Friday, July 6, 2007

Words of Love - My Wimbledon Diary - July 9 - Postscript

King Roger the Fifth Wins Record-Tying Fifth Straight Men's Singles Title at Wimbledon Championships

Centre Court fans salute Roger Federer's fifth straight Wimbledon men's singles championship, which tied Bjorn Borg's record. Federer beat a valiant Rafael Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2

July 9 - Postscript

I got around to watching the awards presentation and interviews on tape. Both players were very gracious. Nadal did beautifully considering he's such a young guy speaking in his second language. I hope when he wins they have a Spanish-language interviewer handy to allow him to speak to his countrymen in their native language.

Federer was elegant in his all-white suit and in his responses. I particularly liked his acknowledgment of the fans, who watched at Centre Court all week without the customary protection of a roof. He also mentioned winning now before Nadal took over and "won them all", and that Nadal was equally deserving of the win--a nice touch given Nadal's courageous performance in the final and his long two weeks to get there. Federer was a little lucky, as his 4th round opponent defaulted during the rainy season, and when he came back from two 15-40 deficits, though these were less luck than skill as he responded to the pressure with some of his best serves.

Four-and-a-half hours into their broadcast, NBC saluted their long-time tennis broadcaster, Bud Collins, let go after a 35-year career with the network covering Wimbledon with a short retrospective and a live interview with studio host Jimmy Roberts. Collins was jovial and gracious, but seemed a little downhearted at the end of an era. I'm sure NBC didn't want to draw attention to the changing of the guard, but it would have been nice for them to run the feature when their audience was a little bit larger. At least they did something.

I wish that Federer or someone had acknowledged the wonderful work of the Wimbledon grounds crews, who placed and removed countless tarps during the rainy two weeks of play. Federer was out of the picture for most of the rain and was thinking in big picture terms. I hope that someone in the adminstration at the All-England Lawn and Tennis Club lets these folks know how much their efforts were appreciated.

July 8 - Set 4 (on tape) Now you and I both know who won the match, but I'll still post my comments. Watching on tape helps a little--I can go back and count strokes and correct my record. I finally developed a shorthand scorekeeping system that I can read. I can use it again come U.S. Open time.

The almost sure thing of a five-set match turned out to be a sure thing.

Highlights of Nadal's 6-2 win in fourth set were:

Federer requesting that Hawkeye be "turned off" after it judged a close shot by Nadal as being in after linesman called out. Then Federer sarcastically asking "was that in too?" on a subsequent shot that was clearly past the baseline.

Nadal suffering knee tendinitis during 4-0 game won by Federer. Nadal received treatment (knee wrapped) during changeover. This "time out" appeared to allow Federer to collect his wits, which were too much focused on Hawkeye and not enough on Nadal.

Nadal's injury doesn't interrupt his 4th set momentum. He plays a great drop volley to hold serve and lead 5-1.

Only one break point for Federer against Nadal since second game of first set. Remarkable given Federer's strong return of serve and Nadal's relatively weak serve.

Federer nets a backhand to close fourth set for Nadal.

Passing Shots - McEnroe says that "fans like the Hawkeye". I'm in that group. Seems like it would be less susceptible to error than the human eye. Relative accuracies of both mechanisms could be tested using high speed cameras. I suspect this has been done. The announcers requirement to say "the Traveler's Hawkeye call was "in synch" (their slogan)" was been kind of annoying. I'd prefer that the announcers be able to use their own linguistic gifts that have to spout pre-written ad copy to describe live action.

I like the ING commercial were the townspeople work to get the cat out of the tree. In just a few seconds we go from a "911" call to a police official telling a reporter, "I can't tell you anymore" to a politician promising to build a platform (as part of his platform) to three helicopters with rescue harnesses. The cat comes out of the tree when a women on a bench opens a can of tuna fish. Just that fast, someone says "that's it folks" or words to that effect. I didn't enjoy the other ING commercial (with the father telling his daughter a story) nearly as much. I don't remember much about the other sponsors' commercials.

Set 5: Given that I knew the score would end up 6-2 Federer, I didn't see what I expected. This was Federer's first fifth set of any kind in more than a year, and his first at Wimbledon since 2001, when he burst onto the tennis scene with a win over Pete Sampras (Sampras's last match at Wimbledon, and killing his bid for five consecutive championships).

Federer won Game 1 with an ace, an advantage that would prove critical later. Nadal held Game 2 handily. Game 3 will be one that Nadal looks back at. He had two break points. Federer cleared one with a service winner. Nadal's forehand error created deuce. Nadal netted a backhand to give ad to Federer. Federer hit a forehand winner to hold serve for a 2-1 lead.

Nadal held Game 4 easily. At this point, you'd never guess that this would be the last game he would win. The win featured a nice half-volley winner and an overhead smash.

Game 5 was another heartbreaker for Nadal. He built a 15-40 lead on three Federer errors. Federer responded with two strong serves (one a second serve) that Nadal couldn't handle to get to deuce. Nadal's long backhand gave ad to Federer. Nadal's netted forehand after a 16 stroke rally allowed Federer to again hold serve after he was behind.

Game 6 turned the match. Nadal's net cord shot went out. Federer followed with a nice forehand winner for 0-30. At this point, the total points were tied at 152. Federer hit an even better forehand winner for 0-40 and three break points attempts. He only needed two--another forehand winner pushed the score to 4-2 Federer. The last rally had 14 shots, the second long rally won by Federer to close out a game.

Federer sensed the kill in Game 7 and pounded three aces and a service winner to win at love. Total ace count now 24 to 1, favor of Federer. At this point, Federer had won 12 of last 13 points since being down 15-40 in Game 4.

Game 8 was a gem to end the match. To his credit, Nadal conceded nothing--knowing that by holding serve and breaking one time he could be back in the match. After a backhand volley winner, he actually led 40-30 in the game, but Federer responded with a return winner off his forehand. The match at this point was about 3 and 3/4 hours long, so long that Nadal had actually grown a slight beard. Nadal took an ad lead when Federer hit a forehand out, a call that was validated by Hawkeye. Federer's backhand winner evened the match. A long forehand by Nadal gave Federer his first Championship Point (CP), but a long forehad by Federer put the score back to deuce. A forehand into the net gave Federer his second chance to win his fifth straight championship. He didn't miss this one, setting up and cashing an easy forehand overhead smash for the win. I think that the final game was the longest of the match (three deuces), but my records aren't that complete to be sure.

Federer got teary-eyed at what he'd accomplished. Nadal sat for awhile with his head hung down. It didn't appear that Nadal's gruelling playing schedule (play on eight consecutive days) or his minor knee injury made a difference (unless #1 caused #2, which caused some of the fifth set errors--clearly they didn't defeat Nadal's heart, which was fighting 'til the very last stroke.)

Federer's remarkable ability to reverse adversity--a bad fourth set loss; two 15-40 scores in a tied match--despite having very little adversity to deal with (except at the French Open) was the key story of the win. That and the remarkable discrepancy in aces - 24 to 1 in favor of Roger. Nadal's serve was good, but the aces gave Roger some easy points in a match where long rallies played to Nadal's strengths.

In the post-match segments it was nice to see NBC tennis broadcasting veteran Bud Collins do a brief interview with Federer. I heard that Collins had been somewhat unceremoniously dumped from the NBC broadcast team. I think that Collins even coined the phrase "Breakfast at Wimbledon". It would have been nice to see a short retrospective on Collins' work at Wimbledon before he is put out to pasture. (I'll go back to the tape and see if there's something there.)

Set 4: Nadal is up two breaks as I leave for church. A five-setter is almost a sure thing. Will pick this up on tape later this afternoon. Federer is frustrated with "hawkeye" after Nadal "out" ball is ruled in by 1 mm.

Set 3: I took a shower more or less between sets. Picked the action back up at 1-1.

Federer now leads 2 sets to 1, despite only breaking Nadal's serve one time. He dominated the third set tiebreaker, 7-3. Nadal has lost three serves in each tiebreaker.

Highlights - great game for Federer to tie at 5-5; backhand overhead and drop volley to win after Nadal rallied from 0-40 to deuce.

At 6-5 Nadal, with him up 15-30, Nadal nets an easy forehand. Federer follows with 15th ace.

Passing Shots - In talking about his close family, Robinson noted that Nadal "still lives on the island of Majorca." McEnroe perceptively asked, "why would he leave?"

Nadal has 8 wins over Federer against 4 losses. During same period, rest of world has 12 wins (278 losses).

Set 2: Nadal evens the match with a 6-4 win; last game highlighted by Nadal hitting a winner from seat of his pants. Nadal takes set on first opportunity at 15-40. Federer saved previous Nadal break chance at 2-3, 15-40 with three straight aces.

Game at 2-2 featured a 20-shot rally, won by Nadal.

Game at 3-3 saw Federer challenge an out call; ball was out by about 1 mm.

Passing Shots - Federer has played in nine Grand Slam finals in a row. Previous record was four.

Pierce Brosnan missed Bartoli's final--was at a wedding; sent flowers.

Federer is oldest of four Wimbledon semifinalists.

Nadal's fitness stands in contrast to other youngsters--Gasquet and Djokovic, who couldn't hold up to stress of long week of play.

Set 1: Federer has to win this one twice, as Nadal challenges an out call at 5-6 in the tiebreaker. Hawkeye shows that ball is good. Nadal wins replay, but Federer hits winning volley at 7-6 to take set.

Other highlights: Federer aces first point of match. Nadal loses 40-0 lead in second game; Federer breaks when Nadal hits volley into net.

At 3-1, Federer hits first drop shot for a winner. Federer saves break point with ace, but Nadal breaks on passing shot.

At 5-4, best rally of match--23 shots; Nadal hits corner; evens match at 5-5. McEnroe challenges Federer on tactics for hitting Nadal's second serve, which he seems as vulnerable.

Tiebreak--Federer took 6-3 lead, Nadal evened at 6-6; despite Federer win, Nadal playing like he expects to win the match.

Passing Shots - Nadal is natural righty; has improved serve by 20 mph in last two years; has "two strong hands" on two-handed backhand. Nadal's fastest serve in first set was faster than Federer's fastest.

Federer has own clothing design featuring emblems for each Wimbledon win--4 on shoes beginning to look crowded. Still, Nike swoosh is visible on both players' clothes.

The Tour de France starts in London this year??

The commentators noted that Federer makes so little noise on the court compared to Nadal and many other players. His feet seem to skim along the surface, and he doesn't grunt. I tried to think of something more clever than the "Silent Swiss" for a nickname, which to my knowledge, Federer doesn't have. "Swiss Guard"; "Swiss Bank Account", "Swiss Army (Tennis) Knife", "Swiss Cheese (would fit with baseball lingo, where "cheese" is slang for fastball; but not in tennis--there aren't many holes in Federer's game). I'll keep working on this and have something ready for the U.S. Open.

During the game at 5-4, I made the note that Ted and John need to move the discussion back to this match, after they waxed for awhile on the days of Borg, Connors and McEnroe. Of course, many fans are probably young enough that they don't even know who these guys were, to say nothing of them being giants of the tennis world.

McEnroe responded by criticizing Federer's tactics on return of second serve. Federer stays back when McEnroe thinks he should start closer and then move in behind his return. Federer does not change tactics, either now or later, but I still appreciate the detailed and cogent analysis from McEnroe, such a welcome relief from the bombastic and self-driven commentary of many sports analysts.
July 8, 7:45 a.m. Breakfast at Wimbledon is about to start. The result will be historic, whatever happens--a Federer win will give him a record-tying five Wimbledons in a row; a Nadal win will make him the first player since Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. I'm a little puzzled by the Gillette commercial featuring Federer, Tiger Woods, and soccer star Thierry Henry--they "never think about yesterday", but their captioned intros in each case mention a past accomplishment (Player of Year in 2006 for Federer and Woods; Player of Year in 2003 for Henry). I'm guessing that American audiences would remember the first two without the intro; I'm not sure about Henry.

VENUS SHINES! Williams wins fourth Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Title in Eight Years.

Federer and Nadal rematch in Men's Final Tomorrow

Wimbledon 2007 Ladies Champion Venus Williams beams while holding her prize (plus about $1.4 million)

July 7 - Men's Semifinal #2 - The inevitable came sooner than expected as Novak Djokovic, his leg injury proving more than slight, retired in his match with Rafael Nadal, losing 3-6, 6-1, 4-1, ret. Nadal broke serve in both the first and fifth games of the set--in the last game, even an overhead winner by Djokovic appeared to cause him pain. Nadal's "pain in the neck" of a first set found relief quickly. He plays Roger Federer in Sunday's "Breakfast at Wimbledon" final. Now I can post that picture of Venus and her trophy.

Set Two - Nadal took control of the second set while I was writing comments about the first, breaking Djokovic in the second game and cruising to a 6-1 win. A rematch with Federer now looks much more likely. Djokovic is clearly playing against type to conserve energy (staying back and not chasing drop shots), while Nadal seems fresh and in control of his game (even hitting a desperation windmill volley that caused Djokovic to hit one more shot (it was good) to win the point--bad news when you're trying to conserve strength.) John McEnroe does a great job in identifying and explaining changes in the players' approaches to the game; don't credit me much for this commentary.

Set One - An upset stomach is brewing for Rafael Nadal (a reference to Andy Roddick's comment about how it felt "in the pit of his stomach" after losing to Gasquet), as he lost the first set to Novak Djokovic by 6-3. Djokovic, only bouncing the ball eight times before some serves, parlayed a second game service break into the set as Nadal hasn't yet gotten untracked. Maybe looking too far ahead, the commentators noted that Nadal holds an 8-4 lifetime lead over Federer, including two hard court wins. After beating Mikhail Youzhny after being two sets down, Nadal certainly won't give up, and may be aided by a slight leg injury that Djokovic seems to be nursing.

Men's Semifinal #1 - The first two matches of the day (at least in NBC's order) produced no upsets (other than the lower-seeded Venus Williams beating Marion Bartoli, as expected), as Roger Federer dispatched Richard Gasquet the Gallant in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to reach his fifth straight Wimbledon men's singles final. Gasquet stayed even through 10 games as his "A" game from last night carried over and Federer "warmed up". But at the critical moments that would decided the first set (and the match, it would seem), Federer responded and Gasquet retreated. Sets two and three played out the inevitable, particularly after Gasquet developed a problem in his left leg. Bjorn Borg, whose record of five straight championships Federer is chasing, watched the action from the champions' box until Federer got close to victory. The sight may be have been more than he could watch.

As usual, the commentary by John McEnroe and Mary Carillo was enlightening and enjoyable--they humanized Federer by talking about his "good son" behavior--taking his parents to dinner at the All-England Club, and even moreso, playing cards with his mother at the hotel in the evening. They also talked about how both players had overcome terrible tempers--Gasquet's being so bad that he once defaulted a Wimbledon qualifying match by throwing his racket and hitting the umpire with it. In 2007, both players showed complete control of their emotions (save a couple of frustrated "racket bounces" by Gasquet) and treated the fans to generally high quality tennis, though Gasquet, after a mere 16 hour break, wasn't able to reproduce the level that got him past Andy Roddick. Now it's on to Nadal, the young Spanish lion, and Djokovic, the even younger great Serbian bouncer (Carillo noted what a great doubles team he and Bartoli would make--she never bounces the ball before her serve; Djokovic's average is about 15 bounces.)

Ladies' Final - The presence of Pierce Brosnan in the stands again (in fact it was a tape of him from yesterday) wasn't nearly enough, as Venus Williams earned her fourth Wimbledon singles title with a 6-4, 6-1 win over France's Marion Bartoli. Only Martina Navratilova (9) and Billie Jean King (6) have won more Wimbledon ladies singles championships than Venus Williams.

Once again, all phases of Venus's game were in synch--a serve that peaked at 125 mph in the final game; unparalleled court coverage; and more and better strokes than the game, but overmatched Bartoli. She even mixed in an improbable backhand cross-court overhead for a winner.

In the first set, Bartoli dug a quick hole, losing the first three games, but recovered with a service break to tie the match at 4-4. From there, Williams won five straight games to take the first set and again pull ahead 3-0 in the second. She broke Bartoli again at 4-1 and fired cannonshot serves in the ultimate game to wrap up the win. The straight set win was Venus's fourth straight of that variety, as she last lost a set in the third round.

The match featured the unusual sight of both players receiving medical attention at the same time. Early in the second set, Bartoli developed a large blister on the instep of her right (?) foot. While her trainer treated and bandaged it, Venus's trainer was massaging the eventual champ's right upper thigh. She wrapped the thigh during the three minute treatment period, and then finished the job during a changeover. Venus limped noticeably while walking, but didn't seem to lose a millimeter of court coverage or spring.

Once again, Venus was grim-faced throughout, but joyful and gracious in victory. Marion tried to lift her own spirits, which never fell far, by joining the crowd in the wave while Venus's treatment was completed. Neither Margaret Thatcher ("The Iron Lady" former PM of Great Britain) nor five-time champ Bjorn Borg, sat stone-faced through the jollity.

NBC showed the match live, and to their credit announced when they were about to reveal the results of the men's semifinal matches, played earlier in the day. I left the room, so you may know more than I do about the outcome of these matches. I can't even go to for a picture of Venus for fear of seeing the men's results. Federer and Gasquet are playing now. Gasquet is hanging in well despite the long match with Roddick. He's already hit several beautiful backhand shots, which John McEnroe has called the best in the game. Federer and Gasquet played in the opening round last year; evidence of how far Gasquet has progressed in one year.

Rain Abates and Pleasant Breezes Blow Saturday for French at Wimbledon

Gasquet the Gallant reaches men's semifinals; Bartoli the Unexpected to face Venus Williams in Ladies' Final

July 6:
Odd happenings abounded at Wimbledon today, the oddest being a day without rain. Perhaps the change in the weather came from a breeze making its way over the channel from France.

On the men's side, it was strange to see Roger Federer (14-year old daughter's assessment--hot with possible eyebrow issue) in action after five days off, and stranger still to see him lose a set, this to Juan Carlos Ferrero. Still, Federer prevailed as expected in four sets to move to Saturday's semifinals.

Rafael Nadal's (daughter says definitely hot, but needs to lose some hair; my 75-year old mother is OK with the hair length) three set domination of Thomas Berdych wasn't odd per se, but it was different as Nadal had been stretched to five sets in his two previous matches. Nadal must have been a little disoriented by stepping on the court and playing a match all the way through.

Federer's opponent comes from the match between American Andy Roddick (hot, even with the scruffy beard) and Frenchman Richard (ree-chard') Gasquet (gas-kay') (not hot, even without the backward cap--I expect that millions of French women would disagree). Just two days after watching the 2007 Hot Dog Eating Contest from Coney Island, we saw another "reversal of fortune" as favored Roddick coughed up a two sets to none lead (with a break up in the third); losing to Gasquet 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6. This was the first time that Gasquet had ever overcome a two set deficit. The quality of tennis in the last three sets was outstanding, especially by Gasquet, who played up to the expectations of a French public that put him on the cover of tennis magazine at age nine. Gasquet's backhand was particularly lethal, providing more than 30 of 94 winners in the match. To paraphrase the song from "Beauty and the Beast", No one stands like Gasquet, hits backhands like Gasquet; no one's game is as gallantly grand as Gasquet. With a scant 16 hours of rest, Gasquet the Gallant has to play a semifinal match with the four-time defending champion, Federer the Fearless.

Nadal's opponent will be #4 seed, Serbian Novak Djokovic (not hot, standup hair an issue), who beat Marcos Baghdatis (Eastern European swarthiness a definite issue) in five tough sets lasting five hours. This match and the Roddick-Gasquet match were played on Court 1; in less time, four matches were completed on Centre Court. Both players received trainer attention on the court during the grueling match. Based on the seedings and the difficulty of the quarterfinal matches, a Federer-Nadal repeat final (from 2006 Wimbledon and 2007 French Open) seems likely.

Two of the Centre Court matches were the ladies' semifinals. As expected, first was an upset, as #23 Venus Williams beat #6 Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4. Ivanovic looked nervous in the first set, but competed well in the second against Williams, who was in nearly top form, ripping 120 mph serves and dashing all over the court, grim-faced until the winning point, when her beautiful smile beamed all over the crowd.

As expected, NOT, was #18 Marion Bartoli of France's three-set upset of #1 seed Justine Henin. Henin won the first set 6-1, but Bartoli (upon spying James Bond #5 Pierce Brosnan in the crowd) fought back to take the second set 7-5 and then dominate the deciding set 6-1. NBC's commentators were struggling to think of a more unexpected Wimbledon outcome in their experience. Venus will be highly favored in tomorrow's final, based both on her play in the tournament and her longstanding success at Wimbledon (now six finals in eight years).

NBC hasn't learned ESPN's trick of not revealing the outcomes of matches that will shown later on tape. During the long match between Roddick and Gasquet, which they covered live, we learned of both Bartoli and Williams' wins. They did do some live cutaways to the Bartoli-Henin match, but they showed the Venus-Ana match after posting the final pairings. I think that by holding the suspense, they'd hold more of their audience. Of course, after the first four games (all won by Venus) there wasn't much suspense about who would win this match.

July 5 a.m. - A lot of tennis was played early today before the seemingly inevitable rains came to Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal won his second 5-set match in two days, this one over Mikhail Youzhny of Russia. Youzhny won the first two sets, but suffered some kind of back problem in the third set. From that point, Nadal won the third thru fifth sets handily, losing only 5 games total. In an interview afterwards, Nadal said he had the match turned around before the injury. Nadal's next opponent is Czech Tomas Berdych, strong grass court player. When asked whether his body would be ready for another tough match so soon, Nadal said "we'll see". It's great to be 21, so I'm betting on Nadal to be ready. I haven't seen Berdych play, so I won't make a prediction. With his run of 5-set matches, Nadal is clearly not a sure thing.

I saw Berdych's girlfriend Nicole Vaidisova drop her match to Serbia Ana Ivanovic despite serving for the match at 5-3 in the third set. From that point her game fell apart under the pressure; she lost the set and the match 7-5 by dropping the next four games. Ivanovic faces Venus Williams in the other womens' semifinal (Henin and Bartoli play the other). Venus dispatched the Russian with the unspellable name (actually its Svetlana Kuznetsova) in straight sets.

Four-time defending champ Roger Federer and Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero were tied at 5-5 and deuce on Centre Court when the rains came. Federer had the early lead, but Ferrero fought back. No one gives Ferrero much chance against the uber-talented, experienced and well-rested champ, but that's why they play the matches.

I'm guessing that this ball is heading across the net after another well-struck shot by Venus Williams, who played brilliantly in dispatching formidable Russian opponent, Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-3.

Even More July 4: Andy Roddick carried the hopes of American men more than capably in a straight set win over Frenchman Paul-Henri Matthieu. Roddick was more consistent than his similarly big-hitting opponent in winning the first two sets, and then pulled off two excellent comebacks in the third set, from a 2-5 deficit in games, and from an 0-5 deficit in the tiebreaker. His next match is with another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, who won an all-French battle with Jo-Wilfried Tonga. In a scheduling oddity, Gasquet's last three wins have all been over countrymen. He has yet to lose a set or play in a tiebreaker, so he should provide a stiff challenge for Roddick.

I have enjoyed the commentary from Wimbledon by both ESPN's and NBC's crews, but I have a bone to pick with their scheduling today. From 10 to 1 Central Time, NBC carried the Venus-Maria match more-or-less live (although they compressed the 2-hour rain delay into about 10 minutes), and then picked up the Serena-Justine match live from its beginning. At 1 p.m. NBC went away from their coverage to show soap operas, with Serena and Justine just finishing their second set. I expected ESPN2 to pick up the live coverage of this match, but instead they showed tape of Venus and Maria, following it with tape of Serena and Justine, picked up at the point where NBC's coverage stopped. Strange. I seems to me like they should have showed Serena and Justine live, then doubled back to Venus and Maria. I managed to see it all without knowing the result, but I expect that other viewers weren't so lucky. ESPN was smart enough not to run the scores in their sports news crawls across the bottom of the screen.

More July 4: Rain lost out by a narrow margin to tennis today. A two-hour delay was more-or-less swallowed by ESPN and NBC's coverage, but more on that later.

Following up on the earlier comment on Rafael Nadal's win, I heard that the match had eight different starts over four days. ESPN's Chris Fowler interviewed Nadal, who looks about 17 without his headband. Nadal wisely deflected all speculation about an eventual match with Roger Federer, or the number of matches he might have left to play, focusing instead on his next opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, who knocked him out at last year's U.S. Open. ESPN also noted that Federer would have five consecutive days off before his next match, now set for Thursday with Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, who looked great in beating American James Blake, but like most other players, has a poor head-to-head record vs. Federer.

The game of the tournament was played in the match of the day between Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova. Venus cruised to a first set win as Maria had too many double faults and unforced errors. A nearly 2-hour rain delay interrupted the second set with the score tied at 1-1. Sharapova came out a new player and battled Williams through 13 deuces and about nine break points to hold serve. Rallies of 15 or more strokes were commonplace during the 32 points of the game, with Venus covering the court like a supernatural waterbug and Maria pounding away like 19th-century Russian artillery. After her first set serving woes, I don't think Maria double-faulted even once in this classic game. Down 1-2, Venus recovered quickly to win a short game; then the two played another long game with three deuces, again with service held by Maria. A love game win by Venus left the score tied at 3-3 and the commentators and I wondering how long Maria could hold up under this pattern. The answer was not long as Venus won the last three games rather handily (blasting serves clocked at 122 mph and 124 mph along the way) to take the set 6-3 and the match 6-1, 6-3. The result seemed like a big upset when you looked at the #23 vs #2 seeding, but less so when you consider that Venus has won or played in the finals at Wimbledon for five of the last seven years. Commentator Mary Carillo noted wisely that Venus should have been seeded closer to #3 than #23, based on her past record at the event. Venus advances to the quarterfinals semifinals where she'll play Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova. Beautiful Nicole Vaidisova, who eliminated defending champ Amelie Mauresmo plays fellow teenager Ana Ivanovic in the other quarterfinal.

The next big match of the day involved Venus' "little" sister Serena Williams and #1 seed, Belgium's Justin Henin. With an injured leg wrapped, even competing the #1 seed seemed like a daunting task, but Serena proved up to the challenge. In her favor was their head-to-head record, which included six wins for Serena, all of which occured on non-clay surfaces.

The match lacked the drama and shotmaking of the Venus-Maria match, but both players played well with Serena hanging in against Justine's obvious and merciless strategy to run her injured opponent all over the court. Henin capitalized on her only break chance to win the first set 6-4; Williams countered with an equally close 7-5 margin in the second set. The stage was set for high drama in the third set, but Justine ran out to a 5-1 lead and eventually prevailed 6-3 despite a late service break by Serena. Henin will face 18th seeded Natalie (actually Marion) Bartoli of France next.

The path seems clear to a Justine-Venus final, which should be a dandy. If Venus holds onto the form she used today to beat Sharapova, even the doughty Justine won't be able to beat her. We'll be rooting for Venus of course, but Justine should be favorite of the little guy. At 5' 5-1/2" and about 120 pounds, she looks physically overmatched against 6-footers like Venus and Maria, and against the hulking Serena.

A friend of mine told a fascinating sidebar story about Serena. She claims that her father, Richard Williams, a character of the first order, told a Today Show interviewer that he had "messed with" his wife's birth control pills so that the couple would have a second child. Things worked out childwise; I'm not so sure about the couple--they appear to be separated. That kind of move could cause friction in a marriage.

I'll take a break now to watch ESPN's coverage of the 2007 Hot Dog Eating Contest from Nathan's on Coney Island. This bizarre event may merit a post of its own.

July 4 Update: Rafael Nadal finally triumped this morning in his 3rd round match, a tough five-setter with Robin Soderling. Nadal was reportedly somewhat peeved about the lack of play on Sunday, which along with all the rain, stretched his third round match out from its initially scheduled Friday start to completion on Wednesday morning.

We should finally get to see Venus and Sharapova this afternoon. I remember watching the classic Borg-McEnroe final of 1980 (it was 1981) on July 4 of that year. Oftentimes the tournament ends by that date.

July 3: Here begins my post on the Wimbledon tennis championships. What a surprise--they're in a rain delay. Despite the shaky weather, Wimbledon has been 2007's fortuitously-timed sports event to help me through my latest surgical recovery (golf's U.S. Open and the College World Series doing the trick in 2005; NCAA March Madness earlier this year; and there's always major league baseball).

No doubt the most dramatic moment of the tournament came yesterday when Serena Williams cramped in her match with Slovakia's Hana Hantuchova. The favored Williams (7 vs 10 seed) won the first set handily, but Hana caught fire in the second to take a lead, from which Serena fought back to tie the set at 5-all. With Hana serving, Serena walked along the baseline to prepare to receive and felt a sharp pain in her left calf. She whacked her calf with her racket about three times and then screamed and fell to the ground crying, where she stayed for about the next 10 minutes as the umpire, and then her training staff attended. All this time, as they have all week, rainclouds loomed just beyond the grandstand. Serena, still in pain, and her team developed a plan to salvage the match, which they put into action a few minutes later when Serena could stand, her calf double-wrapped. Unable to move on her feet, she conceded a 6-5 second set deficit with a couple of desultory service returns, but then somehow summoned the will and power to hold her own serve to send the second set, which she had already more-or-less conceded, into a tiebreaker, requiring at least seven more points. With the tiebreaker score 4-2 in favor of Hana, the rains came, causing a near two-hour delay in the match. Serena "hustled" off the court to receive more treatment, no doubt hoping that play would be cancelled for the day and she could resume the match with Hana on Tuesday.

The rains didn't hold off quite long enough, and after about two hours, Serena and Hana were back on the court in the late London evening. Serena wore sweatpants over her double-wrapped calves. Hana continued in her skimpy tennis dress. Hana quickly took care of the tiebreaker, sending the match to the deciding third set. We worried about how Hana would approach the challenge. My thought was that as a competitor she'd take every advantage of Serena's wounded condition. Her comments after the match indicated that she had trouble doing that and was rather feeling sympathy for Serena's plight. Bad idea, at least for winning. With her father-coach yelling and gesticulating encouragement and sister Venus apparently praying, Serena ended up dominating the third set, winning 6-2, despite missing a couple of easy overhead smashes, one of which caused her to slam her racket down and break it. Serena advances to play #1 seed Justin Henin in the quarterfinals, in what will be the most anxiously awaiting match of the ladies' tournament and probably the whole event.

Venus's travels through the tournament so far have been less dramatic, though not easy. She got to her quarterfinal match with #2 seed Maria Sharapova (who looks great, by the way, tenniswise too) by overcoming a third set, 3-5 deficit to a Japanese player. We await the Williams-Sharapova match later today if the weather will cooperate.

Andy Roddick is carrying all the water for the American men after James Blake, a talented and engaging player, lost a match to Juan Ferrero of Spain. Ferrero won his next match as well and will face overwhelming favorite Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Federer got a free pass to the quarters when his opponent Tommy Haas was injured and had to withdraw.

The most disappointing performance so far came from defending womens' champ Amelie Mauresmo of France, who lost a three-set match to young Nicole Vaidisova of the Czech Republic. Mauresmo seemed to sense the match slipping away in the third set, and did little to prevent it--failing to challenge a double fault serve call against her that was clearly in, then trying to short-circuit a rally with an ill-advised and ill-executed dropshot, launching a tennis ball into the upper deck of the stadium in frustration, and finally, losing the deciding game on her own serve with a couple of desultory shots into the net. I'm not sure what was going on there.

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