June 29, 2010 -- We all have expectations. If they don't work out, we become upset, sullen, or perhaps downright angry.
The women's draw at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships has shown signs of veering off course since day one when French Open Champion Francesca Schiavone and French Open Finalist Samantha Stosur came up empty handed against players with little substance to their resumes.
We didn't expect they would lose, at least not so darn early.
With each woman on opposite sides of the draw, the gate opened for wildcards, qualifiers, and higher ranked players to step up to the baseline and show their stuff. And they did.
Tsvetana Pironkova - ranked #82 in the world - picked her way through the draw's maze one round at a time. She had little to go on except belief, her mother's support, and her coach and father Kiril Enchev.
On her prior forays to The All England Club she had been defeated three times in the first round and once in the second. In fact, the second round is as far as she's advanced in any major tournament. However, she had defeated Venus Williams at The Australian Open in 2006. Somehow, that was enough for the Bulgarian today.
"I actually thought I could win. I have one win over her," Pironkova said to the BBC immediately after she'd marched past 5-time Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams 62 63. "So I went for it," she said with a slight smile.
That's belief. That's a high-risk bet anchored by nothing more than faith that with her game and with all her accumulated experience -- zero WTA career titles -- that she could repeat a win over the #2 seed at Wimbledon.
People don't get much better than that.
Examples of playing into nothing and coming from nothing concrete are rare. Yen-Hsun Lu, also ranked #82, demonstrated his beliefs yesterday against Andy Roddick. He, too, could be labeled a journeyman tour player just as Pironkova could be labeled a journeywoman. That description definitely doesn't fit either player, unless you drag in their records and length of time rising to the surface. But, maybe they needed that time. Maybe it wasn't ripe until now.
No one will be able to adequately explain the match, her ability to rise to the occasion -- The Championships Wimbledon. Stats will be listed. Percentages compared. Errors to unforced errors quoted. But they won't explain the result.
Quantitative measures can look amazingly similar between Pironkova and Lu, but the outcome and the actual points could diverge from them. Pironkova's benchmark breakthrough at a tournament could have come at a lower tiered event. No one would have taken much notice, except the record books kept by the WTA. And, let's face it, the breakthrough might not have affected this year's performance.
"I didn't have a particular strategy against her," Pironkova said. "I just tried to play my game, which is like move her as much as possible. I think I also did a very good defense."
Pironkova remained poised and upbeat against Venus, the same way she acted against Marion Bartoli yesterday. The Bulgarian exposed little in the way of emotions. Every once in a while she slapped her thigh the way a horseback rider might slap their steed -- giddy up, let's go.
"In a tennis match you can never say what happens. You just have to keep playing and playing and see the final result."
Venus helped Pironkova, too, donating unforced errors off not only her wiggy forehand, but also her steadier side -- her backhand. Pironkova didn't look the gift horse in the mouth, but she couldn't ride those mistakes to the bank either. She had to persevere. She had to move on and away from the fumbling that sprang off Venus's racquet. Otherwise, Venus would reverse tack and ever so slowly swing the momentum to her side of the court.
Vera Zvonareva (#21 seed) swung all out today against tournament hopeful, and #8 seed, Kim Clijsters -- a convincing athlete with two major titles who just didn't pull all the strings together today. She had her chances, but made too many unforced errors. Zvonareva's backhand sizzled at the right times. For the last twenty minutes, she directed the match from well inside her zone.
Zvonareva's victory today was an upset. It was also her first win over Clijsters -- 36 64 62.
"I think I was able to play one point at a time today," Zvonareva said. "I was able to keep my concentration from the beginning till the end of the match. I'm much more experienced right now, much more mature."
News highlights of Zvonareva usually show the Russian skitzing out, like she did at The Family Circle Cup this April in the final against Samantha Stosur. The Aussie dominated the match. It was over in fifty-three minutes -- the shortest final in the history of the tournament. Nonetheless, on a changeover Zvonareva whacked the racquet into a pretzel and kicked the lovely plantation-style couch at the sideline, as an extra touch of exasperation.
However, as she said, she has matured. She is an accomplished player with 9 career WTA titles. Her run at the WTA Tour Championships in 2008 was remarkable. She scored victories over Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, and Elena Dementieva. Zvonareva came up short in the final against Venus Williams, though.
In 2009, she was ranked in the top 10. She won both the singles and doubles titles at Indian Wells -- the BNP Paribas Open. Her spirits were lifted and expectant. However, an unfortunate tumble at The Family Circle Cup sent her off court for over six months. Her ranking hasn't risen above 20, since then.
Zvonareva hasn't dropped a set at this year's Wimbledon. Her advance to the semifinals is her best result. She has played Pironkova once, in Moscow, on home turf. Vera remembers that Pironkova was 'all over the court,' and will have to be cognizant of that.
Kaia Kanepi's loss today to Petra Kvitova was a disappointment to her, to her fans, and to her small country of Estonia. She served for the match in the second set and lost it in a tiebreak, after having three match points. She took off in the third, going up two breaks. She served for the match -- twice. She couldn't close. Final score: 46 76 (8) 86. It was the only three set match of the quarterfinals.
"She played a little bit better at this stage," Kanepi admitted. "I think when she broke, she got some more confidence and she just kept in there, kept fighting."
Kanepi blames her loss partially on her opponent's aggressive game and partially on herself -- didn't convert break chances, double faulted at inopportune times, and didn't get enough first serves in. That left her wide open and a target for returns that flew through the air like bullets off Petra Kvitova's racquet.
But Kvitova's comeback in the second and third sets was motivated by one thing - playing the next ball. "Yeah, it's enough," she said in her press conference.
Down 2/5 in the third, Kvitova saw an opportunity.
"I just knew that she can make some mistakes and it's my chance," she said. "It was just a break. And then I got my serve. It was very close about the thinking I can win."
Mental strength trumps good groundstrokes. However, good technique fertilizes mental strength. Get the first serve going and the gifts of Wimbledon could be yours.
Up next for the Czech lefty is Serena Williams who slugged her way past an error-prone Na Li today 75 64. Williams looks strong, clear about her intentions to win her 13th major on Saturday, and composed on court. Not much in the way of high-decibel "grunts."
Serena Williams is not ready to come down from the top. Kvitova's power will test Serena, as will the lefty spin on the balls. Oddly, Kvitova doesn't think she can be the Wimbledon Champion, which may bode poorly for her Thursday. If you need one thing against Serena, it's a lock-tight belief and faith in your game. Otherwise, the match could go by as quickly as Caroline Wozniacki saw her match go by -- Kvitova beat her in 46 minutes.