First Ball In, 6/18: Saving Grace

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 /by
AP
AP

Wednesday Review

Close Line

Serving for the biggest win of her career, Heather Watson wasn't shrinking from the lines in Eastbourne.

The British wild card pushed a forehand volley long to fall behind 0-30, then hit her highest notes of the match. Watson sliced a service winner, slashed an ace down the T, lifted a running forehand to draw an error, then closed with a rousing running forehand drive down the line. The shot of the match sealed Watson's 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-2 over 12th-ranked Flavia Pennetta.

The 70th-ranked Watson took the court with an 0-16 career record against Top 20 opponents and took over the match with her serve. She served 80 percent, including an imposing 90 percent in the final set, and won 14 of 18 second-serve points. It was Watson's second straight comeback win over a former Grand Slam semifinalist—she rallied for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win over 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova in the opening round.

Watson won't have much time to celebrate her first quarterfinal in nearly 16 months as she faces 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova for a spot in the final four.

*****

Birthday Spirit

Top seed Richard Gasquet celebrated his 28th birthday today with a stubborn spirit in Eastbourne. The Frenchamn saved nine of the 10 break points he faced, including five while fighting out of a 0-40 hole to hold for a 3-0 lead in the decider of his 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Bernard Tomic.

The Aussie's two-handed backhand is one of his best shots, but at 5-2 in the second set, Tomic, perhaps inspired by the sight of Gasquet's sweeping one-handed backhand, unleashed a running one-handed backhand pass down the line. Tomic's one-handed slice can be a disruptive shot, but he rarely flattens out a one-hander as he did today.

Pained by a back injury, Gasquet is playing just his third tournament since April. Gasquet, along with Feliciano Lopez and Sam Querrey, is one of three grass-court champions still standing. He beat Tomic for the second time in a month following a straight-sets win at Roland Garros.

*****

Saving Grace

Closure didn't come easy today in Eastbourne. Both Angelique Kerber and Camila Giorgi fought off match points in the third set to prevail.

The fifth-seeded Kerber saved two match points trailing Alize Cornet, 5-4, then roared out to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreaker to pull out a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (3) decision that spanned two hours and 27 minute. It had to be a heartbreaker for Cornet, who has just one win in four Eastbourne appearances.

Kerber has suffered her own match-point misery in Eastbourne: She held five match points and a 5-3 lead in the decider of the 2012 final, but could not close out Tamira Paszek, suffering a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 loss. Kerber will play Ekaterina Makarova in the all-lefty Eastbourne quarterfinal.

Giorgi overcame a horrid start, but kept fighting and fended off a match point at 5-4 in the third set of her 1-6, 7-5, 7-5 win over Eastbourne resident Johanna Konta.

“It was a tough match, she’s a very good player, she hits very hard, very fast, so obviously she’s a very tough opponent on these grass courts,” Konta said.

*****

Stockholm Syndrome

John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg met for the first time in Stockholm sparking the classic Fire and Ice rivalry 36 years ago. Now, Mac is back in Stockholm collaborating with another Hall of Fame player. The left-hander who brought punk rock rage to the court brings his rhythm guitar playing to rock legend Chrissie Hynde's first solo album, Stockholm. McEnroe plays on "A Plan Too Far." The pair reunited for a BBC Radio 6 Music chat earlier this week.

Asked to assess McEnroe's musicianship, Hynde told The New York Times Magazine: "If he actually stopped doing everything else and just got in a band, he would be good. He is good, but he’s a weekend guitar player."

McEnroe has made music and mayhem in Stockholm. The Swedish city was the site of this torrid McEnroe meltdown in 1984:

Though Hynde confessed she "started watching tennis about 30 years later than I should have,” she learned quickly how to tune up the former No. 1's temper and "unleash the monster." “It’s real easy to wind him up,” Hynde told The Sydney Morning Herald of McEnroe. “You actually have to be quite careful with him, he’s quite delicate. It doesn’t take much to get him going. Once you know that, it depends on what mood you’re in if you want to access that or not—if you want to unleash the monster."

The Pretenders' leader and New York native are long-time friends. Weeks after McEnroe channeled Hynde at an annual charity shows to benefit the City Parks Foundation at Flushing Meadows, he jammed with her at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan on "Precious" here:

*****

OOP Analysis

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

Eastbourne

(8) Caroline Wozniacki vs. Camila Giorgi: The Italian shotmaker hit more than three times as many winners as Wozniacki in upsetting the former No. 1 at the 2013 U.S. Open. Giorgi has been explosive, erratic, and tough at crunch time this week: She overcame 17 double faults with some brilliant backhand winners to edge former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in round one, and saved a match point to beat British wild card  Johanna Konta today.

Wozniacki moved well and served accurately continuing her mastery of Sloane Stephens, and knows she can't afford to let the hard-hitting Giorgi to set her feet and control the center of the court. "She hits every ball as hard as she can...for me it's all about playing every ball and get her moving," Wozniacki said today.

(3) Feliciano Lopez vs. Jeremy Chardy: Defending champion Lopez held match point in the Queen's Club final before falling to Grigor Dimitrov, but bounced back on the strength of sharp serving to beat Tobias Kamke today. Both are solid front-runners: Chardy is 15-1 when winning the first set this season, Lopez is 14-1 when taking the opening set. Nine of the last 17 sets Lopez has played on grass have been decided in tiebreakers, which could come into play here.

's-Hertogenbosch

(8) Jurgen Melzer vs. (2) Fernando Verdasco: Lefty veterans with lawn credentials—Melzer is a 2010 Wimbledon doubles champion and won the 2011 Wimbledon mixed crown with wife Iveta; Verdasco held a two-set lead over Andy Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinals—meet for the first time on grass. Verdasco has used his forehand to dictate play winning six of their prior eight meetings. Melzer, who knocked off Halle finalist Alejandro Falla in round one, will want to take the ball earlier and attack the Spaniard's backhand when he works his way to net.

(Q) Coco Vandeweghe vs. (7) Garbine Muguruza: These six-footers can belt the ball both on serve and return, which means there won't be too much time for negotiating rallies. Vandeweghe followed up a 19-ace performance in round one by cracking 12 aces and denying Vania King a break-point today. Roland Garros quarterfinalist Muguruza is comfortable on this court: She played through qualifying to reach the semifinals last year and has won seven of eight matches here. The Spaniard's explosiveness makes her an all-surface threat: Muguruza is playing for her fourth semifinal of the season.

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