AO 6 - I'll Show You My Lists If You Show Me Yours
The Round of 16 field is set... and you know what that means.
**ROUND OF 16 NOTES**
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT NATIONS REPRESENTED: thirteen. Nations with more than one: Russia (2), Serbia (2) and the United States (2).
FIRST-TIME SLAM ROUND OF 16ers: #30 Eugenie Bouchard and unseeded Garbine Muguruza. Bouchard, 19, is the highest-ranked teenager in the world at #31. She's the first Canadian woman to reach a slam 4th Round since Aleksandra Wozniak at Roland Garros in '09, and the first to do so in Australia since Maureen Drake in '99. Muguruza came to Melbourne hot off her maiden career tour title in Hobart, a tournament for which she had to qualify. Her AO wins have run her current winning streak to eleven matches. As far as additional Aussie Open 4th Round newbies, only Simona Halep has never been there in Melbourne before. The Swarmette made her grand slam Round of 16 debut at last year's U.S. Open.
HOME SWEET HARD COURT?: Of the sixteen remaining women, eleven also advanced to the Round of 16 at last year's U.S. Open. Eight of those players also reached the 4th Round at last season's Australian Open.
BACKSPIN 1, PIRONKOVA 0: Fifteen of the final sixteen women appeared on Backspin's preseason "Grand Slam Master List." Only wild card Casey Dellacqua (world #120), appearing in her second career slam Round of 16 (her first since 2008), wasn't included on the list. One other player who wasn't on the list but threatened to spring from the shadows when no one was looking -- Tsvetana Pironkova -- didn't make it, losing in the 2nd Round to Sam Stosur. Thanks, Sam. So far, so good.
*2014 AUSTRALIAN OPEN WOMEN'S FINAL 16*
#1 - Serena Williams
#2 - Victoria Azarenka
#3 - Maria Sharapova
#4 - Li Na
#5 - Agnieszka Radwanska
#8 - Jelena Jankovic
#9 - Angelique Kerber
#11 - Simona Halep
#13 - Sloane Stephens
#14 - Ana Ivanovic
#22 - Ekaterina Makarova
#24 - Dominika Cibulkova
#29 - Flavia Pennetta
#31 - Eugenie Bouchard
#38 - Garbine Muguruza
#120 - Casey Dellacqua
2...United States (Stephens,S.Williams)
1...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
[by career slam Round-of-16's]
[by consecutive slam Round of 16's]
[by career AO Round of 16's]
[by consecutive AO Round of 16's]
7...Serena Williams [not counting missed 2011 AO]
[by preseason "Grand Slam Master List" rankings]
1 - Serena Williams
2 - Victoria Azarenka
3 - Li Na
4 - Maria Sharapova
7 - Agnieszka Radwanska
9 - Angelique Kerber
11 - Sloane Stephens
12 - Simona Halep
13 - Jelena Jankovic
14 - Flavia Pennetta
19 - Ekaterina Makarova
20 - Eugenie Bouchard
27 - Dominika Cibulkova
33 - Ana Ivanovic
53 - Garbine Muguruza
unlisted - Casey Dellacqua
[WTA career slam Round of 16's - active]
[WTA slam Round of 16's since 2010 - active]
=DAY 6 NOTES=
...with the temperatures out of the 100's and in the 70's on Day 6, we can finally get around to focusing more on the actual tennis and not whether or not someone has to die before the AO organizers clear up the Extreme Heat policy.
...perhaps the biggest question of Day 6 was how #3 Maria Sharapova would respond in her first match since her three and a half hour drama against Karin Knapp in the 2nd Round. Having a perfect weather day helped, as did a decided numbers disadvantage for her opponent, #25 Alize Cornet. The Pastry was 1-18 vs. Top 5 players, and 1-7 in grand slam 3rd Round matches.
The numbers held up early, as Sharapova raced to a 4-0 lead and took the 1st set 6-1. In the 2nd, though, Cornet got a break lead at 3-1. It didn't last long, as Sharapova was soon serving for the match at 5-4. She even held a match point, but after serving two double-faults in the game she was broken, and once the two exchanged two more breaks the set went to a tie-break.
Needing a two-set match, Sharapova flirted with going to three, allowing her string of forehand errors to, ever-so-briefly, cause her to resemble a certain Queen Chaos throwing up her arms in frustration with herself. A tie-break long dialogue/diatribe with the player's box didn't follow, though, so the comparison ended there.
At 5-5, Sharapova served a point that would produce either a set point or a match point. She sailed another forehand long and the Pastry came within a point of twisting a knife into the Russian's back by taking things to the 3rd. Sharapova saved the SP with a low volley/near-drop shot and volley winner combo, then followed up with a deep return that Cornet returned long. At 7-6, Sharapova had her second match point, and Cornet's long shot ended things, 6-1/7-6(6) as the Russian advanced to her fourth straight AO Round of 16.
...#13 Sloane Stephens, after surviving streaky play in both her first two matches this week, did so again against Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. In the 1st set, Stephens took an early break lead at 3-1, only to see Svitolina win four straight games and serve for the set at 5-3. The American broke her serve in game #9, then again in game #11, and served out the set at 7-5. She then got up a break in the 2nd, and this time avoided another roller coaster finish, winning 7-5/6-4.
As for #2-seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka, Stephens' Round of 16 opponent in a rematch of their controversial semifinal of a year ago, Night 6 was a "that's more like it" moment. Yes, she dropped her first service game of the match, but, well, that was the only game she lost against Yvonne Meusburger in a 6-1/6-0 victory, easily her most complete and consistent performance at this slam.
More on the Vika/Sloane rematch -- and maybe another, more unsavory Melbourne "sequel" -- in a moment.
...credit Caroline Wozniacki for very nearly overcoming the growing pains of attempting to change her game and escaping with a win over Garbine Muguruza today. Even while playing a more powerful player who'd handled her on hard court last spring in their only previous meeting, the #10-seeded Wozniacki erased an early break and took the lead from the 20-year old by winning the set 6-4. She was on her way to possibly winning in straight sets, too, but a double-fault to break her own serve gave Muguruza the chance to serve out the 2nd set, which she did at 7-5.
In the 3rd, the six-foot tall Spaniard seized control, taking a 5-1 lead and breaking for 5-2 to get the chance to serve for her first career slam Round of 16. Finally showing some nerves, Muguruza was broken, but then immediately bounced back by breaking th Dane at love to win 4-6/7-5/6-3.
Wozniacki's error totals were up in this match, and her past consistency wasn't in evidence. But that is going to happen as she attempts to put more oomph behind her serve and forehand, and play with the sort of aggression that -- even in small doses -- used to be foreign to her game. Thing is, the Dane, although she gets credit for hiring Thomas Hogstedt as coach and making changes with the thought of competing to win slams, is about eighteen months behind schedule. She could have made these same alternations two seasons ago, but instead chose to deflect any talk of such a thing, saying she "had time." If she had taken the steps then, she might have come out the other side of the changes by now and be closer to where she wants to be. As it is, she's just at the beginning of this cycle. She's been warned by Hogstedt that she shouldn't expect immediate results, and that there's no reason to panic if the errors come fast and furious, and the tide of losses to power players isn't abated. If she listens, things may turn out fine.
But, well, we'll see how that works out.
Meanwhile, it's hard to not see even more good things for Muguruza on the immediate horizon. This was her eleventh straight win this season, and her thirteen overall victories (through 14 matches, with her only loss coming vs. an in-form Venus in Auckland in Week 1) is more than any other woman thus far in 2014. And this is coming after she missed the last half of 2013 after having ankle surgery following Wimbledon. She began the year at #64 and her early season success, including her first title last week in Hobart, has already raised her ranking to #38. This result will take her still higher and, remember, she has ZERO points to defend in the second half of the year. Don't be surprised if Muguruza is ranked well inside the Top 20 or 15 by the end of the season, not to mention likely ahead of Wozniacki.
...#5 Aga Radwanka proved to be more fortunate than her friend Caro, as her opponent, #29 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, after taking the opening set, had a difficult time making it through the match in top condition. The Russian took the 1st set set 7-5, and led the 2nd at 2-0. But by the time A-Rad had taken a 5-2 lead, Pavlyuchenkova was being looked at by tournament doctors. Radwanska went on to claim fourteen of the final sixteen games to win 5-7/6-2/6-2, advancing to her seventh straight slam 4th Round (tied w/ Serena for the best on tour).
Thing is, Aga might live to regret this in the next round. Muguruza is just the sort of player who has often hit Radwanska off the court in the past. Maybe the Spaniard will get nervous, and maybe the Pole will find a way to distract and throw her off-balance with her bag of tricks. But Muguruza could blow right through her, too. It'll be interesting to see what happens in that one.
...elsewhere, #20 Dominika Cibulkova blasted #16 Carla Suarez-Navarro, winning 6-1/6-0 as the Spaniard didn't come back well from her marathon win over Galina Voskoboeva. The Slovak, with a new serve that is obviously proving quite effective, is now in her first slam Round of 16 since Roland Garros '12, and her first in Melbourne since '09. She'll next get Sharapova. Cibulkova defeated Sharapova in the RG quarterfinals in 2009 to reach her only career slam semifinal. Of note, or not, Cibulkova was also sporting a #20 seed that year in Paris. I'm just sayin'.
Simona Halep eliminated qualifier Zarina Diyas in straight sets to reach her second straight slam 4th Round, where she'll face the so-far-under-the-radar Jelena Jankovic, also a winner in two sets of Kurumi Nara.
...the big names might not be falling in singles, but they are in doubles. #2 Hsieh/Peng went down yesterday, and today it was the '13 finalists, #5-seeds Ashleigh Barty & Casey Dellacqua, who lost to Timea Babos and Petra Martic. #12-seeded Kristina Mladenovic & Flavia Pennetta, too, were sent out by the all-Bannerette team of Madison Keys & Alison Riske.
Mladenovic did win her 1st Round Mixed Doubles match with Daniel Nestor, though.
...AO champion Vika, in photographic, link and notes form:
Ah, memories. Vika in Melbourne in 2012. And... the shorts. Here's how I described "The Verisimilitude of Vika" back then. And, if you so desire, you can click on the photos for a closer inspection of my AO '12 second week notepad sheet from that slam, just in case you wondered what sort of Unabomber-like scribblings I utilize to keep daily track of the developments during a slam, including the ongoing nominations for awards, etc. And, yes, I've got a similar two-page record going for this slam, too, as I have for every one for about six or seven years. (Yeah, I know... I need help.)
...DAY 6 "LIKE":
-- the ESPN2 shot from inside the Laver Arena court-level broadcasting booth, which both resembled the view from courtside seats at a basketball game and the P.O.V. of a pilot inside an airplane cockpit. No wonder they've been talking about it all week like little kids with a new, cool toy.
...DAY 6 IRKSOME, LOOMING FUTURE (and maybe already present) "DISLIKE":
-- let the relentless Whack-a-Vika II act begin? Or maybe I've just got my VikaGuard up.
Truth is, this AO has been refreshingly controversy-free for Victoria Azarenka. But, of course, the first weekend has only just begun. She'll face Sloane Stephens next, so it'll now be time to cue up all the VikaGate video involving the medical timeout against the American in last year's semifinal. You remember, the match that Azarenka was dominating save for a few minutes of action near the end.
But, of course, as soon as a rematch at this AO became a real possibility -- as Stephens was winning, while Vika was hours from even playing -- the misinformation came flying fast on ESPN2. First, Chris Evert noted how well Stephens played against Azarenka last year (um, not really), and how Sloane had been leading the match when Azarenka took her medical timeout/"medical timeout." Actually, Vika dominated the 1st set of that match, winning it 6-1 as Stephens went 1-for-10 on game points on her serve. Azarenka then took a 2-0 lead in the 2nd, and led 4-2. She served for a straight sets win at 5-3, and held five match points, before having serious potential-nervous-breakdown issues and lost her serve. It was at 5-4 that the whole timeout controversy began, right before Stephens was set to serve. After the break, Vika came back and got a break of serve to close out a 6-1/6-4 win. So, sorry Chrissie, Sloane actually NEVER led in that match, let alone was about to win it when Azarenka went off the court. At best, Stephens might have had a shot to push things deep into the 2nd, possibly a tie-break, and maybe even a 3rd set... before which Vika would have likely taken a break and collected herself, as she did earlier.
Of course, the full force assault in support of Stephens being robbed of a win a year ago continued later. During an on-set interview with Sloane, after gathering questions from viewers via Twitter, take a guess what the one question that was selected was about. Yep, Stephens was asked about "gamesmanship" and how to handle it. To her credit, Sloane took the high road and talked about how she's learned to not just sit in her chair during breaks or other instances, allowing herself to drift away from the match and get cold. Maybe Stephens has actually learned something over the past year, and Future Sloane replacing Current Sloane is getting closer to becoming a reality.
It's a pity that ESPN2 doesn't have a similar learning capacity.
Later, Evert noted that an Azarenka/Stephens match will be about Stephens getting off to a fast start. Hmmm, so I guess the two-time defending champion, and a finalist at the last four hard court slams with a 29-2 mark at those majors combined with this one, won't have ANY say in how things turns out, then? Evert is also saying that the pressure is now off Sloane for this tournament, since she's now facing a higher-ranked opponent. Really? Maybe on the surface, but not in reality. You can bet your bottom dollar, if Stephens falters (or succeeds) at some point in the match, those same commentators who were saying on ESPN2 tonight that Sloane has no pressure will say that she didn't handle (or handled well) the pressure of such a big match, you know, when it's actually taking place.
Still later, Brad Gilbert threw in that Stephens could win the rematch because, "I love that way she's playing." Mind you, this is the same Stephens who, at this AO has, in the 1st Round, fallen behind 5-1 against Yaroslava Shvedova, who twice served for the 1st set. In the 2nd Round, Ajla Tomljanovic served for the match against Stephens. And, today, Elina Svitolina also served for the 1st set in her 3rd Round match. Yep, Sloane is REALLY coasting. She isn't leaving ANY doubt at all.
Could Stephens win the match? Sure. In fact, I was even flirting with the idea of picking her to do so earlier today should both women win their matches on Day/Night 6. But I'd never pick her now. Of course, maybe I'm just wired to root again something happening simply because I'm being told, a little too vociferously by a few too many people all connected to one media organism, that it could-should-might-will actually happen, and then those same individuals using their fauty memories of a year-old match to attempt to back up why YOU should feel the same way they do about the whole issue. The behavior would make me want to root for a Vika win... I mean, even if I didn't already have a certain rooting interest on that side of the story as it is.
Yep, I get the idea I'm going to be hating on ESPN2 for the next 48 hours, or maybe more depending on what happens when Azarenka and Stephens actually play. I think I'm going to wear out that VikaGuard before the end of the weekend.
...and, finally, the junior competition has begun.
1. Varvara Flink, RUS
2. Ivana Jorovic, SRB
3. Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
4. Elizaveta Kulichkoav, RUS
5. Xu Shilin, CHN
6. Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
7. Sun Ziyue, CHN
8. Nina Stojanovic, SRB (lost)
9. Katie Boulter, GBR
10. Anastasiya Komardina, RUS
11. You Xiao-Di, CHN
12. Priscilla Hon, AUS
13. Sara Tomic, AUS (lost)
14. Katrine Steffensen, USA
15. Fiona Ferro, FRA
16. Fanny Stollar, HUN
There weren't really any 1st Round match-ups that particularly caught my eye on the surface, but #8-seed Serb Nina Stojanovic did lost to South African Ilze Hattingh, #13 Sara Tomic (yes, his sister) lost to Kamonwan Buayam (striking another blow for Thailand in this AO) and Yukina Saigo of Japan took out Aussie Anja Dokic (and, no, I don't believe there's any relation).
Of note, I think there are more Chinese girls (3) in the seeds at this slam than at any other that I can remember. As far as my pick goes, I'll take Eddie Herr champ Ostapenko over Orange Bowl winner Flink in the final. That'd be a rematch of the Herr semifinal in which both players and Flink's coach got into a bit of a "disagreement." Apparently, raised voices were involved. So, I guess we'd find out whether or not Latvians have more fun in Melbourne.
=WOMEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16=
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #14 Ana Ivanovic/SRB
(WC) Casey Dellacqua/AUS vs. #30 Eugenie Bouchard/CAN
#4 Li Na/CHN vs. #22 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
#9 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. #28 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#8 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. #11 Simona Halep/ROU
#20 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK vs. #3 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#5 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL vs. Garbine Muguruza/ESP
#13 Sloane Stephens/USA vs. #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
=MEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16=
#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #16 Kei Nishikori/JPN
#22 Grigor Dimitrov/BUL vs. Roberta Bautista Agut/ESP
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. (LL) Stephane Robert/FRA
#10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #6 Roger Federer/SUI
#7 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. #19 Kevin Anderson/RSA
Florian Mayer/GER vs. #3 David Ferrer/ESP
#8 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #17 Tommy Robredo/ESP
#15 Fabio Fognini/ITA vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB
*WOMEN'S OVERALL WON/LOST - BY NATION*
[through 3rd Rd.]
14-10...United States (Stephens,S.Williams)
[Russia & Eastern Europe]
[Western Europe & Scandinavia]
7-4...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
TOP QUALIFIER: Belinda Bencic/SUI
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Cristina Mitu/ROU def. #4 Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER 3-6/6-4/9-7
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #3 Maria Sharapova/RUS def. Karin Knapp/ITA 6-3/4-6/10-8
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP LAVER NIGHT MATCH: xx
FIRST VICTORY: #18 Kirsten Flipkens/BEL (def. Laura Robson/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Sara Errani/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Julia Goerges, GER)
UPSET QUEENS: Australia
REVELATION LADIES: Romania
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Italy (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st Round; Schiavone out 1st Rd. 5/6 slams)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Zarina Diyas/KAZ (3rd. Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (in 4th Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (in 4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: xx
IT (TBD): E.Bouchard, C.Dellacqua, S.Halep, G.Muguruza
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: C.Dellacqua (singles), A.Ivanovic, F.Pennetta
CRASH & BURN: #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE (lost 1st Rd. to world #88 Luksika Kumkhum; worst slam result since losing 1st Rd. at '11 U.S. Open following Wimbledon title run)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees...
#22 E.Makarova (1st Rd. - down 3-0 in 3rd vs. V.Williams)
#13 S.Stephens (1st Rd. - down 5-1, w/ Shvedova twice serving for 1st set; 2nd Rd. - Tomljanovic served for match; 3rd Rd. - Svitolina served for 1st set)
#30 Bouchard (2nd Rd. - no on 6 MP in 2nd set vs. Razzano, saves 2 SP in 2nd; wins on 7th MP)
#3 M.Sharapova (2nd Rd. - goes 3:28 vs. Knapp, no on 3 MP at 5-4 in 3rd, wins on 4th MP for 10-8 final set)
#4 Li (3rd Rd. - saved MP vs. Safarova)
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to (LL) Falconi/USA, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy); 7 con. slam losses; 22 1st Round exits in 47 slams
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: A.Ivanovic, S.Williams
DOUBLES STAR: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 6. More tomorrow.