Tuesday, January 24, 2017

AO.9 - Cuckoo for CoCo?

Oh, what to make of CoCo Vandeweghe.

After so many not-so-conflicting opinions on the subject over the past couple of seasons, my thoughts were collectively unified during her thumping destruction of Garbine Muguruza in their quarterfinal match-up on Day 9. The Bannerette virtually beat the Spaniard about the head and shoulders in front of the entire tennis world on Tuesday, denying her even an insincere hint of mercy. Not during the match, nor after it, either.

And I have to say... I sort of found myself loving it.

No, really.

I admit, I dreaded the thought of Vandeweghe reaching a slam semifinal heading into the day, but by the end of it I was duly impressed by her in pretty much every way. Even her performance after the match. For, as the final result was plainly clear and it was just a matter of time before Muguruza was allowed to leave the arena with all her limbs still attached to her body, I feared CoCo might do or say something ill-advised that would "ruin" the entire fascinatingly exhilarating experience. So, it was a relief when she kept the chest-thumping, overt (and "overproduced") celebrations, and look-at-me theatrics to a minimum, and instead settled into a "light bravado and truth-telling" mode that was quite intriguing. A little confidently salty, but also undeniably honest, even if it might have crossed the line into unsightly bragging territory with just a little more prodding.

But that didn't happen. Not this time. Oh, Vandeweghe took it right up to the edge by talking about freight trains and how Muguruza "cracked" in the end, but I think she colored just enough outside the lines to be interesting, but not so much as to be onerous and/or disrespectful. Like someone once said about a bowl of porridge found in a cottage in the middle of the forest, she was "juuuuust right." Anyway, I have to say, I really sort of got into it all.

(Yeah, it shocked the hell out of me, too.)

In fact, Vandeweghe's performance in this match was so good that she might have a difficult time living up to it. Anyone who saw it now knows what she's fully capable of... and just ask a certain Petra how that can weigh on a career. CoCo's groundstokes on the (newly?) quick Laver court surface produced the sort of thudding sound I've only ever really previously associated with the likes of the players I've always looked to as the "ball-striking king and queen" of the last two decades -- Juan Martin del Potro and Lindsay Davenport. The echo of their clocking of tennis balls on a court had such a unique sound that they could likely be identified by ear. The sounds of the balls coming off Vandeweghe's racket in this QF match were very similar.

Ah, poor Garbi. She just really didn't even have a chance in this one, did she? She could never truly read the style or direction of the CoCo serve, nor her groundstrokes, either. As a result, she often had to guess, and the shots were coming at her too hard to be even the slightest bit wrong and have any sort of chance to get a competitive response back over the net. It was difficult enough even when she guessed right.

Fairly much from the start in this one, Muguruza had her back pressed firmly against the wall by the force of Vandeweghe's game. The Spaniard had to save two break points in the opening game (after which CoCo held at love), two more in game #3, and then four more in game #5 before she finally double-faulted under the pressure of it all on Vandeweghe's eighth BP of the set (and fifth in that game alone). With a break lead at 4-3 on her side, the already-confident Vandeweghe seemed to grow three sizes the rest of the way.

By the end, Muguruza was left to scurry down the beanstalk back home from CoCo's home in the Melbourne sky above Laver Arena.

To her credit, Muguruza held Vandeweghe off as long as she could, going up love/30 on CoCo's serve in game #8 (Vandeweghe still held), and saving a set point to hold her own serve a game later. She even reached BP as Vandeweghe attempted to serve out the 1st set at 5-4, only to see the Bannerette fire an ace to save it, blast a backhand to get her second set point, and then put in an unreturnable serve to close out the set at 6-4.

Things would only get worse for Garbine in the 2nd.

Vandeweghe broke her serve in the opening game, and then unleashed a string of booming groundstrokes and serves that only further boosted her still-rising level of play. While still harboring diminishing hopes of getting back into the match, Muguruza double-faulted and fall behind 15/40, then watched as CoCo blasted a forehand winner behind her to go up a double-break. Another thunderous forehand clanged off Muguruza's racket at the baseline as the lead climbed to 4-0. A forehand winner secured another break for 5-0. Serving to close out the set at love, no one foresaw any hint of mercy in Vandeweghe's game. Nor should there have been. Her near-perfect game on this day didn't deserve a blemish in its closing moments, though it DID nearly get one as Muguruza managed to hold a BP. But it was only a temporary restraining order against the beat-down that Vandeweghe was bound and determined to finish off. Her 6-4/6-0 win puts the 25-year old into her first slam semifinal, making her the latest North American woman in recent seasons (Stephens '13, Bouchard '14 and Keys '15) to carve out a maiden major event breakout Down Under.

None did so quite as emphatically as Vandeweghe did on this day, though.

Afterward, she talked about her game being an unstoppable "freight train." And this time there wasn't an ounce of exaggeration or hint of malice in the air. It was just the truth. CoCo's truth. And no one, not even Muguruza herself, could deny it.

Though it didn't look like it on this day, Muguruza had come into the QF without having dropped a set in Melbourne, and had played consistently well in the early weeks of 2017, showing great fight and only losing a match before this one when she'd retired in the 1st set of the Brisbane semifinals in Week 1. It really wasn't her fault that CoCo made her look rather pedestrian.

So, yeah, this was a rather eye-opening match.

It was easy to pass off Vandeweghe's quick dispatch of #1-ranked Angelique Kerber two nights ago in what was the first win by a non-Williams U.S. woman over a top-ranked player since 2001 (Capriati def. Hingis) as a case of the German's "off" '17 form contributing mightily to the end result, but this is another kettle of fish, as they say (or once said, I guess). If she can consistently play like THIS, well, Vandeweghe is going to be a monster to deal with. Everywhere. She's now won six of her last seven matches against Top 10 opponents, and at this slam alone has defeated a world #1, the defending champ, the winners of three of 2016's four major titles, and two other former slam finalists. So far.

Of course, the reality is that this was just an example as how good she CAN be. Maintaining that sort of level isn't always so easy. I mean, even Serena has difficulty doing it. As far as Vandeweghe is concerned, the ball-striking ability and fabulous service skills have always been in the mix, it's just been a matter of harnessing the thunderous power she's capable of generating off her racket, getting into the sort of shape that would allow her to be something other than a player with "a big punch," but little staying power, and having the discipline on game day to play a smart game rather than just a bludgeoning one. Credit to coach Craig Kardon for getting inside her head enough to convince her to give herself a chance to utilize her skill, ride the wave of her naturally outwardly-confident air and defiant attitude and, last but not least, even break down and agree to occasionally be tactically cagey and throw in a wicked (and well-disguised) kick-serve even when she'd prefer to just try to blast the ball through her opponent on EVERY serve if she had her druthers.

I mentioned the other day that I wondered if there would ever be a "Dr. Strangelove" moment around here where Vandeweghe was concerned. In other words, a moment when I'd "learn to stop worrying and love the bomb Bombastic Bannerette."

As noted many times, I didn't start out on "the side of right" when it came to either Justine Henin or Victoria Azarenka. After having issues with both early on in their careers, I eventually turned quite dramatically (at the '03 U.S. Open with Henin, and maybe during the "Cheaterenka" years at the AO for Vika) and never looked back. I now refer to them as the two "Faces of Backspin" over the years. Is this slam going to be the fulcrum on which all things CoCo change?

Well, let's not get ahead of things. That hasn't happened. Not yet, at least.

But, to be sure, Vandeweghe IS an interesting cat, with a family filled with athletic success, and the notion I posted two WTA Yearbooks ago about her having the odd distinction of being able to simultaneously be both a "breath of fresh air" AND "something of a dick" holds true still today. But that doesn't always have to be construed as a bad thing.

During ESPN's coverage of this match, Mary Joe Fernandez talked about how Vandeweghe admitted after her upset of Kerber that she was actually very nervous, sort of revealing her overt expressions of smirking bravado bordering on disrespect following the match as something (at least a little) of a false face, whether it was a necessary one or not, and whether it was for her own benefit of that of others. The comments, for me, automatically made Vandeweghe a more interesting character than she'd been before, and maybe connected a few of the disparate notes about her far different, more friendly, persona aside from the chest-bumping moments with the pre-approved, pro wrestling feel.

So, I guess I can somewhat blame this entire post on MJF. Hey, it wouldn't be the first time I've blamed her for something, right?

That "Dr. Strangelove/Vandeweghe" moment has not yet come calling, but it sure feels a whole lot closer than it did twenty-four hours ago. If it arrives, I won't fight it. There's no fighting in the War Room, after all.

To be continued...?

...earlier in the day on Tuesday, the Venus Williams story continued in Melbourne, after all these years.

Nineteen Januarys after she faced off with her sister in their first professional match against each other in a 2nd Round of the 1998 Australian Open, then went on to reach the quarterfinals in her tournament debut as a 17-year old, and fourteen years since she played Serena in the 2003 AO women's final in what was the last leg of the original "Serena Slam," the now 36-year old Venus is back.

Back in the semifinals, that is.

The next question, of course, is just how far can she go in this first major of 2017. And if she reaches the weekend with her match slate still clean, will she find -- shocker... but not really -- a VERY familiar face waiting for her there?

While Williams' story has been a long-term one, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's has deceptively got some years on it by this point, as well. It could be that the true tale of the Russian's career is only beginning to find its footing, though. Venus has been on people's minds since the mid-1990's, when Pavlyuchenkova was just out of diapers, but the now 25-year old found herself in the spotlight more than a decade ago. In the wake of the early 2000's Russian tennis revolution which reached its zenith when three different Hordettes claimed slam titles (two in all-Russian finals) in 2004, all eyes soon found Pavlyuchenkova and dubbed her the "next in the line" of Russian champs. For good reason, too. She dominated in the juniors, winning three junior slams in 2006-07 and becoming the girls #1. Sports Illustrated even listed her in a group of young sports stars who would, essentially, be the generational game-changers in various sports over the coming decade, and Pavlyuchenkova was tennis' representative. Fitness, inconsistency and an unreliable serve have prevented that forecast from becoming reality, but she's still won eight tour singles titles and maintained a Top 30 (sometimes even better) standing since 2010. Since the start of 2016, though, the Russian has seen an improvement in all three areas of worry, even if it hasn't translated into upper-end results such as titles and/or finals.

Of course, anything the Russian is ever likely to accomplish can't help put pale in comparison to Williams' Hall of Fame career. Today she was seeking her 21st career semifinal and, maybe even more impressively, her second in the past year, with her 37th birthday beckoning this coming June. Already the oldest slam quarterfinalist since 1982 (Billie Jean King, 39), Venus, who'd advanced so far without so much as dropping a single set, found herself two wins from becoming the oldest slam singles finalist since a 37-year old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

In a match that started at 11 a.m. Melbourne time, both women had some trouble with their serve in the early going. Venus eventually figured things out, but Pavlyuchenkova never did.

With the Russian jumping on her second serves in the opening game, Williams saved one BP, but a Pavlyuchenkova forehand return winner of another of Venus' second serves gave her a break advantage. But it would be Pavlyuchenkova's own service games that would be her downfall. She was broken in game #4 after hitting two double-faults, broke back, but then gave the advantage back a game later when Williams came in to the net behind a second serve return for a put-away volley. Serving down 5-4, the Russian fell behind love/30 when Williams fired a down-the-line forehand winner, then hit a ball deep in the court to produce a Pavlyuchenkova error. Venus' backhand return winner of another second serve closed out Pavlyuchenkova's serve game at love, getting the break to take the 1st set 6-4 with a 13-5 edge in winners and with the Russian's service numbers -- a 55% win pct. on First Serve, but just 40% on her Second -- telling much of the story.

Game #2 of the 2nd set turned out to be a 12-minute slog (albeit a successful one) for the Russian, who saved three BP before finally holding on her fifth GP despite a pair of DF in the game (her fifth and sixth of the day). At 1-1, perhaps tired from the previous game, Venus dropped serve to fall behind 2-1. But after a rest during the changeover, Williams broke back for 2-2. After dropping serve again in game #7, she once more turns things back in her favor with another break of Pavlyuchenkova, this time at love.

Holding at love to go up 5-4, with an eight-point win streak, Williams looked to do precisely what she's done this entire AO, play efficiently in the final games and close out the match to avoid having to go three sets (even on a good weather day such as today, which was some thirty-degrees cooler than Monday, wrapping things up as quickly as possible would be key for her down the line in this event). But after taking the opening point on Pavlyuchenkova's serve, Williams missed on consecutive forehands to turn over the lead in the game. Ultimately, the Russian held with an extended big-hitting rally that finally ended with a long Williams backhand that evened things at 5-5. After another love hold from Venus that was punctuated by an ace, Pavlyuchenkova overcame a love/30 deficit to send things to a tie-break.

The Hordette would go up 2-0, but again would be unable to overcome her own service issues. A large return of a second serve gave Williams a 2-1 lead as Pavlyuchenkova's First Serve win percentage dipped to 35% on the day. Her eighth DF of the match made it 3-3, and set off the stretch of points that would end the match without the Russian putting another on the board. Williams fired winners to lead 4-3 and 6-3, then Pavlyuchenkova's ninth DF ended the match, with Venus emerging with another straights sets AO win, 6-4/7-5.

Pavlyuchenkova, even while she reverted to being thwarted by some of her previous career obstacles today, should still be encouraged about her progress despite the setback. If things go according to play, she's still in the process of building a more stable foundation for long-term success. With the current resurgence in young Russian talent, from Daria Kasatkina to the horde of new junior Hordettes, "middle child" Pavlyuchenkova, with two of her four career slam QF coming in the past year, is proving that she might still have a few of those big results that were expected from her a decade ago still left in her yet.

As for Venus, who knows where she might go from here. She's been breaking new ground since she was in her early teens, and now has two slam SEMIFINAL appearances in the past seven months. If 35 is the new tennis 25, as it appears to be at his AO, well, then Venus is the poster child for never growing old, never giving up, and never giving in.

...in women's doubles, the semifinals are being shaped, as well, and top seeds are falling left and right.

Already one of just three Top 10 seeded duos to reach the QF, #3-seeded Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina fell to #12 Andrea Hlavckova/Peng Shuai 7-5/7-6(5). #2 Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova are still alive, though, advancing today with a win over #11 Raquel Atawo & Xu Yifan, while Eri Hozumi & Miyu Kato, who defeated #2 Hingis/Vandeweghe over the weekend, took out Lucic-Baroni/Petkovic.

#1-seeded Garcia/Mladenovic are set to face off with Aussie wild cards Ash Barty & Casey Dellacqua under the lights on Laver tonight.

As it stands, Mattek-Sands (in the MX QF with Mike Bryan) is the only woman still alive in both doubles draws.


? ???? ?? ????? ??? ????? ???????????????? #home

A photo posted by Daria Kasatkina (@kasatkina) on

...A BIG THANK-YOU ON DAY 9: ...to the AO organizers, schedule-makers, etc. who -- unlike at SOME SLAMS -- chose to contest today's women's quarterfinal matches consecutively on the same court rather than simultaneously in different arenas.

The latter practice has become common at other majors in recent years, no matter that it's essentially a kick in the teeth not only to fans/chroniclers who aren't on the tournament grounds, but also to those who are, but are forced to miss out on all or part of the tournament's late-stage action in the singles draw for no reason other than the shortsightedness of those with the power to make such decisions. Purposely making it MORE difficult to watch what are supposed to be showcase moments in a specific draw at a showcase event is detrimental to coverage of the slams, the two tours and the entire sport, and fosters the environment where too many people who SHOULD, and those who might otherwise if given the opportunity, aren't really familiar with many top players even after they've advanced into the second week of a slam. Could you imagine, say, the NFL starting two playoff games at the exact same time, denying large chunks of a possible audience the ability to enjoy both?

While it's surely not perfect, usually, the AO is a step ahead of the other slams in many areas, from putting roofs on courts to building up the entire event around the actual tennis, and being as fan-friendly as possible, rather than putting a nose in the air and acting as if all that matters are the ancient rules, regulations and desires of a few individuals in high places. I'd say that it'd be nice if this sort of thing would lead the other majors to set up their schedules similarly... but I wouldn't advise anyone pledging to hold their breath until such a reality occurs.

Of course, I guess there's always the prospect of reporting and talking about how things happen in an "alternate" reality where everything is in our favor. We could agree to go there, ignore our eyes and brains and how we've used them to process information for our entire lives, and have the slams we WANT rather than the slams as they actually are. But, I mean, when does that sort of thing happen in real life, right?

Oh, wait.

...LIKE ON DAY 9: Vania King can STILL sing...

My stress relief ????????

A video posted by Van King (@vaniaking89) on

...WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT? ON DAY 9: That both of these women would still be alive in at least one AO draw nineteen years later...

...BELIEF ON DAY 9: If they win the WD title, they just HAVE to perform this routine on the court now, don't they?

...AS EXPECTED ON DAY 9: The Hall just didn't have enough Belgians. But it's probably met the quota now. For quite a long while, anyway.


...LIKE ON DAY 9: That this clip is actually of a former NFL running back talking about running over players on the defensive side of the ball, and someone is using it here in relation to that Nazi getting popped in the face on Inauguration Day. But what does it say that I got a chuckle out of it when thinking that Vandeweghe probably sometimes has the same thoughts going through her head when she plays like she did today? (And, no, it didn't come to mind because Jon Wertheim is on the other end of this interview, either.)

Hmmm, maybe I can see my CoCo "Dr.Strangelove" moment being a little closer around the bend than I thought, huh?

...and, finally...

A rave from the last Jedi himself...

At least he MAY be "the last Jedi."

These days, who knows?

CoCo Vandeweghe/USA def. #7 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
#13 Venus Williams/USA def. #24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
#5 Karolina Pliskova vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
#9 Johanna Konta/GBR vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#1 Garcia/Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) vs. (WC) Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS)
#12 Hlavackova/Peng (CZE/CHN) def. #3 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
Hozumi/Kato (JPN/JPN) def. Lucic-Baroni/Petkovic (CRO/GER)
#2 Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) def. #11 Atawo/Yi.Xu (USA/CHN)

#1 Mattek-Sands/M.Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Svitolina/Guccione (UKR/AUS)
Krajicek/Klaasen (NED/RSA) vs. Spears/Cabal (USA/COL)
(WC) Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND) vs.(WC) Stosur/Groth (AUS/AUS)
Dabrowski/Bopanna (CAN/IND) vs. #2 Mirza/Dodig (IND/CRO)

#1 Rebeka Masarova/SUI vs. #13 Carson Branstine/USA
#10 Mai Hontama/JPN vs. Ekaterina Vishnevskaya/RUS
#4 Emily Appleton/GBR vs. #14 Yuki Naito/JPN
(WC) Yuan Chengyiyi/CHN vs. #7 Bianca Andreescu/CAN
#6 Jodi Anna Burrage/GBR vs. #11 Marta Kostyuk/UKR
Sofya Lansere/RUS vs. En Shuo Liang/TPE
#5 Olga Danilovic/SRB vs. Zeel Desai/IND
#16 Elena Rybakina/RUS vs. #2 Taylor Johnson/USA

#1 Appleton/Burrage (GBR/GBR) vs #5 McNally/Subhash (USA/USA)
#3 Andreescu/Branstine (CAN/USA) vs. Collins/Niemeier (GBR/GER)
Chwalinska/Swiatek (POL/POL) vs. Johnson/Mossmer (USA/USA)
Brune Olsen/Helgo (NOR/NOR) vs. Nagata/Naklo (JPN/THA)

#1 Jiske Griffioen/NED vs. Aniek van Koot/NED
Diede de Groot/NED vs. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
Lucky Shuker/GBR vs. Marjolein Buis/NED
Katharina Kruger/GER vs. #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) vs. Buis/Shuker (NED/GBR)
Ellerbrock/Kruger (GER/GER) vs. #2 de Groot/Kamiji (NED/JPN)

Bye Melbourne - hello practice court ?? #keepgrinding #mygame

A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

Not meant to be tonight! But this photo put a smile on my face straight away ? love them

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

2015 Venus Williams/USA & Martina Hingis/SUI
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2017 Venus Williams, USA
NOTE: S.Williams would share honor if a Venus/Serena final happens

2006 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2007 Shahar Peer, ISR
2008 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2009 Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2010 Maria Kirilenko, RUS
2011 An-Sophie Mestach, BEL (jr.)
2012 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2013 [Fortysomething] Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2014 [Teen] Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2015 [Madisons] Madison Keys/USA & Madison Brengle/USA
2016 [NextGen Belarusian] Vera Lapko, BLR
2017 [Party] (Ash) "Barty Party"

Unseeded - 2000 Jennifer Capriati, USA
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA (W)
Unseeded - 2010 Zheng Jie, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Madison Keys, USA
Unseeded - 2016 Johanna Konta, GBR
Unseeded - 2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
Wild Card - 2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
#32 - 2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
#30 - 2014 Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
#29 - 2013 Sloane Stephens, USA
#22 - 2004 Patty Schnyder, SUI
#20 - 2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (RU)
#19 - 2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
#16 - 2010 Li Na, CHN
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA (W)
#11 - 2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#10 - 2000 Conchita Martinez, ESP
#10 - 2007 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
#10 - 2015 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
NOTE: Lucic-Baroni (unseeded) to play QF
[other slams, since 2012]
Unseeded - Flavia Pennetta, ITA - 2013 U.S. Open
Unseeded - Peng Shuai, CHN - 2014 U.S. Open
Unseeded - Roberta Vinci, ITA - 2015 U.S. Open (RU)
Unseeded - Kiki Bertens, NED - 2016 Roland Garros
Unseeded - Elena Vesnina, RUS - 2016 Wimbledon
Unseeded - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN - 2016 U.S. Open
#28 Andrea Petkovic, GER - 2014 Roland Garros
#26 Flavia Pennetta, ITA - 2015 U.S. Open (W)
#23 Lucie Safarova, CZE - 2014 Wimbledon
#23 Sabine Lisicki, GER - 2013 Wimbledon (RU)
#23 Timea Bacsinszky, SUI - 2015 Roland Garros
#21 Sara Errani, ITA - 2012 Roland Garros (RU)
#21 Samantha Stosur, AUS - 2016 Roland Garros
#20 Garbine Muguruza, ESP - 2015 Wimbledon (RU)
#20 Kirsten Flipkens, BEL - 2013 Wimbledon
#18 Genie Bouchard, CAN - 2014 Roland Garros
#17 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS - 2014 U.S. Open

2013 AO: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2013 RG: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2013 WI: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2013 US: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2014 AO: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2014 AO: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2014 WI: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2014 US: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2015 AO: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2015 RG: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2015 WI: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2015 US: Griffioen/Van Koot, NED/NED
2016 AO: Buis/Kamiji, NED/JPN
2016 RG: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2016 WI: Kamiji/Whiley, JPN/GBR
2017 AO: ?

TOP QUALIFIER: Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #5 Karolina Pliskova/CZE (4 games lost)
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Ons Jabeur/TUN def. Dalila Jakupovic/SRB 2-6/7-6(5)/7-5 (comeback from 6-2/4-1 down)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Lucie Safarova/CZE def. Yanina Wickmayer/BEL 3-6/7-6(7)/6-1 (saved 9 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Jankovic (3:36)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): x
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 3rd Rd. - Ka.Pliskova d. Ostapenko (double-break down at 5-2 in 3rd set)
FIRST VICTORY: #29 Monica Puig/PUR (def. Tig/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (lost to Rogers/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (First Loss, First Seed Out & two players ranked in Top 32 ousted in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Mona Barthel/GER & Jennifer Brady/USA (4th Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Vandeweghe/USA, Konta/GBR, Lucic-Baroni/CRO
IT (Party): (Ash) "Barty Party"
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Barty/Dellacqua, Lucic-Baroni/CRO
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Lucie Safarova/CZE (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Karolina Pliskova/CZE (back from 5-2 in 3rd vs. Ostapenko on Night 6; cancelled "The Dasha Show" on Night 8)

All for Day 9. More tomorrow.


Monday, January 23, 2017

AO 8.5 - Pliskova Cancels "The Dasha Show"

By Night 8, Karolina Pliskova had had enough. One round after having used up eight of her nine lives at this Australian Open while escaping the clutches of the 3rd Round for the relative safety of the Round of 16, the Czech put "The Dasha Show" on notice in the very first game of the match, then announced its Melbourne cancellation not much more than an hour later.

The 4th Round match-up between Pliskova and Dasha Gavrilova was always set up to be one of opposites, and not just in size. The 6-foot-1 Czech relies on her power groundstrokes, big serve, and quick-strike game style to get her through, while rarely openly betraying her emotions (though her racket action in the aforementioned match vs. Jelena Ostapenko in which she seemed destined to lose when down 5-2 in the 3rd set), while the 5-foot-5 Aussie's scrambling defensive game, by her own admittance, isn't really capable of blowing anyone off the court, meaning she often has to go the distance (in points and sets, extending the action and creating errors by making her opponents hit additional shots) to turn things in her favor, showing just about every emotion taking place within her body all the way.

Ostapenko's power had allowed her to hit with Pliskova, dragging her around the court and preventing her from seizing control of the action, but such a thing was a bigger ask of Gavrilova in this match. With less ability to keep Pliskova on her heels, there was always the chance that the Czech was going to assert the dominance of her bigger game in the match-up, preventing Gavrilova from playing hers.

It didn't take long for the scenario to play out, either. In fact, it only took one game under the Laver Arena roof.

In the very first game of the match, with Gavrilova serving, Pliskova put the Aussie on notice that this one wasn't going to be a repeat of her near-debacle vs. the Latvian. Maybe it was the experience of a brush with her AO mortality, a desire to make sure the crowd didn't get the chance to spur Gavrilova on in the early going, or quite possibly that the strapping on her thigh hinted she not only didn't WANT to be chasing balls around the court all night again, having to play far more defense than she's comfortable with, but maybe she COULDN'T. At least not ALL night. In the nearly ten-minute opening game, the tone of the proceedings was set as Pliskova took control of the rallies with her penetrating shots, pushing back Gavrilova, who wasn't able to do much about it other than not give up. She held Pliskova off for as long as she could but, on her third break point chance in the game, the Czech stepped into the court on a return and whacked a ball across the net, creating an error from the Aussie that secured the break of serve.

Moving forward and leaving nothing to chance, Pliskova maintained control, acing Gavrilova to hold for 3-1, then feeding off her mounting errors to break for 4-1, challenging the Aussie to find a way to change the course of her fate. If she could. As expected, she tried. She even managed to step into the court when she had the opportunity and swipe a few points from Pliskova's grasp, but, overall, she wasn't handling the Czech's bigger shots nearly as welll as she would need to to get back into the set, let alone the match.

Serving for the set at 5-2, though, Pliskova did, every so slightly, opened that door a small crack. On the baseline, she folded her long frame down to size in an attempt to get to a low ball, only to totally whiff on the shot (she later said her racket hit her shoe) and fall behind 15/30. An error handed Gavrilova a break chance, and a wild forehand converted it for her. But the peek didn't last long before Pliskova firmly shut the door, forcing a Gavrilova error with a big forehand and getting the break to lock away the set at 6-3.

In the 2nd set, Pliskova's double-fault and error combination gave the Aussie a break of serve in game #1. After failing to convert two BP a game later, the Czech's big returns produced another Gavrilova error and she took the break back. She then held with an ace for 2-1. Gavrilova, to her credit, didn't go into "meltdown mode" as she did in her 4th Round AO loss to Carla Suarez-Navarro a year ago. She's matured enough to know that that sort of thing only makes her her own worst enemy. She fought on, saving two BP in game #4, but still couldn't get "over the hump" in the battle, double-faulting to break herself as Pliskova took a 3-1 lead.

Pliskova wasn't content with casually riding things out, either. She continued to move forward, often venturing in toward the net to end rallies. And even when the tactic proved unsuccessful, she was undaunted. After missing a volley at 40/15 in game #5, she was back at the net again one point later, perfectly executing another volley attempt to extend her lead to 4-1. Serving at 5-3, after failing to put away two match points due to forehand errors, Pliskova went back to her biggest weapon to close things out. Her tour-leading ace total was increased by one when the Czech fired an ace on MP #3 to wrap up the 6-3/6-3 victory and advance to her first AO quarterfinal.

Gavrilova failed to become the first Aussie woman since '09 (Jelena Dokic) to reach the AO final eight, but her "year after" run in Melbourne has solidified -- and validated -- the elevated position within the sport that her slam breakthrough provided her in 2016. Australia has a legit female star, and "The Dasha Show" looks to be set to have a nice primetime run Down Under over the next few years.

Pliskova, though, is still quite a few rungs above the Aussie on the WTA ladder, having backed up her U.S. Open final with (at least) another QF at a major, maintaining her spotless 2017 ledger (9-0) and making her switch to new coach David Kotyza look like the right move at the right time. So far.

She'll next play Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a player with FAR more power the Gavrilova, with the prospects of playing Serena Williams in the semifinals of a second straight slam looming just around the corner. Hmmm, or maybe it'll be Johanna Konta, the only player off to anything resembling as good a start to the season as Pliskova herself.

Cancelling "The Dasha Show" is one thing, but doing the same to Serena (or Johanna, too) would be another thing entirely. But if Pliskova is going too live up to the "next big thing" mantle her New York City run made look realistic last summer, she'll have to take down still bigger trees in the Melbourne forest to do it.

...and after eight days, we're down to eight.

*2017 AO FINAL 8*
[by career slam QF]
47...Serena Williams, USA
37...Venus Williams, USA
5...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
4...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2...Johanna Konta, GBR
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2...CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
1...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
[by career AO QF]
11...Serena Williams
9....Venus Williams
2...Johanna Konta
1...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
1...Garbine Muguruza
1...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
1...Karolina Pliskova
1...CoCo Vandeweghe
[w/ consecutive slam QF]
10..Serena Williams
2...Karolina Pliskova
[w/ consecutive AO QF]
3...Serena Williams
2...Johanna Konta
[2017 slam QF - unseeded]
AO - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
AO - CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
[2017 slam QF - by nation]
3...USA (Vandeweghe,S.Williams,V.Williams)
1...CRO (Lucic-Baroni)
1...CZE (Ka.Pliskova)
1...ESP (Muguruza)
1...GBR (Konta)
1...RUS (Pavlyuchenkova)
[WTA career slam QF - active]
24...Maria Sharapova, RUS
16...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
15...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
12...Aga Radwanska, POL
9...Petra Kvitova, CZE
8...Jelena Jankovc, SRB
8...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
[WTA slam QF in 2010's]
14...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
11...Maria Sharapova, RUS
9...Petra Kvitova, CZE
9...Aga Radwanska, POL
8...Li Na, CHN (retired)
7...Sara Errani, ITA
7...Simona Halep, ROU
7...Angelique Kerber, GER
7...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN


Unseeded - 2000 Jennifer Capriati, USA
Unseeded - 2007 Serena Williams, USA (W)
Unseeded - 2010 Zheng Jie, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Madison Keys, USA
Unseeded - 2016 Johanna Konta, GBR
Wild Card - 2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
#32 - 2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
#30 - 2014 Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
#29 - 2013 Sloane Stephens, USA
#22 - 2004 Patty Schnyder, SUI
#20 - 2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (RU)
#19 - 2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
#16 - 2010 Li Na, CHN
#12 - 2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA (W)
#11 - 2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
#10 - 2000 Conchita Martinez, ESP
#10 - 2007 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
#10 - 2015 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
=2017 QF=
Unseeded - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
Unseeded - CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
#24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
#13 Venus Williams, USA

2011 Andrea Petkovic, GER
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (W)
2013 Laura Robson, GBR
2014 Li Na, CHN (W)
2015 Genie Bouchard, CAN
2016 "The Dasha Show" (Gavrilova)
2017 Karolina Pliskova, CZE

[since 7-round event in '87]
1987 QF - Elizabeth Smylie
1987 4th Rd. - Janine Tremelling
1987 4th Rd. - Wendy Turnbull
1988 QF - Anne Minter
1989 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
1990 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1991 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1993 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
2003 4th Rd. - Nicole Pratt
2004 4th Rd. - Alicia Molik
2005 QF - Alicia Molik
2006 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2008 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2009 QF - Jelena Dokic
2010 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2015 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2016 4th Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova
2017 4th Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova

All for Night 8. More tomorrow.


AO.8 - Just Enough Serena to Get By

So, what happens when a 22-time major champion who is not seeded #1 at a slam for the first time in four years is suddenly thrust into the unquestioned tournament "favorite" position in the wake of the other three top seeded women in the draw failing to get past the Round of 16?

Well, we'll soon see, won't we?

But we do know that, even while not at her best less than half a day after world #1 Angelique Kerber was sent packing by CoCo Vandweghe in a lackluster performance under the lights on Laver Arena on Night 7, #2 (yep, that still sounds strange) Serena Williams is still standing as we jump head-first into the second week of this Australian Open.

Who wants to bet against the prospect of her STILL standing come the end of next weekend? Yeah, that's what I thought.

35-year old Williams, now with a chance to earn back the #1 ranking if she can win the title in Melbourne, was hardly in "A"-game form in her Round of 16 match with #16-seeded Czech Barbora Strycova, 30, on Monday. Her biggest weapon -- that serve -- was often an unwilling participant on this day, but the mark of a champion is the ability to find ways to win with various limbs tied behind her back. And who's had more success under those circumstances in as many major events as Serena over the past almost two decades? Remember, this is a woman who has claimed three of her slam titles in events in which she stared down at least one match point, and a handful of others when her opponent held a break advantage in the 3rd set or served for the match. Williams knows how to get by with what's she got on hand, especially on days when some of what she has decided to hit the snooze bar in the morning and missed the ride to the tournament grounds. Today was one of those sort of days.

Throughout the first set, both woman had difficulty... no, scratch that, they just COULDN'T hold serve. Yes, even Serena.

She immediately fell behind love/40 on serve in game #1, and when Strycova's fired a crosscourt forehand to the corner that Williams couldn't get back on BP #2, the pattern for the 1st set had been set. The Czech double-faulted twice and gave the break back a game later, only to go up love/40 on Williams' serve again in game #3 and get another break. Serena then broke back at love before finally registering the first hold of the set to take a 3-2 lead. Two games later, though, she dropped serve again, failing to hold for the third time in her first four service games after having been broken a TOTAL of three times through the first three rounds of this AO. She'd lost fourteen of her nineteen points on serve up until that point in the match, with Strycova up 4-3 and needing to take FULL advantage of Serena's low-wattage start while she had the chance.

The Czech avoided a love/30 start to game #8 with a deft lob over Williams at the net, but couldn't get the hold that might have turned the set in the favor. On her second BP chance in the game, Serena's rally-ending forehand proved to be too much for Strycova to handle, and the set was back on serve. Two games later, serving to stay in the set down 4-5, Strycova staved off three set points with a variety of tactics, including an ace and some serve-and-volley tennis before finally getting the hold on her second GP with a down the line forehand passing shot.

Williams fired an ace to hold for 6-5, then went up love/40 on Strycova's serve in game #12. But, still, taking the set from the Czech wouldn't be easy. She saved three more set points, with a serve-and-volley-and-overhead combination, as well as a half-volley off a big Williams return that Serena couldn't get back in the court. Finally, on SP #8, the struggle of the 1st set was encapsulated in one awkward shot that became the most important -- and last -- one in the stanza. A nearly handcuffed Williams fought off a ball at her feet at the baseline, muscling it back and BARELY over the net. But it was short enough that even the quick Strycova couldn't get up to it, producing the final break (the seventh of the set) that gave Serena a 7-5 win.

As the players got into the 2nd, the Williams serve, while still not in top flight form, improved enough to avoid another string of steep game deficits and a bushel of breaks. So Strycova had to know that she couldn't risk falling behind, since she may never be able to get even again. Up 2-1, Williams saved a GP with a mid-court stretch overhead while falling backwards, then another with a forehand return winner. When she got the break to go up 3-1, then held for 4-1 while still having not faced a BP in the set, it seemed all but over, even as Serena was still serving at under a 50% clip on the day. Strycova's missed volley allowed Williams to hold for 5-2, but when Serena served for the match two games later it was the Czech who took at 15/40 lead when Williams sailed a forehand, then shot another wide on BP #2 in the game to put things back on serve.

But it would only be a temporary reprieve for Strycova, who'd soon face match point on her own serve a game later. A missed half-volley ended the match, with Williams winning a 7-5/6-4 match that, especially in the 1st, was far from a "finished product" where Serena is concerned. If Strycova had been able to get one additional hold in the opening set, during which she accepted the "gift" of three Williams service breaks but failed to take true advantage of any of them, the match might have gotten even tighter. She'll surely be playing the scenario over in her head a few times before morning.

Williams, though, moves forward. Still and once again the favorite in Melbourne. Still with a tough draw both behind AND ahead of her if she's going to reclaim the #1 ranking and pass by Steffi Graf on the Open era slam title list with win #23 (while whispering into the ear of the all-time leader with 24, Australia's Margaret Court). Still with history on her side. And, maybe most reliably and importantly, still being Serena every second of every day.

And that might be enough for her to be crowned champion. Again.

...meanwhile, Johanna Konta accidentally left her daily "Down Under To-Do List" in the gym this morning.

I'd say that someone should make sure that it gets back to her, but I suspect she's got a few copies in her possession already.

The #9-seeded Brit's path of destruction through the continent continued on Monday, as she upped her 2017 record to 12-1, winning her 17th and 18th consecutive sets with a 6-1/6-4 victory over #30 Ekaterina Makarova. A year ago, the two also met in the Round of 16, in a three-hour battle that went to 8-6 in the 3rd. A year later, Konta is a defending AO semifinalist, Top 10 player, Stanford and Sydney champ, and looking for all the world like a player who could win this event.

Well, if it wasn't for the pesky little fact that she'll next face Serena in the quarterfinals, at least.

Truly threatening to become the "most boring" player in the draw since, you know, her opponents in Melbourne haven't been able to muster up much of anything interesting to do against her over the past week (two weeks, actually), Konta again put a foe in her place right out of the gate today, taking a quick 4-1 lead on Makarova and finishing off the Russian in a 24-minute 1st set that she won by the score of 6-1. Showing that she actually IS human, Konta stubbed her toe to start the 2nd set, though, falling behind 3-1 when Makarova registered a break on her first BP of the match and pulled ahead 4-1.

But the Brit wouldn't stand for such behavior for long. She broke Makarova back in game #7, then again in #9, converting for the fourth time on five BP chances and taking a 5-4 lead when the Russian's forehand went wide. Konta finished off the fifth of her five-game, match-ending run by coming back from love/40, brushing aside three consecutive BP with, in order, a big serve, a forehand winner and an ace. On her second MP attempt a few moments later, Konta moved in toward the net behind her forehand, pressing Makarova into a forehand error that ended the match, winning 6-1/6-4 and holding a 60-39 point advantage.

In two appearances in the AO MD, Konta is now 9-1, with a '17 QF result to back up her '16 semi. But that won't remove the next obstable, and everyone knows it will take quite an effort, even with her currently lethal form, for the Sydney-born Brit who sports a passport from Hungary to be the ant who moves this particular rubber true plant. The reaction from the crowd when you-know-who's name was mentioned in Konta's post-match interview was priceless.

But Konta's reaction wasn't half-bad, either. She knows it's an honor to face a player who inspired her as kid, and that if she's going to have to face Williams in a major, Melbourne is probably as good a place as any for her to do it.

That one could be for the 2017 AO title, two rounds before the final.

...in the final women's Round of 16 match in the day session, unseeded 34-year old Croat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni finally put an end to qualifier Jennifer Brady's maiden slam run, taking out the former UCLA Bruin 6-4/6-2 to reach her first slam QF since she burst onto the scene with a semifinal run at Wimbledon in 1999 at age 17. The other semifinalists at SW19 that year were Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport... and Alexandra Stevenson. But the breakout performance that many might remember from that Wimbledon was that of Jelena Dokic, who upset then-#1 (in singles) Martina Hingis in the 1st Round en route to a QF berth in her London debut (she reach the SF in '00).

OF some note, Stevenson is STILL playing, and should be larboring on the challenger circuit in her twentieth season in the coming weeks, while Dokic emerged from the shadows at this AO, popping up in the commentary booth (and below).

When asked about young players to watch, the first names she mentions are Kasatkina and Svitolina. Ah, I'd expect nothing less from the "Backspin Rosetta Stone."

Fair One forever.

...in Week 3 ITF action, Poland's Katarzyna Piter, 25, won the $25K challenger in Orlando, defeating 18-year old Bannerette Sonya Kenin in the final, and also taking home the WD crown. It's Piter's eighth career ITF singles title, but her first since May 2015. Before her win this week, she'd gone 1-8 in challenger finals since 2011.

In Hammamet, Spain's Maria Teresa Torro-Flor won a match-up of two of the sport's most injury-prone players to win the $15K challenger, her second straight '17 title run. The victory upped her career record in ITF finals to 14-3, including a streak of eleven straight wins in championship matches that dates back to 2011. MTTF, who came into the week ranked outside the Top 500, also won the doubles, just like she did last week in another $15K event in the same city. She's a combined 17-0 on the season.

Her opponent in the final was Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru, back on the court for the first time since May. She retired after dropping the opening set. Dulgheru, who had to win a match to qualify for the MD, came in ranked #356 after being out most of 2016 after finally deciding to undergo yet another knee surgery after, playing through pain, she hadn't won a singles match on any level since the 1st Round of last year's Australian Open (a 0-9 stretch that began with a 2nd Round loss to Angelique Kerber). Dulgheru is apparently scheduled to return to the WTA tour in February, utilizing her protected ranking to play in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

And in Stuttgart, 17-year old Czech Maiden Marketa Vondrousova (also playing for the first time since last spring) won her fourth career challenger crown with a win over Germany's Anna Zaja. She teamed with fellow Czech Miriam Kolodziejova to win the doubles, their third pro title as a duo.

On Night 8, "The Dasha Show" returns.

This time, in what could be a truly entertaining Round of 16 battle, #22-seeded Gavrilova will try to become the first Aussie woman to reach the AO quarterfinals since Jelena Dokic's wonderful run in 2009 (Ha! There she is again!), and just the third to do it (w/ Alicia Molik '05) since 1988. #5-seeded Karolina Pliskova, fresh off her comeback from 5-2 down in the 3rd vs. Jelena Ostapenko, will be looking to back up her U.S. Open final from September with her second career QF result at a major.

The winner meets Lucic-Baroni in the Final 8, with either Serena or Konta after that.

Oh, and the winner ALSO gets this AO's "Lady of the Evening" honors. For what that's worth.

I'll post a recap of that one, along with a few quarterfinalist lists, before play starts for Day 9.


Or insinuations about how a 30-ish journeyman (who's not even the best player in his family) taking out the world #1, as well as the #2's early loss under similar circumstances, might reflect poorly on the quality of the upper echelon of the men's game, rather than highlighting how good that tour's players ranked #100+ are.

Seems like when the shoe was on the other tour's foot, the whole take was "inside-out."

And I'm sure that if the women's final ends up being a 35-year old vs. a 36-year old (which it actually could), a large chunk of the commentary will be about how the rest of the field isn't pulling its collective weight, rather than simply the historically epic abilities of the two players involved making such a reality possible. And if the men's end ups being Federer vs. Nadal, too. Well... let's just say it'd be revealing to see the comparisons being made.

I'm just sayin'.

..."OH, OKAY" ON DAY 8: The on-court zebra look of 2016 has left the animal reserve's borders in 2017.

...THINGS YOU HAVE TO LIVE WITH IN THE U.S. ON DAY 8: Until you no longer do.

...TRUTH ON DAY 8: Konta's got a future in something AFTER tennis, too.

...and, finally... well, at least SNL's Kate McKinnon now has more to work with than she could ever have imagined. Really, I have to say, turning a Kellyanne Conway sketch into an homage to "Chicago" is pretty freakin' brilliant.

CoCo Vandeweghe/USA vs. #7 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
#13 Venus Williams/USA vs. #24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
(#5 Ka.Pliskova or #22 Gavrilova) vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
#9 Johanna Konta/GBR vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#1 Garcia/Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) vs. (WC) Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS)
#3 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) vs. #12 Hlavackova/Peng (CZE/CHN)
Lucic-Baroni/Petkovic (CRO/GER) vs. Hozumi/Kato (JPN/JPN)
#11 Atawo/Yi.Xu (USA/CHN) vs. #2 Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE)

#1 Mattek-Sands/M.Bryan vs. Yi.Xu/F.Martin (CHN/FRA)
Svitolina/Guccione (UKR/AUS) vs. #6 Siniakova/Soares (CZE/BRA)
Atawo/Lindstedt (USA/SWE) vs. Krajicek/Klaasen (NED/RSA)
Begu/Tecau (ROU/ROU) vs. Spears/Cabal (USA/COL)
(WC) Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND) def. (WC) Dellacqua/Reid (AUS/AUS)
(WC) Stosur/Groth (AUS/AUS) vs. Jurak/Rojer (CRO/NED)
#5 YJ.Chan/Kubot (TPE/POL) vs. Dabrowski/Bopanna (CAN/IND)
Sai.Zheng/Peya (CHN/AUT) vs. #2 Mirza/Dodig (IND/CRO)

So much better than doing ice baths! Perks of being home :) #Melbs #recovery

A video posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2012 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2013 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2014 Li Na, CHN
2015 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2016 Monica Puig, PUR
2017 Lucie Safarova, CZE

Olga Savchuk, UKR (3rd Rd.)
Anne Kremer, LUX (all 2nd Rd.)
Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS
Tamira Paszek, AUT
Julia Vakulenko, UKR
Renata Voracova, CZE
Marta Domachowska, POL (4th Rd.)
Elena Baltacha, GBR (all 2nd Rd.)
Alberta Brianti, ITA
Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ
Yanina Wickmayer, BEL (4th Rd.)
Vesna Manasieva (now Dolonc/SRB), RUS (3rd Rd.)
Nina Bratchikova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
Valeria Savinykh, RUS (both 3rd Rd.)
Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
Zarina Diyas, KAZ (3rd Rd.)
Lucie Hradecka, CZE (3rd Rd.)
Zhang Shuai, CHN (QF)
Mona Barthel, GER (both 4th Rd.)
Jennifer Brady, USA

[since first 32-seed draw AO in 2002]
2002 Adriana Serra-Zanetti/ITA
2003 Virginia Ruano Pascual/ESP, Meghann Shaughnessy/USA
2006 Martina Hingis/SUI (WC)
2007 Lucie Safarova/CZE, Serena Williams/USA
2009 Jelena Dokic/AUS (WC), Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
2010 Justine Henin/BEL (WC), Maria Kirilenko/RUS, Zheng Jie/CHN
2012 Sara Errani/ITA, Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
2013 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
2015 Madison Keys/USA
2016 Johanna Konta/GBR, Zhang Shuai/CHN (Q)
2017 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO, CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
Runner-up - Henin (2010)
Champion - S.Williams (2007)

2013 AO - #1 Aniek Van Koot/NED def. #2 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2013 RG - Sabine Ellerbrock/GER def. #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED
2013 US - #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED def. #1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2014 AO - #1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER def. #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2014 RG - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2014 US - #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 AO - Jiske Griffioen/NED def. #1 Yui Kamiji/JPN
2015 RG - #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2015 US - Jordanne Whiley/GBR def. Yui Kamiji/JPN
2016 AO - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2016 RG - Marjolein Buis/NED def. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2016 WI - #1 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2017 AO - ?

TOP QUALIFIER: Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #5 Karolina Pliskova/CZE (4 games lost)
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Ons Jabeur/TUN def. Dalila Jakupovic/SRB 2-6/7-6(5)/7-5 (comeback from 6-2/4-1 down)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Lucie Safarova/CZE def. Yanina Wickmayer/BEL 3-6/7-6(7)/6-1 (saved 9 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Jankovic (3:36)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): x
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 3rd Rd. - Ka.Pliskova d. Ostapenko (double-break down at 5-2 in 3rd set)
FIRST VICTORY: #29 Monica Puig/PUR (def. Tig/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (lost to Rogers/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (First Loss, First Seed Out & two players ranked in Top 32 ousted in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Mona Barthel/GER & Jennifer Brady/USA (4th Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Dasha Gavrilova (in 4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Konta/GBR, Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Vandeweghe/USA, Lucic-Baroni/CRO
IT (??): Nominee: Barty/AUS, Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Vandeweghe/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Barty/AUS, Barty/Dellacqua, Lucic-Baroni/CRO
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Lucie Safarova/CZE (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Nominees: Lucic-Baroni/CRO, V.Williams/USA, S.Williams/USA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS ("The Dasha Show: The Sequel"), Ka.Pliskova/CZE

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.