Gold Rush (I): Preview of Monday at the Olympics
As the first round of the Olympics completes, we offer our thoughts on several of the more intriguing second-round matches scheduled for Monday in the first of our daily previews.
Federer vs. Benneteau: A parade of near-nemeses from recent Wimbledons, the 17-time major champion’s draw at the Olympics has led him past Falla to Benneteau. Like the Colombian lefty, the French net-rusher won the first two sets from Federer on Centre Court at the All England Club, only to watch helplessly as the tide turned against him. The Swiss master lacks the luxury of the best-of-five format here, and Falla revived memories of the past by forcing him into a final set on Saturday. Especially concerning from that encounter was Federer’s repeated inability to finish the match in straight sets, squandering triple match point in a return game and then failing to serve out the match after not dropping serve previously. Fortunately for the world #1, Benneteau seems more like the type of personality who would take more disappointment than encouragement from their five-setter at Wimbledon. Nevertheless, he can seize inspiration from a victory over Federer on a fast court in the best-of-three format, which came at his home Masters 1000 in Paris.
Petzschner vs. Tipsarevic: Perhaps the least accomplished on grass historically of the top eight men’s seeds, Tipsarevic nevertheless delivered a sturdy victory over Nalbandian in the first round. A former finalist on Halle grass with a formidable serve, Petzschner replaced the injured Karlovic in the draw and wasted no time in exploiting the opportunity with a commanding triumph. When they met at the US Open last year, their four-setter featured stirring first-strike tennis on both sides of the net, bordering on reckless at times. Both men can succumb to explosions of temper or lulls in competitive desire, so a curious rollercoaster could unfold.
Schiavone vs. Zvonareva: Two players past each of their peaks, each compiled career years in 2010 and have receded inexorably since then. After the Italian won Roland Garros for her only major title, the Russian reached her only major finals at Wimbledon and the US Open. But “only” probably is a misleading way to describe achievements that most would have thought well beyond the grasp of these emotional, charismatic figures. They should bring an engaging contrast of styles to their match, which pits a steady, relatively mechanical baseliner against a woman who rarely hits three consecutive shots with the same pace and spin. While both have slumped miserably for most of the year, battling sporadic injuries and illnesses, Schiavone has shown greater signs of life than Zvonareva lately by reaching the second week of Wimbledon. There, she threatened to end Kvitova’s title defense a round before Serena did in a compelling demonstration of cunning and bravado. Ultimately not adequate to blunt the Czech’s weaponry, Schiavone’s less overt weapons might suffice to frustrate the easily ruffled Zvonareva on a surface where neither woman plays her best tennis.
Kvitova vs. Peng: Stretched near the limits in their opening matches by adversaries skilled on grass, both the Czech lefty and the Chinese double-fister began by controlling their fates before letting a tight second slip away and then narrowly tiptoeing through the decider. Those tests should steel the nerve of the already steely Peng, who came within a few games of the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. More convincing in her title defense than her inconsistency this year had suggested, Kvitova succumbed only to the eventual champion and only after a fierce barrage of baseline power during which she lost serve only twice. Following Radwanska’s exit, and arguably even before it, this section of the draw sprawls open for the Czech to capitalize in reaching another semifinal. Thwarted before the final at every tournament this year, she can take comfort in knowing that she need not advance that far to place herself in contention for a medal. Against Peng’s stingy defense and relentless competitiveness, Kvitova must force herself to stay more alert than she has in many early-round matches recently. Her superior serve should lift her above the Chinese star at key points, but the latter’s compact swings and low strike point should help her not only absorb but redirect the pace from across the net.
Simon vs. Dimitrov: Although the far more experienced Frenchman has swept their first three meetings, the two away from clay stayed tense almost from start to finish. The rising Bulgarian has begun to remedy his disquieting tendency to follow an encouraging result with a disastrous setback, so his ranking has climbed to the edge of the top 50 for the first time. Reaching his debut semifinal at Queens Club this summer, he consolidated that momentum by reaching his second and third semifinals at the similarly named Bastad and Gstaad. A former junior champion at Wimbledon, Dimitrov has honed the balance between serving power and forecourt touch that has defined many of the most successful contenders on grass. For his part, Simon shines much more on hard courts and has struggled occasionally to summon his best form when representing France. Despite Ferrer’s effort to prove the contrary, his vanilla imitations of a baseline backboard cast him as the antithesis of a traditional, offensively minded grass-court threat.