Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two highly anticipated match-ups in Wimbledon round of 16

Today we all take a rest from Wimbledon, and tomorrow we get the entire round of 16. Included in those contests is a match between Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. This will be the third time they have met since Henin returned to the tour. Both of their other matches this year were played on hard courts, both were decided by tiebreaks, and both were won by Clijsters. Throughout their careers, Henin has won three of their four matches on grass, including the last two, in 2006. One of those was a Wimbledon semifinal.

The Belgians have played each other a total of 24 times, and each has won twelve matches. Eleven of those matches were finals, of which Henin won seven. And four of those finals were played at majors, where Henin won them all.

Few, if any, would argue that--during their first careers, when the stakes were high--Henin had a mental edge over her countrywoman. Does she still have it, or have Clijsters close 2010 victories gotten into Henin's head? Is one of them a better grass player, and will it matter?

If the much-anticipated match between Henin and Clijsters doesn't interest you much, take heart: Another round of 16 match features Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. They haven't played one another since Williams defeated Sharapova in the 2008 Charleston quarterfinals, and their head-to-head is a lopsided one: Williams has won five or their seven matches. Still, there is interest because one of Sharapova's wins was in the Wimbledon final of 2004. Her other win was also big: She defeated Williams in the final of the 2004 tour Championships. Williams has beaten Sharapova twice at the Australian Open, and one of those times occurred during a final.

Clearly, given their history--and given how much Sharapova has struggled in recent months because of injury, incompetent medical care, and resulting problems with her serve--top seed Williams is the favorite to win this match. A win by Sharapova, at this point, would be quite an upset.

As interesting as these two matches are sure to be, however, there are other round of 16 matches that are well worth watching:

Jelena Jankovic has never played beyond the round of 16 at Wimbledon. Her opponent this year is Vera Zvonareva, who says she is not quite in form yet, but who looked plenty in-form against 15th seed Yanina Wickmayer in the third round. The "something extra" that Jankovic has added  is hitting down-the-line winners with her forehand, as opposed to just using her famous backhand for the shot.

Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na have played each other three times, and Radwanska has won both matches that were played on grass. She is obviously favored in this match, but both women are quietly and skillfully moving through the draw, and Li has obviously lost some of her discomfort with grass play.

Petra Kvitova played some of her best tennis against Victoria Azarenka in the third round, and she also defeated 2008 semifinalist Zheng Jie. Kvitova is a hit-or-miss player, but if she stays calm and swings with some authority against Caroline Wozniacki, she could move Wozniacki out of her comfort zone.

2007 finalist Marion Bartoli plays Tsvetana Pironkova, who is known for pulling big upsets, but who is equally known for displaying mental fragility at big moments. Klara Zakopalova plays qualifier (and former top 20 player) Kaia Kanepi. Both women are playing very good tennis at Wimbledon, and this is most likely going to be a match worth watching.

Finally, Venus Williams plays Jarmilla Groth, who may or may not handle the occasion. If she handles it, she may provide Williams with her best match so far. Groth looks comfortable on the grass. So far, in six sets, she has hit 81 winners, made 55 unforced errors, and been sucessful at the net 70% of the time. She also has an average first serve win percentage of 75. This will be the first meeting between Groth and Williams.


Anonymous said...

Didn't Venus say before that she had played Groth "when she had a different last name (Gadjosova)"?

Also, I think that all of the Round of 16 matches are going to be great--in fact, I'm intrigued by all of them. I've always thought Kanepi and Zakopalova could have been much better than they were, and here they are

Diane said...

Venus has never played her; Serena has played her a couple of times, including last year at Wimbledon (when Serena's dad gave her a compliment after she lost). Venus just got confused--she's been on the tour a long time and played so many people.

I'm really looking forward to the round of 16, too. It's generally my favorite round, anyway.

Jen said...

Yes, tomorrow should be great fun and may provide the answer to whether the dynamic has really changed between Justine and Kim. Much is being made of the 12-12 lifetime score and that Clijsters is 2-0 vs Henin since they've returned. But remember that Henin won a whopping 10 of their last 12 matches pre-retirement.

Moreover, at majors Justine has won the last five outings vs Kim, losing one set in the process. The last time Kim beat Justine in a major was the Aussie Open in January 2002. Eight and a half years ago, for goodness sake! And of course they played at Wimbledon in 2006, Henin winning in straight sets. So if Kim prevails tomorrow, it is probably quite significant -- perhaps a sea change in the rivalry. If not, I guess Henin is still Henin. Can't wait to see :>

Diane said...

I think things are a bit different now, though it could certainly go back to the way it was before--just like that. Some people are saying it's a shame Kim and Justine are meeting so early in the tournament, but I'm not too bothered by that; we all knew Justine wasn't going to get a special seeding. I guess I was prepared for it.

Jen said...

What a shame, Diane. Prior to falling and catching herself on her racket arm midway through the first set, Justine was playing lights out and attacking ferociously. After the injury and treatment, I remember barely a single explosive shot from Henin the rest of the match. She still won the first set that way due to Kim misfiring, but it wasn't going to get the job done once Clijsters found some range.

Very bad luck for Henin, and a bit reminicent of Miami 2007 when she led Serena 6-0 and was close to match point up in the second before falling on her racket hand. There also she was playing flawlessly but never looked the same after the fall, losing in three. Today, I would say the difference was even more pronounced.

Diane said...

I thought the match was kind of strange; everything happened so fast. The next thing I knew, it was over. No matter what she says, this has to be crushing for Justine--she not only goes out in Wimbledon, but goes out to Clijsters.