Wednesday, January 19, 2011

AO.3- To Hobble is Divine

For a moment there, the worst seemed probable. But we're talking about a Williams in Melbourne... so it all turned out all right. For now, anyway.

Early on in her 2nd Round match against Sandra Zahlavova, Venus Williams didn't quite seem "there." Of course, it wasn't something we haven't seen from her before, especially early (or late) in the goings-on in Melbourne. But, still, she led 4-1 and held break point for a 5-1 advantage. But things began to level out, even while the 25-year old Czech (one of the loudest in-point players on tour, for sure... and I usually don't even pay much notice to such things, so you can imagine) wasn't exactly putting up eye-popping numbers. As Zahlavova served for the 1st set at 6-5, one began to wonder if she might be the latest to add her name to the list of surprising upset winners over Venus at the Australian Open through the years. Williams broke her to send things to a tie-break, but Zahlavova inched ahead there, as well.

Then it happened.

On the point that would salt away the opening stanza for the Czech, one point after Williams had miss-hit an awkward high overhead smash, Venus reached high again for a backhand overhead. As she struck the ball, she let out an unnatural shriek even louder than the piercing ones that had previously populated the point from both sides of the net. Before the ball had even crossed the net, Williams had doubled-over and grabbed her pelvic area, seemingly signalling an abdominal or groin injury. Zahlavova got the shot back, and Venus even managed to half-stumble over to return a soft shot of her own, leading to the Czech hitting a set-clinching winner and running toward her chair for the changeover. Venus didn't, though. Instead, she lingered in the backcourt, gingerly moving around and ominously holding her side. As she slowly walked to the changeover area, she immediately called for a trainer and, soon afterward, hobbled off the court for the dressing room.

At the time, there seemed little chance that she was going to avoid having career slam match #257 become the site of her first-ever slam retirement. Visions of another multi-month absence from the tour danced in everyone's head, too. But, then, after getting treatment, Williams, with her groin heavily wrapped, slowly walked back onto the court and... grabbed her racket to play. Soon it became apparent that while Venus' 2nd Round survival hovered in the balance behind the scenes, the Czech who has never beaten a player ranked better than #39 had been left on court to ponder where she was, and what she was about to do. She didn't handle it well.

Williams had reduced movement on the court, but as much heart as ever. Meanwhile, Zahlavova was a shadow of what she'd been. She immedately dropped serve, and then went on to lose the 2nd set at love. Venus ended up winning 6-7/6-0/6-4 in what has to be one of her more improbable slam victories ever in her Hall of Fame career.

Of course, this doesn't speak well for her chances of lasting long in this event. She's won slams while playing hurt before, but having already arrived Down Under having played just one tournament in the last seven months, with her training somewhat lacking because of a knee injury and with no built-up match toughness AND NOW being forced to nurse a groin injury, too? Her time in Melbourne would certainly SEEM to be short. If we were talking about Serena, well, maybe we'd be wondering if maybe she now had the rest of the field right where she wants them. With Venus, in this circumstance, that's not likely the case.

But she surely did produce a "moment" on Day 3. Maybe the first on the women's side at this tournament, in fact. I guess this means that the tournament is now officially "on."

...I'm not certain what it says about women's tennis at the moment, but it IS interesting that, one slam after the most indelible image from last year's U.S. Open was Victoria Azarenka passing out in the backcourt, through three days of this AO the most memorable instances have probably been Agnieszka Radwanska's racket breaking off at the handle in mid-swing and flying through the air, and Venus screaming in agony after injuring herself today.

Speaking of medical emergencies...

...someone had better call an ambulance for all the Aussies falling during the Laver night sessions. STAT. As of now, the home country is 0-3 under the lights through three evenings. Jelena Dokic was the latest to slip up, losing in an error-strewn effort to Czech Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, who is married to the cousin of Sandra Zahlavova. The '98 world junior #1 (Dokic) and the '02 world junior #1 (Strycova) traded breaks four times in the 1st set, leading to a tie-break. With a string of points to end the breaker, Strycova won it 7-3 on the back of Dokic's 24 errors in the set. The Aussie's high risk, high reward game didn't turn its back on its giving mood in the 2nd, either. By the time Strycova had won the match 7-6/6-1, Dokic had outdistanced her opponent 43-15 in total errors for the night, including one fittingly final misdirected shot on match point. the closing night match of Day 3, Roger Federer took a quick two sets to love lead against Gilles Simon (who entered 2-0 in his career against Federer), only to see the Frenchman come back to push things to a 5th set. There, Federer finally seized control, but only after Simon managed to dig out of a love/40 hole on his own serve that had given the defending AO champion triple match point. The victory ties Federer with Stefan Edberg for the most ever AO match wins with 56. other results of note on Day 3, Vesna Manasieva became the first qualifier to advance to the 3rd Round, knocking off #15 Marion Bartoli. The Pastry was one of four women's seeds to fall on Wednesday, as #20 Kaia Kanepi lost to Julia Goerges, #21 Yanina Wickmayer was upset by LAT-via's Anastasiya Sevastova, and #32 Tsvetana Pironkova went down to Monica Niculescu. In doubles, in a case of a bad draw for everyone involved, #4-seeded Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez eliminated Hobart champions Errani/Vinci in their 1st Round match-up.

...and, finally, since Jim Courier isn't working for Tennis Channel at this Australian Open, it looked like we might be sparred his I-know-something-and-you-don't tone, but he did appear on ESPN2 after the Federer/Simon match in his role of on-court interviewer for Australian television. Being Courier, the new U.S. Davis Cup captain couldn't help but try to put Federer on the spot by quizzing him on his knowledge of his own slam career, then tsk-tsk-ing him when he didn't "correctly" give the answer that Courier was looking for to the question of when the last time was that Federer lost in a slam before the 3rd Round. After searching his mental files for a moment, Federer said that it was by a 6-4/6-4 score to Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros in 2004. No, no, no, said Courier, the answer is ACTUALLY 2003 at Roland Garros, you silly Swissman (all right, I added that last part).

Hmmm, you see, thing is... Federer was right, and Courier didn't ask the question he thought he had (and, yes, I re-listened to the interview just to be sure). In reality, Courier asked Federer when was the last time he lost IN the 3rd Round in a slam, not BEFORE the 3rd Round (though, as it happened, it was apparent that that was probably what Courier had meant to say, since otherwise he would have been viewed as openly wondering to Federer's face whether he might lost his NEXT match, a 3rd Rounder). That being the case, Federer WAS correct. He did last lose before the 3rd Round at RG in 2003, but his last 3RD ROUND LOSS was in 2004 in Paris, to Kuerten, by a 6-4/6-4/6-4 score (an extra bow to RF for even remembering the score, by the way). I'm sure Federer knew HE was right, but was too nice a guy to put Courier on the spot.

It was all actually kind of funny (including RF joking about how he hopes he doesn't have to play Simon again anytime soon, and how he might have been wondering before the 5th set whether or not the Frenchman had tired himself out by winning the Sydney title last weekend), but Courier should be thankful that he was dealing with someone as affable as Federer, or else things might have gotten a bit uncomfortable for a moment.

#15 Marion Bartoli/FRA (2nd)
#17 Aravane Rezai/FRA (1st)
#19 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (1st)
#20 Kaia Kanepi/EST (2nd)
#21 Yanina Wickmayer/BEL (2nd)
#27 Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU (1st)
#28 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK (1st)
#32 Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL (2nd)

TOP QUALIFIER: Vesna Manasieva/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Sloane Stephens/USA def. Liana-Gabriela Ungur/ROU 7-6/1-6/8-6
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
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)

All for Day 3. Early-Round Awards tomorrow.


Blogger Jeppe said...

I think match of the day was Schiavone-Marino. Francesca looked totally wasted after that one, and I wonder if she'll recover.

I think you should spare a thought for Marion Bartoli who won her 1R 6-0 6-0 and was leading 4-0 in her 2R match, when she tore a calf muscle. She was playing the best tennis of her life, and must be devastated. And credit to her for finishing the match.

Also, good to see so many young players making it to Round 3.

Thu Jan 20, 02:59:00 AM EST  
Blogger 224jax said...

I wonder if any consideration is given that the Americans who play in the AO are usually playing during a time when they are normally supposed to be sleeping. I would be sluggish too if I had to reschedule my sleep as often as these tennis players are required. I am sure that is part of the "job". It is no wonder that American qualifiers do better in the US tournaments.

I thought Bartoli would go deep this time also. She is becoming quite the player.

It is amazing that the qualifiers are tired after 3 qualifying matches which makes the seeded players look as if they are really, really playing well. It might be different when the top seeds meet the less tired competition. It seems as if the qualifiers are broken down by one another then sent in to play as fodder for the seeds. Some of them are still standing and looking as if they will pass the test.

I am sorry Venus got hurt, but she did play better with the pain than she did before. As the last American woman standing, I wish her all the strength and talent she needs to win this title.

Thu Jan 20, 08:46:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Players have to arrive early in order to adjust to the very time zone. It takes a few days. Melatonin supplements can be helpful, too.

Venus--if she plays--has to play Dance Party next. The injury is really bad luck because Venus has a pretty good draw up until the quarterfinals.

Thu Jan 20, 03:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Of course, Venus has had seemingly good draws in Oz before and didn't make it through them. Maybe this is a sign that something different will happen this time.

Yeah, probably not, though.

Speaking of dancing, did you see that men's player (his name escapes me right now) doing the Rockette kicks after winning the other day? Weirdest. Celebration. Ever.

Thu Jan 20, 04:14:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little disappointed that you didn't mention Woz at all on day 3. She actually played a VERY good aggressive game.A brutal 6-1, 6-0 against Vania King is eventually not enough to be mentioned - now it is - well get out of your Barbie doll house ;-) ENough - hope she (Caro) will play well again in 1½ hour.

Thu Jan 20, 05:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Navratilova was pretty harsh on Wozniacki on Tennis Channel during the Cibulkova match, but I could see where she was coming from. Winning against King, Cibulkova or others is one thing, but unless her opponent beats herself (which is less likely the later she gets in a slam... though there really aren't a lot of FULLY proven slam contenders left), she needs to have something more, and push the issue more often in points, to win the matches against the very best players in the SF/F.

I liked what she was doing before the US Open last year, really making a concerted effort to always be forward-moving, but she seems to have slipped back a bit into the routine of letting the match play out without trying to grab it by the neck.

I'm hopeful she might find a way to slip into the final, though, now that Henin is out. And if she gets there, anything could play out.

Fri Jan 21, 02:12:00 PM EST  

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