Wednesday, January 26, 2011

AO.10- Meanwhile, Back in Melbourne

Naturally, the biggest news in women's tennis today didn't take place in Melbourne. But that's where the most important stuff is going on.

=MIDDLE ROUND AWARDS - 3r to QF (Days 5-10)=
...she's looking like a potential grand slam champ, but making that leap isn't as easy as her husband/coach probably thinks it is.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva/RUS & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...could we actually have a #1 vs. #2 battle in a slam final? (RU: Maria Kirilenko/RUS)
SURPRISE: Anastasia Rodionova/AUS
...technically, the REAL last Aussie standing. (RU: Kanami Tsuji/JPN)
VETERAN: Francesca Schiavone/ITA what if she lost, for the second slam in a year she provided the most long-lasting memories of a fortnight. (RU: Liezel Huber/Nadia Petrova, USA/RUS)
FRESH FACE Petra Kvitova/CZE
...her QF near-fade vs. Zvonareva aside, the Czech provided even more evidence that she might be the next new player to elbow her way into the "slam contender bracket." (RU: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS & Anastasiya Sevastova/LAT)
COMEBACK: Agnieszka Radwanska/POL she joked the other, she should have surgery before EVERY slam. (RU: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS)
DOWN: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...she never really had a chance. (RU: Daria Gavrilova/RUS & Lauren Davis/USA)

4th Rd. - Francesca Schiavone d. Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4/1-6/16-14 4:44, Schiavone & Kuznetsova show ESPN2 that women's tennis can produce thrilling marathons, too.
*SLAM MATCH... that changes everything?*
QF - Caroline Wozniacki d. Francesca Schiavone 3-6/6-3/6-3
...C-Woz alters course and becomes aggressive to survive to fight another day (and maybe change slam history in her favor), while Francesca simply does what she does -- never give up. The result was fantastic.
*SLAM MATCH... that won't get the respect it deserves*
4th Rd. - Agnieszka Radwanska d. Peng Shuai 7-5/1-6/7-5
...A-Rad can't help it that her two saved match points were only 33% of the total that Schiavone saved in the same round.

3rd Rd. - Petra Kvitova d. Samantha Stosur 7-6/6-3
...Australia's "best chance" at a women's title in 30 years notched zero winners in the final set in a primetime night match.
Doubles QF - Huber/Petrova d. Black/Rodionova 6-1/6-4
...Liezel has bragging rights over her ex-partner. For now, anyway.
*DOWN AND OUT... for the last time, again?*
3rd Rd. - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Justine Henin 6-4/7-6
...the Belgian couldn't pull out a tight match. This one was an example of all that didn't work in LPT 2, and it seems fitting that it's probably the last time Henin picks up a racket in a match that matters.

"You texted 'Is Kim pregnant? Because she looks grumpy and her boobs are bigger.'" - Kim Clijsters, in an on-court interview, quoting back to Todd Woodbridge his for-her-eyes-only text to Rennae Stubbs

WELCOME TO... "The Hisense Zone": rarely will a more odd sight be spotted on court than the one before the 3rd Round match between Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges when the umpire bounced a ball on a small section of the Hisense Arena court, only to have it stick to the surface as if it was attached by velcro... or sucked into some mind-bending vortex leading to another reality. Of course, that "dead spot" was nothing compared to the one Sharapova fell into in her next match against Andrea Petkovic.
WELCOME TO.. "Radwanska's Funniest Home Videos": the video of Agnieszka Radwanska's racket breaking off at the handle in mid-swing and sailing off the court, as she sports an hilariously bewildered look on her face, will be included in sports blooper reels forever.
WELCOME TO.. "The Caroline Wozniacki Show": when not advancing to the semifinals, the world #1 was the star of her own press room reality show. One day, she conducts her own Q&A session to avoid all the "boring questions" and "boring answers" that usually dominate there, then the next she tells a tall tale about a kangaroo scratching her leg. What'll she do next? Officially say that she wishes for the press to now refer to her as C-Woww?

ZOMBIE QUEEN: Francesca Schiavone, down 4-2 in the 3rd set to Kuznetsova, she saved 6 match points and advanced in an Open era record 4:44
CRASH & BURNERS (AUS edition): In Laver Arena night action, Aussie men and women have been involved in eight matches. They've lost seven of them.
CRASH & BURNER (Jr. version): Daria Gavrilova. The #1-seeded Hordette, and U.S. Open Girls champ, didn't even make it out of the 1st Round.
LAST SHEILA STANDING: Samantha Stosur (3rd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Vesna Manasieva (3rd Rd.)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Andrea Petkovic, who went 2-0 in matches against Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova under the lights, dancing up a (victory) storm along the way to her first career slam QF appearance

And, once again, one Belgian temporarily claims the spotlight from another:

"I spent the last days undergoing various medical tests and they have confirmed that my elbow has been damaged by my adventure in Australia. After my crash at Wimbledon in June, I knew it would be difficult to come back. But I had decided to keep playing and to give everything to overcome the injury. In these recent months I have rarely been spared from the pain, those last months were very hard. Time has passed, and the doubts have grown, and only return to the courts would give me answers. Not the answer I was hoping for... unfortunately. I suffered a lot the last week and every day gave me more and more pain, but I believed that my will would take the upper hand. Today, the examinations are clear and and the doctors say formally, my elbow is too fragile and hurt so that my passion and my profession at a high level cannot continue to exist." - Justine Henin

...I'll have more to say (but not nearly as much as the first time around) later about Justine Henin's retirement announcement, including a brief "Best of Henin, Part Deux" collection of links. Needless to say, there won't be a great deal of old Backspins to pull out from the bottom of the pile for THAT, either.

I guess we should take note of this more recent retirement, since there IS that lurking-in-the-weeds thought that this might not be the last such "I'm-retiring-because-of-an-injury" announcement over the next year or so from a player who seems to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to reclaiming her past level of excellence after a prolonged absence. Of course, that particular Russian ship hasn't quite passed the point of no return just yet.

...meanwhile, back to players who are actually endeavoring to play.

In Day 10's first QF, some pretty odd things occurred while Vera Zvonareva and Petra Kvitova were playing. And not all of them were confined to the court, either.

For a set and a half, the Czech looked as if she was wandering aimlessly in the Outback. Kvitova had been to this stage (and beyond) in a slam before, but she sure didn't look like it. The power shots from both sides and big lefty serve that have made people's eyes pop at this AO were seemingly on vacation on Australia's biggest holiday. (Side Note: It angered Pam Shriver mightily indeed, too. She didn't even try to hide her disgust at Kvitova's sleepwalking routine. Good for PS.). Zvonareva went up 4-0 before the Czech even began to seem like she realized she was scheduled to play a match. The Russian won the set 6-2.

The 2nd set began the same way. Zvonareva went up 3-0 and it looked like the match was going to become a farce. It almost did, but for other reasons. As the players continued to play, a woman was injured in the stands. As medics tended to her in the aisle, just a few rows from the court, and in direct eyesight of at least one player at a time in the seats behind the baseline. The chair umpire wouldn't allow the players to stop playing while the woman was treated and taken away, so Zvonareva ended up becoming distracted by the commotion. It nearly cost her. As the Russian blinked, Kvitova woke up.

As a twenty-one cannon salute sounded in the background for Australia Day celebrations, play continued. So, with the circus happening all around Laver Arena, an actual match broke out. It was surreal. Kvitova smacked a forehand winner near the corner to break Zvonareva, then pulled out of a love/40 hole on her own serve to knot the score at 3-3. She then won a long rally and broke again for 4-3.

But her surge was a case of too little, too late. Zvonareva collected herself in the knick of time, stemming the Czech's tide and breaking back for 4-4. She then held serve and broke again to claim the match when Kvitova missed a forehand up the line. Final score: Zvonareva 6-2/6-4.

Russians have now reached the semifinals of twenty-five of the last twenty-eight slams (see list below).

...later, the result of the Kim Clijsters/Agnieszka Radwanska match seemed like a fait accompli, but with the Belgian being the type of player that A-Rad often frustrates by making them hit shot after shot without error, there WAS a chance for some closer-than-expected moments. Thanks to Clijsters' tendency to toss in errors right when she seemed about to put a choke-hold on the match, that's what happened, too. At least in the 2nd set. The Pole actually served for the set at 5-4, only to see the game bounce back and forth from KC having a break point to deuce because Clijsters was having a hard time playing back-to-back error-free points.

She eventually broke, then won the set in a tie-break to take the match 6-3/7-6. Still, Zvonareva, no matter what happened the two met in the U.S. Open final last fall, has to see at least some break in the clouds when it comes to her chances up upending Clijsters in the semis to reach her third straight slam final.

#9 Li d. #1 Wozniacki in THREE (or two tie-break sets)
#3 Clijsters d. #2 Zvonareva in THREE (w/ KC running away with the 3rd)

...two days ago, I wouldn't have felt the urge to go with Wozniacki is a match-up with Li, but it's there now after her mid-match decision to turn aggressive. If the Dane follows such a gameplan, or at least modifies her standard operating procedure a bit here, I could see going with her against the most in-form player at this AO. But since I'm in a "show-me" mood, I'll stick the initial gut feeling and go with Li to set up a potential rematch of the Sydney final from a week and a half ago.

...there will be no RafaSlam. Rafael Nadal went down in straight sets to countryman David Ferrer in the night session. Nadal wasn't right the entire match, and was bothered by SOME malady. Exactly what it was is open to question -- a hamstring injury, the same flu bug that he carried into Melbourne? -- since he wouldn't discuss it after the match.

No player is more of a shadow of himself than Nadal when he's carrying some sort of injury, and that fact often leads commentators to continually harp on his condition throughout one of these sort of matches. That was the case with ESPN2's Patrick McEnroe, too. Though, I must say, McEnroe was a bit heavy-handed in applying such a thick coat of excuses for Nadal's loss, considering he (and we) didn't really even know what it was that was apparently preventing him from competing.

Of course, anything could still happen, but it looks like there might be yet another case of Federer's "he's-done" critics having to eat there words once again in a few days.

...Sally Peers and Carsten Ball lost their Mixed Doubles QF match to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau on Night 10, dropping the Laver night session match record for Aussies to 1-7 at this AO. Anastasia Rodionova did advance to the Mixed QF with Mahesh Bhupathi, though, and now is the home nation's last shot at a title (other than the single remaining entry each in the Boys Singles and Doubles draws).

Maria Kirilenko is the first woman to advance to both the Doubles SF and Mixed SF. Katarina Srebotnik is just a win in the Mixed QF (she and Daniel Nestor face Rodionova/Bhupathi) from pulling off the same SF/SF result.

Cara Black and Leander Paes lost in the Mixed QF to Chan Yung-Jan and Paul Hanley in two tie-break sets, so the veteran from Zimbabwe won't be adding to her career slam total at this slam. junior action, American Christina Makarova took down Japanese giant-killer (and, no, I don't mean Godzilla, I'm referring to #1-seed Daria Gavrilova) Kanami Tsuji 7-5/6-4 to reach the Girls quarterfinals. She's the last American girl remaining, too, since #3-seed Lauren Davis lost to Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 6-0/6-3. Slovak Anna Schmiedlova took out #7-seed Yulia Putintseva 6-2/4-6/6-3, while #11 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro upset #6-seeded Zheng Saisai of China 6-1/6-2.

None of the eight quarterfinalists in the Girls draw has ever reached a junior slam singles final.

...and, finally, ESPN2 had its annual Dare-to-Taste-Vegemite round robin on Australian Day once again. As usual, it never failed to disappoint. How could it when someone either tasting -- or refusing to do so -- maybe the most singularly horrifying "edible" sandwich spread in the wide world is guaranteed to produce a few laughs. Brad Gilbert looked like he wanted to throw up (the only appropriate response, I'd say), while Chris Fowler and Mary Joe Fernandez sucked it up long enough to take a tiny bit (then quickly grabbed some water to wash the vile taste from their mouths).

Vera Zvonareva, for one, showed commendable courage. She took a good-sized bite despite noting how she didn't like it when she first tasted it years ago. Although, afterward, one got the feeling that she wouldn't sample it again for quite a while. Zvonareva also got to pet the baby monitor lizard that was brought on set, saying she wanted to get a photo of the occasion to show her mother that she actually did it..

Meanwhile, Aussie Darren Cahill could only shake his head at the reactions of his fellow broadcasters as he took a big bite of the Vegemite spread rather liberally on a slice of bread, then noted how "disgusting" HE thinks peanut butter is.

Ahh, no wonder Australia is literally an island unto itself.

19...Serena Williams (16-3)
19...Venus Williams (14-5)
15...KIM CLIJSTERS (7-7)
10...Maria Sharapova (4-6)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
5...Dinara Safina (3-2)
4...Ana Ivanovic (3-1)
2...Samantha Stosur (1-1)
2...LI NA (0-1)
2...Nadia Petrova (0-2)
2...Zheng Jie (0-2)
ALSO: 17-Justine Henin (12-5)

*SLAM SF - since 2006*
8...Justine Henin (7-1)-retired
8...Serena Williams (7-1)
6...Maria Sharapova (3-3)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Venus Williams (3-2)
5...Dinara Safina (3-2)
5...Elena Dementieva (0-5)-retired
4...Ana Ivanovic (3-1)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (3-1)

*SLAM SF BY NATION = 2010-11*
4...Russia (Zvonareva)
3...Belgium (Clijsters)
3...China (Li)
3...United States
2...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...Czech Republic

*RUSSIANS IN SLAM SF - since 2004*
AO: --
RG: Elena Dementieva (W), Anastasia Myskina (W)
WI: Maria Sharapova (W)
US: Elena Dementieva (W), Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
AO: Maria Sharapova (L)
RG: Elena Likhovtseva (L), Nadia Petrova (L)
WI: Maria Sharapova (L)
US: Elena Dementieva (L), Maria Sharapova (L)
AO: Maria Sharapova (L)
RG: Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
WI: Maria Sharapova (L)
US: Maria Sharapova (W)
AO: Maria Sharapova (W)
RG: Maria Sharapova (L)
WI: --
US: Anna Chakvetadze (L), Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
AO: Maria Sharapova (W)
RG: Svetlana Kuznetsova (L), Dinara Safina (W)
WI: Elena Dementieva (L)
US: Elena Dementieva (L), Dinara Safina (L)
AO: Elena Dementieva (L), Dinara Safina (W), Vera Zvonareva (L)
RG: Svetlana Kuznetsova (W), Dinara Safina (W)
WI: Elena Dementieva (L), Dinara Safina (L)
US: --
AO: --
RG: Elena Dementieva (L)
WI: Vera Zvonareva (W)
US: Vera Zvonareva (W)
AO: Vera Zvonareva

#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. #9 Li Na/CHN
#3 Kim Clijsters/BEL vs.#2 Vera Zvonareva/RUS

#7 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #5 Andy Murray/GBR
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#1 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA) vs.#3 Huber/Petrova (USA/RUS)
#12 Azarenka/Kirilenko (BLR/RUS) vs. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) def. #6 Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER)
Butorac/Rojer (USA/CUR) def. #4 Kubot/Marach (POL/AUT)
#8 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB) vs. #3 Bhupathi/Paes (IND/IND)
#5 Fyrstenberg/Matkowski (POL/POL) vs. #2 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN)

Mattek-Sands/Tecau (USA/ROU) def. (WC) Peers/Ball (AUS/AUS)
Chan/Hanley (TPE/AUS) vs. Chuang/Norman (TPE/BEL)
#3 Kirilenko/Zimonjic (RUS/SRB) def. Shaughnessy/A.Ram (USA/ISR)
An.Rodionova/Bhupathi (AUS/IND) vs. #2 Srebotnik/Nestor (SLO/CAN)

Christina Makarova/USA vs. #5 Monica Puig/PUR
#14 Eugene Bouchard/CAN vs. Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
#8 Caroline Garcia/FRA vs. #4 Irina Khromacheva/RUS
#11 Danka Kovinic/MNE vs. #2 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL

#1 Jiri Vesely/CZE vs. Mitchell Krueger/USA
#4 George Mason/GBR vs. #8 Jason Patrombon/PHI
#6 Roberto Carballes/ESP vs. (Q) Mac Styslinger/USA
Lucas Pouille/FRA vs. Luke Seville/AUS

#6 An-Sophie Mestach/Demi Schuurs (BEL/NED) vs. #3 Natalija Kostic/Ilona Kremen (SRB/BLR)
Eri Hozumi/Miyu Kato (JPN/JPN) vs. Denisa Allertova/Klara Fabikova (CZE/CZE)

#8 Mitchell Krueger/Karue Sell (USA/BRA) vs. #3 Ben Wagland/Andrew Whittington (AUS/AUS)
#4 Joris de Loore/Mate Delic (BEL/SRB) vs. #2 Filip Horansky/Jiri Vesely (SVK/CZE)

TOP QUALIFIER: Vesna Manasieva/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #3 Kim Clijsters/BEL
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Sloane Stephens/USA def. Liana-Gabriela Ungur/ROU 7-6/1-6/8-6
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Ekaterina Makarova/RUS d. #19 Ana Ivanovic/SRB 3-6/6-4/10-8 (on 6th MP, 1:31 3rd set)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd. - #6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA d. #23 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS 6-4/1-6/16-14 (Open era record 4:44, saved 6 MP)
TOP NIGHT MATCH:: 3rd Rd. - #25 Petra Kvitova/CZE d. #5 Samantha Stosur/AUS 7-6/6-3
FIRST WINNER: Evgeniya Rodina/RUS (1st Rd. - def. WC Olivia Rogowska/AUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #28 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK (1st Rd. - lost to Kulikova/RUS)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Vesna Manasieva/RUS (3rd Rd.)
COMEBACK PLAYER: #12 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
CRASH & BURN: #7 Jelena Jankovic/SRB (2nd Rd. - lost to Peng/CHN)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA (saved 5 MP vs. Kuznetsova/RUS in 4th Rd.)
LAST SHEILA STANDING: #5 Samantha Stosur/AUS (3rd Rd.)
LADY OF THE EVENING: #30 Andrea Petkovic/GER

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


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