Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oz 4- The Sun Comes Out at Night

"The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!

Just thinkin' about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!"
- "Tomorrow" lyrics, from the musical "Annie"

Well, Venus Williams might not have exactly ascribed to those sentiments as she left the grounds under the cover of darkness at the end of Day 4, but the fact is that her singles journey at the 2009 Australian Open is over, courtesy of 20-year old Spaniard Carla Suarez-Navarro.

Getty Images

While, if she had red hair and a little dog by her side, CSN might actually to be able to pull off the "Annie" look, she was anything but a cheery, singing orphan on Rod Laver Arena on Night 4 during her three-set upset of the #6 seed. Instead, she was the same player who flashed great skill during the second half of 2008 following her run to the Roland Garros QF as a qualifier in the spring. She was the same player with the great groundstrokes, and a one-handed backhand that's been aesthetically the best looking thing on any court since Justine Henin permanently put HER backhand into storage last May. More importantly, CSN was the player who stared down Venus, overcoming a match point, to win 2-6/6-3/7-5 and lead an armada of Spanish players into the final thirty-two in the women's singles draw.

Contrary to what Dick Enberg and his ESPN2 cohorts tried to express during the live coverage of this match, CSN defeating Venus is not an upset that shakes the tennis world to its foundation. It's not even Coin def. Ivanovic, which ranking-wise was a huge result. Since Suarez-Navarro isn't a Top 5 player, I guess she meets the network's prerequisites for being dubbed an "unknown," but she's hardly that. She's got game (and, unlike her cartoon Annie equivalent, actual pupils, too).

Still, this upset probably shouldn't have happened. After all, Venus had the match on her racket. She led 4-1 in the 3rd, served at 5-3 and held a match point at 5-4. But while Suarez-Navarro maintained her aggression throughout the final games, Williams did not... and against a player with the type of sometimes-stinging groundstrokes of CSN, Venus painted herself into a corner -- located somewhere behind the baseline -- from which the Spaniard refused to let her fight her way out.

Suarez-Navarro broke Williams' serve twice in a row in the closing moments, then served out the match to reach the 3rd Round, knock off the tournament's highest seed to fall so far and become the first non-Williams sister to defeat either Venus or Serena at a slam since last year's Roland Garros (after a 25-0 stretch vs. the field). And she's done it all while playing in her first Oz main draw, and last night appearing for the first time ever on the court of Rod Laver Arena (which, for the record, Suarez-Navarro winningly admitted during her post-match interview, is a pretty big stadium).

"Tomorrow, tomorrow is only a day away..." and CSN can't wait for it to arrive.

...everything that Venus DIDN'T do against CSN, Serena DID against Gisela Dulko earlier in the day. Nursing a bad ankle and playing an Argentine opponent having one of her good days, Serena outplayed Dulko on all the big points to slide through to the 3rd Round in a straight sets win.

The turning point came in the ninth game of the 2nd set. Dulko, up 5-3, was serving to force a deciding set. In a 12-deuce game, she held six set points in the near thirty-point marathon. But Serena, resembling the slowly-building Melbourne champ she has in other recent odd-numbered years, found a way to win all the big points as Dulko missed open shots that could have changed the entire tenor of the match. In the end, Serena served for the victory at 6-3/6-5... and emphatically hit an ace on match point to put Dulko away once and for all.

Rather than immediately go her post-match press conference, Williams (who labeled her play as a "D-minus" effort) instead made a beeline to the practice courts for a couple more hours of additional work on her game. Obviously, she WANTS this title and, unlike Venus, has a special feeling about the Australian Open that can focus her efforts even when she's not playing her best.

After saving match points and winning against both Sam Stosur and Caroline Wozniacki in Sydney, then making her way mostly-unscathed through the weeds of this match, Serena is pointing herself toward the finish line with the very clear intention of crossing it first.

In the past, that's been bad news for everyone one. We'll see if it will be once again.

...meanwhile, Venus' loss opens up her section of the draw a bit, as now Elena Dementieva, Dominika Cibulkova and Flavia Pennetta are the highest-ranked players there. On Day 4, Cibulkova backed up her 1st Round double-bagel win with a 6-0/6-2 crushing of Chan Yung-Jan. While she's just the #18 seed, the Slovak might be able to rightly say she's played better than anyone in the tournament's first two rounds. Radwanskas reached the 3rd Round, and only one Williams. But BOTH Bondarenkos are in the final 32. In fact, if they both win their respective matches (Alona vs. Kuznetsova, Kateryna vs. Zheng), the sisters will face EACH OTHER in the Round of 16.


1) Virginie Razzano's upset of Patty Schnyder seals the "Upset Queens" crown for the Pastries.

2) Elena Baltacha (lost to Mauresmo) and Sesil Karatantcheva (Peng) both exited on Day 4, meaning they tie with Alberta Brianti as the "Last Qualifiers Standing" with their 2nd Round results. Jelena Dokic is the final remaining wild card.

3) Samantha Stosur's victory over Sabine Lisicki means she's still in the running with Dokic for "Last Sheila Standing" in the 3rd Round.

4) Venus, at least for now, wraps up the 'Crash & Burn" title, while Suarez-Navarro is the current "Zombie Queen" after surviving match point against Williams. A 3rd Round win over Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez would likely make it official.

...and, finally, Dokic will get another big stage moment on Laver on Night 5, as she'll face Wozniacki with a chance to truly make a LARGE mark on this tournament. The winner likely will face Ana Ivanovic.

=EARLY ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rds.=
TOP PLAYER: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
...she's won 24 of the 26 games she's played, but the true test could be a round away against Elena Dementieva. (RU: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS... quietly, which is good as far as she's concerned)
RISERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP & Peng Shuai/CHN
...less than a year after reaching the QF in Paris, CSN is back for another revelatory run at a slam. Peng has been underachieving for quite a while, but she's one win away from her best-ever slam result... of course, she'd have to upset Serena to pull it off, so there's that. (ALSO: Alona Bondarenko/UKR & Alize Cornet/FRA)
SURPRISES: Galina Voskoboeva/KAZ & Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR
...Kazakhstan's tennis imports -- Voskoboeva, Shvedova and Kazakh-to-be Karatantcheva are pushing "Borat" from the headlines... well, at least the tennis ones. MAYBE someone might have thought Alona would reach the 3rd Round, but not Kateryna. (ALSO: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Amelie Mauresmo/FRA far, their injuries and/or illnesses haven't slowed them down. (ALSO: Flavia Pennetta/ITA)
FRESH FACES Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Alisa Kleybanova/RUS
...Azarenka might get a shot at Serena, while Kleybanova WILL see Ivanovic across the net. (ALSO: Christina McHale/USA & Jessica Moore/AUS)
DOWN: Venus Williams/USA & Agnes Szavay/HUN
...Venus will rebound just fine. Agnes... who knows? (ALSO: Nicole Vaidisova/CZE & Agnieszka Radwanska/POL)
COMEBACKS: Jelena Dokic/AUS & Samantha Stosur/AUS hook or by crook, Australian women's tennis isn't dead yet. (ALSO: Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL-KAZ)

BEST INTRODUCTION TO ESPN: 2nd Rd. - Suarez-Navarro d. V.Williams 2-6/6-3/7-5
...not that the network's ever likely to show a CSN match again unless it absolutely, positively HAS to.
BEST RE-INTRODUCTION TO AUSTRALIA: 2nd Rd. - Dokic d. Chakvetadze 6-4/6-7/6-3 of those matches where the highs of one formerly-troubled winning player are almost evened out by the lows of the other currently-troubled losing one.
BEST INTRODUCTION TO THE BIG TIME... whether she was ready for it or not: 1st Rd. - Moore d. McHale 1-6/6-3/9-7
...McHale's cramping and gutsy effort will be what's remembered, but Moore actually WON the match when she just as easily could have buckled under the drama going on on the other side of the net.

FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Agnes Szavay (lost to Galina Voskoboeva)
REVELATION LADIES: The current-and-soon-to-be Kazakhs
ZOMBIE QUEEN (1r-2r): Carla Suarez-Navarro survived a match point against Venus Williams, who led 4-1 in the 3rd and served at 5-3.
CRASH & BURNER (1r-2r): Venus Williams' exit was the first truly draw-altering result, but she'll get over it pretty quickly. When does Wimbledon start?
FASHION NEWSMAKER: Jelena Jankovic: The Green Machine... the Jankonator... Jankobot-6200? She just makes it so easy.
TO SLEEP, PER CHANCE TO DREAM... or not?: "The more you know, the worse you sleep." - Dinara Safina

How weird is this Australian Open? Well, there are TWO Bondarenkos in the 3rd Round, but only one Williams. There are as many Kazakhs as Americans. And THREE Spaniards, in a hard court slam.... all in the same section along with Flavia Pennetta. And that's not even counting Jelena Dokic, which a whole other discussion.

What'll happen next?

2004: Hungarians
2005: Russians
2006: Spaniards
2007: Czechs
2008: Russians
2009: French

4th Rd. - Marta Domachowska/POL, Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE
QF - Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
3rd Rd. - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS, Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
4th Rd. - Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER
2nd Rd. - Elena Baltacha/GBR, Alberta Brianti/ITA, Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL-KAZ

U: Maria Sharapova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
A: Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
R: Serena Williams, USA (3rd Rd.)
W: Maria Sharapova, RUS (2nd Rd.)
U: Ana Ivanovic, SRB (2nd Rd.)
A: Venus Williams, USA (2nd Rd.)

W: Venus Williams, USA
A: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
R: Dinara Safina, RUS
W: Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
U: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
A: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (so far)

9...Spain (3/6)
8...France (4/4)
8...Russia (6/2)
5...United States (1/4)
3...Czech Republic (1/2)
3...Serbia (2/1)
2...Australia (2/0)
2...China (2/0)
2...Croatia (0/2)
2...Italy (2/0)
2...Slovak Republic (2/0)
2...Switzerland (0/2)
2...Ukraine (2/0)
1...Argentina (0/1)
1...Austria (0/1)
1...Belarus (1/0)
1...Chile (0/1)
1...Cyprus (0/1)
1...Denmark (1/0)
1...Estonia (1/0)
1...Germany (0/1)
1...Great Britain (0/1)
1...Israel (0/1)
1...Japan (1/0)
1...Kazakhstan (1/0)
1...Luxembourg (0/1)
1...Taiwan (0/1)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: q3 - Stephanie Dubois/CAN d. Urszula Radwanksa/POL 6-4/6-4
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd: Suarez-Navarro d. V.Williams 2-6/6-3/7-5
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Agnes Szavay/HUN (1st Rd.- Voskoboeva/KAZ)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Elena Baltacha/GBR, Alberta Brianti/ITA, Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL-KAZ (2nd Round)
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: Venus Williams/USA (lost in 2nd Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP (down MP to V.Williams in 2nd Rd.

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


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