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Rafael Nadal - 2011 US Open - Day 5

Nalbandian vs. Nadal:  Splitting his four previous meetings with the Argentine, Nadal has lost at least one set to him in each of their encounters.  After Nalbandian overwhelmed him at two indoor events in 2007, Rafa rallied from one-set deficits against him at the North American Masters tournaments more recently.  Even in his decline, therefore, the former Wimbledon finalist continues to threaten the far superior Spaniard with a two-handed backhand pounded into the forehand corner towards which Nadal moves less naturally.  Already ill at ease since losing the Wimbledon final, the world #2 lost his serve six times in his opener and escaped a four- or five-setter largely through the profligacy of an erratic opponent.  Similar generosity may flow from the racket of Nalbandian, who has struggled with injuries and overall fitness throughout a career beset by questions concerning his commitment.  By reaching the third round with a four-set triumph over Ljubicic, however, he has demonstrated his most compelling form of the season so far.  Inclined to waxing as the season wanes, the Argentine has feasted before on opponents weary from first-half successes.  Since he wins relatively few free points on his serve, one struggles to imagine him winning this match, and the early start time may find him sluggish.  But a test of Nadal’s confidence will loom if Nalbandian can assert himself immediately as he has without fail in each of their earlier collisions.

Roddick vs. Benneteau:  Amidst a formidable year for French tennis, this doubles specialist with a brisk down-the-line backhand and superb net skills has lain relatively dormant.  Shouldering a losing record in 2011 before the US Open began, Benneteau won renown by defeating Federer at the Paris Indoors two years ago and then holding a match point against Nadal less than a year later.  At first glance, Roddick’s much steadier game would seem to offer him few loopholes, yet the Frenchman’s doubles prowess should allow him to unleash some cleverly angled reflex returns.  In order to silence the American crowd, meanwhile, Benneteau should focus on projecting positive energy and pulling the trigger early in rallies.  Roddick’s strange mixture of explosive serves and passive groundstrokes will allow him to outlast the impulsive French shot-maker in most neutral points.  Unimpressive in his first match, the 2003 champion rose in intensity during a potentially dangerous second-round encounter with the intriguing Jack Sock.  Having played night sessions in each of his previous two rounds, how will Roddick adjust to daytime conditions?  Since both players venture to the net more frequently than their average ATP peers, entertaining cat-and-mouse exchanges might unfold in addition to some vintage serve-volley and chip-charge tactics.

Lopez vs. Murray:  Conquering the third-ranked Spanish lefty with ease at Wimbledon, Murray has won 11 of the 12 sets that they have played.  Lopez’s net-rushing style plays into the hands of the fourth seed’s key strengths, return and passing shots, while his wayward backhand offers an obvious target for the intelligent Scotsman to strike.  Content to rally from the baseline until the Spaniard concedes an error, Murray should not need to leave his comfort zone unless his opponent delivers well-placed first serves at key moments.  Nevertheless, Lopez has played some of his more impressive tennis this year, ranging from that Wimbledon quarterfinal to a heroic victory over Fish in Davis Cup on a fast hard court.  Unlike most Spaniards, this lefty has scored greater exploits on grass and hard courts than on clay.  Thrust into a two-set deficit against Haase in the third round, Murray regrouped on that occasion to outmaneuver in an opponent with more potent weapons but a far less complete game.  The heavy ball-striking of Cilic and Wawrinka ended his last two US Opens at this stage, while Lopez should shine under the lights of Arthur Ashe as he did during a scintillating four-setter against Federer four Opens ago.  If Murray stays alert and showcases his characteristically crisp timing on his groundstrokes, though, he should suffer less suspense than in his previous round.  A trend throughout this tournament, the mundane men’s matches on Arthur Ashe may continue into the second week.

Sabine Lisicki - 2011 US Open - Day 2

Lisicki vs. Zvonareva:  For the third time this year and for the second straight US Open, the top-ranked Russian faces the WTA’s heaviest serve outside Serena.  Overwhelming when she finds corners and lines with her first serve, Lisicki becomes vulnerable when forced to resort to her unremarkable second delivery.  In edgy three-set victories at Roland Garros and San Diego, Zvonareva capitalized opportunistically whenever the German’s first-serve percentage sagged, while her consistency allowed her to capture the majority of the extended rallies.  In the effort to exert ever more first-strike power, Lisicki donated too many double faults and return errors late in those losses, so she should seek to lean slightly further towards the side of restraint on this occasion.  Illustrated by her struggles against Stosur, Zvonareva often has faltered both physically and mentally against players who can hold serve more easily than she can.  A tepid 2011 campaign has witnessed an occasional highlight but few sequences of sustained brilliance, whereas Lisicki has suffered only one serious stutter (Cincinnati) since exploding into relevance in the grass season.  Tilted in the Russian’s favor, though, is the late-night atmosphere in which they will battle.  Zvonareva has played many more night matches in her career and should profit from the experience of playing in their distinctive atmosphere.  Favored to reach the final is the winner of this match, ready to exploit a decimated half of the draw without any Slam champions or former #1s.

Peng vs. Pennetta:  In a quarter that will produce a first-time Slam semifinalist, Peng seems the most plausible candidate.  Pressing towards the threshold of the top 10, this understated double-fister displayed her compact strokes and competitive resilience in a tight two-set victory over the far more powerful Goerges.  Similarly streamlined in playing style if not in emotions, Pennetta capitalized upon a fallible Russian here for the second time in three years by upsetting trendy finalist choice Sharapova.  The tempestuous Italian rarely thrills with her shot-making talents or hustles opponents off the court, but she rarely succumbs without a creditable effort.  Adding interest to this encounter is the fact that one could say the same about Peng.  When steady meets steady, who will stay steadier?  Probably fatigued by her elating but draining victory over Sharapova, Pennetta may descend from that emotional height into a flat, unfocused performance.  One wonders whether the inviting prospect of a quarterfinal against Niculescu or Kerber will infuse the competitors with additional motivation or weigh upon them as an additional burden.

Del Potro vs. Simon:  At Wimbledon this year and the US Open three years ago, they engaged in nine total sets of grinding baseline rallies.  Equally assured with both groundstrokes, the Argentine and the Frenchman shine on a surface that rewards their symmetrical games.  Although Del Potro can flatten his forehand into instantly terminal strikes, Simon’s agile movement has dragged the Tower of Tandil into longer exchanges.  In contrast, Gilles lacks the power to end points without first constructing them, but he can generate surprising depth of shot from his abbreviated swings.  A prominent weapon in Del Potro’s arsenal, the serve has played an underestimated role in Simon’s successes, but both men have experienced chronic lapses into double faults.  Whereas the Argentine has advanced comfortably to this stage, the Frenchman dropped three sets in his first two matches to unremarkable opponents.  Can Simon halt the nine-match US Open winning streak of the 2009 champion?  In order to sustain the necessary level, he must focus on redirecting the ball to keep the gawky Del Potro off balance, not an easy task against a player who moves more crisply than most of the ATP giants.  Covering the baseline with a few vast strides, the Argentine does not move forward as effectively.  But luring opponents towards the net does not conform to Simon’s strengths either, so this contest will rest in Del Potro’s hands as a test of whether he can consistently execute his offensive combinations.

Andy Murray - The Championships - Wimbledon 2011: Day Five

Murray vs. Gasquet:  If history offers a reliable guide, this opening clash of Centre Court’s second week should tie Judy Murray’s stomach into knots.  At two previous majors, Gasquet led the British home hope by two sets to none before the latter turned the tide at the eleventh hour.  One of the signature moments in Murray’s early career, his five-set victory over the Frenchman at Wimbledon 2008 revealed a fiery competitor behind his sometimes dour façade.  Gasquet has arrived at the second week of consecutive majors for the first time in three years and has not reached a Slam quarterfinal since this tournament four years ago.  Noted for breathtaking grace, timing, and spontaneity, his effortlessly fluid brand of tennis contrasts with Murray’s more mechanized, functional style.  Despite his lack of overwhelming first-strike power, Gasquet has delivered many of his finest performances on grass, but the Scot also habitually rises to the occasion on the shoulders of his enraptured compatriots.  Through the first week, the Frenchman has sparkled more brightly than Murray, who nearly entered a fifth set against the aging Ljubicic.  If the fourth seed can weather Gasquet’s sporadic barrages of inspired shot-making, though, the best-of-five format should assist him in outlasting an opponent with inferior stamina on both physical and emotional levels.  Still struggling to convince himself that he can challenge the elite, the Frenchman defeated an erratic Federer in Rome but mustered scant resistance to Djokovic at Indian Wells or Roland Garros.

V. Williams vs. Pironkova:  Expected to meet Jankovic in the third round, the elder Williams faced Martinez Sanchez.  Projected to intersect with Zvonareva on the second Monday, she instead eyes the player who expelled her from Wimbledon last year.  After a narrow escape from Date-Krumm, Venus returned in the third round to the confident ball-striking of her opener.  Yet Pironkova has troubled her on more than one prior occasion, forcing her deep into the third set at an Australian Open. The reserved Bulgarian seems an improbable nemesis for Venus, considering her average serve and generally unremarkable groundstroke offense.  On grass, furthermore, the court coverage that assists her on slower surfaces should prove a less notable asset.  Startlingly emphatic was Pironkova’s victory over Venus on these lawns last year, however, and she upset the second-seeded Zvonareva a round ago in equally routine fashion.  Certain players do establish special, rationally inexplicable zones of comfort at specific tournament, as Venus herself could attest.  Even if she struggled at other tournaments throughout the calendar, the five-time champion always could expect to produce a memorable fortnight at Wimbledon.  After Pironkova denied those expectations last year, Venus surely will bring an additional level of focus to the sequel.

Nadal vs. Del Potro:  Until the former US Open champion completes his inexorable rise towards the top 10, contenders will face a towering challenge earlier than they would have preferred.  After the duty of defusing Del Potro fell to Djokovic at Roland Garros, Nadal earned the least enviable pre-quarterfinal assignment at Wimbledon.  Although he defeated the Argentine at Indian Wells this year, that semifinal offered more compelling tennis than the scoreline suggested.  Still relatively early in his return, Del Potro already has defeated worthy opponents including Soderling and Verdasco as he regains the confidence to swing freely on his nearly unanswerable forehand.  Specializing in finding answers for the unanswerable, Nadal eked out two tiebreaks against Muller’s veering lefty serve to reach the second week at Wimbledon without losing a set for the first time.  While that match will have prepared the Spaniard for blunting the Argentine’s imposing delivery, Rafa may find his opponent’s baseline arsenal a sterner test.  Court positioning early in points should prove vital for both players and especially Del Potro, as Nadal attempts to restrain him from stepping inside the court to launch his forehands at penetrating angles.  After an indifferent serving performance at Roland Garros, the top seed elevated his serve during the first week to a weapon that won him several key points outright.  Perhaps drained by extended encounters in the first week, Del Potro must assert himself in the initial stages to open a crack in Nadal’s confidence.  Always uncomfortable against the ATP’s towers of power, the Spaniard has scored recent successes in that category that may help maintain his calm under pressure.

Bartoli vs. S. Williams:  Still scorching as spring turns to summer, the top-ranked Frenchwoman charged from a Roland Garros semifinal to the Eastbourne title and now aims for a quarterfinal at the major where she broke through four years ago.  On that occasion, Bartoli defeated reigning #1 Justine Henin in one of Wimbledon’s more spectacular upsets before falling uneventfully to Venus in the final.  Although she since avenged that loss, the idiosyncratic double-fister always confronts a severe obstacle when facing the Williams sisters:  the discrepancy between their serves.  Bartoli has improved that most unorthodox component of her unorthodox repertoire, but it remains a shot that can donate strings of double faults at awkward moments.  By contrast, Serena has relied heavily on her serve to survive tense situations, although it lately has not approached the heights of her past two Wimbledons.  Having met the Frenchwoman only once in the last seven years, the younger Williams will need to reacquaint herself with the distinctive combinations created by Bartoli.  Since both players punish second serves with ferocious returns, first-serve percentage may hold the key to victory for either woman.  After a pair of edgy victories in the first two rounds, Serena eased into the second week with a dominant performance.  Meanwhile, Bartoli’s momentum appeared to have slowed when she saved match points in the second round and then endured a marathon against the floundering Pennetta.

Maria Sharapova - The Championships - Wimbledon 2011: Day Six

Sharapova vs. Peng:  Perched in the top 20 and still climbing, the second-ranked Chinese star has unfolded a season more consistent albeit less spectacular than the exploits of her countrywoman.  After she toppled Sharapova in Beijing two years ago, Peng extended her to three sets at Indian Wells this year.  At the root of that unsightly rollercoaster lay the Russian’s erratic serving, exacerbated by the wind and an apparent lack of focus.  From Sharapova’s spring successes have flowed renewed focus that has translated to her serve, still subject to occasional wobbles but vastly improved from its waywardness throughout much of her comeback.  A resilient counterpuncher with a talent for redirecting the ball, Peng does not shrink from powerful opponents and can trade flat, deep lasers with anyone from behind the baseline.  Less impressive than her groundstrokes is her serve, into which Sharapova can sink her teeth at will.  Not especially sharp in the third round, Maria will seek to improve her timing and shot selection as she enters the second week, recognizing opportunities to finish points without rushing to end them prematurely.   In that balance lies the key to unlocking her first Wimbledon quarterfinal berth since 2006.

Fish vs. Berdych:  Justifying his elevated seeding, the top-ranked American man edged through his first three matches with little fanfare against unheralded opposition.  Almost as unnoticed amidst the scrutiny surrounding the top four is last year’s finalist, who has accomplished little of note since that time.  After imploding in his Roland Garros opener, Berdych has delivered a series of considerably more composed performances despite the pressure of defending his 2010 result.  In a match that opposes two thunderous serves, one expects few extended rallies or closely contested service games.  Neither player should gain frequent opportunities to break, so a tiebreak or two looks probable.  If Berdych can orient the rallies from forehand to forehand, he should break down Fish’s less technically reliable wing.  If the American can target the Czech’s vulnerable backhand with his own brisk two-hander, conversely, he could score the mini-upset.  His rise in the rankings notwithstanding, Fish has not yet scored a resounding statement win this year outside his Miami victory over Del Potro.  On the other hand, neither has Berdych.

Petrova vs. Azarenka:  Vertigo and other physical woes behind her, the 29-year-old Muscovite mounted an encouraging charge to the second week that included a victory over compatriot Pavlyuchenkova, a decade younger than her.  Opposing another youthful ball-bruiser in Azarenka, Petrova will hope to rely on her  superior forecourt play and much superior serving to overcome an adversary with a greater array of weapons at her disposal.  Both players will recognize the significance of this situation, for a highly winnable quarterfinal against Paszek or Pervak awaits the survivor.  Ruffled by Hantuchova for much of two sets, Azarenka appeared to refocus during the rain delay.  No less important for Petrova is the psychological dimension, since she bears the scars of multiple disappointments at majors and probably has underachieved considering her talents.  At this stage, though, greater pressure probably weighs upon the Belarussian, whose narrative remains unwritten and her potential untapped.  Which of these volatile Russian-speaking women can restrain their inflammable temper more successfully?

Ferrer vs. Tsonga:  Like his compatriot Gasquet, this Frenchman revels in flamboyant bursts of inspiration and can hit any shot from anywhere on the court to anywhere else the court.  His talents shone at their most brilliant during a comprehensive victory over Gonzalez but often can flicker from one round to the next.  Reaching the second week on his least comfortable surface, Ferrer fell to the similarly flamboyant Monfils at Roland Garros.  In a five-setter that stretched across two days, he required all of his veteran wiles to outlast burgeoning American Ryan Harrison.  While the grass exposes his serve and meager first-strike capacity, the Spaniard’s compact strokes and crisp footwork represent less obvious advantages.  Pitted against Soderling in the same round last year, Ferrer caused the mighty Swede far more exertion than one might have envisioned considering the fast court.  When the Frenchman approaches the net, the Spaniard’s expertly placed passing shots should challenge his volleying skills.  If Tsonga retains the rhythm on his first serve that he found against Gonzalez, however, even the seventh seed’s scintillating return should inflict few dents upon his service games, leaving him free to concentrate upon breaking his opponent’s more pedestrian delivery.

Victoria Azarenka - 2011 French Open - Day Three

Vinci vs. Azarenka:  Crisp and commanding in her first two matches, the world #4 has established herself as a leading contender in a draw devoid of the top two seeds.  Able to slide smoothly from defense to offense, Azarenka wields a combination of movement and power designed to succeed on the clay where she has reached two finals this year.  Nevertheless, retirements and tantrums have caused many to question her future promise, for she may not withstand their burdens created by a fortnight of intensifying pressure.  Testing Azarenka psychologically more than physically is her third-round opponent, a crafty Italian veteran who has unraveled powerful ball-strikers such as Kuznetsova and Ivanovic.  A champion in Barcelona, Vinci compensates for her lack of an offensive weapon with a variety of spins and slices that disrupt an opponent’s rhythm while allowing her to restart rallies.  Azarenka generally displays the intelligent shot selection essential to outlasting the Italian, but she also must show more patience than she often does.  Long armed with the game of a champion, does she have the mind of a champion as well?

Fish vs. Simon:  Hooked by Fish when they met on hard courts last summer, Simon may find the momentum swinging towards him on a surface vastly different from Cincinnati.  Preferring the faster surfaces as well, the top half’s only surviving Frenchman has acquitted himself creditably during the clay season but has not won more than two matches at any of his last five tournaments.  In order to halt that trend, Gilles will hope to extend the American into court-stretching rallies that enable him to outmaneuver Fish along the baseline.  Although both players can generate ample offense from their forehands, their brisk two-handers stay more technically reliable.  The last surviving American in either draw, Fish will rely upon his improved fitness to construct points carefully against an opponent who punishes the impetuous.  He remains the more natural aggressor of this pair, on the other hand, and must not allow Simon to lull him into a war of attrition from the baseline.

Maria Sharapova - 2011 French Open - Day Five

Sharapova vs. Chan:  From an early stroll along the precipice can emerge one of two divergent trajectories for a player’s future in the tournament.  Like Nadal, Sharapova hopes that her flirtation with danger against Garcia does not foretell an early exit against an unheralded upstart but rather propels her forward with the momentum of a warrior offered a second life.  The WTA Valkyrie next crosses swords with Yung-Jan Chan, who fell to her routinely in Miami and Wimbledon four years ago.  In contrast to Garcia’s fearless assault, the Chinese doubles star focuses on executing the fundamentals as meticulously as possible.  During a qualifying match in Indian Wells this spring, for (an extreme) example, she struck 54 consecutive first serves.  Her stingy tactics force opponents to earn their victories over her by hitting their targets consistently, but Sharapova always has relished the opportunity to grasp her fate in her own hands.  If the wind whirls around Chatrier again, her ball toss  could falter and her confidence wane.  But Maria’s escape from adverse conditions and an inspired foe on Thursday should have hardened her determination for the challenges ahead.

Wickmayer vs. Radwanska:  Just a few months older than her opponent, Radwanska has crossed the threshold from promising upstart to established competitor, whereas Wickmayer remains in the former category.  Despite occasionally experimenting with amplified offense, the Pole has settled into a counterpunching mold that proves adequate against most WTA journeywomen while stalling her progress around the fringe of the top 10.  Even if she never joins the circle of Slam contenders, though, Radwanska should penetrate into many second weeks.  In the fraught Fed Cup epic that they contested last year, Wickmayer ground down her defenses by the narrowest of margins, buttressed by a significantly superior serve.  The heiress to the kingdom of Henin and Clijsters plays less like either of them than like Stosur or Kuznetsova, showcasing less grace than rugged athleticism and shielding her average movement with potent serve-forehand gambits.  While Radwanska illustrates the mental dimension of this Janus-faced sport, therefore, Wickmayer evokes its equally central physicality.

Dolgopolov vs. Troicki:  During one span earlier this year, the second Serb had lost only to the eventual champion in six of seven tournaments.  Perhaps disheartened by his unkind draws, Troicki has fallen to unremarkable opponents like Starace, Granollers, and Florian Mayer more recently.  Much more at home on hard courts than clay, he can seize control of rallies with either groundstroke but succumbs too swiftly to pessimism.  Clay can unlock those emotions more easily, but Dolgopolov can frustrate opponents on any surface with his lithe court coverage, uncanny timing, and knack for executing implausible shots under pressure.  In stark contrast are their distinctive service motions—the Serb’s a jerky sequence of starts and stops, the Ukrainian’s a smooth, loose-limbed curl.  A quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, Dolgopolov has cultivated an insouciant swagger that belies his sub-20 ranking.  Keenly aware of his surroundings on most occasions, Troicki conversely has allowed tension to undermine him in proportion to the magnitude of the moment.  When they met in New Haven last summer, they collaborated on a pair of energetic tiebreak sets before the Ukrainian faded in the third.  Although a chronic illness never lurks far away, Dolgopolov has improved his stamina this season and demonstrated his ability to win five-setters in Australia.

Petkovic vs. Gajdosova:  In the first round of Roland Garros 2007, the heavy-hitting German overcame the heavy-hitting Slovak when both lay well outside the top 50.  As Petkovic nears the top 10 and Gajdosova the top 25, their encounter has shifted to the middle weekend.  In each of the two previous French Opens, a player who mingled thunderous offense with meager defense reached the second week (first Cirstea and then Shvedova).  Perhaps taking confidence from those examples, Gajdosova represents the counterintuitive type of player who can shine on the clay, the ball-bruiser who can penetrate the slow court with her groundstrokes while enjoying the additional time to set her feet.  Soderling turned this formula into consecutive finals here in 2009-10, although none should confuse the Swede with the Aussie.  Also a player who prefers to deliver rather than receive blows, Petkovic can modulate into a serviceable defense more comfortably but will win few points when pressed behind the baseline.  In a WTA without conventional clay specialists, this secondary style of clay tennis may portend a trend for future French Opens.

Well worth the wait caused by an odd bit of court maintenance, the third-round collision between Sharapova and Julia Goerges featured breathlessly paced rallies punctuated by chillingly bold shot-making.  After the German matched her winner for winner through the first two sets, the Russian’s experience shone through early in the final set as a fatal lull doomed the challenger’s chances.  Curbing one last charge by Goerges, Sharapova unleashed a match-ending ace to conclude her most impressive and complete performance in Melbourne so far.  When she faces a second straight German on Sunday, however, she should aim to elevate her first-serve percentage and find greater depth on her groundstrokes in the early stages.  Whereas Goerges wreaked more damage with her backhand, Petkovic relies upon her forehand to control rallies in addition to a serve as imposing as her compatriot’s delivery.  The calm evening conditions on Rod Laver Arena should benefit Sharapova’s precision-centered game while allowing her to control her towering ball toss more effectively.  Since neither player has developed excellent footwork, the slightly slower court at night will provide each of them with greater time to prepare their baseline lasers—and also offer the opponent more time to retrieve them.  Affectionately nicknamed “Petkorazzi,” the charismatic German should relish the dramatic atmosphere of the evening session.  Yet Sharapova has dazzled under the lights in Melbourne and elsewhere, surely infusing her with confidence as she seeks her first Slam quarterfinal since Roland Garros 2009.

Li vs. Azarenka:  Perhaps the highest-quality encounter of the day, this duel opposes two of the WTA’s finest backhands and grittiest competitors.  Undefeated this season, Li conquered the emerging Kuznetsova in Sydney before rallying from a vast deficit against Clijsters in the final.  The Chinese superstar now can envision a second straight semifinal at the Australian Open after extending her scintillating form through a routine first week.  But the competition now rises sharply with a ball-bruising Belarussian who has taken at least one set from Li in all three of their meetings.  Armed with a slightly more imposing serve than Azarenka, the Sydney champion should find more chances to seize control of rallies from the outset while attacking her opponent’s benign second ball.   An often smarter albeit less imaginative shotmaker, the eighth seed can rely upon her explosive movement to transition from defense to offense with penetrating groundstrokes on both wings.  Both more comfortable at the baseline than in the forecourt, Li and Azarenka excel at redirecting the ball with early contact.  We expect repeated service breaks, multiple momentum shifts, and a match won by the player who displays greater composure late in sets.  May the better backhand prevail.

Roddick vs. Wawrinka:  Unfortunate to find himself in the same quarter with Federer, the American perhaps can extract hope from Kuznetsova’s improbable victory over Henin if he should collide with his tormentor for the 23rd time.  Before he reaches that stage, however, Roddick must overcome the Swiss legend’s understudy and one of the four ATP players to remain undefeated this season.  Ousting Monfils with minimal ado, Wawrinka crushed Berdych in Chennai two weeks ago amid a surge in self-belief that began at the US Open.  One can discard all of the Swiss #2’s previous meetings with Roddick, two of which ended with the latter’s retirement and the third of which came on a slick indoor surface in Davis Cup.  Uneasy early in his third-round encounter with the loose-limbed Robin Haase, the 2003 US Open champion wandered within a tiebreak of a two-set deficit and owed his escape in large part to the Dutchman’s profligacy.  Unlikely to receive such assistance from this fit, focused foe, Roddick must seek to open the match more emphatically if he wishes to avoid a grinding war of attrition.  Unless the American struggles with his first-serve percentage, however, his consistency should enable him to outlast an opponent who lacks the electric forehand to regularly hit through him from the baseline.

Kuznetsova vs. Schiavone:  Sharing the last two Roland Garros titles, the Russian and the Italian have met more times than the latter would prefer.  Although she won two of their last three meetings, Schiavone has dropped all six of their hard courts while winning just a solitary set.  Meanwhile, Kuznetsova raised many eyebrows including her own with an excruciatingly tense victory over Henin.  Far from masterful when victory drew near, the two-time Slam champion might gain even more confidence from this dual victory over the Belgian and her nerves than if she had dominated her familiar nemesis from the first ball to the last.  Flakier than a Dover sole, though, Kuznetsova could suffer a hangover from her breakthrough rather than exploiting the impetus to comfortably dispatch an opponent who struggled in the first week.  Floundering past a trio of unheralded opponents, Schiavone required three labyrinthine sets to win both of her first two matches and should consider herself fortunate to have escaped a final set in the third round.  From recent form alone, the 2009 Roland Garros champion thus holds a significant edge over the 2010 Roland Garros champion, but one should remember that Kuznetsova’s mental frailty can resurface at the most inopportune moments.  And the artful Italian has more than sufficient cunning to unlock it if she can survive the Russian’s first few strikes and craft an elongated rally.

Berdych vs. Verdasco:  Despite the starkly divergent personalities in this top-10 encounter, the Czech and the Spaniard showcase convergent styles that mirror their burly physiques.  Seeking to play as little defense as possible, they entrust their fortunes to suffocating serve-forehand combinations that hinge less upon precision than raw power.  Beyond that broad parallel lurk a few differences, such as Berdych’s steadier backhand and Verdasco’s more convincing forecourt skills, yet those nuances probably will exert scant influence upon the outcome.  Renowned for his amorous accomplishments, the 2009 semifinalist assiduously courted disaster throughout his second-round meeting with Tipsarevic but fully capitalized upon his escape by dominating Nishikori.  One never knows exactly what to anticipate from Verdasco on any given day (or set or point), however, while Berdych has displayed superior consistency during the first week.  Whereas the former possesses greater shot-making talent and the audacity necessary to deploy it, the latter develops points more meticulously and profited from his patience during a three-set comeback when they met in Miami last year.  Firmly entrenched in the ATP elite but not quite leading contenders, both the Czech and the Spaniard likely will earn the right to battle 2008 champion Djokovic in the quarterfinals.  Who covets this opportunity more desperately?

***

Having arrived in the second week, we will preview most of the matches henceforth, but feel free to contact us if you fancy a specific encounter.

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Seeking her first career quarterfinal at the US Open, Ivanovic confronts the US Open’s defending champion and one of the two or three favorites to seize this year’s title.  Despite a hip injury incurred at the Rogers Cup, Clijsters largely has returned during her first three rounds to the form that carried her to the Cincinnati title.  Nevertheless, Ana has inspired her legions of ardent fans with confidence after an impressive first week that included two bagels, thirteen total games lost, and satisfying revenge against 2008 nemesis Zheng.  At the core of her revival has been her reinvigorated serve, which delivered for her at crucial moments in a tight first set with third-round opponent Razzano.  Still a less potent weapon than her forehand, Ivanovic’s two-handed backhand also has crackled through the court with more force than usual during the past week.  Entering this encounter as a significant underdog, the Serb may prefer the quiet morning atmosphere of the match’s morning slot to the intense environment of a night session.  In order to conquer the two-time US Open champion, she must maintain a high first-serve percentage and brace herself for hitting a ball or two more than she normally would expect.  While we might have advised her to throw discretion to the winds earlier this summer, her fitness clearly has improved in recent months and will allow her to stay in longer exchanges, awaiting an ideal opportunity.  That said, Ivanovic’s superior first-strike potential represents her principal advantage, and she should take risks on both her serve and her second-serve return; throughout this comeback, Clijsters has faltered on her serve more often than in her “first career.”  Like her compatriot Henin, Kim can be easily disheartened when her delivery deserts her, or when opponents fearlessly punish it.  Despite the Belgian’s generally authoritative display in the first week, she has fallen prey to early lapses in her last two victories, so Ana must be alert to exploit early opportunities.  On the fast courts of New York, though, Clijsters’ symmetrical groundstroke game and seamless lateral movement will be favored to overcome the Serb’s less balanced style.  Unless Ana can serve with precision and variety, venture frequently into the forecourt, and unleash her forehand without surrendering too much court positioning, she will find the task before her imposing indeed.

Youzhny vs. Isner

A year ago on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Isner scored a stirring five-set victory over Roddick in the third round, which catapulted him into the awareness of champion-starved American fans.  During 2010, he has vied with occasional doubles partner Querrey for the title of this nation’s next hope, but strained ankle ligaments may forestall a deep run here.  ­­Extended to four sets against Federer’s compatriot Marco Chiudinelli, Isner struggled somewhat with his movement despite continuing to deliver his now-legendary serves.  Awaiting him under the lights is a versatile, stylish opponent who frustrated him during the Rogers Cup last year.  Fluid and crafty from anywhere on the court, Youzhny will seek to stretch Isner along the baseline with artfully angled groundstrokes.  Yet the immense disparity between their serves may create too much pressure for the easily pressurized Russian, once infamous for cracking his cranium with his own racket.  Isner likely will unleash some massive swings on his return, so Youzhny will want to maximize his first-serve percentage rather than exposing his second delivery.  Among other effective ploys would be his biting backhand slice, always useful against the ATP’s giants, and hitting behind the American to test his ligaments by forcing him to reverse direction.  If Isner can serve his way into tiebreaks, though, the vociferous New York crowd and his superior competitive mentality should (literally) serve him well.

Stosur vs. Dementieva

Veterans who have recently struggled with significant injuries, the Australian and the Russian suffered similarly bitter disappointments at Roland Garros this summer.  While Dementieva missed Wimbledon with a sore leg, Stosur battled a mysterious shoulder injury during the US Open Series; both of these injuries afflicted each woman’s respective strengths, movement and serve.  Historically more successful at the US Open, the Russian appears further along the road to recovery than the Australian after a semifinal appearance in New Haven and three sturdy victories here.  A tiebreak from defeat in her opener, Stosur has reached the second week here for the first time and successfully negotiated the sporadically formidable Errani.  Offering a dramatic contrast in styles, the Russian relies upon consistency, fitness, and movement to wear down opponents with a war of attrition, whereas the Australian relies heavily upon her serve and forehand to curtail rallies.  (Her brisk, businesslike personality likewise diverges from Elena’s fatalistic melancholy.)  In their four hard-court meetings, Dementieva has dropped just a single set, but two of those wins occurred well before Stosur’s unexpected renaissance.  Similar to their three-set Rogers Cup duel last year, a competitive encounter should develop with intelligently constructed rallies and crisply struck forehands.   Stosur should find her way to the forecourt as often as possible, and Dementieva should expose her opponent’s backhand with her much more penetrating two-hander.

Schiavone vs. Pavyluchenkova

After capturing the 2010 Roland Garros title, Schiavone effectively took a well-earned summer sabbatical that many observers (ourselves included) suspected might continue for the rest of her career.  Instead, the charismatic Italian sprang into the second week of the Open for the second straight year, dazzling New Yorkers with an expertly executed rendition of Federer’s between-the-legs stab.  Lean and lithe, Schiavone competes better than most of her younger colleagues but will find herself sternly tested by the former junior #1’s groundstroke arsenal.  A semifinalist in Cincinnati, Pavlyuchenkova has won sets from Sharapova and Kuznetsova over the past few weeks and thoroughly mauled the dangerous Dulko in the third round.  Despite her recent accomplishments, however, double faults chronically surface in her game at inopportune moments, a flaw that the Russian must address before fulfilling her potential.  No stranger to double faults herself, Schiavone succumbed to Pavlyuchenkova in Miami this year on a slower hard court and theoretically would be at an even greater disadvantage on the fast courts of the Open.  (Venus surely will be cheering silently for the Italian, against whom she is 7-0, rather than the Russian, who defeated her twice last fall.)

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Querrey vs. Almagro

The other American tower of power, Querrey has won more titles this year than anyone in the ATP except Nadal but continues to await a breakthrough at the Slams, where he has yet to reach a quarterfinal.  After a second-week run at Wimbledon, he seeks to consolidate that momentum with a noteworthy result in his home major.  Arguably more dangerous on hard courts than other surfaces, Almagro possesses one of the most electric one-handed backhands in the sport, albeit not one of the most consistent.  Sometimes more oriented around style than substance, the Spaniard can showcase sensational shot-making in equal measure with perplexing errors; this erratic tendency thus far has prevented him from capitalizing upon his impressive talents.  Far from flamboyant, the understated Querrey often attracts criticism for his lackadaisical attitude, yet his straightforward style has allowed him to outlast many flashier players.  In the fox-hedgehog analogy, Almagro is the fox who does many small things well, while Querrey is the hedgehog who does one or two big things well.  Fortunately for viewers, the fickle gods of tennis oscillate in their favors between both varieties of players.

Nalbandian vs. Verdasco

After missing all three of the year’s previous majors, the Grouchy Gaucho nearly exited New York in his opener, when he trailed the anonymous Rik de Voest by a break in the fifth set.  Having escaped that predicament, Nalbandian stifled Serra in the second round with a groundstroke barrage that recalled his enlivening performances during the US Open Series.  Against the Washington champion stands another survivor of a five-set opener, a Spaniard as dangerous on hard courts as on clay and armed with one of the ATP’s fiercest forehands.  Although commentators long have criticized Nalbandian for his lack of fitness in the best-of-five format, Verdasco may not possess a significant edge in this area after his draining first-half schedule.  Whereas Nadal’s compatriot enjoys the superior serve, the Argentine possesses a far superior backhand and more symmetrical groundstrokes that should exploit the slick surface.  Curiously, Verdasco’s left-handedness sets up cross-court rallies between his forehand and Nalbandian’s two-hander, creating a strength-to-strength, weakness-to-weakness scenario.  In contrast to the sixth seed’s vertically oriented groundstrokes, the 31st seed favors audacious angle construction that lure opponents far from their comfort zone.  If Nalbandian can blunt Verdasco’s serve and elongate the rallies, he might well record a minor upset here.

***

As the year’s final major enters its second week with accelerating drama, we hope to witness a surprise happy ending in the next episode of Ana’s Adventures.  Ajde!

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Effective but unspectacular in her third-round victory, Sharapova reached the second week of a Slam for just the second time in her comeback from shoulder surgery and extended an encouraging passage of play that began with her Strasbourg title in May.  Compiling a 14-3 record since her return from elbow injury, Maria now confronts a monumental challenge in world #1, top seed, defending champion, and twelve-time Slam champion Serena Williams.  Six years ago, they clashed on these fabled lawns in the ladies’ final, which unexpectedly proved the spark that launched Sharapova’s sensational career as the world’s highest-earning and arguably most recognizable female athlete.  Since that fateful Saturday in July, however, the American has regained the advantage with a nerve-jangling victory at an Australian Open semifinal and two lopsided 2007 wins during a period when the Russian’s shoulder injury severely undermined her game.  Consequently, what once had seemed likely to become a leading rivalry in women’s tennis evolved into no rivalry at all, as Sharapova wryly reminded the media during her postmatch press conference on Saturday.  We explain below why this narrative has unfolded.

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Like most of the WTA elite, Maria plays effectively the same style as the world #1, with explosive first-strike groundstrokes as well as mighty serving and returning.  Yet nobody executes this bone-crushing tennis more capably than the Williams sisters, who can outslug anyone on a fast surface while moving better than most of their rivals.  Their two principal flaws remain versatility and consistency, the former of which renders them susceptible to the artful Henin and the latter of which leaves them vulnerable to the dogged Clijsters.  Buttressed exclusively upon power, power, and more power, Sharapova virtually plays into Serena’s hands; the American covers the court more than the Russian and blasts her groundstrokes with a bit more margin for error.  The 2004 champion requires time and balance to unleash her savage strokes, while the three-time champion can crack dazzling winners at full stretch from sheer athletic talent.  If an opponent can keep Sharapova moving, by contrast, they can draw underwhelming mid-court replies that expose her indifferent defensive skills or force her to attempt a low-percentage reply.  Whereas Maria pounds almost entirely flat missiles, the top seed tempers her shots with topspin for better net clearance.  In the serving department, no player can trump Serena, whose simple, rhythmic delivery can hit all four corners of the service boxes while producing the most imposing second serve in the WTA.  It’s almost impossible for anyone, even the Belgians, to trade hold for hold with the defending champion on so fast a surface.  Although Maria’s serve has improved dramatically since her return to the elongated, pre-injury motion, she won’t win as many free points from the delivery as will Serena.  And the additional time that she needs to warm up her shoulder will diminish her serve’s pace in the first game or two, aiding her opponent’s efforts to gain an early lead.

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Most important, however, is the confidence factor, one of the most pivotal weapons in the American’s arsenal throughout her prolonged tenure at the summit of the sport.  Despite the obvious role of injuries in Maria’s 2007 losses, those routs (in addition to a lopsided Wimbledon loss against Venus that year) seem to have resigned the Russian to the superiority of the sisters.  Typically combative and authoritative against almost any other opponents, Sharapova loses this swaggering edge when she confronts Serena and Venus.  At her 2008 Charleston meeting with the younger sister, the Russian failed to convert multiple opportunities to assert herself early in the match before fading late.  If she hopes to score a stirring upset, Maria needs to relentlessly take risks on both first and second serves, pull the trigger in rallies at the earliest opportunity, and abbreviate points by moving into the forecourt.  In order to execute this uber-aggressive game plan convincingly, though, she must rediscover the self-belief against Serena that has escaped her since those precocious triumphs in 2004. 

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We break down the rest of Manic Monday below:

Querrey (18) vs. Murray (4) (Centre Court, 3rd match):  The only three-time titlist this year outside Nadal, Querrey has captured a tournament on every surface and now has reached the second week of a Slam for the second time in his career.  Shrugging away wasted opportunities to close out Malisse, the American showcased his newfound resolve and focus by finally finishing off the Belgian deep in a final set.  He has won eight consecutive matches on grass since his disheartening exit from Roland Garros, although none of those wins have come against top-20 players.  Over the last few months, Querrey has improved his movement and footwork as well as his shot selection.  When he runs around his backhand now, he generally prevents his opponent from exploiting his exposed court positioning by delivering a deep, assertive forehand rather than an aimless rally ball as he often did in the past.  Sometimes a little too relaxed for his own good, his attitude will serve him well as he prepares to play on Centre Court for the first time (and against the home hope).  On the other hand, Murray has looked almost flawless in his early rounds, taking the initiative in rallies and displaying positive body language.  The Scot’s outstanding return game has defused the imposing deliveries of Gulbis and Karlovic, so he likely will be able to threaten Querrey’s service games with regularity.  Earlier this year in Australia, he dispatched the towering Isner with relative ease by concentrating on simply blocking returns into play and working himself into rallies from there.  More balanced and versatile than Querrey, Murray should be able to slowly drag the American out of his narrow comfort zone in three or four sets.

Clijsters (8) vs. Henin (17) (Court 1, 1st match):  Both of their previous meetings in 2010 featured decisive third-set tiebreaks after Henin had dug herself a hole with reckless shotmaking and Clijsters courteously extracted her from it with tentative ball-striking.  While their overall head-to-head stands very even, Henin has repeatedly tormented her compatriot at majors, where her fierce competitive zeal has provided the cornerstone for her manifold achievements.  Following those two losses to her compatriot in non-Slams, one sense that Justine will enter the contest filled with motivation to reverse those reverses, and her offense-centered game suits the grass more than the consistency-based style of her compatriot.  Nevertheless, Henin enters this tournament with the self-inflicted pressure from having announced a Wimbledon title as the principal goal of her comeback, whereas Clijsters has burdened herself with no such lofty objectives.  Despite Henin’s propensity to take command of her matches for better or for worse, Clijsters must play with the authority that she demonstrated early in their matches at Brisbane and Miami.  It’s highly unlikely that one Belgian will romp through in a pair of routine sets, considering the nervous tension that they invariably awaken in each other.  Much like the Serena-Venus encounters, their matches are often not high-quality tennis from start to finish, but they’re invariably high-quality drama.  Expect a greater unforced error total from both Justine and Kim, who respect each other’s defensive prowess so deeply that they often try for too much on offense.  Expect Henin to relentlessly attack the net at the earliest opportunity, showcasing her unrivalled volleying abilities against Clijsters’ outstanding passing shots.  And expect the match to become progressively more scintillating as the action unfolds, a trajectory that described both of their previous meetings.  Will it be Henin’s turn to seize the early lead, and Clijsters’ turn to mount the comeback?  Only one fact is guaranteed:  it won’t end in a third-set tiebreak.

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Djokovic (3) vs. Hewitt (15) (Court 1, 2nd match):  The most fascinating Day 7 men’s match on the men’s side, this encounter will illuminate the significance or insignificance of grass expertise.  Distinctly the superior player overall, Djokovic would enjoy a substantial edge were they playing on any other surface, but Hewitt fits the label of “grass-court specialist” more than most ATP players.  While the Serb fell to Xavier Malisse in his second match at Queens Club, for example, the Australian charged to the Halle title with a stunning victory over Federer.  Beyond the surface advantage, however, Hewitt also has proven himself to be a far sterner competitor than the retirement-prone Djokovic, whose fitness has been questioned as much as his commitment and desire; none of those qualities can be questioned in the Aussie’s case.  That said, Djokovic possesses greater first-strike potential with penetrating groundstrokes and a serve that has somewhat improved after a wobbly spring.  Armed with a formidable two-handed backhand, he won’t need to run around his forehand and find himself dangerously out of position on this speedy surface.  Crisper and more compact than his forehand swing, in fact, the backhand might prove a more effective weapon on grass than his other groundstroke.  Both players are much more comfortable at the baseline than the net, although the Australian might be a little more dexterous in the forecourt than the Serb.  Can Hewitt parlay his mental advantage and superior grass-court movement into an upset over a player with a more powerful game but less steady game?  If he can stay close deep in sets, we think that he can.  Expect plenty of extended baseline rallies, fistpumps, and drama; we’d be surprised to see this match end in straight sets.

Zvonareva (21) vs. Jankovic (4) (Court 12, 1st match):  Not quite as storied as the all-Belgian rivalry, this blistering-backhand rivalry has provided highly volatile clashes over the past few years, mostly on hard courts.  Although Jankovic typically has held a slight edge over Zvonareva, most of their matches have been decided by a handful of points in which the Serb’s superior mentality prevailed over the Russian’s emotional frailties.  A superior server and naturally more aggressive player, Zvonareva probably will enjoy more opportunities to launch the first strike and should surpass the fourth seed in winners as well as errors.  Steadier on their backhands than their forehands, these two players strike crisp but not overwhelming groundstrokes, eschewing outright point-ending shots in favor of intelligently constructed rallies that probe the court’s contours.  Despite skipping the grass-court preparatory events, both players have looked sharp in their first three rounds; the Serb dominated Melbourne nemesis Alona Bondarenko and weathered a fervent British crowd to dismiss Laura Robson, while the Russian shredded rising star Yanina Wickmayer on Friday.  In contrast to conventional grass-court tennis, this battle will be waged almost entirely from the baseline with players venturing forward only for swinging volleys and other point-ending shots.  The fourth round has proved disastrous for Zvonareva at two of her last three Slams, featuring meltdowns against Pennetta and Azarenka, but she should take comfort from the knowledge that grass is Jankovic’s weakest surface.  Having endured an indifferent 2010 thus far, the Russian could gain crucial confidence for the second half with a quarterfinal appearance at the All England Club, which also would boost her ranking and grant her more propitious draws throughout the summer and fall.

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Benneteau (32) vs. Tsonga (10) (Court 12, 2nd match):  Comfortably defeating his lower-ranked compatriot here three years ago, Tsonga has split his six meetings with Benneteau and has been tested by the latter’s net-rushing prowess.  Not a formidable returner, the tenth seed struggles to counter serve-and-volley tactics because his reply often floats high over the net for a comfortable volley by his opponent.  Littered with short points, this match should feature very few breaks of serve and should be oriented vertically (baseline to net) rather than horizontally (side-to-side along the baseline).  Both Frenchmen rely upon flamboyant shotmaking rather than consistency, so the winner and unforced error totals should soar on both sides.  Whoever takes more risks probably will reap the rewards on this surface that, like fortune, favors the brave.  Don’t be surprised to see some tiebreaks and a more competitive match than their respective rankings might suggest as Tsonga and Benneteau veer from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in an unpredictable, momentum-less encounter.

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Li (9) vs. Radwanska (7) (Court 18, 1st match):  These two former Wimbledon quarterfinalists excel on grass despite their contrasting styles; Li captured the Birmingham title two weeks ago, while Radwanska won the 2008 Eastbourne crown.  Whereas the ninth seed relishes the alacrity with which her flat, pinpoint groundstrokes scoot through the grass, the Pole manipulates the surface’s softness with superb finesse and touch shots.  Moreover, the lawns of the All England Club slightly enhance the latter player’s unimposing serve, which oddly wasn’t broken during the entire first week.  Can Li’s relentless offense hit through Radwanska’s seamless movement, or will the Pole’s textured style disrupt her opponent’s rhythm and timing?  Both players adeptly handle the low balls common on grass, so we should witness fewer netted groundstrokes than in matches with taller players.  On the other hand, expect multiple service breaks and tightly contested service games, for Li and Radwanska often have demonstrated their competitive tenacity.   The restricted confines of Court 18 should aid the Chinese star’s aggressive style, for her angled shots will streak off the court with less time for the Pole to track them down than if they were playing in more expansive surroundings.  We know that Serena is rooting for Radwanska, who evinces much less confidence against the Williams sister than does the fearless Li.

Elsewhere (ATP):  Undefeated against Paul-Henri Mathieu, Nadal has struggled with the French underachiever in many of their fast-surface meetings, and Rafa looked a little frail during the first week.  Nevertheless, he  should be able to advance into a quarterfinal with Soderling, the best men’s performer of the early rounds; the Swede’s monumental serve-groundstroke combinations should bludgeon David Ferrer into submission, although the Spaniard already has accomplished more than one might have expected by reaching the second week.  Is Federer slowly playing his way into the tournament with progressively more comfortable scoreline, or is he ripe for an upset by Roland Garros semifinalist Jurgen Melzer?  The early stages of this clash should be crucial for the Austrian, who could severely test the top seed if his confidence is soaring and his groundstrokes clicking as they have in the last several weeks.  One Slam does not a contender make, however, so it’s hard to imagine the veteran winning three sets from Federer, although he might well extend him past the minimum.  In the quarterfinals probably awaits the more imposing challenge of Berdych, who should end the sensational Wimbledon debut of lanky German Daniel Brands after a couple of close sets, maybe including a tiebreak or two.  (Brands has played 7 tiebreaks in 10 sets at the All England Club, so that prognostication seems a sensible guess.)  Defeating the nemeses of Ljubicic and Cilic, Yen-Hsun Lu has most implausibly found himself in a final-16 clash with Roddick despite his punchless game.  Don’t expect him to muster much resistance against last year’s finalist, who looks imperfect but determined so far.  

 Elsewhere (WTA):  On the women’s side, one must applaud Jarmila Groth for a second consecutive final-16 appearance at a major, but she has only a negligible chance to upset Venus if the five-time champion’s stellar form here continues.  A rematch of the 2007 final probably looms in the quarters for the elder Williams sister, since Bartoli has resurfaced at her favorite time of the year and should control her match against the punchless (Lu-like) Pironkova.  (Searching for evidence that the surface is slower than in days of yore?  Look no further than the presence of this Bulgarian in the second week.)  A slightly surprising victor over the recently erratic Azarenka, Kvitova pursues revenge for a clay-season loss to Wozniacki; the quirky Czech shotmaker could trouble the Dane on this faster surface if she continues to paint the lines as effectively as in the previous match…but she’s just as likely to lose her temper after an early break and toss away the match in a fit of pique.  Either Klara Zakopalova  or Kaia Kanepi will be a Wimbledon quarterfinalist.  Although the Estonian enters the contest a little fatigued after traveling through the qualifying rounds, but this former top-20 star has a game much better suited to the surface than the tireless counterpuncher.  Whatever the outcome, though, one has to fancy Woznaicki’s chances to set up a semi with Serena.  Or, just perhaps, Li Na.

***

We’ll return to preview all of the women’s quarterfinals on Tuesday.  Thus far, 14 of the 16 players whom we projected to reach the final eight are one win away from reaching the destinations that we prophesied (only Azarenka and Stosur disappointing us).  How many slots will be filled as we initially foretold?   Manic Monday will tell… 

There’s one particular case in which we would be delighted to be wrong, however:

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Enjoy the most action-soaked day in the tennis calendar!

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