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Nursing a tender ankle, Ivanovic hopes to extend her Cincinnati momentum into her New York opener against inflammable lefty Makarova.  Although the Russian posted five consecutive top-20 wins en route to the Eastbourne title in June, she has dwindled into obscurity during the US Open Series.  Her slice serve into the ad court will target Ivanovic’s backhand effectively; this weapon explains why Makarova has proved so successful at saving break points when at her best, for the vast majority of break points are played in the ad court.  Once the rallies begin, however, Ana possesses a mightier weapon in her forehand than anything in Makarova’s arsenal.  If the Serb continues with the steady serving and aggressive court positioning that she displayed in Cincinnati, she should prevail rather routinely.  Yet Ivanovic also must conquer the memories of her last two appearances in New York, both of which concluded swiftly in painful three-set losses.  Last year, she led Kateryna Bondarenko by a set and a break before crumbling, so her supporters shouldn’t relax even if she seizes an apparently decisive lead.  Struggling recently with lefties, moreover, the Serb lost to Czink and Safarova on American hard courts a year ago.  Uncertainty surrounds both her physical and mental condition, but the confidence gained on the relatively fast surface of Cincinnati eventually should propel Ana through this potentially perilous encounter, assuming that the ankle is healthy.

We continue to preview more of Day 1’s admittedly slim menu…

Hantuchova vs. Safina:

In New Haven, Safina avenged a defeat that Schiavone had inflicted upon her a week before in Montreal; can Daniela turn the tables on Dinara this week by avenging her loss to the Russian in New Haven?  Probably the most scintillating match of Day 1, this contest features two women with extremely balanced groundstrokes, questionable movement, and frailty under pressure.  The luster from Hantuchova’s San Diego semifinal run has dimmed a bit after early exits in her three tournaments since that week, when she defeated Bartoli, Zheng, and Kleybanova in succession.  Meanwhile, Safina appears to be edging tentatively towards the end of what has been quite a long tunnel, scoring wins over Petrova and Petkovic at the Rogers Cup.  Just as it did in New Haven, her superior serve comprises a key advantage that will allow her to take control of rallies earlier and more often than Hantuchova. Neither the Slovak nor the Russian can afford to play defense throughout the match, especially on these fast courts. On the other hand, the pressure attendant to a Slam (in)famously has unhinged Safina’s ever-tenuous nerves with increasing regularity since her rise to near-glory.  Although Hantuchova is the higher-ranked and seeded competitor, she has much less to prove than the former #1 and surely will swing more freely.  In all events, her free-flowing, seemingly effortless style will contrast fascinatingly with the laborious, effort-filled exertions of Safina.

Stosur vs. Vesnina:

Enduring a shoulder injury shortly after the Roland Garros final, Stosur never has progressed past the second round at the US Open.  Her indifferent foot speed and vulnerable backhand hamper her on the Open’s slick surface, while her confidence looks at a low ebb this summer.  In New Haven, she barely escaped the unimposing Sara Errani before slumping to a lopsided loss against Petrova.  A finalist in Istanbul this July, Vesnina can hold serve with sufficient regularity to stay close with the fifth seed deep into sets.  Highly proficient in doubles, both players should venture frequently into the forecourt and display their artistry at the net.  Among the key factors in this match is Stosur’s second serve, which produced numerous free points for her on the high-bouncing clay but which can be more easily attacked on this surface.  If Vesnina can connect on deep, aggressive returns when she sees a second ball, anxiety might seep into the Australian’s already embattled shoulder.

Larcher de Brito vs. Mirza:

At most majors, an all-qualifier bout would trigger barely a flicker of attention from most onlookers, but the intersection of these two flamboyant personalities could spark some unexpected drama.  Struggling with her serve for much of this season, Larcher de Brito salvaged a host of break points in her final qualifying round, whereas Mirza progressed to the main draw with less ado.  Once a dangerous ball-striker with a percussive forehand, the Indian star has reduced her schedule in recent months and no longer maintains the consistency required to remain a threat on the grand stages.  Still at the outset of her career, by contrast, the Portuguese phenom seeks to transcend her reputation as the WTA’s champion shrieker and unlock the promise that she displayed in the juniors and at the Bolletieri Academy.  Despite her petite physique, Larcher de Brito can thump groundstrokes with as much savagery as her statuesque foes and currently possesses far more competitive savagery than Mirza.  We expect a streaky match with multiple momentum shifts, few free points, and perhaps occasional emotional outbursts if it stays as competitive as we think it should.

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Monfils vs. Kendrick / Nishikori vs. Korolev:

Among the few men’s matches of note are a pair of contests between an agile counterpuncher and a purely offensive juggernaut.  Whereas Korolev unleashes his weaponry from the baseline, though, Kendrick prefers hurtling to the net for adeptly angled volleys.  Opposite these aggressors stand Monfils and Nishikori, respectively; while the Frenchman relies on outrageous slides and scrambles to discomfit his victims, the Japanese phenom relies upon crisp footwork and intelligent shot selection.    Nishikori will be grateful to avoid Nadal in the first round as he continues his comeback from a protracted injury hiatus, but the swift surface at the US Open should allow his mighty Russian adversary to control most of the rallies.  Meanwhile, Monfils’ superior offensive potential should enable him to weather Kendrick’s forward-rushing tactics more comfortably than his counterpunching Japanese counterpart can outlast Korolev.  Consider these matches early indications of how much the Open’s court speed might influence the first week’s action, for both Monfils and Nishikori are distinctly superior to their challengers overall but much less superior on the fastest surfaces.

***

We return tomorrow to preview Maria and more, but first we cross our fingers for the braid from Belgrade!

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If Wimbledon used the best-of-three format for the first week of its men’s matches, three of the top eight seeds would have fallen in their openers to Alejandro Falla, Olivier Rochus, and Kevin Anderson.  While the travails of neither Djokovic nor Davydenko surprised us, the near-disaster suffered by the six-time champion was completely unexpected, since Federer had comfortably dismissed Falla twice in the last month.  Forced to extricate himself from a two-set deficit, the feckless top seed nearly embarrassed the organizers who placed him atop the draw instead of Nadal.  Two potential outcomes could emerge from this excruciating brush with catastrophe, one positive and one negative for Federer.  Relieved to have escaped the Colombian, he might well relax in his future matches and remind himself that he managed to win despite playing several notches below his immortal best.  Don’t forget what happened after he hovered within five points of a straight-sets loss to Haas at the 2009 French Open, but also don’t forget what happened after he hovered within four points of a third-round loss to Tipsarevic at the 2008 Australian Open.  On the latter occasion, Federer’s frailty spurred the rest of the draw to assault him with renewed confidence, which resulted in his only straight-sets loss at a non-clay Slam since 2003 (semifinal vs. Djokovic).  Berdych, Roddick, Hewitt, and others should take note of how the defending champion’s tournament began as they devise their plans for how it will end.  Meanwhile, Federer’s fellow top seed attempts to make a more authoritative impact tomorrow morning.

***

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Serena (1) vs. Larcher de Brito (Centre Court, 1st match):  A prodigy most noted for sonic scandals, the petite Portuguese star has yet to deliver upon the promise that she demonstrated in juniors and at the Bolletieri Academy.  Combined with her savage ball-striking, however, is a competitive ferocity rivaled by few of her peers.  Nevertheless, those assets recently have been overshadowed by her serving struggles, which will fatally undermine her cause against the most formidable serve in the WTA.  Although Serena does wobble sometimes in the first week of a Slam, she never has lost an opener and should be able to take command of most points with a massive first strike on either serve or return.  It’ll be intriguing to watch how Larcher de Brito handles the moment, though, for she remains unaccustomed to playing on venues like Wimbledon’s Centre Court.  In any case, we know that the Portuguese phenom won’t buckle meekly and will make every effort to dig her teeth into the rallies, creating sporadically entertaining exchanges before her eventual extent.  (By the way, our Portuguese Twitter correspondent Jose Morgado reports that the infamous shriek has diminished a little lately.)

Kendrick (Q) vs. Tsonga (10) (Court 1, 1st match):  Despite the rankings disparity here, Kendrick won a set from Murray last year behind impressive serving and relentless aggression.  Moreover, he’s accustomed himself to the atmosphere here by already having played three matches in the qualifying draw; having retired at Roland Garros a few weeks ago, by contrast, Tsonga has played no competitive matches on grass this season and might start a little slowly.  When the Frenchman lacks full confidence in his physical condition, his electrifyingly acrobatic style dips perceptibly as his shots rattle through the court with a shade less conviction.  Kendrick might have a greater chance to win in a best-of-three format before Tsonga can settle into a rhythm.  On the other hand, the tenth seed isn’t built for endurance and rarely plays five-setters, although he did win two of them in Melbourne.  Since both competitors will be swinging for the lines as soon as possible, few points should last more than four or five shots.  Extending a pattern of early-tournament inconsistency, Tsonga nearly dropped his opener in Paris to the unheralded Daniel Brands, yet that surface suits his game much less effectively than the speedy grass.  Therefore, an upset remains unlikely but not inconceivable.

Kiefer (W) vs. Ferrer (9) (Court 2, 2nd match):  The aging German still possesses a penetrating serve that distinctly trumps the Spaniard’s pedestrian delivery, whereas Ferrer enjoys far greater consistency from the baseline.  If the veteran can serve at a high percentage, finish points quickly, and keep the speedy retriever guessing with intelligent placement, he might well overcome the clay specialist.  After an outstanding season on the European dirt, Ferrer demonstrated his susceptibility to powerful servers during his startling straight-sets loss to Melzer in Paris, although he defeated Karlovic at Indian Wells.  Like Tsonga, the ninth seed chose not to play a grass prep, perhaps an indication that he has conceded this part of the season.  His fellow clay specialist Wawrinka made the same decision and paid a predictable price against Denis Istomin on Monday.  Much more adept on grass, Kiefer will take the initiative constantly and hold the match in his hands, so the outcome should come down to his execution level and confidence at key moments.  After a lengthy period of irrelevance, does he still believe in himself on the grandest stages?

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Chakvetadze vs. Petkovic (Court 14, 1st match):  Two years ago, the mercurial Russian reached the second week of the All England Club.  Three years ago, she built upon a sensational hard-court campaign to edge within one set of the US Open final.  While Chakvetadze has generated few headlines since those accomplishments, her two-hander remains a sensational weapon, and she compensates for her relative lack of pace by striking the bally early and creating unexpected angles; one might liken her style to a diluted version of her compatriot Davydenko.  Opposite the Russian stands one of the WTA’s hottest new commodities, a Bosnian-German who charged to the UNICEF Open and severely threatened Henin at that stage.  Unintimidated by most occasions or opponents, Petkovic did falter against Kuznetsova at Roland Garros, but the alacrity with which she rebounded testifies to her granite mentality, a stark contrast with Chakvetadze.  Yet one should remember that the Russian defeated the Bosnian-German in Birmingham two weeks ago, exploiting a sub-par performance from Petkovic that perhaps stemmed from her Paris disappointment.  Nevertheless, one of these stars has been rising as swiftly as the other has been descending, and Slams tend to confirm rather than reverse such trends.

Kanepi (Q) vs. Stosur (6) (Court 18, 2nd match):  Decent but unremarkable in her Eastbourne prep, Stosur surrendered sets to Hantuchova and Baltacha before becoming one of the victims in Makarova’s bizarre march to the title.  The Estonian has never seen a ball that she doesn’t attempt to obliterate, adhering to a straightforward power baseline style that has proven less effective this year than it has in the past.  Charting Kanepi’s decline, one can note the inexorable transformation in the WTA, where what Mats Wilander called “mindless bashing” once represented a reliable formula for winning matches but now must be combined with intelligent point construction, a little more versatility, and a bit more consistency than was previously necessary.  (Slumping sluggers Kuznetsova, Safina, and Ivanovic, among others, might wish to take note as they wallow in existential woe.)  Beyond her outstanding serve, Stosur has cultivated more variety than the average women’s star and thus should be able to outlast the erratic, slow-footed Estonian.  All the same, the Australian was outslugged by Baltacha during the early stages of their Eastbourne match, and the Brit’s game markedly resembles that of the Estonian.  Don’t be surprised to see Stosur dragged into a decider before she pulls through, just as Kanepi dragged Jankovic into a decider at Roland Garros.

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Mahut (Q) vs. Isner (23) (Court 18, 4th match):  The flamboyant Frenchman produced a characteristically odd bit of trivia in the qualifying by winning a 46-game final set from local hope Alex Bogdanovic.  Comprising 23 consecutive service holds, that Roddick-esque performance will need to be repeated in order for Mahut to upset the towering Isner.  Yet he should take heart by noting that giants did not stand tall on Day 1, which included losses by Anderson (6’7”), Cilic (6’6”), and Ljubicic (6’5”); even Del Potro (6’6”) exited in the second round last year.  A Queens Club finalist in 2007, Mahut came within a point of ambushing Roddick for the title and relishes grass more than any other surface.  Break points should be at a premium in this collision, which might witness multiple tiebreaks and probably will pivot on a tiny handful of timely winners or cluster of unforced errors.  Whereas the American will stand atop the baseline and attempt to dictate play with his forehand, the Frenchman will hurtle towards the net at the earliest opportunity.  Isner thus will test Mahut’s movement and consistency, while Mahut will test Isner’s reflexes and instincts.   If they head into a fifth set, these two adversaries might test the daylight by holding serve again and again…and again.

Briefly noted:  Shortly after his return from a protracted injury hiatus, Nishikori receives the monumental assignment of tackling Nadal on Centre Court, too demanding a task at this stage in his development although an opportunity to display some of his promise where people will notice.  Another Roland Garros champion, Ferrero might be challenged by Xavier Malisse as he attempts to repeat his 2009 quarterfinal appearance; the enigmatic Belgian recently upset Djokovic in Queens Club, while the Spaniard has been erratic since Rome.  Bolstered by the Croatian architect of Safina’s success, Cibulkova will seek to exploit the low bounces of the surface least natural to her against Safarova, who dazzled on clay before wilting at Eastbourne.  Her fellow clay-season arriviste Rezai rarely can be accused of wilting in any circumstances, but she did under-perform a bit at Roland Garros after swaggering to the Madrid title.  Having reached the Birmingham semis and vanquished Wozniacki in Eastbourne, the Frenchwoman faces a stern test of her all-court prowess when she confronts 2009 Birmingham titlist Rybarikova.  Early in a partnership with Antonio van Grichen (of Azarenka-related renown), Cirstea has accomplished little of significance for most of 2010 but showed signs of awakening by defeating Schiavone and nearly Kuznetsova in Eastbourne.  Will she extend her momentum against another Czech lefty, Kvitova, whose emotional implosions often dwarf her talents? 

***

Meanwhile, Maria prepares to showcase her latest foray into fashion on Court 2.  Can she recapture the lofty heights attained by her 2008 design?

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Feel free to use the comments or write to us on Twitter if you have a Day 3 match about which you would like to read here! 🙂

Glancing through the Wimbledon draws, we found them more balanced and intriguing than their Roland Garros counterparts.  Rather than reaching a premature climax early in the second week, the narratives should build compellingly throughout the fortnight.  Yet perhaps this impression merely stems from the fact that grass suits more elite players than does clay; there are many fewer “grass specialists” than “clay specialists,” especially as the former surface slows over the years.  At any rate, welcome to the quarter-by-quarter breakdown of what to expect early, middle, and late at the All England Club.

ATP:

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First quarter:  Seeking an eighth consecutive final at the All England Club, Federer will be delighted to face Davydenko rather than Soderling in a potential quarterfinal.  Since the Russian has recently returned from injury and doesn’t deliver his best tennis on grass, however, the top seed might be facing his compatriot Wawrinka or Miami nemesis Berdych instead at that stage.  Few potential threats loom in the first week, except perhaps from Janko Tipsarevic; the eccentric Serb nearly upset Federer in a memorable 2008 Australian Open clash and just reached the UNICEF Open final this week.  Nevertheless, there’s nobody in this section who possesses all of the physical and mental attributes necessary to win three sets from the six-time champion, not even crafty lefty servers Lopez and Melzer.  The next Slam semifinal streak starts here

Quarterfinal:  Federer def. Berdych

Second quarter:  Although Djokovic is the highest seed in this section, the quarter actually belongs to three-time finalist Roddick, whose route looks moderately challenging.  After a possible second round against Eastbourne champion Michael Llodra, the American will confront flamboyant shotmaker Kohlschreiber, the only player other than Roddick to win a set from Federer at last year’s Wimbledon.  Despite the German’s victory over Roddick at the 2008 Australian Open, one suspects that the fifth seed will advance to a meeting with either the Croat who defeated him in Melbourne (Cilic) or the Croat who defeated him in Indian Wells (Ljubicic), yet Mardy Fish represents a dangerous sleeper in that neighborhood.  On the other side, Djokovic will find his tenacity severely tested by Halle champion and new Federer-beater, Lleyton Hewitt, if he can solve the first-round conundrum of Olivier Rochus (3-1 against the Serb).  Dueling in a memorable five-set quarterfinal here last year, Roddick and Hewitt should reprise that battle in 2010.

Quarterfinal:  Roddick def. Hewitt

Third quarter:  Anywhere between pedestrian and ghastly since the Australian Open, Murray received the benign draw that he needed to gain his footing at his home major.  His first three rounds appear as easy as he could reasonably expect, but his second week might begin against Queens Club champion Sam Querrey.  Comfortably defusing the formidable serve of Gulbis at the 2009 Wimbledon, the Scot should profit from his outstanding return game to outmaneuver the inexperienced, relatively one-dimensional American.  The somewhat injured Almagro and Tsonga might stage an encore of their thrillingly uber-aggressive five-setter in Melbourne, with the winner likely to face Verdasco.  After an exhausting clay season, the Spaniard hasn’t played a competitive match on grass; neither has Tsonga, and Almagro exited his grass-court prep on a stretcher.  All of this information suggests that the home hope should reach a second consecutive Wimbledon semifinal.

Quarterfinal:  Murray def. Tsonga

Fourth quarter:  After the withdrawal of Gulbis, Nadal faces a somewhat less intimidating route to the semifinals that the draw previously had indicated.  In an intriguing second round with Blake, though, he’ll confront a fading veteran whose first-strike style has repeatedly flustered Rafa even during the American’s decline.  Twice defeating Youzhny in the fourth round here, Nadal might need to overcome the dangerous Russian once again, but Isner seems a slightly more probable opponent at that stage.  Can the American duplicate Karlovic’s quarterfinal run last year?  This potential match would be decided by a few crucial points, probably in tiebreaks.  On the other side, Soderling will be salivating over an appetizing first week of overmatched opponents, among whom the most impressive might be former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Marcos Baghdatis.  For the second consecutive year, we should see the French Open final reprised in the second week of Wimbledon.

Quarterfinal:  Nadal def. Soderling

Semifinals:  Roddick def. Federer, Murray def. Nadal  Having lost four times to the Swiss at the All England Club, Roddick would enter their meeting with greater motivation than Federer for the first time and may feel less pressure in a semifinal than in a final.  He’s 0-and-plenty against Roger in majors, but many 0-and-plentys involving the 16-time Slam champion have ended recently.  Don’t forget that Nadal rebounded from a painful five-set loss to Federer in 2007 before vanquishing him in 2008.  Meanwhile, Murray has twice proved on hard courts (2008 US Open, 2010 Melbourne) that he can defeat Rafa in a best-of-five format if he plays with focus and aggression.  The partisan crowd should inspire him to rediscover that intensity, while the Spaniard may enter their contest a bit jaded after surviving a thorny quarter.  But both semifinals should be scintillating if they happen.

Final:  Roddick def. Murray Mentally, both players would find themselves under enormous pressure, individual pressure for Roddick and collective pressure for Murray.  Although he would need to control his elation from defeating Federer, Roddick possesses a much more reliable serve than the Scot, a crucial advantage on grass.  During their four-set semifinal at last year’s Wimbledon, the American’s aggressive play ultimately broke down Murray’s patient counterpunching. 

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WTA:

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First quarter:  Scheduled to start the action on Tuesday, Serena will be jolted out of any drowsiness by the uniquely deafening yodels of Larcher de Brito.  The first week might prove more intriguing than usual for the top seed, since the mighty-lunged Portuguese phenom probably will be followed by UNICEF Open finalist Petkovic, a steadily rising star with a confidence level to match her blistering groundstrokes.  Elsewhere in Serena’s vicinity, Sharapova looks likely to surpass her untimely second-round exits here the last two years and set up a third-round encounter with Hantuchova that no man will want to miss.  The second Monday should feature a rematch of the fateful 2004 final that catapulted the Russian into international stardom; as far as tennis is concerned, however, Serena’s star has burned more brightly lately.  Set for a compelling clash with Kuznetsova, Li Na should recapitulate her past success against the stumbling Sveta before confronting two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Radwanska in a dramatic contrast of styles.  Recently acquiring the Birmingham title, the Chinese star often has troubled the world #1, including at this year’s Australian Open, so their potential quarterfinal could be suspenseful.

Quarterfinal:  Serena def. Li

Second quarter:  The least imposing district of the draw features four names who seem equally likely to advance from it:  Wozniacki, Azarenka, Zheng, and Stosur.   Yet Zheng may be the only player who enters the tournament in solid physical and mental condition, for the youngsters are struggling with assorted lag injuries, while the Aussie probably needs a respite to recover from the disappointment of losing the Roland Garros final.  On the other hand, Azarenka enjoyed a solid week in Eastbourne prior to the final, defeating Radwanska, Clijsters, and Bartoli, while Zheng crashed out to local wildcard Elena Baltacha.  Moreover, Stosur’s draw should allow her to settle into the tournament before confronting Rezai in a likely fourth round; the Frenchwoman has yet to reproduce her WTA-level success at the majors, so Sam should progress to the quarters.  At that stage, her serve should allow her to hold much more comfortably than anyone whom she might face there, always a vital advantage on grass.  Balancing that factor, however, is the more balanced baseline game that all three of her potential foes would use to expose her mediocre backhand.

Quarterfinal:  Azarenka def. Stosur

Third quarter:  With the Battle of the Belgians looming at the top of this section, one might almost forget about Jankovic and Zvonareva at its base, yet neither of these players likely would topple the winner of the second Monday’s collision between Henin and Clijsters.  Before anticipating that match too eagerly, though, remember that Justine first must navigate past Petrova, her probable third-round opponent and a quarterfinalist at both previous Slams in 2010.  The Russian memorably knocked off Clijsters in the third round of Melbourne before upsetting Venus at Roland Garros.  Fresh from her second title of the year in the Netherlands, Henin will need the confidence from this week in order to overcome Petrova’s powerful serve and adroit transition game.  In the intra-Belgian rivalry, Clijsters has won both meetings since Henin’s return and evened the overall head-to-head with her flashy compatriot.  But Justine typically has enjoyed the last laugh at Slams.

Quarterfinal:  Henin def. Jankovic

Fourth quarter:  Despite a likely second round with Eastbourne champion Makarova, Venus mostly just needs to play competent tennis in order to reach the semis.  Kleybanova does possess the serve-groundstroke combinations to overcome the five-time champion, whom she edge in Madrid last year; nevertheless, the Russian requires a little more time to mature before such a sensational breakthrough.  Well suited to the short points on grass, Bartoli might penetrate a comfortable draw to set up a quarterfinal rematch of the 2007 final, in which her far less imposing serve was ruthlessly exposed by Venus’ return once the elder Williams adjusted to the Frenchwoman’s idiosyncrasies.  Remember Francesca Schiavone?  She’s hovering around this area too, although probably not for long.

Quarterfinal:  Venus def. Bartoli

Semifinals:  Serena def. Azarenka, Venus def. Henin  The defending champion would be clashing with the Belarussian for the fourth time in the last seven majors, of which Serena has won the previous three.  Whereas the Australian meetings were highly suspenseful, their Wimbledon quarterfinal last year proved relatively routine although filled with high-quality rallies.  Azarenka did defeat Serena in Miami a year ago, but thus far she lacks the mental fortitude to dispatch her from a Slam.  Meanwhile, Venus holds a substantial mental edge over the petite Belgian and can expect to hold serve more comfortably.  Unless the elder Williams endures an erratic performance, which she rarely does at Wimbledon, Henin won’t be able to pass such a stern test at this phase of her comeback.  Maybe next year.

Final:  Serena def. Venus  While little sister will have endured the more difficult route to the final Saturday if something similar to our projections materializes, she also sailed more turbulent seas than Venus last year.  Challenging pre-final confrontations often force Serena to raise her level and sharpen her focus, ultimately benefiting her more than would a benign draw.  Less psychologically uneasy than Venus at the thought of playing her sister, the world #1 has won their last four meetings, seven of their last nine Slam meetings, eight of their eleven finals, and three of their four Wimbledon finals.  Slam number 13 won’t feel unlucky to Serena when she hoists the Venus Rosewater Dish for the fourth time.

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***

If Roddick and Serena (or Venus) do prevail, the American might sweep all of the Wimbledon titles outside the mixed doubles.  While the Williams sisters should be nearly impossible to conquer on grass, the Bryan brothers will possess a legitimate chance to break the team doubles title record of Australia’s Woodies.  Beyond the defending champions Nestor and Zimonjic, their most imposing competition might come from the Polish duo Fyrstenberg and Matkowski, two mighty serves who have toppled the Bryans on multiple occasions and demonstrated their grass expertise by winning Eastbourne.  A week ago, Queens Club champions Djokovic (yes, that Djokovic) and Ehrlich paid the Bryans homage by celebrating their title with this light-hearted gesture:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=djokovic+queens+club&iid=9103544″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9103544/tennis-aegon-championships/tennis-aegon-championships.jpg?size=500&imageId=9103544″ width=”500″ height=”704″ /]

See you soon with the first of our Wimbledon daily previews!

One could argue that currently there are five real marquee names in the WTA;  two are sisters, two are Belgians, and the fifth is mauling a hapless tennis ball above.  As it happens, none of the five are participating in Charleston this week (although two were originally entered).  While tournament organizers and sponsors may rue their absence, the players in the draw should relish the opportunity to seize a prize of some consequence without conquering an exceptionally forbidding foe.  Spectators who enjoy compelling tennis likewise should relish the occasion; the competition often rises a notch among the WTA rank-and-file when no juggernauts are marching towards an inevitable title.  There’s much to be said for seeing the game’s legends, but there’s also something to be said for watching a hard-fought three-setter rather than a lackadaisical 6-0, 6-2 clinic that was over before it began.  With those thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at who might carpe the diem…

Top half:  Fresh (or not?) from her triumph in Ponte Vedra Beach, Wozniacki has a rather smooth route to the quarterfinals, although she might need to brace herself for a clash with ferociously competitive Portuguese phenom Larcher de Brito.  She should navigate either that test or Schnyder with ease before a Friday meeting with Petrova, who has more than enough firepower to muscle aside her first two potential opponents.  The mercurial Russian split two engaging sets with the Dane last month but ate a bagel in the decider.  Since both players have developed outstanding skills and resumes on this surface, we should see a very high-quality quarterfinal.

The second quarter looks almost certain to produce another edition of the Vera-Vika Show, already aired twice in 2010.  Despite her erratic form this year, Zvonareva won’t find any threats to her composure (always the key for her) among her first two opponents.  A little less lucky with Oudin in her neighborhood, Azarenka may be hampered by the leg injury that forced her to retire from Marbella.  If she is healthy, though, it’s hard to imagine that her crisp technique and versatile style will falter against the American, who typically feasts on erratic, one-dimensional shotmakers.  This quarterfinal may not offer the most exquisite tennis in a technical sense, but its violent, emotion-laden momentum swings should offer delicious entertainment for those of us who enjoy a dash of melodrama in our martinis.

Semifinal:  Zvonareva d. Wozniacki.  They’ve split their two meetings, they’re both former finalists, they’re both skilled on clay, and they both play relatively conservatively while covering the court brilliantly.  What’s to choose between them?  We think that Wozniacki’s mileage will catch up with her against an opponent who is equally tireless.

Bottom half:  Since last year’s French Open, Stosur has been one of the most consistent players in the WTA and can threaten anyone with her imposing serve-forehand combination.  Although her functional style may not inspire the imagination, her brisk, even-tempered demeanor serves (haha) her well in a WTA filled with fragility.  Her literal serve should allow her to coast into a quarterfinal with either Bartoli or Ponte Vedra Beach semifinalist Vesnina.  Since no real clay demon lurks in this section, one can expect the matches here to play out much as they would on a hard court, which means that Stosur should break serve more often than she loses it.

The bottom quarter has the name of Jelena Jankovic smeared all over it in red lip gloss.  Not only did the smiling Serb awaken from a dismal 14-month slump by taking the title in Indian Wells, but she has more clay-court ability than all of her potential opponents here combined.  Nearly certain to face JJ in the quarterfinals is the gentle, elegant Hantuchova, who can create angles that would fluster a geometry professor yet moves around the court far less smoothly than one would imagine from her lithe figure.  In a sense, the match would oppose a player who makes the court look huge (Hantuchova) against a player who makes it look tiny (Jankovic); the Serb should find a way to retrieve enough balls until she finds a way to transition from defense into offense and take over the rallies from there.

Semifinal:  Jankovic d. Stosur.  They split their two meetings in Indian Wells and Miami, but Jelena struggled with fatigue and blustery conditions on the latter occasion.  The slower surface favors her counterpunching style, and a well-advised rest since Miami (ahem, Caroline?) should restore the spring in her step. 

Final:  Jankovic d. Zvonareva.  Like Zvonareva-Wozniacki, this potential pas de deux is very even, in part because they showcase strikingly similar styles.  The Russian prevailed when they met in a semifinal here two years ago and has won their last two meetings, but Jankovic is the better player when all things are equal and has recently demonstrated improvement in her ability to stay focused on the task at hand.  We won’t be surprised to see this trophy in her well-manicured hands, as it was in 2007:

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We’ll return to preview the Monte Carlo semifinals on Friday, but in the meantime we’ll compile a “Plotlines to Ponder” post on the clay season in general.  Happy reading and, more importantly, happy watching!  🙂

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