in Madrid. At the end of her match, Serena burst into tears of joy, releasing the emotion that comes with an arduous year of pain and recuperation. Zvonareva overcame America's Alison Riske in a stunner match that showcased Vera's newfound mental toughness. And last Schiavone proved she was not just a clay court player, carving through the grass as confidently as the dirt after dropping a 1-6 set to Dokic who seemed to have a firm grasp on victory.

Early Exits
Jelena Jankovic and Sam Stosur were two of the biggest upsets of the first day, falling meekly to Martinez-Sanchez and Czink in devastating first round losses. While Stosur has lost in the first round of Wimbledon 5 out of 9 years, Jankovic's loss was more of a shock. The Serbian has not lost in the first round of a major since 2004. Perhaps this is just a side effect of falling out of the top 10 for the first time in years?

Peer also took a first round loss, though I suppose that's not too far-fetched. She also exited in the first round of the French Open and has had little success on court since her beat-down by Wickmayer at Indian Wells.

Kanepi, too, was at the mercy of a fiery first round opponent, though she has a bit of an excuse—she was playing against Sara Errani, a player who often plays much better than she is ranked. Regardless, the  no. 17 seed should have won her match and will be kicking herself as she watches the rest of Wimbledon from the sideline.

The biggest feel-good story upset of the day came from Chrisina McHale of the United States. After losing the first set 2-6 against no. 28 seed Makarova, she settled down to take the second set in style at 6-1. The third set, however, would be a different story. Both players were rattled and nervous and it was a true grind to the finish line. McHale raised her game however, and edged forward at 7-6, before closing the match out with an 8-6 third set triumph.

For full results, check out DAY 1 and DAY 2.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wimbledon: Zvonareva Survives Riske-y First Round

At the end of the first set, no one expected America's Alison Riske to put up much of a fight against no. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva. The 20-year-old South Carolina native was unable to earn a single game in her first set at this year's Wimbledon, and Zvonareva's game looked spot on. But there's no reward without a little bit of Riske.

Despite a 3-1 lead, Zvonareva started to lose control of the match. Riske fired flat shots like a seasoned pro, using the low bouncing, quick grass surface to her advantage. The tables were turned and the crowd began to support the unlikely American comeback. A huge volley and an even bigger ace gave Riske double set point at 5-3, and despite a double fault, she regrouped to convert on her second try.

Vera burst out of the gates in the final set, breaking and holding to lead 2-0, but Riske still refused to back down. She thrashed Zvonareva's second serve, pressuring the Russian into an immediate break back and then leveled the score at 2-2. A year or so back, this is the time of the match where Zvonareva would crumble. Surely she would sit on crossovers, towel over her head, tears flowing after verbally abusing herself between points. But this is where she has grown. A new mental toughness has creeped into Zvonareva's game, and despite a few self-depricating mutterings here and there, she has learned to reel-in her emotions and focus on her game.

And focus she did. Zvonareva finally began to play like a world no. 3, striking two aces in her final service game to win 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. Riske played an impressive match and has much to be proud of, but she just didn't have the fire power and placement to beat Zvonareva. The biggest story out of this match, however, is that Zvonareva didn't beat herself.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pre-Wimbledon: Championship Preview

Tomorrow marks the first day of the 2011 Wimbledon Championship, and like always, everyone is giving their predictions on who will be the one to raise the Rosewater Dish. There are sure to be upsets, comebacks and a whole lot of thrilling matches, so here's our look at what might just happen.

First Quarter:
From push tactics to heavy hitters, the top quarter is filled with play styles and big names that will bring a few highlight matches. While Wozniacki, Sharapova and Stosur have the advantage, their paths won't be entirely easy. Wozniacki may face Jamila Gajdosova in the third round and an even tougher Julia Goerges in the fourth, meaning she'll need her A-game to earn a quarterfinal birth. With better movement abilities on grass, I expect to see a little something extra from Wozniacki, and I don't doubt she can pull-off a few impressive wins. Peng Shuai is also in the mix, and now that she is playing the best tennis of her career, she's sure to give any opponent a good battle. Cibulkova will be eager for a deep Wimbledon run after conking out early at Roland Garros, so her likely match against Goerges in the third round will be one to watch. The biggest name to fear in this quarter is surely Maria Sharapova, having surged in the latter half of the clay-court season and now stepping onto her beloved grass surface. Should she find her range quickly, she will be nearly impossible to beat.

Quarterfinalists: Wozniacki v. Sharapova

Possible Bracket Buster: Cibulkova

Second Quarter:
Welcome to the quarter with Serena Williams. Will she be ready? Or will she disappoint? My gut tells me she's got the drive and passion to propel herself to the quarters, and no critic can really say that's a bad prediction. If she loses early (she does have to survive possible matches with Rezai, Jovanovski, Kirilenko and Bartoli) it wouldn't be a total surprise considering the year of injuries she has overcome, but it also wouldn't be surprising to see her win the entire tournament... Marion Bartoli looks impressive of late, having reached the French semifinals and claiming a grass title last week at Eastbourne. You can't overlook Ivanovic or Radwanska either—a pair of top notch athletes bound to meet in the third round. Both women are capable of big wins, but just as capable of being upset. Perhaps the most exciting match, however, could be Li Na against wild card Sabine Lisicki in the second round. Lisicki is riding a giant momentum wave after returning to health, winning the AEGON classic last week and looking strong for Wimbledon. Don't be surprised if we see the Roland Garros champion knocked off her throne.

Quarterfinalists: Lisicki v. S.Williams

Possible Bracket Buster: Jovanovski

Third Quarter:
You never know what to expect from many of the seeds that wound up in this year's third quarter. There's Schiavone, the clay court maestro who looks dazed and confused on grass. There's also Shahar Peer... what has she done lately? Lose in the first round of the French? Bingo. And who can forget to include Azarenka in this conversation of question-marks; will she be fit to play after suffering a groin injury? She has all the skills needed to win a slam, but she won't if her body can't keep up with her. All that considered, ball bashers like Petkovic and Pavlyuchenkova should have a fairly easy time chopping through the draw. Keep an eye out for Hantuchova, though. Her most impressive wins of late have been against Wozniacki in Paris, and Venus Williams at Eastbourne. She too, however, can leave us confused as to how she manages to lose.

Quarterfinalists: Petkovic v. Pavlyuchenkova

Possible Bracket Buster: Petrova

Fourth Quarter:
The final quarter hosts both young-guns and seasoned champions that will most definitely clash in the best possible way.  Petra Kvitova may have lost to Bartoli last week, but I see big things in her Wimbledon aspirations. She is likely to play either Wickmayer or Kuznetsova in the fourth round, and though you might have faith in either of those two players, something about Kvitova is alluring. Besides, while Kuznetsova is a powerful and raw athlete, she occasionally plays more like a novice than a grand slam champion, so overcoming a new hotshot doesn't seem to be in her cards. In the lower section of the quarter there's one match I cannot wait to see: Venus Williams vs. Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round. It's too soon to make much comment considering both women need to earn their first three wins, but the possibility of such a heavy-weight fourth round encounter is thrilling. After Zvonareva kept her mental-game in check against Serena last week, I would put my money on her.

Quarterfinalists: Kvitova v. Zvonareva

Possible Bracket Busters: Date-Krumm (Woo! Why not?)

* * *

Championship Prediction:
While the elite eight I have selected all have their chances at claiming Wimbledon glory, there is one who stands above the rest, and I mean that literally as well. The 6'2" blonde bombshell by the name of Maria Sharapova is no newcomer to the big stage and has every bit of skill needed to earn her fourth major title. I was stunned by her improved game at Roland Garros and now as we move to the grasses of Wimbledon, I'm ecstatic about what Sharapova might be capable of accomplishing. The surface of the All-England Club courts is not only Maria's favorite, but one that showcases her superior striking abilities. She is the face of pure offense, and unless someone plans on pulling the upset of the year (or if Serena Williams is truly the supreme goddess of tennis) I don't think anyone can beat her.

Final: Sharapova def. Zvonareva.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pre-Wimbledon: Battle Lines Drawn

With only three days left before the first round of Wimbledon 2011, the official DRAW has been announced, laying out the journey each woman must take if she plans to be crowned queen of the All-England Club. For each competitor, the path is a grueling two week venture against seven well prepared opponents, but in the world of tennis not all women are created equal.

This year's Wimbledon welcomes back 13-time grand slam champion, Serena Williams and her equally as deadly sister, Venus, both of whom have been sidelined with injuries but pose serious threats. If Serena can brush off the rust of a year without match play, she has a good shot at defending her title. On her championship run last year, the American served up a tournament record of 89 aces, and with that kind of fire power, can she be defeated? It is possible. Zvonareva extinguished a fiery comeback by Serena at this week's tournament at Eastbourne in a grueling 3+ hour match, though I doubt she could do the same thing on the big stage. If there's anyone who can keep up with Serena, it's her big sister, and oddly enough she was placed on the other half of the draw. Do we see a Williams v. Williams final, anyone? It wouldn't be the first time.

There's also world no. 1, Caroline Wozniacki, who will be seeking her first grand slam title. Wozniacki knows she dropped the ball at the French Open—the tournament many said was her best shot at validating her ranking due to the absence of Henin, Serena and Venus—but that's all the more reason to want to win now. A victory at Wimbledon when both Williams sisters are in the draw is a championship players can only dream of, and I'm sure Wozniacki is thinking about it right now. 

In order to do so, however, she'll have to outlast an in-form Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Sharapova is good pick for this year's championship, having played her best tennis in years during the latter half of the clay court season (her least favorite surface). Now that she is stepping onto her highly favored grass surface, Sharapova will be even more dangerous. There are few who can track down Maria's lasers when she finds her range, but Wozniacki is the best defender in the game. Keep an eye out for that match if both women survive the early rounds.

There are plenty of other big names with tough draws, so be sure to read through closely. Ivanovic will likely have to take down a double dose of American youth (Oudin and Vandeweghe) and then Radwanska if she wants a birth into the fourth round. French Open champion, Li Na, will tussle with the comeback kid from Germany, Sabine Lisicki, in the second round. Even Azarenka will be tested before the first week ends, due to face Hantuchova in the third round—that is if Vika's most recent injury doesn't force an even earlier exit.

All the way around, Wimbledon is destined to be as dramatic and exciting as any women's grand slam. Study the bracket and look to our site for analysis and predictions all weekend long.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pre-Wimbledon: Planting the Seeds of Greatness

As we watch our favorite WTA players warm up on grass courts across Europe, keeping a constant eye on news is a must. Kim Clijsters is out, Serena Williams is back, and a handful of former stars look to be surging. Most importantly, however, is the announcement of the official Wimbledon 2011 seeds—a list that both fans and players wait for anxiously before each and every Wimbledon. 

For those who don't know, Wimbledon is the only grand slam tournament to seed competitors differently than their world ranking. What does this mean? Powerhouse players like Serena Williams can be boosted in the seeding so they don't matchup with other big names too early in the draw. That does not, however, mean the top seeds are safe... We have unseeded players like Sabine Lisicki, one of this year's wildcards, who could wind up facing just about anyone to start the tournament. How would Wozniacki or Zvonareva handle that? 

Regardless, we're in for an interesting tournament at the All-Englad Club. Serena has been moved to seed 7, meaning she can't face a top seed until the quarter finals, while her sister, Venus, is still seeded 23 and could have an earlier big-name slug fest. The most recent victor over Venus Williams and world no.1-slayer, Hantuchova, is seeded 25 and could have another shot at knocking out a high seed in the third or fourth round. Look out for predictions, reactions and much more when the official draw is released, but until then, enjoy the seeds listed below.

2011 Wimbledon Women's Singles:
       1) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 
     2) Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 
     3) Na LI (CHN) 
     4) Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
     5) Maria Sharapova (RUS) 
     6) Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
     7) Serena Williams (USA) 
     8) Petra Kvitova (CZE) 
     9) Marion Bartoli (FRA) 
     10) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 
     11) Andrea Petkovic (GER)
     12) Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)

     13) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 
     14) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 
     15) Jelena Jankovic (SRB)
     16) Julia Goerges (GER)

     17) Kaia Kanepi (EST)

     18) Ana Ivanovic (SRB)

     19) Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)

     20) Shuai Peng (CHN) 

     21) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 

     22) Shahar Peer (ISR) 
     23) Venus Williams (USA) 
     24) Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 

     25) Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) 

     26) Maria Kirilenko (RUS) 

     27) Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) 

     28) Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 

     29) Roberta Vinci (ITA) 
     30) Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) 

     31) Lucie Safarova (CZE)

     32) Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bringing Out the Best

It's an exciting day: Wimbledon is less than one week away and Serena Williams is playing tennis again. After losing the first set of her debut match in Eastbourne, Williams snapped back to shutdown Pironkova 1-6,  6-3, 6-4. In honor of her return and the glory of the All-England club, I want to share a highlight real that exemplifies the very best of women's tennis. Enjoy.

2009 Wimbledon Semifinal: Serena Williams vs. Elena Dementieva

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ranking Risers Part 2

Here's group two of our featured women who pose serious threats as their rankings rise.

German tennis star Sabine Lisicki was once a powerful contender at the majors, having reached a career high ranking of no. 22, but a multitude of health issues and injuries kept her from reaching full potential. Recently, all hopes for a German slam have rested on the shoulders of young-guns Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges, but who's to say Lisicki won't recuperate and reclaim her former greatness. The best evidence for an improving Lisicki was at the French Open, where she had world no. 3, Vera Zvonareva, on the ropes, even earning herself match point. Her fire seemed to fade however, as Zvonareva fought her way back into the match and Lisicki began to suffer from severe cramps. Lisicki was forced to leave the court by stretcher when the match ended, but if she is able to stay healthy she could fight just as hard as any other player. Let us not forget some of the great matches she had, like when she crushed 5-seed Kuznetsova in the 2009 Wimbledon 4th round, 6-2 7-5. Currently in the quarterfinals of the AEGON classic, she should be a player to watch.

America has struggled in tournament play since the absence of Venus and Serena Williams, but Bethanie Mattek-Sands has done a great job to fill the void. In 2010, Mattek hovered outside the world top 50, but since then she has wrestled her way to no. 31. Mattek is usually known for her bad-girl personality and head-turning outfit choices (knee socks and eye paint, Beth?), but recent results have gotten people talking more about her skill than her wardrobe. In Madrid, the spunky American downed Francesca Schiavone in straight sets, then took future French Open champion Li Na to three sets, losing 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Steve Tignor of even went so far as to make her a surprise pick for a Roland Garros quarterfinal. In any event, Mattek seems to be one of a select group of women who are getting better with age, and at 26 years old, we could be on the verge of seeing her very best.

Finally we have Daniela Hantuchova, the lean and athletic Slovakian who was once ranked no. 5 in the world—once meaning eight years ago. She made a surge back into the top 10 in 2007, but fell in the rankings again and currently resides at no. 28. This year has been fairly good for Hantuchova, winning the Pattaya championship after beating Zvonareva in the semis and absolutely clubbing Errani  6-0 6-2 in the finals, but her most impressive win came at the French Open where she stunned world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Watching her at Roland Garros, I could not help but reminisce on the days where Hantuchova's striking power and beautiful shot variety earned her incredible wins, but then she went down easily in the following round, reminding me once more that she's never been a fan of the long haul (remember her AO semifinal loss to Ivanovic after leading 6-0 2-0?) Still, she's a threat in the early rounds if she continues improving, and maybe for once she'll dig in and take herself to the finish line.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Threatening Ranking Risers

Whenever major tournaments draw near, buzz and chatter about the top-ranked women breaks loose from tennis fans and analysts alike, but there are always bracket busters lurking in the background. Behind the Wozniackis and Clijsters of the world, low-ranked women thirsty for their championship debut and former all-stars who have fallen from glory consider themselves serious contenders in any competition. Here's a look at a few women rising in the ranks who might have something to say when they step onto the courts of the All-England Club.

First and foremost we have Ana Ivanovic, 2008 French Open Champion and former world no. 1 whose beautiful looks mask a biting and powerful forehand. Having rocketed to the front of the WTA in the past, she's a definite threat when in form, but that hasn't been the situation for the past year or so, having lost her rhythm and plummeting out of the top 50. At the end of 2010, however, Ivanovic seemed to spark, winning both Linz and the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in impressive fashion. Since then, Ivanovic has suffered various health issues, including stomach and wrist injuries, but her latest foray in the AEGON Classic in England has shown us signs of a return; she walloped Tatashvili 6-1 6-0 and downed Canada's Marino 6-3 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals. In an interview, Ivanovic said, "I had forgotten how lovely the grass is. It’s great to be back on it," and judging by her performances thus far, she has potential to make moves at Wimbledon. Currently ranked no. 19, Ivanovic said she has hopes of capturing the grass court slam, just don't bet all your money on her.

Another ranking riser that top seeds should be wary of is China's Peng Shuai. Normally a floater outside the world top 30, Peng has surged in 2011, reaching a career high ranking of no. 20. Having seen her countrywoman, Li Na, nab the French Open spotlight, Peng will surely be inspired to continue her climb in the WTA. Peng has had a variety of deep tournament runs this year, losing to Zvonareva in the Pattaya quarters, Sharapova in the Indian Wells quarters, Vesnina in the Family Circle Cup semis and to Wozniacki in the finals of the Brussels Ladies Open. The two-handed baseliner is more than capable of striking big shots from both sides and has a fairly solid serve, but her movement and minimal variety make her susceptible to women comfortable enough to vary their game. But, if you're going to go punch-for-punch with Peng, be ready to watch a decent number of winners fly by, especially on the low bouncing grass. Peng should easily cruise into the third round, and depending on her draw, she might even have 4th round and quarterfinal potential.

The youngest of our featured "Ranking Risers" is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Over the past few years, Pavyluchenkova has had a steady rise to her current position of world no. 14 and odds are she won't stop there—Lindsay Davenport even predicted a top 10 finish for the Russian by the end of 2011. Pavlyuchenkova reached the semifinals in Brisbane, losing to Petra Kvitova, and later toppled former no. 1 Jelena Jankovic for a championship title in Monterrey. Her most recent match worth noting was a Roland Garros quarterfinal clash with defending champion, Schiavone. The Russian teenager looked to have a chokehold on the match after winning the first set 6-1 and going up a break in the second, but wound up losing the match despite a third set rally to 5-5 from 1-5 down. If Pavlyuchenkova can reel-in and fine tune her masterful forehand and learn to close out matches, she will be a huge threat at any and all WTA tournaments. Mental toughness comes with experience, so maybe, just maybe, she learned a little something from her loss to Schiavone. We'll be waiting to see.

Also be on the look-out for Wozniacki slayer, Julia Goerges and three-time major champion, Maria Sharapova, who is happily back in the top ten. Feel free to add your own featured players in the comment section, and stay tuned for more blogs as Wimbledon approaches.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Return of the Williams Sisters

After Venus Williams confirmed her attendance at the Wimbledon tune-up tournament in Eastbourne, little sister, Serena, has followed suit. Could this finally be the return we've all been waiting for?

A few nay-sayers seemed to believe that both Venus and Serena (ages 30 and 29) would be pushing their luck by returning to the tour after the sisters were sidelined by injury, but just as the rest of us knew, there's no stifling the Williams' competitive spirit.

Together, Venus and Serena have won a total of 20 major singles championships, including nine of the last 11 Wimbledon titles, making them severe threats at the slam this year despite a lack of match play. As two of the biggest hitting players on the WTA circuit, their tennis style is only enhanced by the slick and speedy grass of the All-England Club—a fact slam-seeking players like Wozniacki and Azarenka are going to have to take note of.

Still, Serena has not played for an entire year, having cut her foot on glass after winning the 2010 Wimbledon, and then suffering from pulmonary blood clotting earlier this year. Venus has also had a long time off, withdrawing from all professional play since a hip injury at the Australian open. But is there any stopping a Williams sister surging for a comeback?

Keep in mind that Serena seems to live for dramatic returns. Remember in 2006 when she was ranked 140 due to a knee injury? She clawed her way to a semifinal appearance in Cincinnati and a QF run at the US open. Then, still the center of media scrutiny for her physical shape and world ranking of 81, Serena showed everyone in the tennis world exactly what she's made of, demolishing her competition on her way to the 2007 Australian Open championship and her 8th slam title. I think the Nike advertisement I've included here speaks for itself...

So, what are the Williams sisters' chances at Wimbledon? Fairly good I'll say, at least for a deep run. Keep in mind that Wimbledon is the only slam to seed players as the tournament officials desire and not by world ranking. No top-ranker like Caroline Wozniacki or Vera Zvonareva wants to face Venus or Serena in the third round (or sooner) due to a low seed.... but wouldn't that be fun for the viewers?

I can't wait to watch Serena and Venus in action. If they play well, there is no doubt they will pick their way through an unlucky draw of seeded players, and the entire time I'll sit there thinking to myself, "Finally. The Williams sisters are back."

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Sunday, June 5, 2011

French Open: Asian History Written in Paris

It's a special thing when you watch a match and know that  the outcome will be written into tennis history. It's even more special when you watch it happen before your eyes two years in a row. That has been the story of Roland Garros, and I must say, it has been spectacular.

For one woman, this year's French Open was a chance to revalidate her championship the year before—a chance to ignite the cheers of the Paris crowd and reclaim the crown she had once only seen from afar. For the other, this year's French Open was a chance to validate a culture's place in the tennis world—a chance to be the first Asian woman to win a singles title and lift the trophy many had said she would never earn. For both Francesca Schiavone and Li Na, this was a tournament of dreams, but only for one could those dreams be realized.

Congratulations to Li Na and her incredible achievement.

From the beginning of the match you knew both women had come prepared with well-established game plans. Schiavone darted and moved fantastically on the loose dirt, carving with such fluid strokes that it's a wonder she hasn't claimed more major red clay titles. On the other side of the court, Li Na battered the ball with tremendous consistency; a well angled forehand and baseline-cracking backhands her two most formidable weapons.

But Li Na was a step better. After claiming the first set 6-4, she moved up a break in the second, playing well enough to keep Schiavone on her heels and looking overwhelmed. But as we've learned, there's no counting the Italian out despite a losing scoreline—it's up to her opponents to raise their level and shut the door securely. At first, Li Na struggled to snap Schiavone's surge. On both of Schiavone's service games after the initial break, Li squandered double-break opportunities and before you knew it, the Chinese no. 1 looked too panicked to close the set. You could see the headlines being written: Schiavone pulls biggest comeback of career to reclaim French Open title. But Li Na refused to fall victim to Schiavone's flare like others had (oh Pavlyuchenkova...).

Despite losing her lead, Li took Schiavone to a tiebreak after a dodgy call on a backhand that Schiavone felt was out. From there, it was Li's championship to take. Schiavone may have been rattled by the questionable mark, but in a tiebreak, both players start at 0 and have an even chance. It didn't appear that way in Paris.

The tiebreak showcased a stunning performance by Li, including lobs, drop shots and a barrage of scrambling winners that left Schiavone dazed and confused. Both players played incredible points, but it was the Chinese woman who finally shut the door on Schiavone. Shut it, and locked it, winning every single point to close the tiebreak 7-0.

For Li Na, this championship is more than her first grand slam title: it's a celebration for an entire Asian culture which has been seeking for their first tennis champion since their foray into the Open Era. It was a beautiful moment when Li dropped to the clay in bliss, covering her face which was surely a mixture of smiles and tears. On that day in Paris, she was the best, but forever, she will be the first.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Saturday, June 4, 2011

French Open: Looking back on the Semifinals

Sorry for our absence in the final rounds of the glorious Roland Garros. We will have a full reaction to the championship match between Li Na and Francesca Schiavone tomorrow, but until then, look back at each player's final push toward the championship.

Credit to's Ed McGrogan and Richard Pagliaro for their crisp and captivating match descriptions.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

French Open: Four Routes to History

After two days of heated comebacks and astonishing routs, the final four competitors have been decided for the women's French Open. Though a grand slam title is the ultimate achievement for any tennis player, these four ladies each have their own special reason for seeking the crown of Roland Garros. Here's a sneak peak at why Schiavone, Bartoli, Na and Sharapova hold history on their rackets:

Schiavone - The Repeat Slam
Who would have ever thought the Italian veteran could pull off the biggest tournament upset at the age of 29? Who thought she could have a chance to do it again at the age of 30? Francesca Schiavone has jumped into her second French Open semifinal with her hopes set on defending her 2010 championship run. Her match against Pavyluchenkova in the quarterfinals showed tennis fans everywhere that with enough heart, age is no question. 

After being drubbed 6-1 in the first set and trailing 4-1 in the second, it seemed Schiavone's valiant run was at an end, but if you really thought that, you don't know Schiavone. As Pavylunchenkova tightened, Schiavone began to light up, striking winners and snapping fingers as she hopped around the court in delight. She unraveled Pavlyuchenkova's lead and won the second set 7-5, then took a 5-1 lead in the third. The Russian teenager was not to be outdone, however, surging with a comeback of her own to 5-5. At this crucial point in the match, it was all a matter of mental toughness, and like you would expect, experience and feel prevailed over youth and risk. Schiavone regrouped from the four game losing streak and won back-to-back games for a 7-5 final set.

Pulling off the Repeat Slam would be a stunning victory for Schiavone as her career tapers off, but will she really consider retirement anytime soon as a staple champion at Roland Garros? It seems Schiavone's game has matured with age, and regardless of her results here, I expect she'll be around for quite awhile.

Bartoli - The Home Slam
Marion Bartoli's journey to the semifinals has been the most surprising of the remaining four women. The two-handed scrambler overwhelmed 2009 French champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in their quarterfinal meeting to advance to her first semi at Roland Garros.

As the final French player left in the draw, the Parisian crowd rests all of their hope on Bartoli's shoulders. So far, she has risen tot he occasion, but perhaps the weight is not all that heavy when the crowd is in full support of their countrywoman. It's always interesting to hear contrasting reactions of the fans who erupt into thunderous cheers for each of Bartoli's points and then faintly applaud the winners of her opponent. The French Open has not seen a home-town champion since Mary Pierce in 2000 and not since the 60's before that. Bartoli could be next.

Marion has played some of her best tennis to advance this far and will surely give Schiavone a good fight. With flat shots, big cheers and her over-zealous warmups, Bartoli might just have what it takes to make us believe in the impossible.

Na - The Asian Slam
Li Na has become the face of Chinese tennis, igniting fans with deep grand slam runs. As the Australian Open runner-up, we all expected great things form the world no. 7, but were disappointed by a streak of first round losses. But here's Na again, giving us something to cheer about.

Just when her opponents break her and you think the set is about to slip away, Na ups her game and fights like a pitbull. Errors fade out of her game and suddenly she strikes winners from both sides—her whipping cross court forehand causing serious damage and opening the court up if her opponents find a way to retrieve it. This was the fate of Victoria Azarenka, the once-upon-a-time favorite for this year's French Open title. When Na lead 7-5 5-2, that fairytale never seemed so distant. Sure enough, Na's consistency and depth kept Azarenka pushed back beyond her comfort zone and before she could retaliate, Li Na's lead was insurmountable.

A championship victory at Roland Garros for Li Na would spark pandemonium across the Asian tennis world. To be the first Chinese grand slam winner is surely Li Na's ultimate goal, but it would be more than a win for her; it would be a celebration for a culture which has been waiting so long.

Sharapova - The Career Slam
The last woman to advance to the semifinals was Maria Sharapova, the glamorous blonde Russian who has been clubbing her way back into the spotlight. After suffering a serious shoulder injury at the end of 2008, the 3-time grand slam champion has struggled to find her form. Just when you thought you could count her out, Maria's back, and looking as promising as ever.

There's not much you can say about the severe routing Sharapova performed against her quarterfinal opponent, Andrea Petkovic. From the very beginning it was all Maria. No matter how many game points Petkovic earned, Sharapova refused to drop a game, punishing the red clay with winners and zipping fireballs across the lines. The same can be said for the second set, though Petkovic seemed to find more of a rhythm. Regardless, it was Sharapova's match, taking it at 6-0 6-3.

Winning the French Open would complete Maria Sharapova's pursuit for the "Career Slam" honor. For those that don't know, this would mean she has won each of the four grand slams in her tennis career. While the red clay surface of Roland Garros has been Maria's greatest fear throughout time, the self-proclaimed "cow on ice" seems to have found her legs. She may not slide and she may not make clay tennis look pretty, but it's just another day at work when Sharapova's playing well, and she'll bring home the wins regardless of the surface.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor