Friday, January 23, 2009

Oz 5- Another One Bites the Dust

Where there's a Jelena there's a way.

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Jelena Dokic is swiftly becoming the story of this tournament, and raising the level of what's possible with every match she wins. She came into this Australian Open with a tough draw, but she's made her way through by prevailing in three straight three-set matches, first taking out Tamira Paszek and #17-seed Anna Chakvetadze. On Night 4, another one bit the dust, as she did the same with fast-rising #11-seed Caroline Wozniacki, 3-6/6-1/6-2 to advance to her first slam Round of 16 in six and a half years.

Things didn't start out so rosy against C-Woz, though. The 18-year old Dane looked the part of the future Top 10er when she took the 1st set 6-3 behind a series of great service games. But, after that, Dokic and her growing (in both size and excitement) merry band of Aussie supporters at Rod Laver Arena managed to turn back the clock to when Jelena was the one with the all the promise directly in her future.

Dokic swiped the 2nd set at 6-1 in just twenty-two minutes, then immediately went up a break in the 2nd as Wozniacki began to sometimes resemble the youngster who's yet to make her mark in a slam. After giving back the break, former slam semifinalist Dokic got another to go up 3-2. Despite a few nervous late points, the rest was history. She served out the set at 6-2 to claim the match and yet another portion of her life and times that have slipped away over the past six-plus years.

At the risk of this turning into something of an "old school," Dokic-centric edition of Jelena Corner, it's not that big of a let's-not-get-too-far-ahead-of-ourselves moment to wonder just how far this Dokic story could end up going Down Under. She's obviously playing better than she has in several (of her) lifetimes, and there's not a grand slam winner in her half of the draw. Sure, there's another Jelena and a Dinara... but, hey, this story is too good to let FACTS get in the way, right?

Dokic DOES fit the troubled-veteran-finally-rising-above-it-all template that I mentioned"> before the tournament that has produced unexpected champions in Melbourne in the past. No one's really expecting a Capriati-esque moment to occur here, but the plot points are there, and very familiar... only this time a whole nation of Aussie tennis fans have a front seat from which to lend support to their adopted-estranged-adopted again-suspicious of-adopted yet again native daughter. Winning cures a whole lot of ills, and Dokic is doing just that with style during this first week of the Australian Open.

With every post-match smile and teary-eyed look up into the stands, a little bit of Dokic's hurt-filled past is allowed to drift into the Aussie sky, hopefully to float away forever on the currents of air above Melbourne Park. The tennis fans of Australia have always been a potential secret weapon for her... so what if it took a decade for her to fully realize it? They've met in the middle now, and look what's resulted, better late than never. At 25, Dokic could still reclaim her career, even if her expectations and goals remain as modest as they were a week ago, after all that's happened this week.

Sure, Queen Chaos and Sister Safina are the co-favorites to reach the final in the top half, but Dokic can no longer be ignored. She's a win over a #29-seed away from being one of the most previously star-crossed, no longer lost but suddenly found, unexpected slam quarterfinalists in recent memory... and she's doing it in front of a crowd more and more willing to be the "third man/woman" on the court for her every match. Players have pulled off shocking results will far less going for them in the past.

So, why not Jelena? I mean, it'd be the perfect capper for an increasingly bizarre Australian Open, wouldn't it?

...waiting for Dokic in the Round of 16? Why, Ana Ivano- ...oh, wait. I guess we should have known, huh? It'll be Alisa Kleybanova, after the #29-seeded 19-year old Russian knocked off the '08 Oz runner-up in three sets, 7-5/6-7/6-2.

Ivanovic served for the 1st set, even with her toss and serve betraying her. She failed to secure the game, and went on to lose the set. After rebounding and showind good fight in claiming a 7-5 tie-break in the 2nd, she immediately fell behind 3-1 in the 3rd, as the forward-moving Kleybanova's attack never ceased. At that point, it didn't take long for the former world #1 to be bounced in the early rounds of her third consecutive slam (after having reached at least the Round of 16 in her previous five). Talk about another one -- the same one -- biting the dust.

Of course, as recent results have shown, AnaIvo wouldn't have been much count in her next match even HAD she won, since ever since she won Roland Garros anytime she manages to slide by an opponent in a tight, tough match she invariably fails to show up for the next one.

Hmmm, maybe Dokic and her re-constituting legion of fans would have preferred to see the Aussie face Ivanovic? Of course, that 4th Round match WILL be a case of one player against a whole stadium, and maybe country. It'll be interesting to see how both players handle that, as Dokic tries to reach her first slam QF since Roland Garros '02.

In my Oz/1Q preview at the start of the month, I said that this Dorothy Tour might be more important to Ivanovic and Dokic than any other players on tour. As it's turned out, it might have set the course for both their seasons... possibly on divergent paths. brother, like sister? Four years ago, Marat Safin knocked off #1-seeded Roger Federer in the Australian Open SF and went on to win the tournament. Safin lost his Melbourne rematch with Federer today, but his sister Dinara advanced past Kai Kanepi into the 4th Round. She's the highest seed in her quarter -- along with #15 Cornet, #29 Kleybanova and wild card Dokic -- and could be on a collision course with another #1 seed, Jelena Jankovic, in the semis. After a few slightly shaky moments early on, Safina looks to be gearing up for another run at her first slam title. Of course, she might have to go through not just one Jelena, but two (and what would seemingly be a million fans at that point jammed into Rod Laver Arena for a possible QF), and then face either Serena or Dementieva in the final. Obviously, there's a great deal of work ahead.

But Marat did it, so maybe she can, too.

...quietly into the Round of 16 is Alize Cornet, Safina's next opponent. After her three-set win over '08 semifinalist Daniela Hantuchova, there might have to be a reassessment about whether or not the Frenchwoman's game is STILL a bit lagging on hard courts.

...remember those "hoodlums" that Navratilova talked about the other day (or at least half of them)? Well, they reared their ugly heads again on Day 4. After a wonderfully-played and sportsmanship-filled match between Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Bosnia-born American Amer Delic, the "fans" blew up outside the stadium in a multiple chair-throwing melee that resulted in at least one woman being hit in the head and upwards of thirty people ejected from Melbourne Park. This type of dust-up between fans has happened before, usually when Serbs and Croats have had players facing off against each other. Now, throw in the Bosnians, as well. While the growing number of top players being produced by the Balkan nations have given the sport a shot in the arm, and their formerly war-torn countries something to get excited about, the alcohol-induced, soccer hooliganism-like actions of a certain group of fans had better be addressed swiftly and concisely by the tennis establishment before something tragic casts a pall over one of the slams, and maybe even costs someone their life. Obviously, there's just no place for stuff like this at a tennis tournament.

...and, finally, it's time to bid adieu to the Sisters Radwanska from the 2009 Australian Open. Urszula lost in qualifying, while Agnieszka was upset in the 1st Round. On Day 4, the A-Rad/U-Rad doubles combo was dumped out of the tournament in the 2nd Round by the Aussie pair of Sam Stosur & Rennae Stubbs.

So far, this has been a mixed-result tournament for tennis playing siblings. But, somehow, both Bondarenkos are still alive in singles, and there's a chance for a Williams/Williams doubles title and a Serena vs. Dinara singles final. Hold on tight... there's still a great deal of time left for things to get even weirder.

2007 Roland Garros RU - lost to Henin
2007 Wimbledon SF - lost to V.Williams
2007 U.S. Open Round of 16 - lost to V.Williams
2008 Australian Open RU - lost to Sharapova
2008 Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - lost to Zheng
2008 U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - lost to Coin
2009 Australian Open 3rd Rd. - lost to Kleybanova

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: q3 - Stephanie Dubois/CAN d. Urszula Radwanska/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 5. More tomorrow.


Blogger a said...

Best typo: "Urszula Radwanksa"

Didn't see you as THAT kind of WTA fan...

Sat Jan 24, 06:24:00 AM EST  
Blogger leia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Sat Jan 24, 09:24:00 AM EST  
Blogger leia said...

@a, according to the WTA official website, it is spelled as "Urszula."

Anyway, even if it were a typo, spelling a player's name incorrectly is not a crime. No need for such comments, just enjoy the witty tennis commentary =D

Sat Jan 24, 09:33:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

a -

hmmm, I'm guessing you were referring to the Awards section at the end, where I did have a type that said RadWANKsa, rather than RadWANSka, and not the spelling of "Urszula," right? I know Leia thought you were talking about her first name, as did I initially.

But after I thought about it for a minute, I think I got what you were getting at. :D

You were making a joke, right? I know, I know... it sorts of loses something when it has to be explained. :)

RadWANKsa. Haha.

Hey, at least I didn't have the experience of changing the letters around while spelling Karolina Sprem's name. That's a bit of an unintentional blooper, too. :)

Oh, and thanks for the defense, Leia. ;)

Sat Jan 24, 12:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger leia said...

Oh, so that's what it was. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I absolutely always enjoy your posts (especially on Queen Chaos who lost so horrendously today) so spelling boo-boos are no biggies for me =D

Sat Jan 24, 11:55:00 PM EST  

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