by Chris, the Impaler - 06/28/2005
Wimbledon's Court No. 2 is known as the "graveyard of champions" because historically it has favored the underdog. Whether it is due to the noise created by the restaurant nearby, or because the ball seems to bounce lower than on the other courts, somehow Court No. 2 is bad luck for high-ranked seeds; Agassi, Federer and Sampras have all lost to lower ranked opponents on Court No. 2.
In recent years, the "graveyard at champions" expression has been extended to incorporate Centre Court, and indeed one can look at Goran Ivanisovic's improbable win over Patrick Rafter in 2001 and Maria Sharapova's upset win over two time defending Ladies champ, Serena Williams in last year's finale (remarkable in that Sharapova also broke the Williams' sisters four year Ladies Championship title stranglehold at Wimbledon) and even to this year's fourth round upset when Serena lost to fellow American Jill Craybas on Saturday.
Acting like they've been here before won't be a stretch for most of these players. This year Wimbledon's Ladies' Semi-finals are remarkable in that they feature a combined seven total Wimbledon finalists and champions over the past six years. On the Gentlemen's side, the quarterfinals feature a combined total of five Wimbledon champions and finalists over the past four years, including two-time defending champion Roger Federer and last year's finalist Andy Roddick.
A rematch of last year's Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick might seem like a foregone conclusion, as might Maria Sharapova's title defense against Venus Williams. However, before we post book on these players, a closer look is in order to make sure we are not V-chip pallbearers at the Graveyard.
Wimbledon Ladies Semi Finals
Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) #3, v. Lindsey Davenport (USA), #1
1999 Champion and 2000 runner-up (loser to Venus Williams) is pitted against France's version of Phil Mickleson, one of tennis' best female players to never have won a major (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open). Mauresmo has yet to drop a set at Wimbledon (and has only lost 15 games in four matches) and has indeed played some of her best tennis in recent memory. Granted she was not really tested in her first three matches (all unranked opponents), but when she met No. 13 ranked Elena Likhovtseva in the fourth round Mauresmo handled the Russian easily to move on to a quarterfinal match where she dispatched another Russian Anastasia Myskina (2004 French Open winner) in straight sets.
Davenport seems to have been focused on Wimbledon all year -- this was apparent at the French Open and for the No. 1 seed anything less than the Championship will be a disappointment. She struggled (slightly) in her fourth round match against Kim Clijsters, who has been plagued with injuries the past two years, but eventually won in three sets. After struggling in the first set against the Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, Davenport advanced to the semi-finals.
This match up should be a hard fought battle with two of the tallest women in women's tennis today. Mauresmo has now reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon for three consecutive years. No doubt that Davenport will be favored in this match-up, however, if Mauresmo plays within herself she should be able to surprise Davenport. But there is a reason Lindsey is No. 1 and it is not because she blows big games, however, at Wimbledon impossible is nothing.
Advantage: Miss Mauresmo 3 Sets
Venus Williams (USA) #14 v. Maria Sharapova (RUS) #2
Venus Williams is now 1-0 on the sister Serena revenge tour, as she destroyed Jill Craybass in her fourth round match after the American from Rhode Island beat Serena in their third round match. Now, Venus will have to vanquish another one of Serena's foes if Venus hopes to play for her third Wimbledon title in five years.
Maria Sharapova burst on the tennis scene as a hotter, better version of Anna Kournikova. At 17-years-old and ranked No. 13 she won her first Wimbledon last year by surprising two-time champion Serena Williams in straight sets. Since then Sharapova has won 22 consecutive matches on grass and is serious about defending her title.
There are rumors the powers that be at Wimbledon would like nothing more than to ban grunting from tennis play, but that might prove an impossible task if Sharapova continues to dominate Wimbledon like she has (with both tennis and the loudest grunt recorded at Wimbledon).
Sharapova quickly reduced Russian Nadia Petrova 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 in one hour and 26 minutes to meet Venus Williams. Williams had an equally easy victory over Mary Pierce on Centre Court breezing through the first set 6-0 and then giving the fans an enjoyable second set 7-6. The tiebreaker was a memorable 22 minutes until Venus finally won 12-10.
One thing is certain that both Williams's sisters have had a difficult few years since the murder of their sister, Yetunde Price, 31, a personal assistant to her sisters, was shot dead in 2003 after a confrontation with youths in the crime-ridden Los Angeles suburb of Compton, where the Williams family grew up. Since then the Williams' have struggled balancing tennis with their acting, fashion design aspirations and focus.
While no doubt the death of her sister has weighed heavily on their hearts, it appears that this year Venus has put the death and other distractions behind her as she is playing her best tennis at this year's Wimbledon.
Gone is the advantage of surprise that benefited Sharapova so well last year. Venus Williams and Sharapova play surprisingly similar games. Wimbledon has long been known as favoring the player who serves and volleys. Sharapova proved last year that you do not have to be the best serve and volley player to win Wimbledon. However, as the world is ready to anoint Sharapova as the next Graf, Navratilova, or Seles, she'll have to consistently beat player playing at the top of their game.
Last year, Serena Williams did not play her top game against Sharapova and Maria made her pay dearly for it. This year Venus has nothing to lose and nothing save the family name to defend and will no doubt try to make it 2-0 on the Wimbledon Serena Revenge Tour.
Advantage: Miss Williams 3 sets
We'll revisit Centre Court when the Gentlemen's singles brackets are complete and to look at the ladies championship bracket Thursday night.