Archives for June 2013

Serena and Sloane lead US into week two — again

Puig Power: Confident Monica breaks through to second week

puig wimbledon 2013

Monica Puig says that she is already a bit of a hero in Puerto Rico, the island where she was born but not where she resides.  She has lived in Miami since she was a one year old, but she has chosen to play for Puerto Rico instead of the US, which is fine, because it’s encouraging to see young people/players respecting their heritage and actively making an effort to represent an area where tennis is not wildly popular.

Another Puerto Rico native, Charlie Pasarell, became a standout player during 1960s and 1970s and then he became one of the most powerful men on the sport by helping build up the Coachella Valley, California tournament   (now played at Indiana Wells) into the second biggest event in the United States. He was also a major player on the ATP Board of Directors and helped guide the tour in the 21st century. Gigi Fernandez, who also hails from the island, became one of the greatest doubles player ever and reached the Wimbledon semis in singles.

Now here comes Puig, a 19 year old with a tremendous amount of self-confidence who has reached the third round of Wimbledon via a thumping of Sara Errani in the first round and three-set victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa. On Saturday afternoon, she came back on court down a set and break to she to Eva Birnerova as their match had been suspended for darkness. Under a hot sun she shined 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Really the stars on the women’s side during the first week of Wimbledon has been the younger set: Sloane Stephens, Laura Robson, Madison Keys, Genie Bouchard, Camilla Giorgi and Allison Riske, who is a bit older than the rest at an ancient age of 21.

Puig grew up playing juniors with Robson, Bouchard and Keys, the latter two whom she has scored wins over. At 5-foot-7 she is not as tall as either, but she is very quick, scrappy and confident. She has not received nearly amount of the attention of any of them, but if she was British she’d be receiving a page of coverage every day in the London papers.

Puig can’t do much about the fact that she doesn’t have a press corp following her, but what she can do is keep up with her peers, To date she has done so and more at Wimbledon.

“Everyone feeds off of everyone’s success,” she said. “All the young ones, you see Bouchard and Robson winning, you want to do the same. We are pushing each other to find best in out games. We might not talk to each other all time but when you see someone doing well you think ‘Hey if you want keep up with me you have to this.’ It’s great to have a lot young girls who are starting to step up because I think the game needs some young new faces.”

As a pro, Puig came alive last fall when she won back to back Challengers in France, scoring fine wins over the likes of Magdalena Rybarikova and Elena Vesnina. This year, she played Venus Williams to tough in Charleston, qualified for the Portugal Open and reached the third round of Roland Garros where she took down Nadia Petrova and Keys before losing to Carla Suarez.

Even though Errani is nearly allergic to grass, for a teen to beat a top 5 seed is huge, especially when the score was 6-3 6-2. She was pleased to have followed up that victory with a hearty three win over Soler, because she didn’t want people to view her upset as a “fluke.” It wasn’t. Being able to survive the rain, cold, darkness and delays at the All England and best Birnerova was another feather in her cap.

In reality, she was slight favorite going into both her last two matches but she didn’t want to see herself that way. Her self-proclaimed “Pica Power” demands that she look at herself like the Little Engine That Could.

“I like to feel like the underdog so I say I’m not the favorite,” she said. “I always feel more comfortable that way. Eventually if I get more up in rankings and I play someone lower than I would be clear favorite.In the juniors I was clearly favorite, especially in Grand Slams, and in a couple of the matchups people were saying I should win, and then I was dealing with pressures of having to win. So I’m glad I had that experience as a junior so when you come here, you feel the pressure but you know how to deal with it.”

Puig doesn’t think she that far off from being an elite player but as well as she’s done during the past eight months, she still far off from that status. Elite means at least top 10, while super elite on the WTA these days is the top 3.

One of the things that players find out when jumping from the juniors to the pros is that they must go for their shots more, and many of those shots must land closer to the lines. They can deliver those shots in practice, but doing so in match play with a live opponent and live audience is a different skill altogether.

“In big matches if you pull of a shot like that you say  ‘Hey I can do that I do it again’ and then you keep gaining confidence. Then the shot keeps coming and coming and it becomes so natural.”

Puig has yet to have a chance to play on either Centre Court or Court 1, the most important stages at Wimbledon. That’s where she wants to be. That’s where she really wants to unleash Pica Power and have analysts from every nation calling her a player to watch.

She’ll play the 20-year-old Stephens in semis on an Court 18.  It’s not a major show court, but if she wins that contest she will have earned her place on either Centre Court or Court 1 for the quarterfinals.  She will relish the opportunity.

“It’s not even a question,” she said. “I love the big stages so I can show off a little bit. That’s kind of me. I want play well in the big courts and it’s a once in lifetime opportunity, so you have to enjoy it.”



Sloane coming out of shell & dangerous on grass

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No more falling down for Keys on grass

keys, madison 2013

Whacked Wednesday at Wimbledon

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Sergiy Stakhovsky ended Federer;s reign at Wimbledon


WIMBLEDON – Somewhere close to noon on Wednesday, one of the my housemates,’s Steve Tignor, told me that John Isner had suffered a knee injury in the first set of his match against Adrian Mannarino. I immediately thought back to Sydney, when big John came into the pressroom after his loss to Ryan Harrison and essentially said his knee was wrecked and that he had little chance of playing the Aussie Open.  A couple of days later, he pulled out.

A few minutes later in London, Tignor told me that Isner had actually retired  and thus began the craziest day I have ever covered at a major since I began reporting on the sport back in 1992.

About a half hour later, now on site, I was told that Victoria Azarenka was going to pull out of her contest against Flavia Pennetta and she did. Then Rafa Nadal’s conqueror Steve Darcis withdrew a shoulder injury, then Radek Stepanek retired with a thigh injury. On Centre Court, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired down two sets to one against Ernest Gulbis with a knee injury,

A little over an hour after Stepanek’s pullout, Caroline Wozniacki slipped and badly twisted her ankle in the fourth game of her match against Petra Cetkovska. She couldn’t run after that and was plastered 6-2, 6-2.

Sometime later, No. 10 Marin Cilic pulled out with a knee injury too. Bernard Tomic, who is still in the singles draw, retired in doubles with a hamstring problem. The Yaroslava Shvedova pulled out against Petra Kvitova.

Wimbledon had set an Open Era record with retirements/walkovers with seven, and all the talk was about whether the slippery courts were to blame. But there was something in the air that wasn’t related to seed germination. Perhaps someone has opened up a catacomb at the London Dungeon and unleashed some foul magic, which is why Cilic later called it a “very black day.”  Whacked Wednesday at Wimbledon was on, and it wouldn’t stop there.

Azarenka is suffering from a bone bruise and was very upset that her chance of winning her first Wimbledon title  had gone away before she could dig herself into the tournament.

“The court was not in a very good condition that day,” said Azarenka. “My opponent fell twice; I fell badly; there were some other people who fell after. So I don’t know if it’s the court or the weather. I can’t figure it out it.  Would be great if the club or somebody who takes care of the court just would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn’t happen. There is nothing I’ve done wrong that cost me to just withdraw from Wimbledon… I don’t see anything positive as of today because I’m disappointed extremely.”

Maria Sharapova, who has been so very consistent at the major over the past two years, went out onto the Graveyard Court 2 against former phenom Michelle Larcher De Brito and fell down a remarkable down three times. She eventually received a medical timeout for what appears to be minor hip injury, and although she tried to fight, she seemed distracted, was way off her game on the big points, and landed with thud in in her 6-3 6-4 loss. She gave her foe credit for the win, but at one point in the second set she called the conditions dangerous.

“Well, after I buckled my knee three times, that’s obviously my first reaction,” Sharapova said. “And because I’ve just never fallen that many times in a match before.  Those are the conditions that are there for my opponent, as well. Just took a lot more falls than she did today.”

Wozniacki looked like she cried a great deal after her defeat. After all, she needed a redemptive Slam and didn’t come close to having one. It’s one thing to take another harrowing loss, but with no chance to move quickly and try and impose her game. Cetkovska drop shotted the speedster to death.

“She played some very smart tennis, I have to say.  She was serving well.  She knew what to do out there for me to struggle. Obviously, you know, I didn’t feel 100% out there after I slipped.,” she said. “It’s just not really fun to be out there when you feel like you can’t really push off on your foot.”

Other seeds fell too before the catastrophe for Roger Federer and his fan base really set in. Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard played brilliantly in upending No 12 Ana Ivanovic  6-3 6-3; Karin Knapp upset No. 27Lucie Safarova 4-6 6-4 6-4; young Serbian Vesna Dolonc beat older Serb and No. 16 Jelena Jankovic 7-5 6-2; and Camila Giorgi of Italy took down No. 22 Sorana Cirstea 7-6(7) 7-6(6). On the men’s side, Dustin Brown overran former champ Lleyton Hewitt in four sets.

But nothing else on court compared  to Sergiy Stakhovsky shocking defending champion Federer 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5), which was the Swiss’ earliest defeat at Wimbledon since losing in the  first  round in 2003. The Ukrainian put together  a brilliant, old school serve-and-volley attack, never allowing the Federer to get his rhythm and suffocating him at the net. The Eastern European journeyman matched Western European journeyman Darcis’ level on court in the Belgian’s stunner over Nadal, and perhaps even more so: the result ended Federer’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances dating back to 2004 Wimbledon.

“Well, you can’t really keep up with Roger on grass on baseline rallies,” Stakhovsky said. “It’s just impossible, I would say, especially here.  He’s playing very well.  He feels the grass.  He feels the slice.  He can do whatever he wants with the ball. The only tactics I have is press as hard as I can on my serve and come in as much as I can.  The shorter it is, the less rhythm he got.  I think today I was successful enough that he didn’t get into the returning rhythm, only somewhere in the middle of the fourth set he find it.  So I was lucky to pull it out in the fourth and finish it.”

It wasn’t just luck, he can up huge on the big points while Federer faltered. The Swiss said later on that he thinks there have been periods where he’s been playing great at the majors, but the 31-year-old is certainly not playing as well as he did in his heyday, which is why he now has gone a year without reaching a Slam final and has only won two tournaments during that stretch.

He then chided the press for saying that he and Nadal would automatically meet in the quarterfinals.

“You guys hyped it up so much, me playing Rafa, and we’re both out,” Federer said. “So there’s a letdown clearly. Maybe it’s also somewhat a bit disrespectful to the other opponents who are in the draw still.  I think it sends a message to [the media] as well that maybe you shouldn’t do that so often next time around.”

Perhaps there is lesson learned in there, but given that the “Big 4” has combined to win 36 of the last 39 Slams and that Federer and Nadal rarely lose early, especially at the same tournament, it was only logical to think that they would meet again.

Even if they were not going to win Wimbledon, no one would have picked two veteran guys like Darcis and Stakhovsky, who haven’t never been relevant in the majors, to pull off stunners such as those.

But then again, would anyone have put money down on trifecta picks of Larcher De Brito, Bouchard and Dolonc over three former No.1’s, or seven retirements/pullouts in one day, or the fact that in both bottom halves of the draw there are only 15 combined seeds out of 32 headed into the third round. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

So when the dust settled after a very exciting and hard to gage day here is what then tournament has on the bottom halves: on the women’s side there certainly is an attractive group of young women left lead by Sloane Stephens, Bouchard and Monica Puig (read here) with former finalist Marion Bartoli and 2011 titlist Kvitova kicking around, but given that none of them have been playing consistent standout ball, chaos could still reign there. On the men’s side, Andy Murray still stands and is a substantial favorite to reach the final again, but there are only three “younger” men with character and game left in Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Benoit Paire.  Nicolas Almagro, who has never been a fan of grass, is also in the mix. Imagine if he reached the semis out of Federer and Nadal’s half.

That would be as whacked as what occurred on Wednesday at Wimbledon, but after such a bizarre day, anything goes for the rest of the fortnight.





Rafa’s worst hour followed by rise of Robson

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WIMBLEDON – Whether his knee was killing him or not, Rafael Nadal’s 7-6(4) 7-6(8) 6-4 defeat to the Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis in the first round was a true shocker. The Spaniard had just come off perhaps his most impressive run ever at Roland Garros ever and as a stunned John Isner said when he found out about the defeat :”He’s been the best player in the world this year, and that’s with missing Australia, too. He’s only lost two matches, right? I don’t care what the surface is, it’ll be a big shocker…So much for that Roger vs. Rafa.”

Yes, so much for that highly anticipated quarterfinal. Nadal would not blame the loss on painful knees and that was a wise choice because Darcis played one of the best matches of his life and while even the Belgian conceded that the Spaniard was not at his best, he certainly had to earn the victory in a tight match and that he did, as he was the more creative and accurate player. Nadal was bit slow, and therefore lacked response time and Darcis kept pushing ahead and ended up making him uncomfortable. Of course Darcis has to be applauded for not letting down toward the end of the second or third set, when the match was essentially won or lost. Even if Nadal was aching, had the Belgian let go of his momentum, he might have grown shaky and handed Nadal the victory. But he did not and in the opinion of one of Nadal’s confidantes, it was better for Rafa to lose in the first round than the second or third, largely because his physical agony would have been extended and could have lead to more time off the tour.

What that contention indicates is that the Spaniard was never going to win the tournament in the first lace, because his body was too beat up to do so.  It is not too forward to venture that sometime in the future Nadal is going to admit that his knees were hurting even at the end of Roland Garros. So for all his success from February through early June, it appears that he has not fully healed and perhaps never will be.

The good news for Nadal fans in North America is that he unequivocally said that he is planning to play the US Open. The bad news is that he may decide to play a tournament on clay after Wimbledon, which very well could take him out of Canada or Cincinnati or both, if he gets hurt there.

Nadal’s most notable quote after the defeat was this one:  “Nobody remember the loses. People remember the victories. And I don’t want to remember that (loss).”

Actually people do remember the losses of he great champions to marginal players. Within minutes after the loss, folks were debating whether it was the biggest upset in the history of Wimbledon. Given that The Championships is still considered to be tennis most valued and important event, that discussion alone shows just how significant the upset was. After bad day for Rafa on court, his reputation took a hit, and his assessment appeared as far off the mark as some of his shanked forehand against Darcis.

Robson comes alive

There wasn’t nearly as much drama on Tuesday, unless you are British and became very pumped up after Laura Robson’s excellent 6-3 6-4 upset of No. 10 Maria Kirilenko. Robson has really stepped up to the occasion in three out of the last four Slams. She clearly likes the big courts in intense atmospheres. Not only that, when she is brimming with self-belief, she can really play. She certainly need to improve her foot speed, balance, court positioning, volley and second serve, but the lefty was cracking first serves against the savvy Kirilenko, dictating with her huge forehand and popping some nice two- handed backhands also. Plus with the pressure on, she easily closed out the final game, which was critical.

So now after a pretty lousy spring, Robson has put herself in a solid position to make second week run. She’ll be substantially favored to take out Mariana Duque in the next round, and at the level she played on Tuesday, will have real chances against Peng Shuai in round three should they met, and even Angie Kerber if she get to the round of 16. How about this tantalizing possibility: a quarterfinal match up against the mighty Serena Williams next Tuesday. Talk about pre match drama—Princess Kate, Prince William,  Pippa and maybe even the queen would be scrambling for Royal Box seats for the that one.

I am writing about the US players for and focused on Madison Keys and Dennis Kudla’s wins today. I looked at Sloane Stephens win over Jamie Hampton yesterday.  There were some disappointing by the defeats US crowd, specifically Sam Querrey going down in five to Bernard Tomic and Kerber’s win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who had a 2-0 record against the German heading into the match.

The upset of the day on the women’s side went to Karolina Pliskova who bested Nadia Petrova 6-3 6-2.  Quality wins were scored by Sabine Lisicki over Francesca Schiavone 6-1 6-2, Elena Vesnina over Andrea Hlavackova 6-2 7-5, Marina Erakovic over Ayumi Morita 4-6 6-0 7-5, and Kimiko Date-Krumm over Carina Witthoeft 6-0 6-2.

As good as Tsvetana Pironkova can be on grass, here’s a result that should make now ex-coach Martina Hingis’ head spin: the Bulgarian beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0 6-1.

But it gets worse: Alexandra Cadantu overcame grass lover Tamira Paszek 6-2 7-5. The Austrian is now 2-15 on the season. But how about this: Arantxa Rus lost a record-breaking 17th consecutive main-draw, tour-level match today

Men’s wins of he day go to: the serve and volleying Feliciano Lopez over Gilles Simon 6-2 6-4 7-6(11); another serve-and-volleyer, Michael Llodra over Jarkko Nieminen 7-6(3) 6-4 6-3; Tomas Berdych over Martin Klizan 6-3 6-4 6-4; Richard Gasquet over Marcel Granollers 6-7(2) 6-4 7-5 6-4; Grigor Dimitrov over Simone Bolelli 6-1 6-4 6-3 and Tommy Haas over Dmitry Tursunov 6-3 7-5 7-5. Juan Martin Del Potro deserves kudos too given his recent long illness and his 6-2 7-5 6-1  win over Albert Ramos.



New (Wimbledon-style) issue of Tennis-Journal out


This time sorry not hardest word: Behind the Serena-Sharapova spat

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Serena: ‘I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry ‘

Williams said she apologized to Maria, but that was 2 days before Sharapova criticized her

By Matt Cronin

WIMBLEDON – What if players existed in a tennis world like many journalists do, where you publish what you mean to say and stand by it through thick and thin. That is not the pro athlete world though, and certainly not all of the tennis world, when statements that are termed “controversial” somehow get turned into eye-popping words that must apologized for.

Some statements like Serena’s Williams ill-advised comments about the Steubenville rape case do immediate demand explanations, but did Serena really have to come out and apologize to Maria Sharapova for telling (at least partly) Rolling Stone that a top-five player now allegedly in love “begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Clearly, she and Sharapova are far from friends, even if they respect each other on court. So that Serena said those statements to Venus on the phone and the Rolling Stone writer decided to publish them is only a big deal because it got out in public. Highly opinionated players have opinions about lots of things, including other players, it’s just that many of those opinions do not reach the public’s ears.

Is this about Dimitrov, tennis or something else?

Serena is super competitive with other high-profile women players, be it Sharapova, or Victoria Azarenka, or now Sloane Stephens. That’s how she is. Even at 31, she’s still to some degree the baby sister of her family and does not like to get upstaged. Serena and Sharapova have a young man in common now, the charming Grigor Dimitrov, whom Sharapova is now dating and Serena once had a some kind of relationship with, whether it was just a friendship, or something more involved. When Serena was hanging around with Dimitrov, he was still being coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, who is now Serena’s coach and by all indications, her boyfriend.

Right around the time that Dimitrov left Mouratoglou and hired Magus Norman’s Swedish team, he began dating Sharapova. Is that why Serena’s allegedly tagged him as having a black heart, because he’s now dating her rival, or is it because something else occurred in their relationship prior to that? That’s unclear for now but if Serena wants to call her [or possibly Azarenka] boring, or say that they both have bad taste in men, so what? Serena has chided herself about having bad taste in men. People everywhere say that type of thing everyday, so why such a hullabaloo? I’ll tell you why: because they are the two highest profile women athletes in the world and when they mix it up, it’s news. It’s Connors vs. McEnroe all over again, but this time in skirts.

“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court,” Sharapova said. “I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy. If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova said.  “Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”

Sharapova clearly thinks at least a couple of those comments were directed at her, but sources also say that Azarenka thinks one or two of them might have been directed at her, which would make sense given that the “she’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties” comment doesn’t seem to fit with Sharapova, who does get invited to cool parties, but more to Azarenka, who has been dating the pop star Redfoo but still is not yet as famous as Serena or Sharapova, so getting invited to A-List parties still might be a challenge for her, whether she cares to go or not.

But is that comment really scandalous or over the top? Not so much, but what it does do is add spice to their rivalries and there is nothing wrong with competitors having digs at each other, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited. Serena’s comment about the woman wanting to be with a guy with a black heart and Sharapova’s about being with a man with kids getting divorced both qualify as below the belt, so perhaps apologies are in order for both. Serena approached  Sharapova at the Wimbledon player party on Thursday.

Serena’s apology

“I feel like Maria, unfortunately, was inadvertently brought into a situation she should have never been brought into,” said Serena. “I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.”

In that discussion, Serena was said to have told Sharapova that she didn’t remember which player she was talking about during the interview. So while she apologized for the article having drawn Sharapova into the discussion, she allegedly did not cop to saying it about Sharapova to Sharapova’s face at the party, which is why Sharapova had little trouble publicly going at Serena two days later in her press conference.

But Serena said that she is taking full responsibility for what she said and is willing to admit a wrong, even though there have been occasions in her career (i.e. her two US Open meltdowns) where she refused to say that she was sorry.

“I’m the first person to apologize,” said Williams, who also apologized for making Steubenville comments without having her facts lined up.  “I’m the first person to reach out to individuals and people if I feel that something may have hurt them or something may have been misconstrued. That’s another reason why, being a woman, I wanted to reach out to [Sharapova] and say, ‘Look, this is this, this is this, sorry…. Well, we always have great conversations, so I believe that she definitely did accept [my apology].”

It appears that Sharapova did not on Saturday, but maybe when she reads  Williams’ comments on Monday before or after her match, she will.

Taking big shots

One of the key things to understand about Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka is that regardless as how much certain people want to handle them and soften their image, if they feel strongly about something, eventually they  are just going to say it and damn the consequences. They don’t want to be filtered. They are not afraid to go for big shots on court or off. I like that quality in all of them, even if on occasion they put their feet in their mouths. People do that all the time, even tennis journalists.

Serena mentioned that because she is largely covered by the tennis media and has a good relationships with many of them, and that she didn’t anticipate that some of the things she said around the Rolling Stone reporter would be used. She should know better and admitted as much. But let’s hope that in a sport that some officials seek to sterilize to the point of boring fans to tears, that she stays the real and uncut Serena Williams. The same with Sharapova, Azarenka and every other  player who isn’t afraid to tell the world what they think and stand by it.

“I’ve been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world,” Serena said.  “I’m used to dealing with professional reporters. I have people come to my home.  I have great conversations. I’m used to dealing with these people not writing or commenting on a private conversation that I may have or kind of listening in or eavesdropping and then reporting on it.  You guys have completely spoiled me.  With that being said, I’ve been in the business for a little over 200 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better.”

Wimbledon Women: Drawn and Quartered


Serena is going for title No. 6

Serena has only lost five matches in 2012

Exactly who is prepared to take down five-time champion Serena Williams now that the one woman did on a couple of occasions on grass, her five-time champion sister Venus, is out of the draw? Perhaps No. 3 Maria Sharapova as at least she played her tough in the Roland Garros final? Maybe No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who bested her the last time they faced off on a fast surface? The 2011 champ Petra Kvitova, if she can shake herself out of her slump? By all indications Serena will waltz to her sixth title, but for the sake of the fans, it would be nice to have at least a little on court drama and a few thrillers to boot.


Serena’s draw is actually not that simple; she should crush Mandy Minella in the first round, but then could face former semifinalist Zheng Jie in the second round, who nearly took her down at the AELTC last year. She should waltz past Tamira Paszek should the Austrian get to R3. But in the fourth round, she could face trouble from the service bombing Sabine Lisicki, who upset Sharapova last year, Elena Vesnina, who won in Eastbourne final, and Samantha Stosur, who has never taken to the grass but has beaten Williams with her heavy kick serve. Williams’ quarterfinal fore could be tricky too as lefty Angie Kerber has scored a win over her, but that’s provided that Kerber can find away past Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round, who is powerful and on a roll. Maria Kirilenko and Laura Robson, who meet in the first round, have quarterfinal shots, too.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Robson vs. Kirilenko. If the very smart Russian schools the British teen here,  it could throw off the rest of the 19-year-old’s season.


Aga Radwanska, the 2012 finalist , has to be pleased with her negotiable draw. She’s been a bit up and down this year, but has gone more or less where she was expected to at the previous two Slams. Her third round could be troublesome as big hitters Mona Barthel and Madison Keys could be there, but she has too much experience for both. Nadia Petrova could take her down on a great serving day in R4, but it’s hard to see Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova doing so, even if the Russian gets past grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round. We all saw how Li Na handled Radwanska in Australia, but the Chinese is going to have to play excellent ball to get there. She opens against Michaela Krajicek, who has done well on the lawns before, could play the red-hot Simona Halep, possibly Birmingham champ Daniela Hantuchova and. in R4, may to get past the nuclear striking Domi Cibulkova or Italian Roberta Vinci, who loves to carve foes up on the turf.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Keys vs. Britain’s Heather Watson, pitting Britain’s future against America’s.


Sharapova opens against the tall and improving Kristina Mladenovic of France, but she has too much experience for the young Frenchwoman. She might face faces a small roadblock in Melanie Oudin in the second round and could be troubled by either Lucie Safarova or Lucie Hradecka in the third round. But with the way that Marion Bartoli has been playing, Sharapova has to be pleased that the Frenchwoman could be her seeded R4 foe.

Whomever comes out of the other segment to face Sharapova in the quarters will have earned it as a host of talented players are there: Sara Errani, Caro Wozniacki, Varvara Lepchenko, 16-year-old Donna Vekic, as well as Sloane Stephens and Jaime Hampton, two US players with second-week potential who will meet in the first round. If its one of the youngsters who goes up against Sharapova, they have to be very wary because she loves to munch on the kids.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Stephens vs. Hampton in an intense match-up that has already likely occurred on back court during USTA Player Development training sessions.


Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Azarenka face off against Kvitova again, since the two rivals haven’t faced off since 2011, one of those victories coming for Kvitova in three sets in the Wimbledon semis? Azarenka should have little trouble getting to the fourth round, as while Alize Cornet played her tough in Paris, should they meet in the third round on grass, the Belarusian has too much firepower for her. Azarenka’s fourth round could be interesting though with the net loving Kirsten Flipkens, a candidate to be there, as well as the tried-and-true veteran Jelena Jankovic.

Kvitova opens again the big-serving Coco Vandeweghe, and could severely tested in the third round by Ekaterina Makarova, should the Russian keep her head in the match. Carla Suarez, Ana Ivanovic or even 2012 Wimbledon Girls champ Genie Bouchard could be the Czech’s fourth round foe, but in all likelihood, if she doesn’t become distracted, Kvitova will face off against Azarenka in a delicious quarterfinal.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Flipkens against the sometimes overly enthusiastic Yulia Putintseva.


Wimbledon Men: Drawn and Quartered

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Roger is going for a record 8th title.


Ready for another vintage clash between old rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Wimbledon? Do you mind that this time it will likely be in the quarterfinals and not in the final?

That was the result of David Ferrer’s ascension to No. 4 in the rankings with his appearance in the Roland Garros final and Nadal consequently falling to No. 5.  The left-hander landed in defending champion  Federer’s quarter and No. 2 Andy Murray’s half. No. 1 Novak Djokovic has the pleasure of not having to face any the member of the Big 4 until at least the final. Nadal and Federer might have to beat every other member to win the crown. Murray may have to best two and Ferrer once again leads a very wide open quarter as grass is not his surface.


Even though 2011 champ Djokovic is the favorite to reach another final, that doesn’t mean his draw is simple. He begins against the capable Florian Mayer, could face the on-rushing Steve Johnson in the second round, possibly Jeremy Chardy or Ryan Harrison in the R3 and then the very good grass court player Tommy Haas in R4, who could certainly upset the Serbian on a great day. But Haas might have to face Feliciano Lopez or Gilles Simon, who are not only contesting the final of Eastbourne but are paired against each other the first round of the Big W. That rarely occurs. The quarterfinals could bring Tomas Berdych or Richard Gasquet, or perhaps Kevin Anderson or Sam Querrey. The thought here is that it will be former finalist Berdych who will give Djokovic a bit more than he can handle.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: The unassuming Querrey vs. the talented yet troubled Bernard Tomic.


Ferrer could have a much more difficult draw, but he’s still no lock to get the quarters, depending on some seeded questions marks. The first seeded man who might give his trouble is Alex Dolgopolov in the R3, and he can mix it up on the surface, but he’s been very inconsistent. The fourth round could bring the service bomber Milos Raonic, but he’s been off his game too, or possibly Philip Kohlschreiber, who like Dolgopolov is up and down. So really, Ferrer should be able to reach the quarters and that’s where he could meet his maker in the form of Juan Martin del Potro, and that’s if the Argentine is healthy enough to be able to do damage over the long haul in three out of five set matches coming off the long illness that he had. Perhaps Grigor Dimitrov will finally shine at a Slam and upset Del Potro in R3 and then go on to best Ferrer.  Or maybe Kei Nishikori will do the same. Imagine this: there could actually be an unseeded semifinalist, something that’s been nearly unheard of since the Slams went to 32 seeds. Michael Llodra, anyone?


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Raonic versus the big hitting Argentine Carlos Berlocq, as it will be interesting to see if Raonic’s new coach Ivan Ljubicic can help calm the Canadian’s first round Slam jitters.


Federer will open his campaign against Victor Hanescu, a foe he should easily be able to handle.  The same goes for the rest of his draw until the quarters: Fabio Fognini is the first seed he’d play in R3 and there are few circumstances in which the Italian can  hang with the great Swiss on grass. Maybe 24th seed Jerzy Janowicz can serve bombs and hurt him, but Federer has faced plenty of huge servers before at Wimbledon and has a lot of success, so that upset is unlikely to happen, too.

Nadal’s draw is a bit more funky; he begins against  Steve Darcis, which should be a walk in the park, but then he could face the talented Benoit Paire in R3 and possibly John Isner,  Lleyton Hewitt or Stan Wawrinka in the R4. Of the three, Isner is really the only one who might have the weapons to upend Nadal, meaning a huge untouchable serve, but the American has to get there first and he still isn’t very comfortable on grass.  Federer and Nadal should meet again and the result will likely be the same from the last time they met here: a win for the Spaniard.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: The combustible Janowicz versus British teen hopeful Kyle Edmund. Royal ears may get chaffed.


After reaching last year’s final, winning Olympic gold at the All England Club and then his first Slam at the US Open, No. 2 Murray will be expected to win the crown this year.  He has quite a nice draw up until  the quarters, beginning against Benjamin Becker, maybe having to face fellow Briton James Ward in the second round, Tommy Robredo in R3 and then either Mikhail Youzhny or Janko Tipsarevic in R4. It sounds like pretty easy pickings until the quarters, when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga might await and he certainly has the grass court weapons to down Murray. But the Frenchman might have to get past Marin Cilic in the fourth round, no easy task.


FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Janko Tipsarevic meeting his Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki.