Sunday, January 21, 2007

Day 7: Without Peers... except for maybe Peer?

Let the quaking begin.

The sight of Serena Williams flashing fists of fury while finishing off #11-seed Jelena Jankovic in two quick sets in the Round of 16 is enough to make one think she has no peers in Melbourne, at least in what's left of the bottom half of the draw, which will now produce a finalist from the list of survivors that consists of only the seven-time grand slam champion and three teenagers with one slam SF between them.

The original draw made it clear that the bottom half could produce some eyebrow-raising results, and Day 7's eliminations of the #2-seed and defending champ Amelie Mauresmo (by Lucie Safarova, 19), #3-seed and '04 U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova (by Shahar Peer, 19) and #7-seed and two-time slam RU Elena Dementieva (by Nicole Vaidisova, 17) only made the notion a reality. We're going to get a ground-breaking finalist, and Williams would seem to be in the driver's seat for that potential "Soul Survivor" sequel that I talked about on Day 1.

But, wait, there's at least one player standing between Williams and the final who isn't letting on that she's scared. It's Peer, and she just happens to be Serena's next opponent.

The Israeli teen's prospects are only getting better and better, as she's now just a match away from meeting those "semi-longshot" expectations I threw out there with a Peer-to-the-semis prediction before this tournament started. But should that really be a surprise from a player who's shown time and time again what she's all about over the past two seasons?

After winning three titles in 2006, Peer didn't sit still. Instead, she changed all her coaches in an attempt to get even better. The current world #17 is now working with Jose Higueras, and is showing an ability and desire to learn from every match. The fight has been there all along, with her come-from-behind U.S. Open win over Francesca Schiavone from a 5-1 3rd set deficit (and five match points!) last year being THE prime example. The other day, she added another when she overcame two match points against Tatiana Golovin in the 3rd Round.

But she's not perfect.

Three weeks ago, in the Gold Coast SF, she let a 6-4/5-1 lead slip away against eventual champion Dinara Safina when she couldn't re-ignite her game after a rain delay. The moment was still top of mind during her press conference following the 6-4/6-2 win over Kuznetsova that advanced her to her first slam QF, and she seems intent on never making the same error again.

But has she learned enough to overcome the experience advantage that Serena will have in the QF? Well, it's the second meeting between the two, but the first came when Peer was ranked #140. Williams won THAT match 6-3/6-3 just a few months after she'd won her most recent title, at the '05 Australian Open. Peer is a different player now, and the change is all for the good. Williams is different, too. For one, she's #81 now, hasn't won a title in two years and could finally see her not-quite-there-yet fitness be exploited if Peer's never-say-die attitude persists for at least one more match in Melbourne.

But Serena IS starting to roll, isn't she? Wins over Jankovic and Nadia Petrova are only building HER confidence, and the confidence everyone else has IN her, too. Williams slipping into the SF could be akin to letting a lion loose in an animal park. YOU try talking some sense into, if you dare.

But she has to get there first... and rather than a "Soul Survivor" sequel, don't be surprised if we get the first chapter of an entirely different story altogether.

not only did Amelie Mauresmo's defense of her '06 Oz title expire with a whimper against Lucie Safarova, she and Severine Bremond also lost in straight sets to Dinara Safina and Katarina Srebotnik in the Doubles 2nd Round. Ah, it feels like 2005 again. And 2004. And 2003...

ugh, how'd you like to be Ashley Harkleroad today? Hopefully, someone removed all the Vegemite from her room so she won't feel the urge to gag herself to death with a bite of that horrific stuff after blowing a 7-6/4-0 lead against Daniela Hantuchova. She was broken while serving at 5-3 in the 2nd, then blew another 3-1 lead in the 3rd, too. Wonder Girl survives, and congratulations to her on that (it's not the first time that she's flashed the spirit in a slam that made her the talk of the tour a few seasons ago), but one hopes that Harkleroad (herself the talk of the tour for a nanosecond a while back) doesn't let her successful comeback go off the tracks because of this one match.
Love-30... well, at least Novak Djokovic pushed Roger Federer in one of the sets in the Irreproachable One's 6-2/7-5/6-3 win. Obviously, Federer had his eye on him all along, relishing the opportunity to put him in his place. And when Federer feels he has something to prove against you... well, maybe it'd just be better to forget to set the alarm clock in the morning.
Love-40... in the matches on Day 7, my picks went 3-1 on the women's side, and 4-0 on the men's. So I'll give it a go again with Day 8's match-ups:

#12 Haas def. #8 Nalbandian
#3 Davydenko def. #13 Berdych
#5 Blake def. #10 Gonzalez
#2 Nadal def. #15 Murray

#1 Sharapova def. #22 Zvonareva
#12 Chakvetadze def. #8 Schnyder
#4 Clijsters def. #15 Hantuchova
#5 Hingis def. #19 Li

MATCH, "Good, Pierre. But no cigar"

in the first stage of the Oz Open version of the Royale, Tennisrulz Head Honcho Pierre Cantin corrected placed 13 of the final 16 women in the Round of 16. Unfortunately for Pierre, your friendly neighborhood Backspinner actually picked 15 of 16. Ironically, the only Sweet 16er I missed on was Nadia Petrova (but Pierre had her there, too... and you can't fret over the force that is Serena, right?), but the 15 correct is the best I've EVER done at a slam, men or women, going back to 1990. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Of course, Mauresmo's loss means I've lost a finalist, while Pierre still has Vaidisova alive (we both picked Sharapova). So, you win some, you lose some. Right, Amelie?

All for Day 7.


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