The Unlikely Eight look for Wimbledon SF spots

WIMBLEDON – The women’s game is unpredictable these days.

That’s a reality, although the reasons for it depend on your point of view.

It could be parity, and a general rise in overall level that makes more upsets possible. It could also be a corollary to that – that there are numerous very good players, without many true champions in the game at the moment.

With the absence of an indisputable champion in Serena Williams for close to a year and a half, the contrast with the rest of the field is stark.

Perhaps so many of the women wanted to win Wimbledon so badly, their nerves got the better of them, in some cases.

Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a combination of a few factors, here we are.

Draw doesn’t shake out as planned

Here is what the women’s singles quarterfinals looked like on paper, when the draw came out.

We bear in mind that Williams, seeded No. 25, was always a dangerous wild card. Victoria Azarenka, another former No. 1 who has Grand Slam titles on her resumé, also looked to do some damage.

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But with the top 10 seeds all long gone – many in shocking fashion – here are the matchups Tuesday.

There were injury concerns with Williams after the French Open, where she pulled out before a scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury. But as she has played her way into form during the fortnight, who would bet against her reaching the final now?

But first, a stern test against an inscrutable opponent in the Italian Giorgi.

Williams is 3-0 against Giorgi. Their last meeting came in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, Giorgi has fallen down the rankings and picked herself right back up.

She plays the same game against everyone she plays. So Williams knows what she’s going to get.

Unseeded Cibulkova lets racket do the talking

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There was a fair bit of pushback from Cibulkova before the tournament.

Wimbledon’s decision to award Williams a seed meant Cibulkova, who would have been seeded No. 32, ended up unseeded and therefore vulnerable to a tough early draw.

The Slovak ended up with a friendly draw – in terms of the seeds she faced. Cibulkova defeated No. 22 Johanna Konta, who has been struggling. Then she upset No. 15 Elise Mertens, who was never really considered a serious contender and also has been struggling some in 2016.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep was eliminated by Hsieh Su-Wei. And then Cibulkova defeated Hsieh.

Now, she faces 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian had the “worst” happen in Paris, where she lost in the first round in defense of her title. But with that rather heavy rock having fallen off her back, she is having a great Wimbledon.

“In this tournament, she seems to be in the right mood. Yeah, she’s playing aggressive. She’s playing with no fear. She just going for it,” Cibulkova said of Ostapenko.

Williams – Ostapenko final?

Despite all the bigger names in the women’s game (other than Williams) being out long ago, there is one rather appealing potential final matchup that could still happen.

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Serena v Ostapenko in the final? Could happen.

And that is with no disrespect meant to the others, all fine players but with much lower profiles with the more casual tennis and sports fans.

Ostapenko has had a good draw: wild card Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko (who upset Maria Sharapova), and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round)

The way has, in part, been cleared for her. And she has taken full advantage of it.

Can you picture a Serena vs. Ostapenko women’s singles final?

They have never met; Ostapenko’s rise came while Williams was off on maternity leave.

It would be a heck of an introduction on Saturday.

Of course, that likely means the final will be Cibulkova vs. Julia Goerges.

Because that’s the kind of Wimbledon it’s been.

On National Puppy Day, a celebration of tennis dogs

KEY BISCAYNE – More than anywhere, you’ll see them at the just-completed BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Tennis dogs – all over the place. With all the green space, and the fact that players often rent condos rather than a hotel room when they’re in the desert, they let the dogs out (woof, woof).

Not since the 1980s, when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had Roland Garros and Martina Navratilova had several, including K.D. (for Killer Dog) have there been this many dogs on Tour.

And so, in honour of National Puppy Day (yes, that’s actually a thing), we present: Harold Reginald Williams, Loewik Zverev and Spajky and Woody Cibulkova.

In the desert, Dominika Cibulkova and Alexander Zverev actually bonded over their doggies on the practice court.

With the family Zverev a cohesive unit, Mom seems to be charged with doggie care.

As for Harold, he knows what’s up. He sits in the shade during practice periods, then catches a few rays during water breaks – but never inside the lines.

And when Mama Venus takes out her handy backpack and opens it up, Harold leaps up and jumps right in. It’s the ultimate tennis pet trick.

“Day one. He’s a smart guy,” Williams told Tennis.Life about the leaping Harold trick. “When I first got him, he was in the bag. That’s, like, his safe spot. If he’s in the bag, he knows he’s getting to go. He’ll definitely get in.”

Tennis dogs are something else. Do any of you know a single dog face-to-face with a tennis ball who doesn’t go chasing it around? There are probably as many tennis balls used for that purpose as for their intended purposes. Not tennis dogs, though; they might have 100 balls on the practice court but they completely ignore them all.

We don’t want to neglect two of the more veteran Next-Gen tennis doggies:

Chip Williams…

… and Bruno Wozniacki.

Williams’ doggie backpack is low-key compared to what seems to be the tennis dog accessory of choice these days, the Louis Vuitton doggie carrier.

Only $2,940 US, (plus taxes, shipping, handling, whatever else is involved).