Saturday, January 19, 2019

AO.6 - When Almost is the Best Part

One day after Aryna Sabalenka was overwhelmed by (and maybe underprepared for) Amanda Anisimova, two more pre-tournament "favorites" (if there is such a thing) were put to the test by veteran opponents. Both called upon past experiences to get them through.

Neither result, by any means, was a sure thing... and that may turn out to be best thing imaginable for both Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina.

As is often the case when players face off with the mind boggling game of Hsieh Su-wei (see Angie Kerber at last year's AO), Osaka had a hard time figuring out what to do against her offbeat combination of sudden and oft-perplexing variety and quick-strike ability. Running around the court with little intent, the #4 seed spent more time chasing balls than hitting them. Hsieh broke for a 4-2 lead, causing Osaka to angrily bounce her racket off the MCA surface. She got the break back, but saw the 33-year old from Taiwan break her serve again to take a 7-5 1st set. This time time Osaka threw her racket.

Broken early in the 2nd, and down 3-0 and 4-1, Osaka hit her way out of her stupor and gradually seized control, breaking Hsieh in games #7 and #9, and then holding to send things to a 3rd set. There, the 21-year old got the early break and rode it out to win 5-7/6-4/6-1.

Osaka didn't really face anything quite like this en route to her U.S. Open title (she lost just one set, to Sabalenka, incidentally), and finding a way to overcome such a predicament here could very well be an important development not only in relation to her prospects next week, but for how her career will continue to advance as she forms a protective coating of on-court experiences around her that could one day make a display of these sorts of survival skills a routine occurrence for her. And that would surely mean *big* things would soon be coming her way in fast and furious fashion.

Not surprisingly, the memory of her Week 1 Brisbane loss (her capitulation to Lesia Tsurenko, as well as her mature and appalled reaction to it) reared its head for the first time since. Likely not for the last time, either... and that's a good thing (see preceding paragraph).

Meanwhile, #6 seeded Svitolina was facing Zhang Shuai, an AO quarterfinalist three years ago, as well as battling a neck injury that led to multiple medical time outs during the match. In the end, rather than go down in flames earlier than anticipated in yet another slam, she once again utilized the fighting skills she flashed while winning the WTA Finals last fall. And she found a way. It was dramatic, and hardly the sort of thing she'd want to have to duplicate too many times. But it got her through, and that's all that matters.

With Zhang firing balls deep and coming in behind the shots to the net, the 29-year old from China put away a volley to reach BP in game #9, then fired a deep return into the corner and won another point at the net to break for a 5-4 lead. Up 40/love a game later, she put away the set on her second SP with a backhand down the line.

Despite taking an MTO in the middle of game #9 in the 2nd, Svitolina held and quickly broke Zhang a game later to force a 3rd set. There, after another MTO between sets, she found herself down a double break at 3-0. That's when "Eli 2.0" kicked in as Zhang had to deal with her own physical issues. Svitoina broke to close to 3-1, then held for 3-2 before Zhang took her own MTO. Fighting off BP's, the Ukrainian held for 4-3 two games later.

She failed to serve out the match at 5-3. Zhang wildly sailed a forehand off a short ball (Svitolina ducked from her position near the net) a game later, but held for 5-5. With Zhang serving to force a 10-point TB two games later, Svitolina led 15/30 and seemed in control of a rally, only to stop play to challenge the call of a Zhang shot on the baseline. The ball was in, and Svitolina lost the point. In the past, such a thing may have set the Ukrainian on edge. But not Eli 2.0.

*This* Svitolina scrambled to a short ball and lifted it to the corner for a winner to reach MP. She netted a forehand, but on her second MP saw Zhang's backhand error end the contest.

Svitolina used the momentum garnered from tough, tight matches to push her way into the winner's circle and claim her biggest career title in Singapore to end her season last fall. Assuming her neck injury doesn't become a worsening problem, this -- erasing a double-break disadvantage in the fnal set -- is just the sort of thing on which to build *another* big run.

Of course, there's *someone* who might have a say in that. Eventually.

...speaking of...

Serena Williams made quick work of Dayana Yastremska, the only teenager left in the draw not cool-as-a-cucumber-and-named-Amanda. The 18-year old , fully *half* Williams' age, was a bit overwhelmed by the situation on Laver, as well as facing the tennis idol she talked the other day about watching when she was a little kid and dreaming about playing one day.

Thus, Serena reaches her 59th career slam Round of 16, and her 15th in Melbourne. She's reached this stage in her last eleven AO appearances (back to 2007, as she's missed two events), as well as in her last fourteen slams (to 2014, missing four).

Seeing Yastremska's tears, Williams offered supportive words at the net that will surely allow the Ukrainian to at least feel a little better about what happened.

And Serena wasn't entertaining any of interviewer Sam Smith's talk of Yastremska being "intimidated" by her, either, and said she thought she played well. Though, really, it was clear that Smith's intent wasn't so much to get Williams to talk badly about Yastremska as it was to get to questions about whether or not a young Serena was intimidated by any opponents when she first came on tour (after a while, she did eventually think to mention Venus, as well as having nice words about the inspiring nature of Billie Jean King).

Really, in retrospect, Smith should have probably said something about Yastremska being "in awe" of Williams, as it wouldn't have had quite as much of a negative connotation. the night session, Serena's Round of 16 opponent was determined in a match-up between her sister Venus and #1 seed Simona Halep.

Venus was forced to three sets in her last outing against Alize Cornet, and she had to scramble back from a set and 5-3 down in the 1st vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu, too. Halep had also gone three sets in *her* opening two matches. But while Venus' long battles were easily seen as a red flag, Halep's served a purpose. After six weeks off with a back injury this offseason, and just one pre-AO match, the Romanian used her comebacks against Kaia Kanepi and Sonya Kenin to find her lost form.

It likely made all the difference... both here and maybe for what comes next.

In the 1st set, Williams had multiple opportunities (five BP, in fact) to make a real fight of things. But Halep, playing with a light wrap on her left thigh, consistently kept a step ahead. Up a break at 3-2, she saved four BP, then smacked an ace (her first of the day) to reach SP. Venus failed to get into position for a low bouncing ball at the net, flying it well beyond the baseline as the Romanian took a 4-2 lead. A long Williams forehand on BP a game later put her down 5-2. She got her fifth BP of the set in game #8, but after she failed to put it away saw Halep hit an ace up the "T" (#2) and take the set with a clean forehand winner.

The two exchanged breaks to open the 2nd set, with Williams' win in game #2 ending Halep's five game winning streak. Venus saved a BP and held for 2-1, temporarily staving off what would ultimately be her fate. Come game #7, Halep led 15/40 and got the break when a forehand into the corner elicited a Williams backhand error that gave the Romanian a 4-3 lead. Venus led 15/30 a game later, but couldn't get back Halep's big wide serve. On GP, Halep blasted a series of crosscourt shots to Williams' backhand, finally opening up a shot down the opposite line that Venus attempted to reach, but she couldn't keep her forehand in the court when she did. Up 5-3, Halep's delivered a celebratory roundhouse punch to the air.

A game later, Williams had two DF and, on MP, Halep fired a forehand winner to close out the 6-2/6-3 win.

Of course, what comes next is another matter. But that's Halep's mission, should she choose to accept it. And she surely does.

Such a thing *has* been accomplished before. Most recently, Karolina Pliskova defeated both Sisters at the U.S. Open in 2016, when the Czech defeated Venus in the Round of 16 and Serena two rounds later. Of course, she still didn't win the title. Angelique Kerber did. It's been nine seasons since both were defeated in back-to-back matches. Jelena Jankovic did it in Rome in 2010. She didn't win the title, either -- Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez did.

So there's that. And this...

1998 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (Sydney) = [won event]
1999 Steffi Graf (Sydney) = [reached SF]
2001 Martina Hingis (Australian Open) = [reached final]
2002 Kim Clijsters (WTA Championships) = [won event]
2004 Lindsay Davenport (Los Angeles) = [won event]
2007 Justine Henin (U.S. Open) = [won event]
2009 Kim Clijsters (U.S. Open) = [won event]
2010 Jelena Jankovic (Rome) = [reached final]
2016 Karolina Pliskova (U.S. Open) = [reached final]
[in back-to-back matches]
1998 Sydney - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (SF Venus/F Serena)
1999 Sydney - Steffi Graf (2nd Rd. Serena/QF Venus)
2001 Australian Open - Martina Hingis (QF Serena/SF Venus)
2002 WTA Chsp. - Kim Clijsters (SF Venus/F Serena)
2004 Los Angeles - Lindsay Davenport (SF Venus/F Serena)
2007 U.S. Open - Justine Henin (QF Venus/SF Serena)
2010 Rome - Jelena Jankovic (QF Venus/SF Serena)

In the past year, the world #1 has been through "The Aussie Wars," emerging scathed but reinforced, and realistically carving a path to her triumphant march through Paris a few months later. If she can add a *second* win over a Williams in a single event to her list of battlefield heroics, it'll add another chapter to her story. As it should.

Good luck, Simo.

=This message will self-destruct in five seconds.=

5...4...3...2...1... the other day session 3rd Round matches, Anastasija Sevastova defeated Wang Qiang to reach her first her first AO Round of 16 since 2011, while Madison Keys eliminated '18 semifinalist Elise Mertens in straight sets, extending her remarkably good run in majors (which she's managed to be mostly healthy for, oddly enough) that looks like this in the last six: RU-QF-SF-3r-SF-(4r).

Meanwhile, Mertens drops outside the Top 20 in the "live" rankings.

...playing in her first match since finishing up her 2nd Rounder with Johanna Konta at 3:12 a.m., #18 Garbine Muguruza won out in two over Timea Bacsinszky. The 1st set saw the two trade momentum back and fourth throughout. The Spaniard failed to serve out the set, then couldn't convert a SP at 6-5 on the Swiss woman's serve. But Muguruza took a 4-1 lead in the TB, and won it 7-5. She broke Bacsinszky to open the 2nd, and went on to win 7-6(5)/6-2 to reach her fourth AO Round of 16.

#7 Karolina Pliskova will meet #27 Carmila Giorgi late on Laver in the final women's 3rd round match to be completed.

...THIS-IS-GETTING-RIDICULOUS ON DAY 6: Hey, ESPN. Helen Wills-Moody... *still* Californian. Still *not* British.

That's not a photo of the graphic shown tonight, it's from last year... but it's the same mistaken graphic that they used during the Serena/Yastremska match, last season *and* the season before that, too.

...LIKE ON DAY 6: Last Teen Standing

...QUESTION ON DAY 6: Do two underachieving slam negatives = a positive?

Svitolina has to hope so.


...LIKE ON DAY 6: Small steps...

Honestly, based on her recent social media posts, I didn't realize CoCo was at *this* early a stage in her return to health.


#1 Simona Halep/ROU vs. #16 Serena Williams/USA
#18 Garbine Muguruza/ESP vs. x
#13 Anastasija Sevastova/LAT vs. #4 Naomi Osaka/JPN
#17 Madison Keys/USA vs. #6 Elina Svitolina/UKR
#8 Petra Kvitova/CZE vs. Amanda Anisimova/USA
#15 Ash Barty/AUS vs. #30 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#5 Sloane Stephens/USA vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
Danielle Collins/USA vs. #2 Angelique Kerber/GER

1. Clara Tauson, DEN
2. Zheng Qinwen, CHN
3. Diane Parry, FRA (withdrew)
4. Leylah Annie Fernandez, CAN
5. Manachaya Sawangkaew, THA
6. Lea Ma, USA
7. Luly Sun, SUI
8. Park So-hyun, KOR
9. Kamilla Bartone, LAT
10. Hong Yi Cody Wong, HKG
11. Adrienn Nagy, HUN
12. Thasaporn Naklo, THA
13. Mariia Tkacheva, RUS
14. Sada Nahimana, BDI
15. Marta Custic, ESP
16. Emma Raducanu, GBR
17. Loudmilla Bencheikh, FRA

[by ranking]
#1 Simona Halep
#2 Angelique Kerber
#4 Naomi Osaka
#5 Sloane Stephens
#6 Petra Kvitova
#7 Elina Svitolina
#12 Anastasija Sevastova
#15 Ash Barty
#16 Serena Williams
#17 Madison Keys
#18 Garbine Muguruza
#30 Maria Sharapova
#35 Danielle Collins
#44 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#87 Amanda Anisimova
ALSO: #8 Ka.Pliskova vs. #28 Giorgi
[by age]
37 - Serena Williams
31 - Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova
28 - Petra Kvitova, Anastasija Sevastova
27 - Simona Halep, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
25 - Danielle Collins, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens
24 - Elina Svitolina
23 - Madison Keys
22 - Ash Barty
21 - Naomi Osaka
17 - Amanda Anisimova
ALSO: Pliskova(26) vs. Giorgi(27)
[by nation]
5...USA (Anisimova,Collins,Keys,Stephens,S.Williams)
2...RUS (Pavlyuchenkova,Sharapova)
1...AUS (Barty)
1...CZE (Kvitova)
1...ESP (Muguruza)
1...GER (Kerber)
1...JPN (Osaka)
1...LAT (Sevastova)
1...ROU (Halep)
1...UKR (Svitolina)
ALSO: Pliskova/CZE vs. Giorgi/ITA
[by career slam Round-of-16's]
59 - Serena Williams
40 - Maria Sharapova
19 - Angelique Kerber
17 - Petra Kvitova
14 - Simona Halep
12 - Madison Keys
12 - Garbine Muguruza
12 - Sloane Stephens
8 - Elina Svitolina
6 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
5 - Anastasija Sevastova
3 - Naomi Osaka
2 - Ash Barty
1 - Amanda Anisimova, Danielle Collins
ALSO: Pliskova(for 8th) vs. Giorgi(for 4th)
[w/ consecutive slam Round of 16's]
4 - Serena Williams
2 - Ash Barty
2 - Madison Keys
2 - Naomi Osaka
2 - Anastasija Sevastova
2 - Maria Sharapova
2 - Sloane Stephens
2 - Elina Svitolina
NOTE: S.Williams 14 in last 14 slam appearances
ALSO: Pliskova for 3rd
[w/ multiple career AO Round of 16's]
15 - Serena Williams
11 - Maria Sharapova
6 - Angelique Kerber
4 - Simona Halep
4 - Madison Keys
4 - Garbine Muguruza
3 - Petra Kvitova
3 - Sloane Stephens
2 - Naomi Osaka
2 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
2 - Anastasija Sevastova
2 - Elina Svitolina
ALSO: Pliskova(for 3rd) vs. Giorgi(for 1st)
[w/ consecutive AO Round of 16's]
4 - Angelique Kerber
2 - Simona Halep
2 - Madison Keys
2 - Naomi Osaka
2 - Anastasija Sevastova
NOTE: S.Williams 11 in last 11 AO appearances
NOTE: Keys 4 in last 4 appearances
ALSO: Pliskova(for 3rd)
[WTA career slam Round of 16's - active]
59...Serena Williams
50...Venus Williams
40...Maria Sharpova
32...Svetlana Kuznetsova
23...Victoria Azarenka
22...Jelena Jankovic
21...Caroline Wozniacki
19...Angelique Kerber
17...Petra Kvitova
16...Vera Zvonareva
15...Ekaterina Makarova, Carla Suarez-Navarro
14...Simona Halep
12...Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Samantha Stosur
[WTA slam Round of 16's since 2010 - active]
27...Serena Williams
23...Maria Sharapova
19...Angelique Kerber
18...Victoria Azarenka
17...Caroline Wozniacki
15...Petra Kvitova, Ekaterina Makarova, Venus Williams
14...Simona Halep, Svetlana Kuznetsova
13...Carla Suarez-Navarro
12...Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens
[2019 slam Rd. of 16's - by region]
5 - Eastern Europe/Russia (LAT-ROU-RUS-UKR)
5 - North America/Atlantic (USA)
3 - Western Europe/Scandinavia (CZE-ESP-GER)
2 - Asia/Oceania (AUS-JPN)
0 - Africa/Middle East (none)
0 - South America (none)
ALSO: Pliskova/CZE-W.Eur. vs. Giorgi/ITA-W.Eur.


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 C.Dellacqua, J.Gajdosova, S.Stosur, A.Tomljanovic (2nd)
2016 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2017 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2018 Ash Barty (3rd Rd.)
2019 Ash Barty (in 4th Rd.)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #16 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3 - Astra Sharma/AUS def. #25 Irina Khromacheva 5-7/7-6(7)/7-6(10) (saved 3 MP, makes slam debut)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #18 Garbine Muguruza/ESP def. Johanna Konta/GBR 6-4/6-7(3)/7-5 (ended at 3:12 a.m.)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Rebecca Peterson/SWE (def. Cirstea/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #14 Julia Goerges/GER (1st Rd. - lost to D.Collins/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: Teens - six teenagers win 1st Round matches - Andreescu/Anisimova/Potapova/Swiatek/Vondrousova/Yastremska; Anisimova and Yastremska reach 3rd Rd.
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania - 2-4 1st Rd., losses to two teens, #25 seed
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Astra Sharma/AUS, Iga Swiatek/POL, Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Kimberly Birrell/AUS (3rd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Ash Barty (in 4th Rd.)
IT (??): Nominees: Anisimova, Barty
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Bacsinszky, Sharapova
CRASH & BURN: #10 Dasha Kasatkina/RUS (after leading 3-0 in 1st set, loses 12 con. games in 1st Rd. loss vs. Bacsinszky)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Halep (1st Rd. - down set and a break vs. Kanepi; 2nd Rd. - down 4-2 in 3rd set vs. Kenin); Osaka (3rd Rd. - down 7-5/4-1 vs. Hsieh); Svitolina (3rd Rd. - down double-break 3-0 in 3rd vs. Sh.Zhang; MTO's); Collins (1st Rd. - Goerges served for match)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: Halep, Muguruza

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Friday, January 18, 2019

AO.5 - Amanda-Rama Down Under

Hoo-boy. What, pray tell, was that?

The WTA talent pool is deep, varied and complicated. As we stand, it comes in waves of all shapes, shades and demeanors, with one generation of players doing battle with another on a regular basis.

20-year old Aryna Sabalenka came into Day 5 in an enviable position amidst this landscape, standing just outside the Top 10 and considered to be the "next star" set to explode on the slam stage. But before the afternoon was finished the player who is just barely the "present" on tour already had "the future" breathing down her neck. In the form of Amanda Anisimova.

On this day, the 17-year old Bannerette demanded equal time. And she got it, and then some.

Sabalenka, though she's only gone as far as the Round of 16 in one slam draw, was the third favorite to win the women's title at this Australian Open. She opened her season by winning a singles title. Blessed with big shots and an even bigger presence, the Belarusian just looks like someone who should be lifting shiny trophies. And she probably will some day.

But she's not the only one.

Anisimova knows what promise feels like, too. New Jersey born and Miami raised (since she was 3), she won the U.S. Open girls title in 2017 after having reached the Roland Garros junior final a season earlier. Both before and after an ankle injury knocked a hole in a significant portion of her season (forcing her to miss RG and SW19), she more than carved out a spot in limited WTA action that begged for an RSVP to her future. The long-legged and calm teen, armed with big flat groundstrokes and smooth movement around the court, burst onto the scene last spring by becoming the first 16-year old to reach the Indian Wells Round of 16 since 2005, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and #9 Petra Kvitova along the way. After returning from her Miami ankle injury, she picked up where she left off, putting up another good big event result (Cincinnati 3rd Rd.) and reaching her maiden tour final in Hiroshima.

Already with Melbourne wins over Monica Niculescu and Lesia Tsurenko, the #87-ranked Anisimova (she's the youngest player in the Top 100) was consistently on top of Sabalenka's big shots, blasting back quick and deep replies from the baseline that tied up and frustrated the #11 seed. Accepting of the moment and showing no hit of twisted stomach or lightheadedness in the moment, Anisimova faced just one break point the entire match as she proceeded to pluck the proverbial "brass ring" from Sabalenka's grasp and slip it into her own back pocket for a while.

After holding a break advantage at 4-2 in the 1st set, Anisimova wasted little time. She took a love/40 lead on Sabalenka's serve in game #9, and on her third set point secured a 6-3 win before the Belarusian had even experienced her first BP opportunity.

Following an easy hold to open the 2nd set, the teenager continued to play the role of "the natural." Stepping inside the baseline she swept a backhand crosscourt for a winner to lead 15/40. A clear return winner down the line got the break for 2-0 lead. Sabalenka finally saw her first BP chance a game later, but Anisimova swatted it away, then held with a down the line backhand.

At this point, she seemed capable of putting almost any ball anywhere on the court.

Anisimova very nearly shut the door on Sabalenka by the end of game #4, taking a 15/40 lead with a double-break lead within reach. Though frustrated by what was coming back at her from the other side of the net, the 20-year old collected herself and held serve. After a love hold from Anisimova for 4-1 -- as the teen raced to the changeover area, Tennis Channel's Mary Carillo gleefully exclaimed, "Look at her, prancing around like a spring lamb!" -- she went up love/40 on Sabalenka's serve after a return shot caught the net cord and dribbled over onto the Belarusian's side of the court. But Sabalenka clung to her faltering comeback hopes, digging out of the hole to hold again. Just in case.

But she probably knew her time was nearly up.

As Anisimova took a 40/15 lead in the following game, Sabalenka threw down her racket multiple times, sending her dampener flying across the court and providing a foreshadowing bit of drama for the teenager's hold for 5-2 a few moments later. Serving to stay alive in the match, Sabalenka instead saw Anisimova fire a return deep into the corner, then come in behind the shot and deliver a wickedly angled backhand that the Belarusian ran down in the left sideline but could only stretch and barely touch with her racket. It was 30/30. A deep shot off the baseline proved unreturnable as Sabalenka framed the ball off a short bounce, giving Anisimova a MP. Again the 17-year old fired a ball deep into the court in the middle of a rally, and again it was too much for Sabalenka to effectively handle. She sailed her reply, and Anisimova had won 6-3/6-2 in just 1:05.

For the day, the teenager had 21 winners to just 9 UEs, as well as a handful of age-related markers with her name attached to them.

Anisimova's first slam Round of 16 comes in her third major. Sabalenka's first came in her fifth last summer in New York. The Belarusian remains ahead of the Bannerette on the generational evolutionary scale. But she, as well as the rest of Generation PDQ, have yet another power-hungry and strong-willed member to worry about.

(And, meanwhile, somewhere Kathy Rinaldi's smile surely grew three sizes this day.)

...after a moderate rain delay and several long matches pushed play all the way back to almost 3:30 a.m. in Melbourne on Night 4, the weather shut down all the courts except for the ones with roofs in the early hours of Day 5.

In the only women's match to be played amongst the first-up contests on court, #15 Ash Barty jumped on Maria Sakkari early in the 1st set on Laver, leading 3-1. The Greek got things even at 5-5, but the Aussie pulled away to take the set 7-5, then put her away 6-1 in the 2nd. a battle to see which player could follow up a big win with another, well, it was no contest.

As she did after big wins in the season's opening weeks, Aliaksandra Sasnovich (def. 20 Kontaveti) barely showed in her next outing. Her 3rd Round match-up with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (def. #9 Bertens) lasted just sixty minutes. The Russian stoned the Belarusian in a love 1st set, and only allowed three total games in the 2nd. She had just eight UE, and faced just one BP in the match.

It's the Hordette's sixth career slam Round of 16 result in 45 majors. In four of her previous five such situations, she won another match to reach the final eight.

Pavlyuchenkova's win, even before #30 Maria Sharapova took the court later, extended a bit of Hordette slam history that goes all the way back to *before* that big Revolution year of 2004 when three Russians won major titles. Her win means at least one Russian has reached the Round of 16 at 71 of the last 74 slams. Since 1998, a Russian has failed to advance to the 4th Round just once (last year) in Melbourne.

The only misses: 2013 Wimbledon, 2016 U.S., 2018 AO a match-up of both former #1's and past AO champions (in editions a full decade apart -- 2008/18 -- as far as the latter goes), #30 Maria Sharapova used the occasion of her first match-up since 2015 with defending champ and #3 seed Caroline Wozniacki to answer a few of the questions about her ability to return to a place of legitimate prominence on the WTA tour, while the Dane will be left with the memory of seeing her first slam title defense slip away in a match in which she wasn't as aggressive as she surely needed to be when the moment called for it later in the match.

Wozniacki led 3-1 in the opening set, but a DF put the stanza back on serve. When Sharapova broke to take a 5-4 lead, the Dane angrily fired a ball into the stands (though she didn't receive the should-be-customary penalty/warning for the action). The Russian closed out the 6-4 set by winning her fifth straight game in one of her best extended displays in a big match since her return from suspension.

Wozniacki took a 3-0 lead in the 2nd. Sharapova got the set back on serve, but was broken to end it as the Dane sent things to a 3rd with a 6-4 win.

Knotted at 3-3 in the decider, Sharapova ramped up her game in what turned out to be the most important moment of the match. Sort of how she always used to. A big service return gave her a love/30 lead on Wozniacki's serve, then an even bigger crosscourt return of a second serve made it 15/40. She sprayed a shot on her first BP, then saw Wozniacki work the ball around the court until she elicited an offbalance error on the second. Wozniacki fired an ace, but Sharapova responded by blasting a series of shots down lines on opposite sides of the court until the Dane didn't get one back. A loose Wozniacki error gave the Russian a third BP chance, and her lunging return into the corner set up a forehand winner into the opposite side of the court to take a break lead at 4-3.

Big serves and groundstrokes followed, as Sharapova feasted on a series of short-landing Wozniacki shots. She held at love for 5-3, then reached MP a game later when the Dane DF'd on a 30/30 point. Wozniacki fought off one MP, but not the second that came soon afterward. Sharapova claimed the 6-4/4-6/6-3 victory, losing just five points on serve in the 3rd set.

It's the 25th Top 3 win in Sharapova's career, but her first since knocking off Simona Halep in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open in 2017. It's only the second such win since her return, and just her third since 2014.

While her performance will quiet some naysayers, at least for a while, it's interesting to note that this actually gives Sharapova four Round of 16-or-better results in her six slam appearances since the suspension. In truth, contrary to popular opinion, she hasn't been a ghost of her former self the last two seasons. She just hasn't been "right," by her past high standards (mostly due to an inability to stay healthy), leading to the lack of the sort of results (and accompanying confidence in tense situations) that formed the foundation of her (future) Hall of Fame career.

Her play in the seventh game (and beyond) in the 3rd set tonight, though, could go a long way toward pointing her in the right direction.

#5 Sloane Stephens, who hadn't won an AO match in four years until a few days ago, was made to work by #31 Petra Martic, who was looking to repeat her Round of 16 result from a year ago. The Croat led Stephens 3-1 and 4-2 in the 1st, but lost an 8-6 TB, then again led 3-1 in the 2nd only to see Stephens once more rally to win another TB (7-5) to close out the match.

After a slow start to her '19 campaign, Stephens is working her way into this tournament. She's shown in the past that she can catch a groove and begin to roll with Futuristic fervor. She'll face Pavlyuchenkova next in her attempt to keep the momentum going.

Still to play on Day/Night 5 are Kvitova/Bencic to wrap up the matches scheduled for during the day session, and then Garcia/Collins (MCA) and newly-turned-31 Kerber vs. Birrell (Laver) from the night schedule.

...LIKE ON DAY 5... Day 4... well, yeah, actually, Day 5: The Best Match Hardly Anyone Saw?

Such a Garbi move to win a match like that after how things went the first two weeks of her season.


...????? ON DAY 5: Hmmm, well...

What's that? Ah, yes. The 2013 Australian Open...

Victoria Azarenka defeats Li Na in the single final and becomes the only woman in the decade to successfully defend her AO title.

At the height of her powers, Azarenka reels off victories in 26 straight matches dating back to the 2012, and doesn't lose her first on-court match in '13 (she had two walkovers) until May. By the end of the season she sports a 26-2 record in the hard court slams of 2012-13, reaching the finals of all four, defeating future Hall of Famers Li and Sharapova for titles, and taking Serena Williams to three sets twice (serving for the match vs. Serena in the '12 US final).
Li Na's appearance in the final is the third of her slam career, and her second in three years in Melbourne. She would return to the final a year later, finally winning the title in her last appearance at the AO.
The tournament opened with each member of the triumvirate of talent at the top of the womens' game -- Azarena, S.Williams and Sharapova -- with a shot at the #1 ranking. Azarenka had assumed the top spot after winning the AO in '12, and retained it for all but four weeks (Sharapova) until February 18, 2013. At that point Williams replaced her at #1, and held onto the position for 186 straight weeks until she was moved aside by Angelique Kerber in September 2016.
Sloane Stephens has her intitial breakout slam moment, reaching the semifinals after upsetting S.Williams in the QF. She's the first U.S. woman younger than Serena to ever defeat her.

In the semis, Stephens is dominated by Azarenka, though the match is best remembered for the Belarusian's late-match anxiety attack and much-debated double-MTO. Stephens wouldn't reach her second career slam SF until she won the U.S. Open in 2017.

Maria Sharapova opens singles play with back-to-back double-bagel victories, the best start by a woman in the AO since 1985 (Wendy Turnbull). She lost just five games through the first four rounds (a record), and nine through the QF (the previous record had been 20). She was defeated in the semis by Li.
Canada's Rebecca Marino, in her first slam back after a late 2012 absence while dealing with "mental/physical fatigue," suffers a 1st Round loss to Peng Shuai. She retires from tennis in February due to what is later revealed to be issues with depression. She didn't play again until October 2017, and went on to win five ITF singles titles in 2018. Her appearance in qualifying at this year's AO was her first in any slam since her MD loss to Peng six years earlier.
Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci win the women's doubles, giving the Italians three-quarters of a Career Doubles Slam. The duo completed their mission at the 2014 Wimbledon, having won all four slams over a 26-month stretch, going from zero to five career major titles during the span.

They defeated the Williams Sisters in the QF (both Sisters served for the match in the 2nd, and they led 3-0 in the 3rd), and wild cards Ash Barty (at age 16) & Casey Dellacqua in the final.
Jarmila Gajdosova wins the Mixed Doubles with Matthew Ebden, coming the first Aussie woman to win the title since Samantha Stosur (w/ Scott Draper) in 2005. It'd be the only slam title of Gajdosova's career.
With Esther Vergeer retired, Aniek Van Koot wins her maiden Wheelchair Singles slam title, topping Sabine Ellerbrock in the final. She claims the doubles with fellow Dutch player Jiske Griffioen. The pair would go on to win a natural Doubles Grand Slam in '13, sweeping all four titles to become the first WC duo that didn't include Vergeer (who did it in '09 and '11 with Korie Homan and Sharon Walraven, respectively) to accomplish the feat.
Croat Ana Konjuh defeats Katerina Siniakova to win the girls singles title. Rising to #1, she'd later win the U.S. Open junior crown, as well. In Melbourne, Konjuh also picks up the doubles title with Canada's Carol Zhao.

The girls singles quarterfinal field included Elise Mertens ('18 women's SF), Barbora Krejcikova (WD co-#1 w/ Siniakova in '18, winning RG and Wimbledon) and Alona Ostapenko ('17 RG champ).
At 42, Kimiko Date-Krumm becomes the oldest woman to record a MD singles win in AO history, defeating Nadia Petrova 6-2/6-0. She reaches the 3rd Round in singles, and in doubles (w/ Aranta Parra-Santonja) upsets the #3-seeded Czech duo of Hlavackova/Hradecka.
Azarenka joined the list of AO champs who've won the title after surviving a close call early in the tournament. In the 3rd Round, the talented but star-crossed Jamie Hampton, treated for a back injury during the match, led the eventual champ by a break advantage at 2-1 in the 3rd. But while dealing with the pain of her injury, Hampton dropped serve a game later, then fell behind 4-2 and couldn't get the leveling break vs. Azarenka despite holding triple BP at love/40. Azarenka swept the final five games of the match.

Hampton reached three slam 3rd Rounds (3r-4r-1r-3r) in 2013, but due to injuries hasn't played a slam match since. In 2014, a hip injury led to six surgeries, and she hasn't returned to the tour. Of note, Hampton still lists herself as, simply, "tennis player" on her Twitter profile.
Another player whose career was bedeviled by injury, Brit Laura Robson, had one of her best career moments in Melbourne in 2013.

Facing off with Petra Kvitova in a night match that went past midnight, the Australia-born Robson, 18, upended the #8 seed in a battle of lefties, coming back from a set down to get the win in a three-hour marathon. The Czech led 3-0 in the 3rd, had GP's for 4-1, and led 4-2. Kvitova (in all her Good/Bad Petra glory) got within two points of victory, and fired 18 aces on the night while also having 18 DF. Robson won an 11-9 final set, defeating her third slam winner in her last two slams.

Robson was a Wimbledon junior champ (2008) and two-time AO girls finalist (2009-10). In 2012, she won MX Olympic Silver with Andy Murray in London and reached her first career tour singles final. She attained her career high (#27) in July '13 after reaching her second slam Round of 16 (at Wimbledon) in less than a year. But a wrist injury in August altered the course of her career. After missing time she had surgery in '14, and spent the next few seasons attempting to make a comeback while often spending more time in a commentary booth than on the court. After slowly finding moderate success (winning her biggest title, a $60K in '17), she had hip surgery in the summer of 2018. She hasn't played since June of last year.
After days of unbecoming, Australia media-fueled attacks against her for what happened vs. Stephens, Azarenka was met with whistles, cat calls and anti-Vika signs (one labeled her "Cheaterenka") during the final. After she won, when her name was initially engraved on the Daphne Akhurst Cup, Azarenka's home nation was listed as "BEL," rather than "BLR."


* - "Some people, the player's mother is younger than me." - Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, on playing much younger opponnents

* - "I want both!" - Aga Radwanska, on whether she'd prefer to reach #1 or win a major

* - "[It'd be] like playing one of my mom's friends." - Sloane Stephens, on the prospect of playing Date-Krumm

* - [Aga Radwanska, asked what annoys her most] "A lot of things, actually. Slow drivers, for example. When my internet is not working... so angry."

* - "Truth is, I'm younger than you." - 30-year old Li Na, when interviewer Rennae Stubbs asked her if "30 is the new 20"

* - "I almost did the Choke of the Year." "I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains. It was like I was getting a heart attack." - Victoria Azarenka, on her apparent anxiety attack in the closing games of her SF (when she failed to convert 5 MP) vs. Sloane Stephens. The incident kicked off 48 hours of controversy that spilled over to the final, where the Aussie crowd was audibly and nastily against her in one of the more class-less moments in the history of "the happy slam"

* - "Because I'm stupid." - Li Na, when asked why she fell multiple times in the final. Against Azarenka, Li fell and injured her ankle early in the match, then again later, hitting her head (and eliciting a laugh from the crowd as she smiled while a doctor checked her condition by having her eyes follow her finger).

* - "I guess I'm pretty tough." - proud singles champion Azarenka, after successfully defending her title in the face of controversy

Hopefully, Vika will remember that going forward into 2019 and beyond.

x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. x
x vs. Amanda Anisimova/USA
#15 Ash Barty/AUS vs. #30 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#5 Sloane Stephens/USA x vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
x vs. x

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 C.Dellacqua, J.Gajdosova, S.Stosur,A.Tomljanovic (2nd)
2016 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2017 Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
2018 Ash Barty (3rd Rd.)
2019 ?

[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
2018 [In 4th Round - Ash Barty] *
* - Kimberly Birrell to play 3rd Rd.

2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2009 Venus Williams, USA (2nd Rd.)
2010 Maria Sharapova, RUS (1st Rd.)
2011 Jelena Jankovic, SRB (2nd Rd.)
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st Rd.)
2013 Samantha Stosur, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE (1st Rd.)
2015 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (1st Rd.)
2016 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2017 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.)
2018 S.Stephens, C.Vandeweghe & V.Williams, USA (1st Rd./'17 U.S. Open SF)
2019 Dasha Kasatkina, RUS (1st Rd.)

2010 Jana Cepelova / Chantal Skamlova, SVK/SVK
2011 An-Sophie Mestach / Demi Schuurs, BEL/NED
2012 Gabby Andrews / Taylor Townsend, USA/USA
2013 Ana Konjuh / Carol Zhao, CRO/CAN
2014 Anhelina Kalinina / Elizaveta Kulichkova, UKR/RUS
2015 Miriam Kolodziejova / Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE
2016 Anna Kalinskaya / Tereza Mihalikova, RUS/SVK
2017 Bianca Andreescu / Carson Branstine, CAN/USA
2018 Liang En-shou / Wang Xinyu, TPE/CHN
2019 ?

2001 Jelena Jankovic/SRB d. Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
2002 Barbora Strycova/CZE d. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2003 Barbora Strycova/CZE d. Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
2004 Shahar Peer/ISR d. Nicole Vaidisova/CZE
2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. Agnes Szavay/HUN
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Arantxa Rus/NED d. Jessica Moore/AUS
2009 Ksenia Pervak/RUS d. Laura Robson/GBR
2010 Karolina Pliskova/CZE d. Laura Robson/GBR
2011 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL d. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Taylor Townsend/USA d. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO d. Katerina Siniakova/CZE
2014 Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS d. Jana Fett/CRO
2015 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK d. Katie Swan/GBR
2016 Vera Lapko/BLR d. Tereza Mihalikova/SVK
2017 Marta Kostyuk/UKR d. Rebeka Masarova/SUI
2018 Liang En-shou/TPE d. Clara Burel/FRA
2019 ?

1977 Kerry Melville-Reid, AUS
1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
1980 Hana Mandlikova, CZE
1995 Mary Pierce, FRA
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2018 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

1997 Australian Open - Martina Hingis (16)*
1997 Roland Garros - Iva Majoli (19)*
1997 Wimbledon - Martina Hingis (16)
1997 U.S. Open - Martina Hingis (16)
1998 Australian Open - Martina Hingis (17)
1999 Australian Open - Martina Hingis (18)
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (17)*
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (17)*
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (19)*
2006 U.S. Open - Maria Sharapova (19)
* - first-time champion
NOTE: Ostapenko was 20y,2d when won '17 RG

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #16 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3 - Astra Sharma/AUS def. #25 Irina Khromacheva 5-7/7-6(7)/7-6(10) (saved 3 MP, makes slam debut)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #18 Garbine Muguruza/ESP def. Johanna Konta/GBR 6-4/6-7(3)/7-5 (ended at 3:12 a.m.)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
FIRST VICTORY: Rebecca Peterson/SWE (def. Cirstea/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #14 Julia Goerges/GER (1st Rd. - lost to D.Collins/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: Teens - six teenagers win 1st Round matches - Andreescu/Anisimova/Potapova/Swiatek/Vondrousova/Yastremska; Anisimova and Yastremska reach 3rd Rd.
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania - 2-4 1st Rd., losses to two teens, #25 seed
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Bianca Andreescu/CAN, Beatriz Haddad Maia/BRA, Astra Sharma/AUS, Iga Swiatek/POL, Natalia Vikhlyantseva/RUS (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Kimberly Birrell/AUS (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Barty(W), Birrell
IT (??): Nominees: Anisimova, Birrell, Yastremska
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: Bacsinszky, Sharapova
CRASH & BURN: #10 Dasha Kasatkina/RUS (after leading 3-0 in 1st set, loses 12 con. games in 1st Rd. loss vs. Bacsinszky)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: Halep (1st Rd. - down set and a break vs. Kanepi; 2nd Rd. - down 4-2 in 3rd set vs. Kenin)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: Halep, Muguruza

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.