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Monday, July 30, 2012
London letdown for Wimbledon finalists

The message after the first two days of Olympic tennis is clear: If you're a former Wimbledon finalist, you'd better watch your back. On opening day, tiny Belgium's Steve Darcis -- ranked No. 75 by the ATP -- came up big and bounced Tomas Berdych, the No. 6 seed, out of the draw in straight sets.

It was Darcis' first appearance on Centre Court, even though he had played the annual Wimbledon tournament four times (2-4 record). As he said, touchingly, after the upset of Berdych (the losing finalist in 2010): "It's an amazing feeling. When you're young, you watch Pete Sampras playing there [Centre Court] and you think, 'maybe one day.' Today, it was my day."

That was Saturday. On Sunday, Julia Goerges got to experience the same thrill. Another first-timer on Centre Court, she knocked off WTA No. 2, Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, who had lost the Wimbledon final to Serena Williams just a few weeks ago.

Goerges played a terrific match, as almost anyone who hopes to upset clever, consistent Radwanska must. She channeled Serena at the service box, pouring forth 20 aces and 56 winners.

Goerges is just one of four Germans in the singles (Philipp Kohlschreiber, the lone German male in the singles draw, withdrew after losing the final of Kitzbuhel on red clay to Robin Haase on Saturday -- the same day the Olympic tennis began on grass). Four players is the limit for any nation as per IOC and ITF rules, and Goerges isn't even the best in her nation. That honor goes to Angelique Kerber, the WTA No. 7, followed by No. 17 Sabine Lisicki. The third German woman, No. 38 Mona Barthel -- who only got in because No. 18 Andrea Petkovic had to pull out with injury -- lost Saturday to Radwanska's sister, No. 44-ranked Urszula Radwanska.

Now about those endangered former Wimbledon finalists. They include active players and current Olympians, some of whom have won Wimbledon as well as tasted defeat in the final. They are: Andy Roddick (lost to Federer three times, most recently in 2009), Maria Sharapova (a 2004 champion but lost to Kvitova in 2011), Vera Zvonareva (l. to Serena Williams, 2010), Venus Williams (a five-time champion but last lost in the final to sister Serena in 2009) and -- of course -- Serena Williams (another five-time champion, who last lost to Venus in 2008). Let's see what their prospects are.

Roddick beat Martin Klizan, a 23-year-old Slovak ranked No. 62, in the first round Monday. And Roddick's prize: the No. 2 seed, Serbia's Novak Djokovic. Roddick will be a prohibitive underdog against Nole, of course.

Now what about those ladies?

Sharapova, the resident of Bradenton, Fla., who just can't stop gushing about how much it means to her to be playing for Russia, might have to get by Lisicki if she hopes to step up to the podium and get all choked up when they play the Russian anthem, and giant killer Goerges is in her half, as well.

Zvonareva, the Russian who's been swooning lately and has fallen to No. 14 from No. 2 at the end of her outstanding year in 2010 (she lost in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that year), might be looking at a third-round clash with No. 4 seed Serena Williams, with Kerber lurking as a potential semifinal opponent, should Victoria Azarenka fail to justify her No. 1 seeding.

Venus Williams beat a tough first-round opponent in WTA No. 9 Sara Errani of Italy, and Venus could face a very tough test if she gets to the third round along with No. 7 seed Kerber.

Serena is in a German-free zone, and seemingly in a serious threat-free zone, all the way to the semis. But one stumbling block could be Daniela Hantuchova, a streaky player who can sizzle or fizzle -- and you never quite know which. Should Serena get to the semis, her most likely opponent would be her sister Venus, Azarenka or Kerber.

So it seems that the former Wimbledon finalist most at risk going forward is Sharapova, and didn't Lisicki beat her during the Wimbledon tournament just a few weeks ago? It's certainly food for thought -- and fuel for potential glory for Germany, the hottest team at this Olympic Games.