Friday, July 7, 2017

The grass is still green, but the landscape has changed

Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova, respective winners of Birmingham and Eastbourne, and the two top favorites to win Wimbledon, are gone. Kvitova was bested by illness, probably brought on by the sudden heat, reminding us--yet again--how fragile her body is. And there's the other (major) factor: She's still just getting used to being on the tour again and probably used up most of her energy in Eastbourne.

For those of us who thought Petra might defy realistic odds and go deep into this tournament: We were operating more from our hearts than our heads.

As for Pliskova--that was more of a true upset. Magdalena Rybariikova--who is in the middle of an extremely impressive comeback from two injuries--performed brilliantly against the 3rd seed, providing us with a match we'll remember after the tournament has ended.

Also gone are Kiki Mladenovic and Tsvetana Pironkova, who were expected to perhaps cause some trouble in the draw. Mladenovic, in particular, made an exit (second round) that  strikes me as surprisingly early.

All of the Czech players are out after the second round, which is, to me, the most shocking stat so far in this Wimbledon. The last one to go was former semifinalist Lucie Safarova. There can be little doubt that part of Safarova's misfortune was related to her having just seen her close friend and doubles partner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, sustain a horrific knee injury. Mattek-Sands and Safarova were going for a Career Slam in London, but that dream has been shattered.

Jo Konta--who was in my top three favorites to win the event--is still around, however. Konta won her third round against Maria Sakkari, after winning her second against Donna Vekic in what may turn out to be the match of the tournament.

Angie Kerber and Garbine Muguruza, both former runners-up at Wimbledon, are also still in the draw, though they have yet to play their third round matches.

Simona Halep, however, has played her third round match, and she's into the round of 16. Halep, playing significantly under the radar, defeated an in-form Peng Shuai in the third round, and will next face Vika Azarenka. Azarenka had to fight Heather Watson with all her might, but she came through.

Apparently, Jelena Ostapenko didn't get the memo about falling apart mentally after one wins her first major. She's mugging, grinning and happily whacking the ball, relishing playing while behind on the scoreboard, and is into the round of 16. Her next opponent is Elina Svitolina, and that's a don't-miss event. Svitolina could give Ostapenko a lot of trouble by running down a lot of balls and keeping her errors in check, but this could easily go either way.

CoCo Vandeweghe has yet to play her third round, and it's likely to be a tough one. Vandeweghe plays Alison Riske, a player who almost always rises to the occasion on grass. If grumpy, careless CoCo shows up, it will be the end of her Wimbledon run because Riske will take advantage. If disceiplined CoCo shows up, things could still get dicey.

And then there's five-time champion Venus Williams, who is also into the round of 16 (and credit to Naomi Osaka for giving Williams a very tough third round match). Williams will play Ana Konjuh in the next round.

In doubles, the exit of top seeds Mattek-Sands and Safarova opens the way for a somewhat more open competition. 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina and 3rd seeds Chan Jung-jan and Martina Hingis are still around, as are 8th seeds Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua, and the unseeded--and potentially very dangerous--team of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kiki Mladenovic.

In addition to the aforementioned Riske-Vandeweghe third round match, another upcoming third round contest to keep an eye on is the one featuring Anett Kontaveit and Caroline Wozniacki. Kontaveit's chances are pretty good, in my opinion. Perhaps, if she wins, Pam Shriver will figure out who she is.

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