Wimbledon 2012: Women's quarterfinal preview
WIMBLEDON, England -- On a day that saw No. 1 Maria Sharapova get knocked off her perch by grass court lover Sabine Lisicki, the women's side of the draw is once again in flux. Sharapova's loss means that either Victoria Azarenka or Agnieszka Radwanska will leave Wimbledon as the new world No. 1 (Azarenka can secure it by making the final, while Radwanska needs to reach the final to have a chance at it). Aside from that race, the women's quarterfinals feature an all-German battle and one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the year.
Here's a preview of what to expect when the women take the court on Tuesday. Weather permitting, of course.
Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova: Pound for pound, these two women have the most powerful games in women's tennis, making this the marquee match on Tuesday. When they play well, God help the tennis balls, linejudges, and ballkids (surely the All England Club will provide them with some Ralph Lauren-branded face masks, right?). This will be their first meeting in two years, when Serena beat Kvitova 7-5 (6), 6-3 in the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2010 en route to her last Slam title. But what makes this match interesting is that it's a great gauge as to where Kvitova's game is.
We know she's not the player she was in 2010, after all, she went on to have the best season of her career in 2011, winning her maiden Slam at Wimbledon. Kvitova's had mixed results this season, as she's made back to back Slam semifinals (good) but has failed to win a title all year (bad). She still has the most upside of the next generation, which includes quite a few of her quarterfinal-mates (Azarenka, Lisicki, Radwanska, Paszek), and she's proven she can beat all of them. The only major scalp she needs to round out her resume is a win over Serena. But that hasn't been easy for anyone so far at Wimbledon.
Serena's been an odd case here. She has paradoxically exuded equal parts vulnerability and pure determination. She's openly admitted that her first-round shock loss to Virginie Razzano at the French Open last month has shaken her and that she's trying her best to move on. But watching her play all week you can see the fear of that loss creep into her game, and as the tension mounts, she seems hell-bent on trying to hit through it. Through two straight three-set tests against Zheng Jie and Yaroslava Shvedova -- two talented players who aren't ranked higher than No. 27 -- Serena came perilously close to being dumped out. But the fact that she was able to win both matches (beating Zheng 9-7 in the third and Shvedova 7-5) and not succumb to the nerves that betrayed her in New York, Melbourne and Paris, leads me to believe she's less prone to an upset today than she was seven days ago.
Pick: Serena in three sets.
Sabine Lisicki vs. Angelique Kerber: For the first time since 1989, two German women will contest a Slam quarterfinal. How good are these two playing right now? They left two experienced veterans shaking their heads, effectively clapping their rackets to say "too good."
On Monday, Kerber handed Kim Clijsters her second-worst loss at a Slam, beating the Belgian in her last Wimbledon appearance 6-1, 6-1. Clijsters could only shrug afterwards. "I just had the feeling that there was absolutely nothing I could have done today to have won that match," Clijsters told reporters. "I just felt, like, my opponent was better on every level."
Sharapova didn't fare much better. A semifinalist last year and a quarterfinalist in 2009, Lisicki finally broke through to get her first win over Sharapova in a decisive 6-4, 6-3. "A lot of the credit goes to my opponent," Sharapova said after her match. " She played extremely well today and did many things better than I did on this given day. You just have to hand it to her."
Leaving Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova shrugging? That's some high quality tennis. So what can we expect when these two meet? Interestingly, Lisicki has never beaten Kerber in four tries, with two of those losses coming this year in Auckland and Doha. But grass is Lisicki's best surface, amplifying the effectiveness of her serve and forehand. At their best, I give Lisicki the edge. I'm just not convinced Lisicki will be at her best on Tuesday. She's an emotional player and the win over Sharapova was the biggest win of her career. She has less than 24 hours to recover from it and amp herself up for another tough battle against a woman who has notched the most wins on tour this year. Lisicki may have the game, but I'm banking on Kerber's consistency.
Pick: Kerber in three sets.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Tamira Paszek: How Tamira Paszek hasn't run out of gas is beyond me. Just two weeks ago she had only registered two wins in 2012. That's right, two. But she gets to the sleepy beachside town of Eastbourne, makes a run to the title (saving match points and beating Kerber in the final), then comes to Wimbledon and beats Caroline Wozniacki in the first round in a match that lasted over three hours. And now she's into her second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal to face a woman who has quietly (I mean that figuratively, not literally) gone about her business through the first four rounds.
If there were any doubts to Azarenka's level these days, she put them to rest in her -- how do I say this kindly -- 6-1, 6-0 walloping of Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round. All the numbers point Azarenka's way in this matchup. She's 2-0 against Paszek, she beat her last year here in the quarterfinals, and she's never dropped a set to her. Meanwhile, Paszek is 1-9 lifetime against top five players. I'm backing the numbers this time around (and tactically Azarenka is going to eat up Paszek's puff serve) but Paszek has spent two weeks defying the odds. If she starts zoning on her forehand and backhand down the line, watch out.
Pick: Azarenka in two sets.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Maria Kirilenko: Much like Azarenka, Radwanska hasn't dropped a set on her way to the quarterfinal and she has, arguably, the easiest task out of any of the quarterfinalists. Kirilenko is a solid player and a great competitor, but Radwanska has owned her as of late, winning their last four matches dating back to 2010. The only way I see Kirilenko making in-roads here is if Radwanska succumbs to the pressure. There's a lot riding on this match for the Aga: she's bidding to make her first Slam semifinal (she's the only top 10 player not to have done so) and a win keeps her in the chase for the No. 1 ranking. That's not even mentioning her chances of actually winning this whole thing. If she wins on Tuesday she would face either Lisicki or Kerber in the semifinals, and I like Radwanska in either of those matchups. This is a huge opportunity for Aga.
Pick: Radwanska in two sets. Who ya got? Sound off in the comments with your picks for the women's quarterfinals.