First Ball In, 6/27: Making the Turn

Friday, June 27, 2014 /by

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND—There are only so many ways you can make a funny headline out of a man-bites-man incident, right? After three days of non-stop Luis Suarez coverage, I had thought the tabloids here would be out of ideas. I should have known better. The Sun takes top honors with their pithy description of the Animal's four-month ban from soccer:

GNAW MERCY

Sometimes, though, tab-speak can be harder to understand. For example, this headline from Friday’s Mirror:

STEAKS NOT SO HIGH FOR BORIS

The Boris in question, of course, is Becker, the three-time Wimbledon champion. Apparently, the man once known as “Bonking Boris” in the papers here had a dinner bet with the man once known as Superbrat here, John McEnroe, on the U.S.-Germany World Cup game.

How does one make this rather dry tale into a sordid story worthy of the tabloids? Let the Mirror show you the way:

“Loser American McEnroe paid for 'a nice meal in London,' and the bill was small fry compared to Becker’s infamous 1999 trip to the Nobu eaterie.”

In case you’ve forgotten exactly what happened on that infamous trip to Nobu, the paper has this helpful reminder:

“It destroyed the German’s marriage, left him with an illegitimate daughter, and cost him 20 million pounds.”

Farther down the page, the Mirror gets even harder to figure:

FOG RED MIST FAR FROM FAB

Huh?

Fortunately, there’s always another tab at the newsstand to set you straight. The Daily Mail is slightly more straightforward in its reporting in this case:

FOGNINI FINED FOR ‘SMASH MY RACKET IN YOUR HEAD’ THREAT

So that’s what this is all about: Fabio Fognini was fined a record $27,500 for threatening to smash an official in the head with his frame. That seems sordid enough as it is.

The Mail is also very clear in its assessment of this year’s crop of British players not named Andy Murray, the last of whom, Heather Watson, was eliminated yesterday:

WATSON LAST OF ALSO-RANS

******

Winning a Match, and Winning Them Over

“I told myself before the match, I mean, this is Wimbledon, Court 1, I shouldn’t be grumpy. This is why I do this sport. This is why I play, to play these matches.”

That's what Barbora Zahlavova Strycova said she was thinking as she walked out to play Li Na today. As pep talks go, it won’t make Nick Bollettieri lose any sleep. But it did have the benefit of being true: How can any tennis player, let alone a 28-year-old journeyman ranked No. 43, come out on such a beautiful day at Wimbledon and be grumpy? Or, to put it another way, how can she walk out and not do her best to take whatever chances come her away?

This was one of those days when a top player loses, but the story of the match for those who watched it is all about the player who won. You could see, in her shots and her body language, Zahlavova Strycova grow into the match. You could see her win over the crowd as she went, and then use the crowd to buoy her up and push her past her favored opponent. It was as if Zahlavova Strycova started a race against Li Na from well behind; then, her belief growing with each well-placed shot, sprinted past her at the finish line in each set. In the end, she couldn’t keep herself from believing, and edged Li both times, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).

“I thought I can do it,” Zahlavova Strycova said, sounding not unlike the train that made it to the other side. “And that’s what happened.”

Her win over Li was unquestionably an upset, but if you had been following the WTA tour of late, it wasn’t a shock. Zahlavova Strycova reached the final in Birmingham two weeks ago, and grass is her favorite surface. She has the versatility for it. She won this match with a little bit of everything—good serving, well-timed drop shots, and efficient net play. She was 21 of 29 up there.

“It suits my game,” Zahlavova Strycova said of the surface, “because I play chip and charge, I like to play volleys, I like to mix the game. I play slice. I think it really suits me. My mental skills were working today.”

As for Li, her mental skills were clearly and self-admittedly rusty. She finished with more errors than winners, something that’s hard to do with the generous scorers at Wimbledon. She double faulted seven times, including on match point, and was especially awful at net, where she was 16 of 34. Li reached the quarters here last year, and talked a lot then about coming forward more. It was the Aussie Open champ’s second straight early exit from a Grand Slam. Just when she seemed to be finding a modicum of consistency with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, she’s gone shaky again.

Li chalked some of her poor form up to skipping the Wimbledon warm-ups this year.

“I think I make wrong decision,” she said. “I need to play some matches before the big one. It’s not only about technique. I think sometimes I don’t know how to play the point, especially in the important moment. I think today I make a lot of mistake.”

With no grass-court matches after the clay season, Li seemed unsure of her footwork today, running through balls and hitting them without getting set. 

“I was always wait, wait,” she said, “to see if the opponent can make mistake. But today didn’t work.”

In the end, she was happy to get away from grass again as soon as she could.

“Finally,” Li said, “I’m back to hard court.”

By the end, Zahlavova Strycova, while she never ran away with this one, looked like a different player from the one who started it. The match was a reminder of what can be best about tennis audiences: Unlike in team sports, they can be won over. Zahlavova Strycova, as she came out to give the crowd a wave after the handshake, bit her lower lip and grinned.

Quotes of the Day

"You're better than a Hawk-Eye because you can see in the dark."—a sarcastic Tomas Berdych to the chair umpire during his loss to Marin Cilic, which ended later than any outer-court match in Wimbledon history.

"I'm not getting' out of here."Venus Williams, when the possibility of her retirement was brought up in her press conference.

******

OOP Analysis

See Saturday’s Order of Play here.

Rafael Nadal vs. Mikhail Kukushkin

Rafa would appear to have weathered the early storm in his first two rounds. He’s 2-0 against Kukushkin, who wouldn’t seem to have the weapons to hurt him that Klizan and Rosol did in the first two rounds. Things could get trickier if the rain that’s in the forecast arrives, and Rafa has to go indoors. Winner: Nadal

Maria Sharapova vs. Alison Riske

These two have played just once, on grass, four years ago in Birmingham, and Sharapova won in three sets. The American, who stays low and hits flat, is good on this stuff, as Maria herself said in her press conference yesterday. I would also guess that Riske won’t be in awe of the Centre Court occasion. This one could get interesting. Winner: Sharapova

Serena Williams vs. Alize Cornet

Are we in for some more, as Rafa would put it, “revenges”? Cornet beat Serena in Dubai earlier this year, and Serena has been looking awfully focused in general at this tournament so far. Winner: S. Williams

Ana Ivanovic vs. Sabine Lisicki

A tough call. Ivanovic, who easily beat the German on clay this spring, has been playing well for most of the year, and has been surprisingly good on grass this month. But Lisicki always plays well at Wimbledon. Really well. Winner: Lisicki

Simona Halep vs. Belinda Bencic

The new girl versus the future girl. Halep, at 22, has reached her prime and is No. 3 in the world. She went on walkabout in her three-set victory over world No. 170 Lesia Tsurenko on Friday, but she also showed off a winning blend of offense and defense for grass. The 17-year-old Bencic could be in Halep’s shoes one day, but tomorrow will probably not be it. Winner: Halep

John Isner vs. Feliciano Lopez

This could go on for a bit. Or maybe more than a bit. Both guys should dominate on their serves and decide things in tiebreakers. Isner is 2-1 in their head to head, though they’ve never played on grass. Each man is feeling good on this surface right now, especially Lopez, runner-up at Queen’s Club and champion in Eastbourne. Winner: Lopez

Eugenie Bouchard vs. Andrea Petkovic

A battle of French Open semifinalists. Petko clipped Genie at the wire on clay in Charleston earlier this year, but the German is only just getting comfortable with grass, her least-favorite surface. Bouchard seems ready for revenge, and another step forward. Winner: Bouchard

Roger Federer vs. Santiago Giraldo

They’ve played just once, at the U.S. Open three years ago, and Federer won in straights. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where that doesn’t happen again on Saturday. Winner: Federer

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