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Mixed results for female young guns

Melanie Oudin hits a backhand back to Timea Babos during their opening round match.
by Matt Trollope
Monday 25 June 2012

Taking a stroll around the outside courts on the early days of The Championships always gives the opportunity to scope out emerging talent and enjoy a close-up look at the game’s future stars away from the glare of the Centre Court spotlight.

It’s in this setting that they can swing freely and potentially inflict some damage in carving their own path through the singles draw. That’s been the case so far for young Italian qualifier Carmila Giorgi, who upended her more experienced compatriot, No.16 seed Flavia Pennetta, in straight sets to move into the second round.

Not all can experience success against the top players, as 21-year-old Ksenia Pervak found out. Facing 11th seed Li Na, the 2009 Australian Open junior champion and current world No.41 was brushed aside 6-3, 6-1.

Often it takes a kinder draw for young talent to emerge. That was the case when several women’s young guns were pitted against each other in the opening round on Day 1 at Wimbledon.

Babos breaks through in back-court battle

Hungarian Timea Babos would not have been too thrilled to see her name come up against Melanie Oudin, given the American’s recent victory at Birmingham.

Oudin’s win at the WTA International-level event – the first tour-level title of her career – marked a stunning return to form for the 20-year-old from Georgia. Since reaching the 2009 US Open quarter-finals she struggled with the expectations and pressure that came with that incredible run, bottoming out at world No.370 in April 2012 before wrenching herself from the slump.

Yet Babos recently won her own maiden title, the 19-year-old capturing the WTA Monterrey earlier this season to jump inside the world’s top 70. It promised to be an intriguing match-up between a pair of players on the rise.

It played out that way. Oudin staged a fightback when down 4-1 in the opening set, making it a far more competitive battle before going on to lose it 6-4. Yet her clever repertoire of drop shots, sliced backhands and net ventures – in stark contrast to Babos’ metronomic pounding from the baseline – helped her level the match at a set apiece.

Games went on serve in the final set until the Hungarian snatched a service break in the eighth game, moving ahead 5-3 following a bundle of Oudin errors, including an unsightly double fault on break point. Despite a badly-timed double fault of her own on match point, Babos eventually wrapped up a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win thanks to a down-the-line backhand winner.

Stephens strolls into second round

There was far less trouble for Oudin’s compatriot Sloane Stephens at the same time on Court 6 next door, with the 19-year-old breezing past fellow youngster Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

Stephens and Pliskova last met in their junior days, with the American claiming a three-set victory in the quarter-finals of the 2010 US Open girls’ event. Despite being a year younger than the Czech, Stephens has gone on to greater heights so far at senior level, most notably with her run to the fourth round at Roland Garros this year.

Pliskova too is beginning to taste success in seniors, qualifying for the main draw here at Wimbledon with the loss of just one set in three matches. But she still has some way to go to match the consistency and creativity of the world No.59, who routinely exposed Pliskova’s flat-footed movement throughout her 6-2, 6-2 victory.

Stephens threatened to win even more decisively when she lead by a set and 3-0, before her concentration wavered slightly and Pliskova’s baseline bombs began to more regularly find their mark.

But it was merely an aberration. Remaining measured and assured, the American played a magnificent running backhand up the line to break for 5-2, and confidently served out the match thanks to three powerful first serves on the final three points.

Martic can’t maintain the magic

Earlier in the day, Croatian young gun Petra Martic missed a golden opportunity to create one of the bigger upsets of the championships when she took on 2011 Wimbledon semi-finalist Sabine Lisicki.

Martic was many people’s pick to win this match-up, with Lisicki having lost her last four matches and sitting at 10-13 for the season. By contrast, Martic had used her big serve to blast her way to the fourth round at Roland Garros, knocking out No.8 seed Marion Bartoli en route.

She used that big serve plus heavy groundstrokes to full effect in the opening stages of her match against Lisicki, moving ahead 4-2.

Yet the 15th seed began to find her range with her own big game, relaxing into the match while Martic’s play became riddled with errors. The German won 10 of the next 12 games to seal victory, keeping her perfect head-to-head record against the Croatian intact.

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