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Blockbuster Showdown in the Fourth Round: Sharapova v Serena and Henin v Clijsters

For the most part, the first week at Wimbledon has gone according to plan on the ladies’ side.  As a result, defending champion Serena Williams will square off in the round of 16 against the woman who beat her in the 2004 final, Maria Sharapova.  Similarly, the projected clash between Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters has come to fruition.  This means that tomorrow, two individuals will be disappointed.  Let’s analyze how we arrived at this point and what lies ahead in the second week.

Top seed Serena Williams has simply run through her opponents. Likewise, Sharapova has had little difficulty getting to this stage, sending her adversaries home in straight sets.  Serena and Sharapova have played seven times with the former winning five of those meetings.  Curiously, since the 2004 championship, the two have never battled on grass.  In essence, this will be their rematch.  A significant factor will be how well Sharapova serves.  If the Russian does well in that department, Serena could be in trouble.

Na Li and Agniezska Radwanska who face each other in the fourth round have yet to drop a set in getting this far.  Radwanska holds a 2-1 record against Li and both victories have been on grass.  But for both Li and Radwanska, the quarterfinals will be a tough ask with either Sharapova or Serena as a rival.

A definite stunner was the dismissal of French Open finalist Samantha Stosur in the first round by Kaia Kanepi.  Previously ranked as high as 18 in 2009, Kanepi’s placement dipped to 80.  After ousting another seed Alexandra Dulgheru in the third round, the talented Estonian is in the round of 16 .  Another surprise is Kanepi’s opponent in the fourth round, Klara Zakopalova.  The 28 year old had not gone pass the third round at a major previously.  Zakopalova advanced by bouncing 18th seed Aravane Rezai in the second round and trouncing 10th seed Flavia Pennetta in the third.

Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed, has been splendid on grass as she attempts to better her fourth round result from last year.  Jie Zheng, the 23rd seed, and Victoria Azarenka, the 14th seed, fell victim to Petra Kvitova in the second and third round respectively. Thus, Wozniacki takes on Kvitova in the round of 16.  The Dane carried their prior two matches.  Furthermore, with Kanepi or Zakopalova as a quarterfinal match-up, Wozniacki truly has a green light to the semifinals.

This was a disastrous week for the French Open winners.  The reigning champion Francesca Schiavone went out in the first round.  Last year’s title holder and 19th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova crashed out in the second round.  Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 victor, bowed out in the first round.  Hence, Ivanovic’s ranking of 45 will continue to head toward the cellar.

Focusing on the bottom half of the draw, Clijsters has shown no mercy to her competitors each of the first three rounds.  Although Henin has gone through in two sets, at times, there have been rough patches.  Not unusual considering her third round opponent was Nadia Petrova.  Neither Clijsters nor Henin has been a Wimbledon champion.  While Henin was a finalist in 2001 and 2006, Wimbledon is the only major Clijsters has yet to reach the final.  Despite a tie record of 12 a piece, since their return, Clijsters has prevailed in both of their matches. As these two clash in the fourth round, someone’s dream of the title will be postponed for another season.

Injuries have been an issue for Vera Zvonareva the last year or so.  The Russian has been finding her form and is now in the round of 16 where she battles Jelena Jankovic.  Wimbledon is the sole major where Jankovic has not gone beyond the fourth round.  Both Jankovic and Zvonareva will be seeking their initial quarterfinal berth at this venue.  Although Jankovic leads their head to head 6-5, Zvonareva has won the last two.

Another face new to the second week at a major is Tsvetana Pironkova.  The 23 year old Bulgarian took out Vera Dushevina, who booted Schiavone, in the second round.  Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner up, received a walkover in the second round and had straight sets triumphs in the others.  Bartoli contends with Pironkova in the round of 16 against whom she has a 3-0 record.  So, Pironkova’s dream run may be at its end since Bartoli is unlikely to falter.

Jarmila Groth is in the fourth round for the second straight major.  The Aussie defeated 33rd seed Melanie Oudin in the second round.  In the round of 16, Groth has five time titlist and three time finalist Venus Williams on the other side.  Needless to say, it will be a tall order for the Aussie.  Venus has been in her usual unbeatable form on grass this week.  In the quarterfinals, Venus will probably see Bartoli which would be a rematch of the 2007 final.  With either Jankovic, Clijsters or Henin in the semifinal round, if Venus progresses she will have to call on all her grass expertise if she is to reach her ninth Wimbledon final.

The table has been set with plenty for the eyes to feast on and the brain to ponder.  An all Williams final could be in the cards, but, there are many capable spoilers. Whether that role will be filled by Sharapova, Wozniacki, Clijsters, Henin or Jankovic will be revealed in a few days.

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