Wednesday, February 04, 2015

First Month BSA's: In the Good Old (Australian) Summertime

Well, the first month of 2014 action is in the books. And the "old" has so far wonderfully mixed with the "new," as career achievements and career breakthroughs equally shared the headlines through the first four weeks of 2015.

Could the "perfect storm" of a season be about to kick into high gear?

"I knew in the season the first month would be very difficult and then, you know, after this it will be pretty easy." - Serena Williams
"If I can just push through this month, I’ll be fine. And when you win, it all seems to be easier." - Serena


1. Serena Williams, USA
...maybe Serena's "slam problem" over the past thirteen months, and by "problem" I mean why she hasn't won ALL of them (hey, Serena's tennis problems are a little different from everyone else's), has just been the pressure she's put on herself to live up to being "Serena," which essentially means, you know, she's supposed to win EVERY match, EVERY slam and nearly every set she plays. At 33, her career objective is an assault on the record books -- tying Chris & Martina with 18 slams... check -- and we all likely don't appreciate just how stressful that sort of this is. Not being 18-time -- or, now, 19-time... check -- slam champions and all. Williams got off to a '15 slow start in the Hopman Cup, losing to Genie Bouchard and Aga Radwanska, and dropping a love set against Flavia Pennetta. She was forced to three sets in the Australian Open by Elina Svitolina and Garbine Muguruza, then pressured by NextGen Bannerette Madison Keys, who not-so-subtly reminded Serena that time will defeat her. Eventually. After taking out Maria Sharapova for her Open era record sixth AO title, Williams proved once again that in the latter stages of her singles career the task at hand is manuevering her way through the early rounds of a slam. If she can do that, she's virtually unbeatble. Since losing to Sam Stosur in the 2011 U.S. Open final, her last pre-thirtysomething slam, at any major in which she's reached the QF stage she's gone 18-1 from that point on, winning thirty-seven of forty-three sets. She's won six of the last eleven slams, and now stands just three titles behind Open era leader Steffi Graf (22), and five away from all-time record holder Margaret Court (24). Last year, a case could be made that Williams' slam issues were made possible by her 4th Round loss in Melbourne and the exponentially growing pressure she put on herself in Paris and London after not winning in Australia. Well, that worry is absent for 2015. And with the pressure lifted, will Williams' "Serenativity" be allowed to spread its wings once again? If so... uh-oh.
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS
...finally with a healthy offseason to utilize, the improvements in Sharapova's game were evident in the opening weeks. Her enhanced defensive skills were apparent -- and on hard court, not the slower clay -- and her variety was greater. She even threw in enough drops for the shot to be declared an obvious, thought-out tactic. She crushed the competition in Brisbane, grabbing the first Week 1 title of her career and extending her consecutive seasons with a title string to thirteen years (one behind Steffi Graf for third on the all-time WTA list). She came to Melbourne with a game that was purring so loudly she looked like she might win her first Australian Open in seven years. Well, you know, as long as... well, you know. She survived an unexpected upset bid from Alexandra Panova in the 2nd Round, saving two match points, then regained her dominant form and carried it through to the final without dropping another set. Sporting a 10-match winning streak, and having dropped just two of twenty-two sets (holding opponents to three games or less in eighteen), Sharapova reached her fourth AO final... and found Serena Williams waiting for her there. Sigh. While she wasn't destroyed as she so often has been in the past by Williams, Sharapova still lost in straight sets and has now dropped twenty-five of the last twenty-six sets against Serena over the past decade. With the possibility of regaining the #1 ranking now likely realistically out of reach for a while, Sharapova's focus will soon turn to the EuroClay season. Where, once again, she could very well be the favorite to win a third Roland Garros title in four years... well, unless you-know-who is in her path.
3. Venus Williams, USA 34, Venus has found the fountain of youth. In 2015, she's looked better than she has this entire decade, and seems to be enjoying it all even more than she ever did before. Williams won her first nine matches of the season, taking the Auckland title with a win over Caroline Wozniacki, then went to Melbourne and put together a comeback victory (def. Giorgi) and a brilliant 3rd set (def. Radwanska), then battled a teenager for three sets for the right to reach a slam semifinal. As it was, her Melbourne QF run was still her best at a major since 2010, and she's climbed up to #11 in the rankings. Looking to become eligible for the '16 Olympics, she's slated for qualifying Fed Cup participation, as well. If this Williams shows up in London this summer, maybe that sixth Wimbledon title (she last won in '08) isn't wishful thinking, after all. Right now, she's tied with Serena for All-England Club titles. Watch out, little sister?

"This old cat has a few tricks left." - Venus Williams

4. Madison Keys, USA
...the 19-year has already racked up five Top 30 wins, victories over Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams, an Australian Open semifinal run, a game in which she saved seven match points against Serena Williams and a brand new Top 20 ranking to show for her 2015 season. And she hasn't even played her first February match yet. With Lindsay Davenport installed as coach, Keys' game has been picked up by a stiff wind this season and all the promise her thunderous groundstrokes and big serve (already second only to Serena's?) seemed to show for her future during her big learning experience moments in '14 is coming to fruition. Showing no nerves and cooly going about her business, Keys looked like an experience veteran in Melbourne rather than a teenager taking her first trip into the second week of a slam. Serena was impressed, saying she's capable of winning slams and reaching #1. A month ago, setting a prospective time table for such accomplishments was WAY premature. Now... well, not nearly so much. At least the former half of that career wish list is in play for the remainder of '15. If Keys improves upon her AO form over the next few months, she could be a first-time slam champion by season's end.

5. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
...the Hordette proved once again to be a big event player by backing up her U.S. Open singles semifinal with another at the Australian Open. She was quickly frustrated and her hopes dashed early in the SF match against Maria Sharapova, though, after things initially didn't go her way. That's the question of confidence that has prevented her from climbing as high as she might have in the past. The rest of the '15 season will be about whether or not Makarova can clear that final hurdle and become a true, consistent week-to-week threat vs. the rest of the Top 10. The lefty's game seemed to thwart, frustrate and ultimately push Simona Halep into just giving up in the AO QF, so that's not a bad stepping stone to what could be a career year, now is it?
6. Martina Hingis, SUI 34, and on her third go-around on tour, the Original Swiss Miss has officially carved out a new career as a lethal doubles force. She opened the season by winning Brisbane (w/ Sabine Lisicki) for the fourth title of her comeback, then claimed her first slam title (16th overall) since 2006 when she and Leander Paes walked away with the AO Mixed Doubles title. Hingis is back in the Top 10 in doubles, and could very well be setting down a template for former singles #1's (Venus & Serena, perhaps?) to stick around for another decade as a doubles specialist, allowing the tour to benefit from their presense, them to pick up some nice checks and career resume enhancing titles, and make the sport literally a generational affair. Sure, the Original Martina sort of already pulled off a version of this (albeit with a nearly eight-year break) that saw her win a slam Mixed title at age 49. But, you know, that's Navratilova... a mere mortal needs to show it's a possible career arc in order for it to become a common one.
7. Simona Halep, ROU
...what to think of Halep so far in '15? Does her cool trek to the Shenzhen title (she won her final ten sets) and trip to the Australian Open QF (where she extended her season winning streak to nine matches and eighteen sets) outweigh the does-she-even-want-to-be-here? crash-out in the semifinals against Ekaterina Makarova? We entered this season thinking that Halep's Achilles' heel might be an inability to stay healthy, but could it end up being a failing response to the pressure of outside (and personal) expectations after rising from the pack into the Top 3 in the rankings in less than two years? At times, the Romanian seems like the most self-possessed, clear-thinking and efficient player on tour. Well, I guess we'll see if that's REALLY the case in 2015.
8. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
...fully back from hip surgery, BMS' play is screaming even louder than her clothes used to in her old "look at what I'm wearing!!!" days. Not only is she undefeated in doubles in '15, winning two titles (including her first slam women's doubles crown) with two different partners, but she reached the 3rd Round in singles at Melbourne, knocking off Kristina Mladenovic and playing Simona Halep close. She's currently getting the "protected ranking" treatment when it comes to getting into tournament draws, but if Mattek-Sands can stay healthy she might not need it for much longer.

9. Petra Kvitova, CZE
...Kvitova, armed with Li Na's former trainer Alex Stober, arrived Down Under in the best shape of her career. She looked spectacular in winning the Sydney title, but was curiously cast out of Brisbane is straights by Timea Bacsinszky the week before, then out-hit by Madison Keys in Melbourne a week after her title run. The Czech is going to be a threat to win Wimbledon for the rest of her career, but before long there is going to have to be a deep slam run somewhere other than SW19 if Kvitova's talent and potential is ever going to anything more than a temperamental tease.
10. Genie Bouchard, CAN
...sure, Bouchard never actually defeated a Top 35 player in any matches that counted in the first month of the season, but she got off to a good start nonetheless. A win over Serena Williams in Hopman Cup play was followed up by a dominant first week in Melbourne as she backed up her '14 AO semifinal with a quarterfinal result before, once again, being shown how much she still has to learn against Maria Sharapova. It wasn't a bad start to a year where the pressure will be on Bouchard to succeed again. Big time. Bouchard is currently without a coach, although one wonders if things don't get better soon with the coach-eating Current Sloane whether or not Nick Saviano and his former Canadian charge might eventually find a way back to each other down the line. The grass isn't always greener...

1. Madison Keys, USA
2. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
3. Simona Halep, ROU
4. Genie Bouchard, CAN

5. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
6. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
7. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
8. Angelique Kerber, GER
9. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
10. Aga Radwanska, POL
11. Camila Giorgi, ITA
12. Heather Watson, GBR
13. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
14. Julia Goerges, GER
15. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
16. Alize Cornet, FRA
17. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
18. Caroline Garbia, FRA
19. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
20. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
21. Alison Riske, USA
22. Kurumi Nara, JPN
23. Zarina Diyas, KAZ
24. Polona Hercog, SLO
25. Anna Tatishvili, USA
HM- Urszula Radwanska, POL

"Being No.1 is a dream but I know how hard one needs to work to get there. I'm ready for it, so we'll see. There's so much to do before." - Oceane Dodin

1. Elina Svitolina, UKR
2. Oceane Dodin, FRA
3. Lauren Davis, USA
4. Caterina Witthoeft, GER
5. Zheng Saisai, CHN
6. Daria Gavrilova, AUS
7. Denisa Allertova, CZE
8. Taylor Townsend, USA
9. Ana Konjuh, CRO
10. Annika Beck, GER
11. Timea Babos, HUN
12. Nicole Gibbs, USA
13. Ajla Tomljanovic, AUS
14. Wang Yafan, CHN
15. Ons Jabeur, TUN
16. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
17. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
18. Tereza Smitkova, CZE
19. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
20. Richel Hogenkamp NED
HM- Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS

1. Madison Brengle, USA
2. Alexandra Panova, RUS

3. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, UKR/UKR
4. Liang Chen/Wang Yafan, CHN/CHN
5. Kateryna Kozlova, UKR
6. Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
7. Tatjana Maria, GER
8. Klaudia Jans-Ignacik/Andreja Klepac, POL/SLO
9. Chang Kai-Chen, TPE
10. Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
11. Zhu Lin, CHN
12. Natalia Vikhlyantseva, RUS
13. Nigina Abduraimova, UZB
14. Yang Zhaoxuan, CHN
15. Naomi Broady, GBR

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. Martina Hingis, SUI

5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
6. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
7. Jiske Griffioen, NED (WC)
8. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
9. Lucie Hradecka, CZE
10. Sania Mirza, IND
11. Lucie Safarova, CZE
12. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
13. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
14. Peng Shuai, CHN
15. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
16. Renata Voracova, CZE
17. Stephanie Foretz, FRA
18. Sara Errani, ITA
19. Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
20. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK

1. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
2. Heather Watson, GBR

3. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
6. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
7. Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS
8. Urszula Radwanska, POL
9. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
10. Elena Vesnina, RUS (singles)
11. Roberta Vinci, ITA (singles)
12. Irina Falconi, USA
13. Petra Martic, CRO
14. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
15. Zheng Jie, CHN (doubles)

1. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK
2. Katie Swan, GBR
3. Dalma Galfi, HUN
4. Greet Minnen, BEL
5. Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
6. Miriam Kolodziejova/Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE
7. Kimberly Birrell, AUS
8. Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN
9. Katherine Sebov, CAN
10. Michaela Gordon, USA
11. Raveena Kingsley, USA
12. Bianca Andreescu, CAN'
13. Manca Pislak, SLO
14. Sonya Kenin, USA
15. Olivia Tjandramulia, AUS
HM- Sara Tomic, AUS

1. Martina Hingis, SUI
2. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
3. Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR (WC)
4. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
5. Martina Hingis/Sabine Lisicki, SUI/GER
6. Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Sania Mirza, USA/IND
7. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
8. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, UKR/UKR

9. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
10. Sania Mirza, IND
11. Miriam Kolodziejova/Marketa Vondrousova, CZE/CZE
12. Chan Yung-Jan/Zheng Jie, TPE/CHN
13. Julia Goerges/Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER/GER
14. Kiki Bertens/Johanna Larsson, NED/SWE
15. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA
16. Michaella Krajicek/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, NED/CZE
17. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
18. Caroline Garcia/Katarina Srebotnik, FRA/SLO
19. Liang Chen/Wang Yafan, CHN/CHN
20. Shuko Aoyama/Renata Voracova, JPN/CZE
HM- Vitalia Diatchenko/Monica Niculescu, RUS/ROU

1. Sachia Vickery, USA
2. Isabella Shinikova, BUL
3. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
4. Misaki Doi, JPN
5. Anne Schaefer, GER
6. Darya Kasatkina, RUS
7. Usue Arconada, USA
8. Eva Wacanno, NED
9. Katharina Lehnert, PHI
10. Margarita Gasparyan, RUS
11. Gloria Liang, CAN
12. Antonia Lottner, GER
13. Sherazad Reix, FRA
14. Amy Bowtell, IRE
15. Myrtille Georges, FRA

1. Andrea Petkovic, GER
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
4. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
5. Belinda Bencic, SUI
6. Sloane Stephens, USA
7. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
8. Samantha Stosur, AUS
9. Sabine Lisicki, GER (singles)
10. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
11. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
12. Donna Vekic, CRO
14. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
15. Peng Shuai, CHN (doubles)
16. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
17. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
18. Ana Ivanovic, SRB (AO)
19. Simona Halep, ROU (AO)
20. Petra Kvitova, CZE (AO)
HM- Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS

1. Polish Hopman Cup Team
2. Martina Hingis/Leander Paes, SUI/IND
3. Indian Aces (IPTL)

4. Kristina Mladenovic/Daniel Nestor, FRA/CAN
5. Sania Mirza/Bruno Soares, IND/BRA

1. Jiske Griffioen, NED
2. Yui Kamiji/Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR
3. Yui Kamiji, JPN

"Sometimes life deals you cards that you aren't expecting, but all you've gotta do is keep playing them and see what happens." - Venus Williams

#1 - Serena Williams wins career slam #19 at the Australian Open, taking the final with her 16th consecutive win over Maria Sharapova

#2 - Maria Sharapova drops just one set en route to winning Brisbane, the first Week 1 title of her career
#3 - Venus Williams, at 34, wins Auckland to become the fourth-oldest singles champion in tour history

#4 - Petra Kvitova easily takes Sydney, winning the first all-Czech tour singles final in six years
#5 - Heather Watson wins Hobart grabbing her first title since missing time with glandular fever in 2013. She's the first British woman to win her second career title since 1985.
HM - Jiske Griffioen wins the Australian Open Wheelchair singles crown, defeating world #1 Yui Kamiji in the final and preventing her from being the reigning champ in all seven grand slam WC disciplines. Kamiji defeated Griffioen in the semifinals of all three slam singles competitions in '14.


[Best Non-title winning Performance]
Madison Brengle makes it through qualifying and reaches her first tour final in Hobart, then defeats #13-seeded Andrea Petkovic at the Australian Open en route to her first career slam Round of 16. After completing her decade-long quest to notch her first main draw slam win at the U.S. Open last August, Brengle has won more tour-level main draw matches in 2015 than she did during her entire career (she's been a Top 250 player since 2007) before this season.
Venus Williams reaches the Australian Open quarterfinals, her best slam result since 2010, and climbs to #11 in the rankings.
A year after being part of the 2014 Hopman Cup-winning French duo, despite going 1-3 in singles, Alize Cornet goes 3-0 in '15 but the team fails to advance out of round robin play.

#1 - Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley win the Australian Open Wheelchair doubles title, claiming their fifth consecutive slam title. The duo combined to win the Grand Slam in 2014.
#2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands' makes a successful comeback from '14 hip surgery, winning back-to-back doubles titles in Sydney (w/ Sania Mirza) and the Australian Open (w/ Lucie Safarova), capturing her first career women's doubles slam crown
#3 - Martina Hingis wins the AO Mixed Doubles with Leander Paes, picking up her sixteenth career slam crown and her first since 2006

Aga Radwanska (w/ Jerzy Janowicz) leads Poland to its first Hopman Cup crown, as A-Rad defeats Serena Williams (w/ John Isner) in both singles and the deciding doubles in the final.

In her 2nd Round match at the Australian Open, Oceane Dodin's racket has amind of its own. And Karolina Pliskova takes advantage of it.

Unseeded Slovak Tereza Mihalikova defeats Brit Katie Swan to win the Australian Open girls title, becoming the first from her nation to win the AO, and the first Slovak junior to take a slam since 2007.

Australian Open SF - Serena Williams d. Madison Keys
Down 7-6/5-1, Keys might have just gone quietly in her semifinal match-up with #1 Williams. But instead the 19-year old saved seven match points on serve with a series of aces, thudding shots and a lack of nerves or dejection. It was a wonderful thing to watch, and maybe a glimpse of the near future on the WTA tour. She'd save an eighth MP on Serena's serve before making her first slam SF appearance as memorable in defeat as it was in accomplishment.

Australian Open 4th Rd. - Venus Williams d. Aga Radwanska
Turning back the clock to the prime of her career, Venus plays as if "in a trance" (her words) in the 3rd set against Radwanska, allowing the Pole just two points on her own serve in the set and using a big serve, excellent court coverage and Wimbledonesque volleys to out-point A-Rad 30-16 in the set, converting on 7-of-9 net approaches as she burst into her first slam Final Eight in four and a half years.

[A Preview of Things to Come...again?]
Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka d. Caroline Wozniacki
In an early-round match-up of former #1's (the earliest in a slam since 2005), Azarenka was as bold as her DayGlo yellow outfit. Her defense was all-encompassing, and her volleys crisp, as Vika controlled rallies with her consistency and aggression (21/26 at the net, a necessary tactic with Wozniacki being 16/18). Fittingly, Azarenka ended the match with a perfect volley on MP to secure her first Top 10 win in over a year, then danced for an Aussie crowd that, for the first time in years, wasn't against the new "underdog" Belarusian. Of course, it was all just a mouthwatering flash of her past abilities, or maybe a preview of her future, as Azarenka's run ended in the Round of 16. But Vika showed signs of being fully back -- soon -- in Melbourne, and that's a development that could prove to be a major storyline over the course of 2015.

"This is vintage Azarenka right now." - ESPN's Pam Shriver, during the Azarenka/Wozniacki match

[Post-Match Ceremony]
Venus in Auckland

"That's my rapper name." - Venus Williams, on her "Queen Vee" nickname


Sydney Final - Petra Kvitova d. Karolina Pliskova
Surely a contender for the best two-set match of the season, the first all-Czech tour final since 2009 proved to be a high-quality, entertaining affair. Pliskova served for the set in the 1st, but Kvitova was too good. The younger Maiden then came back from an early break down in the 2nd to force a second tie-break, which got to 6-6 before Kvitova prevailed. Days before the start of play in Melbourne, Kvitova seemed like a legit threat to win the Australian Open after this. But, well, you know what happened next.
Brisbane 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Victoria Azarenka
We didn't know what to asssume that this match meant at the time. But, in retrospect, that Azarenka made her return to action after an injury-disturbed and shortened '14 and held two match points in the 2nd set tie-break against the soon-to-break-into-the-Top-20 Czech told everything we needed to know about her ability to string together a 4th Round run at the Australian Open, but also that she wasn't yet quite match-tough enough to expect the sort of results that she was capable of just a year ago. Pliskova would push Petra Kvitova in the Sydney final a week later, and reached her second straight slam 3rd Round at the AO.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Christina McHale d. Stephanie Foretz
McHale injured her shoulder, threw up twice and saved a match point at 7-6 in the 3rd before then holding serve four straight games and breaking the Pastry to win in the twenty-second game of the set.
Brisbane Final - Maria Sharapova d. Ana Ivanovic
Sharapova's peerless run in Brisbane was briefly interrupted when Ivanovic battled back from 4-1 down and saved two set points before taking the first stanza as her own. Sharapova pulled away in the final two sets, foreshadowing a similar result for AnaIvo once she reached Melbourne.
Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Angelique Kerber d. Daria Gavrilova
In a two and a half hour match that played past 3:00 in the morning, Kerber survived the threat from the newly-Aussified former Hordette after failing to convert a set point in the 1st.
Australian Open 4th Rd. - Dominka Cibulkova d. Victoria Azarenka
In a battle in which the more aggressive player ALWAYS won, '14 AO runner-up Cibulkova poured it on with a lethal forehand in the 1st and 3rd sets, overcoming early 2-0 deficits in both in another nice match in the compelling -- though under-the-radar -- head-to-head series between these two. Six of their last seven match-ups have gone three sets.
Australian Open 4th Rd. - Serena Williams d. Garbine Muguruza
In a rematch of Williams' career worst-ever slam loss to the Spaniard at Roland Garros last year, she was forced to three sets as Muguruza's tactic of firing balls hard and deep in the court proved effective. Muguruza, who'd closed out her three previous AO opponents with a love set, saved three break points in the opening game of the 3rd, only to see Williams save six break points of her own one game later. The momentum shifted in Serena's favor after the hold... and she didn't lose another set in the tournament.

Australian Open Final - Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
Playing for (more) history, Serena was happy to see Sharapova on the other side of the net, for Williams is never prone to "one of those days" when Maria is around. Maintaining her ten years (and now working on a second decade) of mastery over the Russian, Serena claimed her twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth set in the last twenty-six against the Russian, firing eighteen aces (15 in the 2nd set alone) to claim slam #19. Williams' now sixteen-match winning streak against Sharapova began in the Australian Open semifinals in 2005, when Serena saved three MP and went on to claim her second of now six AO crowns.

Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Oceane Dodin
In as hard-hitting (and sometimes unpredictably so) a match up as you'll likely find, the 22-year old Czech and 18-year old Pastry engaged in what turned out to be one of the more intriguing contests between young stars in recent years. No, it wasn't a sequel to that Seles vs. Capriati teenage slugfest at the '91 U.S. Open, but it surely was something.

After missing seven months last season with dental surgery and issues with vertigo, Dodin played as if she was trying to make up for lost time on every point. No, every swing. Every often "wow"-inducing swing, actually... that is, when they didn't produce a thunderous error that would cause you to cringe and go, "Wow!," for an entirely different, though still awe-struck, reason. Meanwhile, Pliskova often hit the ball just as hard, but much more cleanly and with greater consistent accuracy. Dodin led 40-37 in winners, while Pliskova had a 14-10 edge in aces. Dodin's average shot speed was faster on both her 1st and 2nd serves. Pliskova threw in a four-ace love game in the 2nd set, while Dodin saved three match points down 5-3, 40/love in the 3rd. There were many big moments from young players at this year's AO, but while this one was one of the least-watched, it might have been the most intriguing on both sides of the net.

"I like to be seen as a phenom; I like not being like everybody else." - Oceane Dodin
"I'm just trying to win points as quick as possible, that's my game and I love it. Sure, I make a lot of errors and it's tough to lose points on silly mistakes, but I take lots of pleasure playing like this. That's just who I am. So I don't especially like getting looking at the stats after my matches because it's not always pretty and it can upset me!" - Dodin

[Past, Present & Future]
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Hingis/Pennetta d. Bencic/Siniakova
Original Swiss Miss takes out the New Swiss Miss. Bencic also lost her 1st Round singles match in Melbourne, while Hingis went on to win the Mixed Doubles crown. Wait your turn, I guess.

[The "Beauty" in Imperfection]
Hobart 1st Rd. - Camila Giorgi d. Summer Sanders
Giorgi and Sanders broke serve in four of seven games in the 1st, then ten consecutive times in the 3rd. The server lost seven of the fourteen points in the deciding tie-break, and the Italian had twenty-three doubles-faults in the match. And SHE was the winner.

[The Battle of the Madisons]
Australian Open 4th Rd. - Madison Keys d. Madison Brengle
The result was an expected one, as Keys burst out of the gate with twenty-seven winners in the first nine games of the match. But with both Madisons being first-timers in a slam Round of 16, no match highlighted the upturn of U.S. fortunes -- twelve 1st Round wins in Melbourne, seven women into the Final 32, four in the Round of 16, three in the QF and the first all-American slam semi since 2002 -- better than this one.

[The More Things Change...]
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Victoria Azarenka d. Sloane Stephens
For the third straight year, only five rounds earlier than in '13 and three earlier than in '14, Azarenka met Stephens in Melbourne. And for the third straight year, save for the controversial ten-minute stretch two years ago, Vika dominated. For various reasons, both were unseeded in this match-up. Eventual AO Round of 16er Azarenka won't likely be that at the next slam. As for Sloane? Well...


Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Maria Sharapova d. Alexandra Panova
Sharapova's escape didn't ultimately open the door for a playing-with-house-money slam title run, but her recovery from being two match points down to Panova -- Sharapova broke for 5-5 in a five-winner game -- will go down in the lore of the Russian's career, as she once again showed the heart of a (near) champion. Had she lost to her countrywoman, who's never beaten a Top 30 player, Sharapova would have become the first #2 seed to lose in the 2nd Round of the AO since 1980.
Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Venus Williams d. Camila Giorgi
Giorgi had 16 double-faults in the match, though she led Williams 6-4/4-2, 40/love at one point before succumbling to the pressure of the moment. Of course, the spunky, hard-hitting Italian has a history of this... last year she reached two finals, holding match point in both, but winning neither.
Hobart QF - Madison Brengle d. Karin Knapp
Brengle led 5-3 in the 1st, but lost it. Knapp had a 3-1 advantage in the 2nd, and led 2-0 in the 3rd, but lost both sets. BrengleFly went on to reach her first career tour final, then the Round of 16 in Melbourne. Knapp went on to lose her 1st Round match at the Australian Open.
Australian Open Q1 - Renata Voracova d. Zhu Lin
Against the #17 Q-seed, Voracova saved two match points in the 2nd set, then went on to qualify for the main draw.

Latvia's Anastasiya Sevastova, who retired in April '13 due to a number of injuries, returned to action in late January when she got a wild card entry into a $10K challenger in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. In her first action in over a year and a half, she swept both the singles and doubles titles. A former Top 40 player, the now 24-year old Sevastova's previously most recent win came in '13 in Bogota qualifying over Aleksandra Krunic. During the three months she played during that season, Sevastova posted additional wins over the likes of Florencia Molinero, Alison Riske, Heather Watson, Misaki Doi, Anna Schmiedlova, Lauren Davis and Luksika Kumkhum. Imagine what she might do if she can stay healthy.

Brisbane 1st Rd. - Varvara Lepchenko d. Samantha Stosur
And the first "Choke of the Year" nominee was... Stosur's loss after leading 5-1 in the 3rd set, and holding a match point at 5-2. Of course, we're talking about Sam Down Under, though, so it'd sort of be a "disappointment" is she didn't, you know, disappoint.
Shenzhen Doubles 1st Rd. - L.Chen/Y.Wang d. Peng/Y.Xu 3-6/6-2 [14-12]
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Date-Krumm/Dellacqua d. Peng/Y.Xu 4-6/7-5/7-6(5)
without longtime partner Hsieh Su-Wei by her side, world doubles #3 Peng has crashed -- hard -- in 2015. She and Xu Yifan blew matches in which they held match point in both their outings this season. In Shenzhen, they held three MP vs. Chen/Wang, and in Melbourne against KDK/Dellacqua, the pair were up 6-4/5-1 and ultimately failed to convert on five MP attempts.
Brisbane Doubles SF - Garcia/Srebotnik d. Hsieh/Mirza
...4-6/7-6(1) [10-8].
Hsieh hasn't had it easy without Peng, either. Even with Sania by her side. In their first event, they led the deciding match tie-break 6-0 before losing it and the match 10-8.

"There is always nerves in the beginning." - Ana Ivanovic

Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Madison Keys d. Petra Kvitova
The 19-year Bannerette arrived on the slam stage as he out-hit the #4-seeded Wimbledon champ, breaking her five times and serving out both sets in a calm, cool, collected and routine fashion.

Australian Open Wheelchair Final - Jiske Griffioen d. Yui Kamiji
The Dutch 29-year old won her first WC slam singles crown, taking out the world #1 who was seeking her third straight singles slam title to go along with five straight slam doubles titles.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Lucie Hradecka d. Ana Ivanovic
After her most consistent year, and coming off a nice run to the Brisbane final, AnaIvo was a Top 5 seed at the slam where she upset Serena Williams in '14. In other words, she had expectations... so maybe getting knocked off by the qualifier Czech on Day 1 in Melbourne wasn't that big of an upset, after all. Her late-match meltdown is something we've seen before, too.

Australian Open 1st Rd. - Julia Goerges d. Belinda Bencic
After reaching the quarterfinals in her last slam appearance at the U.S. Open, 17-year old Bencic, the #32 seed, wasn't just the "First Seed Out" in Melbourne on Day 1, she was the first player in the entire tournament to suffer a 1st Round loss. It's a good experience for a young player with high expectations, assuming she decides to learn from it rather than have her psyche handcuffed by the disappointment for months.

Hopman Cup RR - Genie Bouchard d. Serena Williams 6-2/6-1
Hopman Cup Final - Aga Radwanska d. Serena Williams 6-4/6-7(3)/6-1
sure, the wins didn't actually "count." Neither Bouchard nor Radwanska have ever defeated Williams in their combined ten official tour match-ups, with both taking just one set off her in the past. Of course, the losses didn't seem to hurt Serena's chances in Melbourne, either, where Williams pulled things together to win another title. Oh, well. Still.
Australian Open 1st Rd. - Madison Brengle d. Andrea Petkovic
The #13-seeded German had thirty-one career slam match wins vs. Brengle's one, but that didn't prevent Brengle from following up her Summer of Madison in North America with a Summer of Madison: Australia Edition run in Melbourne by overcoming Petkovic, who served at 7-6/5-3, and then going on to reach the 4th Round.
Australian Open Q1 - Wang Yafan d. Luksika Kumkhum
In 2014, Kumkhum upset Petra Kvitova in the 1st Round of the Australian Open. A year later, she, as the #7 seed, was the one getting upset in the opening round of qualifying in Melbourne.
Australian Open Doubles 3rd Rd. - Goerges/Groenefeld d. Errani/Vinci
The Germans end the #1-ranked, two-time defending AO doubles champions' dreams for a three-peat. No women's doubles team has won three consecutive titles at a slam since Virginia Ruano Pascual & Paola Suarez won the U.S. Open from 2002-04.

"Can I get an espresso?" - Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup in Perth, DURING her match with Flavia Pennetta, which opened with a lethargic Williams dropping the 1st set at love

**By the Numbers...**
0-2... Yui Kamiji's record in Australian Open WC singles finals. The Japanese #1 is 7-0 in all other slam finals.
2... consecutive slam singles semifinals reached by Ekaterina Makarova. She's the first Russian woman other than Maria Sharapova to put up back-to-back slam SF results since Vera Zvonareva reached her third straight slam semi at the AO in 2011.
5... number of games won by Sloane Stephens in each of her three consecutive Australian Open meetings with Victoria Azarenka, the last two losses coming by identical 6-3/6-2 scores

6-0... Sharapova's head-to-head record vs. fellow AO semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova
6, 2 & 2... career victories by Sloane Stephens over Top 20, Top 10 and Top 5 players
8... number of seeded women who lost in the 1st Round in Melbourne, tying an Open era record
10, 5 & 2... career victories by Madison Keys over Top 20, Top 10 and Top 5 players

10... attempts it took Jarmila Gajdosova to finally win her first AO main draw match before she ending her 0-9 stretch with a victory this year (she's 20-21 at the other majors). Ironically, Gajdosova's ex-husband, Aussie Sam Groth, also notched his first career AO main draw win at the same tournament. Former Slovak Gajdosova became an Australian citizen in '09 after her marriage to Groth.
14... consecutive match wins in Sydney by Tsvetana Pironkova as the '14 Sydney champ once again made it through qualifying and reached the semifinals this year
17-2... Serena's head-to-head record vs. Sharapova
19... the age of one Australian Open semifinalist -- Stephens, Bouchard and Keys -- the last three years
20... months since Daniela Hantuchova had beaten a Top 20 player before her Auckland win over Sara Errani. The win came in the Slovak vet's first tournament with new coach Carlos Rodriguez.
43... career wins by Serena Williams over players ranked #1 or #2
53-5... Serena's record vs. Top 10 players since 2012, including 23-1 since the start of the 2013 U.S. Open
2010... when Timea Bacsinszky last reached a tour singles final before doing so in Shenzhen
2012... when Vera Zvonareva last reached a tour singles quarterfinal before doing so in Shenzhen
140-mph... announced recorded speed of a serve from Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova in her 2nd Round match vs. Chang Kai-Chen in Melbourne. Last year, Sabine Lisicki set the official tour record with a 131-mph serve. But since there were several "highly questionable" serve speeds recorded at this year's AO, it remains to be seen whether or not BZS will actually be installed as the new #1 in the record books.


"Dennis is doing good job -- he just makes one ace." - Li Na, announcing her pregnancy as only Li possibly could

Also, are two Na's better than one? Come now, that's a ridiculous question, isn't it? Of course they are! And THREE would be amaaaaazing!

Answering the question, "What's the only thing that might scare Venus Williams?"

Oh, and how can we forget Vika and her butt?

I mean, it's not like she gave us much of an option...

And this was just too much. In a good way.

Hey, anything to make us never have to talk about Twirlgate again. Ever.

Especially since we know we're likely going to have to deal with a million different Bouchard-related stories and/or controversies every January for, oh, the next decade or so. Something new is bound to happen twelve months from now, as well... Genie is an attention magnet Down Under.

But, of course, the most important thing to remember is...

"On the tennis tour you need good mental health." - Casey Dellacqua

All for now.


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