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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Venus' dream falls short

By Ravi Ubha
ESPN.com

Wait, isn't this supposed to happen only once in the tennis year: all 32 players remaining in singles at the All England Club competing on the same day?

Thankfully in 2012, we have two of those days, since the Olympics are at Wimbledon.

The remaining hopefuls slugged it out Wednesday for a spot in the quarterfinals, with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka advancing amid the smorgasbord. They progressed in different ways.

As for Venus Williams, her gutsy run came to an end.

Here are 10 takeaways from the third-round feast, in which the weather gods cooperated -- barely.

1. Bravo, Venus: There was no shame in Venus Williams' losing to Angelique Kerber 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Kerber can't stop winning this year. She leads the impressive German quintet after reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon last month.

But the defeat will sting Venus, who has won five Wimbledon titles. She blew a 5-1 lead in the first-set tiebreaker, missed three set points earlier in the set and led in the second.

Had Venus played a little more tennis this year, instead of missing a chunk because of Sjogren's syndrome, the result perhaps would have been different.

Venus' whole year revolved around the Olympics. It's why she returned to the circuit sooner than she should have. Let's hope that after the disappointment (in singles) subsides, she'll be healthy enough to compete and stay competitive during the U.S. Open Series.

One more Grand Slam semifinal would be nice.

2. Maria wins slugfest: Sabine Lisicki, Kerber's compatriot with the heavy serve, and Sharapova are making a habit of meeting at important tournaments this season. Sharapova won at the Australian Open, Lisicki triumphed at Wimbledon and they were at it once more Wednesday.

Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova was among the many stars who survives scares at the Olympics on Wednesday.

What a contest it turned out to be: 2 hours, 47 minutes of pure slugging, and Sharapova demonstrated her admirable battling qualities to advance 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3.

She also showed how much the match meant to her in her first Olympics, unusually striking her racket against the court and taking several swipes in the air. The disappointment was, in the end, replaced by jubilation.

Her second serves were courageous, and she has never retrieved better.

Yet Lisicki will be thinking about the match for a while. She broke for 4-3 in the second but, in what was a familiar occurrence, dropped serve immediately. It happened at the end of the first set and early in the third.

3. Oh, Marcos: Didn't we see this when Murray faced Marcos Baghdatis in the same round at Wimbledon? Tied in sets, the genius-like, expressive and frustrating Baghdatis led Murray by a break in the third set but let it slip.

In Wednesday's rematch, Baghdatis was ahead again, winning the opener 6-4. Then the turning point: Facing a break point at 1-2 in the second, Baghdatis deposited a sitter of a forehand with Murray almost giving up the point into the net.

"Just the opportunity Murray is looking for," former British No. 1 Tim Henman said in commentary for the BBC.

Indeed. Baghdatis went away for a patch and resurfaced only when it was too late. Murray's extended celebration at the end told you he knew this one would be tough.

4. Nole survives: Djokovic won the Australian Open, reached the final at the French Open and made it to the semis at Wimbledon.

Notice the trend from one major to another this year? Not what he wants.

And for a while against fellow Wimbledon champ Lleyton Hewitt, he seemed destined to exit in an even earlier round, before prevailing 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in an event that's likely the biggest apart from the Slams.

But Djokovic's inconsistency -- and continued irritability -- is a concern not only for the rest of the tournament but the rest of the summer. Andy Roddick, whom Djokovic obliterated Tuesday, can't move Djokovic the way Hewitt can and "Rusty" has more variation on his serve, but the Serb's dip was alarming.

5. Iron Jo: He didn't play five sets Tuesday, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's classic -- he toppled Milos Raonic 25-23 in the longest set in Olympic history -- still lasted four hours.

In the past, Rafael Nadal, he of the great stamina, has contested matches of three-plus hours and had nothing left the next day. Tsonga, though, did have enough left in the tank and disposed of Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4.

He was, of course, aided by the fact that on Tuesday the points were quick. Likewise against Lopez: The entire match lasted a mere 1 hour, 9 minutes.

But will Tsonga only truly feel the effects when he plays Djokovic in the pick of the men's quarterfinals Thursday?

6. Serena steamroll: We could only think of Dinara Safina while Serena Williams was crushing Vera Zvonareva.

Zvonareva is, sadly, sliding down the rankings just as her fellow Russian and Grand Slam finalist did, although in Safina's case, a major injury was to blame.

When Williams played Zvonareva in the 2010 Wimbledon final, it lasted less than 70 minutes. On Wednesday, Zvonareva couldn't get that far, being ousted 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes.

Williams' key numbers: 12 aces, 32 winners and eight unforced errors.

Caroline Wozniacki is the next player who'll attempt to derail Serena on the grass. Good luck.

7. Roger good enough: You're not going to get many chances against Federer, especially if you're ranked outside the top 30 and playing on grass. So when they come, you better grab 'em.

Denis Istomin, the tall baseliner from Uzbekistan who is coached by his mom, had a small window -- but it shut quickly.

At 5-5, 15-30 on the Federer serve, the rain came, prompting about a half-hour delay. When they returned, it was soon 15-40, but Istomin played both points poorly and later missed a third break chance.

In the next game, up 40-30, he double-faulted to keep the game going. Federer eventually broke for 7-5, and the second set was more routine. Not vintage Fed on a windy day, but vintage enough.

8. Here's Johnny: John Isner needed a solid tournament, and badly. He underwhelmed at the French Open and Wimbledon, when a lot was justifiably expected from him.

He reached the quarterfinals, the only American man to do so, which is a fine achievement. He got there by eliminating Janko Tipsarevic 7-5, 7-6 (14), converting on his sixth match point when Tipsarevic double-faulted.

If Isner defeats Federer for the second time this season, he'll be looking good to reach the gold-medal match. Isner hasn't lost a set in three rounds.

Will another American end Federer's golden chase after James Blake did so four years ago?

9. Vika's rally: Whether it was losing it altogether or getting stretched, a bunch of the top seeds had laborious first sets, Azarenka included. Azarenka trailed Nadia Petrova, always a threat no matter the surface, 6-3 in a first-set tiebreaker. She won the next five points.

In the second, Petrova had opportunities to lead 5-2. She didn't capitalize, and Azarenka won 7-6 (6), 6-4.

10. Flying under the radar: There were some routine matches. But who would have thought one would involve the oft-erratic Petra Kvitova?

Last year's Wimbledon winner thumped Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-0 in less than an hour (she did have to save six break points in the second set), and Kim Clijsters, inching closer to retirement, was never broken in a 6-3, 6-4 victory against another former No. 1, Ana Ivanovic. It didn't materialize at Wimbledon, but we'll get Sharapova-Clijsters at the Olympics.