Shocks abound for Williams, Clijsters and host of unknowns

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Tsvetana Pironkova

Tsvetana Pironkova celebrates her win over Venus Williams (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

In any ordinary second week of Wimbledon, the tennis world would be sitting back to watch the top women gradually whittled down to a quarter-final launchpad to a pair of largely predictable midweek semis.

By the time the 2010 All England schedule reached second Tuesday, there were just five seeds left amongst the eight. But there was still the reassuring presence of the expected finalists, Venus and Serena Williams, along with the people’s favourite and the woman to upset the order of things at Flushing Meadow, Kim Clijsters.

This Wimbledon, though, has been nothing if not surprising.

On Centre Court, Clijsters asserted herself straight away, winning the opening set in short order, but Vera Zvonareva—seeded 13 places below her—had other plans.

In the blink of an eye the tall Russian had turned the tables and run off the remaining two sets for a stunning victory, her first against the Belgian in six attempts.

Order was quickly restored when reigning champion Serena took to the court. On paper, her’s looked the tougher match against the ever-improving Chinese woman, Na Li, and Serena had come through a challenging match the day before against a resurgent Maria Sharapova.

But the younger Williams has the knack of looking all-in until the moment the ball is in play, and then the power-game that has won her three Wimbledon titles kicks. In this instance, for example, she hit 11 aces, taking her total so far for the tournament to 73.

Once again, Serena proved, in her straight sets 7-5 6-3 win, why she is such a formidable player, and why she effortlessly manages to stay on top of the rankings despite an extended period out with injury earlier this year. Above all, her blood-and-guts demonstrations on two successive days show why she is still favourite to win the title.

It was a different story in the adjacent arena where big sister Venus looked a shoo-in against Tsvetana Pironkova.

Bearing in mind that Venus was aiming to become the fifth player in the Open Era the win her 200th Grand Slam match, she looked decidedly lacklustre from the moment she walked onto court.

Her body language was tired and languid, and she looked as though she would rather be anywhere but here. Perhaps she wished that she, too, had the Centre Court stage.

All that should not have mattered: Venus is a five-time champion, was runner-up last year, and is one of the greatest women to play on Wimbledon’s grass. It should also have helped her cause that she was playing a world No.82 who had never been past the second round of a Major and who had a losing record of grass.

All that changed for the Bulgarian, who took advantage of a catalogue of errors from Venus—29—to take control of the match with some nifty all-court play. It takes a brave woman to rush the net against a Williams, but Pironkova did just that on a number of occasions.

It was, though, the nature of Venus’s loss that was one of the most interesting facets of this match. The final score line of 6-2 6-3 belies its slow progress: the 17 games stretched through an hour and a half. That was down less to numerous extended rallies as to the snail’s pace of the former champion.

She had a gloom—a dark mood—hanging over her that found expression in an uncharacteristically ungracious demeanour. That strengthened the already flourishing support for the underdog, which was perhaps stoked by Venus’s very late arrival, to a booing crowd, on Court Two the day before.

Whatever the reason for the former champion’s poor performance, there was no doubting the zest and the talent of Pironkova, and she ran out a worthy winner.

One surprise package was followed by another on Court One. This time, it was the players themselves who were the surprise. Very few in the crowd would have come across world No.62 Czech Petra Kvitova nor the qualifier from Estonia, Kaia Kanepi. But the former was responsible for taking out world No.3 Caroline Wozniacki and the latter for the demise of No.6 Sam Stosur.

The crowd was treated to a nail-biter, as Kvitova saved five match points, three in the second set breaker and two more in the third set en route to a 4-6, 7-6, 8-6 victory.

It was full-blooded match of big ground stokes and some wonderful sliced backhands.

Both women certainly won over the Wimbledon crowd, but the fresh, ebullient Kvitova is likely to have them eating out of her hand in her semifinal David-and-Goliath encounter against the shock-and-awe of Serena Williams

Pironkova, for her part, also charmed the Court One crowd. She too has a fight on her hands against Zvonareva in a match with both hoping to book a first Grand Slam final appearance.

The odds, just a day or two ago, were very short on an all-Williams final. What odds now on an all unseeded final?

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