Monday, January 19, 2009

Oz 1- Jelena, version 2.0 X 2

On both ends of the tennis spectrum, a Jelena was part of the story on Day 1 of the 2009 Australian Open.

Mark Dadswell / AFP / Getty Images

At the top of the heap sat #1-seed Jelena Jankovic, playing the second match of the day on Rod Laver. Noticeably more muscled than in the past, she had far less of an adventure in her opening contest this year than last. In 2008, she came into Melbourne in questionable condition, then huffed and puffed her way through a tightrope of a match against Tamira Paszek, finally surviving by winning a 12-10 3rd set when her teenage opponent failed on multiple opportunities to serve out the match, not to mention losing three match points.

Against Yvonne Meusburger of Austria, Jankovic version 2.0 didn't turn into the tournament's Zombie Queen... she just remained Queen Chaos, only without all the chaos.

Oh, there was that moment early in the match, one of the spare ones I caught during ESPN2's coverage (hey, the Steelers were playing the Ravens for a berth in the Super Bowl, so I had remote in hand), when Jankovic stood in the shade while the ball kids seemed to take forever to move the balls around the court to her desire as she prepared to serve. For a while there, it looked like it might turn into a head-shaking, Jankovician moment of craziness. But then it didn't. Jankovic smiled for a second, then went about her business. She won the match 6-1/6-3, never really allowing Meusburger to acclimate herself to the big stage environment until it was too late to do anything about it.

Questions about whether the bigger body will ultimately make her more injury-prone, or adversely effect her fluid movement (and, thereby, defense) will have to wait. Whether this "new" JJ will have enough power to be able to follow-up on the aggressiveness she sported in the final months of last season throughout the ENTIRE 2009 season will, as well. Right now, the waters are calm in Jankovic Land, and that's not such a bad thing.

(Of course, Queen Chaos might need a LITTLE bit of drama to provide her majesty with a much-needed distraction that'll keep her Jankey Sense from going off and disrupting her play. For now, the Serbian documentary and the like will have to do. It's probably good, though. Imagine the alternative. What is it they say about idle minds... they're the devil's workshop? Imagine what sort of trouble an idle JANKOVIC mind could find. So far, so good... and everyone make sure Jelena doesn't gain access to a pitchfork)

Remarkably, the OTHER "big-name" Jelena in the draw got off to a winning start, as well.

Getty Images

Though she only qualifies after having traveled through a loophole doubled over and tied in a triple knot (you know, sort of like most of Australia's imported top women's players), Jelena Dokic became the only home nation "Sheila" to win her 1st Round match on Monday, as most of the bigger Aussie names won't play until Day 2. Dokic knocked off, ironically, another Austrian. Even more ironically, it was the same player that Jankovic defeated to start last year's Australian Open -- Paszek, by a 6-2/3-6/6-4 score in the third match on Hisense Arena.

Good for her, too. One never knows with Dokic whether you'll get the player who was once considered a contender, or the oft-injured, sometimes troubled player from the last half-decade. As of this moment, she looks to be somewhere in the middle... which isn't a bad place for her, as it will keep her hungry and focused. Her win over Paszek should be a big confidence-booster, and if she were to find a way to upset #17-seed Anna Chakvetadze in the 2nd Round we might have to consider Dokic at least a mid-level player of note in '09. Years ago, my Dokic columns on eventually led to the birth of Backspin, so on a personal level it'd be great to have her back as a subject of good note, rather than one of reminiscence, frustration and cynicism. This victory was her first in a slam main draw since 2003, and her first in the Australian Open since 1999. Sheesh.

Truthfully, in recent seasons, I've never really allowed myself to believe that Dokic will ever even make it back to being a consistent Top 50, or even Top 100, player. So, a 2nd Round win over Chakvetadze would sort of leave me in a position of not knowing how to approach the situation. Sometimes, confusion can be a good thing, though. "The Fair One" turned "The Debutante" turned the "Ex-Debutante" turned "Sister Jelena" is one match away from being re-born in a whole new incarnation. Maybe.

At least through one day of action in Melbourne, Jelena version 2.0 -- both of them -- proved to be a worthy upgrade.

Of course, considering the players we're dealing with, future glitches are possible, if not probable. So the status of both, as usual, is subject to immediate change.

Stay tuned.

...alas, poor Agnes. I knew her, Horatio. Or at least I thought I did.

(All right, Horatio, I'm through with you. You can go now.)

A year and a half ago, Agnes Szavay looked like an intriguing player truly going places. She HAS... but in the wrong direction. Her 2008 propensity to lose her opening match in a frightening number of events has continued into 2009, so her position of being the first seed ousted from this Australian Open was a sadly predicable occurrence. As the #23 seed, which will likely be her last seeding at a slam for quite a while unless she turns things around and fast, she lost in three sets to Galina Voskoboeva.

#24 Sybille Bammer and #27 Maria Kirilenko were also shown the door by Lucie Safarova and Sara Errani, respectively. Neither, as with Szavay, was an earth-shattering surprise.

...on the bright side, a few players looking to get off to good starts in '09 got 1st Round wins on Day 1, as the aforementioned Chakvetadze and Sania Mirza were victorious.

Meanwhile, Kaia Kanepi won in an 8-6 3rd set over 38-year old qualifier Kimiko Date-Krumm, and Vera Zvonareva maneuvered her way through a tight 1st set before wiping out Magdalena Rybarikova in the 2nd in a 7-6/6-0 match.

...some other Day 1 housekeeping: Austria's Patricia Mayr, who defeated qualifier Julia Schruff, was the very first woman to advance to the 2nd Round. Meanwhile, Italy's Alberta Brianti was the only women's qualifier to advance on Day 1, while Dokic was the only wild card to do so.

...when is the longest match in Australian Open history NOT the longest match in Australian Open history? Ummm, when the chair umpire's wrongly programmed PDA mistimed the match. The Gilles Muller versus Feliciano Lopez match, which Muller won 16-14 in the 5th, was originally reported as having been a 5:34 contest, the longest ever in the tournament's history. Turns out, the umpire entered the match start time incorrectly, and it was really only a 4:24 match and NOT the longest match ever. ONLY a 4:24 match... that's a good one.

...and, finally, you knew ESPN2 was back on the scene with tennis when the Australian Open began with the debut of YET ANOTHER different set of on-screen game/match score graphics. One of these days, I guess, they'll get it right. Just don't hold your breath.

It was nice that after so many years, SOMEONE at ESPN realized that maybe match scores should be updated regularly during coverage, especially in the early rounds of a slam when up to fifteen or more matches might be taking place simultaneously. The idea of showing scores "on the 10's" is good, but it'd be great if it was executed a little better, too. You know, like by showing ALL the scores (or at least ALL the current ongoing matches) when the "10 minute time clock" ticks to zero... rather than showing just the men, or just the women, or just three or four matches, as was often the case on Day 1

I fear for the ESPN2 U.S. Open coverage this coming summer... especially when you consider how the late, late, late night live coverage was promoted during last night's program, as Chris Fowler constantly read ads for the Roger Federer match, which was expected to start somewhere around 5:00-5:30am East Coast time... "after a women's match."

For the record, the "women's match" was the night session contest between 2008 semifinalist Daniela Hantuchova and last year's home nation surprise star, Casey Dellacqua. Some people might have wanted to watch that one, as well, so it'd probably have been a good idea to at least refer by name to the actual players participating, rather than essentially dubbing them "Anonymous Women's Player 1a" and "1b."

By the way, Hantuchova won that match. So, Casey's grandmother will have to find something in the doubles competition to smile about this year, I guess.

2005: #16 Ai Sugiyama, JPN (lost to Sucha)
2006: #9 Elena Dementieva, RUS (lost to Schruff)
2007: #25 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (lost to Vesnina)
2008: #23 Agnes Szavay, HUN (lost to Voskoboeva)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: q3 - Stephanie Dubois/CAN d. Urszula Radwanksa/POL 6-4/6-4
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Agnes Szavay/HUN (1st Rd.- Voskoboeva/KAZ)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Todd,

Women's Doubles 1st R.

Petrova/Kuznetsova vs Williamses

WOW! what do you think?

Tue Jan 20, 07:30:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, if the Williams sisters stay healthy and go deep into the singles, I'd think there's a pretty good chance they'll win the whole tournament, so they probably handle the Russians. :)

Tue Jan 20, 01:31:00 PM EST  

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