After two rounds, women’s draw littered with upsets

WIMBLEDON – It was evident going in that the top eight seeds in the women’s singles draw were, overall, fairly vulnerable on the lawns of the All-England Club.

No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova was a two-time champion. No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza was the defending champion.

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But beyond that, the Wimbledon resumés of the rest were modest at best.

Still, after two rounds of play against unseeded opponents, it’s a shock that only two of the top eight seeds are still alive.

And it’s just as surprising that one of them is No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova. In six previous trips to Wimbledon, the Czech former No. 1 had lost in the first round once, and in the second round five times.

The other one still alive is French Open champion and world No. 1 Simona Halep, who hadn’t played since winning in Paris and who also dealt with a virus for a few days before the start.

Halep’s resumé offered more hope. She was a quarterfinalist the last two years. And in 2014, she made the semifinals, losing to Genie Bouchard on a day when the Romanian could barely run – even in her warmup.

Decimated draw as third round begins

Some of them had to deal with an especially windy day, the great equalizer. But so much of it was upstairs. And with the game unfolding a little more quickly on grass, a bad start can mean the match gets away from you quickly, and it feels as though you never have time to quite reset.

As the third round begins, and 16 women try to reach the second week, fully half of the players on the order of play Friday are unseeded. And that’s the downside of the “exciting” upsets. 

It’s often hard for those who have managed them to pursue their runs, because those early victories require dipping into the physical and emotional bank to the point where they might not have as much left going forward.

Ten of the 32 seeds were gone after the first round. After the second round, four more departed.

Here’s a look at the upsets that have made headlines through the first couple of rounds. 

[2] Caroline Wozniacki – out 2R to Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 64 16 75

Wozniacki came into Wimbledon on a grass roll, with a title at Eastbourne. 

Generally, the players who went deep last week have not fared all that well so far at the All-England Club. And Wozniacki plowed through a very good draw with wins over Angelique Kerber, Jo Konta, and Ashleigh Barty among others.

And the Dane had to go right from winning at Eastbourne on Sunday to Centre Court at Wimbledon on Monday afternoon, which is a quick turnaround.

She got through Varvara Lepchenko with relative ease. But then came Makarova.

Makarova, 30, is playing her 11th Wimbledon. She has a quarterfinal on her resumé. And she’s been a top 10 player and one quite capable of beating the top guns. 

But still …

Not too gracious in defeat

The unfortunate part of Wozniacki’s loss was how abjectly poorly she took it. Given the quality of the opponent, she treated her as though she just got lucky.

“I think she played above her level and really raised it and got a little lucky and played well when she needed to.”

“I played someone who, you know, went all in with every single shot.  … Then she started again hitting a lot of lines, a lot of crazy shots that were going in.”

“When I look at the draw, there’s 90 per cent of everyone else I would have played today, I feel like I would have won. The last 10 per cent I feel like I would have had a chance or a good chance. … Today I played someone who played extremely well. As I said, I don’t know that she would be able to keep up this level for the rest of the tournament.”

And more …

“The fact that I played an opponent today that went all in, everything was going her way, sometimes it happens in tennis. … For her to keep this level, I would be very surprised if you saw her go far.”

[3] Garbiñe Muguruza lost 2R to Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 57 62 61

The defending champion was shocked out of Wimbledon late Thursday by a very capable Belgian who, nevertheless, had only won one match in four previous Wimbledons.

“Yes, I think she played big today. She took a lot of risk, and it worked for her. I also think that my level today was not where I wanted it to be. That’s also why she could develop that kind of level. But I think she played great. Think she played great.”

“I mean, obviously she’s so aggressive, so if I would keep, I mean, let her play, I would lose anyway. So I was, like, Let’s try this and maybe if it works we have a chance,” Van Uytvanck said. “So that was my plan to do in the second set and in the third, and obviously it worked well. I played actually a very good match.”

littered

[4] Sloane Stephens: Lost 1R to Donna Vekic (CRO) 61 63

Stephens, in the end, cut it too close.

On Thursday, she was practicing in Toronto, but figured she’d have at least three days to get used to the grass after opting to skip the rest of the grass-court season after reaching the French Open final.

She ended up having two, with the Monday start and after not being able to practice the first day. And she ended up with a fairly tough draw in Vekic, a more than capable grass-court player.

It was over quickly. 

Given Stephens has had some very good results on grass, and given she has made huge runs in two of the last three majors, she would have been a very good pick to win it all.

But she didn’t give herself enough of an opportunity.

“This is where I started playing last year. Just happy to be back here and not injured. … Like I said, unfortunate to play Donna. She’s a good grass court player. I didn’t play my absolute best. That’s not what you want,” she said. 

“Yeah, it was frustrating. Obviously I wasn’t making the shots I wanted to make. Wasn’t being as consistent as I wanted to. My feet were a little bit slow. Like I said, sometimes it happens, there’s nothing more, nothing less to it. I wish I would have made some more shots.”

She still has the mixed doubles, with former beau Jack Sock.

[5] Elina Svitolina: Lost 1R to Tatjana Maria (GER) 76 (3) 46 61

This was Svitolina’s 26th Grand Slam appearance. And she has three quarterfinals – two of them on clay in Paris – to show for it.

She was bamboozled and befuddled by Maria’s varied game, which incorporates a lot of slices and some great movement.

But most of all, her 2018 season is not playing out at the level of her ranking.

Svitolina has three tournament titles: Brisbane, Dubai and Rome.

But in her other events, she hasn’t performed nearly as well.

It’s a delicate subject, but there has been a noticeable and rather alarming weight loss in the last couple of months.

Once a beautifully strong, sturdy competitor, the 23-year-old is a shadow of her former self at the moment. And beyond a potential loss of power on her shots as a result, this type of thing can sometimes be indicative of emotional state. 

Svitolina made the round of 16 at Wimbledon a year ago.

[6] Caroline Garcia: Lost 1R to Belinda Bencic (SUI) 76 (2) 63

The Frenchwoman also made the round of 16 last year. In fact, that’s where she’s exited in three of the last four majors. In the other one (last year’s US Open), she lost in the third round.

So blessed, talent-wise, Garcia is a player everyone keeps expecting to finally have a major breakthrough on the big stages.

At 24, it hasn’t happened yet. But she still has a lot of time.

In Bencic, Garcia faced a player who hadn’t played Wimbledon in two years because of injuries.

But five years ago, as a junior, Bencic did the Roehampton-Wimbledon junior double, winning the singles titles at both.

At 15, in 2012, she reached the girls’ doubles final with Ana Konjuh, where they lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend.

But Bencic hadn’t won back-to-back matches all season (until she beat Alison Riske in the second round here). And she retired in her first match at the Ilkley ITF event two weeks ago. 

[8] Petra Kvitova: Lost 1R to Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 64 46 60

The two-time champion is back in impressive form a year on from her return to the Tour following the shocking stabbing incident in her home.

And Kvitova was tapped by many people to complete the inspiring comeback story and win her third Wimbledon title.

Her prep was great, as she defended her title in Birmingham. And she faced a player whose grass-court resumé was very average – not compared to Kvitova, but compared to anyone.

And yet, she was shocked in the first round.

“I don’t know. I just didn’t feel well obviously. Was a first round. The nerves were there again. I don’t know. I just tried to kind of fight with myself. Probably was the biggest opponent which I have,” Kvitova said.

“Probably I wanted too much again. I just made a joke that probably I going to skip the Grand Slams for the next years. I will see how everything is going … You know, when I was kind of younger, I played better on the Grand Slams than the other tournaments. Now is the time when I’m playing better on the other tournaments than the Grand Slams. So I make a promise that I going to be very patient and I going to try to break it again for the other side.”

[24] Maria Sharapova: Lost 1R to [Q] Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS) 67 (3) 76 (3) 64

It took Diatchenko three hours and eight minutes to eliminate Sharapova, who was playing Wimbledon for the first time since 2015.

In 2016, the 31-year-old was in the first few months of her doping suspension.

Last year, relegated to the qualifying by the tournament’s decision not to award the 2004 champion a wild card, she ended up missing the entire grass-court season anyway.

Beyond the title, which came when she was just 17, Sharapova has also reached the final and been a semifinalist on three other occasions. That includes the last time she played, in 2015.

Sharapova was looking good in Paris, and caught a break when Serena Williams’s pectoral injury led her to forfeit their highly anticipated fourth-round encounter. But then, she won just three games in a desultory performance against Muguruza in the next round.

The Russian, who had signed on for two years at the grass-court warmup event in Birmingham, skipped it for the second season in a row although she did get a couple of matches in at the Hurlingham exhibition.

“I would have loved to have played Birmingham. I felt I made that mistake of playing far too many tournaments in consecutive weeks. The clay season was a lot of matches, much more than I’ve played in a really long time,” she said. “It would have been great to play an event, but I had to make a decision for my body and for my longevity rather than to go and play a few matches.”

Two former champions remain

What, then, to make of this defeat against a younger rival who had fought her way through the qualifying, hit just as hard – if not harder – and grunted even more loudly?

littered
Diatchenko fought her way through three qualifying matches at Roehampton before arriving at the All England Club and shocking former champion Maria Sharapova. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Sharapova was tight as a drum. She has always competed tight. But it feels like since she returned from her 15-month suspension, she is putting so much extra pressure on herself to prove to everyone that the banned meldonium supplement she took for so many years had nothing to do with her performances. And, at times, it’s having the opposite effect.

She was up a set and 5-2 in the second set against Diatchenko, before it unraveled.

“She swung away. She played extremely aggressive. I was playing a little bit too defensively for what I should have been doing. Yeah, she was there to win it, and she did,” Sharapova said.

So who’s left, among those who have won the title?

Those two dependable standbys: No. 9 seed Venus Williams, 38, and No. 25 seed Serena Williams, 36.

Is it even conceivable that this could be a semifinal, a decade after they met on Centre Court in the final Saturday?

They both have work do to, starting Friday.

Venus plays No. 20 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. Serena meets Kristina Mladenovic of France.

But with all the holes created in the women’s draw, who’s to say these two experienced competitors can’t take full advantage?

Year-by-year comparison

Is the first-round carnage an exception, or does it fall within the parameters of recent women’s results at the All England Club.

Here are some numbers from the past few years.

2018

Seeds losing first round: 10
Seeds in top eight losing first round: Four
Seeds left after second round: 18
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 2

2017

Seeds losing first round: 7
Seeds in top eight losing first round: Zero
Seeds left after second round: 15
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 7

2016

Seeds losing first round: 3
Seeds in top eight losing first round: Zero
Seeds left after second round: 18
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 6

2015

Seeds losing first round: 76
Seeds in top eight losing first round: 1 ([3] Halep, to Cepelova)
Seeds left after second round: 19
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 5

2014

Seeds losing first round: 9
Seeds in top eight losing first round: 1 ([7] Jankovic, to Kanepi)
Seeds left after second round: 18
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 6

2013

Seeds losing first round: 7
Seeds in top eight losing first round: 1 ([5] Errani, to Puig)
Seeds left after second round: 15
Top-8 seeds left after second round: 4 (walkover by [2] Azarenka)

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