After the more leisurely pace of the first day, which afforded me the opportunity to settle in for whole matches at a time, the second-day schedule presented quite a change right off the bat. As always, I find myself drawn to a few select players, in the early rounds, who don’t get the same level of attention as the top seeds but who might be sleepers.
Center Court launched with Venus Williams as a wild card facing the 12 seeded Maria Kirilenko (RUS). Williams, working her way back into form while recovering from illness, still seemed more than capable of handling Kirilenko and the first set, which she won 6-3, sent me off in search of other signs of life.
Court 9 played host to another American wild card, Sloane Stephens, who has attracted interest as a possible upstart in the Williams sisters mold. She’s a solid African-American player who has risen up through the U.S. system and has become one of the marketable role models for kids in the summer recreation center programs around the country.
Her match, against Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL), offered an up-close glimpse and she did not disappoint. Pironkova is a game competitor with second-week experience in the majors, but she lacks the power of the top players. She craftily uses finesse and movement to keep herself in points, but Stephens seized the opportunity and dispatched her handily (6-4, 6-1).
What was impressive about Stephens was the fact that she went in with a game plan and executed it flawlessly. She knew Pironkova’s weaknesses and attacked with power and pinpoint accuracy. Stephens looks strong and fit, although the comparisons to the Williams sisters seem forced. She’s not as tall as Venus or as strong as Serena. Physically, she’s a step removed from each of them, yet a good blend of their strengths. It remains to be seen if she will be able to harness her talents and catapult forward, but the potential is certainly there.
Back on Center Court, Venus was prepared to serve out the second set against Kirilenko, but a funny thing happened on the way to that forum. A few slips at net and erratic serving led to a tiebreak, which Kirilenko won (7-5) to force a third set.
The third was little more than a wake-up call for a snoozing Venus who definitely looked a bit more like an awakened giant. She took the match [6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-2] and enjoyed the full support and admiration of the fans on Center Court.
The fans would be on-hand to bolster the spirits of several others over the course of the day.
The second match on Center Court, between Andy Roddick and lucky loser Jeremy Chardy (FRA), appeared to be more red meat for the crowds. In the early going, Roddick used his booming serves to feed the frenzy, routinely registering aces in the 130-range before dropping the pace for a sneaky 110 mph kicker that completely froze his opponent.