Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 5: Amelie Wears Combat Boots, while Casey dons glass slippers

Two years ago, Amelie Mauresmo was donning ruby slippers and clicking her heels in Melbourne.

On Day 5, it was a case of "Amelie Wears Combat Boots." And, in the process, this year's Australian Open found its Cinderella story in the form of 22-year old Aussie Casey Dellacqua.

While Maria has been dominating (and looking fabulous in that frilly white number, by the way), Jelena has been teetering on the edge (another three-setter on Friday, pushing her still closer to the physical wall), Justine has been flipping the switch on and off (but collecting herself before things get too hairy), and Venus and Serena have been striking fear in the hearts of doubles teams all over the grounds (see ya #2-seeded Srebotnik/Sugiyama), Dellacqua has been battling her way through match after match despite having having not won a 1st Round match in Melbourne in five tries coming into this year's Oz.

Oddly enough, her under-the-lights 3-6/6-4/6-4 upset of '06 champion Mauresmo was probably the LEAST dramatic of her three victories. After all, she had to steal away with 8-6 3rd set wins in her early round matches against Karin Knapp and Patty Schnyder (though Dellacqua did extend her streak to three straight matches won after having dropped the 1st set).

After previously having to shop at Target for her tennis clothes, the Last Sheila Standing is suddenly Melbourne's "It Girl"... with a somewhat shaky Serb all that stands between her and becoming one of the more unlikely slam quarterfinalists in recent memory.

A: #16 Shahar Peer, ISR
R: #7 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
W: #6 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
U: #30 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

A: (un) Casey Dellacqua, AUS

Win or lose next time out, Day 5 was surely one to remember Down Under for a certain Miss Dellacqua.

G'day, indeed.

My, did the night session ticket holders inside Rod Laver Arena get good bang for their bucks on Day 5 or what? Not only did they get to witness Australia's new favorite daughter Dellacqua upset Amelie Mauresmo, the second half of the double-header was Philipp Kohlschreiber's epic five-set upset of #5 Andy Roddick, 6-4/3-6/7-6/6-7/8-6, that didn't end until 2:05 am local Melbourne time.

Some of the great US Open night sessions had nothing on this one.

Roddick's career-best 42 aces were bested by the German's 100+ winners, and all that talk about the American possibly slipping through into the final turned out to be just that. Roger vs. Rafa is looking more and more like a possibility... but don't overlook Mikhail Youzhny's ability to pull a few more surprises in the bottom half of the draw.

Meanwhile, are we to blame Mauresmo's shakiness on her lack of match play since the middle of last season after her long recovery from her appendectomy and mid-season injury? Or are we simply now seeing the return to form of the Amelie we saw all those years before her blessed 2006 season?

Remember, she wobbled early against Tatiana Poutchek in the 1st Round, then strung together two bagel sets to advance. It took her eleven match points to finally put away Yaroslava Shvedova in the 2nd Round, then she lost her advantage here... even throwing in back-to-back double-faults when trying to stay in the match at 4-5 in the 3rd against Dellacqua.

Just wondering.

While Tennis Channel's Aussie Open coverage has been somewhat disappointing (please, people, find someone who'll bring out the fun side of Martina Navratilova a little more often... as the likes of Billie Jean King & Mary Carillo did back in the old, pre-Martina Comeback days on HBO), ESPN's has been surprisingly good.

After sidelining Bud Collins early on, the longtime tennis institution has been popping up more and more often as the week has gone along, talking endlessly about the history of tennis in a way that only he can. On Day 5, he even teamed up with Dick Enberg! Ah, it brought back all kinds of wonderful memories of NBC's "Breakfast at Wimbledon" coverage in the days before Ted Robinson & Co.

I haven't heard any wild stories about Bud's real-or-fictitious uncle yet.... but we've still got another week of action to go. (Crosses fingers.)

Not only has the addition and utilization of Collins made the coverage better, but the addition of full night session programming, beginning at 3:30 am on the American East Coast, is something that was long overdue.

ESPN doing something right when it comes to tennis coverage? I know, I know. I'm half expecting Earth to be invaded by an armada of alien spaceships any minute now.

TOP QUALIFIER: Julia Schruff / GER
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st - Jankovic def. Paszek 2-6/6-2/12-10
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Julia Vakulenko / UKR (1st Rd.-Vesnina)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
IT GIRL: Casey Dellacqua / AUS
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Jelena Jankovic / SRB (1st Rd.- down 3 MP to Paszek)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.


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