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Wimbledon: The tennis grunt

30 Jun

This article can now be found at http://wp.me/p2yoGs-e1.


A look at women’s tennis and the Wimbledon ladies’ semi-finals

29 Jun

Tennis is perhaps the sole sport in which the women are as highly rated as the men. On-court, equal pay has been a feature for several years. Off-court, Maria Sharapova, speculated to be the highest earning sportswoman in the world, out earns most professional men’s tennis players, with only a select few such as the Federer’s and Nadal’s of the world, ranking ahead of her in the money stakes.

In recent years and amid a lack of dominant players, the women’s game has come under great scrutiny for its revolving door of world number ones and grand slam champions. Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, Dinara Safina, Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters have all held the top ranking over the past few years. Of the six, only three have won major titles with Clijsters and Williams being multiple grand slam winners. Ivanovic, who won the French Open title in 2009 in addition to attaining the ranking, has since suffered a major downturn in her career and is now ranked outside of the top 10. Safina and Jankovic have also slumped since being number one, with the only player ranked number one and not holding a grand slam title yet to drop out of the top 10 being the current number one, Caroline Wozniacki.

Tough questions

Wozniacki has been ranked number one for a total of 39 weeks which for interests’ sake is more weeks than Clijsters, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have managed to hold the ranking. All this while she is yet to win a grand slam title while the other three have won several. The young Dane is continually asked about the credibility of her reign at the top of the rankings; her early losses at the French Open and Wimbledon have undoubtedly not helped the cause. It is however an unavoidable situation.

The WTA (The governing body of women’s tennis.) compiles the rankings. While the rankings rate the grand slam tournaments as those of greatest importance, and rightly so, it also includes the performances of players at several other tournaments of various levels. Obviously in order to motivate players to participate in tournaments on tour all year – and to not just turn up for grand slams, as the Williams’ sisters and even Clijsters have been guilty of in recent years – it is imperative the WTA hands out ranking points for tournaments below the grand slam level. The continued success of the sport depends on television rights and fans coming out to watch the top women in the world battle it out for titles in every city in the world, not just those lucky enough to play host to one of the majors. As a result the ranking system really can’t be altered to afford the grand slam winners the top ranking too. It must go to the player who most consistently plays the best tennis on tour. Right now, the distinction is Caroline Wozniacki’s; she is therefore the rightful number one player in the world.

Legacy and/or ambassador

Unless she really starts winning the Polish-born Dane is hardly likely to be remembered in the same light as a Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis or countless other dual number ones and grand slam titlists. It seems a tad unfair to expect her to play as few tournaments as the Williams’ and Clijsters, just to grant them an equal opportunity to be number one. While the reasons for their absence from the tour have been valid, it has definitely been detrimental to the sport.

In the interim it has been players like Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Jankovic, Vera Zvonareva, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka that have carried the sport. They have served as ambassadors for the game when their sometimes more illustrious competitors have only showed up for the majors. It is these players that ought to be given credit for the continued success of women’s tennis as a full time career. Sure, winning a grand slam makes for great headlines, but hosting and broadcasting tournaments is where the money comes from – and we all know money makes the world go round. The women’s draw at Wimbledon has consisted of some stellar tennis.

Women’s tennis has become increasingly less appealing with low level of play and numerous upsets becoming the norm. Despite not lacking in upsets, the play of the eventual quarter-and semi-finalists at Wimbledon this year has often overshadowed the men’s tournament with its brilliance. The competitive nature of the encounters between the women has begun to capture the audience’s attention, and could make women’s tennis impressive again.

Semi-Final 1: Maria Sharapova vs. Sabine Lisicki

The draw has been rewarding to players performing at an incredibly high level, as opposed to those who don’t completely suck. Six of the eight quarter-finalists played great tennis in the round of eight, with Dominika Cibulkova’s level dropping off against Sharapova after she beat Julia Goerges and Wozniacki in her two previous matches in stunning display. Sharapova was in devastating form, leading to her attaining favourite status to win the tournament. She plays Sabine Lisicki in the semis after she was the victor over Marion Bartoli, who defeated the defending champion in the fourth round, in the quarter-finals. Lisicki is the first German to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon since Graf.

Both players have excellent grass court pedigree with titles on the surface to the credit of both ladies. Sharapova’s 2004 Wimbledon titles is of course the most prolific of these, but Lisicki’s current 10-match winning streak on the surface is an indicator of how dangerous she could be to Sharapova’s favourite status. Both ladies thoroughly deserve their spots in the semi-finals. The match is likely to be decided by Sharapova’s service. Her ability to land a high percentage of first serves ought to guarantee her progress to the finals at Wimbledon for the first time since her winning run in 2004. If her first serve is less than excellent, Lisicki will look to step in on the second serve and put Sharapova under pressure on her service games. This tactic combined with the German’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Sharapova in the pace of hitting, could see the younger woman walking away with the win.

The winner: Sharapova in three.

Semi-Final 2: Victoria Azarenka vs. Petra Kvitova

Kvitova is back in the semis after her breakthrough performance at Wimbledon last year. Her movement through the draw has gone largely unnoticed with the mainstream press paying her little attention. Tennis insiders and dedicated fans have been tracking her closely with her being tagged a dark horse to win the title prior to the tournament starting. As such, her success at Wimbledon is unlikely to come as too big a surprise. She has been solid in her performances thus far, dropping a set for the first time against the woman who expelled Venus Williams from the draw, Tsvetana Pironkova. Kvitova nevertheless held her nerve to dump hard-hitting Pironkova from the draw, despite her excellent play in periods of their quarter-final match.

Her semi-final opponent is a fellow Eastern-European, Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka finally broke her quarter-final hoodoo by reaching the semi-finals at a grand slam for the first time in five quarter-final appearances. She achieved this by completely overpowering her opponent, Tamira Paszek. It was unfortunate to note that the questions around Azarenka’s mental strength are still valid – she struggled quite a bit to serve out the first set. She is unlikely to get as many opportunities against her Czech opponent in the semis. If she fails to take them she will be unable to reach her first major final at Wimbledon in 2011. Since both ladies have been hitting the ball in incredible fashion, the mental resolve of Azarenka could very well prove to be the deciding factor in the match. If the match goes to a third set, Kvitova ought to be superior.

The winner: Azarenka in straights.

The women’s tennis at this tournament has been of an incredible standard – all four semi-finalists have been hitting the ball in fantastic fashion and clearly deserve to be contesting a Wimbledon semi-final. Hopefully the final three matches of the tournament will be competitive encounters of high quality and entertainment value. Share your picks by commenting below.

Finally I include a clip of an amazing around the post winner hit by Victoria Azarenka in her match against Tamira Paszek.

Wimbledon: Ladies’ quarter-finals day

28 Jun

Manic Monday has come-and-gone, and with both Williams’s and Caroline Wozniacki being losers on the day, the ladies’ quarter-final line-up at Wimbledon is quite different from what is was expected to be just 24 hours ago. Only three of the players seeded to reach to the quarters did so successfully, with the fourth seed, Victoria Azarenka, fifth seed Maria Sharapova and eighth seed, Petra Kvitova all moving through with relative ease.

Sabine Lisicki, who gained entry into Wimbledon 2011 by virtue of a wildcard, has been playing some excellent tennis on the grass which she seems to favour. Tsvetana Pironkova seems to only be capable of hitting the ball well on grass, with her performance outside of the grass court season being quite dismal for a Wimbledon semi-finalist. Ninth seed, Marion Bartoli is now 9 and 0 for the grass court season; she was touted as a dark horse for the title prior to the tournament starting by many who dabble in the precarious business of predicting winners. She has lived up to this billing, and has been impressive throughout Wimbledon. The other players through to the quarters are Dominika Cibulkova, who took out seeded players Julia Goerges and Caroline Wozniacki in consecutive matches and the Austrian player, Tamira Paszek.

 Quarter-Final 1: Dominika Cibulkova vs. Maria Sharapova

The form player versus the only grand slam champion remaining in the draw. Both these ladies are very capable of hitting the ball at great pace. The match will largely be on Sharapova’s racket. Her ability to hit first serves would greatly favour her to win, whereas if her dimunitive opponent got the opportunity to step in on many second serves, the unseeded player could yet extend her run. Sharapova will however be very motivated to win and is thus likely to maintain her favourite status with a victory over the battle ravaged Cibulkova who has played (and won) several tough three set matches at the Championships in the past week.

 The winner: Sharapova in three.

 Quarter-Final 2: Sabine Lisicki vs. Marion Bartoli

 Both ladies are brilliant tennis players, particularly on grass courts it seems. I expect this match to be a high quality affair with some great ball hitting if the conditions favour it. If the ball hitting is less than excellent, Bartoli’s Ninja style of play will serve to stimulate your mind and entertain. Either lady is likely to have chances to win this match; it ought to be decided by whoever’s resolve is greatest.

 The winner: Bartoli in three.

 Quarter-Final 3: Victoria Azarenka vs. Tamira Paszek.

 Paszek’s progress at Wimbledon has gone largely unnoticed with her yet to play a match on either of the four show courts at Wimbledon. Her most impressive result has undoubtedly been the three set win which she scored over former French Open winner, Francesca Schiavone. She has made the 4th round at Wimbledon before, demonstrating that she is quite comfortable on the grass at Wimbledon. Her opponent today will be hoping to reverse her fortune in grand slam quarter-finals with the conversion of her fifth quarter-final appearance into her first semi-final. While the young 20-year old Paszek will be determined to give Azarenka a go, I expect the Belarusian to seize the opportunity before her. Her straight sets route of Nadia Petrova was incredibly impressive, and I expect her to continue her Wimbledon run.

 The winner: Victoria Azarenka in straights.

Quarter-Final 4: Petra Kvitova vs. Tsvetana Pironkova

 Kvitova has been Brad Gilbert’s favourite for the title since the start of the tournament, and she certainly has been playing some brutal tennis winning every match in straight sets thus far. She will be up against a player who seems incredibly relaxed and at home at Wimbledon. Pironkova was quite calm after beating Venus Williams for the second straight year yesterday. In addition to her win over the five-time champion, she was also the victor over last year’s finalist and number two seed, Vera Zvonareva. Clearly the Bulgarian is in form with her losing no more than five games in every match she has contested. Kvitova’s play has however been as devastating. This ought to a very competitive match decided by whose rich vein of form continues.

 The winner: Petra Kvitova in three.

Hopefully the matches that I have indicated as three-setters will live up to their billing, and will we see some great tennis at Wimbledon on the second Tuesday. Be sure to come back later to tease me about the prediction blunders I made.

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