Friday, January 26, 2007

Day 12: Clash of the Titans

They're ready for battle. The #1-seeded player vs. the surprise finalist. A second straight slam championship at stake for a Russian, and the "return to prominance" of American women's tennis in the hands of the other.

No, not Maria vs. Serena. Anastasia vs. Madison, of course.

Ironically, in the same Australian Open that will bring us a main draw match-up of soon-to-be #1 female player in the world Maria Sharapova versus unseeded Serena Williams, the Girls final is following along in near-lockstep with top-ranked Hordette girl Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova facing off against #16-seeded American Madison Brengle in the final.

Like Sharapova, the world's best junior girl is looking to claim her second straight slam singles crown, having defeated Tamira Paszek in the U.S. Open Girls final last September. 15-year old Pavlyuchenkova is also the defending Australian Open Girls champ (she was RU in Roland Garros in '06, as well). Like Williams, 16-year old Brengle wasn't expected to get this far. The core of American girls showed themselves pretty well in Melbourne (unseeded Chelsey Gullickson made the QF, and Julia Boserup upset #7-seed Sharon Fichman in the 1st Round), with Brengle separating herself from the pack to reach her first slam Girls final just weeks after having claimed the U.S.'s wild card berth into the main draw by winning a playoff tournament (she lost to Patty Schnyder in the 1st Round). Both Brengle and Pavlyuchenkova, in Federer-esque fashion, have yet to drop a set in Melbourne.

Gee, it's like the "Cold War" has been renewed on an entirely more desirable level.

Love-Love... Australia Day celebrations and a dwindling number of matches remaining to contest left little to be done on Day 12, but what was scheduled was pretty important.

For one, Fernando Gonzalez reached his first career slam final with a 6-1/6-3/6-1 smackdown of Tommy Haas. It was a pretty good Federer impression... but how will it hold up against the real thing in the final? Gonzo put on a late surge in '06 to finish in the Top 10, but it should be noted that even during that breakthrough string of results he faced -- and lost to -- Federer on back-to-back weekends in Madrid and Basel last October when the Chilean made three straight finals (he lost the other to Ivan Ljubicic). I'm just sayin'.

the first official champions were crowned in Women's Doubles, as Cara Black & Liezel Huber finally put down the unseeded Taiwanese team of Yung-Jan Chan & Chia-Jung Chuang, 6-4/6-7/6-1.
15-love... both the Girls and Boys Doubles champs were decided, too.

The all-Russian team of Evgeniya Rodina & Arina Rodionova upset #1-seeded Julia Cohen & Urszula Radwanska, 2-6/6-3/6-1. On the Boys side, unseeded Graeme Dyce & Harri Heliovaara defeated #8-seeded Stephen Donald & Rupesh Roy, 6-2/6-7/6-3.

#1 Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
#2 Jonas Bjorkman/Max Mirnyi

Victoria Azarenka/Max Mirnyi
Elena Likhovtseva/Daniel Nestor

#2 Jonathan Eysseric (FRA)
Brydan Klein (AUS)


[total slam s/d/m titles]
15..Serena Williams
9...Jonas Bjorkman
9...Roger Federer
7...Bob Bryan
6...Mike Bryan
6...Max Mirnyi
5*..Cara Black
2*..Liezel Huber
2...Maria Sharapova
1...Elena Likhovtseva
1...Daniel Nestor
0...Victoria Azarenka
0...Yung-Jan Chan
0...Chia-Jung Chuang
0...Fernando Gonzalez
*--includes '07 Australian title

MATCH, "And the winner is"... hmmm, who am I going to pick in the singles finals? Well, Federer, of course. Isn't that always the safe (and usually correct) bet? Gonzalez has been stellar, but there's a wide gulf between very good (and maybe even great) and the land of giant toadstools and talking oak trees where Roger the Honorific resides. Sure, Federer's going to need to lose soon or I'm going to run out of things to call him (I don't think I've repeated myself yet)... but I don't think it'll be in Melbourne. FEDERER IN... um, well, why not... THREE SETS. Move over, Bjorn Borg.

As for the women, I'm going to pick the Supernova largely -- well, maybe even more than that -- because I picked her to win at the beginning, and I'm hoping to be able to declare the "Sharapova Scenario" ON within the next 24 hours. But the "Serena Scenario" might be even more likely considering what's happened the last two weeks. It'll be a close match, and hopefully a classic with a high level of play from beginning to end. In the end, I think Sharapova will get her serve going just in the nick of time to match Serena's and barely beat her to the finish line. SHARAPOVA IN THREE SETS... and maybe even an extended 3rd with a score of 7-5, 8-6 or something like that.


All for Day 12.


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