Saturday, January 21, 2017

AO 6.5 - Lists-a-Palooza!

Well, it's that time...

[by ranking]
#1 - Angelique Kerber
#2 - Serena Williams
#5 - Karolina Pliskova
#7 - Garbine Muguruza
#9 - Johanna Konta
#10 - Svetlana Kuznetsova
#16 - Barbora Strycova
#17 - Venus Williams
#26 - Dasha Gavrilova
#27 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#34 - Ekaterina Makarova
#35 - CoCo Vandeweghe
#78 - Sorana Cirstea
#79 - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
#116 - Jennifer Brady
#181 - Mona Barthel
[by age]
36...Venus Williams
35...Serena Williams
34...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
31...Svetlana Kuznetsova
30...Barbora Strycova
29...Angelique Kerber
28...Ekaterina Makarova
26...Sorana Cirstea
26...Mona Barthel
25...Johanna Konta
25...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
25...CoCo Vandeweghe
24...Karolina Pliskova
23...Garbine Muguruza
22...Dasha Gavrilova
21...Jennifer Brady
[by nation]
4...United States (Brady,Vandeweghe,S.Williams,V.Williams)
3...Russia (Kuznetsova,Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova)
2...Czech Republic (Ka.Pliskova,Strycova)
2...Germany (Barthel,Kerber)
1...Australia (Gavrilova)
1...Croatia (Lucic-Baroni)
1...Great Britain (Konta)
1...Romania (Cirstea)
1...Spain (Muguruza)
[by career slam Round-of-16's]
55 - Serena Williams
47 - Venus Williams
30 - Svetlana Kuznetsova
14 - Angelique Kerber
14 - Ekaterina Makarova
7 - Garbine Muguruza
5 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
4 - Johanna Konta
3 - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
3 - Barbora Strycova
3 - CoCo Vandeweghe
2 - Sorana Cirstea
2 - Dasha Gavrilova
2 - Karolina Pliskova
1 - Mona Barthel
1 - Jennifer Brady
[w/ consecutive slam Round of 16's]
10..Serena Williams
4...Venus Williams
3...Angelique Kerber
2...Johanna Konta
2...Karolina Pliskova
[by career AO Round of 16's]
14...Serena Williams
10...Venus Williams
8...Svetlana Kuznetsova
7...Ekaterina Makarova
4...Angelique Kerber
3...Garbine Muguruza
2...Dasha Gavrilova
2...Johanna Konta
2...Barbora Strycova
1...Mona Barthel
1...Jennifer Brady
1...Sorana Cirstea
1...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
1...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
1...Karolina Pliskova
1...CoCo Vandeweghe
[w/ consecutive AO Round of 16's]
6...Serena Williams (last 10 appearances, DNP '11)
2...Dasha Gavrilova
2...Angelique Kerber
2...Johanna Konta
2...Barbora Strycova
[by preseason ""Grand Slam Master Power 50" rankings]

=Tiers: Green 1-3, Blue 4-13, Pink 14-21, Orange 22-32,
Red 33-37, Purple 38-45, White 46-50, Missed List (5)=
1 - Serena Williams
2 - Angelique Kerber
3 - Karolina Pliskova

11 - Garbine Muguruza
12 - Venus Williams

17 - Johanna Konta
19 - Svetlana Kuznetsova

25 - Dasha Gavrilova
26 - Barbora Strycova
31 - CoCo Vandeweghe
32 - Ekaterina Makarova

Missed List - none
Unlisted - Mona Barthel
Unlisted - Jennifer Brady
Unlisted - Sorana Cirstea
Unlisted - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
Unlisted - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
(Argh! The Pavlyuchenkova Conundrum continues!)
[WTA career slam Round of 16's - active]
36...Maria Sharapova
26...Aga Radwanska
22...Victoria Azarenka
22...Jelena Jankovic
21...Patty Schnyder
18...Francesca Schiavone
17...Caroline Wozniacki
15...Daniela Hantuchova
15...Petra Kvitova
11...Samantha Stosur
11...Carla Suarez-Navarro
[WTA slam Round of 16's since 2010 - active]
19...Maria Sharapova
18...Aga Radwanska
17...Victoria Azarenka
13...Petra Kvitova
13...Caroline Wozniacki
10...Jelena Jankovic
9...Simona Halep
9...Samantha Stosur
9...Carla Suarez-Navarro

=NIGHT 6 NOTES= the women's matches contested during Night 6's exceedingly late evening session, "The Dasha Show: The Sequel" saw its run extended yet another round as #22 Gavrilova thrilled the Australian crowd on Laver for yet another episode by eliminating #12-seed Timea Bacsinszky 6-3/5-7/6-4. It's Gavrilova's fifth straight three-set match at the last two AO.

The Swiss had forced a deciding set after dropping serve and losing her 2nd set lead as Gavrilova knotted things at 5-5, but Bacsinszky then immediately broke back and served out the set. Again keeping her emotional tendencies contained and using them for good, Gavrilova took an early lead in the 3rd. Things got a tad tight late, as Gavrilova held two MP at 5-2 before Bacsinszky forced her to take a bit longer before she could match her breakthrough Melbourne 4th Round result from a year ago with another in '17.

Gavrilova's exuberant celebration, and long and loud yell, signified that she's now carried herself over the biggest obstacle that'd been placed before her coming into Melbourne -- proving that '16 wasn't a flukey, emotion-driven, one-time thing.

She's now the Last Aussie Standing in singles. Female, or male.

...the more noteworthy women's match of the night, though, may have been the one that was taking place simultaneously on MCA between #5 Karolina Pliskova and the last teenager left in the draw, Jelena Ostapenko.

Pliskova wasn't in quite the fine form that she's been in thus far in '17 here, but much of that might have been because the young Latvian was controlling the rallies in the match with her power as she moved Karolina back and forth along the baseline. Ostapenko took an early break and held onto it, serving out a 6-4 set. It seemed as if it'd be a hiccup, though, for the Czech, who got her serve working in the 2nd set and put it away at love.

But the 3rd saw Ostapenko return to her 1st set form. She did just about all that she could to put herself in position for her first big slam breakout, though she'd already posted her best-ever result simply by reaching the 3rd Round. Dragging Pliskova to both sides, Ostapenko went up a double break and served for the match at 5-2. Could she hold it together and finish off the Czech?

It should be noted, though, that at this time last year, Pliskova hadn't advanced to a slam Round of 16, either. This slam, and this match, hold much importance for her, too. Her run to the U.S. Open final last summer, with wins over both Venus and Serena, makes it easy to forget that she's never been in the position that she finds herself in this slam, as a favorite placed in big slots on the schedule, on the big courts in matches that she's EXPECTED to win, no matter the level of competition.

So what happened in the second half of the 3rd set could prove to be VERY big when it comes to Pliskova's immediate future. Getting run in the first week of a slam after having changed the narrative of her entire career over the past year would have put the questions regarding her past slam difficulties immediately back in the lead paragraph in any discussion of the Czech, while backing up that Flushing Meadows result might only make the unwavering focus that guided her in New York that much stronger from here on out.

As it turned out, how Pliskova managed to win this match may have just made her career. Champions have to learn how to win big matches vs. good opponents when they're not playing their best, and that's just what the twin did here.

With Ostapenko hurrying through her 5-2 serve game, the teenager gave up the break, double-faulting on BP. Two games later, serving at 5-4, Pliskova was forced into a defensive position against Ostapenko's shots, but won a long rally to earn another break when it was the Latvian who ended things with an error. While Pliskova is not close to the likes of Angie Kerber when it comes to playing defense and getting to every ball, she put forth great effort here while trying to hold onto her chances in this match. Finally back even at 5-5, she turned back to her more well-known strengths.

Behind her big serve, Pliskova continually forced Ostapenko's back against the wall in the closing games, routinely holding and then pressuring her opponent to do the same to stay in the match. Ostapenko saved a MP and held for 6-6 in an impressive game that shows that she's getting close to turning the corner and figuring out how to win this sort of a match. But the Czech's service game prowess didn't allow Ostapenko a crack through which she could slip through and grab the advantage that she'd had a few games earlier. Still, the pattern continued. Pliskova would hold, then Ostapenko would, usually far less easily, hold right back.

Finally, in game #18, up 9-8, the Czech held three MP at love/40 on Ostapenko's serve. On the second, the teenager's backhand error ended the 4-6/6-0/10-8 contest.

It was apparent on this night that if Ostapenko can play like this the rest of '17, no matter how tight she got in the clutch here, she's going to fly up the rankings from her current position at #38.

For Pliskova, though, who battled against the tide for most of the night before finding a way to successfully assert her authority, this should provide a huge boost to a player whose confidence has grown leaps and bounds since this time last year. She's now, for the most part, backed up her U.S. Open result with her second career slam Round of 16 result, is still the favorite to reach the semis in her quarter (though Gavrilova is going to try to move her around the baseline, too, in the next round, but since she has less power than Ostapenko it might be easier for Pliskova to seize control of rallies in the first few strokes), and now she KNOWS that she can find a way to win even when things are stacked against her.

This could be one of those "Katie, bar the door!" moments when it comes to the remaining line of opponents for the Czech. Pliskova is on the way, and it might be difficult, if not impossible, to stop her from storming inside the WTA's inner circle. If not at this slam, then at another one in the very near future.

AS IT SHOULD BE, I GUESS, ON NIGHT 6: Now, everyone is putting in a Konta claim.


2008 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic (QF)
2010 Samantha Stosur (4th Rd.)
2011 Samantha Stosur (3rd Rd.)
2012 C.Dellacqua, J.Dokic & O.Rogowska (2nd)
2013 Samantha Stosur (2nd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2015 Dellacqua/Gajdosova/Stosur/Tomljanovic (2nd)
2016 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2017 Dasha Gavrilova (in 4th Rd.)

[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 (still alive)

0 / 0 - W
1 / 0 - RU [Karolina best: 16 US]
0 / 0 - SF
0 / 0 - QF
0 / 0 - 4th Rd. * - Karolina in '17 AO
3 / 2 - 3rd Rd. [Kristyna best: 15 WI/17 AO]
7 / 4 - 2nd Rd.
7 / 7 - 1st Rd.
7 / 13 - lost in qualifying
16 - Karolina best twin result (w/ '17 AO)
6 - Kristyna best twin result
4 - same result
1 - both didn't play = 2011 Wimbledon
Karolina SLAM MD W/L TOTAL: 22-18 (post-3rd Rd.)
Kristyna SLAM MD W/L TOTAL: 8-13 (post-'17 AO)
Karolina SLAM Q W/L TOTAL: 2-7
Kristyna SLAM Q W/L TOTAL: 7-13

All for Night 6. More tomorrow.


AO.6 - Stuck a Feather in Her Hat and Called it Makarova

In many ways, the 3rd Round match-up on Day 6 between #6-seeded Dominika Cibulkova and #30 Ekaterina Makarova was the contest that best represented all the others that took place on the courts of Melbourne Park during the day session on Saturday, as what we witnessed there didn't really seem to be "real." At least not for long. And then when it DID seem real, well, then it suddenly wasn't "real" all over again.

Or something like that.

Cibulkova ended 2016 on a wild ride, surging in the summer months after recovering from an Achilles tendon injury, winning the Match of the Year over Aga Radwanska en route to the Wimbledon QF, then exploding down the stretch to qualify for her first WTA Finals, slipping out of group play despite a 1-2 round robin record and going on to win the biggest title of her career to finish the season with a Top 5 ranking. Makarova, meanwhile, operated throughout last season well under the radar in singles, failing to post a result better than four quarterfinals (0-4) while finishing the year at #30, her lowest season-ending rank since 2011. As has been her pattern throughout her career, though, the Russian often rose to the occasion on the big stage. She reached the Round of 16 at two slams (including the AO), and won big doubles titles in Montreal and Singapore, as well as Olympic Gold in Rio.

Both women came to Melbourne in questionable early-season form. Makarova was still seeking her first '17 win (0-2), only to not really answer many questions with a three-set AO win over young Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova and another over a retiring Sara Errani. Cibulkova was 2-2 in the season's early weeks, suffering not-particularly-exhilarating straights sets losses to Alize Cornet and Genie Bouchard. In Melbourne, she'd yet to really be tested.

But in what is the slam where they've both shined the brightest in their careers -- Cibulkova reached the final in '14, while Makarova has reached at least the Round of 16 every year since '11, including a SF two years ago -- they'd be put to the test today.

Early on, Makarova dominated, breaking for 3-1 and serving out the set four games later at 6-2. She jumped out early in the 2nd, as well. With a break for 1-0, then a double-break for a 3-0 lead over a curiously-unable-to-fully-get-herself-going Cibulkova. The Russian even held a point for a 5-0 bulge, and looked to be set to blow her opponent out in shocking fashion. But the Slovak found a way to turn back the tide, holding and then getting a key break to close to within 4-2 and keep her slight, but not yet nonexistent, hopes alive. Holding for just the third time in the match, Cibulkova closed to 4-3, then broke for 4-4.

Suddenly, everything had changed.

Up 5-4, Cibulkova held three set points on Makarova's serve in a four-deuce game that saw the Russian fail to challenge a Cibulkova forehand on GP that replays showed had been out and would have allowed Makarova to hold. But what at first seemed to be a lost opportunity on Makarova's side turned into one for the Slovak, as the Hordette held for 5-5 and seemed to finally get her bearings back. In the 2nd set tie-break, Makarova grabbed a mini-break lead right out of the gate, but then saw Cibulkova win four straight points to go up 4-2. With the Slovak up 5-3, Makarova missed what appeared to be an open crosscourt forehand and went down set point, then on the next point smacked a forehand into the Kia sign hanging from the net Cibulkova stole the set with a 7-3 TB win to send things to a 3rd.

There, again, they continued to trade momentum. Makarova led 2-0, only to see Cibulkova immediately break back. Still on serve after game #5, Makarova took a medical break to have her elbow, bothering her after having fallen awkwardly on it earlier, checked out. In the first game out after the delay, Makarova saved three BP and held in an eight-minute game to reclaim the lead at 4-3.

And then it was as if they previous half hour or so had never happened. What had looked to possibly be about to morph into a grand Cibulkova comeback a few moments earlier reversed course and became what it has appeared to be earlier in the day.

Suddenly, Makarova regained control of the match as Cibulkova's game slipped back to it's earlier nonproductive patterns. Up 40/15 in game #8, Cibulkova dropped serve with a forehand error to give the Russian a chance to serve out the match that had seemed to already be hers one set earlier. This time, she served things out, winning on match point #2 via a netted Cibulkova forehand, 6-2/6-7(3)/6-3.

While Cibulkova is sent packing, Makarova advances to her seventh straight Australian Open Round of 16. Makarova might not have cobbled the together the sort of Hall of Fame-worthy singles careers as some of her countrywoman, but she's got a trait that so many others on tour would LOVE to possess. With a 29-9 career mark in Melbourne, the Russian has proven once again that the bigger the stage the better she becomes.

Not a bad trick if you can pull it off.

=DAY 6 NOTES= a 3rd Round match in which #21-seed Caroline Garcia, 23, was, in a way, unofficially seeking to become the French "women's player of record" on today's WTA tour with her first career singles Round of 16 in a slam, it was the 30-year old, most underrated Czech, #16 Barbora Strycova, who proved to be the driving force in the match-up.

While doubles success and Fed Cup have accompanied (and assisted) Garcia's climb up the tour ladder, she's still seeking her true slam breakthrough, but her own internal questions (remember the plea to not be scheduled to play on Chatrier in Paris because it was too much pressure?) keep getting in the way. Strycova, though, is an example of how perseverance can ultimately pay big dividends, as she's found her greatest career success since turning 28 early in 2014. Last season, she was the Czech FC-winning team's "secret weapon," and a Top 20 player in both singles and doubles. In this match, it was Strycova's experience that ruled the day.

The Czech jumped to a 4-1 lead in the 1st, putting away the set at 6-2. Garcia seemed to be ready to push things to a 3rd set, breaking Strycova in game #8 and serving for the set at 5-3. Taking a 40/15 lead, she held double set point. But after failing to put away the first, she double-faulted on the second.

It was at this moment that I wrote in my notes, "would fold in the past." Would Garcia, who has improved so much over the past year, once again fall prey to her old bad habits? Well, umm, yeah.

One point later, a forehand error gave Strycova a BP, then Garcia failed to get back the Czech's backhand return. The error gave Strycova the break for 5-4. The Pastry never recovered.

Strycova held at love for 5-5, then broke Garcia at love when the French woman's forehand sailed long to end game #11. Suddenly serving for the match at 6-5, the Czech did so with a hold at 15 to win 6-2/7-5, claiming sixteen of the final seventeen points in the match.

When Garcia found herself at double SP in game #9, the two women were separated by just two overall points in the match. With her final run, Strycova ultimately ended with a somewhat misleading 68-51 gap on the points scorecard. While Garcia exits in disappointing fashion, Strycova has now reached back-to-back AO Round of 16's, with eight of the top eleven slam results of her career having come in her last eleven appearances in majors (with the other three coming in her previous thirty-two slams stretched out over an eleven and a half year period). the unseeded 3rd Round match-up between 34-year old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and 21-year old Greek Maria Sakkari, the Croatian veteran staged a comeback (on a small scale, of course, as she's traversed many a large scale one during her career) after falling behind 5-2 in the 1st set. After taking a medical timeout seven games into the match, Lucic returned to see Sakkari close out the 6-3 1st set, but then proceeded to claim twelve of the final seventeen games for herself. Taking early break leads in both sets, Lucic held her advantage throughout in a 3-6/6-2/6-3 win. She arrived in Melbourne without a MD AO victory since 1998, but has now reached her third career slam Round of 16 eighteen seasons after she reached her first in 1999 (Wimbledon SF).

...meanwhile, #2 Serena Williams improved her career slam 3rd Round record to 55-8 with a 6-1/6-3 win over Nicole Gibbs that was actually an even more dominating performance than the final scoreline would seem to suggest, after things got a tiny bit sloppy in the closing moments.
But that in no way suggests that this was anything that resembled a "scrappy" performance from Serena. Not at all.

...the first-ever match between #9 Johanna Konta and #17 Caroline Wozniacki was SUPPOSED to be a pretty good one. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. The reason: Konta herself. She was just too good. Again.

A week ago, the Aussie-born Brit (who enjoyed the favor of both nations in the crowd on this day) stormed through Sydney, not dropping a set and bludgeoning most of her opponents along the way, including both Dashas, a Bouchard and Aga Radwanska. Little has changed in Melbourne, as she'd already extended her sets streak to fourteen coming into her match with Wozniacki, posting wins over Kirsten Flipkens and Naomi Osaka.

There was something of a feeling out process through the first six games of the match, as they were split at 3-3 between the two women. But once Konta struck, it was quite lethal. A wicked angled forehand set her up for a break point chance in game #7. On her second opportunity, the Brit moved to net and whacked a forehand swing volley to get the break for 4-3. Eight games later, she'd yet to lose another game, having taken the 1st at 6-3 and built an impenetrable 5-0 advantage in the 2nd while never even facing a BP on serve. Wozniacki finally got on the board again in game #6, but Konta then closed out a 6-3/6-1 win to give herself an 11-1 mark in '17, and an 8-1 record in her AO career, one year after reaching the semifinals in her tournament debut.

In fact, Konta has looked so good over the last two weeks that she might be under easy consideration to be the favorite to WIN this title in not for one little thing. Well, really, is far from a little problem. It's a possible QF match vs. Serena Williams. I mean, unless the Brit could keep this storm going even through even HER. Hmmm.

Before that possible match-up, though, Konta will get Makarova in a rematch of their 4th Rounder from a year ago, won by Konta in an 8-6 3rd set.

...qualifier Jennifer Brady has now reached the Round of 16 in Melbourne in her grand slam main draw debut, doing so on Day 6 with a 7-6(4)/6-2 win over #14 Elena Vesnina that upped her Melbourne winning streak to six matches.

Like so many other contests on this day, the momentum of this one turned mid-match. After trading breaks of serve in the 1st, Vesnina served for the set at 5-4, only to commit a pair of errors to fall behind 15/40. She saved both, but on BP #3 Brady moved into the net and put away a forehand winner to knot things at 5-5. The two played into a tie-break, where the Bannerette leisurely took control, taking it 7-4 with a forehand error from the Russian. In the 2nd, Brady went up an early break and never squandered her advantage.

She'll play Lucic-Baroni for a berth in the QF. women's doubles play on Day 6, the "Barty Party" was assured to at least continue on in one draw. Joining forces once again with fellow Aussie Casey Dellacqua on Hisense Arena, the duo eliminated #5-seeded Martina Hingis & CoCo Vandeweghe, 6-2/7-5. They actually served for the match on three different occasions, failing at 5-2 and 5-4 before finally putting it away in the 6-5 game (after having saved a BP in a wild point where all four players were involved, and the key stroke was Barty's scrambling get of a Hingis ball that had just barely carried over the net, then flipping a shot into the far corner over Vandeweghe's head, followed by Dellacqua finishing off the point with a shot up the middle).

So, this loss drops Hingis/Vandeweghe to just 8-6 in their partnership. Pardon me while I shed a tear.

I'm tellin' ya, Martina. Get out of there while you still can.

...also, the junior competition started on Saturday. Maybe the match with the most significance was the win by #2 Taylor Johnson (USA), who recorded a 6-7(4)/7-6(4)/6-2 win over Papua New Guinea's Violet Apisah, the winner of the one of the Future Star competitions last year during the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Also #12-seeded Caty McNally fell to Australia's Gabriella Da Silva Fick.

Another episode of "The Dasha Show" will air on Laver on Night 7, as the #22-ranked Aussie faces off with #12 Timea Bacsinszky. Later on MCA, #5 Karolina Pliskova meets Jelena Ostapenko.

I'll update the results of those matches tomorrow, as well as deliver the first '17 edition of the slam Lists-a-Palooza for the Round of 16.

...OF NOTE ON DAY 6: While there was a lot of chatter yesterday about (apparently the real) Russell Crowe "randomly" tweeting out support for Kristyna Pliskova after her match vs. Angelique Kerber, from jokes about him "hitting on her" through social media, or even confusing her with her sister Karolina, it should be noted that it might be as simple a thing as him having seen a note (maybe on Australian TV coverage?) or been told that the Czech lists "Gladiator" (along with "The Notebook") as her favorite movie in her official WTA bio.

I'm just sayin'.

...LIKE ON DAY 6: Czech grafitti

...LIKE ON DAY 6: Since it took a while for this nice Mona Barthel post-match interview with Rennae Stubbs to be posted last night...

...Hmmm... ON DAY 6: So, there are "Brady Bunch" references on the AO Twitter feed. Didn't see that coming.

Maybe they DID know about the "Vander-pump" reference from the other day, after all.

...and, finally... the new cliffside view.

#1 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
Sorana Cirstea/ROU vs. #7 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
(Q) Mona Barthel/GER vs. #13 Venus Williams/USA
#24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS vs. #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
x vs. x
(Q) Jen Brady/USA vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
#30 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. #9 Johanna Konta/GBR
#16 Barbora Strycova/CZE vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

Active recovery ??

A video posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. Rebeka Masarova, SUI
2. Taylor Johnson, USA
3. Wang Xifu, CHN
4. Emily Appleton, GBR
5. Olga Danilovic, SRB
6. Jodi Anna Burrage, GBR
7. Bianca Andreescu, CAN
8. Iga Swiatek, POL
9. Ayumi Miyamoto, JPN
10. Mai Hontama, JPN
11. Marta Kostyuk, UKR
12. Caty McNally, USA [lost 1st Rd.]
13. Carson Branstine, USA
14. Yuki Naito, JPN
15. Natasha Subhash, USA
16. Elena Rybakina, RUS

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
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 AUSSIE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Barty(L), Gavrilova
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Vandeweghe/USA, Barthel/GER, Makarova/RUS
IT (??): Nominee: Brady/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Barty/AUS, Cirstea/ROU, King/Shvedova, Barty/Dellacqua
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Safarova (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer); Brady (2nd Rd. - saved 5 MP vs. Watson; 3rd Rd. - Vesnina served for 1st set, Brady wins in straight sets)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Nominees: Lucic-Baroni/CRO, Kuznetsova/RUS, V.Williams/USA, S.Williams/USA, Strycova/CZE
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS ("The Dasha Show")

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Friday, January 20, 2017

AO.5 - Can Good Things Finally Come to the Russian Who Waits?

You just never know about Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The Russian was on the short list for the NextGen player with the most career potential nearly a decade ago, dominating in the juniors and seeming to have the sort of power that would allow her to climb the WTA ranks, as well. But it's just never quite happened for her.

Oh, Pavlyuchenkova has never really gone away. A three-time junior slam champ (including a rare back-to-back AO girls title winner in 2006-07), Pavlyuchenkova was a quick-blooming Top 50 player at age 17 and 18. She kicked her game up a notch at age 19 and 20, finishing at #21 and #16 in 2010-11, climbing as high as #13 and reaching a pair of slam QF in '11. But over the last few years, slam disappointment and lingering fitness issues always made her the sort of unreliable, but talented and dangerous, player who could pop up on any given occasion and pull off a big win, or even put together a great tournament title run. She won five small titles between 2010-13 (including three in Monterrey alone), then claimed more substantial trophies in Linz, Moscow and Paris in 2014-15, the latter two being Premier events. But her inconsistency, especially on the slam stage, has always acted as an anchor tied to her ankle with a short rope. The last four years, her season-ending ranking has been stuck in the #25-28 range. No big slip, but no big improvement when her experience would seem to demand it, either.

In 2016, though, Pavlyuchenkova noticeably improved her fitness. Not surprisingly, her overall results were a bit more reliable. While she failed to claim a tournament title last season, she reached seven QF, including her first in a major (Wimbledon) in five years, though she could never advance beyond that point in any event. But maybe 2017 will be the season in which she reaps the benefits of her work.

The 25-year old, seeded #24, came into her 3rd Round match on Friday against #11 Elina Svitolina as the "underdog" in the contest, but while also knowing that she had the benefit of a power advantage on her side vs. the consistent, defensive-minded, and constantly improving 21-year old from Ukraine who sits on the cusp of becoming the first Ukrainian to reach the Top 10. Gradually moving up the rankings in each of the last few seasons while progressively adding experience, know-how and attributes to her game, Svitolina has taken on the look of a determined player on the verge of finding her place in the upper echelon of the game. After employing Justine Henin as a consultant last season, she put together her best campaign yet, winning a singles title for a fourth straight year, reaching her biggest career finals (in New Haven and the Elite Trophy event) and knocking off BOTH Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber when they were ranked #1 during the back-half of '16. She then notched another #1 win over the German in the opening weeks of 2017.

While Pavlyuchenkova has rightly been looked upon as something of an "underachiever" during her career, the Russian has often managed to find her very best tennis when playing on indoor hard courts (her last three singles wins have come in indoor events), so the morning rain that caused the decision to be made to close the MCA roof for the entirety of this match (even as play began on outer courts under overcast skies while it was going on) was one that played directly into the Hordette's hands.

And she was on her game for most of the day, too, employing her bigger shots with accuracy and aggressively attacking Svitolina's still-a-work-in-progress serve. In the end, it was enough for Pavlyuchenkova to complete a 7-5/4-6/6-3 victory, but it was the very essence of her sometimes frustrating career that her own in-match choices and in-the-clutch tightness (which she rather candidly, and professionally, admitted to after the match) that very nearly cost her the chance to bask in the sunlight that was finally allowed to shine on the bluecourt once the roof was opened after the match was finally complete.

The pair traded breaks early in the match, but it was Pavlyuchenkova's break of the Svitolina serve in game #12 that allowed her to claim the 1st set as her own. In control under the roof, Pavlyuchenkova saved three BP in game #3 of the 2nd set, then broke the Ukrainian for a 3-1 lead while jumping on Svitolina's slower serves and sweeping the final four points of the game. She seemed well on her way to a decisive victory, but then Pavlyuchenkova managed to get in her own way.

Serving up 3-1 and at deuce, she double-faulted as she continued to go for too much on her shots, looking rather tight and producing too many errors rather than making the decision to respect her own career-long issues and play a more intelligent brand of somewhat lower-risk tennis while she was in the match's driver's seat. It allowed Svitolina to finally get a foothold and climb back into the battle. She broke Pavlyuchenkova to get to 3-2, then held at love.

Suddenly, with Pavlyuchenkova's shots now lacking their earlier lethal qualities, it was Svitolina whose shot placement allowed her to take the lead in rallies, and she upped her aggression as a result, finally allowing us to see some of the Kerber-esque qualities that have helped her to those three #1 wins. She broke the Russian to take a 4-3 lead, then fired an ace to hold for 5-3, producing her 14th winner in the set (she'd had just five in the 1st). Pavlyuchenkova saved four set points and held for 5-4, but Svitolina finally converted on #5 a game later, taking a 6-4 set and forcing a deciding 3rd.

After Pavlyuchenkova left the court between sets (Svitolina, in maybe a bad decision, stayed), the Russian came out and grabbed a 40/love lead in the first game. She ended up having to fight off a BP, but she held in an 11-minute game, then broke Svitolina to go up 2-0. The Ukrainian briefly got the set back on serve, but then Pavlyuchenkova took back the advantage in game #6, moving Svitolina from side to side with power groundstrokes, then stepping in to end the rally with a forehand winner to take a 4-2 lead. She held for 5-2, and served for the match two games later.

It wasn't easy, as Svitolina didn't give in, and Pavlyuchenkova waged a personal battle with errors as the match was on her racket at 5-4. Two netted backhands squandered two MP, then another error lost out on a third. Svitolina reached BP, but couldn't convert. Pavlyuchenkova fired an ace to reach MP for a fourth time, but then double-faulted. Finally, on MP #5, Pavlyuchenkova pulled herself over the match finish line when she blasted a deep shot at Svitolina's backhand, and the Ukrainian's lunging defensive lob land landed just beyond the baseline.

With Pavlyuchenkova's 2:32 win, Svitolina moves on to the bulk of a season that still holds the promise of great fortune. She's smart and realistic enough to understand what she needs to work on (first off, her serve), and the arc of her career so far tells us that she'll do just that. Meanwhile, the Russian is now in her first AO Round of 16, one win away from being able to say that she's reached the QF at all four slams during her career. Eleven active singles players, not counting Martina Hingis, have so far accomplished the feat, and should the Russian pull it off in Melbourne it'd come in her 37th career major -- second behind only Francescsa Schiavone, who did it in #42 -- in terms of the longest trial-and-error wait.

With this result, Pavlyuchenkova, at long last, is making tangible progress in her tennis career rather than frustratingly, and endlessly, treading water. After she'd completed her fourth straight slam 3rd Round appearance with her previous win, the Russian has now reached the Round of 16 in two of her last three slams. She'd done so in just three of her previous thirty-four.

The sort of grand and long lasting success that was envisioned for Pavlyuchenkova on the WTA tour when she still a teenager may never fully come to pass, but she finally seems to be looking up at greater things in her immediate future. Staying power at the top of the game is the result of hard work and piling one good result upon another upon another, and so on. With such consistency in her pocket, and the confidence that comes with it, the bigger titles and consistent slam results will come if a player has the sort of game that Pavlyuchenkova does. It just takes patience, and a lot of hard work.

It's taken a while, but maybe the former NextGen would-be champion will turn out to be a late-blooming one instead.

...the last of the early-starting matches to finish, not surprisingly, involved #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova. With the announcement of Francesca Schiavone's impending retirement, one had to wonder just where Sveta was going to find another dance partner to do the 3-4+ hour slam tango with her every other major event or so. Well...

Yes, THAT Jelena Jankovic.

JJ. Queen Chaos. The Whirling Dervish. Ol' QC.

Not seen nearly as often of late, unseeded and ranked all the way down at #54 coming into Melbourne, Jankovic now stands as the last remaining female member of the Serbian Originals now that AnaIvo has gone off to the happy underachieving hunting ground. And, guess what? JJ might not be an afterthought, after all. Not just yet. She proved today, even in a losing effort against her fellow 31-year old, that she still has some good old chaos left in those bones.

Of course, things nearly didn't turn out to be an (almost) all-day affair. Kuznetsova took the 1st set at 6-4, and led 4-1 in the 2nd. She served for the match at 5-4. But this is Sveta, remember. And JJ. So, you know, such a situation is like mixing some random green-colored chemical found in one beaker with another, ummm, pink-colored chemical found in another beaker, shaking them up, and seeing if the entire building explodes. It almost did.

[Behind the scenes note: I started to pick the beaker with the orange liquid in the above scenario, but thought better of it because of recent U.S. political developments, then almost went with the one with the golden-colored liquid, but, well, changed my mind for the very same reason (sort of). So, that's how it ended up being "pink." And now you know. Knowledge for life. Anyway...]

From that moment on, we finally got what we'd been expecting all along. A marathon match with wild swings of streaky momentum, blown leads, muttering conversations with the far-off players box, Jankovic hitting an overhead while falling backwards and then giving in and just allowing herself to plop down and sit on the court, and a final Sveta surge as a tired JJ (though, as Kuznetsova noted afterward, Jelena had looked tired at the end of the 1st set, too) was limping around the court and bending over at the waist in the closing moments.

But back to 5-4 in the 2nd. Kuznetsova couldn't close things out, and Jankovic picked up her game and won the set at 7-5. She then opened the 3rd set with a hold and break for a 2-0 advantage, and soon led 3-0. But it was then the Russian's turn to take the reigns. She broke Jankovic with a passing shot behind her at the net to get the break to close within 3-2. Then the Serb broke back for a 4-2 advantage. Naturally, her lead didn't last long. Sveta break yet again a game later, then held to knot things at 4-4 as the match neared the three-hour mark.

In game #9, Jankovic saved BP, but then double-faulted on a third, giving Kuznetsova another chance to serve for the match at 5-4, exactly one set after she'd failed to do it in the 1st. Just like before, she wasn't able to. After the game, Kuznetsova took a medical time out for her hand, then returned to play and took charge down the stretch, as the woman who has experienced a career resurgence over the last sixteen months pulled ahead of the woman with hopes for a similar comeback story over the next sixteen.

Sveta held at love for 7-7, ending with an ace, then broke Jankovic for 8-7. With another chance to serve out the match, the third time was the proverbial charm, as she close out another love game for a 6-4/5-7/9-7 win to reach her eighth AO Round of 16, but her first since 2013.

In all, the match lasted 3:36, saw fifteen of thirty-nine BP chances converted, and Kuznetsova lead 142-136 in total points. And no one was surprised by any of it.

And, of course, we couldn't let this day (or match) pass without a passing reference to Francesca.

...a win from just one Hordette was all that was needed today (and there are still two more set to play tomorrow), but Pavlyuchenkova's victory (which came a little earlier than Sveta's) assured that yet another major will have a Russian presence in the Round of 16. That makes it 64 of the last 66 slams, starting with the 2000 U.S. Open (with Elena Dementieva). The only two slams with no Hordettes in the 4th Round over the span have been the 2013 Wimbledon (the week of the original "Radwanskian Massacre") and 2016 U.S. Open (during Maria Sharapova's suspension, of course).

...the Kerber/Pliskova slam "do-over" -- in a different city, with a different Pliskova -- was a case of a #1-ranked defending champion looking as if she may be finally hitting her 2017 stride vs. a Czech who is still a few steps behind the accomplishments of her Top 5-ranked sister, and just wasn't quite up to having everything together between her ears and inside her chest quickly enough to put up her best effort on Day 5. And by the time she was, it was almost too late to do anything about it.

Kerber jumped out of the gates on Friday in full form, breaking Kristyna Pliskova's serve in her debut on Laver in the biggest match of her pro career thus far. A Pliskova double-fault handed the German another break for a 3-0 lead, and it was all that she could do to even extend the set to the twenty minutes that it took Kerber to win it at love. After falling behind 2-0 in the 2nd, finally, Pliskova found her footing, running off a streak of three straight games to get back into the set. But, serving at 4-4, with Kerber being on her game and with the memory of how tough playing Pliskova's identical twin sister is (though they swing their rackets from different sides) reminding her to not take the less-accomplished Czech lightly, Kristyna failed to hold serve. Serving for the match, Kerber fell behind 15/30, but didn't temporarily lose her momentum as she did during the first two rounds in Melbourne. After reaching MP, she completed her 6-0/6-4 win in under an hour when Pliskova fired a shot long.

Next up for Kerber is CoCo Vandeweghe, who won out in the three-set, all-unseeded battle with Genie Bouchard, winning 6-4/3-6/6-4 to advance to her first non-Wimbledon (2015-16) slam Round of 16. She'll now attempt to grab the baton and see if she can become the latest North American woman to reach her maiden major semifinal in Melbourne, following in the footsteps of Sloane Stephens (2013), Bouchard (2014) and Madison Keys (2015).

After breaking Bouchard to go up 4-3 in the 1st, Vandeweghe held to take the set, but failed to convert a series of big points in the 2nd that might have gotten her off the court a little quicker, holding BP in Bouchard's final two service games but being unable to break the Canadian as she won the set to send things to the 3rd. There, Bouchard jumped out in front early with a love break in the opening game, but Vandeweghe's break to level things at 4-4 set the stage for the key ninth game of the set. Vandeweghe faced four BP in the 22-point game, saving them all and holding for a 5-4 lead. With the momentum on her side, she broke Bouchard a game later to claim victory... and celebrate in the same "Gladiator"-inspired way that she generally tends to employ in these moments, providing a nice video clip for the masses that is provided without the additional context regarding why when she in particular calls attention to herself in such a way it's just a bit more grating than when other players might do the same.

But I think I've already covered the CoCo conundrum this week and many times before, haven't I? So I won't again. Although, I will say that I agree with a good many of the responses attached to the above tweet, which I admit is quite a change for me when it comes to a player like Vandeweghe. Usually, I tend to embrace a player whose actions rub many people the wrong way. I keep waiting for the moment to arrive when I take to CoCo... but I've been waiting for a while now, and really don't think it's ever going to happen.

Oh, and since the folks on the AO Twitter feed probably don't know that their "Vander-pump" tweet sounds like its referencing a U.S. reality television series, I say we keep them blissfully ignorant of that fact since, you know, we've already aired enough of our reality TV dirty laundry on the international stage of late.

...meanwhile, the all 6-foot-1 match-up between #13 Venus Willians and Duan Yingying played out like what one would expect from a match between a player with 244 career slam match wins and another with just five. Williams jumped to a quite lead on MCA and never looked back, winning 6-1/6-0. The 36-year old has now reached the Round of 16 at four straight slams, and seven of nine.


In the other day session 3rd Round match, the sole Romanian bright spot in women's singles in Melbourne continued her resurgent run as Sorana Cirstea bested Alison Riske 6-2/7-6(2) to reach her second career Round of 16, and first since her QF in Paris eight years ago. Cirstea noted earlier this week how much she missed having her good friend Ana Ivanovic around to spend time and talk with during this major, but, as is the case with the rest of the tour, the Swarmette seems to be doing just fine without her. Quite fine, indeed, as a matter of fact.

Laver Arena played host to a "Barty Party" for the first time on Friday night, but it was German qualifier Mona Barthel who ended up crashing the proceedings, putting an end to Aussie wild card Ash Barty's run in her post-cricket return to singles tennis in a 6-3/3-6/6-3 match.

Barthel was in control early, winning three straight games after dropping the first game of the match. She served out the 1st set at 6-3, but then saw Barty gradually work her way into the match in the 2nd. Mid-way through the set, Barty's game picked up and she surged in the final games to win 6-3 and send things into the 3rd. After a brief delay due to spitting rain, the two returned and Barty picked up where she'd left off. She broke Barthel to take a 3-2 lead, getting the crowd on the edge of their collective seat.

But then all the wind behind Barty's back left the stadium.

Barthel broke back for 3-3, then never lost another game, as Barty's relative inexperience finally showed in her rushed shots. Serving at 5-3, Barthel held at love to advance to her first career slam 4th Round. Afterward, she talked with Rennae Stubbs in a nice little on-court interview in front of the disappointed crowd. Noting the chronic fatigue that made her '16 season a nightmare that put her tennis career in jeopardy, it became apparent that there is as much reason to root for Barthel as they ever was for Barty, though one wonders if the Aussie crowd will get over the fact that she took down one of their own. Two, actually, as she defeated Destanee Aiava in the 1st Round, too.

In the only remaining women's 3rd Round match from the top half of the draw, #7 Garbine Muguruza was set to face off with #32 Anastasija Sevastova in the concluding women's match on MCA.

...LIKE ON DAY 5: Serena... Not. Having. Any. Of. It.

...LIKE ON DAY 5: For Jiske & Co., the next stop is the Aussie Open...

Fun day at barangaroo beach!!! #tennis #tennisplayer #wheelchairtennis #paralympic #athlete #ausopen #sydney #fun #sunday

A photo posted by JiskeGriffioen (@jiskegriffioen) on

...LIKE ON DAY 5: There's just so much good about this photo.

...and, finally... and away we go.


#1 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
Sorana Cirstea/ROU vs. x
(Q) Mona Barthel/GER vs. #13 Venus Williams/USA
#24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS vs. #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x

#TBT ??

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

*CAREER QF SLAM - active singles*
[with slam where completed]
Victoria Azarenka - 2012 US (28th)
Dominika Cibulkova - 2014 AO (26th)
Kimiko Date - 1995 WI (23rd)
Simona Halep - 2015 US (22nd)
Angelique Kerber - 2016 AO (33rd)
Svetlana Kuznetsova - 2006 RG (16th)
Petra Kvitova - 2015 US (30th)
Francesca Schiavone - 2011 AO (42nd)
Maria Sharapova - 2005 US (12th)
Serena Williams - 2001 RG (12th)
Venus Williams - 1998 WI (6th)

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 LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): x
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 AUSSIE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Barty(L), Gavrilova
IT (??): x
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Barty/AUS, Cirstea/ROU, King/Shvedova, Barty/Dellacqua
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Safarova (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer); Brady (2nd Rd. - saved 5 MP vs. Watson)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Nominees: Lucic-Baroni/CRO, Kuznetsova/RUS, V.Williams/USA, S.Williams/USA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS ("The Dasha Show")

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.