Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oz 4: Early-Round Enticement

Things that arrive with much anticipation don't always live up to advance billing. So far, though, the 2010 Australian Open is bucking the odds... while still leaving the best for last.

=EARLY ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rounds=
TOP PLAYER: Kim Cljisters/BEL
...she's looking very good, but the real tests are still a few rounds away. (RU: Serena Williams/USA... even if she's not on her best behavior, if her legs are sound she'll be hard to beat down the line)
RISERS: Maria Kirilenko/RUS & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...Kirilenko's defeat of Sharapova is the upset of the tournament so far, on either the men's or women's side. Wozniacki's stroll to the Final 32 has been pretty tranquil, as it should be for a #4 seed living up to her billing.
SURPRISES: Angelique Kerber/GER & Alberta Brianti/ITA
...there doesn't appear there'll be an Oudin or Dokic to light up this slam, but who thought these two would still be around?
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Francesca Schiavone/ITA
...Venus hasn't lost a set, and might finally be set for a nice run in Melbourne for the first time in ages. Schiavone won a wild one against Cornet in the 1st Round, and might face Venus in the Round of 16.
FRESH FACES Casey Dellacqua/AUS & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
..."fresh" being a relative term, since Dellacqua reached the 4th Round in '08 and CSN knocked off Venus here a year ago.
COMEBACKS: Justine Henin/BEL & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
...Henin has played seven matches in her comeback, and two of them are already "Match of the Year" nominees. Wickmayer has won ten straight matches -- five in Auckland, three in qualifying, and two in Melbourne -- since her WADA ban was lifted.
DOWN: Maria Sharapova/RUS & Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...both ends of the '08 AO women's final didn't even make it to the first Friday two years later.

BEST MATCH (but only second best so far in her comeback): 2nd Rd. - Henin def. Dementieva 7-5/7-6(6)
...imagine if it'd gone three sets.
BEST/WORST EXAMPLE OF HOW QUICKLY THINGS CHANGE: 1st Rd. - Kleybanova def. Dokic 6-1/7-5
...during her comeback QF run a year ago, Dokic's fourth and final victim in the Round of 16 was none other than Kleybanova.
BEST/WORST EXAMPLE OF HOW QUICKLY THINGS CHANGE II: 1st Rd. - Kudryavtseva def. Oudin 2-6/7-5/7-5
...last year in the slams, it'd been Oudin who was coming back from a 6-2/5-3 hole and three match points down. This time, it was done TO her. How's it feeling being the hunted rather than the hunter?
DOWN GOES MARIA... ON GOES MARIA: 1st Rd. - Kirilenko def. Sharapova 7-6/3-6/6-4
...back to the drawing board time, or just a bad decision to make this her first "real" match of 2010?
TOO BAD SHE LOST HER NEXT MATCH: 1st Rd. - King def. Cibulkova 6-3/6-7/7-6
...the American erased a 5-1 3rd set deficit, then lost in three to Roberta Vinci.
ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOK (which the WTA will surely only publish online in 2011... so should we really say record "book" anymore?): 1st Rd. - Zahlavova-Strycova def. Kulikova 7-6/6-7/6-3
...4:18, over two days, in the longest-ever women's match in Oz.
UNFORTUNATELY, THIS IS BECOMING A COMMON OCCURENCE: 2nd Rd. - Dulko def. Ivanovic 6-7/7-5/6-4
...the '08 Roland Garros is SOOOO long ago now, isn't it? Is AnaIvo, the "luckiest" slam winner playing today, the new Iva Majoli?

FIRST SEED OUT: #14 Maria Sharapova (lost to Maria Kirilenko)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
REVELATION LADIES: The Germans (the Italian vets skinned more victims, but that's almost come to be expected)
ZOMBIE QUEEN (1r-2r): Alla Kudryavtseva trailed 6-2/5-3 and survived three match points against Melanie Oudin in the 1st Round
CRASH & BURNER (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova's 1st Round loss is technically her worst slam result since Roland Garros '03, but she's been exiting slams early quite often since her shoulder difficulties. Is it premature to wonder if she'll EVER get things totally turned around?
FIRST VICTORY: #2 Dinara Safina, the final woman to lose in the '09 AO, became the first to win in '10 when she defeated Magdalena Rybarikova early on Day 1
LAST SHEILA STANDING: Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua are in the 3rd Round
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Yanina Wickmayer and Angelique Kerber are in the 3rd Round

TO SLEEP AMIDST THE CHAOS, PER CHANCE TO DREAM... or not?: Jelena Jankovic, a year after arriving in Melbourne prepared to star in "The Incredible Bulk," is still alive and kicking in the Final 32. It'd be oh-so-QC for her to finally put things together in a season when so many former and current slam champions are at the top of the game again and up with nothing tangible to show for her improvement.

Even with only big upset, and one truly memorable match, everything is going pretty swimmingly so far at this Australian Open. Pretty much all the potential "stop, look, listen, watch and maybe even marvel" mid and late-round matchups are still in play.

Things could be about to get REALLY good.

...well, it's time to say an early goodbye to AnaIvo. Again.

As Ana Ivanovic's slide now enters the final months of a so-far two-year run, one wonders if SHE'S going to be the Serb who'll "fade away" as a contender, a phrase that I recently saw applied in a prediction about Jelena Jankovic in Tennis magazine.

Ivanovic's serve did her in this time, as she turned a match she led and seemed on her way to winning into a 6-7/7-5/6-4 loss in 2:42 to Gisela Dulko, who managed to convert enough of her almost thirty break point chances to steal away with the win. Dulko, one of the most underachieving players on tour, gets wins like this on occasion, but never often enough to make one believe she'll make something out of her new opportunity in this draw. Ivanovic, who was the player who seized the ultimate opportunity at Roland Garros '08 and won a slam a month after Justine Henin's first retirement, has since gone from #1 to a player fighting just stay in the Top 20 in just a little over eighteen months.

Sure, Ivanovic erased a 5-2 3rd set deficit here, and forced Dulko to use six match points before finally winning, but her own poor play got herself into yet another of these losing situations and her last-second fight wasn't enough to erase the truth about what occurred. That's pretty much been the case since her "Kiss of Life" win over Nathalie Dechy at Wimbledon just weeks after her RG victory, as she's never seemed to be able to have the confidence to string good outings together and climb back to where she used to be.

If not for Henin's exit (and Serena's state at the time), she'd likely never reached such lofty heights when she did in the first place. Truthfully, she didn't really deserve it. Maybe she realized it, too. Maybe she would have been better to earn her position over time, but she got lucky. Some players would have accepted their good fortune and tried to run with it, but not Ivanovic. Her immediate initial poor reaction to her "worthiness" and all the new pressures she faced is looking like a self-fulfilling prophecy for the remainder of her carerer. She doesn't look like she deserves another shot, and at this rate she'll never get it, either.

Meanwhile, Jankovic, who rarely ever loses in the early rounds of slams as AnaIvo has been doing for almost two full years now, hasn't dropped a set at this tournament and is looking like a decent bet (she next faces Alona Bondarenko, then maybe Marion Bartoli) to maybe reach the QF and face either Dinara Safina or Maria Kirilenko.

Who's to say SHE might not be returning to a slam SF near you? Might Queen Chaos not only NOT die in Melbourne, but not fade away, either?

...Casey Dellacqua's 7-6/7-6 win over Karolina Sprem on Night 4 on Laver wasn't even covered by ESPN2's late night show. Instead, the network just replayed matches involving Americans that had already been aired at more reasonable times earlier in the evening. You'd think that after Dokic's Aussified run a year ago became the story of the tournament, Dellacqua herself made a spirited jaunt to the Round of 16 a couple of seasons ago, and Molik reached and Oz QF with the support of the Australian fans leading the way that someone might want to keep track of another possible good story developing after Dellacqua missed most of last season due to injury. Nope. It'd be nice if someone making telecast decisions had at least a little knowledge of recent history and how to attempt to create stories rather than just falling back on the old "if they're American they air" position. Of course, Dellacqua's next match will be covered... she plays Venus.

...despite her status, Venus Williams is flying way below the radar and every match she participates in that's covered by ESPN2 is littered with references to when her career will end. Here's a thought... why not just let the woman play, enjoy the fact that she's still around after all these years, and wait and see what kinds of results she has over the balance of '10 before writing her career epitaph before she turns 30. Last I checked, she was still a Top 10 player even without having won a slam title last season, so her results obviously haven't nose-dived over the past twelve months. Almost lost in all this is that she's yet to lose a set in this tournament, taking out potential threats Lucie Safarova and Sybille Bammer in straights in a quarter of the draw that has been her's to win from the start, even with C-Woz nestled in there as a potential QF opponent. Last night, I was listening to the match announcers go about what Williams wasn't doing right and how dangerous Bammer could be to her, then I looked up... and saw that Venus had a pretty commanding lead on the scoreboard. How about letting the storyline play out before writing it's ending, eh?

...that OTHER Williams sister, I think her name is Serena or something, played Petra Kvitova (who's got talent, but most of the times I've actually seen her play she's shown an inability to pull things together in pressurized matches) in her 2nd Rounder. Things were tight early, as Williams won a back-and-forth service game to go up 4-2 in the 1st. That's pretty much where the match ended, as Serena went on a nine-game winning streak and easily moved on 6-2/6-1. Even with nearly every limb on her body taped up, she's getting on a roll (get it... roll of tape... getting on a roll? Well, I tried.). You know what that often means in Melbourne, and London, and NYC. With every round, I'm hoping more and more that Serena can defend this title if for nothing else than to finally have something new to replace that U.S. Open video from last summer that was played YET AGAIN last night and rehashed all over again during the match. Yeah, Serena's own unrepentant comments/writings tend to keep the story alive, but still, it's time to put that thing on ice until the Open rolls around again. It's over.

...and, finally, speaking of that "incident." Discussion of it helped set off one of two arguments last night between Pam Shriver and her on-air colleagues. Earlier, PS and Mary Joe Fernandez went at it vociferously enough that Chris Fowler only half-jokingly said he was going step back and let the two of them go at it after they strongly disagreed about Venus' game. MJF says Williams should work more on getting her forehand mechanics sound so that her ability to cover the court could play a key role in her game during long rallies without her forehand breaking down through repeated usage. Shriver, who always tends to back the Sisters, disagreed and said that she didn't think the Venus could ever play like that and it'd be a mistake to even try to play a game where long rallies were key. Her forehand is always going to have a tendency to break down, she said, and trying to play long rallies in points would be counterproductive. Then, later, after MJF had been continually frustrated by Shriver's comments -- both made good points, really -- Mary Carillo sounded like she wanted to strangle her after Shriver stepped into vigerously counter Carillo's opinion that Serena wasn't punished enough for her verbal threats against the lineswoman at the Open (aren't you glad I didn't say she wanted to stuff a tennis ball down her throat?). Shriver correctly noted that Serena's fine was the largest ever levied, and thus it's just plain wrong that she wasn't punished. Carillo wasn't buying it, though, noting how Serena would have been treated much less kindly by the commissioners of any of the American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.) if she'd had such an encounter with an official, and that she shouldn't try to make it appear as if she was punished only because she was "a woman in a man's world."

It made for good TV. While Shriver has a tendency to rub me the wrong way quite often, I'll give it to her for not falling in line with everyone on EVERY over-played issue. Even though there'd be less potential for calamity and unprofessional antics without Shriver there, it's certainly more fun and interesting when she is. Warts and all, Shriver IS a firestarter... and that's rarely a bad thing when it comes to often-uninspired television sports -- especially tennis -- coverage.

*FINAL 32's by NATION*
6...Russia (Kirilenko/Kleybanova/Kuznetsova/Petrova/Safina/Zvonareva)
5...Italy (Brianti/Errani/Garbin/Schiavone/Vinci)
3...Belgium (Clijsters/Henin/Wickmayer)
2...Australia (Dellacqua/Stosur)
2...China (Li/Zheng)
2...United States (Williams/Williams)
1...Argentina (Dulko)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...France (Bartoli)
1...Germany (Kerber)
1...Great Britain (Baltacha)
1...Israel (Peer)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Serbia (Jankovic)
1...Slovak Republic (Hantuchova)
1...Spain (Suarez-Navarro)
1...Ukraine (A.Bondarenko)
5...Spain (Almagro/Lopez/Montanes/Nadal/Verdasco)
3...Croatia (Cilic/Karlovic/Ljubicic)
3...France (Falla/Monfils/Tsonga)
3...Germany (Haas/Kohlschreiber/F.Mayer)
3...Russia (Davydenko/Korolev/Youzhny)
2...Argentina (del Potro/Monaco)
2...Switzerland (Federer/Wawrinka)
2...United States (Isner/Roddick)
1...Australia (Hewitt)
1...Austria (Koubek)
1...Chile (F.Gonzalez)
1...Colombia (Falla)
1...Cyprus (Baghdatis)
1...Great Britain (Murray)
1...Poland (Kubot)
1...Serbia (Djokovic)
1...Uzbekistan (Istomin)

TOP QUALIFIER: Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Kim Clijsters/BEL
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.- Henin/BEL def. #5 Elena Dementieva/RUS 7-5/7-6
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx Rd.- xxx
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
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: [Yanina Wickmayer/BEL & Angelique Kerber/GER to 3rd Rd.]
IT GIRL: xxx
COMEBACK PLAYER: [Justine Henin/BEL to 3rd Rd.]
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS ('08 champ, lost 1st Rd. to Kirilenko/RUS)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: [Temporary: Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS down 3 MP to Oudin/USA in 1st Rd.]
LAST SHEILA STANDING: [Samantha Stosur/AUS & Casey Dellacqua/AUS to 3rd Rd.]

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger beckcl78 said...

Much though the WTA might like to forget that she's consistently been a top 3 player for over a year, Dinara was the first player to lose at the *'08* AO. In *'09*, she was a finalist.

Thu Jan 21, 05:06:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

thanks for all the posts Todd!

I think you either need to add someone else to the crash and burn list or substitute dementieva for clijsters...

i mean clijsters was a favorite and bc of her draw, dementieva wasn't so it wasn't a huge surprise that she lost...the clijsters loss, adn the way she lost was a true crash and burn burn burn....

Fri Jan 22, 01:05:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Was Safina really the first to lose in the '08 AO? I know she lost in the 1st Round that year to Lisicki, but I wasn't keeping track of who got the first win in each slam until last year. Also, I recorded #32 Vakulenko as the first seed to exit that year, so then-#16 Safina wouldn't seem to have been the first to lose. Still, that says a great deal about her, huh? 1st Round to finalist to... last player to win? That would seem to be the only next step in any progession, eh? She might end up getting her chance.


Actually, I had Sharapova as the "Crash & Burn" player rather than Dementieva. Since I try to go with the earliest loss by a top player for the "official" record, I'll keep Sharapova there... but I'll certainly be listing Clijsters as the "Middle-Round" Crash & Burner in the 3r-QF awards in a couple of days.

Man, that performance was so bad that even I can't take much pleasure in it happening to her. You can't really kick someone once they've fallen down that hard, you know?

Fri Jan 22, 02:19:00 PM EST  

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