Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oz 9: Australia Day Musings

It was a day of leisure for the Aussies, so I'll follow suit. Well, sort of.

Since nothing really struck my fancy enough to warrent a full open, I'll just do a mini version of the "Musings" that I sometimes dredge up when I having nothing else to focus on:

Wow. If Andy Murray played as aggressively ALL THE TIME as he did last last night against Rafael Nadal then I wouldn't find watching him play quite so much a bore.

It didn't pay to be a #2 singles seed in this event, as both Nadal and Dinara Safina left the tournament with retirements due to longstanding injuries that threaten to be issues for quite some time. Nadal's knee problems prevented him from defending his Wimbledon title last season, and ultimately cost him the #1 ranking. After taking time off, cutting weight and redefining so many things about his prep schedule, all it took was a slight misstep for him to be prevented from attempting a comeback against Murray and moving into the SF in his attempt to defend THIS title. Meanwhile, Safina's back injury goes back many months and has already led to some pretty miserable results. If this continues, she might end up having to bite the Sharapova-style bullet and decide that a longer period off the tour will be better than trying to unsuccessfully play with a nagging injury that prevents her from playing her best tennis.

Hmmm, this is the time in the tournament when I wish that'd I'd held to my preseason pick of Novak Djokovic to win this title, rather than switching to Nadal at the last moment on the eve of the AO. Well, at least I DID stick with that early Serena/Henin final, though.

Thanks, Justine. You ended your match against Nadia Petrova today litereally at the top of the hour. Just in time for me to watch "24" live as it aired (Renee & Jack... what a pair). Ah, yet another reason to be thankful.

Lucky Tennis Channel. ESPN2's odd schedule allowed TC to show the entire Henin/Petrova match, while ESPN2 was "stuck" with showing the less-anticipated Zheng/Kirilenko match live. Surprisingly, that's just what they did, too. I was SURE the powers that be would shrug off their responsibility to tennis fans and show the tape-delayed Henin match instead. The regular directing and producing team must have been busy off celebrating Australia Day in a bar in downtown Melbourne or something.

I got a message from Carl last night. It read: "Vegemite bad."

So far, so good. Even after losing projected Girls semifinalist Heather Watson in the 1st Round, I've still got three of my final four junior predictions in the running. I've got three of my four Women's SF picks alive, as well. Of course, now I've probably spoken too soon. (Ahh, but no one can screw up that correct #14 Marin Cilic semifinal prediction!)

Oh, well, Nadia. At least you've got something to build on for the rest of 2010.

So, Zheng Jie now joins an unlikely list of two-time slam semifinalists that most recently added the likes of Nicole Vaidisova as its previously newest member a few years ago. Skull & Bones it ain't, but it's not a bad thing to include in a career bio. (Of active players, only Nadia also has exactly two SF.)

Hmmm, Day 10 has Victoria Azarenka finally getting that Melbourne rematch with Serena Williams. I wonder if the linespeople will wear out a path to the umpire's chair before everything is wrapped up? With Nadal out, and Roger Federer playing recent nemesis Nikolay Davydenko next in the QF, could we actually be about to see a men's slam SF without either of the two for the first time since the 2004 Roalnd Garros?

Hey, stranger things have happened. Just ask Kim.

...Justine Henin needed an easier match in the QF. Well, she at least avoided another marathon. After taking a while to get herself into the match, Nadia Petrova ended up providing some very nice competition in the QF contest, but it was Henin's ultimate experience that once again won out in the end.

Henin got an early 1st set break for 3-2, but Petrova got back on serve with a break for 4-4, only to be broken again the next game. Everything eventually went to a tie-break where Henin got an early 3-1 advantage, symbolically right before celebratory Australia Day canons were set off down the road from the tennis complex. Henin wrapped up the TB with a beautifully angled cross court backhand to win 7-3 in a :55 1st set.

In the 2nd, Petrova immediately broke for 1-0 lead, then got another break to go up 3-0. But it was early, and Henin slowly but surely reeled the set back in. She retrieved the first break to close to 3-1, then the other to knot things at 3-3. Petrova barely held serve for 4-4, but Henin's break at 6-5 closed out the match 7-6(3)/7-5 just as the clock struck at the top of the hour.

Hmmm, that score is a bit familiar, I think.

In their previous meetings this season, Henin defeated Petrova 7-6/6-2 in an exhibition, then 7-5/7-5 in her first official match back in Brisbane. At least Nadia knows where she stands -- close, but seemingly so far away from Justine (she 2-13 lifetime against her). Hey, at least she did the favor of knocking out you-know-who (who's now backed out of Fed Cup play, by the way).

During the match on Tennis Channel, Martina Navratilova put together a nice analogy about Henin's return. She said that the Belgian was like Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, only the ceiling was taken away (by the artist herself, actually). To go a bit further with Martina's appropriate metaphor, so far in LPT 2 it looks like Henin has found an expansive empty room in some forgotten corner of the Sistine Chapel... and she's looking up at an entirely bare ceiling.

Smile, Justine. Smile. And load up your palette with all your new colors.

...Maria Kirilenko didn't live up to her Triumverate responsibilites, losing 6-1/6-3 to Zheng Jie and eliminating the final Hordette from the draw, meaning there won't be Melbourne semifinals containing a Russian, Belgian and Williams sister. Kirilenko's final stand essentially came at 6-1/3-2 when she had multiple opportunites to break the Chinese player's serve and get back on serve. It didn't happen, and Kirilenko's march to defeat was completed pretty quickly soon afterward.

This result sets up an oddity of a SF that pits the wild card 5-feet-5 and 3/4" Henin against one of the few players she can physically look down on, the unseeded 5-feet-4 1/2" Zheng, who admitted after the match that the Belgian is her "favorite player." Interestingly, in her previous slam SF appearance ('08 Wimbledon), it was Zheng who had been the recipient of a wild card into a slam main draw.

Now we'll see on Day 10 if Li Na can make it two Chinese players in a slam final for for the first time. She faces Venus Williams. Of the two Chinese women, Li has always been the "more talented" player, but it's generally been Zheng -- who've I've always thought is the most underrated player on the WTA tour -- who's had the more consistent results compared to the oft-injured Li.

For the record, this is the tenth time in the Open Era in which multiple unseeded players have reached a slam SF (see full list below), but it's the second straight slam in which it's happened (that last occurred in the '75 AO and '76 RG slams, when the Australian was held at the end of the year). Meanwhile, Henin will be trying to become the third unranked woman to reach a slam final, following Evonne Goolagong ('77 AO) and Kim Clijsters at last year's U.S. Open.

...Zheng's win over Kirilenko sent her into her second grand slam singles SF, but it also got her the "Ms. Opportunity" award for this slam. I think we all know which is the more important honor. Hehe.

Meanwhile, Kirilenko is set to grab the "It Girl" award, but if Victoria Azarenka were to upset Serena, she'd take the crown. Though it might end up being a "power-sharing" situation.

The contenders for "Doubles Star" are lining up, as well. While a particular team could win -- such as, say, Peers/Robson or the reconnected duo of Raymond/Stubbs -- the players currently in the running are alive in both the Doubles and Mixed competitions: Cara Black (QF/QF) and Lisa Raymond (SF/QF).

...some interesting junior 2nd Round results from Day 9: Laura Robson, the Girls RU a year ago, knocked out #11 Yulia Putintseva 6-2/3-6/6-2, '09 U.S. Open junior finalist #16 Yana Buchina knocked off Madison Keys 3-6/7-5/6-2 and Hordette Ksenia Kirillova upset #4 Gabriela Dabrowski 6-3/6-4.

In Doubles, Venus & Serena were actually taken to three sets by Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Yan Zi, with the American pair winning 6-4 in the 3rd to reach the SF and move to within two victories of defending their '09 title.

...the Middle-Round Awards arrive tomorrow.

...and, finally, Chris Fowler was at it again on the ESPN2 set on Day 9. A bit after Henin's win over Petrova, he followed through on what's become an Australia Day tradition over the years -- offering some unsuspecting, non-Australian player a bit of that dastardly Vegemite on a cracker. Just the sight of the vile Aussie favorite is usually enough to cause a player to recoil in horror, and Henin was no different.

Saying she could do a lot of things, but not THAT, Henin's reaction was the best yet. Is it possible to coil up in a fetal position while still sitting in a chair? Maybe one day we'll find out. Today might have been as close as we'll get though. All the while, Fowler's evil grin -- and likely internal mwah-ha-ha-ha laugh -- was ever-present. I think he even tried to push the Plate of Death toward Henin one final time for good measure before she left the set. Sometimes, the simplest things are the funniest.

They'll probably never bring out an Australian player for this comedy skit, but maybe they should. After all, then maybe SOMEONE would finally take Fowler up on the offer... and gross out everyone, including me, who's ever had the misfortune of "tasting" that stuff. Because, for 99% of the world population who's ever taken the Vegemite plunge, the thought of doing so again is akin to getting a million papers cuts -- all at one time.

I'm getting chills just thinking about it. And I'm not talking about the paper cuts, either.

Oh, those Aussies. Will their many mysteries ever be solved?

2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Serena Williams, USA
2008 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2009 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2010 Zheng Jie, CHN

1976 Roland Garros - Tomanova, Mihai, Ruzici
1978 Australian Open - O'Neil, Evers, Matison
1971 Roland Garros - Schaar, Gourlay
1971 Australian Open - Hunt, Shaw
1975 Australian Open - Chmyreva, Barker
1983 Roland Garros - Jauvosec, Durie
1994 Wimbledon - McNeil, G.Fernandez
1999 Wimbledon - Stevenson(Q), Lucic
2009 U.S. Open - Clijsters(WC), Wickmayer
2010 Australian Open - Henin(WC), Zheng

*UNSEEDED/WILD CARDS to SLAM SF - 2000-present*
2000 Australian Open - Jennifer Capriati, USA
2000 Wimbledon - Jelena Dokic, AUS
2000 U.S. Open - Elena Dementieva, RUS
2002 Roland Garros - Clarisa Fernandez, ARG
2003 Roland Garros - Nadia Petrova, RUS
2007 Australian Open - Serena Williams, USA (W)
2009 U.S. Open - Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2010 Australian Open - Zheng Jie, CHN
[wild card]
2008 Wimbledon - Zheng Jie, CHN
2009 U.S. Open - Kim Clijsters,BEL (W)
2010 Australian Open - Justine Henin, BEL

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #7 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#16 Li Na/CHN vs. #6 Venus Williams/USA
(WC) Justine Henin/BEL def. #19 Nadia Petrova/RUS
Zheng Jie/CHN def. Maria Kirilenko/RUS

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #6 Nikolay Davydenko/RUS
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#14 Marin Cilic/CRO def. #9 Andy Roddick/USA
#5 Andy Murray/GBR def. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) vs. #7 Kleybanova/Schiavone (RUS/ITA)
#15 Kirilenko/A.Radwanska (RUS/POL) vs. Peers/Robson (AUS/GBR)
#6 Raymond/Stubbs (USA/AUS) def. #13 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA)
#2 Williams/Williams (USA/USA) def. #8 Mattek-Sands/Yan (USA/CHN)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) def. Butorac/R.Ram (USA/USA)
Kohlmann/Nieminen (GER/FIN) def. F.Gonzalez/Ljubicic (CHI/CRO)
Karlovic/Dusan (CRO/SRB) vs. #3 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND)
Clement/J.Erlich (FRA/ISR) vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

#1 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND) vs. #8 Vesnina/A.Ram (RUS/ISR)
Chuang/Polasek (TPE/SVK) vs. #7 Raymond/Moodie (USA/RSA)
Zahlavova-Strycova/Marach (CZE/AUT) vs. Pennetta/Melo (ITA/BRA)
Kops-Jones/Norman (USA/BEL) vs. Makarova/Levinsky (RUS/CZE)

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.- (wc) Justine 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 [4th Rd.]
IT GIRL: xxx
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.
LAST SHEILA STANDING: Samantha Stosur/AUS [4th Rd.]

All for Day 9. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

SERENA WILLIAMS: Oh, my God there's no Russians in the semis. Is this a first?

Hahahaha -- we're not the only ones surprised.

Wed Jan 27, 03:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Unless Sharapova gets herself together, there's a shot the Hordettes might go 0-for-slam-SF in 2010. Maybe.

Wed Jan 27, 04:19:00 PM EST  
Blogger Opal said...


Wed May 12, 05:09:00 AM EDT  

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