Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day 4: Steam(er)-Pressed

"The Steamer" isn't all the way back. But she's getting there.



Two Australian Opens ago, Alicia Molik was a star. After having won an Olympic Bronze in Sydney, her confidence suddenly knew no bounds. And her game soon showed signs of following suit. She knocked off Maria Sharapova to win the Tier I in Zurich late in the '04 season. She opened 2005 by winning a tournament, then steaming on to the Oz QF, nearly upsetting #1-seed Lindsay Davenport there. Within weeks, she was in the Top 10.

Then it nearly all came to a stunning end.

An inner ear infection (vestibular neuronitis) attacked her balance and vision, putting her career in jeopardy. By the end of 2005, she announced she was being forced to take a sabbatical... full well knowing that "sabbatical" could be code for "retirement" when all was said and done.

After slowly taking the first steps in her comeback throughout last season, she's picked things up in 2007. She won the Aussie Open Wild Card tournament, and her progress was evident during her 4-2 record in two Dorothy Tour tune-up events. She's not quite in the same place she was in 2005. Far from it, really. But she's getting there, slowly but (hopefully) surely.

On Day 3, the Steamer's three-set win over Kaia Kanepi moved her into the 3rd Round of the Australian Open. And with #24-seed Samantha Stosur's loss to Jelena Kostanic, Molik is once again the last remaining Sheila in the draw.

No, it's not quite like "old times"... yet. But she's getting closer and closer all the time.




Love-Love

...
a hand for the Czech Maidens, the "Upset Queens" of this year's Australian Open. The young Russians (including Olga Poutchkova, Alla Kudryavtseva and Elena Vesina) were in the running, but the Maidens get the honor because both unseeded Czechs Lucie Safarova and Eva Birnerova are still around for the 3rd Round (Renata Voracova also had a 1st Round upset, but lost in Round 2). There are no unseeded Russians remaining in the final 32.
=============================
15-Love...
speaking of the final 32:

**FINAL 32 -- TOP HALF**
4...Russia (#1 Sharapova, #9 Safina, #12 Chakvetadze, #22 Zvonareva)
--------------------------
2...Switzerland (#6 Hingis, #8 Schnyder)
--------------------------
1...Belgium (#3 Clijsters)
1...Serbia (#13 Ivanovic)
1...Slovak Republic (#15 Hantuchova)
1...China (#19 Li)
1...Ukraine (#29 A.Bondarenko)
1...Italy (#30 Garbin)
1...Australia (Molik)
1...Croatia (Kostanic-Tosic)
1...USA (Harkleroad)
1...Japan (Nakamura)

--------------------------

**FINAL 32 -- BY NATION**
[WOMEN]
8...Russia
3...Czech Republic
2...Belarus
2...France
2...Italy
2...Serbia
2...Switzerland
2...USA
1...Australia
1...Belgium
1...China
1...Croatia
1...Israel
1...Japan
1...Slovak Republic
1...Slovenia
1...Ukraine


**FINAL 32 -- BY NATION**
[MEN]
6...USA
4...France
3...Russia
3...Spain
2...Argentina
2...Australia
2...Czech Republic
2...Germany
2...Switzerland
1...Chile
1...Croatia
1...Great Britain
1...Serbia
1...Slovak Republic
1...Thailand


=============================
30-Love...
the top 13, and 15 of the top 16 women's seeds advanced to the final 32. 14 of the top 16 men's seed did the same.
=============================
30-15...
Maria Sharapova finally got into the act on Day 3, bageling Anastassia Rodionova in the 1st set of her 6-0/6-3 victory. Not to be outdone, Kim Clijsters made it three bagels out of four sets with her 6-3/6-0 win over Akiko Morigami.
=============================
40-15...
Andy Murray's Day 4 win over Fernando Verdasco wasn't nearly as destructive as his 6-0/6-0/6-1 win over Alberto Martin in the 1st Round (Murray actually won the first 17 games in that one), but no matter. If he gets past Juan Ignacio Chela, Murrayy will set himself up rather nicely for a potential Round of 16 clash with Rafael Nadal. That is, as long as Rafa gets past potential upset-maker Stanislas Wawrinka.
=============================
40-30...
with the 2nd Round losses of Tamira Paszek, Alla Kudryavteva and Renata Voracova on Day 3, there is no "last qualifier standing." Thus, there is no "qualifier with the mostest" at this year's Oz. In fact, there are no qualifiers remaining in the men's final 32, either. The closest anyone came was Dudi Sela pushing Marat Safin to five sets, and Julia Vakulenko taking Maria Kirilenko to three, in the 2nd Round. Blame the Russians.
=============================
Deuce...
seen on ESPN's coverage of Day 4: a montage of video clips of Lleyton Hewitt leading into the commercial break that preceeded Hewitt's match against Frank Dancevic, joined by the on-screen graphic "Australian Open 2006." And, no, that's not a typo.
=============================
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**EARLY ROUND AWARDS**
[1st & 2nd Rounds]

TOP PLAYER: Kim Clijsters (RU: Amelie Mauresmo))
RISER: Shahar Peer (RU: Maria Kirilenko)
SURPRISE: Camille Pin (RU: Anastasiya Yakimova)
VETERAN: Martina Hingis (RU: Tathiana Garbin))
FRESH FACE: Victoria Azarenka (RU: Lucie Safarova)
DOWN: Anna-Lena Groenefeld (RU: Marion Bartoli)

TOP MATCH: 1st - Sharapova def. Pin 6-3/4-6/9-7... of course.

COMEBACK PLAYERS: Serena Williams, Alicia Molik & Ashley Harkleroad


=============================
Match, "Apparently, she used up her allotment of luck on Day 3"...
Girl Friday is gone. From the singles, at least. After surviving her 1st Round match, #17-seed Anna-Lena Groenefeld went out in the 2nd with a whimper to Ashley Harkleroad on Day 4, 6-2/6-2. Hmmm, when does the clay season begin, anyway?
=============================




All for Day 4.

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