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Friday, June 27, 2008
American mystery sticking around at All England Club

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Making a name

WIMBLEDON, England -- When you've never advanced past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, respect can be an elusive thing.

And so, when Bethanie Mattek was introduced by the authentically British public address announcer after her match on Friday, her last name was pronounced "Ma-TEK."

In fact, the 23-year-old from Phoenix has always been "MA-tek."

"Guys, come on," Mattek said, rolling her eyes.

Rest assured they'll get it right next time -- the PA man was later informed of the correct emphasis -- because Mattek has made a name for herself at the All England Club.

While Venus and Serena Williams are regulars in the second week at Wimbledon, they have been joined by special mystery guest Mattek and comprise the whole of the American singles contingent.

AP Photo/Sang Tan

Bethanie Mattek reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time

Mattek defeated Marion Bartoli, last year's surprise finalist here, 6-4, 6-1, and is through to the fourth round, where she will meet Serena Williams. Mattek allowed the Frenchwoman the exact number of games champion Venus Williams did in '07.

Coming into the tournament, Mattek's best Grand Slam effort was a single victory.

"This is a pretty cool feeling," she said afterward. "You know, last year it was the first time I won a [Grand Slam] round, actually."

The win came with an asterisk. Bartoli was suffering from a stiff right shoulder, which she said didn't allow her to serve up to her usual standards. Late in the first set, she took a double-injury timeout and a WTA trainer worked on her right shoulder and left calf.

Mattek broke Bartoli at 4-5 in the first set when an errant backhand sailed long.

Williams won as expected -- 7-6 (5), 6-1 over Amelie Mauresmo -- but the first set was a struggle.

Mauresmo was serving at 5-all in the first-set tiebreaker when Williams pressured her and forced a fallaway backhand that drifted just wide. A Mauresmo backhand into the net gave Williams the set and, essentially, the match. Mauresmo, who is suffering from a thigh injury, blamed her left leg for the lackluster second set.

With the ouster of No. 1 seed Ana Ivanovic and No. 3 Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters' chances of reaching the championship final are improving on a daily basis.

"That would be an ultimate goal," Serena said. "Right now, I'm just taking my next match, Bethanie Mattek, who is going to be pumped to be this far. She's playing better and better tennis."

Bobby Reynolds, the last American man left after Andy Roddick and James Blake crashed out on Thursday, departed with dignity a day later. Feliciano Lopez dispatched him 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. The last time only one American man reached the third round was 1926 (Howard Kinsey). This is only the third time in the 40 years of the Open era that no American men reached the second week at Wimbledon. All three -- 2002, 2006 and 2008 -- have come in this decade.

Once again, all the American men are gone.

Gone: That was Mattek's status for the last three months of the 2007 season.

You would think tennis players get plenty of exercise simply by practicing and competing, but it is the offseason conditioning work that typically gives Roger Federer and the rest of the top players an edge over the rest of the field. This is thankless, unseen work, but it is critical to success.

After last year's U.S. Open, Mattek decided to get serious. She was already nursing sore knees (tendinitis), and she moved to Phoenix and, instead of playing tennis, worked out with trainer Jay Schroeder.

"It just wasn't enjoyable for me to play," Mattek explained. "I couldn't run. So I really wanted to get in shape. You actually don't do any running. It's called Iso Extremes. You hold positions for like five minutes at a time. It's really low impact, but you're training at a hundred percent all the time."

Her year-end ranking fell to No. 112, but her pants size also dropped, by one. Mattek started the season very slowly, winning only two matches in her first six tournaments. Then she played three Challengers, the Triple-A circuit of professional tennis, and won 12 of 14 matches, including the event in Dothan, Ala.

Somewhere along the way, Mattek found some grit.

"Before, I played a really aggressive game," Mattek said. "I would find myself letting a few points or games go by. So this year I really focused on not letting that happen, and if I found myself in a funk, just to take my time in between points, really think about my strategy."

Mattek won her first-round match in Paris and took a set from Maria Sharapova in the second round. She won four matches two weeks ago in Birmingham before falling in the semifinals. And now this.

The old Mattek lost matches but won over people with her whimsical fashion sense; she once played in tube socks and a biker-girl getup here at Wimbledon. The new Mattek wins matches with a more refined, mature look.

"I'm still outgoing, like to show my personality," she said. "But, you know, I really wanted to have my tennis come through."

As she said this, Mattek was wearing a white warm-up suit studded with silver metal in a manner reminiscent of Elvis Presley.

"I get players coming up to me and they're all disappointed in me," Mattek said. "Just for right now, I'm focusing on my tennis."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Five things we learned on Friday

1. American men can no longer cut the grass: If it wasn't for Bobby Reynolds, there would've been no American man still standing in the third round at Wimbledon. But Reynolds' best effort to keep a stars-and-stripes guy alive at Wimbledon fell short as he lost to Spaniard Feliciano Lopez on Friday. Reynolds' departure means that this is the third time in the Open era that an American man will not be in action in the Wimbledon fourth round.

Since the advent of Open era tennis, six American men accounted for 15 victories on the famed Centre Court -- Pete Sampras won seven times, John McEnroe three times, Jimmy Connors two times, and Andre Agassi, Stan Smith and the late Arthur Ashe all won once.

2. Roger Federer is a control freak: After his swift third-round victory over Frenchman Marc Gicquel, Roger Federer was asked what attracted him to tennis, a sport where it's all about you and not the team.

Federer didn't hesitate to answer: "Well, that I'm in control if I win or lose. I mean, in some ways, of course, the opponent also has some say in it, obviously."

Well, apart from a few exceptions, opponents don't have much say when facing Federer, who has been on top of the ranking charts since Feb. 2, 2004. Looking for his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title, Federer has now won 62 successive matches on grass.

Federer did talk about how "exhilarating" it was when he was a child playing soccer and being able to celebrate a scored goal as a team. But in the big picture, Federer knew that tennis was more his kind of sport.

"Having no body contact I think is also something I don't mind," he said. "So it's just better … not to get injuries through somebody who's lost his mind, let's just say."

3. Ivanovic for target practice: A fan of studying psychology, Ana Ivanovic maintained a philosophical stance after her surprising 6-1 6-4 third-round upset by Zheng Jie. Ivanovic, only three weeks and a few odd days into her reign as both French Open champion (her first career Grand Slam title) and the world No. 1, has figured out she's now the player wearing the big bull's-eye.

"It's everyone's going to be so pumped against you and they're going to try to perform the best they can," Ivanovic said. "I think, you know, in my previous matches, as well as today, they had nothing to lose. Really, I think they played some of their best tennis. It's something you have to accept."

Welcome to the top of the mountain, Ana!

4. Two wonders down, five to go: As we all know, for Serena Williams life is more than just hitting fuzzy yellow tennis balls.

The eight-time Grand Slam champion has a passion for sightseeing.

"This is a wonderful sport," Williams said. "I get to travel all places. For instance, I saw the Taj Mahal. I probably would have never seen it if I hadn't been a tennis player. And I saw the Wall. … My dream has always been to see the Seven Wonders of the World."

5. Wimbledon is still Wimbledon: After four splendid days where the sun shined and the umbrellas stayed down, Wimbledon's fair skies fairy tale came to an end when a 1 hour, 41 minute rain delay postponed the start of play on Friday.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be one of those intensely frustrating Wimbledon days where showers would start and stop. Matches eventually got under way and continued throughout the day. However, hopes of becoming the first Wimbledon fortnight since 1995 where not a drop of rain would disrupt play went by the wayside.

Fans on Show Court 18 were in good spirits despite the rain as they did their own creative version of the wave by raising their umbrellas as they patiently waited for the rain to stop.

-- Sandra Harwitt

Scintillating matchup

Murray

If tomorrow's match between British hope Andy Murray and the physically fragile Tommy Haas is anything like their previous two encounters, fans on Centre Court can expect high drama.

Haas, one of five German men in the third round, downed Murray in three sets at the Pacific Life Open in March a year after the Scot won in three sets and nearly three hours at the same venue. There were more than a few momentum swings in both matches.

The pair can do almost anything on the tennis court, including pummel a few rackets, which should add to the excitement.

"Against someone that's as solid as him you've got to stay focused the whole match, and that's going to be one of the keys,'' Murray, seeded 12th, said Thursday.

While Murray is trying to become the first British men's singles winner at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936, Haas, 30, admits he's hoping to simply stay healthy so he can properly compete. He underwent a third operation to his right shoulder in November, missed the Australian Open, returned in February, then skipped most of the clay-court season, including the French Open, the shoulder again the culprit.

He's suffered injuries to virtually every other part of his body, including a torn stomach muscle which forced him out of a fourth-round encounter against Roger Federer at Wimbledon a year ago.

"I thought about staying around and just maybe walking out on Centre Court,'' Haas, a former world No. 2, said. "I just really want to play there.''

Murray, by his own admission, needs to serve well and take advantage of his chances. In the two matches against Haas, his combined first-serve percentage was 52, and he went a combined 5-for-25 (yes, 5-for-25) on break points.

The serve stats were better in a second-round rout of Belgian Xavier Malisse on Thursday: Murray delivered 16 aces and notched a first-serve percentage of 67.

"They both have more strengths than weaknesses,'' said 1991 Wimbledon champion and German Michael Stich, a commentator for host network the BBC during the tournament. "The weakness of Tommy is that if things don't go his way, sometimes he just loses it mentally. He just loses his focus throughout the match, giving his opponent too many free points, so he has to focus on that. Andy's weakness is his second serve. If that's being exposed by a player like Tommy, who has the options to do that, then that might be a threat because Andy is going to struggle to hold serve.''

-- Ravi Ubha

It's all about the shortbread

Murray

The much-talked-about, mouthwatering homemade shortbread of granny Shirley Erskine made it past the lips of her grandchildren, Andy and Jamie Murray, at Wimbledon. For as long as the Murray brothers have been on the tour, they've talked about missing their granny's fabulous baking when on the road.

When she and Roy Erskine, made the trip this year to Wimbledon from their home in Dunblane, Scotland, which overlooks the Dunblane golf course, they brought a little care package of the famous shortbread for more than just the grandkids.

The Erskines stopped by to do a guest spot at Radio Wimbledon 87.7 FM, which also broadcasts on the official Wimbledon Web site and on Sirius radio back in the United States.

Their visit included more than family lore -- it came complete with a tin of the buttery shortbread for the station's staff.

After chatting about their grandsons, the Erskines talked about preparations for coming to Wimbledon, which included getting two of their friends to agree to share babysitting chores for their 10-year-old golden retriever.

"He usually knows when we're going away because he sees the golf clubs come out," said Shirley Erskine.

"You mean you don't play tennis?" was the obvious next question.

"We did, but not anymore, we're too old," she said.

After their on-air stint, the sprightly grandparents went off to find their family and get ready to watch Andy's Centre Court match against Xavier Malisse of Belgium.

Murray had no trouble with Malisse, defeating him 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

-- Sandra Harwitt

Down and out

Paszek

Austria's Tamira Paszek has reunited with Larri Passos, the Brazilian coach whose tutelage helped the 17-year-old become a top-50 player last year.

Passos, the longtime mentor for Gustavo Kuerten, stopped working with Paszek at the end of last year partly due to family reasons and partly so he could accompany Kuerten on his farewell tour this season. It was a tour that ended for all practical purposes in the first round of the French Open, although Kuerten still hopes to play in the Beijing Olympics.

But Paszek's father, Ariff Mohamed, said Passos agreed to start coaching his daughter again about a month ago. "We're very happy,'' Mohamed said Friday. Paszek, who reached the fourth round here last year, lost her opening match to 20th seed Francesca Schiavone of Italy and is currently No. 64 in the WTA rankings. She is waiting to hear whether she will be accepted into the 64-player Beijing draw, which will be announced July 2.

-- Bonnie D. Ford

Critics' choice

Ferrer

Jelena Jankovic vs. Caroline Wozniacki: Unlikely as it seems that all three Serbian seeds could go out in the first week, this 18-year-old Dane is an excellent candidate to keep the upsets coming. She was a junior champion here two years ago and will feel more free to swing away than Jankovic. The two women have never played, and Jankovic hasn't been tested so far. Something tells us she will be in this third-round match. Wozniacki in three.

ESPN.com prediction: Wozniacki in three sets.

-- Bonnie D. Ford