Video: Sabine Lisicki Hits Fastest Serve in WTA History

Despite losing 7-6(2), 6-1 to Ana Ivanovic in Stanford earlier tonight, Sabine Lisicki appears to have made WTA history. The German cracked a first serve to hold for 6-5 in the first set, which the tournament radar gun clocked at 131 mph.

While it still has yet to be confirmed by IDS, the company the WTA employs to track statistical data at certain events, a 131 mph serve would break Venus Williams’ seven-year record: a 129 mph serve that she hit at the 2007 US Open.

UPDATE: Guys. It’s a thing.

Photo Op: Petra Meets the President

So much for laying low.

Along with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Klara Koukalova, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova met with Milos Zeman, the President of the Czech Republic, on Wednesday. According to Czech news agency Ceske Noviny, the president wanted to meet with Kvitova not only to celebrate her victory, but address controversial comments made by another politician shorty after her win at SW19.

According to Radio Praha, Czech Social Democrat (ČSSD) parliamentary deputy Stanislav Huml called Kvitova’s patriotism into question because she calls Monaco home for tax purposes.

“I think that we should all have a long and hard think about the fact that if someone leaves the Czech Republic and becomes a member of another state, then they should lose their Czech citizenship. Because I don’t know that the few percent less in taxes that she stands to pay in a country like Monaco deflects from the fact that perhaps the Czech Republic actually helped her achieve some of her success.” (Radio Praha)

But on Wednesday, Zeman voiced his support for the two-time Wimbledon champion.

“I know that as one of the successful people you are envied. One of the reasons for our meeting is that I would like to voice my support for you against the envious people.”I beg you to ignore them because they cannot do anything but envy.” (translation, h/t Ceske Noviny)

Maria Sharapova = Very Tall. Floyd Mayweather = Not.

At ESPN’s annual ESPY awards on Wednesday, also known as the awards show that doesn’t actually mean anything, Maria Sharapova and Floyd Mayweather presented the fan-voted award for “Best Game.”

The 6’2″ Sharapova, “miffed” by her lack of introduction by master-of-ceremonies Drake, decided to take over the stage in the most hilarious way possible. She walked out in front of the 5’6″ boxing great, and then proceeded to prop herself up on him.

Awesome GIF is awesome.

860519337GIF: @cjzero

Sharapova won for Best Female Tennis Player while Rafael Nadal claimed the ESPY for Best Male Tennis Player.

Oh, and Grigor Dimitrov (duh) and Sloane Stephens were also there reppin’ tennis.

A fun night was had by all.

“Ready, Play” (Part II): Waiting in the Weeds – The Legends of Grassonkova and Grasszek

It's been a long road back for Tamira Paszek. Photo by Christopher Levy

It’s been a long road back for Tamira Paszek. Photo by Christopher Levy

With mere hours to go until first ball at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships, my common-law twin David Kane from Tennis View Magazine and #backhandcompliments joins me for Part II of our “Ready, Play” series, a shameless, cross-promotional jaunt through the #WimbleWeird archives. You can read Part I of our retrospective, a reflection on Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki’s 2013 Championship, here.  

Victoria Chiesa: Welcome back to my humble abode, David. I know I’ve said I’ve been back!!11! more times than Ana Ivanovic, but I’ve changed the locks to this place and gotten a new set of keys. After discussing Marion and Sabine’s fairy tale fortnight from a year ago, I felt it only right to give some love to the two women who first popularized the Cinderella-esque Wimbledon run: Tsvetana Pironkova and Tamira Paszek. Both unseeded and looming before it was mainstream. Thanks for the inspiration, ladies. I owe you.

Two of the most enigmatic players have had two incredibly different routes to this year’s Wimbledon Championships. Each is a protagonist of her own urban legend, if you will. One’s had a long road back, and the other’s never left. Let’s start with Paszek, a woman who’s gone from teen prodigy, to top-30 stalwart, to also ran. Despite being on the WTA for almost a decade, she’s still just 23 years old.

David Kane: Hi Victoria, love what you’ve done with the place. I’ll try not to Single White Female you on the WordPress theme, but no promises.

To illustrate how long Tamira Paszek has been part of the greater tennis consciousness, look no further than the big name who first believed she had top 5 talent: Justine Henin. The Austrian took Henin to three sets at the 2007 Dubai Tennis Championships with her now-infamous flat groundstrokes and relentless aggression. That fearless ground game was on display again later that year at the US Open with a run to the 4th round. But it was the first round Australian Open encounter with Jelena Jankovic the defines pre-Grasszek mythology. The Austrian had the future No. 1 on the ropes in a no-ad final set, breaking the Serb multiple times to serve for the match. Against a less wily opponent, Paszek may have escaped on one of the many match points she earned.

Despite serving notice, Paszek struggles to remain healthy, a long absence between 2009 and 2010 undoing her early progress. A top 5 contender, now considered by many to be a grass court specialist. What gives?

VC: A back injury derailed much of Paszek’s late teens, and her game lacked much of the punch that it featured before her hiatus. At the end of 2010, she was back in the winner’s circle with a title in Quebec City, but her 2011 season was nothing to write home about until she arrived at Wimbledon. She played one of the matches of the year, possibly one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, to upset Francesca Schiavone in the third round, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9 and eventually reached the quarterfinals. You couldn’t have written a better script, really. She was knocked off her teen prodigy perch, returned from a career-threatening injury and played captivating tennis to reach the last eight. That’s pretty hard to top, but Paszek’s return to the Wimbledon quarterfinals the next year was even more impressive.

She came into Eastbourne with a 2-13 match record and marched all the way to the title, saving five match points against Angelique Kerber in the final. All of a sudden, people weren’t praying for her ranking, but for her to land far away from their favorite player in the draw.

DK: Among many others since her fall from the top of the rankings, fans of Caroline Wozniacki saw their prayer go unanswered at Wimbledon. Paszek and Wozniacki would play the match of the tournament, and this time it would be Wozniacki who would see match points go against her by inches and the Austrian put her away in three sets. It was an businesslike return to the quarterfinals from there, only to lose to Victoria Azarenka for the second year in a row.

For the casual fan, late Spring 2012 marks the Austrian’s last flirtation with relevance, as the losses continued to pile up over the next 12 months. By last August, Paszek was forced to play qualifying at the US Open after being seeded the year before. A successful outing in French Open qualifying and a solid grass court warm-up has gotten her some buzz among those nostalgic for her ball-bashing game. Is it warranted this time around?

VC: Despite drawing last year’s semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens in the opening round, I’m optimistic about Paszek’s chances. The Belgian hasn’t been in great form this year, and struggled with a knee injury in a loss to Elina Svitolina in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The winner is in a section of the draw that will presumably determine Maria Sharapova’s fourth round opponent, and looks one Angelique Kerber sarcastic shrug away from collapse. Do I think Paszek could make it there? Sure. But so could Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

Paszek launched herself back into relevance at the 2011 WImbledon Championships, but Tsvetana Pironkova started the giant-killing trend a year earlier. The woman who came into the tournament ranked No. 82 found herself a set away from the women’s final nearly two weeks later. Forget Wacky Wednesday – let’s take a moment to appreciate Pironkova’s genius.

I didn’t actually mean *a moment.* How unhelpful are you, YouTube.

DK: When Paszek made her Wimbledon runs, it felt like promise fulfilled. Nobody saw Tsvetana Pironkova coming. As she eased into her first major quarterfinal in 2010, few paid attention as she had been in an ostensibly broken part of the draw and though she’d beaten Marion Bartoli, neither were considered contenders against five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams. Fewer remembered the Bulgarian’s shock win over the American at the 2006 Australian Open. But none of that seemed to matter as Pironkova dominated Williams from start to finish. Into her first major semifinal, she led Vera Zvonareva by a set before fading in three. The run may have been over, but the Ballad of Tsvetana Pironkova had just begun. So often in tennis, the sequel can be better than the original. How does Pironkova’s second Wimbledon run compared to her first?

VC: Coming into Wimbledon in 2011, most stifled a chuckle and an eye roll when debating if Pironkova could spark even a single bolt of the lightning in a bottle that she caught 12 months earlier. She fell one match short of the previous year’s feat in 2011, but if anything, her quarterfinal showing was more impressive. She dropped three games in the first round against Camila Giorgi, who’s become a bit of a Wimbledon wunderkind in her own right, before dropping just five games to both her 2010 conqueror Zvonareva and Venus again. The three-set quarterfinal she and Kvitova played was a dramatic spectacle, and if Pironkova had won it, she very well could’ve won the title. I’m not even joking. If three of the four slams were still played on grass….

Pironkova’s 2012 Wimbledon campaign was logically ended in a 7-6 6-7 6-0 loss to Maria Sharapova in the second round, but she reached the fourth round last year before falling to Agnieszka Radwanska. Pironkova’s already had the token highlight of her year by winning her first WTA title in Sydney, but the draw is perfectly set up for her to reach the second week yet again. Varvara Lepchenko, Caroline Garcia or Sara Errani and then possibly Ekaterina Makarova or Kimiko Date-Krumm? Hardly the murderer’s row she’s used to.

DK: I’m glad you brought up Sydney, because that was arguably more shocking than either of her Wimbledon runs. Three top 10 wins, eight matches in little over a week, all as a sub-top 100 qualifier? She predictably lost early in Melbourne, but that was a week to remember. Though she hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals in the last two years, she hasn’t had a bad loss at the All-England Club, even stretching eventual semifinalist Radwanska to three sets one year ago. She’s proven not to be a draw-dependent floater, but can we honestly expect so much from the Queen of the Unexpected?

So who do you have making it farther this fortnight? Do you bank on Paszek’s potential or Pironkova’s past?

VC: While Paszek looked thrilled to earn her way into the main draw, her reaction might’ve actually been one of relief rather than anything else. She’s been forced to toil away on the ITF Circuit for a year, and she’ll have a nice payday coming her way regardless. Does that satisfy a former prodigy, or does she want more? Pironkova might’ve lost her opening round match at Eastbourne, but she’s got a reputation to uphold.

I haven’t seen enough of Paszek this year to adequately judge where her form and fitness are this season, and I think her opening round against Flipkens will provide a benchmark for answering some of those questions. I can’t ignore the openness of Pironkova’s draw, but Lepchenko did singlehandedly derail the campaign of my Roland Garros dark horse, Petra Cetkovska. It’s a tough one, but I’ll take Pironkova.

DK: Based on the draw, it would be easy to say Pironkova. But Paszek has been steadily improving and has proven she doesn’t derive that much confidence from wins. Someone like Paszek plays with an inner belief that they deserve to be considered among the game’s elite. Pironkova’s Wimbledon runs can come off as comic relief when nobody really expects them to catalyze a true major breakthrough. None of this is to say her opponents shouldn’t take Pironkova seriously, but I would imagine Paszek takes herself seriously and can more easily channel that combination of belief and ability into a successful tournament.

VC: Our tea’s gone cold and the biscuit tin’s empty, so I think that brings an end to our two-part preview series for the 2014 Wimbledon Championships. And we’ve got 10 whole hours to stock up on more snacks! Thanks to David for joining me here at unseeded & looming, and for all of your snarky but fabulous women’s tennis news, Chrissie Evert memes and GIF-analysis, check out his blog #backhandcompliments.

The ‘merican Way

Since the days of Chris Evert’s baseline grinding and Martina Navratilova’s chip and charge, America’s tennis players have evolved with their sport. Aggressive “jocks” populate both tours, and they typically don’t enjoy playing much defense. Instead, they rely on the one-two punch of their serve and forehand. The prototype for American success, players in this mold have done a lot of winning for the Stars and Stripes for the better part of three decades.

It was a banner day for two of these prototypical American women on Saturday as both Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys won their first career WTA titles. Vandeweghe, who qualified and upset Muguruza and Klara Koukalova en route to the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, defeated Chinese veteran Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-4. Half a continent away in Eastbourne, Madison Keys rolled through the field before outlasting Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the final of the Premier-level event in Eastbourne.

For most of her career, you could pencil Vandeweghe, the 2008 US Open girls’ singles champion, in for one or two flashy weeks a year.   But for Keys, it’s been a matter of when, not if.  She first jumped on the radar when she became the seventh-youngest player ever to win a WTA match (14 years, 48 days) at Ponte Vedra Beach in 2009. Before this week, Vandeweghe’s career-high ranking barely passed above No. 70, while Keys has been the youngest player inside the top 50 since the end of 2013. Two players, two very different expected career trajectories. What could they have in common?

You guessed it. Massive serves and forehands.

Vandeweghe served 81 aces in eight matches en route to the title, with 59 coming in the main draw. In the final, against a woman whose  pinpoint accuracy on returns has even given Serena Williams fits, Vandeweghe lost just one point behind her first serve in the match. For all of her strengths, Zheng’s not very tall, and Vandeweghe used her kick serve and topspin forehand to keep the 2008 Wimbledon semifinalist off balance for the duration.

For a player who won just four games against noted grass-court expert Sara Errani at Wimbledon just two years ago, Vandeweghe’s performance was even more impressive.

Keys, who can match Vandeweghe’s pace on serve and then some, also possesses lethal variety on both her first and second deliveries. She cracked a 131 MPH let. She thought she held a WTA top-five record for all but a moment, and might’ve been disappointed when her 126 MPH delivery was re-calibrated to a paltry 123 MPH. Her kick serve often bounced head-high.

She hit 60 winners in her championship defeat of one of the WTA’s premier defenders, and even now, her raw brand of attacking tennis is tailor-made for the grass. Able to scorch her forehand from anywhere on the court, it’s easy to marvel at Keys’ ability to create everything out of nothing on that side.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Keys’ run to the Eastbourne title was her ability to reign in her seemingly untamable power, something she’s struggled to do in many matches so far in her fledgling career. Her backhand, the weaker of her two sides, held up throughout the week. She’s joked about her allergy to coming to the net, but found herself there often in the championship match. The next logical progression for her game, she won 14 of 19 points in the forecourt against Kerber.

Keys and Vandeweghe now set their sights on the All-England Club, where both are unseeded. Keys will take on Monica Puig in the opening round, whom she’s 0-2 against, while Vandeweghe will take on Muguruza for the second time in two weeks. While it remains to be seen how the two will perform at Wimbledon, one thing remains certain. They know their strengths.

Whatever the result, their serves and forehands will be firing.

VIDEO: Alizé Cornet Protests *Correct* Call in Eastbourne

Well-known for her flair for the dramatic arts, Alizé Cornet let two match points slip against Angelique Kerber in a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6(3) third round defeat in Eastbourne on Wednesday.  Long before she even got to that point, however, this happened.

A Premier-level event, Eastbourne is one of the biggest tournaments on the WTA Tour to not have Hakweye in use. Understanding this, Cornet took it upon herself to bemoan every call that didn’t go her way for the duration of the match.

The scene: After letting two break points slip at 3-3 in the third set, Cornet yanked a forehand clearly wide early in the rally.

She didn’t think so.

Chair umpire Fiona Edwards of Great Britain grew more exasperated with Cornet as the lengthy exchange went on, finally washing her hands of it all by saying, “It was the correct call. What can I do?” It’s unclear if Edwards was actually addressing Cornet, or the bemused crowd.

You do you, Alizé.