If you have any plans for Monday, put them aside, because the ladies at Wimbledon have set a most appetizing table to lure you to their courts, away from the normal more masculine fare.
To call it “Blockbuster Monday” is to minimize its significance.
The matchups are staggering, some significant enough to rate as “finals” in most years. The ladies' round of 16 at Wimbledon, unfortunately, will be blended with the gentlemen’s.
As is too often the case, the ladies will no doubt be overshadowed by their male counterparts, since the media selects what will be covered. This is not meant to discount the men, but the scope of the ladies’ matches is mouth-watering.
Here are the matches you need to witness front and center:
Both of these ladies have won the Wimbledon Championship. Both have been ranked No. 1 in the world.
In 2004, Sharapova defeated Williams in the Wimbledon finals, denying the younger Williams sister another trophy for her mantel. It was Sharapova’s only championship at the All England Club. The younger Williams sister, however, has won the Wimbledon Singles Championship three times.
Williams returned the favor by defeating Sharapova in the finals of the Australian Open in 2007, when the world favored the Russian to win because Williams’ ranking had fallen to No. 81 in the world.
They have met seven times altogether, with Williams winning five of those contests. Sharapova and Williams, however, have not met since 2008. Finally, Sharapova is returning to top form in 2010 after being out almost a year following shoulder surgery.
Sharapova recently made it to the finals of Birmingham, where she fell to Na Li. The Russian has managed to stabilize her serve, controlling the inordinate number of double faults she experienced early on as she began her comeback.
But to get back to the top, Sharapova must get through No. 1 seed Serena Williams. It should be a Battle Royale, but the younger Williams sister is playing like an assassin on the green lawns...and although the long-legged Russian beauty never quits, Williams will stop her dead in her tracks.
Kim Clijsters (8) versus Justine Henin (17)
The Belgian Wars take place on Monday with these two former No. 1 players battling each other in the round of 16. Kim Clijsters has been a semifinalist twice at Wimbledon, never having won this title. But she has won the U.S. Open twice, and will serve as reigning champion in New York as we head there later this summer.
Justine Henin, who stepped down from her No. 1 ranking in 2008, dramatically retiring from the sport, has returned to the game. Henin said she wished to win this Wimbledon Championship after being inspired by Roger Federer, who finally won the French Open title in 2009.
Henin holds seven Grand Slam singles titles: one Australian, four French, and two U.S. Open championships. She has been a finalist at Wimbledon twice, in 2001 and 2006, losing to Venus Williams and Amelie Mauresmo, respectively.
The two Belgians, who are both reemerging on tour after retirements, have met each other 24 times in the past and have come away equal, each having won twelve times.
Henin has won five out of six matches on clay. Clijsters has won eight out of 12 meetings on hard courts. Henin has won three out of four on grass. Clijsters has won both times the two met on indoor carpet. Give the edge to Henin this time. She will find herself in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Jelena Jankovic (4) versus Vera Zvonareva (21)
You have to ask the inevitable question about Jankovic. Is she truly back in top form? Has she, at long last, set aside her inconsistency, her yips, finally ready to take her place solidly at the top of the women’s game?
Ranked No. 1 during the period after Henin retired in 2008, Jankovic has never won a Slam, as the media pointed out to her without fail all during her short reign at the top. In 2008, she did play in one Slam final at the U.S. Open, but lost to Serena Williams.
Jankovic meets the underachieving Russian Zvonareva for the first time on grass. Zvonareva enjoyed her first top-10 season in 2008, ranked as high as world No. 5 in February of 2009. Previously, the Russian had hovered within the Top 20. Suffering from numerous injuries and weakened confidence later in 2009, Zvonareva saw her ranking plummet as she remained unable to compete.
They have met 11 times, nine on hard courts and twice on clay. Head to head, Jankovic holds a slight edge, 6-5, claiming her six victories on the hard courts. At their most recent encounter in Dubai, Zvonareva eliminated Jankovic in the round of 16. But look for Jankovic to live to fight on in the quarterfinals.
Caroline Wozniacki (3) versus Petra Kvitova
It is a major disappointment that Victoria Azarenka (14) did not survive into the round of 16 to face the No. 3 seed Wozniacki.
Kvitova, however, left no doubt that she belonged in the next round. The big-serving Czech, who had never won a grass-court match before this year’s Wimbledon, did everything she needed to, but she ultimately found herself pushed over the wall when Azarenka self-destructed, losing nine games in a row.
Azarenka’s game continues to confound her fans and the media. Where has her confidence gone?
As for the round of 16, expect the No. 3 seed Wozniacki not to self-destruct. The Dane, who has been slowed by injury, was ousted in the first round at Eastbourne, but she has been playing well at Wimbledon and her experience and her defensive prowess will see Wozniacki into the quarterfinals.
Agnieszka Radwanska (7) versus Na Li (9)
Na Li won Birmingham on grass, defeating the No. 2 seed Sharapova in the finals. She was forced to retire at Eastbourne with a left thigh strain. She is the first Chinese woman ever to be ranked in the top 10, which she accomplished after reaching the semifinals of the 2010 Australian Open. Playing with powerful groundstrokes and quick foot speed, the grass is to her liking—perhaps not as much as the hard courts, where she has enjoyed her greatest successes.
Agnieszka Radwanska is a top-10 player who has waited patiently for her moment in the sun. She has reached the quarterfinals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, playing with finesse on both the forehand and backhand sides. She has an all-court game which serves her well, but is without the stinging power of some of the ladies on tour.
So far Li and Radwanska have met twice on grass, both times in 2009, with Radwanska coming out on top. Expect her to do the same on Monday, defeating Li in the round of 16.
Other Round of 16 Matches
Venus Williams (2) versus Jarmila Groth
Although playing well of late, the Aussie Groth will be no match for Venus Williams, who has won this trophy five times. On to the quarterfinals for the elder Williams sister.
Marion Bartoli (11) versus Tsvetana Pironkova
Bartoli shocked the world in 2007 by upsetting Justine Henin in the semifinals of Wimbledon. The Frenchwoman, however, lost to Venus Williams in the final. As a former runner-up on the green lawns of Centre Court, the Frenchwoman should make it past the Bulgarian Pironkova, ranked No. 81 in the world.
Klara Zakopalova versus Kaia Kanepi
In the battle of the unseeded players, Kanepi of Estonia, who has been ranked as high as No. 18 in the world in 2009, loves the clay. She has reached as high as the quarterfinals at the French Open.
Kanepi, however, sent Samantha Stosur packing in the first round and looks in better shape than she has in the past. The Czech Zakopalova took out Flavia Penneta in the previous round and has some upsets in the past, but expect Kanepi to advance to the quarters after this match.
Now, if we are lucky, ESPN, from whichever outlet they will be broadcasting, will see fit to show us some women’s action beyond the Williams sisters. We love the Williams sisters, without a doubt—but there are some other terrific matches on the ladies side that you need to see. Tune in Monday for a great day of women’s tennis.