AO 6 - The Old Cat Lives On... and a new one is born
Aga Radwanska might the WTA tour's resident trickster, but Venus Williams still has a few tricks up her sleeve. The first? Convincing herself that she can still be just as good a player as she ever was. The second? Convincing the rest of us.
Well, I'd say she might be more than half-way to pulling off BOTH slights of hand.
Former World No.1 Venus Williams is thru to R16 at Major for 1st time since 2011 w/tough three set win over Giorgi. pic.twitter.com/3NUkbqh5U5— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 24, 2015
The 34-year old Williams didn't exactly have an easy task today in taking out diminutive Camila Giorgi. The powerful Italian came into the match with one of the highest average groundstroke speeds in the women's event at this Australian Open, and Venus seemed to be a bit taken aback by it in the early going in this match. Playing with aggression, Giorgi's gameplan involved firing her shots up the middle and pushing Williams back in the court, keeping her off balance.
It worked, too. Giorgi took a break advantage in the seventh game of the match (after trading breaks earlier), then held a set point on Venus' serve after Williams double-faulted. Venus held for 5-4, but Giorgi served out the set a game later, finally putting it away with a winner on her fifth set point of the game, handing Williams just her second lost set in her first sixteen sets played this season.
It continued in the 2nd. Giorgi took an early break lead, then saved four break points to hold for 4-2. She jumped ahead 40/love on Williams' serve a game later, but Venus saved all three BP and held. It was the beginning of the end, as for all of Giorgi's skills she still has not mastered the art of putting away big matches. Last season, she reached a pair of tour singles finals, and held match points in both as she attempted to win her maiden title. She ended up losing both matches.
Often, it's the Italian's serve that does her in, and it ultimately happened again today. She's shown a knack for winning in spite of her service issues -- 16 DF vs. Pennetta in the 1st Round, and 23 in a win in Hobart -- but it's not going to fly in a match like this. Right on cue, Giorgi threw in another 16 DF against Williams.
After losing that 6-4/4-2, 40/love lead, Giorgi's game began an immediate decline. Williams got back on serve with a break at love for 5-5. In the 2nd set tie-break, Giorgi dropped four of her five service points as Venus took the TB at 7-3 to knot the match. Three-set matches did Venus in in the 2014 slam season, as she went out three times while going the distance, including against eventual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova at SW19. If 2015 is going to be different, this was Williams' chance to make it so.
Williams broke Giorgi's serve to open the 3rd. Serving down 2-0, the Italian managed to hold in an eleven-deuce game, but by that time the tide of the match had turned. Giorgi didn't hold serve again, and never held another break point. She committed twenty-three unforced errors to Williams' four in the final set, as Venus pulled away for a 4-6/7-6(3)/6-1 victory to reach her first slam Round of 16 in three and a half years.
Afterward, Venus' good mood and animated reactions, seen so often during her Auckland title run two weeks ago, were once again there for all to see. "This old cat has a few tricks left," she joked in her on-court interview, and one has to wonder just what it IS that she's got up there. Well, other than a incredibly strong life force, I mean.
How odd is it that while we see her younger sister often slogging through matches and looking like she's having a hard time getting herself up to play each day, Venus is bouncing around the court like a player half her age (and without a diagnosed disorder that causes fatigue)? Save for one season (2005, when they finished at #10 and #11) since Venus was the higher-ranked of the sisters from 1997-2001, from 2002 until last year Serena has always been the high-ranking Williams once the dust has settled at the end of a long WTA season. While it's likely a stretch to think a full-year role reversal might even be possible in 2015, that doesn't mean that Venus hasn't looked a great deal better -- and had a far better time doing it, too -- than Serena has so far this season.
It might just be the flavor of January, and come the fall the two will have returned to their customary positions in the pecking order. But what if they don't? Would it be because of a step or two back by Serena... or maybe a huge step forward by Venus?
=DAY 6 NOTES=
...while an energetic and fun-loving Venus was putting away Giorgi on MCA, a listless Serena was looking out of sorts (again) on Laver against #26 seed Elina Svitolina. The 20-year old Ukrainian went up an early break, then had a double-break lead at 5-2. She served for the 1st set, holding a set point, only to double-fault and soon be broken for 5-3. Serving for the set again at 5-4, she took a 40/love lead and claimed a 6-4 opening set when a Williams backhand slid wide.
It was easy to start to consider how players no longer have real reason to fear Williams as they used to, though they still enter each match with the knowledge that if she's "on" and engaged they'll likely be little more than a spectator in the match... only with a REALLY good seat. In a way, one day after Roger Federer's exit from Melbourne, it was simple to draw a connecting line between the two 33-year olds, both still capable of great things, but also becoming more and more fallible with every passing loss.
Then, fairly well proving the existence of her two totally opposites on-court selves, Serena flipped the switch and did what she had to do to move on. She broke Svitolina early in the 2nd, and soon won it 6-2. In the 3rd, Williams went up an early break and led 2-0, then fended off the Ukrainian's two break points in game #3 to coast to a 4-6/6-2/6-0 victory.
It was an impressive display in the final two sets, but an overall performance with enough cracks to maintain the belief that Williams is a teetering #1 who could very well be knocked off her perch in this event if she'd just come up on an opponent who doesn't allow her to get away with playing her "B" or "C" game only part of the time. And that opponent could be arriving sooner than later.
It won't Vika, though. Not yet, at least.
While Williams and Azarenka could still meet in a blockbuster QF match next week, both have work to do to get there. And Vika surely was made to work on Day 6 by "the human emoticon," Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, whose every feeling, thought and notion during a match comes with its own unique facial expression. In the end, it was a good match that was far closer and complicated than the final 6-4/6-4 scoreline might indicate.
As clean and impressive as Azarenka's performance was against Caroline Wozniacki last time out, it was often spotty against BZS. Her first serve was wanting, and her forehand had huge difficulty producing winners. BZS never stopped trying to challenge Azarenka, and the Czech vet's charging tactics often worked precisely as she intended. But Azarenka generally managed to keep one half-step ahead of her opponent, avoiding a long, drawn-out match that ultimately could have gone either way had Azarenka's bad stretches lasted just a few points longer than they did. Of course, if BZS had better taken advantage of some of the opportunities she was presented with in this one, THAT might have produced something different, too. Near misses on big points kept the Czech from ever pushing Vika into a corner, and while she extended the former #1 all night she never really forced her to look defeat straight in the face.
In the 2nd set, after taking a two-break lead at 3-0, Azarenka saw her advantage gradually erode as BZS pulled to 3-3, only to see the two-time AO champ break right back for a 4-3 lead. A game later, after failing to put away an overhead, Azarenka was forced to hit another. She hit it wildly long. After having held game point, she was broken as the Czech knotted the set again at 4-4. But Azarenka broke back and served for the match at 5-4. BZS held two break points in the game, but failed to convert. Then, at deuce, Azarenka whiffed on her attempt to swat the Czech's lob out of the air, but as she was running toward the baseline as the ball was out of reach, she was still able to hustle and reach it after it landed in the backcourt and get a second swing on the ball. She got it back over the net, where BZS stood at the net for a volley... but she hit it wide to give Azarenka a match point. A long BZS shot ended things a moment later.
In her post-match interview, the difference between the way Vika has been accepted by the Aussie crowds this year compared to the past was once again evident. When she pointed out that some of the fans were cheering and calling her "Vicky" during the match, she corrected them and told them her name is actually "Vika." In 2012, even while she had no angry intentions, the correction likely would have drawn a few boos from the stands. But not this time. Then, when she answered a question about what was going through her mind she she missed the lob but realized that she still had another shot to hit the ball, her uttering (then stopping herself, but not really) of, "Oh, sh**," on the open mic might actually go a few more steps toward endearing her just a little bit more to the no-filters Aussie crowd.
21-1 in Melbourne since 2012, Azarenka's next opponent will be the 2014 runner-up, Dominika Cibulkova, who has continued to recapture a little of her '14 magic, this time by defeating Alize Cornet 7-5/6-2.
While Azarenka has an 8-3 record against the Slovak, the two have played five three-setters in their last six meetings dating back to 2008 (with the fifth match being just a tie-break away from going the distance, as well). Four of those matches have come on hard courts, the surface on which they met the last two times they played, including when Azarenka extended her winning streak to 26 matches in a particularly dramatic clash in Miami in 2012. With this Round of 16 match in Melbourne, the two will have met in all four grand slams. Vika is 2-1 in those previous matches, with Cibulkova's win coming in their last slam meeting at Roland Garros in 2012.
...rather quietly, Aga Radwanska has moved through this AO draw, reaching the Round of 16 today for the fifth straight year with a victory over Varvara Lepchenko. Although, things did get a bit dicey late in the 2nd, as Aga led 6-0/5-2 and held match point at 5-3, only to see the American close to 5-5 before A-Rad finally closed things out on MP #3 in a 6-0/7-5 victory.
Meanwhile, Garbine Muguruza, the player who was knocked out of the 2014 AO in the 4th Round (courtesy of Aga), returned there a year later with a three-set win over Timea Bacsinszky today. After sometimes suffering losses when she struggled to close out matches last season, Muguruza has been working some closing magic in Melbourne. All three of her matches -- in order, against Marina Erakovic, Daniela Hantuchova and Bacsinszky -- have ended with the Spaniard putting away a love set, the last two coming in three-set affairs.
She'll face Serena next, as the two meet for the first time since Muguruza handed Williams her worst-ever slam loss (6-2/6-2) at last year's Roland Garros. Their only other previous meeting came in Melbourne two years ago, with Serena winning 6-2/6-0.
...in an all-Bannerette 3rd Round clash, the sun continues to shine on another Summer of Madison as Madison Brengle defeated Coco Vandeweghe 6-3/6-2 to reach her first career slam Round of 16. Her rise has been incredible, really, as after a decade of trying to notch her first career slam MD win only finally produced just such a result last summer at Flushing Meadows.
And there there's Brengle's role in the tournament's latest Kia Open Drive feature. So, I take it that Madison likes to cook... and red wine.
...of course, Brengle turned out to not be the most headline-worthy Madison, though. For, in the nightcap on Laver, we saw the Future of American tennis... and she isn't named Sloane.
In the biggest star turn yet at this AO, Madison Keys delivered the sort of statement from which grand slam champions are born. The hard-hitting Bannerette has already been seen as maybe the best of the new generation of Bannerettes for most of the last year, it was just a case of harnessing her talent, calming her nerves and getting it done on the biggest stages of the sport. She showed an impressive learning curve in '14, showing marked improvement after surviving that Fed Cup match against Alize Cornet that had the look of a turning point match for the teenager's career. By the end of the summer, she'd won her first title and showed some true grit in what turned out to be a 3rd Round retirement loss to Yaroslava Shvedova at Wimbledon.
As she went into Night 6's clash with Petra Kvitova, the question was whether her offseason of work with Lindsay Davenport had edged her closer to becoming "Future Madison." Was she ready to take the next step? Oh, was she ever.
On some level, Kvitova learned how the other half lives in this match, as Keys was the one who was impressively blasting balls deep into the court, controlling rallies and serving out important games without batting an eyelash. You know, sort of like how Kvitova has so often played at Wimbledon en route to two Ladies championships.
Keys held a break point in Kvitova's first service game of the match. The Czech held, but it was the first act in the American's carving out a victory in the biggest match of her life. On her fourth BP chance of the 1st set, Keys got a break to take a 3-2 lead. Kvitova got things back on serve, but Keys again broke to give herself a chance to serve for the set. And with impressive calm, she did just that. She didn't waver at all, converting set point with an ace to win the power-vs.-power 1st set by a 6-4 score.
The 2nd set played out in a very similar fashion. Keys powered a big return up the middle, forcing a Kvitova error to get an early break. Four straight breaks of serve kept the set even, all the way to 5-5. That's when Keys broke the Czech for a fifth time on the night to give herself a chance to serve for the match, her first career slam Round of 16 and an all-American "Battle of the Madisons" clash in a few days.
As impressive as her hold to win the 1st was, this was one was even better. Like Kvitova-serving-for-a-Wimbledon title good.
Keys' magnificent crosscourt forehand winner into the corner was the highlight shot of her final, match-clinching hold. But, with such a big moment there for the taking, it was all the rest that might have been even more telling about her future, not only for the rest of the season and years down the line, but the second week of this tournament, too. Keys didn't blink. Not once. She pounded the ball into Kvitova's side of the court without hesitation. Obviously, Davenport has been telling her not to tread lightly just because she's approaching ground upon which she's never walked before. That's what a champion is supposed to do, and Keys did it as well as anyone ever has.
It was most definitely a "wow" moment.
On triple match point at 40/love, the match ended when Kvitova couldn't get a Keys shot back over the net. Just like that, Keys' completed her career-best moment with a 6-4/7-5 victory. She might have had a hard time figuring out what to say to Todd Woodbridge in her on-court interview immediately afterward, but this 19-year old looks like she's going to have a lot of chances to perfect her reactions to huge victories. She's going to have quite a few.
If Keys continues to play like she did tonight, she might even have a shot at playing at the end of next week in Melbourne. Two years after Sloane Stephens reached the AO semifinals as a teenager, then Genie Bouchard matched her accomplishment before she turned 20, Keys is now in line to challenge to make North America three-for-three in Melbourne breakthroughs. Who knows, she might even do those other two one better.
Of course, maybe that's just the lingering aftereffects of the flash of Future Madison that we saw tonight. But, really.. it's difficult NOT to have that immediate reaction.
...the juniors began play today, and it didn't take long for a high seed to fall, as Aussie Olivia Tjandramulia (a co-"Junior Star" award winner last week) took out #3 Marketa Vondrousova (CZE), and Russia's Anastasia Garanova upset #8-seeded Pastry Fiona Ferro.
...DAY 6 LIKE #1: Wise words by the sage of the WTA...
...DAY 6 LIKE #2: Quote of the tournament so far? Whether she actually said "little" or "old" cat. After first thinking it was the former (and I wasn't alone -- see below), now I'm thinking it was the latter.
...DAY 6 LIKE #3: It's nice to get compliments.
@Madison_Keys forehand is MASSIVE??— Feliciano López (@feliciano_lopez) January 24, 2015
...DAY 6 GENTLE PERSUASION... BY TOUCH SCREEN: Cibulkova said she wouldn't sing. But it didn't take much...
...DAY 6 "REST DAY" ACTIVITIES:
...DAY 6 "A SIGN OF THE MEDIA TIMES?": Hmmm, maybe Pammy should offer up her photographic services to Sports Illustrated?
...DAY 6 TENNIS' STILL-NECESSARY-BUT-IT-REALLY-SHOULDN'T-BE-BY-THIS-POINT, BI-ANNUAL (or maybe TRI?) REMINDER THAT IT'S NO LONGER 1952: "Twirlgate."
And what is it about Bouchard and post-match interviews in Melbourne, anyway? Last year, the controversy was because she was asked about Bieber.
Why Twirlgate Is So Much More Interesting Than Deflategate http://t.co/pchoVYAeRy— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 24, 2015
...and, finally, the Round of 16 field is set, and you know what that means.
*2015 AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S FINAL 16*
#1 - Serena Williams
#2 - Maria Sharapova
#3 - Simona Halep
#6 - Aga Radwanska
#7 - Genie Bouchard
#10 - Dominika Cibulkova
#11 - Ekaterina Makarova
#18 - Venus Williams
#22 - Peng Shuai
#24 - Garbine Muguruza
#35 - Madison Keys
#42 - Irina-Camelia Begu
#44 - Victoria Azarenka
#64 - Madison Brengle
#73 - Julia Goerges
#80 - Yanina Wickmayer
4...United States (Brengle,Keys,S.Williams,V.Williams)
2...Russia (Makarova, Sharapova)
1...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
[by career slam Round-of-16's]
[w/ consecutive slam Round of 16's]
[by career AO Round of 16's]
[w/ consecutive AO Round of 16's]
[by preseason "Grand Slam Master List" rankings]
1 - Serena Williams
2 - Maria Sharapova
3 - Simona Halep
4 - Victoria Azarenka
7 - Genie Bouchard
8 - Aga Radwanska
11 - Ekaterina Makarova
13 - Garbine Muguruza
18 - Venus Williams
21 - Peng Shuai
24 - Madison Keys
27 - Dominika Cibulkova
unlisted - Irina-Camelia Begu
unlisted - Madison Brengle
unlisted - Julia Goerges
unlisted - Yanina Wickmayer
[WTA career slam Round of 16's - active]
[WTA slam Round of 16's since 2010 - active]
=WOMEN'S SINGLES ROUND of 16=
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #24 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
#11 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK vs. Victoria Azarenka/BLR
Madison Keys/USA vs. Madison Brengle/USA
#18 Venus Williams/USA vs. #6 Aga Radwanska/POL
Julia Goerges/GER vs. #10 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
Yanina Wickmayer/BEL vs. #3 Simona Halep/ROU
#7 Genie Bouchard/CAN vs. Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU
Peng Shuai/CHN vs. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
=MEN'S SINGLES ROUND of 16=
#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. Gilles Muller/LUX
#12 Feliciano Lopez/ESP vs. #8 Milos Raonic/CAN
#4 Stan Wawrinka/SUI vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez/ESP
#9 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #5 Kei Nishikori/JPN
#7 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. Bernard Tomic/AUS
#14 Kevin Anderson/RSA vs. #3 Rafael Nadal/ESP
#6 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #10 Grigor Dimitrov/BUL
Nick Kyrgios/AUS vs. Andreas Seppi/ITA
=WOMEN'S DOUBLES ROUND of 16=
#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. #16 Goerges/Groenefeld (GER/GER)
Bertens/Larsson (NED/SWE) vs. Kuznetosva/Stosur (RUS/AUS)
#3 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) vs. Soler-Espinosa/Torro-Flor (ESP/ESP)
Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) vs. #7 Garcia/Srebotnik (FRA/SLO)
Jans-Ignacik/Klepac (POL/SLO) vs. #9 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
#14 YJ.Chan/J.Zheng (TPE/CHN) vs. #4 Hingis/Pennetta (SUI/ITA)
#5 Kops-Jones/Spears (USA/USA) vs. Kudryavtsova/Pavlyuchenkova (RUS/RUS)
Krajicek/Zahlavova-Strycova (NED/CZE) vs. Dabrowski/Rosolska (CAN/POL)
=MEN'S DOUBLES ROUND of 16=
x/x vs. #14 Inglot/Mergea (GBR/ROU)
#12 Butorac/Groth (USA/AUS) vs. #6 Rojer/Tecau (NED/ROU)
Cuevas/Marrero (URU/ESP) vs. (WC) Bolt/Whittington (AUS/AUS)
Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA) vs. Marach/Venus (AUT/NZL)
F.Lopez/Mirnyi (ESP/BLR) vs. Erlich/Huey (ISR/PHI)
#16 J.Murray/Peers (GBR/AUS) vs. #4 Dodig/M.Melo (CRO/BRA)
#8 Qureshi/Zimonjic (PAK/SRB) vs. Herbert/Mahut (FRA/FRA)
Becker/Sitak (GER/NZL) vs. Benneteau/Roger-Vasselin (FRA/FRA)
=MEN'S DOUBLES ROUND of 16=
#1 Mirza/Soares (IND/BRA) vs. Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX)
x/x vs. Krajicek/Mergea (NED/ROU)
x/x vs. #5 C.Black/Cabal (ZIM/COL)
x/x vs. Medina-Garrigues/Andujar-Alba (ESP/ESP)
HC.Chan/J.Murray (TPE/GBR) vs. x/x
SW.Hsieh/Cuevas (TPE/URU) vs. x/x
(WC) Gavrilova/Saville (AUS/AUS) vs. #2 Srebotnik/M.Melo (SLO/BRA)
*AO "IT" PLAYER WINNERS*
2006 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2007 Shahar Peer, ISR
2008 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2009 Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2010 Maria Kirilenko, RUS
2011 An-Sophie Mestach, BEL (jr.)
2012 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2013 [Fortysomething] Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2014 [Teen] Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2015 [Madisons] Madison Keys/USA & Madison Brengle/USA
TOP QUALIFIER: Renata Voracova/CZE
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Genie Bouchard/CAN
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Renata Voracova/CZE def. #17 Zhu Lin/CHN 5-7/7-6(5)/6-2 (saved MP in 2nd set)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS d. (Q) Alexandra Panova/RUS 6-1/4-6/7-5 (saved 2 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: xx
FIRST VICTORY: Julia Goerges/GER (def. #32 Bencic/SUI)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Belinda Bencic/SUI (lost 1st Rd. to Goerges/GER)
UPSET QUEENS: Germans
REVELATION LADIES: French
NATION OF POOR SOULS: China (year after Li wins title, 1-5 in 1st Round)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Lucie Hradecka/CZE(3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Chang Kai-Chen/TPE, Oceane Dodin/FRA & Irina Falconi/USA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Casey Dellacqua, Jarmila Gajdosova, Samantha Stosur & Alja Tomljanovic (all 2nd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: E.Makarova/RUS, S.Peng/CHN, J.Goerges/GER, M.Brengle/USA; V.Azarenka/BLR; V.Williams/USA; G.Muguruza/ESP
IT (??): [Madisons] Madison Keys/USA & Madison Brengle/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: V.Williams/USA; V.Azarenka/BLR
CRASH & BURN: #5 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. vs. qualifier Hradecka/CZE; one of eight seeds to lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS (2nd Rd.: saved 2 MP vs. Panova/RUS)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: E.Bouchard (2-0 in night sessions)
DOUBLES STAR: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 6. More tomorrow.