A Fish Called Mardy

June 28, 2011

Suitcases still unpacked? Check. Still the No. 1 ranked American? Check. Still receiving interview requests? Check. Still wondering how to beat Nadal in the next round? Check.

Welcome to the second week of Wimbledon, Mardy. It's been a long time coming.

Mardy Fish, the No. 10 seed and the No. 1 American at the 2011 Wimbledon Championshps is riding a wave of success that has brought him to the second week of Wimbledon, as well as the quarterfinals for the first time in his career. It's a bit different from watching the second-week's matches from an airplane, or curled up on a couch at home. But I think he prefers it this way.

Fish has made it to the third round at Wimbledon on three occasions over the past eight years ('03, '06, and '09). His best result at a Grand Slam came at the 2007 Australian Open, where he lost to Roddick in the quarterfinals, then again at the 2008 US Open, where he lost to Nadal in the quarterfinals. A leaner, more mature, and a more focused Mardy Fish has changed that.

"I definitely have aspirations of going further than just making the fourth round," said Fish in his second-round, post-match press conference at Wimbledon. It's almost as if he knew then that his time had come.

Fish has only lost one set en route to the quarterfinals (a TB in the third round vs. Robin Haase). He just recently cruised past the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, Thomas Berdych in the fourth round. Fish's serve couldn't be better, having accrued 73 aces over the course of four matches.

"You know, I'm pretty comfortable with knowing how to play tennis now," said Fish. "I know my limitations better than ever, and also feel like I can play some pretty good tennis at times."

Fish also knows that the matches from here on out will only get tougher. Nadal, whom he hasn't beaten in five attempts, will be his opponent in the quarterfinals on Wednesday--albeit an injured Rafael Nadal (left foot). It would be difficult to see Rafa pull out of Wimbledon due to injury (or any reason for that matter), and it's not the way Fish would want to win against Nadal. But as they say, one man's misfortune is another man's gain.

Is it lonely at the top for the No. 1 American? According to Fish, the answer is yes. He misses his compatriots. "It's lonely. It doesn't feel great. And that's not the goal. You know, I want the guys here. So that's a bit of a bummer, I guess."

I'm guessing he'd feel a bit less lonely with a Wimbledon trophy to carry around.

Sabine Lisicki Returns to Form

Are Sabine Lisicki’s health problems behind her? Lisicki's recent return to form on grass indicates that brighter days are ahead for the 21-year-old.

On the Baseline Tennis News
June 22, 2011

Germany’s Sabine Lisicki has seen some dark days. The 2009 Wimbledon quarterfinalist and former top 25 player has been on a downward slide for almost two years, falling outside of the top 100, with little hope of finding a way back.

Her troubles began at the 2009 US Open, where she badly injured her left ankle in the second round. After a bit of rehabilitation on her ankle, Lisicki was back on the courts within a few weeks. She had some luck later in the season, reaching the final of Luxembourg, but lost to Timea Bacsinszky. Unfortunately, it was not a sign of things to come in 2010.

The 2010 season is one that Sabine Lisicki wishes she could forget. She reached the second round three times in first four events of the year (including the Australian Open). She then retired in Indian Wells and Miami in the first round, due to a left ankle injury. She was out of competition for five months with the same injury, pulling out of Charleston (defending champ), as well as the French Open and Wimbledon. The slide continued for Lisicki, falling out of the top 100 after the 2010 US Open, where she lost in the second round to Vera Zvonareva. She finished the season at No. 179 — a far cry from her career-high ranking of No. 22 achieved in August, 2009.

Things were looking up for the 21-year-old in 2011, when she made it to the quarterfinals in Stuttgart, and won the Stuttgart doubles title with Sam Stosur. She then reached the French Open as a qualifier, advancing to the second round against No. 3 seed, Vera Zvonareva. Just when Lisicki was about to close out the match, she lost a match point at 5-2 in the third set, and lost her grip on the match, losing 4-6 7-5 7-5. Afterwards, Lisicki lay on the court, sobbing, and was taken off on a stretcher. The next day, Lisicki announced on her website that she had recently been diagnosed with a gluten intolerance.

Not long after her setback at the French Open, Lisicki dusted herself off, and jumped right back into the game. She entered The Aegon Classic, a grass-court tune-up that she hasn’t played since 2008 (and lost in the first round.) This time, Lisicki went all the way to the final, beating Daniela Hantuchov√° 6-2, 6-2, winning her second WTA Tour title. You can imagine what that title meant to her, after a two-year struggle with injuries and health issues.

Lisicki’s win at the AEGON Classic bumped her up from No. 100 to No. 62 in the rankings. Since the start of 2011, Lisicki has jumped 117 ranking spots. A clear sign that brighter days are ahead.

And now, with her health back on track and a wildcard in her pocket, Lisicki is poised for success at Wimbledon. Can she channel her 2009 self at Wimbledon? Is it possible that her 2011 self is a better/stronger player? Without a doubt, few players have as much power in their serve as Lisicki (averaging 121 mph).

Lisicki takes on Anastasija Sevastova on Wednesday in her first round match at Wimbledon. A first meeting for the two. “It’s a tournament that I really like because of the whole tradition,” says Lisicki about Wimbledon. “It’s a special tournament with a different atmosphere. Obviously, it’s a big stage and that’s what I really love.”

On another subject, there were some recent rumblings about Lisicki being granted one of the seven wildcard spots for Wimbledon. According to the WTA rules, there is a maximum of six wildcards allowed per year per player, three for main draw. Lisicki had reached her wildcard limit prior to Wimbledon (Indian Wells, Nassau, Miami, Charleston, Stuttgart, and the AEGON Classic).

To clarify, the ITF/Grand Slams have their own set of rules regarding wildcards, which are completely independent of the WTA rules. Grand Slams allow players an unlimited number of wildcards, so Lisicki will not be penalized for Wimbledon, even though she’s gone over the WTA’s wildcard rule limit. The only other potential wildcard that Sabine could get in 2011 would be for the US Open, if her ranking at that time doesn’t allow for direct entry into the tournament. It is confusing to have two sets of rules, but that’s how the rules are currently set up.

Plots and Subplots: A Wimbledon Preview

On the Baseline Tennis News
June 19, 2011

Every Grand Slam has main plots and dramatic sub-plots that conjure up excitement during the fortnight. With Wimbledon set to begin on Monday, the return of the Williams sisters is a main plot that is sure to provide twists and turns with each passing day. Considering the history of these two grass court champions, what better setting to watch this plot unfold than Wimbledon.

Subplot #1: The renewal of the long-standing Williams sisters’ rivalry. It’s been almost two years since Venus and Serena have faced each other in competition (2009 year-end championships). Once considered a boring rivalry, tennis fans now salivate over the possibility of seeing the Williams sisters go head to head once again. Will they meet in the Wimbledon final?

Subplot #2: As the No. 7 seed, Serena Williams is a big question mark heading into Wimbledon. Her ability to regain her top form after a lengthy absence from competition (49 weeks to be exact) is in doubt. Will she beat the odds? Can she pull off a three-peat at Wimbledon?

Subplot #3: Five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will be making her presence known as she embarks on her 16th Wimbledon main draw appearance. She holds the record for the most career Wimbledon match wins for active players (W-L 68-9). No current player on the WTA is more powerful, dominant, or confident on grass than Venus Williams. Can she pull off her sixth (and possibly her last) Wimbledon title at age 31?

As always, Wimbledon’s main story is divided into four sections/quarters, with a full cast of characters in each, ranging from contenders to dark horses.

Wozniacki’s Quarter
Other seeded players in this section: Maria Sharapova (5) Samantha Stosur (10) Julia Goerges (16) Shuai Peng (20) Dominika Cibulkova (24) Jarmila Gajdosova (27) Lucie Safarova (31). 

In the first quarter of the draw, No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki takes on Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain in the opening round (first meeting). Wozniacki is in good form, having won the title in Copenhagan, and is well rested after taking a week off from competition. Wozniacki is coming into Wimbledon as the No.1 ranked player for the third straight time at a Grand Slam and will hold onto her No.1 ranking through week of August 1, extending her reign to 42 weeks at the top of the women’s game.

Is Wimbledon an attainable title for Wozniacki? There are a few things working against her: She hasn’t made it past the fourth round at Wimbledon (2009-2010) and has only one grass court title under her belt (Eastbourne 2009). Wozniacki will likely advance through the early rounds. She could face No. 16 seed Julia Goerges in the round of 16 (H2H 2-2), which may not be a problem for Wozniacki on grass. Goerges lost in the first round of Eastbourne and has suffered with a few injuries prior to that. No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova, a 2004 Wimbledon champion, could face Wozniacki in the quarterfinals (H2H: 3-2/Sharapova), but not before a potential match against No. 10 seed Sam Stosur in the round of 16 (H2H 8-0/Sharapova). Stosur, who surprisingly advanced to the semifinals in Eastbourne (losing to Bartoli), will have her work cut out for her against Sharapova, who has three grass court titles under her belt, including Wimbledon. If Sharapova advances, her true test will come in the semifinals, where she will likely face Serena Williams (H2H: 6-2/Serena). They are 1-1 when it comes to grass court results, having met twice before at Wimbledon (2004 final), and last year (round of 16).

Li Na’s Quarter
Other seeded players in this section: Serena Williams (7) Marion Bartoli (9) Agnieszka Radwanska (13) Ana Ivanovic (18) Flavia Pennetta (21) Maria Kirilenko (26) Bethanie Mattek-Sands USA (30).

In the second quarter of the draw, No. 3 seed Li Na will face Alla Kudryavtseva in the first round (H2H: 1-0/Li Na). We’ve all seen how Li Na shines brightly on the big stages, advancing to the final in the last two Majors. A title at Wimbledon would make her the 8th woman in the Open Era to win Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year and the first player since Serena Williams in 2002. Li Na made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2010. She will likely meet Sabine Lisicki in the second round. Lisicki was granted a wildcard into Wimbledon and has risen 117 points in the rankings since the start of 2011.

Lisicki’s recent grass court title in Birmingham could make her a tricky opponent for Li Na, in addition to her win over Li Na in Stuttgart this year (rd. of 16). But having a French Open title under her belt will likely give Li Na the confidence to go the distance. Bethanie Mattek-Sands could also give Li Na a run for her money in the third round. Marion Bartoli, the 2011 AEGON International champion and 2007 Wimbledon runner-up will likely face Serena Williams in the round of 16 (H2H 2-0/Serena. If Serena advances, she will likely face Li Na in the quarterfinals (H2H: 5-1/Serena). The two also met in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. Given Serena’s lengthy absence from tennis, she isn’t the predictable winner that she once was, so this match could go either way. But experience (and stats) could give the edge to Serena.

Victoria Azarenka’s Quarter
Other seeded players in this section: Francesca Schiavone (6) Ekaterina Makarova (28) Shahar Peer (22) Andrea Petkovic (11) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (14) Kaia Kanepi (17) Daniela Hantuchova (25).

In the bottom half of the draw, (third quarter), No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka takes on Magdalena Rybarikova in her opening round (first meeting). Azarenka’s game is, at best, unpredictable. (More specifically, her mental game.) She either wins big, or retires mid-match. Azarenka’s most recent retirement took place during the semifinal in Eastbourne, due to a right thigh strain.

No. 25 seed Daniela Hantuchova could face Azarenka in the third round. Hantuchova has been playing non-stop for the past few weeks, showing impressive results on the grass court tune-up events. She made it to the final in Birmingham, and the semifinal in Eastbourne, where she was forced to retire due to an abdominal strain. Unfortunately, her injury could force an early exit at Wimbledon.

No. 6 seed Francesca Schiavone is the second highest seed in this section of the draw, and is competing in her 44th consecutive Grand Slam (tied with Jill Craybas). She could face Azarenka in the quarterfinals (H2H 2-1/Azarenka). Neither have made it past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (both in 2009).

Vera Zvonareva’s Quarter
Other seeded players in this section: Petra Kvitova (8) Roberta Vinci (29) Yanina Wickmayer (19) Svetlana Kuznetsova (12) Jelena Jankovic (15) Venus Williams (23) Tsvetana Pironkova (32).

In the fourth quarter of the draw, Vera Zvonareva replaces an injured Kim Clijsters as the No. 2 seed. Zvonareva will face American hopeful Alison Riske in her opening round (first meeting). As the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up who recently defeated Serena Williams in the second round in Birmingham, Zvonareva is in a prime position to dominate. That is, until the fourth round, where she will likely face Venus Williams (H2H: 7-1/Venus). Petra Kvitova, a 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist (and the only lefty in the top 10), could face Venus in the quarterfinals, unless she falls to Kuznetsova in the fourth round. Kvitova has only played Venus once before (Memphis 2008), but won the match.

No one knows exactly how this year’s Wimbledon story will end, but that won’t stop anyone from making predictions. Mine are as follows:

Dark Horse(s)

Jarmila Gajdosova, Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki

Final Eight

Wozniacki, Sharapova, Li Na, S. Williams, Schiavone, Azarenka, Kvitova, V. Williams

Final Four

Sharapova, S. Williams, Azarenka, V. Williams

Final Two

Sharapova vs. V. Williams


Venus Williams

(Let the story begin.)

Chris Evert Weighs In on the Williams Sisters

June 15, 2011

Starting next week, eighteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert will be stepping into the broadcast booth at Wimbledon, making her ESPN debut as a tennis analyst. On Tuesday, Evert joined her new colleague and fellow analyst, Brad Gilbert for ESPN's pre-Wimbledon conference call with the media. Evert wasted no time getting down to business. 

The hot topic? The Williams sisters. 

Evert, who has three Wimbledon singles titles to her credit, plans to keep a close eye on Venus and Serena, as they step back into the tennis spotlight after a long absence from competition. Specifically, she will be watching for Serena's court coverage as well as her mental toughness. 

In the conference call, Evert steered clear of any definitive predictions, but did feel certain that a return of the Williams sisters to Wimbledon won't necessarily translate into a win for the Williams sisters.

"It would be monumental in my mind if Serena pulled off a win," said Evert on the call. "You can never, ever count her out.  But I personally don't ‑‑ I don't know how it's humanly possible for someone to take a year off like that and have gone through what she's been through physically with her ailments and really hasn't had a tremendous amount of practice, really a one‑tournament warm‑up." Evert also showed concern for the emotional toll that a serious medical condition like a pulmonary embolism could take on Serena.

Evert had a slightly different view on Venus, whom she described as a "sort of a dark horse" simply because Serena gets all the media attention. "She [Venus] does the job and she still has the better Wimbledon record. And she loves grass and she plays great on it," said Evert.

As the Williams sisters try to regain their dominance in the women's game, the age issue will become tougher to ignore. Venus, who is vying for her sixth Wimbledon singles title, will be turning 31 in a few days, and Serena, vying for her fifth title, will be turning 30 in September. Evert, who won the French Open at 31, believes that the game has a higher level of intensity than it did during her time on the tour. "I think the only thing helping them by playing at an older age is the fact that they've had so many breaks," said Evert. She also noted that the power in their games helps to shorten rallies, which, in turn, has helped with longevity. 

During her career that spanned 17 years,  Evert recalled that her longest absence from competition was four months, just after she married at age 24. Evert noted that the Williams sisters have benefited from multiple, long layoffs, which has given them renewed energy and excitement upon their return. "If they had played without injuries and they had played a full commitment of whatever, 21 tournaments a year, like everybody else is playing and supported the Tour that way for 15 years, I think they'd be out of the game by now."

Who are some of the Wimbledon contenders, according to Evert? Sharapova is one. "She's done really well this year, and she's been consistently a semifinalist or finalist," said Evert. "I think if she can get her serve together, she's won Wimbledon before.  She's mentally really a tough player.  I think she can do some damage and maybe even win Wimbledon." Li Na and Kim Clijsters are also at the top of her list.