Three To See, Wimbledon: Day 4
Separated by just two spots in the rankings, both women have enjoyed grass-court success. Vesnina partnered Vera Zvonareva to the 2010 Wimbledon doubles final, paired with Leander Paes to reach the 2012 Wimbledon mixed doubles final, and warmed-up for Wimbledon beating former Grand Slam champions Ana Ivanovic and Li Na on her way to the Eastbourne title. (Her rankings ascent occurred shortly after the All England Club seeded players.)
Grass rewards Lisicki's power, athleticism, and aggression—assets she's put to good use in reaching two Wimbledon quarterfinals and a semifinal in singles, and the 2011 doubles final with Samantha Stosur.
The 22nd-ranked Vesnina knows how to close at net and she's well aware that Lisicki is the more explosive player—look for her to try change the pace and move forward when she can. Bolstered by one of the biggest first serves in the game, Lisicki can blast opponents off the court when she's on or implode with impatience, forcing shots too close to the lines when she's off.
Lisicki looked sharp dismissing 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone in round one, she's my darkhorse pick, and I like her chances to reach the third round for the fourth time.
The Pick: Lisicki in two sets
Two towering baseliners meet for the second time at Wimbledon in a match of first-strike tennis. Three years ago, Berdych rallied for a 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5, 6-3 fourth-round victory over Brands en route to the Wimbledon final.
If you watched Brands blast his way to a one-set lead before bowing to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros last month, then you know how formidable the 6'5" German can be when he's crunching his forehand into the corners. Brands is a scary opponent because he's a high-percentage server (69 percent on the season, which is sixth-best on the ATP tour) who can crack the kick serve to set up his forehand or pound the flat serve.
Contesting his 40th consecutive Grand Slam, the flatter-hitting Berdych reached the 2012 U.S. Open semifinals and 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals, but lost in the opening round at Wimbledon last year (to Ernests Gulbis) and this year's French Open (to Gael Monfils). Berdych is more balanced off both wings, he's been better on grass (Berdych has won 41 matches on grass alone, Brands has 42 career wins), and he should be highly-motivated after his first-round exit in Paris.
The Pick: Berdych in four sets
(6) Li Na vs. Simona Halep
Head-to-head: Halep leads 1-0
The second round has been a stumbling block for Li, who has suffered second-round exits in each of her last two trips to SW19. Coming off a second-round Roland Garros loss, you better believe Li knows this is a danger match. Plus, Halep won their lone prior meeting, 6-2, 7-5, at the 2011 U.S. Open.
A fast start is important for Li, who stormed out to a 17-3 start this season, including her second trip to the Australian Open final. Li, who injured her ankle in Melbourne, is 4-4 in her last eight matches, while the red-hot Halep enters on an 11-match winning streak after capturing successive titles on the clay of Nurnberg and the grass of 's-Hertogenbosch.
A strong, compact player, Halep serves much bigger than her 5'6" size suggests. Fatigue could be a factor as Halep has played plenty of matches in recent weeks, but she's been resourceful and feisty in posting a 17-2 record in her last 19 matches, including six victories over Top 20 opponents.
Former French Open champion Li has a bit more power and more experience in Grand Slam play, but she can also be the streakier player. Halep is playing some of her best tennis right now and I'll ride with her to keep the roll going.
The Pick: Halep in three sets