Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oz 10: The Law of Nature... and Serena



On Day 10, the Williams Sisters showed why one is still the most feared tennis player on the planet... while the other is no longer anything of the sort.

If it was anyone else out there on Rod Laver Arena, you'd wouldn't have thought such a thing was possible. But it was HER. It was Serena. So you KNEW it COULD happen. Victoria Azarenka should have known, too. Surely, she's seen all the video, heard all the stories and/or read at least one account of one of Williams' back-from-the-brink early and middle-round slam victories. Nothing causes Serena to bust through proverbial walls superhero-style (or Kool-Aid Guy style, if you prefer) like the notion that if she can cause a little destruction today she might be able to hold up a grand slam champion's trophy a few days later.

Well, if Azarenka didn't know before, she knows now. Now SHE'S going to be part of one of those stories that people talk about when they reminisce about all the incredible things that Serena did during the course of her remarkable career.

Oh, Victoria had every reason to believe that she was "safe" from the storm that was unwittingly being churned up on the other side of the net in her quarterfinal match. I mean, after Williams had gone 31-for-31 when it came to holding her serve heading into Day 10, then Azarenka managed to break her in the opening game of the match, she must have though, "Hey, this just might be my day. I had Serena right where I wanted her in Melbourne last year, but the heat got to me. SHE didn't. I would have won that match if it wasn't so hot. Yeah, that's how I remember it."

Oh, the folly of youth.

You see, it didn't really matter that Azarenka got off to a 5-2 lead in the 1st set. Nor was it important that she held at love to lock away that set at 6-4 a short time later. It didn't matter that she broke Williams to open the 2nd set, either. Taking a commanding 6-4/4-0 lead against an out-of-sorts (and maybe physically hindered) Serena, out-hitting her in such a way that it resembled Maria Sharapova's dismantling of the youngest Williams Sister at Wimbledon in 2004, and having not lost a point on serve in the 2nd set to that point? Surely, THAT mean SOMETHING, right? Nope. It didn't mean a thing.

You see, all that mattered was that Azarenka FINISHED what she started. She didn't, and she'll never forget it.

Once Serena got on the board in the 2nd set at 4-1, she was like a cat stalking her prey. Quiet. Not overly excited about the chase (why waste the energy NOW?). She hadn't accomplished anything yet, but she HAD gotten the scent of her adversary, and the 20-year old Belarusian didn't even know she was following behind her in the tall grass. While "taking a drink in a shallow pond," Azarenka double-faulted to get the set back on serve at 4-3. She jerked her head up and looked around, thinking she'd heard a sound behind her back. She had... but it was too late to prevent the quick strike ability of the sport's greatest predator from clamping down her jaws around her thin neck and putting Victoria out of her misery before she even realized what had happened to her.

The 2nd set went to a tie-break, and Azarenka even took a 3-1 lead. Serena was just playing with her, though. Williams won six of the next seven points to tie the match at one-set all. But it was really curtains for Azarenka. The Belarusian's serve was broken to give Serena a 2-1 lead in the 3rd, and Azarenka slowly was smothered in broad daylight on a court named for a gentlemanly Australian champion. Sporting unheard-of-for-anyone-but-her 3rd set numbers -- 18 winners to 3 unforced errors, and winning 16 of 20 points on her serve -- Williams proceeded to win thirteen of the final seventeen games of the match to fashion yet another of her did-you-see-that comeback wins, 4-6/7-6/6-2.

Poor, Victoria. She didn't really have a chance... but that's how things go out there in the wild. Funny thing is, this sort of stuff is what we've come to expect from Serena. That there's no legitimate argument to counter the notion that it's no surprise that she so expertly erased a 6-4/4-0 deficit on a day when her game looked utterly hopeless for more than half a match says all that needs to be said about her legacy. Quibble with what she hasn't done, or how she's done what she has... but no one else in sport can do THAT and make it look routine. She seems to do it every January Down Under. Amazing... but not really. We ARE talking about Serena, after all.

Meanwhile, in the match directly preceding Serena's, Venus finally pulled the annual Melbourne disappearing act that everyone's been wating for, only this time it just came a little later in the tournament than usual.

Against a nervous Li Na, Venus broke out fast and hard, taking a quick 4-0 lead in the opening set and cruising to a 6-2 win. In the 2nd, Williams pushed her lead to 4-2... but then the perfect storm of a boatload of forehand errors, poor first serve numbers, sun in her eyes and apparent exhaustion produced a long, frustrating, but hardly surprising, demise. Williams served for the match, and got to within two points of a straight sets victory to reach her first Australian Open SF since 2003, but she let things slip away. Li, finally past her early case of nerves, began to play better just as Venus' game started to go in the crapper. Li won a 2nd set tie-break to send the match to a deciding set, and the march to defeat was on.

From this point on, watching Venus play this match was akin to driving a formerly reliable car that was running great when you pulled out of the driveway, but whose engine started to sputter right when you reached the stretch drive to return home. Knowing the trouble that might be coming next, you turn off all the vehicle's accessories -- radio, air conditioner, etc., grip the steering wheel and hope against hope that the looks-good-on-the-outside-but-sometimes-runs-like-a-jalopy-on-the-inside former award-winning showpiece on four wheels still has enough within its rusting metal frame to get you home... but you're unable to ignore the gnawing doubt in your gut. Pleading that your worries will prove to be unfounded this time around, you simply pray that you aren't left stranded on a lonely road in sub-zero temperatures.

Well, it WAS hot in Melbourne on Day 10... but Venus' loyal passengers ended up having to find another way home after this one. Now, all those whispers about her "decline" will only grow louder.

Venus was actually up early in the 3rd, getting a break and taking a 2-0 advantage, but when China's Li finally managed to convert her fourth break chance in the next game for a 2-1 score the pattern was pretty well etched in stone for what was about to happen. Venus would go up a break, then squander it minutes later. When she failed to convert a break point at 4-3 on Li's serve, then lost a tired service game of her own, Li's momentum suddenly became difficult to stop even as the pair exchanged breaks of serve in nine of eleven games in the set. Once Venus was broken at love to fall behind 5-6, it was all but over. The Venus of a decade ago would have powered her way to victory... but it's no longer 2000. It took Li three match points to finally put her away, but Venus' Melbourne run came to yet another sputtering-to-a-stop halt by a 2-6/7-6/7-5 score. One wonders if she'll ever reach the latter stages of this slam again, or that of ANY other slam outside the grounds of the All-England Club, after showing once again that she simply can no longer string together seven good matches on any surface other than the grass.

Venus still likely has a few slam runs at Wimbledon left in her, but while she used to be able to pull victories out of a magician's hat ala the way Serena did today, she can no longer be expected to do so. While I hate to say it, as she's not yet even 30, for the first time today I looked at Venus and saw an aging tennis player. I've tried to avoid allowing that notion to become a reality for a couple of years now, as she's talked so often about her love of the game and her desire to continue to play for Olympic glory (especially in London in '12), but maybe the naysayers DO have a point.

Still, Melbourne HAS generally been a thorn in her side for most of the last decade, so it's POSSIBLE that this result is but that -- a single result. But if she fails to prove that she can continue to compete for slam titles at Wimbledon (where Serena stole her glory a year ago) this summer, as well as the U.S. Open (where she almost always ends up losing to the eventual champion), then it's quite conceivable that she might never win another slam singles crown. On the bright side, as long as Serena is up to it and willing, Venus could have all sorts of Doubles accomplishments into her mid-30's and maybe even beyond.

As much as one hopes that Venus' "illusion" dress is what we'll remember about her from this slam, I'm afraid how she lost this match will end up being what sticks. It's too bad. For a while there, it looked as if she might have managed to capture lightning in a bottle again. Unfortunately, THAT proved to be the REAL illusion in Melbourne.

Serena's no illusion, though. She is what she is. And once she's managed to resuscitate herself as she did against Azarenka today, her history says she's pretty much impossible to prevent from winning a slam title. Nothing against the two remaining Chinese players in the semifinals, but only "La Petit Taureau" seems capable of having any shot to prevent slam #12 from becoming a reality. And I'm not even sure SHE has a good one.




=MIDDLE ROUND AWARDS - 3rd-QF=
TOP PLAYER: Serena Williams/USA
...take away that set and a half against Azarenka and she's been untouchable in the other nine and a half. (RU: Justine Henin/BEL... the bigger names on her side of the draw disappeared, but she was responsible for toppling more than one herself)
RISERS: Li Na/CHN & Victoria Azarenka/BLR
...Li finally lives up to her billing (with a helpful assist from Venus), while Azarenka's starting to get a reputation for squandering big moments. Still, she seems to have learned to mostly control her temper -- and that'll serve her well.
SURPRISES: Zheng Jie/CHN & Maria Kirilenko/RUS
...Zheng is the first two-time Chinese slam semifinalist, while singles quarterfinalist Kirilenko is also still alive in the doubles.
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Cara Black/Liezel Huber (ZIM/USA)
...Petrova's wins over Clijsters and Kuznetsova, and close loss to Henin, should stoke her confidence for this spring. Black & Huber are off to do something they failed to do in '09 -- win a slam. But the Sisters might be guarding the trophy room in the final.
FRESH FACES Tang Hao-Chen/CHN & The Pliskova Sisters (CZE)
...Tang knocked off #2 seed Heather Watson in the 1st Round and has managed to follow things up with a Girls QF run to give China yet another accomplishment in this AO, while the Czech pair of Girls quarterfinalists named Karolina and Kristyna give us another pair of siblings to talk about.
COMEBACKS: Justine Henin/BEL & Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs (USA/AUS)
...who says you can't go "home" again. Justine has set her sights on being even better the second time around, while Raymond/Stubbs are playing like they never broke up in the first place.
DOWN: Kim Clijsters/BEL & Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
...Clijsters essentially was a no-show in her 3rd Rounder against Petrova, while Kuznetsova seems to be distracted by everything (coaches, WTA rules, night matches, etc.) BUT her actual attempt to avoid the same sort of "year-after" fate she experienced after her first slam win in '04.

"It was super cool. Prince William was really dapper and suave. You know, he was just basically, shazam. I told him that I might like his little brother better because he's the little brother, and he laughed and said he might like Venus better because she's older." - Serena Williams, on meeting a visiting Prince William at Melbourne Park


BEST MATCH (starring J.Henin): 4th Rd. - Henin def. Wickmayer 7-6/1-6/6-3
...who says you need Clijsters to have a great all-Belgian match in a slam? Actually, history tells us that if that's what you want you're probably better off NOT having Kim around.
SECOND BEST MATCH (hmmm, also starring J.Henin... I'm detecting a pattern here): 3rd Rd. - Henin d. Kleybanova 3-6/6-4/6-2
...up 6-3/3-1 40/15, Kleybanova learned what all those scary bedtime stories about "La Petit Taureau" were all about. She's still got the covers pulled up over her head.

HOWEVER BAD SHE COULD BE...: 3rd Rd. - A.Bondarenko def. Jankovic 6-2/6-3
...a curiously "lost" Jankovic must have forgotten that she had a 9-0 career record against A-Bond.
...SHE PROVED SHE COULD BE EVEN WORSE: 3rd Rd. - Petrova def. Clijsters 6-0/6-1
...so, let me get this straight. The "new" Kim Clijsters is supposed to be ridden out of a slam on a rail in her worst-ever career loss, offer no explanation for her "Casper" act other than "it sucks," and then bails on Fed Cup a few days later (hmmm, is Fila not providing the Belgium team with uniforms this year, either... that's why KC used to turn her back on FC at the last moment)? Isn't the "People's Favorite Player in the History of Tennis and All Man-and-Womankind Since the Beginning of the Age of Recorded History" supposed to give a better showing than this? Sounds a little like the "old" Kim to me.

WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GANDER: 4th Rd. - Azarenka def. Zvonareva 4-6/6-4/6-0
...Azarenka trailed 6-4/3-1. If she can light her inner fire by uttering an F-bomb or two rather than smashing rackets and arguing with herself and the crowd, then maybe Azarenka should work the stand-up comedy circuit in her spare time.
CAN BE BAD FOR THE GANDER, TOO: QF - S.Williams def. Azarenka 4-6/7-6/6-2
...Azarenka led 6-4/4-0. Hmmm, maybe Serena would have won that match against her in Melbourne LAST year, too.

BAD VIBES: 4th Rd. - Kirilenko def. Safina 5-4, ret.
...a back is a terrible thing to play games with. Sort of like Serena.
BAD VIBES, HALL OF FAME EDITION: QF - Li def. V.Williams 2-6/7-6/7-5
...two points from the SF, Venus' inner aging champion came out and left her resurgent veteran self in a wadded-up ball in a lonely corner of Rod Laver Arena.

COMEBACK STAR: Justine Henin/BEL
IT GIRL: Maria Kirilenko/RUS
co-MS. OPPORTUNITY: Zheng Jie/CHN & Li Na/CHN
ZOMBIE QUEENS (3r-QF): Justine Henin trailed 6-3/3-1 40/15 vs. Alisa Kleybanova in 3rd Rd.; Serena Williams trailed 6-4/4-0 vs. Victoria Azarenka in QF
CRASH & BURNER (3r-QF): "shockingly," Kim Clijsters/BEL. It was an exit surprising in every way... well, really, maybe only the ugliness of the final scoreline was unexpected if she REALLY DID reach what'll end up proving to be her KC 2 zenith in New York.
LAST SHEILA STANDING: Samantha Stosur/AUS (4th Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL (4th Rd.)

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS SET OF SEMIFINALISTS?:
...all of the final four women in the singles draw had "iffy" moments en route to the SF. Serena was down-and-out against Azarenka, Henin was seemingly down to her final moments against Kleybanova and Li was two points from defeat against Venus. But even Zheng Jie looked ready to leave at the start, betting bageled in the opening set of her 1st Round match against Peng Shuai before charging back to win 0-6/6-1/6-2.

TO SLEEP, per chance to dream about another fashion-forward design: Venus Williams' "EleVen"-designed tennis dress gave the illusion that she was playing matches... umm... well, there's really no other way to say it... without any underpants. Everytime a camera operator got close to her and she bent over to tie her shoes or something, the shot suddenly zoomed WAY back and you could almost hear all the alarm bells going off in the ESPN2 production department. What next? A faux see-thru dress for Paris?

Well, at least Venus exited Melbourne leaving us with SOMETHING to look forward to about her 2010 season.



*DAY 10 NOTES*
...in other award updates, you might have noticed that I amended the "Ms. Opportunity" award so that it's now shared by Zheng Jie and Li Na. The first double order of Chinese in a slam SF seemed to make it an appropriate move. It's the first time there's been a co-winner situation since Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva shared the honor when both reached the 2004 Roland Garros final, the first all-Russian slam final. Meanwhile, Maria Kirlenko gets the mythical "It Girl" trophy (I picture it to be a beautful glass cup), and the final "Zombie Queen" crowning will have to wait, as Serena's Day 10 escape is now competing with Justine Henin's 3rd Round slip-through against Alisa Klebanova. Whoever finishes with the better final result is the ZQ (if they both lose in the SF, it'll likely be Henin's win, since she'll have advanced more rounds past her near-death Oz experience).

...both Cara Black (with Liezel Huber and Leander Paes) and Lisa Raymond (Rennae Stubbs and Wesley Moodie) have advanced to the SF in both the Doubles and Mixed draws. Singles quarterfinalist Maria Kirilenko has reached the Doubles SF (with Agnieszka Radwanska), and joins countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova (Mixed SF) as Russia's final hopes for walking off with a major title at this slam (Hordette Daria Gavrilova is still playing in the Girls singles, as well).

...the junior singles QF are set, and there are a pair of Czech Maiden sisters still in the running in the form of the Pliskova siblings -- #6 Karolina and unseeded Kristyna. Four of the top six seeded Girls reached the final eight, while 2009 AO Girls RU Laura Robson is one of the three unseeded players. My Daria Gavrilova/Timea Babos final prediction is still possible... but hopefully a Serena-esque comeback won't be necessary for it to remain viable like my Women's final pick did on Day 10.

Meanwhile, there are three Aussies -- all unseeded -- still alive in the Boys QF.

...never let it be said that Martina Navratilova does not have a good memory. During the Li/V.Williams match, after chair umpire Mariana Alves overruled a shot that turned out to have been called correctly by the linesperson, Martina casually threw out that it was Alves, "of Serena Williams/Jennifer Capriati fame," who'd inserted herself into the action and made the incorrect call. Alves, you'll remember, was the umpire in the Williams/Capriati QF match at the '04 U.S. Open that was so poorly called that it alone is given credit for ushering in the age of the replay challenge system. Alves has since gone on to become one of the most respected umpires in the game... but Martina hasn't forgoten her moment of ignominy. That's why Navratilova is my favorite announcer to listen to call a match. She does't have a filter, but she doesn't irresponsibly allow it to lead her into unchartered waters like her old doubles partner, Pam Shriver, so often does. Hmmm, maybe that's why they were such a good team -- they worked as one, both covering up the other's flaws with their strengths.

...and, finally, maybe we were wrong to overlook a certain Mr. Federer? The world #1 was hardly everyone's first choice to win the men's title at this Australian Open title, but as many of the other contenders have fallen by the wayside, he might be edging toward "favorite" status all over again. First, Rafael Nadal's knee (and Andy Murray) ended his Oz run, then last night Novak Djokovic was yet again bothered by some myterious physical ailment and was taken down by the player he defeated in the AO final two seasons ago, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Meanwhile, after watching Nikolay Davydenko do to him for a set and a half what he used to do to nearly every Tom, Dick or Harry Tennis Player out there in the early rounds of slams (plus Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick from time to time in the late rounds), Federer caught sight of a slight moment of self-questioning on the Russian's face and it was all over. From mid-way in the 2nd set to the end of the 3rd, Federer wiped out Davydenko, who'd beaten him two straight times and was everyone's trendy pick to pull off something in Melbourne despite his general lack of great career slam results. The 4th set between the two was close, but Federer won it 7-5 and will next face Tsonga, who seems to be once again channelling the vibe that got him to that Oz final in '08. In the bottom half, Marin Cilic has already attained his best slam result in this tournament, while Andy Murray hasn't shown the same ability to knock off Federer in best-of-five slam matches that he's displayed in best-of-three contests on the regular ATP tour (sort of like Davydenko). It looks like the Scot might get another chance to try, though.





*RECENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN "IT GIRL" WINNERS*
2006 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2007 Shahar Peer, ISR
2008 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2009 Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2010 Maria Kirilenko, RUS

*MULTIPLE CAREER SLAM SF - ACTIVE*
18...SERENA WILLIAMS (14-3)
18...Venus Williams (14-4)
17...JUSTINE HENIN (11-5)
13...Kim Clijsters (6-7)
10...Maria Sharapova (4-6)
8...Elena Dementieva (2-6)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
5...Dinara Safina (3-2)
5...Jelena Jankovic (1-4)
4...Ana Ivanovic (3-1)
2...ZHENG JIE (1-1)
2...Nadia Petrova (0-2)
2...Nicole Vaidisova (0-2)

*MOST SLAM SF - LAST FIVE SEASONS*
[2006-10]
8...JUSTINE HENIN (6-1)
7...SERENA WILLIAMS (5-1)
6...Maria Sharapova (3-3)
5...Dinara Safina (3-2)
5...Kim Clijsters (1-4)
5...Jelena Jankovic (1-4)

*LOWEST SEEDS TO AUSTRALIAN OPEN SF - LAST FIFTEEN YEARS*
[1996-2010]
wild card - JUSTINE HENIN, BEL (2010)
unseeded - Mary Pierce, FRA (1997)
unseeded - Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (1999)
unseeded - Jennifer Capriati, USA (2000)
unseeded - Conchita Martinez, ESP (2000)
unseeded - Serena Williams, USA (2007)
unseeded - ZHENG JIE, CHN (2010)
#32 - Fabiola Zuluaga, COL (2004)
#22 - Patty Schnyder, SUI (2004)
#19 - Nathalie Dechy, FRA (2005)
#16 - Amanda Coetzer, RSA (1996)
#16 - LI NA, CHN (2010)
#14 - Mary Joe Fernandez, USA (1997)
#13 - Chanda Rubin, USA (1996)
#12 - Amanda Coetzer, RSA (1997)
#12 - Jennifer Capriati, USA (2001)
#10 - Anke Huber, GER (1998)
#10 - Nicole Vaidisova, CZE (2007)

*DEFEATED VENUS & SERENA IN SAME YEAR*
[official matches]
2000 Lindsay Davenport
2001 Martina Hingis (both in Australian Open)
2002 Kim Clijsters
2003 Amelie Mauresmo
2004 Lindsay Davenport & Maria Sharapova
2005 Silvia Farina Elia
2006 Jelena Jankovic
2007 Justine Henin (both in U.S. Open)
2008 Jelena Jankovic & Li Na
2009 Kim Clijsters (both in U.S. Open)

*VENUS WILLIAMS SLAM SINGLES RESULTS*
1st Round: 3
2nd Round: 3
3rd Round: 6
4th Round: 5
Quarterfinals: 13
Semifinals: 4
Runner-Up: 7
Champion: 7

*MOST CONSECUTIVE SLAM SINGLES SF - MEN*
23...ROGER FEDERER
10...Ivan Lendl
8...Rod Laver



*WOMEN's SINGLES SF*
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #16 Li Na/CHN
(WC) Justine Henin/BEL vs. Zheng Jie/CHN

*MEN'S SINGLES SF*
#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#14 Marin Cilic/CRO vs. #5 Andy Murray/GBR

*WOMEN'S DOUBLES SF*
#1 Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) vs. #15 Kirilenko/A.Radwanska (RUS/POL)
#6 Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) vs. #2 Williams/Williams (USA/USA)

*MEN'S DOUBLES SF*
#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Kohlmann/Nieminen (GER/FIN)
Karlovic/Vemic (CRO/SRB) vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

*MIXED DOUBLES SF*
#1 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND) vs. #7 Raymond/Moodie (USA/RSA)
Pennetta/Melo (ITA/BRA) vs. Makarova/Levinsky (RUS/CZE)

*GIRLS SINGLES QF*
#1 Timea Babos/HUN vs. Krisyna Pliskova/CZE
Ester Goldfeld/USA vs. Laura Robson/GBR
#6 Karolina Pliskova/CZE vs. #3 Daria Gavrilova/RUS
#5 Silvia Njiric/CRO vs. Yang Hao-Chen/CHN

*BOYS SINGLES QF*
Benjamin Mitchell/AUS vs. #6 Marton Fucsovics/HUN
Sean Berman/AUS vs. #10 Guilherme Clezar/BRA
Jeong Suk-Young/KOR vs. #14 Tiago Fernandes/BRA
James Duckworth/AUS vs. #2 Gianna Mina/FRA

*GIRLS DOUBLES SF*
#1 Babos/Dabrowski (HUN/CAN) vs. #4 Eikeri/Silva (NOR/CHI)
Bouchard/Kumkhum (CAN/THA) vs. Cepelova/Skamlova (SVK/SVK)

*BOYS DOUBLES SF*
Eleveld/Lupescu (NED/NED) vs. Kubler/Mitchell (AUS/AUS)
#4 Huang/Uchiyama (TPE/JPN) vs. #2 Krawietz/Schulz (GER/GER)




TOP QUALIFIER: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Kim Clijsters/BEL
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Kathrin Woerle/GER def. Bopana Jovanovski/SRB 6-2/4-6/9-7
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd.- (wc) Justine Henin/BEL def. #5 Elena Dementieva/RUS 7-5/7-6
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd.- (wc) Justine Henin/BEL def. (q) Yanina Wickmayer/BEL 7-6/1-6/6-3
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xx - xxx
=============================
FIRST SEED OUT: #14 Maria Sharapova/RUS (lost 1st Rd.- Kirilenko/RUS)
FIRST WIN: Dinara Safina/RUS (def. Rybarikova/SVK)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
REVELATION LADIES: The Germans
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL [4th Rd.]
IT GIRL: xxx
co-MS. OPPORTUNITY: Zheng Jie/CHN & Li Na/CHN
COMEBACK PLAYER: Justine Henin/BEL
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS ('08 champ, lost 1st Rd. to Kirilenko/RUS)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Justine Henin/BEL - down 3-6/1-3 15/40 to Kleybanova/RUS in 3rd Rd. or Serena Williams/USA - down 6-4/4-0 to Azarenka/BLR in QF
LAST SHEILA STANDING: Samantha Stosur/AUS [4th Rd.]
DOUBLES STAR xxx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xxx




All for Day 10. More tomorrow.

8 Comments:

Blogger Ian said...

Hey Todd, I read somewhere that Li was down match point against Szavay in round 2, too — if (GOD PLEASE NO) Li and Zheng make the final, would she win Zombie Queen?

Wed Jan 27, 04:32:00 PM EST  
Blogger Will said...

Excellent write-up and great, hilarious big cat analogy. I couldn't stop gawking at the sheer force of Serena's will and skill as she came back from that deficit. She's had plenty of great and dramatic comebacks in the past, but I don't think I've seen one as resolutely efficient and cold-blooded as that one. Really one for the ages.

Gotta feel bad for Vika; how many times can it be said that you played the best tennis of your life and still ended up demolished? I think she bounces back though, and soon.

Wed Jan 27, 04:37:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

I think Serena's slow start had a lot to do with Venus losing...psychologically maybe it got to her...plus niggling physical pains...

i was trying to think about the next few majors and the semis and i think that maybe you're right...there really might not be any russians...although even minus sharapova, dinara & kuz & dementieva have good chances at FO and USO...depends on where Henin falls in the draw lol

thanks for the posts :)

Wed Jan 27, 05:45:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

another note: i really enjoyed Serena's presser yesterday...I know she won, but I thought she was just incredibly gracious...maybe Haiti & USO have helped her grow as a person as well

Some outtakes I liked:
SERENA WILLIAMS: She's the kind of player you really have to take it to. I thought she played excellent.

SERENA WILLIAMS: I don't make any excuses. Win, lose are or draw, I'm here and I have a heartbeat, and that's more than a lot of people have.

Obviously she won the match, but sometimes even when she wins she can sound really ridiculous. So props to her for personal growth which I think is even more impressive than good tennis results.

Btw, i think venus needs a revamp to her game...she's never really changed anything major before...prob bc she hasn't had to...i mean really, her game is the same as when she came on the scene in 1997...but now ppl can match her power and have more consistency...maybe a change in strategy...i dunno...but something's got to improve

___________
Off Topic:

Hey Todd, I'm going to be in the DC region for a couple weeks for work (just graduated, training for new job is in Herndon/Rockville)...is there anything I should take some time to go see? I've visited all the monuments/Smithsonian when I was younhrt...but maybe there are some more "local flavor" things (and >21 things)...

Thanks!

Wed Jan 27, 06:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

sorry for being post crazy...
i'm posting as i read your post...and thoughts pop up after some of your comments...and then i go back to read more and more thoughts pop up. lol

maybe Venus should retire and come back in 2 years at wimbledon and be another comeback story...and then be fresh for the olympics

i dunno, about aging tennis player...she's still very spry and fast...i think mentally she's not as sure of her abilities as she used to be. after getting down to li...i felt like her face said, "here it comes again...another loss at AO..."...like she didn't have the belief that she could win it bc she hasn't done well in the past...

and maybe all of this is just because of exhaustion...she looked really tired in that third set...

ok back to reading more.

Wed Jan 27, 06:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

going back to a tactical/skill improvement change for venus...

look at serena...i really feel that her game has improved since the early 2000s.
-she has more angles now especially off her forehand;
-she never used slice before;
-she plays with more spin and more safety on her shots giving her greater consistency;
-her return is better since she's facing better serves;
-she varies the pace of her shot...i mean she could blast the ball at 95 - 105 mph all day...but she doesn't...that was a big difference between the first set and the latter two sets yesterday

the only two parts of her game which are somewhat the same are:
-her movement is probably about the same if not a little less...
-her backhand is good, but probably not a finishing shot like before...i remember her inside out used to be wicked...a la victoria yesterday...and her cross court isn't always great which really left her vulnerable yesterday against azarenka's awesome crosscourt backhand...

Wed Jan 27, 07:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Sorry for late responses here, by the way:

Ian- Yeah, Li was down two match points against Szavay in the 2nd Round. Honestly, while I knew it was a close match, I didn't even realize she'd been THAT close to losing (or I heard/read it and immediately forgot).

Eric- hey, post all you like. :D

Yeah, Serena was very civil and complimentary in her immediate interview after the Li match, too. Actually, she started her segment with Shriver talking about how she'd played and then caught herself and made a point to talk about Li, too. Giving credit to opponents has always been something the Sisters have often avoided doing, but both seem to be better at it these days.

Graf never really changed her game when she was on top, though she could have and been EVER BETTER. She likely would have had to had Seles not been stabbed, as Seles was beating her regularly at the time. Unforunately, that's what made what happened there so sad. What might have been.

I guess top players very rarely change their games since things work well enough as they are, unless they absolutely HAVE to do so. That's what makes Henin's decision to be so much more aggressive and go to the net so intriguing.

Venus' serve has always been the key to her game. She used to dominate matches with it, but rarely does anymore. Serena's serve is the best in the game, and it saves her butt a lot of times. Venus' serve, though, is so inconsistent at times that it no longer seems to be able to do that.

I'm not really sure if Venus IS quite an "aging" player yet, but I was just noting that watching her play against Li was the first time that I actually had the thought that she was starting to look like that. Being Melbourne, though, all might not be what it seemed. Wimbledon is going to be even more important to her this year than usual.

Hmmm, well there are a great deal of civil war sites in the area (Note: Antietam Battlefield is about 5-10 minutes from Shepherd University, where I went to college):

Link
Link

If you're a Dan Brown fan, there are tours of "Lost Symbol" sites:

Link, plus at the top of the page are some other unique things to visit/do

:)

Thu Jan 28, 05:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger AIr said...

welcome to sprocket

Wed Dec 01, 09:13:00 AM EST  

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