At The Fringes
June 22, 2010 -- Who the heck is Kaia Kanepi? And where's Estonia?
The second question could be easier to answer, if you aren't into -- like way into -- women's tennis. And... yes... 'Kaia' is a woman's name in her home country of Estonia, which borders the Baltic Sea north of Latvia.
But there's one woman who knows all too well who Kaia Kanepi is. That's Samantha Stosur. She found out the hard way about Kanepi's big serve, groundstroke talents, and unflappable nerves on the grass of the oldest slam. And not in a good way because Miss Kanepi ousted Miss Stosur in her first round at Wimbledon. In straight sets, no less -- 6/4 6/4.
Stosur was seeded #6. She arrived in London the day after The French Open women's singles final. She was the finalist and on a roll. Many expected she'd make it deep into the second week.
Nope. Way out there on Court 18, which in itself has to be questioned... like, why was the runner up from The French Open sent to the fringes of the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon to play a -- get this -- qualifier?
So the real storyline is Samantha Stosur, the French Open finalist, lost to Qualifier Kaia Kanepi of Estonia in a two-set shocker way out there in the hinterland of The All England Club. Plus... it was the first match Kanepi had ever won at Wimbledon.
"She's a quality opponent," Stosur said in her press conference. "She has been ranked a lot higher than what she is [now]."
Samantha is right on the money about Kanepi. She has been around the WTA Tour since 2000. She reached a career high of #27 in 2008. She started her dive off the rankings in 2009 due to all sorts of injuries and illnesses: ankles, knees, and various viral infections.
If she can remain healthy, she could advance neatly. Her left thigh was wrapped throughout the match today, which doesn't bode well for a robust tournament. With four matches already under her belt, Kanepi's commitment and will might be the fuel for another victorious round.
The question of relegating a big name and top-ten seed like Samantha Stosur to Court 18 comes into sharper view when you consider that Svetlana Kuznetsova (#19 seed) played her first-round match on Court 2 against Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan, a relatively unknown woman with a name only the courageous attempt to articulate.
No offense to Miss Amanmuradova should be taken. But, admittedly her name won't make tennis news headlines any time soon, even though she came within a blade of grass of upsetting the 2009 French Open champion Kuznetsova in three tough sets -- 6/2 6/7 (5) 6/4.
Amanmuradova served 16 aces -- one at 115 MPH -- she had twice as many winners as unforced errors, and won an average number of points when she approached the net. Having a game based on a big serve is a good thing on the WTA Tour. Samantha Stosur has bankrolled a bunch of cash from tennis because her game spins off her first and second serves. But Miss Amanmuradova is no Stosur when it comes to court movement and consistency off the ground.
The Uzbekistan native is six-foot-three, which outstretches Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova. From that height, the serve trajectory is a beautiful thing. Amanmuradova's service motion is smooth, looking more natural and efficient than either Williams's or Sharapova's serve.
Perhaps her performance today will give her a boost of confidence. The WTA needs good, big servers like Akgul. Maybe, then, the frequent grumblings from the press about the lack of consistent serving from women pros will drop off.
At the other end of the seeding spectrum entered Serena Williams -- the defending champion. She made no mistakes in her debut round on Centre Court. She eliminated the squealy Michelle Larcher De Brito of Portugal in sixty-three minutes, serving 15 aces along the way to her 6/0 6/4 win.
Maria Sharapova displayed her gritty resolve against Lucky Loser Anastasia Pivovarova with a 6/1 6/0 win on Court 2 in a speedy fifty-four minutes. Even though the former Wimbledon champion is seeded #16, the tournament director knew to place her match on a prominent court -- not in the Wimbledon wilderness. Sharapova draws too much media and fan attention.
Fans witnessed an improved Sharapova today. Struggling with her serve after a year off due to shoulder surgery and recovery time, she won an astounding 94% of points off her first serve and 65% off her second. She only double faulted twice, a reduction that could spark a bit of celebration in her camp of specialists.
"I was just trying to get my feet on the ground and see where I was with my game and with my shoulder," Sharapova began. "I'm in much better match condition than I was last year. [I] feel good physically.
Maria is headed toward Serena Williams in the round of sixteen, and a rematch of their 2007 final -- Sharapova's first major title.
Fernando Verdasco had been at the center of men's tennis this spring, posting incredible wins and penetrating all the draws. But today he hit a wall and became the first top-ten seed (#8) on the men's side to lose.
Perhaps he is fatigued after his blockbuster spring romp. And, perhaps, grass remains a foreign and uncomfortable surface to the Spanish. His fellow countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero (#14 seed) lost today, too, to a name that once held promise at Wimbledon and beyond -- Xavier Malisse. The 'X-Man' played, but lost, a five-set semifinal thriller on Centre Court against David Nalbandian in 2002.