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Perhaps with an eye to the looming Olympics, many of the top women have “made themselves available” for Fed Cup duty as required for participation in the Summer Games.   Rather than looking so far ahead, though, we discuss the eight ties in this weekend’s “Winter Games.”

Maria Sharapova Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates winning a game against Shahar Peer of Israel during their 2008 World Group 1st Round Federation Cup tennis match February 3, 2008 in Ramat Hasharon, in central Israel. Sharapova, the newly crowned Australian Open champion, won in two sets 6-1, 6-1.

Russia vs. Spain:  A year ago, Sharapova followed a disappointing performance at the Australian Open with a Fed Cup defeat in Moscow.  After reaching the Melbourne final this year, she will hope to carry that momentum into another home tie and an opening rubber against the 77th-ranked Soler Espinosa.  While Sharapova generally has fizzled on Russian soil, the Spaniard has won just four WTA main-draw matches since the start of 2011.  More problematic for the home squad is the second rubber between Kuznetsova and Suarez Navarro, who has defeated the Russian on hard courts and impressed in a three-set loss to Kvitova at the Australian Open.  If the visitors can reach Sunday with a 1-1 tie, the pressure might accumulate on their heavily favored opponents.  But Russia rallied from a 0-2 deficit in the same round last year, suggesting that they will respond courageously to adversity.  Likely to win at least three of four singles rubbers, their far superior firepower should render the doubles rubber irrelevant. 

Belgium vs. Serbia:  The only top-20 player on either squad, Jankovic likely holds the keys to Serbia’s success but may find her fitness tested by the prospect of playing three rubbers.  The former #1 has recorded notable exploits in team competition while compiling a 24-7 record in singles matches, and teammate Bojana Jovanovski has produced tennis much better than her current sub-100 ranking. Without Clijsters, Belgium rests its hopes on Yanina Wickmayer, who began 2010 and 2011 in impressive fashion before fading later in those seasons.  Defeated by a qualifier in the Hobart final, she continues to struggle with consistency and may struggle with the unfamiliar role of spearheading this team.  Like Jankovic, she probably will play three rubbers if necessary on a team with no other member in the top 150.  Never have the two #1s met on an indoor hard court, a surface that should benefit the more aggressive Wickmayer.  If the tie reaches the doubles, Jankovic’s superior grittiness should prevail.

Italy vs. Ukraine:  Probably the least intriguing tie of the weekend is this pairing in which one team’s lowest-ranked player stands more than 50 notches higher than the other team’s highest-ranked player.  A quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, Errani replaces the higher-ranked Pennetta, hampered by injury during January.  Notable mostly for accomplishments on hard courts, Ukraine should count itself lucky to win any of the rubbers, for a daunting challenge awaits in the doubles against Australian Open doubles finalists Errani and Vinci.  Although Schiavone fell early in her last two tournaments, a return to Italian soil should reinvigorate the 30-year-old veteran, especially when facing two women who have combined to win one main-draw match this year.

Germany vs. Czech Republic:  In probably the most intriguing tie of the weekend, the 2011 champions open their title defense against the potent serving of Lisicki and Goerges.  Solid but not spectacular in Melbourne, world #2 Kvitova delivered crucial victories for the Czech Republic in both the semifinal and final.  Despite the victories that each German recorded against her in 2009 and 2010, the home team’s strongest hope may lie in preying upon her teammate Benesova and extending the tie to the doubles.  Like Belgium, Germany enters the weekend without its leading singles player in Petkovic, so Lisicki and Goerges must curb their characteristic unpredictability and discipline themselves against playing to the level of the competition.  Since both Germans and Benesova reached the second week of the Australian Open, one should expect an extremely high level of tennis in every singles rubber.   Even if the tie reaches the doubles, though, the pairing of Hradecka and Zahlavova Strycova would summon greater experience and doubles expertise than any duo that the hosts could assemble.  With a surface tailored to the strengths of both squads and a clash between two neighboring countries, this tie should produce not only explosive serves but the type of volatile atmosphere on which Fed Cup thrives.

World Group II:

USA vs. Belarus:  No fewer than three #1s have traveled to the prosaic environs of Worcester, Massachusetts for the mere opportunity to contest the World Group next year.  Those who wished to see Serena face one of the younger generation’s rising stars in Melbourne will find some consolation for January disappointment when she meets the newly top-ranked Azarenka on Sunday.  Since the hosts possess the only doubles specialist on either team in Liezel Huber, the visitors would prefer to clinch the tie before that rubber.  That objective would require Azarenka to defeat Serena and Belarussian #2 Govortsova to defeat promising American Christina McHale.  Winless in three Fed Cup matches, McHale nevertheless has acquitted herself impressively on home soil with victories over Wozniacki, Bartoli, and Kuznetsova among others.  Moreover, Azarenka may lack the willpower to overcome Serena if she suffers a predictable hangover from winning her first major title.

Japan vs. Slovenia:  The only top-50 player on either team, Polona Hercog aims to lift Slovenia back into relevance during the post-Srebotnik era.  Having just turned 21, she already has played sixteen Fed Cup rubbers and can wield significantly more offense than anyone on the Japanese squad.  Two decades older than Hercog, Kimiko Date-Krumm has accomplished little of note over the past year, but she may draw confidence from her memories of a career-defining victory over Graf in this competition.  Japanese #1 Ayumi Morita exited in the first round of the Australian Open and has lost her first match at eight of her last ten WTA tournaments.  But the only two events in that span where she survived her opener happened on home soil.  Update:  Date-Krumm rallied from a one-set deficit to win the first rubber from Hercog, suggesting that one shouldn’t underestimate those memories–or home-court advantage.

Slovak Republic vs. France:  During this weekend last year, an underpowered French squad thrust the Russian juggernaut to the brink of defeat in Moscow, so underestimate les bleues at your peril.  That said, their collapse thereafter confirmed stereotypes of Nicolas Escude’s squad as mentally fragile, especially when situated in a winning position.  Outgunned by the Slovakian duo of Hantuchova and Cibulkova, the visitors still face a challenge less daunting than Sharapova/Kuznetsova in 2011.  Central to their initial success that weekend was a sturdy performance by Razzano, who has compiled a 7-3 singles record under her nation’s colors, and the location of the tie outside France, again a factor in their favor here.  Nevertheless, the two leading Slovakians have edged through several tense ties together among their 71 combined Fed Cup rubbers, experience that infuses them with the sense of shared purpose and team spirit absent from their opponents.

Switzerland vs. Australia:  On paper, this matchup looks as ludicrously lopsided as Italy vs. Ukraine.  The lowest-ranked Australian, Casey Dellacqua, stands higher than Swiss #1 Stefanie Voegele.  (How soon can Federer’s daughters start wielding a racket?)  But Stosur has looked wretched while losing three of her first four 2012 matches, and Aussie #2 Gajdosova also exited Melbourne in the first round amidst a ghastly avalanche of errors.  Both struggle under the weight of expectations thrust upon them by this proud tennis nation, especially the Slovakian-born Gajdosova.  Adding depth to this potentially dysfunctional squad is Jelena Dokic, rarely free from controversy.  If the Aussies simply focus on fundamentals and keep their wits about them, their overwhelming advantage in talent should propel them forward.  Like the French, they may benefit from playing outside their nation, but somehow one senses that this weekend might unfold in a manner more interesting than expected.

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Welcome to the debut of our daily preview series on all of the Wimbledon action, which will briefly discuss an intriguing topic from the previous day’s action before examining several key matches in detail.  They will conclude with a “briefly noted” section on matches of lesser interest that might be worth more casual attention when the central action ebbs.  Since there’s little to discuss from today’s action beyond the arrangement of Federer’s trophy room (read his interview if you haven’t already), we ignite this series by previewing a former champion who will grace Centre Court on Monday.  No, not you, Roger.

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Robson (W) vs. Jankovic (4) (Centre Court, 2nd match):  Eagerly embracing drama and intrigue, the fourth seed should relish her opening Centre Court clash with Great Britain’s leading female hope, a junior champion in 2008.  A lefty with a modest serve but aggressive groundstrokes, Robson is more likely to rise to the occasion than crumble under the pressure of her surroundings.  Surprisingly declining to enter a grass prep, Jankovic may need time to adjust to her weakest surface and settle into the match, which could provide an early opportunity upon which the teenager must capitalize.  Although Serb suffered a startling loss to Oudin here last year, she remains too steady to succumb to a largely untested opponent unless one of her chronic, innumerable health issues intervenes.  But Robson might well win a set and temporarily ignite the fervor of British fans.

Djokovic (3) vs. Rochus (Centre Court, 3rd match):  After upsetting Murray in his Miami opener, Fish sprang a second ambush on the Scot during the grass season.  Can the diminutive Rochus, who likewise upset Djokovic in his Miami opener, also repeat the accomplishment on grass.  The Belgian oddly has won three of their four previous meetings, none of which have been played in the best-of-five format; nevertheless, the Serb won their only collision on grass.  Despite his unimpressive stature, Rochus maximizes the pace upon his groundstrokes with compact, well-timed swings and crisp footwork.  Falling to the enigmatic Xavier Malisse at Queens Club, Djokovic did hone his grass skills later that week by winning the doubles title with Jonathan Ehrlich.  Crucial to his success at Wimbledon will be his recently remodeled serve, which faltered in the Miami match with Rochus.  When the Serb’s serve wobbles, so does his confidence, and an alert counterpuncher like the Belgian can take advantage.  This match is Djokovic’s to win or lose; he’ll probably win it, but not without some ado.   

Anderson vs. Davydenko (7) (Court 1, 1st match): Never at his most formidable on grass, Davydenko returned from a two-month injury absence in Halle, where he won a match before losing to former Wimbledon nemesis Benjamin Becker.  Generally considered one of the ATP’s premier returners, his talents in that arena will be severely tested by a South African giant (6’7”) whose delivery should scoot through this fast surface.  Since the seventh seed will struggle to break, he’ll feel additional pressure on his own service games.  On the other hand, Murray thumped Anderson at the Australian Open and broke his serve almost at will, while the South African has yet to score a win over a marquee player at a marquee event.  Beyond the serve, he’ll be overwhelmingly outgunned by Davydenko from the baseline, and his net prowess remains indifferent at best.  If Anderson doesn’t maintain an extremely high first-serve percentage, a challenging task in a best-of-five format, he lacks the consistency to trouble the Russian.

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Fish vs. Tomic (Q) (Court 2, 2nd match):  Reaching the Queens Club final with impressive wins over Murray and Lopez, the American veteran illustrated his continuing relevance in singles despite a mediocre 2010.  His first-strike, serve-and-volley aggression should suit the grass, but he confronts a future top-20 or possibly top-10 star who already has performed impressively at this level.  In Melbourne, Tomic extended Cilic to five compelling sets with fluid movement, balanced groundstrokes, and more versatility than one would expect from such a relatively raw player.  Will youth or experience triumph?  Fish needs to relentlessly move forward behind his imposing first serve and perhaps behind second serves as well.  Once Tomic lures him into a neutral baseline rally, the teenager’s superior consistency and durability would prevail, allowing him to set up a potential rematch with Cilic.  Therefore, the American must attempt to engage in a vertical battle of forward movement, while the Australian will seek to engage in a horizontal battle of lateral movement.  Fish should hit many more winners and many more errors, but the key to the match will be the length of point; the longer, the better for Tomic.

Hercog vs. Shvedova (30) (Court 8, 2nd match):  A lanky Slovenian teenager, Hercog achieved her first impact in the WTA by surging to the Acapulco final with victories over Szavay and Suarez Navarro; once there, she demonstrated impressive maturity by winning a set from Venus.  Since that breakthrough, she crushed Safarova at the French Open while winning sets from Wozniacki, Bartoli, and Peer.  Across the net stands unexpected Roland Garros quarterfinalist Shvedova, who underlined her own maturation by conquering the mental challenge of Radwanska and the physical challenge of Kleybanova.  Consecutive wins over those almost diametrically opposed playing styles testified to the Kazakh’s development into an all-court player with sufficient consistency to complement her long-impressive power.  While both players will require more time to evolve, they comprise part of the answer to the omnipresent question “who’s next?” in the WTA.  More important than who wins or loses here is how they respond to various match situations and the pressure inherent at this prestigious event.

Wickmayer (15) vs. Riske (W) (Court 14, 3rd match):  The All England Club took a bit of a Riske by awarding the American a wildcard following a Birmingham semifinal run that saw her depose Wozniak and Wickmayer.  Distinctly underwhelming since a Miami quarterfinal appearance, the third highest-ranked Belgian recently endured arthroscopic surgery on her elbow, flopped miserably against Clijsters at Eastbourne, and failed to break Riske’s serve at all during their three-set confrontation.  If the American wildcard enters the court with a positive attitude, she’ll already possess an advantage over the waffling Belgian.  The draw would open up a little for her after an upset, so she must discipline herself to control her emotions and play steady, intelligent tennis, which might well be good enough. 

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Peer (13) vs. Ivanovic (Court TBA, not before 17:00 local time):  Having surprisingly reached the second week at last year’s Wimbledon, Ivanovic faces a moderately significant rankings drop should she fail to score the mini-upset here.  Not at her best on grass, Peer fell to Zheng in her Eastbourne opener after an excellent clay season.  As usual, the Serb’s serve will play a pivotal role in what could be a Centre Court clash; following a disastrous Roland Garros, that shot rebounded to deliver 23 aces in her two matches at the UNICEF Open, where her three-set loss to Petkovic looked more respectable when the German came within two games of the title.  Much more consistent and balanced, the Israeli will try to extend Ivanovic along the baseline, set up crosscourt backhand exchanges, and pin the Serb into awkward positions when she unleashes her high-risk groundstrokes.  Peer always represents a challenging mental test as well, brimming with competitive vigor and intense focus.  Yet grass generally favors bold aggressors more than sturdy counterpunchers (ahem, Murray), pleasant news for the Serb.  The match should play out a bit like Fish-Tomic, with Ivanovic moving forward, shortening points, and littering the statistics sheet with far more winners and far more errors than her adversary.  If she brings a positive, confident mind to the match, she’ll give herself the opportunity to move forward into an invitingly weak area of the draw.

Briefly noted:  Fresh from an improbable title run in Eastbourne, today’s sensation Makarova intersects with the rapidly fading but still sporadically dangerous Szavay.  Not so fresh from an even more improbable title run in Paris, Schiavone prepares to battle Vera Dushevina in a clash of two all-court games; Dushevina nearly upset Venus, Serena, and Sharapova within the past year, so don’t be surprised to witness an upset here.  Nadal’s nemesis from Queens Club, Feliciano Lopez, will test a recently injured shoulder against fellow lefty Jesse Levine, while the still huge-serving Karolina Sprem quietly continues her comeback against Fed Cup heroine Bethanie Mattek-Sands.  As spring turns to summer, the expectations will mount on Melanie Oudin to recapitulate her outstanding performances from Wimbledon and the US Open a year ago.  The Georgian has achieved little of note so far in 2010 and faces a much more powerful although much more erratic opponent in Anna-Lena Groenefeld; a win here might open the door for another second-week appearance.  Taking aim at the streaky Wawrinka is Nadal’s near-nemesis from Queens Club, Denis Istomin, whose powerful offense might unsettle an adversary who opted to enter a clay challenger in his native Switzerland rather than a grass prep. 

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We return tomorrow with previews of opening rounds for the bottom half of the men’s draw and the top half of the women’s draw.  If any particular matches seem especially worthy to you, you’re welcome to mention any preferences in the comments or write to us on Twitter about them.  We’ve fulfilled all requests so far!

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Despite the occasional fiery forehand, Ana’s second-round performance largely justified the desolate expression above.  At the root of her downfall once again lay her serve, which always has been a reliable barometer for the state of her game and confidence.  Players who rely less heavily on the shot can surmount poor serving days, but Ivanovic can’t afford to start the majority of points in neutral or defensive mode, the situation in which she found herself for most of the match against an inspired Kleybanova.  One of Ana’s finest moments of the day, however, came during her post-match press conference, when she was asked about the controversy that arose when Jankovic bitingly imitated her signature fistpump following their match in Madrid.  Stating in a crisp and well-articulated tone that “sports don’t build character; they show [character],” Ivanovic responded to her compatriot’s tasteless gesture with a resolute display of backbone—important in individual competition—without descending into petty vindictiveness.  She kept her words as impersonal as possible, not once mentioning Jankovic’s name.  We thought that the entire fistpump fracas would dwindle away rather quickly, but instead it has meandered on and on…and on, much like Fognini-Monfils.  Here’s a brief capsule of our thoughts on it, after which we will lay the issue to rest.

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Although Jankovic mishandled the situation by bringing it so crudely into the open, it’s true that Ivanovic often pumps her fist at inappropriate moments.  We differ from the commonly expressed perspective according to which only winners should elicit fistpumps; often, a player’s ball-retrieving skills force an opponent into hitting several extra shots…which they miss.  In those cases, a player’s brilliant defense wins them the point just as if they had struck a winner, so they deserve to relish the moment.  The boundary is somewhat subjective between what results from superb defense (fistpump appropriate) and what results from an opponent’s outright ineptitude (fistpump inappropriate), but Ana has crossed that line consistently.  During the 2007 Luxembourg final against Hantuchova, we first observed Ivanovic’s tendency to react in this way when the Slovak committed unforced errors from neutral positions early in rallies; this habit thus stems from long before Ana’s meteoric fall and cannot be explained by anxiety over returning to the top.  As much as we support Ivanovic and hope that she rises again, her excessive fist-pumping constitutes unsportsmanlike behavior and reflects poorly upon her, despite the fact that it’s probably unintentional.  We doubt that she’ll abandon such a deeply ingrained habit at this stage in her career, of course, and we should note that she’s far from the only offender (nor is Jankovic her only victim).  The prevalence of an unfortunate practice doesn’t inherently exonerate each individual who indulges in it, however.  As for Jankovic, this self-initiated distraction merely illustrates her continued immaturity, which has hampered her efforts to realize her vast potential.  Surely an opponent’s gestures don’t influence JJ’s ability to win a match, and a truly committed competitor shouldn’t care what happens across the net.  If Jelena fails to win a Slam, there’s nobody (including Henin) whom she should blame more than herself.  Now that the Serbs have exchanged salvos, though, here’s hoping that they can take a deep breath and progress from this sorry squabble, as we do now with the preview of a thrilling Day 6 menu.

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Cibulkova (26) vs. Venus (2) (Chatrier, 2nd match; 3rd including Henin completion):  Although a ten-inch height difference separates these competitors, their third-round meeting might be a little less routine than it appears. Many fans might not remember that the diminutive Slovak comfortably defeated the lanky American in their only previous collision (Doha 2008).  A surprise semifinalist here last year, Cibulkova profited from a section that had been vacated by the untimely demise of none other than…Venus.  Renowned for explosive movement and superb court coverage, she punches well above her size and could lure the second seed into unforced errors if her groundstrokes penetrate the court with adequate depth.  The contrast in their serves, however, should wield a significant impact even on this least serve-friendly surface.  Venus needs to move forward whenever possible in order to take time away from Cibulkova; if she can, she’ll be able to shorten the rallies and control the tempo of the match.

Rezai (15) vs. Petrova (19) (Chatrier, 4th match; 5th including completion):  The most intriguing WTA contest of the day represents the first serious test for Rezai in the bid to justify her new position among the game’s elite.  Defeating a pair of unheralded foes in her first two rounds, the Iranian-turned-Frenchwoman takes aim at Petrova, who ousted her rather comfortably at Roland Garros two years ago.  While the Russian didn’t claim a title during the preliminary events, she reached the quarterfinals in Rome before ambushing Serena en route to another quarterfinal in Madrid.  Whereas Rezai prefers to trade missiles from the baseline, Nadia has developed an all-court game in which her groundstrokes complement occasional forays to the net.  A former French Open semifinalist, Petrova adapts better to clay than most of her compatriots despite her infamously suspect mentality.  That flaw may be exposed by what surely will be a rabid French crowd on Chatrier tomorrow evening…or will the vociferous support unveil hitherto hidden cracks in Rezai’s veneer?  She’ll feel the expectations of a nation on her shoulders more firmly than ever before.

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Murray (4) vs. Baghdatis (25) (Lenglen, 3rd match; 4th including Bartoli completion):  Facing Gasquet on his least favorite surface before a partisan crowd, Murray shook his head in disgust, barked at his box, missed first serve after first serve, but somehow stayed around just long enough to watch the Frenchman fold.  A four-set win over Chela in the next round doesn’t greatly impress because he thoroughly throttled the Argentine just two weeks ago in Madrid.  Nevertheless, the Scot now confronts someone who relishes the clay as little as he does in the person of former Australian Open finalist and recent Federer nemesis Marcos Baghdatis.  Like Murray, the Cypriot fell to Ferrer in Madrid, yet (unlike Murray) he acquitted himself convincingly before finally succumbing deep in the third set.  The fourth seed’s motivation may not be running high at the moment with Wimbledon looming on the horizon; on the other hand, it’s almost impossible to ascertain the level of motivation and commitment that Baghdatis will bring to any given match.  Watch the battle of two-handed backhands as the match unfolds.  While Murray generally sacrifices some pace in exchange for more topspin (and thus more margin), the Cypriot connects with low-flying bullets that somehow repeatedly clear the net by centimeters when he’s at his best.

Dulgheru (31) vs. Wozniacki (3) (Court 1, 3rd match):  After contemplating withdrawal from Roland Garros, Wozniacki charged through her first two rounds with a Soderling-like efficiency that saw her drop just seven games in four sets.  Too hampered by an ankle injury to join the principal title contenders here, she still could reach the quarters or even a semi as a consequence of a relatively benign draw.  Two-time Warsaw champion Alexandra Dulgheru could pose an engaging challenge to that quest, however, for the Romanian preceded her unexpected title defense with wins over Safina in Rome and Dementieva in Madrid.  Although neither of Russian is exactly scalding at the moment, those triumphs demonstrated Dulgheru’s mental ability to defeat marquee players when they’re not at their highest level.  It’s hard to imagine that Wozniacki will reach her highest level, so an opportunity might arise for the Romanian.  On the other hand, she won’t be fresh after her Polish exertions last week and might lack the energy to cope with the prolonged rallies into which she’ll be dragged.

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Kuznetsova (6) vs. Kirilenko (30) (Court 1, 4th match):  Dodging not one but four bullets against the nerve-ridden Petkovic, Kuznetsova survived only to confront the compatriot who banished her from Rome just weeks ago.  Typically well-suited to clay, Kirilenko’s solid defense game and versatile shot repertoire will force Kuznetsova to harness her aggression, waiting patiently for opportunities but striking immediately when they arise.  As in Rome, the match lies in the hands of the defending champion, but she has proven reluctant to seize the initiative in such situations this year.  We’re curious to observe whether she elevates her game in the wake of her previous eleventh-hour escape, which could have lifted some pressure from Sveta’s mind.  After her remarkable comeback, has her confidence returned and expelled the fear of losing from her overactive mind?  When focused and composed, Kuznetsova is as dangerous as anyone on clay.

Montanes (29) vs. Soderling (5) (Court 2, 3rd match; 4th including Sharapova completion):  A thunderous beginning to the Swede’s Roland Garros campaign has obscured his mediocre results during the rest of the clay season.  Shelling a French wildcard and the clay-averse Taylor Dent, Soderling now faces the much more formidable assignment of Albert Montanes, a clay specialist who defended his Estoril title after defeating Federer there.  The Spaniard’s talent at tirelessly soaking up pace from deep behind the baseline tests any player’s patience and consistency, two virtues that last year’s finalist doesn’t possess in especially strong supply.  Far more imposing on serve than Montanes, however, Soderling needs to attack relentlessly and stay positive despite the occasional misfire.  If he allows himself to be lured into neutral rallies, he could find himself in the role of Monfils opposite Montanes’ impersonation of Fognini.

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Isner (17) vs. Berdych (15) (Court 6, 3rd match):  Attending this match?  You might want to wear a helmet.  Hammering 38 aces during a four-set, three-tiebreak victory over Chiudinelli, Isner intersects with the almost equally imposing serve of Tomas Berdych.  The toast of Miami with wins over Federer, Verdasco, and Soderling, the Czech has found his momentum slowed by nagging injuries over the last several weeks, during which he lost tense three-setters to clay artists Verdasco and Wawrinka.  A valuable opportunity awaits the winner of this match, who could profit from a toothless quarter to create some headlines and elevate their rankings.  Expect swift service holds, very few backhands, very little clay-court tennis, and more tiebreaks.  While Berdych can execute a greater range of shots than Isner, the American is mentally stronger and perhaps a little hungrier at this juncture.

Briefly noted:  A victim of rising Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker in the 500-level Barcelona tournament, Tsonga seeks revenge in front of a compatriot crowd that now must consider the leading male contender after Monfils’ premature exit.  If anyone can absorb the pressure, though, it’s the carefree Tsonga.  To be honest, we didn’t expect that either Youzhny or Troicki would reach the third round on their least favorite surface, but they’ve done so with aplomb and should showcase some crisp backhand-to-backhand rallies when they collide.  Scoring an impressively commanding upset over Safarova, Slovenian teenager Polona Hercog eyes a clash with Pennetta, who predictably overwhelmed Vinci but has struggled this year with the younger generation.  Lastly, the two gritty veterans Schiavone and Li duel in a contest between the crafty versatility of the Italian and the fearless shotmaking of the Chinese., who came within two games of the quarterfinals here last year.

***

You may want to refer back to the Day 5 preview for some of the matches that never took the court on Thursday, including Nishikori-Djokovic or Seppi-Kohlschreiber.  Let’s hope that the rain irrigates the grasses of Wimbledon while the clay stays as dry as the Sahara! 🙂

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