Monday, June 29, 2009
Serena seeks revenge against Azarenka
By Ravi Ubha Special to ESPN.com
WIMBLEDON, England -- Anyone who boos a French crowd has guts.
Victoria Azarenka did just that at this past month's French Open (yes, she survived), so facing a 10-time Grand Slam champion in Wimbledon's quarterfinals won't faze the 19-year-old.
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Helping the serial grunter further in her quest to overcome Serena Williams -- and her aura -- on Tuesday is their head-to-head battles.
Azarenka crushed Williams in the final of April's Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where the latter is almost invincible, and led Williams by a set in the fourth round of January's Australian Open before a virus forced the Belarusian to retire.
Let's point out, though, that Williams dealt with leg and ankle injuries in Florida, and they haven't entirely gone away.
"She's obviously a good player, and she's really young," said Williams, a winner in 56 minutes over Daniela Hantuchova in Monday's fourth round. "She has nothing to lose. It will be a really good match."
Richard Williams, the dad of the second-seeded Serena and two-time defending champion Venus Williams, was slightly less objective.
"Serena's as mean as a junkyard dog," he said. "She doesn't give a s--- about no one walking on that court. Serena's more mentally tough than any player out here. She's a great returner, so you better have your serve on."
Azarenka, the No. 8 seed, was broken seven times against 10th-seeded Russian Nadia Petrova in a 7-6 (5), 2-6, 6-3 win. The match lasted 2 hours, 25 minutes in rare baking heat.
"I just have to be the same focused as I was all of these days and just keep playing my game, not to worry that I'm playing Serena in the quarterfinals," Azarenka said.
Prediction: Williams in two sets
Here's a look at the three other quarterfinals:
No. 3 Venus Williams versus No. 11 Agnieszka Radwanska
Williams might have a knee injury, but she sure didn't show it Monday against Ana Ivanovic. She won a highlight-reel point in the second game, sprinting from side to side and pummeling the ball from corner to corner. Williams didn't have to linger on the court, either, as Ivanovic retired at 1-6, 1-0 thanks to a thigh injury.
"She didn't have a lot of opportunities in that first set, and not because she wasn't playing well," Williams said. "I think I was just on top of the ball."
Radwanska lacks power, relying instead on court smarts and changing the pace to cope with big hitters. The 20-year-old Pole was realistic about her chances.
"If she's playing good tennis and she has a good day, it's very tough to play against her," said Radwanska, never a Grand Slam semifinalist. "Especially the serves."
Prediction: Williams in twoNo. 1 Dinara Safina versus Sabine Lisicki
Two unlikely quarterfinalists. Yes, two.
Even though she's the world No. 1, Safina doesn't like grass -- it runs in the family -- and has been bothered by knee tendinitis.
More than a few thought the Russian would lose to 2006 Wimbledon champ Amelie Mauresmo on Monday; Mauresmo's renowned nerves took care of that. As a bonus, Safina got the chance to play under the Centre Court roof, which made its debut.
"It was like, unbelievable atmosphere on court," Safina said.
Lisicki, a 19-year-old German with a huge serve, followed up her upset of French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova by once again downing Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki. Hard to believe the world No. 41 was two points from defeat in Round 1.
Lisicki won a title in Charleston, S.C., before suffering from appendicitis.
Prediction: Safina in three No. 4 Elena Dementieva versus Francesca Schiavone
Elena Dementieva has reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
Dementieva, like men's No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic, has sneaked through the draw. Then again, the unassuming Russian always glides under the radar.
Dementieva hasn't lost a set in four matches and, in fact, has conceded five games or fewer on each occasion. The reigning Olympic champ is one victory away from matching last year's performance in southwest London.
"Last year was like a year come true for me at Wimbledon," Dementieva said. "I really enjoyed that experience, so it looks like it's really helping me this year."
Schiavone has ample momentum, too, reaching a maiden grass-court semifinal this month. The Italian veteran, ranked 43rd, swept aside an interesting cast at Wimbledon: 23rd seed Aleksandra Wozniak, teen screamer Michelle Larcher de Brito, 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli and surging Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano.
Their head-to-head is tied 4-4 -- the past four going the distance.
Prediction: Dementieva in threeRavi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.