EASTBOURNE -- Given the unique nature of the surface and the quick turnaround from clay, early round upsets aren't a complete surprise when the men and women hit the grass tuneup season. A week after the top three seeds fell in their first matches at Birmingham and top-seeded Andy Murray fell in his first match at Queen's Club, the upset bug boarded the one and a half hour train ride from London and landed in Eastbourne, with the top three seeds on the women's side tumbling out in the blink of an eye on Tuesday.
You know grass season has arrived with Tsvetana Pironkova starts pulling off upsets. The Bulgarian, ranked No. 40, barely wins matches through most of the year, but when she steps on the grass she pulls off upsets like it's no big deal. In the last two years she's made the semifinals and quarterfinals of Wimbledon, beating Vera Zvonareva, Marion Bartoli, and Venus Williams (twice).
Today's victim was Eastbourne's top seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who continues to struggle with her fatigue from a season that has seen her win (and thus play) more matches than she's used to. Radwanska had no answers for Pironkova's flat game and canny use of her forehand slice, losing 6-2, 6-4.
"I think it wasn't my day today. That's for sure," Radwanska told reporters. "I think I was really playing a lot of matches this year, and I'm kind of like a little bit tired."
That's been Radwanska's mantra since the clay season began, which makes her heavy scheduling more questionable than ever. Earlier this year, after winning Dubai, Radwanska jet off to play a small tournament in Malaysia, instead of taking a break before the Indian Wells and Miami, and subsequently pulled out before her third-round match. Similarly, after playing Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome, Radwanska chose to play Brussels the week immediately preceding the French Open. It's time for Radwanska to realize that she's the No. 3 player in the world who should expect herself to go deep at the biggest tournaments. Build your schedule assuming you're going to win, not lose.
Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki's woes continue. Christina McHale played a solid match from start to finish in ousting the third-seeded Wozniacki 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-4. McHale, who beat Wozniacki in Cincinnati in 2011, played a patiently aggressive game, relentlessly attacking Wozniacki's weak forehand forcing it to break down repeatedly. Wozniacki, who recently linked up with Thomas Johansson as her new coach, consistently left her forehand short and struggled to dictate points. But perhaps more worrisome for Wozniacki was her new service motion, which failed to click in the first set. It's a noticeably different set-up for the Dane, who now scoots her right leg further back, creating a wider stance before she tosses the ball.
"It just has to click," Wozniacki told reporters. "Once it does, you know, I feel like it's going to be better. But it obviously just takes a little bit of time."
It's curious time to be tinkering with her service motion, on the eve of a Slam. Her serve was one of the marked improvements through the spring hard court season and clay court season, most notably in her win over Serena Williams in Miami. She says the changes feel good in practice and she just needs to translate it to her matches. She has less than week to clean it up and turn it into a weapon for Wimbledon. She told British papers last week that she believes she can win Wimbledon. That's a tough task when your serve continues to be a liability.
It was an equally disastrous day for reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who fell to Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 6-4. Makarova, a champion here in Eastbourne in 2010, is a good grass court player and has a history of playing the spoiler. But despite a semifinal run in Roland Garros, Kvitova hasn't been able to find her form since losing to Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart. Her two biggest weapons, her serve and forehand, have been unreliable for the past two months and that's huge problem as she looks to return to Wimbledon to defend her title.
"It's not as great preparation for Wimbledon as last year (when she made the semifinals of Eastbourne), but I think that it's better to happen here than in Wimbledon."
So with only one match on grass under her belt before she seeks to defend her Wimbledon title, what can we expect from Kvitova? Despite the fact that she's won no titles this year (by this time last year she had won three), the Czech has managed to make the semifinals at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros, losing to Sharapova each time. Could it be that Petra has become the anti-Wozniacki, bringing her best at the biggest tournaments and falling at the smaller ones? Kvitova admitted that she's feeling the pressure of expectation and she's doing her best to handle it.
"I think the people, the fans, there is expectation a lot from me. And actually I really try to have a space from the pressure. I have a tournament here, and then it's Wimbledon. So I have still time to prepare more."
And finally, in what was supposed to be the match of the day, Sam Querrey retired to Andy Roddick down 2-5 in the first set due to a back injury. It's hard not to see the humor in the fact that Roddick took this wildcard in hopes of getting some match play, yet he's into the second round without even playing a full set. But Roddick was in good spirits after the match, noting the progress he's made in his preparations for Wimbledon.
"Regardless of what he had going on, I hit the ball really well," Roddick told reporters. "Last couple of days it's been really good in practice. I don't know why or how or what the, you know, what the process has been, but it's felt pretty good."