Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 3: South American Surprise

Argentina's Gisela Dulko celebrates after beating Russia's Maria Sharapova at the All England Tennis Club on the third day of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, in southwest London, on June 24, 2009.

In their previous two meetings, she won exactly three games. That was then. Today, she outlasted the former Wimbledon champion on Centre Court. Argentine Gisela Dulko sent shockwaves through the tennis world with her 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 dismissal of No. 59 ranked and No. 24 seeded Maria Sharapova at SW19.

I say shockwaves because Mary Jo Fernandez, who's married to Sharapova's agent, sounded as though she was going to cry in the booth. Excuses fell like rain from the lips of those who called Sharapova a contender because she'd advanced to the quarterfinals of her first Slam back on her worst surface. But they completely ignored who she beat and how she beat them. Tennis needs Sharapova, dammit, and those with the power to create the propaganda would not be turned back. Now, suddenly, this is only her (fill in the blank) tournament back, etc, etc, etc....

But enough with the hype (excuse) makers.

How did Dulko do it? For my money, her coach sat her down with a tape of Amélie Mauresmo's deconstruction of an in-form former champion in the 2006 semifinals, and they studied it as though cramming for an exam.

Now, make no mistake, Dulko is no Mauresmo. One's a solid but largely disregarded player, the other a two-time Slam champion and legendary choker. And Dulko certainly isn't going to rush the net. But when the Argentine was blocking and chipping back Maria's first serves, using acute angles to pull Sharapova off the court to expose her lumbering movement, and drawing her into the net with short, off-pace shots, I was reminded of that 2006 match.

And where did she get that serve?

Most impressive, however, was Dulko's recovery from a complete mid-match collapse. Receiving serve at 6-2, 3-0, her timid groundstrokes started finding the net.

She lost the next 7 games.

She fell behind an early break in the third set and one would expect Sharapova to run out the match.

Not this time.

Dulko stayed composed, fought back, and broke serve late in the third set, survived a break point serving for the match, squandered match points serving for the match, and eventually closed out the upset when Sharapova missed something.

This blog is not quite as quiet as it was yesterday, but could you imagine the traffic if Roger Federer or Venus Williams lost in the second round to a solid but largely disregarded player?

My bias says our readership is the most savvy on the Internet. Our traffic today backs that up.

Sharapova is beloved by her die hard fans, as is any player, Madison Avenue, and the tennis story makers -- those who would like to create a compelling narrative about her when, really, quite frankly, there isn't one -- but she's not as needed on the tour as many would like to have us believe.

Nadia Petrova is sleeping better tonight.

North American Surprise

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 24:  Sam Querrey of USA plays a forehand during the men's singles second round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia on Day Three of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 24, 2009 in London, England.

Sam Querrey's father took a last-minute flight to London to see his son play on Centre Court. That alone choked me up.

I could have done without the pre-match ESPN studio interview -- players need to focus before matches, not do publicity -- could have done without that serving-for-the-second-set choke, and certainly could have done with out that serving-to-stay-in-the-match-fifth-set choke, but staying competitive in a match down two sets to love and pushing it to five was quite the Centre Court christening for the young American who not that long about seemed more interested in his Porsche than his tennis career.

Clearly, Querrey has worked hard on his fitness, movement, and footwork. Not sure he'll ever win anything big, because a killer instinct seems to be lacking, though he was one of my wild cards for this quarter. But today's performance was one for which he can be proud and Marin Cilic, the No. 11 seed who almost found himself down two sets to love, should consider himself fortunate his slightly older but less experienced opponent couldn't put the hammer down.


Graf_sampras said...

Craighickman -=-i LOVE the writing about QUERREY!!

have faith in him. he'll win BIG one day. he'll eventually find out that extra that separates his GAME from actually winning BIG by using it RUTHLESSLY.

just watch.

Graf_sampras said...

i've actually been banking a lot on this kid since I first saw and heard of him a few years back.

Graf_sampras said...

Tennis needs Sharapova, dammit,


THAT is brilliant !!!


Graf_sampras said...

New York Times Article on VENUS -- says only:

"at her age , 29, IN watching Venus in order to GAUGE, to MEASURE her chances to Win the TItle once more -- one only has to measure how LOW she gets...the LOWER venus gets....the HIGHER the chances she wins on Grass....this week -- she is playing LOWER"......

it was about the most ELEGANT deconstruction of the GREAT GRASS COURT GAME of Venus Williams in Championship Form i have read in a long time.

ALL DISTILLED right down to the BARE essentials of why Venus is the Great Champion of Grass that she is.

and Mind you --

last week - MARTINA NAVRATILOVA - the greatest ever wimbledopn champ with her 9 titles and many doubles -- named

"of the TOP FIVE Grass court or wimbledon champions...modesty requires I must not include they are :

Helen Wills Moody, Margaret Court,
Billie Jean King,
Steffi Graf
and Venus Williams"

hehehe -- GO VENUS!!

Pamela said...

Martina Navratilova gets no love from me. Aside from her bratty chatty Cathy ways on air, I will never forget her comments at Charleston in 2008. She had the unmitigated gall to sound hesitant when asked who was the favorite for Wimbledon. She wanted to say Justine and said flippantly "I guess it would have to be Venus" and then launched into why Justine is so great. Justine who has done diddly squat at Wimbledon.

I can't respect stuff like that, and I'm not even a Venus fan.

Oh, and I was proud of Sam. He did well and came close. The experience alone will help him later.

Pamela said...

As for people who think tennis needs Maria .. well, I'm sure her fans do and there is this take from Steve Tignor:

I actually don't mind Maria. I don't get all the "beauty" or "game" hype because she's not athletic, nor does she have a deft touch. She's just loud, louder and loudest and focused with a mean on-court glare. Whatever works, I guess.

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks for that, Pamela. Tignor is one of my favorites.

The answer to his final question?


Matthew said...

I agree - Querrey has got all kinds of talent (he has the all-time record for consecutive aces, since they started keeping track: eight in a row) but he is a pretty laid-back dude. Losing isn't the end of the world for him, which is healthy for most people, but for a professional tennis player, you maybe have to think about it that way sometimes.

sG said...

Aw, Querry lost! When I left the match I thought he had a good chance of squeaking out a win. I'll never be a "fan" but there is something about the messy SoCal surfer vibe Querry gives off in interviews which never fails to make me smile.

I was surprised Sharapova got that far at RG considering the surface and her injury-time away from court. I don't care how she managed to score those wins, it was better than I expected of her. God knows I expect very little, can't stand her. However this loss makes sense to me. It's the type of loss she should have racked up much earlier at RG. A solid player with little to no weapons, just a lot of steady-as-she-goes. A player like that would expose poor footwork and streaky play for a loss.

dapxin said...

Is it strange to see
papa + mama Williams
so peacefully close
together as here?

deliberate or LTA induced anyone ?