• And now for something completely different ...
When Venus Williams was pitted against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, many predicted a route, say a clinical 6-2, 6-3 wax job that would barely last an hour. Which is exactly what happened. Except that, in a titanic upset, it was Pironkova doing the winning. It's not that we haven't seen Venus lose before. It's not that we haven't seen her unable to dial in her strokes. But at Wimbledon? In the second week? Against a player with a flabby ranking of No. 82?
Venus is usually at her best on the grass, but she looked thoroughly out of sorts Tuesday, as though she weren't familiar with the parameters of the court. Mid-rally balls sailed beyond the baseline, alighting near the back fence. Serves hit the bottom of the net. She tallied 29 unforced errors in 17 games. As she put it after the match: "If there was a shot to miss, I missed it." Not since her first Wimbledon has she lost so dismally. Of course, she was 17 then.
As was the case Monday with Yen-Hsun Lu -- who upset Andy Roddick and also happens to be ranked 82nd -- credit Pironkova for seizing the opportunity and showing some real poise. While she'd never previously been beyond the second round here, she had beaten Venus before at a Grand Slam (in the opening round of the Australian Open in 2006). If Pironkova can sustain this focus, she has a real chance beating her next opponent, Vera Zvonareva.
But the prevailing sight Tuesday was 10,000 or so fans scratching their heads in unison. Venus Williams, five-time champ, losing so dismally in the second week of Wimbledon? Go figure.
• While not quite as seismic an upset, shortly after Venus was dispatched, Kim Clijsters fell to Russia's Zvonareva. Sharp and determined as Clijsters was in beating Justine Henin on Monday, she went slack Tuesday. After winning the first set, her game vanished, never to return.
Zvonareva, well-known for her collapses, put a towel over her head on changeovers to shield herself from distractions -- like, say, knowing the winner would not have to play Venus for a ticket to the final. When she left her chair, she played fine defensive tennis and scored the biggest win of her career.
• After the two upsets, Serena Williams saw to it that there would not be a third. Already the favorite, this is now officially her tournament to lose. While Serena didn't play her best against China's Li Na, she did enough, prevailing in straight sets. That is what champions do.
Provided she takes care of business in the next two rounds, she'll win her 13th major championship, spanning more than a decade. That's nearly double Venus' total. And far as we're concerned, it's time to start a GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) discussion.
Now it's time for a few mailbag questions/observations ...
Since the WTA obviously won't do anything to stem the tide of screaming by the top women, maybe you can use your clout and get your media friends to do something about it. It is so annoying that I find it unbearable to watch (listen) to their matches. Therefore, I've decided to boycott Venus, Serena and Maria Sharapova. I hope others will join me. Maybe if the media find their ratings drop during those matches they will at least turn down the mikes. Give me a rerun of Justine and Kim any day.-- K. Stafford, Concord, N.C.
• I say enough on the grunting. Sure, it's annoying and unpleasant. But on the continuum of the problems plaguing tennis -- starting with balkanized television coverage -- shrieking doesn't make the list. Plus, as K. notes, the WTA doesn't appear to be willing/able to stop it.
It seems like Novak Djokovic's, Rafael Nadal's and Roger Federer's terms at the player's council are coming to a close. Who will be representing the players now? Where could I find that information? I tried Googling ... no luck.-- Natasha, Toronto
• I'm told that Federer and Nadal were re-elected and Djokovic's spot went to Sam Querrey.
• Rusty of Cincinnati:"Jon -- I played tennis for a small NAIA school in Indiana. My senior year at the district tournament, I played over 100 games in a single day! (I think my picture was hung on the Wall of Fame just for that feat.) That night, I jumped in a hot tub, thinking my 21-year-old body would be magically rejuvenated. It wasn't. I woke up the next day praying for rain that didn't come. I lost a match rather easily that I should have been far more competitive in and all I could do during my doubles loss was smile. I didn't get to see any of the JohnIsner match [against Nicolas Mahut], but he really did put in a full day's work."
• Joshua of Portland, Ore.: "Jon, before your readers start arguing with you about heroism, perhaps they should learn what heroism means. In the strictest possible sense, the only heroes are those legendary Greek figures around whom religious cults sprang up. In a much more diluted sense, the protagonist of any book, even if he's cowardly or boring, is a hero. But beyond the fact that heroism clearly has many definitions in literature, the arts, history, combat and, yes, athletics, there's basic linguistic usage to consider. Alexander Hoffman answers your 'Can't they both be heroic in their own way' with a snide 'Nope.' But that's just not true. There are lots of ways to be heroic. Merriam-Webster lists four definitions (with various sub-definitions), the first of which relates to the Heroes of Antiquity and the third of which is: 'of impressive size, power, extent, or effect .' Heroic in this sense is more in line with 'epic' -- with which heroes are, of course, associated."
• More on the use of the word "hero" from Paul Benson in Fort Worth, Texas: "I teach a history course on 'Sports in American Society' at the local community college. Because of curriculum requirements, I have to cover 'real history' as well. I find heroic figures on the battlefield, the playing field and in the political arena. Jackie Robinson was a hero, but so was Branch Rickey. The soldiers in Afghanistan are, but so is Isner. Hero is not an exclusive term. I thought the U.S. hockey team was 'heroic' in its efforts in Vancouver. Much of their motivation came from the 'Wounded Warrior' partners with which they were paired. Ask those soldiers if they consider the hockey players 'heroes.' I have no doubt that they do. I have no doubt that the feeling is quite mutual."
• J. Dore of San Luis Obispo, Calif., wins the contest for Isner/Mahut slogans: "Here is my entry: Isner & Mahut jointly for McDonald's: 'Over 245 billion served.' "
• The New York Sportimes of World Team Tennis are accepting applications for the first "Ball Senior" position for their select July home matches at the new Randall's Island facility. Check it out here.