Maria Sharapova's golden opportunity
Bloody Monday at Wimbledon left two guarantees for the rest of the women's draw in the most prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournament.
First, with only one former champion advancing to the quarterfinals, at least one newcomer will emerge from the field of anonymity that has collectively stunned the sport's upper echelon and reach the final. Maybe two.
And second, Maria Sharapova is now the player to beat at Wimbledon.
Monday saw the departure of four-time Wimbledon singles winner and two-time defending champion Serena Williams, along with her sister, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. It's the first time they were both beaten at Wimbledon on the same day.
Also ousted: No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki.
That puts Sharapova squarely in the hot seat. She responded well in Tuesday's quarterfinal match, beating No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1.
Sharapova has won three Grand Slam singles titles, including Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008. But she hasn't won a major since shoulder surgery in late 2008. She hasn't reached a final since then, either.
Sharapova did make a surprising run at the French Open, advancing to the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Li Na. Asked if anything less than a championship would be a satisfying, she said at Monday's post-match press conference, "I don't know. …
"To me, tennis, there's only one winner. If one of those isn't disappointed that loses, they're probably lying in your face, but that's because it's sports."
In other words, the answer sounds like "no."
A plus for women's tennis?
The Williams sisters were the talk of the tournament, arriving at Wimbledon having played little tennis in the past year because of injuries and serious health issues. When Serena beat Maria Kirilenko in straight sets Saturday to reach Monday's fourth round, she said of oddsmakers tabbing her the favorite, "I wouldn't bet against me."
Ultimately, it was too much to expect for either Williams sister to win Wimbledon after their long layoffs. After Serena lost to Marion Bartoli, Venus fell in straight sets to Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria on Monday to knock the last two remaining Americans out of the women's singles draw.
But as television analyst John McEnroe pointed out afterward, it was probably a good day for women's tennis.
"Even though it's a terrible day for us in America -- both the Williams sisters losing -- it's probably a good thing for the sport that someone can't just not play at all and then come back and win a Wimbledon," he said on the telecast. "We'll all be better for it, including them, if they'll be healthy enough to play on a regular basis."
And if the Williams sisters can return to regular play on the circuit, they will no doubt be favorites at the U.S. Open. Of course, these days that's a big "if."
If not Serena, then whom?
Wondering what to look for with so many unknowns remaining in the field? Keep an eye on Sabine Lisicki, who arrived at Wimbledon ranked No. 62 in the world and received a wild card entry to the tournament. Lisicki beat Li in the second round and Tuesday advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1 victory over Bartoli.
Here's what Li said in her post-match press conference about Lisicki's serve, which has been clocked as high as the 120s at Wimbledon.
"I mean, start of the first point till the end of the match, every serve was like around 117 miles. I mean, this is impossible for the women. … I don't think the player can stay same level like today. If like this, I mean, she's No. 1 in the world."
Lisicki was ranked as low as No. 218 earlier in the year after missing time because of an ankle injury. But she earned her wild card here by winning a pre-Wimbledon warm-up at Birmingham, England, in mid-June. Now she's on the way to the semis.