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Monday, June 23, 2008
Sour day for Ginepri, American contingent at Wimbledon

By Bonnie D. Ford
ESPN.com

Going home

WIMBLEDON, England -- Like most players, Robby Ginepri says he doesn't like to peek at his draw ahead of time, but his famous coach, Jose Higueras, decided he should be clued in.

"Jose asked me, 'Do you want to know who you're playing?'" Ginepri said. "The way he said it, I thought I was playing Roger [Federer] in the first round.''

Instead, he found himself across the net from the all-too-familiar figure of Chile's Fernando Gonzalez prowling the baseline. Gonzalez ousted Ginepri in the first round here last year and ended Ginepri's unexpected run through the French Open draw in the round of 16 a little more than two weeks ago. The 15th-seeded Gonzalez proved equally troublesome for Ginepri Monday, sending him home after three tight sets, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5, lifting his career record against the American to 5-0 and officially qualifying as a nemesis.

Ginepri was one of four U.S. men to take it on the chin Monday. His fellow Georgia native Bobby Reynolds advanced to the second round when Italy's Filippo Volandri retired due to left knee pain trailing 6-2, 6-2, but Sam Querrey, Vince Spadea and Kevin Kim all lost their first outings.

AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Bobby Reynolds was the only American man to win at Wimbledon on Monday.

Grass should be a greener pasture than clay for the hard-hitting Ginepri, but he said he still feels good about his game these days. He's finally healthy and has shed the arm brace he wore at Roland Garros to protect a tender triceps muscle. Ginepri no longer has to share Higueras with Federer, although he said in characteristically amiable fashion that he won't mind if the No. 1 decides he wants to work with the coaching legend again.

But Gonzalez's forehand -- "one of the top three or four'' in the game, the 59th-ranked Ginepri said -- once again proved to be the difference. "If you give him one shot to set up, even if he doesn't hit a winner, he stretches you out so you're out of position,'' Ginepri said. "Or he lulls you to sleep with the backhand slice.''

Long known as a slow starter, Ginepri has had a strong first half of 2008, and his bread-and-butter time is yet to come. He reached three semifinals earlier this year, and his three match wins at the French Open ended his 0-for-5 streak there. Another unfortunate draw at Queens -- his buddy Andy Roddick, a four-time champion there, beat him in the second round -- prevented him from getting more matches under his belt in the abbreviated grass court phase of the season.

Ginepri plans to play in Indianapolis, Toronto and Cincinnati before heading off to Beijing for the Olympic Games, and then it's back to New York for the Grand Slam in which he made a name for himself by charging, bare-armed, to the semifinals in 2005. It's a demanding schedule and one he's happy to have. "If you can't gear up for the Olympics and the U.S. Open, there's something wrong,'' he said.

Querrey, who will have the same itinerary this summer, was clearly disappointed about succumbing to Juan Carlos Ferrero 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, but it didn't keep him from being forthright about his short-term ambitions.

"Definitely by the end of this year I'd like to be ranked in the top 30,'' Querrey said. "I'd be very happy with that. I've just got to keep working hard. From here on out, it's all hard court, my favorite surface, so hopefully I can put a few nice runs together.''

Reynolds said Tuesday should be a better day for the U.S. contingent. "You've still got the big boys left,'' he said, referring to Roddick and James Blake. "I've been practicing with Andy, and he's hitting the ball well.''

Aside from his turbocharged serve, "Andy's an exceedingly good retriever,'' Reynolds said. "He does a great job of neutralizing the point and then running around and hitting his forehand.''

Reynolds, ranked 106th, earned his first Wimbledon win and will face Canada's 98th-ranked Frank Dancevic, courtesy of Dancevic's upset of David Nalbandian, the seventh seed.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Five things we learned on Monday

1. Hanging out on Centre Court is just fine: Dominik Hrbaty, nearing the end of his career, snuggled up beside five-time defending champion Roger Federer on the last changeover of their first-round tussle on Centre Court -- an occurrence akin to a British woman landing in the second week of a major. Was Federer startled? Nah. He went with the flow.

"He asked if he could sit next to me and I said, 'Sure,''' Federer disclosed, following the straight-set demolition. "There's no problem. There's an extra seat. He said it might be his last Wimbledon, so it was almost a little bit emotional.''

The two used to practice together, with Federer acknowledging that Hrbaty, one of the fittest players on tour during his heyday, taught him a thing or two about being professional.

"You know, it's a match that was a great honor for him to actually not only play against me, but be my friend,'' Federer said. "I said, 'Well, same for me here.' It was nice to share that moment on Centre Court together.''

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Roger Federer and Dominik Hrbaty shared an unusual cozy moment in their first-round Wimbledon encounter.

2. Serena can't tell time: For a few years Serena Williams and big sis Venus have been asked about how long they intend to compete on tour.

You get the feeling Serena was overdoing it a tad when the subject popped up again in the wake of her 7-5, 6-3 victory over Estonian Kaia Kanepi.

"We have decades left at Wimbledon,'' said the 26-year-old Williams, who is seeking a third title at the All England Club. "We definitely plan on capitalizing.''

What did Williams do after a surprising third-round exit against steady Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik at the French Open? She indulged in some "Serena recovering," but didn't elaborate further. Williams did reveal she and Venus hit the hard courts back home in the stifling Florida heat.

"We're like, 'We're going to do anything we can to stay at the tournament as long as we can, so we don't have to go back in that heat,''' Serena said. "That's pretty much our preparation.''

3. It's never going to happen for Nalbandian: For those who need proof David Nalbandian's multiple wins over Federer and Rafael Nadal at the end of 2007 meant virtually nothing, here's more: The moody Argentine went out meekly in straight sets to Canadian Frank Dancevic.

Dancevic won a grass-court challenger two weeks ago, but come on.

Other reminders of Nalbandian's struggles: Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has been going the wrong way in the rankings for a while, crushed Nalbandian in the third round of January's Australian Open, and wild-card Jeremy Chardy rallied from two sets down to eliminate him in the second round at Roland Garros.

"To be honest, I wasn't really expecting to win in straight sets,'' Dancevic said.

In a terse press conference, Nalbandian said he wasn't 100 percent physically, without going into details.

4. Bigger isn't always better: You'd think Ivo Karlovic would do well at Wimbledon, what with him being 6-foot-10 and thundering down ace after ace. Not so.

The 18th-seeded Croatian lost in the first round for the fourth straight year, this time to unheralded German Simon Stadler, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 7-5. He clocked 23 aces but was broken three times.

Chris Guccione, the 6-foot-7 Aussie, joined him on the sidelines by exiting to Serbian lucky loser Ilia Bozoljac 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. Guccione, too, was broken three times, despite hitting 20 aces.

The omens don't look good, then, for 6-foot-9 American John Isner tomorrow. He's up against Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

5. The sun does shine in England: Here's how Wimbledon organizers coined last year's weather mess, when rain wreaked havoc and forced Rafael Nadal, stuck in the bottom half of the draw, to play over the final five days: "Frequent rain interruptions during the first week and the early part of the second week gave way to dry and sunny weather.''

Guess that's the glass half-full approach.

Well, sunny skies and temperatures hovering at about 73 degrees greeted fans and players alike at the All England Club. No rain is forecast in the next four days, with temperatures ranging between 68 and 73 degrees, though it could be a bit breezy Wednesday.

"Woke up and saw some sunshine, which is always nice to start the championships,'' said American Mardy Fish.

-- Ravi Ubha

We'd like to buy a vowel

Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

You probably haven't heard the name -- featuring an astonishing 10 vowels, 11 if you count the "y" -- but give her a few months and she might be known in your household, too.

Pavlyuchenkova is a 16-year-old Russian, the youngest player in either singles draw.

Her nickname is Nastia, and she defeated No. 17 seed Alize Cornet on Monday in the first round at Wimbledon, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4). Technically, it was a surprise because Cornet, at 18, is a rising star and Pavlyuchenkova is the No. 137-ranked player on the WTA Tour.

But, really, neither player could have been surprised with this result. Pavlyuchenkova beat her last year -- in the Australian Open's junior.

"I beat her in the semifinals, 7-6, 6-1," Pavlyuchenkova said matter-of-factly. "It was maybe easier for me [Monday] because she's much higher-ranked. I have nothing to lose. But on the other hand, I beat her in the juniors, so I was better in the juniors. Why not I can beat her again?"

Why not?

Cornet complained afterward that a lengthy injury timeout late in the match caused her to lose focus. Pavlyuchenkova tweaked her left ankle and shin when she tried to slide on the thin baseline grass on Court 15.

"Actually, it's quite her fault, I mean, her problem if she got disturbed," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I didn't want this, because my leg was quite bad.

"I'm sorry about this."

Pavlyuchenkova has a pedigree for success. She won the junior tournament here at the All England Club in 2006 and also added two Aussie junior titles. Pavlyuchenkova won three matches to qualify for the main draw both here and at Roland Garros. She started the season beyond No. 300 in the rankings, but if she achieves her year-end goal of the top 100 -- a distinct possibility -- she will no longer have to qualify for the Grand Slams.

She's won two $25,000 tournaments in Minsk and Moscow this year, beating the players she's supposed to beat. Her second-round match, against Na Li of China, would not fall into that category. This year Li has already beaten Jelena Jankovic, Anna Chakvetadze, Patty Schnyder -- and Cornet -- and is ranked No. 45.

"Anything can happen," Pavlyuchenkova said, "so I will just do my best and see how it goes."

-- Greg Garber

Pleasant surprise

Fish

His ankle is still not 100 percent, but Mardy Fish says it is "much better'' heading into tomorrow's clash against puzzling Frenchman Richard Gasquet, one of the tastiest first-round matches in the men's draw.

Fish, just outside the seedings at No. 39 in the rankings, retired against pal Andy Roddick in the third round at the tune-up Artois Championships upon losing a first-set tiebreaker.

He rested the ankle last week and proclaimed he was looking forward to an encounter against eighth-seeded Gasquet, the 2007 semifinalist who made the quarters at the Artois to snap out of a slump after splitting with coach Eric Deblicker.

Fish wasn't counting on a poor effort from Gasquet, who is now working with Guillaume Peyre, in the opener on Court 1.

"It's different when people get on grass courts and surfaces they enjoy,'' Fish said with fiancée Stacey Gardner nearby at Wimbledon's practice courts. "It's different, and your mind-set changes a little bit. I won't be thinking about his results in the past. I'll just be thinking that he's a top-10 player and a heck of a player.

"He can beat anyone, really, on any surface.''

Fish is no stranger to upsets, having memorably taken out Roger Federer, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian at the Pacific Life Open in March.

-- Ravi Ubha

Unlucky seven

Thirteen years ago Tim Henman won his first Grand Slam match here, beginning a cycle of heartbreak and hysteria.

He never won the tournament, and an entire empire is still in mourning. The mantle of tennis savior now falls to Andy Murray, who plays Fabrice Santoro on Centre Court on Tuesday.

But there is another, darker side to England's hunger for a homegrown champion. There is the strange case of Alex Bogdanovic.

After Monday's predictable defeat, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), at the hands of Simone Bolelli, Bogdanovic is within a heartbeat of history. The loss tied Bogdanovic with Andrei Chesnokov for the second-worst record ever at Wimbledon -- 0-7. Only Patricio Cornejo (0-8) stands between Bogdanovic and immortality.

"I feel like every year I'm getting better and stronger," Bogdanovic said afterward. "I think it's just a matter of time. It's just laying the bigger points. I had two breakpoints to take it to the decider [fifth set].

"It's just that next step forward."

For Bogdanovic, who is 24, that next step may never come. Will he ever get another wildcard?

"No -- I mean, who knows?" Bogdanovic said. "The criteria could be different. I'm getting older. There's youngsters coming up. I'm not sitting here saying I need to have a wildcard.

"I believe I'm good enough to be top hundred and get into the tournament with no wildcard."

-- Greg Garber

Pleasant surprise

Blake

James Blake caused a stir at the French Open.

His second-round loss to Latvian Ernests Gulbis wasn't overly surprising; his postmatch comments were. A frustrated Blake said he tried to play like media pundits wanted him to: a little more defensive rather than high risk.

A few eyebrows were raised.

Blake rebounded by reaching the semifinals at a grass-court warm-up in Halle, Germany, last week, the change of surface apparently not coming soon enough.

"I don't know what happened on that day at the French, but it's over and done with, and it's out of my memory,'' Blake said. "I wasn't happy with the way I played at the French, but grass definitely plays into my game a little more in terms of me playing more aggressive and just being confident in that.''

Blake took part in an intense practice session in the early afternoon with fourth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, with his brother Thomas navigating around the court in sandals and mom Betty watching nearby.

At one point, much to the delight of the mostly female fans behind the court, Blake almost chased down a drop volley -- yes, Davydenko forayed to the net -- and pulled off a quick slide, stopping a few inches before touching the net and drawing a laugh from the Russian. Minutes later, fellow Americans Mardy Fish and John Roddick stopped by to witness the fierce hitting.

Blake faces a potential fourth-round battle against Andy Roddick. The Davis Cup teammates and good pals have never met in a Grand Slam. Blake triumphed in their lone match on grass two years ago in the semifinals of the Artois Championships.

"It would be interesting, I think,'' said Blake, who has never advanced past the third round at Wimbledon. "It'd be great for the American fans.

Blake has a nice-looking draw through the first three rounds, beginning with Belgian qualifier Christophe Rochus tomorrow.

-- Ravi Ubha

Critics' choice

Gulbis

John Isner vs. Ernests Gulbis: Gulbis, the ascendant Latvian, took out James Blake in the second round at Roland Garros on his way to the quarterfinals. It was a career tournament for the 19-year-old. Gulbis has some serious game and is more fluid and flexible than the 6-foot-9 Isner, who hits peas for serves, but has (as you might expect) movement issues. Expect a few bombs in today's match.

ESPN.com's prediction: Gulbis in 4.

-- Greg Garber