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July 3, 2011 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
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Reviewing Wimbledon 2011
by Ray Bowers

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

Intermittent rain throughout the first and early in the second week spoiled the planned scheduling for the outer courts. The convertible roof at Centre Court, when closed, appeared to produce only small effects on the nature of play, as the damp and still air probably slowed through-the-air velocities slightly. The absence indoors of sun and wind improved the quality of stroking by the players and helped players most dependent on strong serving and high ball toss. By preventing periods of complete stoppage of play, the roof, which had been scarcely used in its first two years of existence, this year added greatly to the enjoyment of watchers in the gallery and those worldwide watching by tv.
As usual the fast bounce on grass helped servers. Aces, measured in the second week of men's singles, were about as frequent as usual at Wimbledon -- 10.3 aces per point played, or twice the ratio at Garros 2011. Players held serve in 85% of non-tiebreak games, contrasted with less than 75% at Garros 11. Net approaches were half-again as frequent as at Garros. The inevitable deterioration of the grass under heavy usage seemed less distracting than in past years, though bad bounces seemed to increase with increasing damage, especially close to the baselines. There were a number of slips and spills at the deep fringes where player-footing changed from clay to grass. Meanwhile the skidding of sliced serves and ground strokes on the grass enhanced the dimensions of the play. The electronic line-call and challenge system was enormously valuable.
Three members of the Big Four in men's singles indeed reached the final weekend. The intruder was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who upset Roger Federer in the quarters. The Nadal-Djokovic final produced countless magnificent exchanges and a new Wimbledon champion. Meanwhile the run for the women's singles crown reaffirmed the rapid movement upward of the newest contingent of younger potential superstars -- a process that had been momentarily reversed at Garros one month before.
Attention during the first week focused not on the youth brigade but rather on the returning champions of the past. Serena and Venus Williams together had won nine of the last eleven Wimbledons, and both were now returning from extended injury-related absences. Serena, now 29, had been out ever since winning the 2010 Wimbledon crown without loss of a set. Venus too, 31, had been away from action since January in Australia.
I had picked Serena to win the tournament. In the past she had returned successfully from periods of inactivity by recovering her top form in the early rounds of a new event. That pattern seemed again in play, both one week earlier at the Eastbourne tune-up and again in Serena's first three matches at Wimbledon, where she defeated unseeded Rezai and Halep in split-setters and then handled Kirilenko comfortably in the third round. After beating hard-hitting Rezai, Serena exploded into tears of joy after her year of frustrations.
It ended in the fourth round on Second Monday, June 25, when Serena seemed now unable to summon her big game. She reacted poorly to Marion Bartoli's serves, failing to return far too many. Her own attacking game seemed uncertain, denying her the upper hand in rallies regularly. Bartoli, 26, delivered more aces, was the cleaner ball striker off the ground, and performed well at the critical moments. Serena's play picked up as defeat loomed, but Marion too raised her forceful serving and stroking just enough to capture the second-set tiebreak game that ended matters. Marion's routine between points -- hopping about and swinging away at the air -- probably helped her avoid nervousness toward the finish. Bartoli d. S. Williams, 63 76.
Venus met similar fate almost immediately afterwards. Tsvetana Pironkova, 23, who had beaten Venus one year ago in the Wimbledon quarters, once again summoned excellent tennis to bring down the five-time Wimbledon champion. Venus played dismally in stretches, contributing many unforced errors, often overhitting. Like Serena, Venus improved in the second set, but Pironkova like Bartoli answered by raising her efforts as well. The score was identical to one year ago. Pironkova d. V. Williams 62 63.
The early carnage was widespread. Eliminated under the roof in the first week was Li Na, 29, recent champion at Garros and earlier runner-up in Australia, now beaten by Sabine Lisicki. Bigger and stronger than Li, Lisicki at 21 had been returning to earlier form after injury-related absence, winning the grass tune-up at Birmingham behind her heavy serve and ground strokes. These weapons kept Sabine in contention, indeed saved two match points, against Li. Toward the finish Sabine produced some excellent defense, seemingly causing Na to strike for the lines and corners too forcefully. In losing three consecutive serving games at the end, it would be Li's misses that turned the verdict to Lisicki. Lisicki d. Li 36 64 86.
Ousted in the third round was second-sedded Zvonareva, who found herself largely in back court facing Pironkova, against whom Vera had won 29 of 35 net points in winning in last year's semis. Also out early was Francesca Schiavone, recent runner-up at Garros 11, beaten by unseeded Tamira Paszek, 20, in a match played over two dates.
Also beaten on Second Monday was top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, still only 20. Caroline won the first set against Cibulkova, but Dominika, age 22 at height just 5-3, produced devastatingly accurate power ground strokes to claim the initiative and capture closely the second and third sets. I was taken with Dominika's frequent striking the forehand with weight largely on the front foot and with closed stance, especially when on or inside baseline. Against the heightened precision achieved by Dominika, any reduction of topspin seemed uncritical on the grass. I noticed that both Bartoli and Pironkova tended to the same technique, though less regularly.
Thus only three members of the top-seeded eight -- Sharapova, Azarenka, and Kvitova -- actually reached their seeded level. All three also reached the semis, joined there by Lisicki, who beat Bartoli. Sharapova was the oldest, at 24. Gone were the veterans -- most notably the recent Garros finalists Li and Schiavone, along with the Williamses.
The youth brigade held forth on women's semi-final Thursday, June 30. Victoria Azarenka, 21, had the higher ranking, but Petra Kvitova, 21 at height 6-0 and weight 154, had won their meeting at Wimbledon one year ago and also their only subsequent meeting. The left-handed Czech star also had the more potent serve plus easier power off the ground. Azarenka is a heavy hitter, but Kvitova's strikes are even heavier, so that the outcome largely depended on the young Czech star's ability to keep her rockets inside the baseline. Kvitova did just that, claiming the first set in less than a half-hour, Petra scarcely missing, while Victoria only occasionally answered in kind. The easy success perhaps produced the letdown that followed, as Petra's errors suddenly multiplied and Victoria's strong game captured the second set. But with the start of set three, Petra cut down her errors yet maintained enough forcefulness to produce two service breaks and a very convincing victory. Kvitova led in the count of aces 9-1 and in other winners 31-8. Kvitova d. Azarenka, 61 36 62.
In the second semi Sabine Lisicki started well, serving and stroking with full-blooded authority as Sharapova seemed unable to keep her replies inside the lines. But Maria soon began finding the range with her own more-devastating rocketry. Lisicki's ground game could not stand up amid Maria's superior pace and accuracy. Many of Sabine's errors were forced by Maria's artillery to the baseline, others were unforced, especially in Sabine's returning of second serves. Maria persisted in her forceful second serves, which on average were 8 mph faster than Lisiciki's but led to 13 double-faults. A late run by Sabine faltered at the finish when Maria crushed several Lisicki second serves. Sharapova d. Lisicki, 64 63.
Several factors largely explained Petra Kvitova's triumph on final-round Saturday, overcoming the big game of Maria Sharapova that had swept aside six opponents, all in straight sets. Far better than Maria's previous opponents, Kvitova was able to answer Maria's rockets, moving quickly to impact point meanwhile attaining preparation needed to reply with equivalent power and forceful direction of her own. Petra's was an offense-oriented defense derived from her own athletic movement and confidence in striking. Maria showed much of the same ability though with less accuracy and error-avoidance.
Then too there was the devastating serving of Kvitova, which grew in effectiveness as the match proceeded. The first serve, often carrying much left-handed side-slice, produced only one ace -- on the very last point of the match -- but elicited countless weak returns or misses by Maria. Both players kept up the forcefulness on the second serve, but Maria's double-faulting problem persisted. Indeed, Petra's winning of the first set came from consecutive double-faults by Maria that produced the deciding break in game six. Serving velocities by both players were closely similar.
Finally, aside from a few misses of very easy shots by Petra, there was almost no evidence of the Kvitova streakiness seen in earlier matches. When in set two Maria stepped up her play to reach three-games-all amid a stretch where both players produced some of the match's most exhilarating tennis, it was Maria who then faded ever so slightly. Meanwhile Petra maintained her intensity to turn the scoreboard finally Petra's way.
Kvitova's edge in tactical variety -- greater comfort at net, occasional softish slices, at least one spectacular topspin lob, but almost no dropshots on this occasion -- probably contributed only slightly to the outcome. Kvitova d. Sharpapova 63 64.
It was Petra's first Slam crown. It is hardly arguable that she is the game's newest superstar.
Wozniacki continues to hold first place in the rolling-12-month rankings and the 2011-to-date race. Kvitova's triumph at Wimbledon makes Petra now #2 in the 2011-to-date race, up from #7.
#1. Caroline Wozniacki, 5,776 ranking points
#2. Petra Kvitova, 5,037
#3. Li Na, 4,947
#4. Maria Sharapova, 4,840
#5. Victoria Azarenka, 4,502
The Russian women led from the outset in main-draw matches won at Wimbledon 11. It was the seventh straight triumph for the Russkayas and the first time in this century that the U.S. women failed to finish at least second.
#1. Russia, 31.0
#2. Czech Republic, 25.5.
#3. Germany, 15.0
#3. USA, 15.0
Here are the players who most exceeded their seeded level in singles. All three are aged 21 or less.
#1. Sabine Lisicki. Unseeded, reached round of four. One credit each for reaching rounds of 32, 16, 8, and 4. Total four credits.
#2. Tamira Paszek. Unseeded, reached round of eight. One credit each for reaching rounds of 32, 16, and 8. Total three credits.
#3. Petra Kvitova. Seeded in first eight at #8. One credit each for reaching rounds of 4 and 2 and one credit for winning the final. Total three credits.
THE WIMBLEDON TRIPLE A rarity at modern Slams is the winning by a single male or female player of all three events -- singles, doubles, and mixed. Alice Marble won the Wimbledon triple crown in 1939, where her mixed-doubles partner, Bobby Riggs, won the male triple. Of the five female triples at Wimbledon since Marble, four came prior to the Open Era, and only Billie Jean King's, in 1973, came after 1968.
Here, we seek those players who came closest at Wimbledon 2011 to achieving the once-coveted triple crown. More than twenty female players appeared in the main draw of all three events this year. None won all three, so that there was no triple winner in 2011. We here calculate how closely every player, including those who played in only one or two events, came to achieving the triple crown. Our examination allows us to recognize mid-tier players who achieved excellence if not superstardom at this year's Wimbledon.
Here then are the players who came closest to winning a Wimbledon triple in 2011. Each event -- singles, doubles, and mixed -- is given equal importance. Players receive proportionate credit for advancing ( i.e., winning matches) in each event.
#1. Elena Vesnina, 24. Won 1 singles match (of 7 needed for the triple crown), four women's doubles matches (of 6 needed), and 4 mixed doubles matches (5 needed). Elena thus achieved 53.5% of a Wimbledon triple.
#2. Sabine Lisicki, 21. Won 5 singles matches (of 7 needed), 5 women's doubles matches (6 needed), and did not play mixed. Achieved 51.6% percent of a Wimbledon triple.
#3. Iveta Benesova, 28. Won 1 singles match (of 7 needed), 2 women's doubles matches(6 needed), and 5 mixed doubles matches (5 needed). Achieved 49.2% of a Wimbledon triple.
One by one, those stars most likely to threaten the Big Four dropped aside. Seventh-seeded David Ferrer was tested in five sets by Ryan Harrison, 19, and then lost in straights to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, Wimbledon runner-up in 2010, lost in straight sets to Mardy Fish. Last year's quarter-finalist Robin Soderling, now seeded fifth, narrowly survived a first-week five-setter with Lleyton Hewitt and then -- below his best both healthwise and in the quality of his tennis -- lost in straight sets to teenager Tomic.
Bernard Tomic moved at age 3 with his parents from Europe to Australia. At age 18 and height 6-4, he finished 2010 with world ranking #208. His success in early 2011, when he won two main-draw matches at Australian Open and one at Indian Wells, placed him on our watch list to reach ranking #53 by April 2012, and his win over Soderling puts him on schedule to reach this target.
Bernard would next make trouble for Novak Djokovic. The youth unveiled an unusual style featuring controlled and well-disguised variety in spins and placement. His mobility together with his excellent reach and body control allowed him to extend points almost indefinitely, but Bernard also brought deceptive power, enabling him to summon rockets to the corners that gained in effectiveness from their surprise. Djokovic held his frustrations in check long enough to narrowly prevail in four sets, but it seemed likely that tall Bernard would grow in physique and power thereby attaining a potent all-around game in the not-too-distant future. Djokovid d. Tomic 62 36 63 75.
Two other Big Four members, Nadal and Murray, would also succeed in defending their elite status in the quarters. Nadal defeated Fish in four, and Andy Murray beat Feliciano Lopez in straights. But the round's main story was the victory of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Roger Federer.
Roger collected sets one and two, but Tsonga was starting to surpass Roger in the exchanges, gaining in control and confidence as he marginally outstroked the six-time Wimbledon champion. Increasingly, Tsonga's superior and relentless power in serving and stroking denied Roger the initiative, forcing Roger to defensive play, sometimes creating openings that Jo-Wilfried seldom missed. There would be seven break points in the last three sets -- all of them against Federer's serve. The French star captured three of them, one in each of his three victorious sets. The two played many brilliant points, and there were still many fine riposte's in Roger's bag. But Roger's knowledge and experience could not deny the relentless force of the man from Lemans. Tsonga d. Federer 26 67 64 64 64.
In the first semi on Friday, Djokovic defeated Tsonga behind Novak's unmatched ability to turn back heavy attack by a powerful opponent. There was much thunderous hitting and acrobatic play by both, especially Tsonga. Then in the second semi-final afterwards, Nadal and Murray went at it determinedly, both men playing moderately aggressively. Murray squeezed out the first set by a last-game service break. But Nadal took command midway in the second set, Andy offering too many errors and gradually losing his edge of composure and perhaps fitness. Nadal finished with a large advantage in unforced errors, having contributed only 7 against Murray's 39.
Final-round Sunday pitted Nadal, Wimbledon champion the last two years and now playing with several rounds of injections for foot pain, against Djokovic, who had beaten Rafa in their last four meetings, all in 2011. Both men played at full throttle early-on, and as the two adjusted to each other and the conditions the quality of the play became magnificent. The first set ended abruptly, when Nadal, who was ahead 30-love and serving, in the next three points became engaged in furious extended rallies. Typically against other opponents, as points lengthened Rafa's power, movement, and tenacity gave him the edge. But on this day Novak had already shaken this assumption. Now in the critical moment, Djokovic would win all three breathtaking rallies. And when Rafa errored early in the set point that followed, the first set had suddenly gone to Novak.
Djokovic's matchless ability at replying to Rafa's forcing play became the foremost decider in set two. Nadal was playing well, answering Novak's sorties well, attacking fiercely. But no matter how potent Rafa's blows, always there was Novak, reaching hitting position with spectacularly blinding speed, ready and able to reply with even more mustard and, what was for Rafa, heartbreaking precision. In what must have been one of the greatest spells of tennis in Centre Court history, Novak swept aside every bid by Rafa, breaking serve twice, wholly dominating the two-time champion and then world #1.
Rafa answered with renewed determination, and Novak yielded set three rather quietly. But when the score reached three-games-all in the fourth set, Djokovic then captured the last three games, breaking serve again behind the dazzling defensive-offensive play seen earlier. The victory had gone to the player with the heavier artillery along with superior precision in applying it, plus speed and athleticism in movement at least equal to Nadal's. Djokovic d. Nadal 64 61 16 63.
Novak Djokovic now moves into first place in the ATP official rolling-12-month rankings. His win at Wimbledon increases his lead in the 2011 year-to-date race, as follows (unofficially complied here):
#1. Novak Djokovic, 9,471 points
#2. Rarael Nadal, 7,635
#3. Roger Federer, 4,180
#4. Andy Murray, 3,720
The Big Four seem to be becoming a Big Two.
The three leading nations scored roughly equally as the men's tally of match-wins unfolded. France, which won the honor in 2010, led after the first week. With four days to go, France and USA were tied. The American tally thereafter lifted as the Bryans completed their winning of the men's doubles in a run that included an extended-fifth-set win in the semis over Llodra of France and Zimonjic of Serbia. Final tally:
#1. USA, 24.5 matches won
#2. France, 21.5
#3. Spain, 21.0
Two survivors of the qualifying rounds succeeded in reaching the round of 16 in the main draw. Only one of them would go farther, thereby becoming the tournament's top overachiever.
#1. Bernard Tomic. The teenager from Australia won three matches in qualifiers for one credit here. One additional credit each for reaching main-draw rounds of 32, 16, and 8. Total four credits.
#2. Lucasz Kubot. Won three matches in qualifiers for one credit here. One additional credit each for reaching main-draw rounds of 32 and 16. Total three credits.
#3. Feliciano Lopez. Unseeded. One credit each for reaching rounds of 32, 16, and 8 in a run that incluided wins over Roddick and aforementioned Kubot. Total three credits.
Since Riggs in 1939 there has been only one male triple (singles, doubles, mixed) at Wimbledon. This year, a large number of males competed in two of the three events, but only a handful appeared in all three (singles, doubles, mixed).The formula used here to identify who came closest to a triple is the same as described for the women, above.
#1. Jurgen Melzer. Won 2 singles matches (of 7 needed for a triple), 3 doubles matches (of 6 needed), and won the mixed doubles. Jurgen thus achieved 59.5% of a Wimbledon triple.
#2. Bob Bryan. Won the men's doubles, won two mixed doubles matches (of 5 needed), did not play singles. Achieved 46.7% of a Wimbledon triple.
#3. Michael Llodra. Won three singles matches (of 7 needed for triple), won 4 men's doubles matches (of 6 needed), did not play mixed. Achieved 36.5% of a Wimbledon triple.
It was surely another historic Wimbledon, bringing superb first-time champions both male and female. The grass-court season sometimes seems an anomaly, where play features irregular bounces and unique problems in court movement. Still, the marvel of the annual Championships including the wonderful play shown by the top pros argues for lengthening the grass season, to include raising Queen's to at least Master's-500 status, and against an opposite notion, to convert the entire sequence to clay. In my own opinion, waiting at least one more year, to see how goes the 2012 Olympics at the All-England Club, makes sense.
--Ray Bowers
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

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