Tuesday, January 21, 2020

AO.2 - Muguing with a Capital "W"

To Mugu in Melbourne is, well, maybe not divine... but pretty encouraging in an oddly interesting way.

...after rain forced the cancellation of so many matches on Day 1, Day 2 saw action begin around the grounds a half hour earlier than normal in an attempt to complete the extra-full schedule planned for Tuesday.

Amongst the first-up matches was #23 Dayana Yastremska's dominating 6-1/6-1 win over qualifier Kaja Juvan to set up the anticipated 2nd Round match-up with Caroline Wozniacki, with the continuation of the Dane's career hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, following in the Day 1 footsteps of #32 Barbora Strycova and #24 Sloane Stephens, #12 Johanna Konta made it a trio of seeds sent out with her 6-4/6-2 loss to Ons Jabeur, who recorded her first career AO MD win in her fourth attempt.

Considering Konta's history with coaches, even after her great comeback season in '19, one has to wonder if coach Dimitri Zavialoff might want to be watching his back in the coming weeks.

...Stephens aside, few players need a few wins more than Caroline Garcia, even after being part of France's Fed Cup winning effort last November (even that tie included a double-bagel loss by the Pastry at the hands of Ash Barty). After dropping a tight 7-5 1st set today to Madison Brengle -- the *tenth* time that's happened to her in her last ten matches, of which she lost seven of the first nine -- it wouldn't have been a surprise to see Garcia soon shown the door. But that didn't happen. Instead, she took control, winning back-to-back 6-2 sets to post her first MD slam win since last Roland Garros. Of course, this win doesn't necessarily mean good times are ahead again for Garcia. While even single match wins have been hard to come by since the middle of last season, she hasn't recorded *multiple* victories in any event (and this is her 15th in the span) since Mallorca last June.

At the very least, Garcia has outlasted Fed Cup teammate and (sometimes) doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic, who lost today to #2 Karolina Pliskova 6-1/7-5.

...of course, some might argue that the "needs to win" label applies to a few Russians, as well. Neither of the women in question, both at one time the top Hordettes on tour (and one a former #1 and Career Slam winner), got even one of those victories today.

The fall of Dasha Kasatkina, the #10 seed in Melbourne a year ago, essentially began at this slam twelve months ago. She'd followed up a 12-21 '19 season with an "okay" 3-2 start to '20 heading into today, but was faced with an horrendous draw (as the world #69) vs. *this* year's #10 AO seed, an in-form *and* healthy Madison Keys. It wasn't pretty. Kasatkina went down in flames 6-3/6-1, dropping her to 2-6 in slam matches since her back-to-back QF runs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018.

Meanwhile, former AO champ Maria Sharapova, a wild card in this draw who'd actually had a good Round of 16 run at last year's event, continues to find her tennis career existing within the swampy, often inevitable, potential end-game that sees a long and successful career caught in a prolonged perfect storm of a trap in which an aging player (she'll turn 33 in April) needs match play and wins in order to find her form, but who's injury-plagued body is preventing both from becoming a reality. The will is there, but she's seemingly forever running in place, spinning her wheels and simply generating even more of those "r"-related questions she's tried to stave off over the past year.

After dropping the 1st set against #19 Donna Vekic today (the Croat saved a BP in the final game), Sharapova took a 4-1 lead in the 2nd and seemed on her way to testing her physical reserve by forcing a 3rd. But an inconsistent serve and too many unforced errors caught up to her and acted like yet another rope tied to her ankle and pulling her back down to earth. After dropping serve in game #7 as the set got back on serve, Sharapova saw Vekic run off five straight games to record her first win over her, 6-3/6-4.

Sharapova's winless streak now extends back to August, though it only covers a total of four matches, and she hasn't posted a victory at a major since last year's 3rd Rounder vs. Wozniacki in Melbourne (which was followed by a three-set loss to Ash Barty). She's now projected to fall from #145 to somewhere around #370 after this slam.

...while 20-year old #29 seed Elena Rybakina has already risen into the Top 30, won two tour titles and reached back-to-back finals to beginthe 2020 season, the Kazakh came into today still seeking her *first* career slam MD victory. She took care of that in quick order, riding Bernara Pera out of the tournament by a 6-3/6-2 score and moving one round closer to a possible big-time 3rd Round match-up with #1 seed Barty. She's 10-1 on the season, and 31-9 since the start of her maiden title run in Bucharest last July.

...belatedly, Alona Ostapenko made her 2020 debut today with her 1st Round match-up with qualifier Liudmila Samsonova. After ending '19 with a runner-up/champion combination, things were looking up for Latvian Thunder a few months ago. Then her father passed away right before the start of play in Week 1. What her immediate plans were were essentially unknown until she showed up in Melbourne last week. All in all things couldn't have gone much before for the '17 RG champ than they did today, as she took out the Russian by a 6-1/6-4 scoreline, playing an exceedingly economical game that saw her never drop serve and included 27 winners (vs. 22 UE's) and 11 aces (vs. 3 DF). She finished things off with back-to-back love holds and will next face #6-seed Belinda Bencic. Maybe that choice to install Marion Bartoli as coach was a truly inspired one.

Another player who lost her dad in the past year, #21 Amanda Anisimova, didn't fare as well as Ostapenko between the lines on Tuesday. The Bannerette went out at the hands of Kazakh Zarina Diyas in three sets, losing 6-3/4-6/6-3 in an extremely streaky performance that saw her commit over 60 unforced errors on the day.

...meanwhile, could Mugu really be back, or at least have discovered the sort of resilience that has been so wanting in her game in recent seasons?

Coming to Melbourne after having pulled out in the middle of Week 2 with a viral illness, Garbine Muguruza had seemingly little to offer in the 1st set vs. qualifier Shelby Rogers, losing it at love and ultimately having her pulse and temperature checked in the changeover area.

But one thing we've seen in the opening weeks of Muguruza's official coaching relationship with Conchita Martinez has been the Spaniard's ability to put poor starts aside and re-start her game. She came back from a set down to win twice in her first six matches this season, and ultimately did it a third time today.

After taking an early break lead in the 2nd, Muguruza gave back the advantage to Rogers in game #3. But rather than go into the sort of funk she might have in the past, she collected herself and immediately went back to work. She broke right back and won the 2nd set 6-1, then surged to a triple-break lead in the 3rd at 5-0. While it wasn't a particularly pretty match, it got the job done. Muguruza won 0-6/6-1/6-0 to end her three-match losing streak in the majors.

Surely Muguruza needs to get out of the gates better than she has at times so far this season, but it's hard to argue against the pattern of slow starts being overcome and resulting in victory, especially when the recent past has so often seen her flip the order of her inconsistency and end up walking off court after a disappointing defeat.

Nothing is ever simple with Muguruza. So you seek out the encouragement where you can find it, cross your fingers, and hope for more of something resembling the same.

...meanwhile, Laura Siegemund finished off her 2020 sweep of both Coco Gauff and CoCo Vandeweghe. The German defeated the 15-year old in Auckland, and today handled the comeback-minded veteran 6-1/6-4. CiCi Bellis got her first post-wrist surgery slam victory against Tatjana Maria, defeating the German 6-0/6-2 to record her first MD win in a major since the 2017 Roland Garros.

...the weather-related match backlog will ultimately lead to a busy night in Melbourne, as more than a dozen women's matches alone are currently scheduled to begin all over the grounds at the same time or later than the start of the first night session matches on Laver and MCA.

On the show courts, Night 2 will see #4 seed Simona Halep open her '20 AO on MCA with a potentially sticky match-up with Jennifer Brady, who has already recorded a win over #1 Barty (Wk.1 Brisbane) this season, and forced the Romanian to a 3rd set TB last summer at the Rogers Cup. On Laver, former Melbourne champ Angelique Kerber (#17) faces off with Italian qualifier Elisabetta Cocciaretto. The German retired from her Week 2 match in Adelaide with a hamstring injury.

...LIKE ON DAY 2 1: Once again, Melbourne is Zhang's "happy place."


If you're familiar with those involved, this is mind boggling...

No matter how long the WTA puts microphones on coaches during changeovers there will never be a tennis version of Hank Stram...



Ash was good to go and the figurative roof didn't cave in as a result, but imagine the *outrage* if this had happened before or during a men's match.


It's been fifteen years since anyone even cracked the conversation.


What happens in this space during each slam is always a guessing game, sometimes right up until the eleventh hour. This year, a single old INXS video I just happened to see Saturday night made into the opening slot on Day 1, with a WTA slant. Now, I'm wondering if this AO's "And finally..." will turn into something of a "Six Degrees of Michael Hutchence" sort of thing.

So from INXS' "New Sensation" we spin off to a CBS reality TV show ("Rock Star: INXS") that took place in 2005, some eight years after Hutchence's 1997 death, as the surviving band members took part in an unorthodox exercise to find a new lead singer. Though she didn't ultimately win (a guy named JD Fortune did, largely because of the viability of his original song, "Pretty Vegas"), I always thought the star of the whole thing was a singer named Jordis Unga. Her highlight was her multiple emotional versions of David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," which she'd dedicated to a recently deceased friend.

Fortune performed with the band, with a few breaks and "disagreements/miscommunications," through 2011 (I guess it wasn't as perfectly melded an entity as Queen and Adam Lambert has been, so maybe they *should* have gone a different way with Unga), until he was finally replaced in 2012. The band stopped performing altogether soon after. Unga ended up appearing on the second season of "The Voice" seven years later (I didn't see it at the time, being an "American Idol" person). She didn't win that, either, and later had a legal issue with a Kickstarter campaign centering around her debut album in '14 that ultimately saw her publicly apologize to supporters two years later.

Who knows where this spinning top will land tomorrow... ah, but I do have something of an idea. Here's a hint, with two of Bowie's many, many versions of "The Man Who Sold the World." One an acoustic performance very similar to Unga's, and another that is just, well, so very Bowie. Also, one of the many covers of the song, from Nirvana's "MTV Unplugged" show in 1993.


Paula Badosa, ESP
Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
Ann Li, USA
Greet Minnen, BEL
Elena Rybakina, KAZ
NOTE: at time of this posting





TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3 - #5 Anna Kalinskaya/RUS def. Wang Xiyu/CHN 4-6/7-6(2)/6-2 (down 6-4/5-3, MP at 5-4)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Paula Badosa/ESP (def. Larsson/SWE)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Barbora Strycova/CZE (1st Rd. - lost to Cirstea/ROU)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Hibino, Krejcikova, A.Li, McNally, Minnen
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Barty, Tomljanovic
IT (??): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #24 Stephens (4th 1st Rd. exit in 9 slams since won '17 U.S.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: Sh.Zhang (1st Rd. - Stephens served for match in 2nd)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: Barty, Sh.Zhang

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Monday, January 20, 2020

AO.1 - Down Under Debut

London, New York... and now Melbourne.

...it didn't take long for the first match to be completed on Day 1, as Spain's Paula Badosa handled qualifier Johanna Larsson 1 & 0 in under an hour to record her first career slam MD victory. Of the eight first-up-on-court women's matches that opened the day, Badosa/Larsson proceeded at a nearly neck-and-neck pace with Julia Goerges' one-sided tussled with Viktoria Kuzmova. But while the German was also just one claimed game away from wrapping up *her* match while Badosa was moments from winning hers, Kuzmova held for 5-2 in the 2nd set and forced the veteran serve things out a game later for a 1 & 2 victory.

...in one of the big early matches, AO defending champ Naomi Osaka handled Marie Bouzkova in straight sets, but only after the Czech threatened (for a few minutes, anyway) to make a match of things. The #3 seed dropped serve to fall behind 4-2 in the 2nd, but responded well by clamping down on her own serve (after having already broken the net strap with one earlier) and flashing some nice court coverage, as well, as she broke Bouzkova in back-to-back service games and then held to close out a 6-2/6-4 win.

Osaka was followed on Laver by the player she very well could see on the other side of the net in the quarterfinals: #8 Serena Williams, still seeking to tie Australian Margaret Court's all-time slam mark of twenty-four titles. Facing off with a blonde Russian (no, not *that* one), Williams generally had her way (*still* not that one, though), taking the 1st set at love in just nineteen minutes. Anastasia Potapova, the '16 Wimbledon junior champ, took an early break lead in the 2nd and was still in the set in the late stages even after having given back her advantage. Serving down 4-3, though, Potapova was broken by Williams and it was just a matter of time. A few minutes later, Serena served out her 350th career slam match victory, winning 6-0/6-3 to improve to 86-11 in Melbourne and 73-1 in 1st Round matches in the majors.

...the other (usually, at least) Day 1 ritual is to see which seed will be the first sent packing. At this Australian Open, the wait for the answer wasn't a long one.

Sorana Cirstea had doubles #1 and #32 singles seed Barbora Strycova on the ropes on Court 22, serving up 6-2/5-3. But the Czech got the break and managed to work the set into a tie-break. It proved to be a futile comeback attempt, though, as the Romanian won it 7-5 to make Strycova the First Seed Out. Of course, such as early exit at a major isn't a *shock* for Strycova, as it's the fourth time in the last five majors it's happened for her. The one time it didn't? Well, that was when she battled all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals last summer.

...meanwhile, 19-year old qualifier Ann Li posted her first career tour-level MD victory with a 7-6(4)/7-6(10) win over Aussie wild card Lizette Cabrera, who last week upset the likes of Caroline Garcia and Kristyna Pliskova.

At the same time, Caroline Wozniacki posted what could very well be (who knows?) her *last* victory, as the Dane's final slam before retirement began with a 6-1/6-3 win over the star of last year's U.S. Open underdog story, Kristie Ahn.

Another qualifier, two-time slam doubles champ Barbora Krejcikova also recorded *her* maiden slam MD win with a victory over veteran Kaia Kanepi, 7-6(3)/2-6/6-3. Krejcikova's fellow Czech and doubles partner fared much worse. Already expected to lose to '19 finalist and #7 seed Petra Kvitova, Katerina Siniakova failed to meet even any modest standards of competitiveness, losing 6-1/6-0 to her countrywoman under the roof on MCA after rain had forced its closure and led to a suspension of play on the outside courts (and eventual rescheduling of most of the unfinished matches).

...before all that, though, the day's expected marquee match-up between Venus Williams and Coco Gauff took place. Meeting in the 1st Round of a major for the second time, after the headline-grabbing affair at last year's Wimbledon, the 15-year old made her career debut at a third major while 39-year old Williams played in her 20th opening round match in Melbourne.

While the result between the two was ultimately the same as in their first meeting, the shock and awe of the teenager's arrival wasn't *quite* as eye-popping this time around. Not because Gauff didn't once again play multiple levels above what anyone would anticipate from a player so young, but because we now *expect* her to show up for such a match and be unwilling and unable to be sent out the door without much trial and effort being put forth by her opponent. Williams, for one, just wasn't up to such an effort on this day.

Playing in her first match of 2020, Williams was slow to find her groove in the contest as Gauff got an early break and seemed on her way to a quick 1st set win before Williams finally broke back in the latter stages and eventually forced a tie-break. Nevertheless, Gauff won it 7-5 and quickly grabbed a break lead again in the 2nd set. This time, Williams didn't find her way back into contention as Gauff rolled to a 7-6(5)/6-3 victory that improves her career mark in slams to 6-3. Venus is now 269-77 over the course of the last twenty-four seasons.

Not long after Gauff's victory, her doubles partner, qualifier Caty McNally, sent Samantha Stosur (the '19 WD champ) out in the AO 1st Round for a fifth straight time, winning 6-1/6-4 on the back of the Aussie's 39 unforced errors.

...Night 1's first-up women's match on Rod Laver features a familiar face, as #1 seed Ash Barty opens play vs. Lesia Tsurenko in what will likely be her "usual" scheduled court/time for most of the matches she'll play at this Australian Open. The first Aussie #1 women's seed in the event since 1977 (Evonne Goolagong), she's seeking to become the first home winner of the title since Chris O'Neil in 1978 (the last to reach the semis was Wendy Turnbull in 1984) a season after her QF run in Melbourne helped set the stage for her career year in '19.

On MCA, #24 Sloane Stephens faces Zhang Shuai hoping to avoid her second straight 1st Round defeat at a major. If it happens, it would be her fourth one-and-out slam appearance in the nine majors she's played since winning the 2017 U.S. Open. She had four such losses over a 19-slam stretch from 2012-16. Two years ago, Zhang actually *did* upset Stephens in the 1st Round, making her the First Seed Out at the '18 AO.


...LIKE ON DAY 1: Martina being Martina, thank goodness.

...UNEXPECTED FREE INTERNATIONAL ADVERTISING ON DAY 1: Play-Doh, duh. Of course, since it's been *six years* since the toy's official Twitter account produced any sort of post it'll probably go down as a totally wasted opportunity.

Seriously, you'd think that something like Play-Doh would have *someone* doing their social media who'd at least try to do *something* creative once in a while. Hmmm, maybe that person came up with the WTA's new marketing campaign idea last year as a side gig?

...LIKE ON DAY 1: Oracene, naturally.

A little impromptu addition to the perusal of a string of old songs and videos that began here during last year's U.S. Open, and ultimately birthed Backspin's latest unofficial fake marketing campaign slogan ("They Got the Beat"/"She Got the Beat," which moved into the spot formerly held by "The Most Interesting Tour in the World") that served as a response to the WTA's latest *actual* thuddingly uninspired marketing campaign ("#ItTakes").

And, of course, where else does one search other than an old 1980's video (thank you MTV late on a Saturday night)? I give you, in the spirit of Australia's slam, "New Sensation" from the Aussie band INXS.

It's just a reminder of what a *great* rock frontman Michael Hutchence was. Sort of a combination of Mick Jagger's moves/essence with the voice of Robert Palmer. It's a pity things ended for him the way they did.

And, yeah, that song *would* work as a backdrop for ads featuring a new generation of WTA stars, too.

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The dawn of the @australianopen ?????? ?? Getty

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2009 Patricia Mayr, AUS (def. Schruff)
2010 Dinara Safina, RUS (def. Rybarikova)
2011 Evgeniya Rodina, RUS (def. Rogowska)
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (def. Watson)
2013 Maria Sharapova, RUS (def. Puchkova)
2014 Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (def. Robson)
2015 Julia Goerges, GER (def. Bencic)
2016 Petra Kvitova, CZE (def. Kumkhum)
2017 Monica Puig, PUR (def. Tig)
2018 Duan Yingying, CHN (def. Duque Marino)
2019 Rebecca Peterson, SWE (def. Cirstea)
2020 Paula Badosa, ESP (def. Larsson)

2005 #16 Ai Sugiyama, JPN (lost to Sucha)
2006 #9 Elena Dementieva, RUS (lost to Schruff)
2007 #25 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (lost to Vesnina)
2008 #32 Julia Vakulenko, UKR (lost to Vesnina)
2009 #23 Agnes Szavay, HUN (lost to Voskoboeva)
2010 #14 Maria Sharapova, RUS (lost to Kirilenko)
2011 #28 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (lost to Kulikova)
2012 #19 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Bratchikova)
2013 #32 Mona Barthel, GER (lost to Pervak)
2014 #7 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Goerges)
2015 #32 Belinda Bencic, SUI (lost to Goerges)
2016 #17 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Gasparyan)
2017 #4 Simona Halep, ROU (lost to Rogers)
2018 #13 Sloane Stephens, USA (lost to Sh.Zhang)
2019 #14 Julia Goerges, GER (lost to Collins)
2020 #32 Barbora Strycova, CZE (lost to Cirstea)


TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3 - #5 Anna Kalinskaya/RUS def. Wang Xiyu/CHN 4-6/7-6(2)/6-2 (down 6-4/5-3, MP at 5-4)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Paula Badosa/ESP (def. Larsson/SWE)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Barbora Strycova/CZE (1st Rd. - lost to Cirstea/ROU)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Krejcikova, A.Li, McNally
IT (??): xx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Wk.2- Moments Before Melbourne

Hold your horses! There are still a few tournaments to recap!


ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA (Premier/Hard Court Outdoor)
S: Ash Barty/AUS def. Dayana Yastremska/UKR 6-2/7-5
D: Nicole Melichar/Xu Yifan (USA/CHN) def. Gaby Dabrowski/Darija Jurak (CAN/CRO) 2-6/7-5 [10-5]
HOBART, AUSTRALIA (Int'l/Hard Court Outdoor)
S: Elena Rybakina/KAZ def. Zhang Shuai/CHN 7-6(7)/6-3
D: Nadiia Kichenok/Sania Mirza (UKR/IND) def. Peng Shuai/Zhang Shuai (CHN/CHN) 6-4/6-4

...after falling in the Sydney final the past two Januarys, then coming up short in Perth in last year's Fed Cup final, not to mention runner-up WD finishes at the AO (2013) and in Brisbane (Week 1), Barty was (over)due to be the last woman standing on home soil for the first time in her WTA career. In Adelaide, it finally happened.

Wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Marketa Vondrousova (her '19 RG final opponent), Danielle Collins (in a 3rd set TB) and Dayana Yastremska in the final allowed her to pick up her first tour-level title in her home nation. Barty won multiple ITF singles (2012-13) and doubles (2012-13, 16) challengers in Australia early in her pro career just before she returned full-time to the tour after her sabbatical from tennis.

The win could prove to be important on an emotional as well as psychological level as Barty heads to Melbourne as the first Australian woman seeded #1 there since 1977. She's seeking to become the first Aussie to win the title since 1978 (or even reach the semis since 1984). A year after her QF run at the event, Barty (as will likely be the case for however long she survives in the draw) will open play under the lights of Laver Arena on Night 1 vs. Lesia Tsurenko, with a few thousand vocal countrymates cheering her on.
RISER: Aryna Sabalenka/BLR
...in announcing that her 43-year old father had died suddenly during the offseason (joining Alona Ostapenko and Amanda Anisimova as the third high-level WTA player -- a former slam winner, Top 10 player and slam semifinalist -- who've lost their dad in the last year, which is some truly horrible string of coincidences) Sabelenka added still another layer to her one step forward, one step back climb up the tour ladder.

A week after losing early during her Shenzhen title defense, Sabalenka rebounded with a semifinal run in Adelaide, knocking off Hsieh Su-wei (the vet served for the win at 5-3 in the 3rd), Bernarda Pera and Simona Halep (her 12th career Top 10 win, but by far her earliest in a season, with her previous earliest not coming until June). She was taken out by Dayana Yastremska, and will head to Melbourne seeking her first career slam QF result (her best is a U.S. Open 4th Rd. in '18). She'll open with soon-to-retire Carla Suarez-Navarro, with the likes of (2nd) Iga Swiatek, (3rd) Donna Vekic/Maria Sharapova/Alize Cornet and (4th) Belinda Bencic/Anett Kontaveit/Alona Ostapenko (yes) possibly standing the way of her next logical career goal.
SURPRISE: Danielle Collins/USA
...having not played a tour match since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last fall (she *did* go 2-2 in challengers in November), Collins has so far shown up for 2020 in fine form for the new season, just in time to defend her '19 Australian Open semifinal run in Melbourne. Through two weeks the Bannerette is 5-2, with two dominating Top 10 wins (Elina Svitolina in Week 1, Belinda Bencic this week in Adelaide) while posting QF and SF results. The line score of her five wins have averaged 6-2/6-1 as she's allowed five or fewer total games vs. each conquered opponent (including Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Sofia Kenin in Week 2). In this week's semis, she pushed Ash Barty to a 3rd set TB in her attempt to finally reach her first tour-level final, coming within three points of her first #1 win before falling to the Aussie to drop to 0-4 in career WTA semis (including her slam breakout run at last year's AO).

VETERAN: Zhang Shuai/CHN
...in Hobart, Zhang joined Serena Williams as the second player in two weeks to reach both the singles and doubles finals in 2020 tour-level event. Unfortunately, she didn't walk away with the title in either case.

The 30-year old, who won the AO women's doubles crown (w/ Sam Stosur) a year ago, quite literally coasted to the doubles final alongside Peng Shuai, notching a routine 1st Round win and then advancing via walkover through both the QF and SF into a final match-up with Nadiia Kichenok & Sania Mirza. The veteran Chinese pair fell in two sets, failing to completely turn the momentum in the 2nd set after nearly flipping the script when Mirza's mobility began to be noticeably affected by a calf injury.

In singles, Zhang reached her third career final (she won Guangzhou in 2013 and '17) after eliminating Kirsten Flipkens, Kateryna Kozlova, Lauren Davis and Veronika Kudermetova. In the final against Elena Rybakina, she erased a 4-1 1st set deficit and forced a TB, only to lose the tight breaker by a 9-7 score and then see the Kazakh pull away in the 2nd.

COMEBACK: Heather Watson/GBR
...after spending most of 2019 ranked outside the Top 100, as low as #125 in October, Watson experienced an uptick in her results in the 4th Quarter, reaching her first final in three and a half years in Tianjin in October. She finished the season at #92.

Having slipped just outside the Top 100 again in the opening weeks of '20, the Brit's successful qualifying attempt in Hobart (where she won in '15 for her second of three career tour crowns) was combined with MD wins over Jil Teichmann, Fiona Ferro and #1-seed/two-time defending champ Elise Mertens to reach the semifinals. Her run was ended in three sets by eventual champ Elena Rybakina, but Watson will jump to #75 heading into the Australian Open, her highest standing since April 2018. She could face Mertens again in the 2nd Round in Melbourne.

FRESH FACES: Elena Rybakina/KAZ and Dayana Yastremska/UKR
...Rybakina has blasted out of the starting gates into the 2020 season, reaching the finals of her first two events of the season. In Hobart, the 20-year old Kazakh overcame several mid-match shifts in momentum to complete wins over Tamara Zidansek, Alize Cornet, Lizette Cabrera, Heather Watson and Zhang Shuai. In her fourth tour final in seven months, Rybakina nearly squandered a commanding 4-1 1st set lead vs. Zhang, but prevailed in a 9-7 tie-break and closed out the veteran in straights to claim her second career title. 9-1 thus far in '20, Rybakina has gone 29-9 since winning her maiden WTA title in Bucharest last July. Over that span, her ranking has climbed from #106 to her new career high of #26 as the Australian Open begins. The #29 seed in Melbourne, Rybakina opens with Bernarda Pera as she seeks her first career MD slam win. If she reaches the 3rd Round, she could face off with fellow Week 2 singles champion, #1 Ash Barty.

In Adelaide, Yastremska defeated multiple Top 20 players (Angelique Kerber via retirement, Donna Vekic and Aryna Sabalenka) in a single event for the first time, along with Timea Babos, en route to her maiden Premier singles final. She fell to Barty in straights in the final, failing to emerge victorious for the first time in her four WTA finals, but will climb to a new career high of #21 in the new rankings.

After facing off with qualifier Kaja Juvan in the 1st Round in Melbourne, the Ukrainian could very well get the opportunity to hand Caroline Wozniacki a career-ending loss in the 2nd Round.
DOWN: Sloane Stephens/USA and Caroline Garcia/FRA
...Stephens is still searching. Perhaps in vain, perhaps not. At any rate, after starting her '20 campaign by losing to the world #129 (Liudmila Samsonova) in Week 1 she fell to #201 (Arina Rodionova) in her opening match in Adelaide. Having gone 1-4 back to her trip to Wuhan last fall, and 4-10 starting with her 3rd Round loss to Jo Konta as last year's Wimbledon, Stephens has changed coaches twice in a little over a year in an attempt to find the correct head space necessary to live up to her talent between the lines. To date, Kamau Murray's second stint in the job (which began last August) doesn't seem to have made a dent in righting the lingering ennui that has so often hung over her game since winning the U.S. Open in '17, as well as at various stages over the entire course of her career.

Meanwhile, in Hobart, Garcia followed up a loss to #262 (Genie Bouchard) with another to #129 (Lizette Cabrera) and remains without a multi-win tour event appearance since playing on the grass in Mallorca last summer. Though she experienced an ultra-high during the stretch (winning the Fed Cup in Perth last November, though she was double-bageled in singles in that tie by Ash Barty) she's gone a combined 6-15 (with just one win over a player in the Top 75) since.
ITF PLAYER: Nadia Podoroska/ARG or Claire Liu/USA
...Sunday's final in the $25K challenger in Malibu, California will see a match up of Podoroska vs. Liu.

Podoroska, 22, won Pan American Games Gold last summer, saving MP vs. Caroline Dolehide in the final. The #2-seeded Argentine enters with an 11-2 career mark in challenger singles finals. 19-year old Bannerette Liu, the '16 Wimbledon girls champ, has already upset #1 seed Amandine Hesse (w/ a love set) in the event and comes into the match with a 4-0 career mark in pro singles finals.
...at Barranquila, 16-year old Guzman picked up her biggest career title at the Grade 1 girls event in Colombia. Guzman swept the singles and doubles (w/ Venezuela's Sofia Elena Cabezas Dominguez) titles, defeating top-seeded Ana Geller in the singles semis, then outdueling Bannerette Hina Inoue 7-6(6)/6-3 in the Saturday final. Her biggest previous title was Grade 2 in 2017.

If Guzman's name *seems* familiar, maybe it's because she *has* been highlighted here before, having had some winning moments in Fed Cup play for Peru. The teenager went 4-2 in singles (1-1 in doubles) the last two years in Americas zone play.

In Prague, Czech Barbora Palicova will meet Belarusian Kristina Dmitruk for the title of the week's other Grade 1 junior event.
DOUBLES: Nicole Melichar/Xu Yifan (USA/CHN) and Nadiia Kichenok/Sania Mirza (UKR/IND)
...in Week 1, new doubles mates Melichar & Xu won just one match in Brisbane, but they returned to charge through Week 2, dropping no sets while reaching the final. Once there, they faced off with last-minute twosome Gaby Dabrowski (Xu's former doubles partner with whom she won five titles) & Darija Jurak and came back from a set down to win the title, saving two MP before finishing off a 10-5 super-TB victory. The win gives Melichar her seventh tour WD title, her first without Kveta Peschke by her side since May '17, and Xu her tenth.

In Hobart, Mirza returned for the first time since exiting the tour over two years ago (Oct.'17) while pregnant with her first child. Teaming with Kichenok, they won a pair of 3rd set TB (vs. Kalashnikova/Kato and King/McHale) and then defeated Peng Shuai & Zhang Shuai in a straight sets final. It's Kichenok's fifth tour crown, while Mirza's 42nd (the most amongst active tour players, in her 62nd final) is her first since taking Brisbane three years ago alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

...the first big Super Series wheelchair event of 2020 is underway in Tweed Heads, Australia with Sunday's finals *mostly* set. Jordanne Whiley defeated world #3 Aniek Van Koot in one semifinal on Saturday, while top seeded Yui Kamiji must still finish her 3rd set (suspended due to rain) vs. countrywoman Momoko Ohtani in the other. In the doubles final, Brits Whiley & Lucy Shuker will face off will the aforementioned Japanese duo.

Whiley & Kamiji, of course, are not only best friends but at one time formed a dominant doubles duo that won nine slams from 2014-17, including five straight in one stretch, and even faced off in the '15 U.S. Open singles final (Whiley's only solo slam title). They've mostly been apart in recent years as Whiley had a baby, while in Paralympic years (which '20 is) they've usually teamed up with fellow countrywoman in preparation for the games (which is likely the reason for the partnerships this week).

UPDATE: Kamiji swept the singles and doubles titles, defeating Whiley 6-4/6-1, then teaming with Ohtani (ah, maybe she finally has a worthy Japanese partners for the Paralympics) to defeat Shuker/Whiley in a 3rd set TB.



1. Ann Li, USA (19, #142)
...the '17 Wimbledon junior finalist only made her WTA MD debut in Week 1, but now she'll make her slam debut, as well, after a great run through AO qualifying that included wins over Mayar Sherif, Yanina Wickmayer and #1-seeded Ana Bodan in the final round.

2. Shelby Rogers, USA (27, #155)
...Rogers reaches her first AO MD since her 2018 knee injury, dropping no sets vs. Mona Barthel, #8 Aliona Bolsova and #30 Caroline Dolehide. She reached the 2nd Round in Melbourne in '17.
3. Leylah Annie Fernandez, CAN (17, #206)
...the '19 RG girls champs earns her slam MD debut at 17, making it through qualifying in her first career attempt at a major. The Canadian lost no sets against the likes of #7 Patricia Maria Tig, Mayo Hibi and Danielle Lao.

4. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS (21, #108)
...the Russian posted wins over former slam finalist Sara Errani and Chinese youngster Wang Xinyu (coming back from 6-4/5-3 down and saving a MP) in the final round, reaching the AO MD as a qualifier for a third straight year. This is also the third straight major at which she pulled off a qualifying run, something she's done at *four of the last five* slams.
5. Johanna Larsson, SWE (31, #213)
...the Swedish vet dropped no sets while recording wins over Urszula Radwanska, #29 Mandy Minella and #3 Varvara Gracheva. She's 0-3 in her AO MD career.

Elisabetta Cocciaretto, ITA (18/#172) - making her slam debut, the teenager knocked out two qualifying seeds
Harriet Dart, GBR (23/#169) - makes her AO debut after dropping no sets in three matches. She reached the Wimbledon 3rd Rd. in '19.
Nao Hibino, JPN (25/#102) - she's 1-9 in her slam MD career, with only a '17 1st Rd. win at the U.S. Open
Kaja Juvan, SLO (19/#126) - defeated #6 Vikhlyantseva in the Q3 to secure her AO debut appearance
Barbora Krejcikova, CZE (24/#127) - the three-time slam WD champ makes her AO singles debut after dropping no sets in qualifying, but remains just 0-1 in her slam MD career. This is only her second successful slam Q run in 17 attempts since 2014.
Antonia Lottner, GER (23/#116) - 0-3 in slam MD matches, the German makes her AO debut
Caty McNally, USA (18/#116) - the other half of "McCoco" joins the AO draw for the first time. She won a MD match at last year's U.S. Open.
Greet Minnen, BEL (22/#119) - the Waffle finally makes her slam debut after having lost in the Q3 at last year's RG and SW19
Monica Niculescu, ROU (32/#128) - the oldest qualifier, she reached the AO 3rd Rd. three times (2011-12,14)
Liudmila Samsonova, RUS (21/#118) - making her AO debut, the Russian lost in the '19 RG 1r in her only previous slam MD match
Martina Trevisan, ITA (26/#154) - making her slam debut, she dropped no sets in qualifying (def. Bouchard in Q3)

3 - USA

Nina Stojanovic, SRB
Han Na-Lae, KOR
Elisabetta Cocciaretto, ITA
Leylah Annie Fernandez, CAN
Ann Li, USA
Greet Minnen, BEL
Martina Trevisan, ITA

2006 Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2007 Julia Vakulenko, UKR
2008 Julia Schruff, GER
2009 Elena Baltacha, GBR
2010 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2011 Vesna Manasieva, RUS
2012 Paula Ormaechea, ARG
2013 Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2014 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2015 Renata Voracova, CZE
2016 Naomi Osaka, JPN
2017 Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
2018 Marta Kostyuk, UKR
2019 Astra Sharma, AUS
2020 Ann Li, USA

1. Hobart 1st Rd. - CiCi Bellis def. Marie Bouzkova
Bellis recovers from a set and 4-1, two-break deficit, saving a MP vs. the Czech before winning in 2:50 to record her first post-wrist/arm/elbow surgeries (4 in all) WTA MD win since Indian Wells '18.

2. Adelaide SF - Ash Barty def. Danielle Collins
Collins came within three points of her maiden tour final appearance, but falls to 0-4 in her attempts (so far).

3. Hobart Final - Elena Rybakina def. Zhang Shuai
With her second career win, though she's only represented the nation since mid-2018, Rybakina is now Kazakhstan's all-time WTA singles title leader.

4. Adelaide Final - Ash Barty def. Dayana Yastremska
Barty's singles title run is the first by an Aussie woman on Australian soil on tour since Jarmila Wolfe (née Gajdošová, formerly Groth) won Hobart in 2011.

5. Hobart QF - Heather Watson def. Elise Mertens
In a rainy match-up that took 3:31 to complete (w/ delays), the '15 Hobart champ defeats the 2018-19 winner (and '20 #1 seed).

6. Adelaide QF - Ash Barty def. Marketa Vondrousova
Seven months after their Roland Garros final, Vondrousova (slightly) improves upon the 6-1/6-3 scoreline vs. Barty in Paris.

7. Adelaide QF - Aryna Sabalenka def. Simona Halep
Sabalenka's fifth career Top 5 victory. She didn't notch her first Top 10 win in '19 until September in Wuhan.

8. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Belinda Bencic def. Dasha Kasatkina
And 2020 gets a little bit sh***ier once more for the Hordette. Kasatkina had a two-match winning streak over Bencic.

9. Hobart 2nd Rd. - Garbine Muguruza def. Ons Jabeur
While her run in Hobart ultimately ended with a walkover (viral illness) in the QF, Muguruza posted another '20 victory from a set down, this time while also saving a MP in a match delayed multiple times by rain. She hadn't played in Hobart since winning her maiden WTA title there in 2014.

10. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Marketa Vondrosova def. Tatjana Maria
The Czech's first match since her Wimbledon wrist injury. She followed up with a 6-0/6-0 win over Arina Rodionova in the 2nd Round.

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First win of the year????

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11. Hobart 1st Rd. - Lizette Cabrera def. Caroline Garcia
Every January, a young Aussie pulls off some big early-season upsets. This year it's #129 Cabrera, who backed up this one with a win over Kristyna Pliskova a round later.

12. Adelaide Final - Nicole Melichar/Xu Yifan def. Gaby Dabrowski/Darija Jurak
...2-6/7-5 [10-5].
A week after Karolina Pliskova recovered from MP down in the SF to win in Brisbane, Melichar/Xu save two in the Adelaide final.


1. Hobart Final - Nadiia Kichenok/Sania Mirza def. Peng Shuai/Zhang Shuai
Kichenok becomes Mirza's sixteenth different partner to share at least one of her 42 career tour doubles titles.


2. Adelaide 1st Rd. - Arina Rodionova def. Sloane Stephens
With Stephens' loss to the world #201, her worst since 2011, is the Future... over?

All right. We'll table that... for now.
3. Hobart 1st Rd. - Nadiia Kichenok/Sania Mirza def. Oksana Kalashnikova/Miyu Kato
...2-6/7-6(3) [10-3].
Mirza's title run began with her first win since October 2017.

HM- Hobart 1st Rd. - Kateryna Bondarenko/Sharon Fichman def. Chan Hao-ching/Latisha Chan
...2-6/6-3 [10-4].
The sisters, co-#15's in doubles, drop to 0-2 on the season after falling in the first match of their title defense. They haven't won a match together since September, and are currently riding a six-match losing streak (w/ a 0-3 mark in the WTAF).

Hmmm, I wonder if they might soon decide to spend a little less time together?

1. AO Q3 - #5 Anna Kalinskaya def. Wang Xiyu
The Russian surges back from 6-4/5-3 down, saving a MP at 5-4, to qualify for her third straight AO, and third straight slam.

2. AO Q1 - Maddison Inglis def. Rebecca Sramkova
...6-3/0-6 [19-17].
On her 22nd birthday, the Aussie rallies from 8-4 down in the 3rd set super TB, saving four MP.

3. AO Q1 - Stefanie Voegele def. Dalila Jakupovic
...4-6/6-5 ret.
The video (and retirement) that set off an explosion of debate and condemnation over the Australian Open's decision to hold Day 1 of the qualifying event while a haze of smoke from the ongoing fires hovered over the city.

4. AO Q1 - Genie Bouchard def. You Xiaodi
Bouchard stages a comeback from 6-4/2-0 down to win in 2:54...

...but her *overall* comeback, bolstered by a QF run in Auckland in Week 1, was halted in the third qualifying round by Italian Martina Trevisan. This will mark the first AO MD the Canadian has missed since 2013, the year *before* her semifinal run in her Melbourne debut.
5. AO Q1 - Wang Xinyu def. Irina Falconi
...3-6/6-2 [10-8]
Wang wins the final four points of the TB to get the victory. But, for Falconi, there was at least a side benefit...

HM- AO Q3 - Liudmila Samsonova def. Wang Xiyu 6-4/2-6/7-5
AO Q3 - Elisabetta Cocciaretto def. Tereza Martincova 6-2/6-1
AO Q3 - Greet Minnen def. Barbara Haas 6-2/6-1
AO Q3 - Antonia Lottner def. Destanee Aiava 6-4/6-2
AO Q3 - Leylah Annie Fernandez def. Danielle Lao 7-5/7-5
AO Q3 - Kaja Juvan def. Natalia Vikhlyantseva 6-3/6-3
AO Q3 - Caty McNally def. Gabriela Ruse 6-1/6-1
between Rybakina reaching two finals (and winning one), Yastremska reaching a final, Samsonova upsetting Stephens in Week 1 and all these "favored" qualifiers, a slew of top picks from this year's Prediction Blowout are looking good a lot earlier than might usually be the case. Of course, Varvara Gracheva lost in the *final* round of qualifying, though, so one can't have everything.



Simona scoffs at peer pressure...

"What do you mean (fill in personal gripe) didn't get an Oscar nomination?"

[From InstaStory]

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My journey to a healthier me!!! 18 months,53 kilos lost and more than 31 kilos lost on the @jennycraigausnz program. Choosing to go on this journey publicly wasn’t easy and I had lots of doubts and fears about putting myself and my weight struggles out there for everyone to see. I am glad I did it and I want to thank everyone for their love and support as I literally didn’t get one bad comment or any hate and negativity and I am grateful for that. In fact all I got was love,support,understanding and help. I especially want to thank @jennycraigausnz for helping me thru the toughest part of my journey and for helping me lose the majority of my weight but more importantly helping me get healthier,find balance when it comes to food and my lifestyle and for giving me my life back. My goal for doing this publicly was to inspire,motivate and help other people and I hope I have done that.I hope I have shown you all that you can achieve anything in life. I hope I have shown you all that anything is possible and that everything can be achieved with hard work,belief,patience and perseverance. Go to the link in my bio to see more on my story and how @jennycraigausnz helped me get back into shape. ?????????????????????????? #jennycraig #jennycraigausnz #jennycraigjourney #jennycraigfood #health #healthy #healthylifestyle #lifestyle #transformation #weightloss #weightlossjourney #weightlossmotivation #weightlosstransformation #motivation #inspiration #fitness #inspo #fitspo #fitnessmotivation #australia #happy #confidence #fitfam #healthyliving #healthyeating #journey #inspire #empower #women #empoweringwomen

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*2019-20 WTA TITLES*
4 - ASH BARTY, AUS (2020: 1)
4 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (1)
3 - Bianca Andreescu, CAN
3 - Sofia Kenin, USA
3 - Naomi Osaka, JPN
3 - Aryna Sabalenka, BLR
2 - Belinda Bencic, SUI
2 - Kiki Bertens, NED
2 - Madison Keys, USA
2 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
2 - Rebecca Peterson, SWE
2 - Jill Teichmann, SUI
2 - Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
2 - Dayana Yastremska, UKR

#1 - Ash Barty (Adelaide)
#2 - Karolina Pliskova (Brisbane)
#10 - Serena Williams (Auckland)
#30 - Elena Rybakina (Hobart)
#34 - Ekaterina Alexandrova (Shenzhen)

20 - Elena Rybakina (Hobart)
23 - Ash Barty (Adelaide)
25 - Ekaterina Alexandrova (Shenzhen)
28 - Karolina Pliskova (Brisbane)
38 - Serena Williams (Auckland)

2 - ELENA RYBAKINA (2019 Bucharest, 2020 Hobart)
1 - Zarina Diyas (2017 Tokyo)
1 - Yulia Putintseva (2019 Nuremberg)
NOTE: Shvedova won 1 representing RUS in '07; 0-1 in finals as KAZ

14 - Martina Hingis (2015-16)
6 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands (2007,12-13,15,17)
5 - Cara Black (2013-14)
3 - Liezel Huber (2004-06)
2 - Mahesh Bhupathi (2009,12 MX)
2 - Elena Vesnina (2011)
2 - Barbora Strycova (2016)
1 - Chuang(2009), Gallovits(2010), N.KICHENOK(2019), King (2007), Niculescu(2016), Peer(2007), An.Rodionova(2012), Santangelo(2007), Shvedova(2011), Soares(2014 MX), J.Zheng(2013)
42 WD + 3 MX







[from Washington Post, January 13: "New York Public Library’s Most Checked-out Books Say a Lot About What We Read and Why]

"Other books on this list present our anxieties in far less subtle tones. Two of the top 10 are dystopian novels, nightmarish visions of governments determined to distort and destroy independent thought. Skeptics may say that George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” appear here only because they’ve been assigned in high schools for decades, but if that were the sole driver of these circulation stats, then where are “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Great Gatsby” with their decades’ head start?

No, Orwell and Bradbury prick a nerve deep in our souls. Especially for people who haunt libraries, nothing is as hypnotically horrific as the incineration of books that Bradbury imagined. And Orwell’s “1984” elaborates on that terror in ways we never forget. Writing in the ashes of World World II, he described a totalitarian society under constant surveillance and devoted to a cult of personality that suffers no dissension. The terrified citizens of Oceania endure such a torrent of deceptive language from their leader that facts become infinitely flexible, essentially irrelevant. On one hand, it’s encouraging to see such a politically incisive book garner a wide readership over many decades. But on the other, it’s distressing that the popularity of “1984” has not been enough to keep it from coming true in America."


All for now.