Wimbledon 2017 Day Three: Ominous Ostapenko, Nadal Rising, Azarenka’s Statement and More

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Jelena Ostapenko talks to the media at Wimbledon.

Sunny skies, packed crowds, and tons of tennis. The Wimbledon second round – and the first round of men’s and women’s doubles – kicked off on Wednesday, and there was no shortage of action and drama. What do you expect in the opening week of a major event?
In a shorter rundown than previous days, here are some notable moments – and some things to keep an eye on – from day one of round two (which happened to be day three.)

THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST? (Related result: Jelena Ostapenko [13] d. Francoise Abanda 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3.)

Two days competing at Wimbledon, and on both of them Ostapenko has finished her match just minutes before sunset.

The former junior champion does not appear to mind waiting whole days to play. When you’re winning, you can’t really complain. And Ostapenko – whose only loss since a shock French Open triumph in May came in three sets to Johanna Konta last week – is, indeed, winning. After a see-saw first round clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, the Latvian was again taken the distance against fellow 20-year-old Francoise Abanda – but under different circumstances. A tiebreak away from exiting the tournament, Ostapenko developed the mental and physical edge to pull ahead and edge out victory with the go-for-broke tennis that has lately taken her to monumental success.

At this stage of the event last season, Garbine Muguruza – who had stunned with her upset of Serena Williams in the Paris final – was down and out to the unseeded Jana Cepelova. It has become a regular occurrence on the WTA tour: A player not considered a title favourite wins her maiden major title, and fails to back it up in the ensuing Slam.
Ostapenko has been pushed. But she has still jumped the hurdles, and it might just have taken her out of the danger zone.

She was a complete outsider when she triumphed in Paris, but Ostapenko by no means followed the normal path when she raised the trophy. Then the world no. 47, she was still a teenager for most of the tournament. And her all-out, hit-or-miss strategy had not been seen from any player since Serena Williams. Nerveless in her first – and totally unexpected – Grand Slam final, the youngster looked less a traditional WTA champion, and more a future WTA legend.

In some last minute (and incredibly rushed) Wimbledon predictions, I ‘half-heartedly’ selected Petra Kvitova to go all the way to the title. Even as I did so, I knew it was never going to happen – and not because the Czech is only six months on from suffering a brutal knife attack at her home. The no. 11 seed made a brilliant run to the Aegon Classic title less than two weeks ago, after all. But she entered the event as the favourite to triumph, and – unless that favourite happens to be Serena – the favourites never win. On Wednesday, Kvitova fell to Madison Brengle in three sets.

Ostapenko’s favourite surface is grass. It is a perfect fit for her big-serving, fast-striking game. If she could shine on the sport’s slowest surface, then – with her good movement and feel for the ball – how much more on grass.

This was discussed in the aftermath of her historic victory – the first at a major event for any Latvian. As time went on, however, it appeared that people were cautious to name the 2013 girls’ champion a leading title contender in light of recent performances from breakout WTA stars.

But now is a good time to remember how Ostapenko arrived at the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. She did not dominate constantly. She did not even dominate the vast majority of the time. Finding her marks when it mattered, the young star fought through the draw under the radar – hardly being considered as a possible winner until she made the final four. Of her seven matches played, five were won in three sets.

Right now, Ostapenko has contested six straight three set matches. And the confident right-hander might just be warming up for dual-title glory.

(SOME OF THE) IMPORTANT RESULTS

Andy Murray [1] d. Dustin Brown 6-3 6-2 6-2. What is problematic for one player is not problematic for all, and so Murray’s maiden meeting with Germany’s Brown was always hugely over-hyped. The dreadlocked 32-year-old may have trick shots to leave you dead and big previous wins on grass, but I never expected him to rival the defending champion. Rafael Nadal – with his high-rising topspin, knee problems and recent grass-court discomfort – is a completely different kettle of fish to the flat-hitting, crowd-supported Murray.

The fact is, the top seed knew exactly what was coming for him, and was very much prepared. The virtual thrashing is a reminder that the Brit has learned to be at his most comfortable on Centre Court, that he has a head game and a groundstroke game to be feared, and that the hip injury that dominated the national papers for days was hugely blown out of proportion.

(As if we did not already know that.)

Johanna Konta [6] d. Donna Vekic 7-6(4) 4-6 10-8. In the round where she fell to an out-of-form Eugenie Bouchard last season, Konta put in her best performance at Wimbledon to date. Not even three weeks have passed since 21-year-old Vekic – first a presence in the top 100 aged 16 – topped the Brit in a three set Aegon Open Nottingham final, and her crisp, powerful game was always going to make this one close against one of the current best in the world.

Both players demonstrated great mentality to hold from 0-30 deficits time and again on serve in the decider, but eventually the misfortune of serving second came to bite Vekic: as she was broken for the victory after over three hours, and left weeping.

It was a winnable clash for the Croat – even more so when you consider that the world no. 58 had two set points on serve in the opening set. But Vekic will be left to learn some lessons, whilst Konta can move on with confidence. A main concern for the in-form world no. 7 has been whether or not she can cope with the home pressure Wimbledon brings. And as patriotic crowds gasped and roared on Wednesday afternoon, she shouldered the weight of expectation, and emerged victorious.

Venus Williams [10] d. Qiang Wang 4-6 6-4 6-1. For some time on Wednesday afternoon, it looked as though another 2016 semifinalist was going down. But if one knew Venus Williams, they should also have known that nothing is ever over until the final point has been played out.

The way she was playing for the first set and a half of her second round showdown with the slick and precise Wang, Venus looked ready to say goodbye to SW19. Perhaps it is her energy-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome flaring up (although she would never let on), or maybe it is simply the star having a bad day. But there are times when the American just cannot move her feet quickly enough, and cannot seem to feel the ball – forcing it rather than effortlessly guiding it. And Wednesday was one of those days, with unforced errors raining down from the five-time champion’s racquet at the worst of times – as her opponent stayed cool.

But one crucial factor that has earned Venus status as a great of the game is her mentality. When champions are struggling for their best tennis, they summon their willpower and refuse to be beaten. And Miss Williams – after hanging on again and again – never stopped believing she could win. After holding serve for 5-4 in the second set, she knew this was the moment to take action. And rather than crumble at the thought of failure, she calmed herself and did what was necessary.

It was by no means easy, but Venus also fought through some tough early battles last season. Extra time spent on the lawns at this stage could help her find her groove.

Rafael Nadal [4] d. Donald Young 6-4 6-2 7-5. Once before – back in 2014 – an often-injured Rafael Nadal seemed to be rediscovering himself on lawns. Then Nick Kyrgios happened, and the notion that the Spaniard’s grass-court success was a thing of the past resurrected.

With his straight set’s defeat of America’s not-so-Young world no. 43, Nadal returned to the third round at SW19 for the first time since his shock exit to wild card Kyrgios. Given the two-time champion’s recent history at the event, some will be rightly cautious to christen the Spaniard as back to his best grass-court form. It only took one match to expose weaknesses in 2014, and the same can happen here. No. 30 seed Karen Kachanov’s heavy groundstrokes are likely to inflict far more damage in London than they did on the clay-courts of Roland Garros.

Nevertheless, Nadal was utterly dominant and completely focused during an ultra-aggressive defeat of John Millman in round one, and he continued on that theme during his clash with Young – dropping serve just once, as he served for the match. And his perfectionist nature will only drive him to improve upon that as he heads into round three.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga [12] d. Simone Bolelli [Q] 6-1 7-5 6-2. Facing a big serve and an opponent no stranger to upsets, Tsonga displayed an impressive ability to rise up in the key moments. Seven times out of ten the Frenchman would have milked this kind of clash to four sets, and that he got it done in such businesslike fashion on Wednesday is a great sign.

Kei Nishikori [9] d. Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(6). Up against the man that brought Roger Federer’s 2013 campaign to a shocking halt, Nishikori demonstrated great mental poise to get over losing a narrow second set – and even more to keep the clash from going to a fifth. The Japanese star often rolls under the radar during the early rounds of Slams, and few will stop to remember that he has never progressed beyond the fourth round at this major. So far, so good in 2017.

Victoria Azarenka d. Elena Vesnina [15] 6-3 6-3. One of the most anticipated matches of the day was closer than the scoreline suggests, and that makes the ever-so-recently-absent Azarenka’s win all the more impressive. The new mother warmed into the clash and produced lengthy showings of her aggressive, dictating self during her ‘upset’ of 2016 semifinalist and 2017 Indian Wells champion Vesnina. She is the obvious dark horse in this competition, and will likely grace Centre Court in her third round clash with home player Heather Watson.

Maria Sakkari d. Kristyna Pliskova 6-7(8) 6-4 6-4. A personal interest in Sakkari causes me to include her latest result in this list. The Greek player was impressive in her confident aggression when pushing Venus Williams here last season, and she possesses several weapons which she is still learning to utilise – as well as a highly competitive nature. She trailed by a set and 4-2 in her match with rising Pliskova twin Kristyna, and her mental performance to come through shows that the 21-year-old is dangerous. As she continues to train under the watchful eye of Australia’s Mark Petchey, the duo should know that a last 32 meeting with Johanna Konta is definitely winnable.

FOR A FULL LIST OF DAY THREE RESULTS FOLLOW THIS LINK.

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Thanks for reading! Think Jelena Ostapenko can go all the way for a second consecutive Grand Slam? How much faith do you have in Rafael Nadal’s form? Let me know in the comments!

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