First Ball In, 6/17: One Foot Forward

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It was sunny and bright in Eastbourne today; can we keep that kind of weather going in England next week? This will be my last post before I head to Wimbledon. I’ll be back on Friday with draw previews from London, and will be reporting from the All England Club for the duration.


Tuesday Review

The biggest news item of the day was Victoria Azarenka's return in Eastbourne after three months away with a foot injury. Vika didn’t receive the friendliest draw: She opened against Camila Giorgi, an Italian who can take the racquet out of anyone’s hands with her brutally erratic shot-making. That’s what Giorgi did in a roller-coaster three-set win over Azarenka, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Still, Vika wasn't upset with the effort.

“That’s exactly what I wanted,” a mostly satisfied Azarenka said afterward, despite the loss. “I wanted to have a competitive match. I wanted to test myself, to play for a long time, see how my body is going to react.”

Azarenka said she was missing “a little bit of timing, reaction,” but she was happy that she “was there for every single moment, every single ball.”

“That feels great," she said, "to know that I’m able to move how I want and not have my face like this (flinching) every time I step.”

Vika’s body appeared to be intact, and so did her testiness. Asked whether she wished she had another tune-up before Wimbledon, she said, “I think that’s a very silly question, because [I] don’t have any more tournaments.”

Can Azarenka, who is ranked No. 8 now and will come to Wimbledon having played just one match on grass, be a threat there? With no clear-cut, overwhelming favorites in the draw, I don’t see why not.


Keys on Grass

That would be Madison Keys, and that would be the surface she happily transitioned to this week. Today the young American came up with one of the biggest wins of her career, a 6-3, 6-3 upset of former No. 1 and current Top Tenner Jelena Jankovic. 

Keys, who took Aga Radwanska to three sets at Wimbledon last year, can’t be considered a contender there yet, but she’s not a woman anyone is going to want to see in her section of the draw. Most impressive was the fact that Keys reined in her usual brand of go-for-broke, hit-or-miss tennis to get this win.

“It was just really solid,” Keys said, “wasn’t playing out of my mind or anything like that. I served pretty well and I was returning pretty well. I felt like I was taking time away pretty well.”

Serving, returning, taking time away: Those are three big keys, as it were, to winning on grass, a surface that Madison says she has come to love. She sounds like one of those players who feels born again at this time of the season.


Lucie Loses, Smiles

Lucie Safarova lost her sixth straight match to her countrywoman, Fed Cup teammate, and friend Petra Kvitova on Tuesday. Worse, she did it by making a string of egregiously unforced errors after being up 4-3 in a third-set tiebreaker.

Then Safarova does what she does so often: She smiled, and she kept that smile on her face all the way through the handshake with Kvitova. This may be the best thing about watching Lucie play: She has a knack for lowering the pressure of a match with a smile. In doing so, she reminds you that, whatever the result, it's a sport worth enjoying as both player and spectator.


OOP Analysis

See Wednesday’s Order of Play in Eastbourne here, and in ’s-Hertogenbosch here.

Richard Gasquet vs. Bernard Tomic: Are they still maddening, or are they just middling now? Gasquet won their last match, at the French Open; Tomic won when they played at Wimbledon in 2013.

Sloane Stephens vs. Caroline Wozniacki: Sloane bottomed out against Caro in Miami in March. Which means, in a way, she has less to lose this time.

Alize Cornet vs. Angelique Kerber: If you like your tennis operatic, and quite possibly sarcastic, tune in for this one. Kerber won their only meeting, last year on clay in Madrid.


For Further Reading

The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, who used to write a thing or two about tennis once upon a time, has a co-eulogy today for Tony Gwynn and Don Zimmer, two of baseball’s good guys.


See you on Friday from Wimbledon.

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