Sunday, January 23, 2011

AO.7- A Dingo Ate Kim's Imaginary Baby! (and other Melbourne tall tales)

The first half of the women's Round of 16 gets the old "Random Musings" treatment...

After her 6-3/6-4 win over Anastasija Sevastova, Caroline Wozniacki once again had a little fun with the media. In her press conference, she said that the scrape on her leg occurred when she'd tried to rescue a baby kangaroo. Apparently, she's a pretty good actress, because the story was actually being reported in some places, so she had to go back and reveal the truth. She said she actually hurt herself moving from one treadmill to another in order to watch her favorite soccer team on television.

Meanwhile, at Backspin HQ, a chipmunk ran up my leg and bit my shin this morning.

Very much later in the day, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova ended up getting involved in a drawn-out drama that made tennis history. In an Open slam record of four hours and forty-four mintues, Schiavone emerged with a victory by a 6-4/1-6/16-14 score. She won on her third match point attempt, having saved six match points on her own serve in the 3:00 3rd set, after having come back earlier in the set from a 4-2 deficit.

So much for that Sharapova Resurgence, huh? The Russian took heart in that she reached the 4th Round in Melbourne this year after going out in the 1st a season ago, but after at least showing some baby steps of progress this past week, her never-really-there 6-2/6-3 loss to Andrea Petkovic has to feel like a big punch in the face. On the day, Sharapova hit just 16 winners (with one ace), and had 30 errors (w/ 5 double-faults) in the match's seventeen games.

"We work every day for these moments, and to live in the moment was the most important thing for me." - Francesca Schiavone

As far as the actual Wozniacki/Sevastova match, the Latvian DID have her chances to make things interesting. She broke Wozniacki's serve in the first game, and led 3-1 in the 1st set. Late in the second, at 4-4, she came close to forcing the Dane to have to serve to stay in the set. It didn't happen, though. C-Woz was too steady for the first-time slam 4th Rounder and got a break, then served out the match.

I really thought the Li Na/Victoria Azarenka match would turn out to be a better contest than it turned out to be. Li's 6-3/6-3 win was pretty by-the-books, as she ran her 2011 season record to 9-0, while Azarenka continues to search (so far) in vain for her first career slam semifinal appearance.

Wozniacki might have caught a break with the Schiavone/Kuznetsova match. Set up to face the winner, C-Woz was the first match up on Day 7 and she wrapped things up sometime around noon Melbourne time. Her next opponent had a bit longer work day. No matter which of them won, the chances of the two veterans being too exhausted on Day 9 to give as good a fight as usual was going to be in the cards after battling, wobbling, and being stretched (literally, it seemed, in Schiavone's case during one changeover) beyond their body's limits for nearly five hours in the Aussie heat. Plus, additionally, Kuznetsova had trainers re-wrap her bothersome feet during the match, while Schiavone came into the tournament after having been forced to retire in Perth with an injury at the Hopman Cup. C-Woz, with her desire to drag out points until her opponent makes an error, might end up being the last woman standing in her quarterfinal match. No, literally... she might be the last woman actually STANDING by the time it's over.

I'm wondering if maybe Martina Navratilova felt a little bad about how she expertly deconstructed Wozniacki's game during Tennis Channel's coverage the other day of her match with Dominika Cibulkova. In the Sevastova match, she was clearly pulling back just a little, noting how Wozniacki picks up her game as the competition gets tougher. Or maybe Martina had just simply decided, in retrospect, that you sometimes have to accept the #1 you have rather than try to re-make the #1 into the one you want. Even though she, like many of us, wish the Dane would try to be more aggressive during points (for her own good, over the long haul), Navratilova seemed resigned to that fact that maybe Wozniacki will forever choose to mostly hang back, take her opponents' shots and try to nudge points in her favor using mostly her "passive" or "tactical" (my words, depending on which road of analysis we'd want to go down) defensive ability rather than try to "take" them with lethal force. "You want her to be a 'scorpion,' but maybe she's just a 'frog,'" Martina noted. Man, I wish I'd thought of a line like that. That's GREAT... cute enough to be funny, biologically accurate enough to have more than one meaning, and sure to tick off someone if they see the quote paraphrased or out of context. Plus, scorpions are cool, you know? Nothing against frogs.

Speaking of frogs, did you know that one laid its eggs in my ear just the other day? It still itches.

"When we finished, I told Svetlana she did a really good job and she's great, fantastic. She said the same. We respect each other a lot." - Francesca Schiavone

And, again, I must say that I do so love that nifty little jig that Petkovic performs after every match she wins.

"I felt like I was better player on the court. I played better. Just very disappointing. Sometimes I guess it happens in tennis like it happened today, that key points, [Schiavone] just won it." - Svetlana Kuznetsova

During ESPN2's coverage of Li/Azarenka (the only time the network showed a women's match during the day session until it ABSOLUTELY HAD TO -- but more on that later), Pam Shriver made a prediction that a Chinese woman would win a slam within the next two years. Considering the expected coming (and potentially overwhelming) wave of Chinese talent, it seems apparent that a Chinese woman WILL win a slam soon. But in two years, when Shriver really didn't seem to be specifically pointing to the likes of Li, Zheng Jie or Peng Shuai as the eventual currently-nameless Chinese slam champ? That's be quite a leap in a short burst for a currently-out-of-the-conversation player, considering those three veterans are still really the only players who've so far made real in-roads on the WTA tour. Li might make Shriver's prediction a reality, maybe as soon as a week from now, but at 28 years old her window for winning a slam will probably close once that two-year span ends. But, if not Li, then who? I don't really know just how ready the younger Chinese players might be at the moment to make such a huge leap in two years (or who we haven't even seen yet who might be THE player who changes everything after her). As of yet, no Chinese girl has reached a junior slam final, and without Li, Zheng or Peng the Chinese Fed Cup team hasn't been competitive the last two years. Granted, I suspect that the younger players probably don't travel to far-off tournaments like the up-and-coming players from many other nations do, and that could be why there aren't a lot of names that pop to mind when the subject of the Chinese players-to-watch comes up. There ARE two Chinese girls seeded in the Top 10 for this AO, though, and one of them, Zheng Saisai, has been recently successful when it comes to winning ITF challenger titles. The Chinese women will eventually become a dominant force on tour, as long as the Chinese Federation continues to receive the support it needs. With such a large talent pool, and already a long national history of being the best in the world in racket sports like ping-pong and racquetball, it would seem a natural progression. But isn't it in the Chinese culture to look long term? Because of that, I wonder if five or six years for a Chinese slam champ might be more realistic than two. Of course, that's excluding Li, who has so far been the most consistent and potentially lethal player in this tournament.

"I was worried that I gained one kg... I think I've lost it!." - Svetlana Kuznetsova

Oh, and that cut above my eye you were wondering about? Yep... scorpion-related.

...whew! For a while there it looked like it might be a long waiting game before the identity of this AO's "Zombie Queen" was known. But the Tennis Gods -- and a certain Italian thirtysomething -- took care of that. After struggling in the 1st Round, then winning a 9-7 3rd set in the 2nd Round, Schiavone was surely putting down a foundation on which a Queen of the un-Dead Kingdom could be built. Against Kuznetsova, saving six match points pretty much made that crown of spare finger bones magically appear upon her head. All hail, Francesca, Queen of the Zombies.

...with Petkovic and Stanislas Wawrinka's wins on Night 7 on Laver, they became the first two players at this AO to win multiple matches under the lights. Yeah, Petkovic only had to play seven points to get one of those wins, but it STILL counts. Sharapova's loss drops Russia to 0-3, while Switzerland is now 3-0. Kim Clijsters and Ekaterina Makarova will play in the session-closing match on Night 8. I expect KC will win, but I know I'm going to have to take a cat nap in order to be there to watch this one as it happens since tournament-flipping moment surely IS possible. took Roger Federer four sets to dispatch Tommy Robredo in the 4th Round today. A bit of a surprise, considering his past mastery of the Spaniard. Of course, maybe that 2nd set loss is understandable, since Federer was probably still too stunned by his own 1st set brilliance to fully concentrate. He actually went through the entire opening set without dropping a single point in his five service games.

...meanwhile, junior play has begun. There are quite a few previous junior slam contenders who are now too old to compete, so the draw has a few less familiar names than in previous slams, so the chances of seeing a first-time Girls slam winner are likely pretty good. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm going to predict it.

1. Daria Gavrilova, RUS
2. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
3. Lauren Davis, USA
4. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
5. Monica Puig, PUR
6. Zheng Saisai, CHN
7. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
8. Caroline Garcia, FRA
9. Natalija Kostic, SRB
10. Tang Hao-chen,CHN

#1 Gavrilova d. #10 Tang
#3 Davis d. #7 Putintseva
#4 Khromacheva d. #8 Garcia
#6 Zheng d. #2 Mestach
#1 Gavrilova d. #3 Davis
#6 Zheng d. #4 Khromacheva
#1 Gavrilova d. #6 Zheng

...I probably should go with Davis, considering her winning streak before coming to Melbourne. But maybe Stosur broke the spell, and someone else will win this. It's tempting to pick one of the Chinese girls to follow up Li & Zheng Jie's '10 success (and Li and Peng's this year) in the women's AO draw and become the first junior slam champ from their country (Zheng making the final would also be a first, though). But I'll go with reigning U.S. Open Girls champ Gavrilova, since I picked her to win one of the four big junior titles in 2011 (of course, Davis winning would fulfill one of the pre-season predictions for an American girls champ in '11, too).

Yeah, yeah. I know, that's a lot of "I could, I should, I said this, too." But, hey, what can I say, I'm just trying to cover as much of my butt as possible here. It'll keep the scorpions away.

......and, finally, Kuznetsova should blame ESPN2 for her Round of 16 exit today. How, you wonder? Well, bear with me. You see, the Tennis Gods wanted to teach the so-called network a lesson, and the only way to do it was to turn Kuznetsova's match with Schiavone into a classic, and maybe the one women's match that will be remembered from this tournament. Sveta could have closed out this match early in the 3rd, but doing so would have made it entirely forgettable. Some drama was needed... hence, the longest women's slam match in the Open era.

Why were the TG's angry? Well, because the Powers That Be at ESPN2 headquarters were bound and determined to put on a show that pretended that the Kuznetsova/Schiavone match didn't exist. Although Pam Shriver later said that it was the Round of 16 match she thought would be the most interesting, because it was the only one that matched up a pair of former slam winners, no one else at ESPN2 felt the same way. For most of the network's primetime coverage, you would have thought the match was a $10K challenger event being played in the middle of the Outback. Through the first two sets, not only was it not given any airtime (a steady diet of Federer/Robredo and Verdasco/Berdych was provided, as if the viewers were WTA-intolerant diners), its score wasn't even updated. Oh, excuse me, unless you count the three seconds that were used up after Chris Fowler saw the 2nd set score flash on the screen for two seconds and said, "...and Schiavone is up on Kuznetsova on Hisense."

That was pretty much it. It was truly an embarrassment. Well, until the Tennis Gods decided that someone had to be taught a valuable lesson. You see, late in the day session, literally EVERY other singles match wrapped up early. After interviewing Wozniacki about her kangaroo tall tale (tail?), then Novak Djokovic, showing the Serb dancing with Kym Johnson the other day, running a behind-the-scenes look at the lockerroom, a few hundred commercials, some mindless chatter about nothing in particular, and multiple airings of some promos shot with players in a studio (including w/ Kuznetsova playing a little hacky-sack), someone in the control room decided, grudgingly, that they supposed they HAD to finally show "that boring women's match with players WE don't care about, so obviously no one else cares about them, either."

So, viola! Finally, Kuznetsova/Schiavone was put on the air as the 3rd set began. All that happened next was grand slam history, and a match that will likely be referred to often throughout the final week of this event and beyond. ESPN2 will try to act as if it should be given a medal for the coverage, since it DID show the record-breaking final set into the wee hours of the morning. But, in truth, what might turn out to be this AO's most famous match was actually the match that ESPN2 only decided to partially air as it happened because there was NOTHING ELSE LEFT TO PUT ON OTHER THAN THAT MATCH.

In their intellectual way, I'm sure the Tennis Gods think that they taught ESPN2 a lesson. Unfortunately, I'm sure nothing could be further from the truth. In their wrap-up meeting after Day 7, I'm sure the coverage team talked about how "successful" the day was since footage with the ESPN2 logo in the corner will be aired all over North America for the next twenty-four hours. There were probably some high-five and fist-bumps involved.

You can lead a network to water, but that doesn't mean you can make it drink.

Hmmm, what else...?

Oh, yeah... and a dingo ate Kim Clijsters' imaginary baby!!!!

WI: Venus Williams, USA
AO: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
RG: Dinara Safina, RUS
WI: Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
US: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
AO: Dinara Safina, RUS
RG: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
WI: Dinara Safina, RUS
US: Flavia Pennetta, ITA
AO: Serena Williams, USA
RG: Samantha Stosur, AUS
WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
US: Samantha Stosur, AUS
AO: Francesca Schiavone, ITA

#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. Anastasiya Sevastova/LAT
#6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. #23 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
#30 Andrea Petkovic/GER def. #14 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#9 Li Na/CHN def. #8 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
Peng Shuai/CHN vs. #12 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. #3 Kim Clijsters/BEL
#22 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #25 Petra Kvitova/CZE
Iveta Benesova/CZE vs. #2 Vera Zvonareva/RUS

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #15 Marin Cilic/CRO
(Q) Milos Raonic/CAN vs. #7 David Ferrer/ESP
#4 Robin Soderling/SWE vs. Oleksandr Dolgopolov/UKR
#11 Jurgen Melzer/AUT vs. #5 Andy Murray/GBR
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE def. #9 Fernando Verdasco/ESP
#3 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #14 Nicolas Almagro/ESP
#19 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI def. #8 Andy Roddick/USA
#2 Roger Federer/SUI def. Tommy Robredo/ESP

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)
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.)
CRASH & BURN: #7 Jelena Jankovic/SRB (2nd Rd. - lost to Peng/CHN)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA (saved 5 MP vs. Kuznetsova/RUS in 4th Rd.)
LAST SHEILA STANDING: #5 Samantha Stosur/AUS (3rd Rd.)

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fun to read your bits about ESPN, Good we have Eurosport in our part of the world. They have a good eye for tennis - like 2 official and 4-6 socald player channels where you can see different matches WITHOUT a journalist - it's sometimes nice ;-) Woz up, Woz on,Woz where, Woz there - almost ;-)

Sun Jan 23, 04:18:00 PM EST  
Blogger burntBREAD999 said...

Azarenka's been to three quarterfinals at majors: RG and Wimbledon '09 and Australian Open '10

Sun Jan 23, 05:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

I don't understand why you keep on watching the tennis matches on TV, with all their problems and issues you face all the time. It's been years that I watch all my tennis matches on They catch the North American and European networks, so as a watcher, I basically choose between 4-5 matches the one I'm interested in most (very useful the first week of a Slam). They also show a lot of doubles matches. This way, I got most of the Kuznet/Schiavone gladiator fight (the parts I missed were because I had other things to do).

Sun Jan 23, 06:14:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

LOL. Todd, did you hear Shriver, when asked to comment on the Woz press conference. She said "Wait--let me get this wombat out of the studio."

Sun Jan 23, 06:49:00 PM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

i would love fran to win this. she is heroic.

Mon Jan 24, 08:43:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Oops, I meant to say SEMIfinals. I'll fix that.


Well, mostly because I can't access those online matches with my home phoneline/internet connection. I'm in a literal cubby-hole where every street and road around me has a regular broadband connection, but I'm just on the edge of coverage. (Supposedly, the equipment will be installed in 2011 to fill in that hole... we'll see.) Of course, I could pay a little extra for it now, but I'm simply refusing to do it.

But even if I did watch a lot of matches that way -- or, in this case, on -- I'd still want ESPN2 to show as many matches as possible on the coverage. Especially in the first week, a slam is a combined event that is something akin to barely-controlled chaos, and the network covering that should convey such a situation in its coverage. The way to do that is to keep and eye (and a camera) on as many matches as possible. Shuttling people off to watch individual matches on computer screens just isn't the same. I always keep up with scores online, but I still want ESPN2 to update things as a matter of course, too.

HBO perfected the practice years ago, and it was thrilling to watch as a viewer. It's the sort of thing that can make a big fan out of a casual one, and ESPN2 should try to convert those people, for its own good, rather than complain that people don't want to watch players they don't know. Unfortunately, that'll never happen. I know I've mentioned this before, but I still think the best single day of tennis in a slam I've even seen was the day at the '99 Wimbledon when Dokic upset Hingis. The upset sent shockwaves all over the grounds, and every match had the knowledge that "anything is possible" lingering as an undertone. Slams are huge things, but ESPN2 continues to wish to make them single-match-at-a-time, where-is-an-American-playing event that feels far smaller than it should.

Oh, and I DO just sort of LIKE to pick at ESPN2... and they make it so easy, and irresistible.


More Shriver at this Carillo-less AO HAS been something of a hoot. I'm never quite sure if it's a good thing, but the tightrope-walking aspect of PS on a microphone is great.


I guess C-Woz will have a little say in that. But FS has beaten her before, so...

Mon Jan 24, 03:31:00 PM EST  

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