Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oz 6- Elena's Latest Escape

Elena Dementieva hasn't exactly always looked like a potential champion throughout this first week of the 2009 Australian Open, but she's still around as we head into the middle weekend... and, really, isn't that all that matters?

During the night at Laver Arena, Samantha Stosur proved to be no Jelena Dokic against Dementieva. Not that she didn't have an opportunity to extend Australia's winning streak in the tournament.

Stosur served at 5-3 in the 1st set, but failed to close out the Russian. After rising and falling throughout the remainder of the set, flubbing an easy volley one moment then hitting a game-winning ace the next, Stosur eventually lost an 8-6 tie-break and pretty much set Dementieva up for another victory that might have slipped away had the #4-seed been facing an opponent who could withstand the pressure of the big moment. Stosur didn't totally buckle. She saved a match point and made Dementieva work a bit longer when she held serve for 3-5 in the 2nd. She even broke Dementieva to get back on serve at 4-5, only to be broken right back in the next game to end the match.

Stosur's return from her battle with Lyme disease has been commendable, but she's starting to put together an unenviable collection of blown opportunities in matches she might have had in her pocket had she held her nerves, a win in any of which might have boosted her confidence and helped advance her singles game. Last year at Wimbledon, she let an uninterested Nicole Vaidisova off the hook. A week ago in Sydney, she failed to convert match point against Serena Williams. This loss wasn't nearly as egregious, but taking a set lead under the lights with an Aussie crowd behind her would have certainly given her better odds at pulling off a huge upset than she'll likely have at any other time this season.

Dementieva's already-heavy schedule in '09 is just daring to be challenged by a game opponent in a three-setter to see if the Russian really IS ready to get that elusive first slam title. That player could have been Stosur, but the search will have to continue.

Next up for Dementieva? Dominika Cibulkova who, after winning 24 of her first 26 games in the opening two rounds, actually lost 10 in a 7-5/7-5 win over Virginie Razzano in Round 3. After playing a series of opponents lacking the ability to close her out, Cibulkova -- who'd already defeated Dinara Safina this season, just like Elena, before play began in Melbourne -- might force Dementieva to raise her game if she's going to ride her first-month wave of momentum all the way to the final and maybe beyond.

It's put up or shut up time, I guess.

...meanwhile, both Bondarenkos were dumped out before they could cause a chasm to open up in surface of the earth right in the middle of the Melbourne Park grounds by actually meeting each other in a slam QF.

Thing is, Svetlana Kuznetsova was right there for the upsetting for Alona. The Contessova put up an error-strewn (nearly 70 in two sets!) effort in which she needed six match points to finally advance. Keeping up with her "norm" over the last couple of seasons, when Kuznetsova DID finally convert a MP it happened courtesy of an A-Bond double-fault. The final score was 7-6/6-4.

Earlier, Anabel Medina-Garrigues took out Flavia Pennetta in straight sets to advance to within one win of her first-ever slam QF. She's just two tour singles titles, and the lack of a slam quarter appearance, from tying Anna Smashnova as the only woman in tour history with double-digit singles titles and ZERO slam Final 8 results. AMG will play fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez-Navarro. I favor CSN in the match, but this might be Medina-Garrigues' best shot to finally reach a QF and avoid eventually joining Smashnova on that "dubious achievement" list.

...Stosur's loss makes Dokic the "Last Sheila Standing," so far matching Casey Dellacqua's Round of 16 result from a year ago.

...late at night, the best men's match of the tournament took place between Richard Gasquet and Fernando Gonzalez. Gasquet actually held a match point in the 3rd to complete a straight sets win, but ex-finalist Gonzalez managed to win the 3rd set tie-break, then the next set to push things to five. With both players having toe injuries addressed by the trainer, and Gasquet a shoulder as well, they gimpily battled through a magnificently well-played final set that finally ended with Gonzalez winning 12-10. His reward? He gets Rafael Nadal in the 4th Round.

...the Girls draw is out. Of note, 1st Round cramp sufferer/spotlight grabber Christina McHale is back for more and might be considered one of the favorites to win the title, even though she's unseeded. Of course, that 1st Round meeting with #5-seed Laura Robson will certainly be the highlight of the opening round of junior action, and cement the American as this slam's "hard luck queen."

Here are the Top 10 seeds:

1. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, IND
2. Ana Bogdan, ROU
3. Ksenia Pervak, RUS
4. Elena Bogdan, ROU
5. Laura Robson, GBR
6. Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
7. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
8. Lauren Embree, USA
9. Heather Watson, GBR
10. Aki Yamasoto, JPN

...and, finally, Jelena Dokic's every-other-day nighttime TV series in Melbourne (very-early morning, for me, with a 3:30am start -- time to rev up the DVR again) continues on Night 7 as she faces Kleybanova on Laver as the appetizer to the potentially-wild Djokovic/Baghdatis match. Earlier in the day, a rather intriguing doubles match between the Williams sisters and Stosur/Stubbs could produce some real fireworks, as well, as the Americans get a true test from the Aussie pair.

With the final sixteen women set, here's my momentary "re-seeding" of the survivors, based on their play so far (and the feel that they might have more left to give):

1. Serena Williams: even though her play hasn't always met her personal standards, she's yet to lose a set and is the only slam champ left in the draw.
2. Dinara Safina: she's looking the part of a slam champ, and will be favored to reach her first Oz SF... but she still has to actually DO it.
3. Jelena Jankovic: she doesn't really seem to be working her way into the tournament as she has on a round-by-round basis in recent slams, and she's had trouble in the past with 4th Round opponent Marion Bartoli. Still, she's been incredibly consistent at the slams, never once suffering an early-round exit as a high seed, unlike some other Serb who shall go nameless. And, anyway, she's hungry for that big paycheck so she can put the money into R&D on those air-conditioned shoes she's looking to produce.
4. Victoria Azarenka: it's a pity she has to face Serena so quickly. But, then again, she might look at the situation as an opportunity to go for broke.
5. Vera Zvonareva: hey, either Vera or Nadia will reach the QF, so her chances of matching her career-best slam result ('03 RG QF) are pretty good.
6. Jelena Dokic: maybe a little high, but she's facing a #29 seed in unchartered territory. And as long as the tournament keeps setting her up with this avoid-the-heat, bask-in-the-crowd-support schedule of playing on Laver every other night, she's got a nice gust of wind at her back.
7t. Elena Dementieva & Dominika Cibulkova: exam time has arrived in the form of their Round of 16 meeting.
9. Carla Suarez-Navarro: one of the more fun playes to watch, drawing a fellow Spaniard in the 4th Round probably takes away any chance that she'll feel the pressure of the moment. Not that she showed too much of that against Venus.
10. Zheng Jie: Wimbledon was no fluke, and Kuznetsova might be about to be put out of her misery.
11. Nadia Petrova: for once, unlike Mr. Cantin, I underestimated her ability to advance in this tournament. I'm all right with that... this time.
12. Marion Bartoli: of course, if she knocks off JJ, she might be the favorite to reach the SF in a QF against the Zvonareva/Petrova winner.
13. Alize Cornet: Hard Courts-101 has gone pretty well, but she's probably not ready for the advanced course against Safina.
14. Alisa Kleybanova: she said her win over AnaIvo was the best match she's ever played. Could she possibly top it on Laver against Dokic and the fans? Probably not. This is where young players often suffer those huge letdowns.
15. Svetlana Kuznetsova the talent is there, but Morozova still has her work cut out for her when A-Bond can look like the more "well-adjusted" player on the court at times.
16. Anabel Medina-Garrigues: there's a reason she's never reached a slam QF, and CSN is set to try to exploit that.

#1 Jankovic d. #16 Bartoli in THREE
#10 Petrova d. #7 Zvonareva in THREE (more a hope, really)
#3 Safina d. #15 Cornet in TWO
(WC) Dokic d. #29 Kleybanova in TWO (I NEVER thought I'd get to pick her to reach a slam QF again... EVER)
Suarez-Navarro d. #21 Medina-Garrigues in TWO
#4 Dementieva d. #18 Cibulkova in THREE (though I'll probably feel differently a game or two in)
#22 Zheng d. #8 Kuznetsova in TWO
#2 S.Williams d. #13 Azarenka in TWO (close... say 7-6/7-5 or 7-5/6-4? If Serena wins easily, it's bad news for everyone else.)

Casey Dellacqua - 4th Round
Alize Cornet & Emilie Loit - 3rd Rd.
Elena Baltacha & Anne Keothavong - 2nd Rd.
2008 U.S. OPEN
Serena Williams - Champion
Jelena Dokic - ??

6...Russia (6/0)
5...France (2/3)
5...Spain (2/3)
3...United States (1/2)
2...Serbia (1/1)
1...Argentina (0/1)
1...Australia (1/0)
1...Belarus (1/0)
1...Chile (0/1)
1...China (1/0)
1...Croatia (0/1)
1...Cyprus (0/1)
1...Czech Republic (0/1)
1...Great Britain (0/1)
1...Slovak Republic (1/0)
1...Switzerland (0/1)

[by rank]
#1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#2...Serena Williams, USA
#3...Dinara Safina, RUS
#4...Elena Dementieva, RUS
#7...Vera Zvonareva, RUS
#8...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
#11...Nadia Petrova, RUS
#14...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
#16...Alize Cornet, FRA
#17...Marion Bartoli, FRA
#19...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
#23...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
#24...Zheng Jie, CHN
#31...Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
#46...Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
#187...Jelena Dokic, AUS
[by age]
19...Victoria Azarenka
19...Alisa Kleybanova
19...Dominika Cibulkova
19...Alize Cornet
20...Carla Suarez-Navarro
22...Dinara Safina
23...Svetlana Kuznetsova
23...Jelena Jankovic
24...Marion Bartoli
24...Vera Zvonareva
25...Zheng Jie
25...Jelena Dokic
26...Anabel Medina-Garrigues
26...Nadia Petrova
27...Elena Dementieva
27...Serena Williams

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 6. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I never dreamed Dokic would be around, either. I never thought she'd play on the tour again, so what do I know?

She rolled her ankle a bit--I hope it's okay.

My gut feeling is that Serena is conserving a lot of energy that she intends to explode in the quarterfinals. Not long ago, I would have considered this a win in which Serena would have to work, but not too hard. But now that Vika has won Brisbane, all bets are off. She is clearly a different player, mentally, and could give Serena a really hard time.

Sun Jan 25, 01:11:00 PM EST  

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