AO 11 - Pole Meets Hammer. Hammer Wins.
Aga Radwanska arrived at Rod Laver today sporting a ten-match winning streak in 2016 and with more wins (and titles) than any player since the end of last summer's U.S. Open. But if she came into her semifinal match against Williams harboring hope that she'd defeat the world #1 for the first time in nine meetings, well, Serena shut that down pretty quickly. Just two games into the 1st set, Radwanska was already sporting the sort of cheek-biting look on her face that said it all. "Great, she's going to be like THIS today. I might as well have stayed back at the hotel." For through the twenty-one minutes minutes of merciless tennis in the opening set, Serena was a vision of near-perfection. She moved forward with ease, made solid contact on every shot and generally looked like the future all-time slam champ that she is, drawn instinctively on a canvas of a tennis court. In permanent ink.
Meanwhile, Radwanska was a shadow of her sometimes-brilliantly-conceived self. She seemed afraid to try to serve or hit big. Even on occasion, when she could catch up with a Williams shot. Which, granted, wasn't often. She wasn't able to place her serve on the lines of the service box, nor even hit her groundstokes with enough conviction that they penetrated into Williams' side of the court and landed deep. She even missed badly on the weapons of choice in her game -- lobs (they turned into Serena smashes) and drop shots (Williams winners). The look of resignation on her face resembled that of a prisoner being led to execution, and choosing to take the smallest steps possible along the route to get there, only prolonging the dread.
With Radwanska offering little resistance, Williams moved toward the net at nearly every spare chance, using the Pole's shots for target practice. Her return winner broke Radwanska in the match's opening game, which included four Williams winners. Two games later, even Radwanska's on-court decision making was backfiring. In control of a point, Aga tried to wrong-foot Williams by hitting a shot (theoretically) "behind" her rather than firing a short ball crosscourt and hoping that Serena wouldn't run it down. But Williams wasn't to be fooled, as she never fully committed to racing across the baseline to the "expected "area where Radwanska would send her shot. Instead, she took a step left, then back, and smacked a forehand crosscourt winner to reach break point. Radwanska double-faulted to fall behind 3-0.
Aga finally hit her first winner of the match in game #4, in which she reached 30/30 on Williams' serve. But Serena would still hold for 4-0, and it'd be the only winner Radwanska would be credited with in the entire set. Serena would have eighteen. Two games later, Williams served out a 6-0 set at love, taking the lead while still not yet having a single ace in the match. Fact is, she didn't need them.
At times in the past, Radwanska might simply go away vs. big hitters, showing a distinct lack of belief that she could win, or would go so far afield of her game by trying to hit too many winners that she'd go out in a raging forest fire of unforced errors. Experience has shown her, though, that waiting, as interminable as it may be, sometimes allows opportunity to come her way.
And that's what happened here. For a short while.
Finally taking the inititive to more toward the net, Radwanska knocked off a volley winner to hold for 1-0. And as Williams' game downshifted a bit, the Pole got something resembling a very slight foothold in the 2nd set. Williams finally hit her first ace in game #2 and held, but a double-fault and several loose points by Aga one game later handed a break of serve to Serena at 2-1. In game #6, Radwanska went up 30/love on Williams' serve as Serena saw errors and dodgy footwork edge into her game. At the same time, Aga took advantage and was able to smack deep balls into Williams' court. On one such shot, Williams hit a reply off her back foot at the baseline, netting a shot to give Radwanska two break points. An error from Serena gave Radwanska a break and knotted things at 3-3.
Finally, for a few games as Williams tried to readjust herself, Radwanska had room to play her game. Her shots were bigger, she moved Serena from one corner to the other during rallies, and she successfully employed drop shots, a lob (finally!) and a volley or two. She even hit an open court winner with a little "mustard" on it. While Serena was mis-hitting more than a few shots, Radwanska saved a BP and held for 4-3. The possibility of a 3rd set had become a reality.
Two games later, serving at 4-4, 40/30, Radwanska saw a Williams backhand return winner kiss a line and bring things to deuce. Suddenly, the chances for a 3rd set now seemed to rest on Aga managing to hold THAT game. A break of serve would mean Serena would serve for the match, and, as was heard around Backspin HQ at the moment, "If (Serena) gets that chance, you KNOW she'll go ace-ace-ace to start." Suddenly, Williams reached break point with a high forehand volley, then Aga's forehand approach shot went long and she WAS broken for 5-4. Uh-oh.
After rising from the changeover area a few minutes later, Serena promptly went the baseline and served an ace. Then another. Then another. At triple match point she served wide and used a forehand volley to seal a 6-0/6-4 victory. Did anyone expect anything less?
Williams will now play in her twenty-sixth career slam final, her seventh in Melbourne (but the first reached without dropping a set) and fifth in the last six slams. She's one win away from tying Steffi Graf for the Open era lead with twenty-two major titles, and she's playing with the sort of pressure-less focus that usually -- always, really -- leads to greater and greater things as the weeks and months to follow go by.
Sheesh. Please, Serena... don't hurt 'em.
=DAY 11 NOTES=
...in the second women's semifinal, Angelique Kerber, in her third career major semi (but as the only current Top 10er without a slam singles final in her career), returned to see if she could maintain the aggressive style of play against unseeded Brit Johanna Konta that helped her notch her first career win over two-time AO champ Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.
While the German quickly grabbed a two-break lead at 3-0 as Konta had some difficulty getting out of the blocks, Kerber wasn't as immediately aggressive as she'd been yesterday. Because of this, Konta finally settled into the match and erased the double-break advantage by running off four straight strong games to take a 4-3 lead.
Still on serve, in game #11, Konta missed a forehand into a near open court to lose the opening point of her service game. Soon she was down love/30 and, in a game played as a light rain began to fall through the sunshine, Kerber reached break point at 15/40 with a Konta backhand error. A long rally concluded with another forehand error from the Bit and Kerber served for the set at 6-5. She calmly went up 40/love, then claimed the set 7-5 with a drop shot winner.
It was here that Kerber hit her stride. Over the course of the tail end of the 1st and start of the 2nd set, the German won twelve of fifteen points, grabbing a break lead in the opening game by moving forward and putting away an overhead shot. After saving a break point with an ace, Kerber held for 2-0, the went about her business down the stretch. A double-break lead had her up 4-1, and she calmly (again) served out a deciding game, winning the match 7-5/6-2 to reach her first career slam final. The last German to reach the AO final was Anke Huber in 1996.
The win maintains Kerber position at or near the top of the "offseason achiever" list, as it's apparent that her time between seasons was used more than a little bit effectively. So far, she's checking things off her "To-Do List" left and right.
1. Decide that you're not one to rest on your laurels after the best "regular" season of your career -- because there is MORE that can be done, and won ✓
2. Sure, you're in great shape -- but get in EVEN BETTER shape ✓
3. Devise a new game plan and/or tactic that will make you a player opponents dread facing ✓
4. Commit to actually UTILIZING said game plan/tactic when the real matches start (especially the BIGGEST ones) ✓
5. Follow through on #4 ✓
6. Reap the benefits (and don't let one loss cause you to reconsider the intelligence of #3) ✓
7. Become the best player that you CAN be, as of today (because you can always STILL get better tomorrow, too) ✓
8. Cross your fingers ✓
Really, it's all followers of players ask for, and it's really all the players need to ask of themselves. Still, most players never make it down to #8 (or just START some seasons there).
...in the junior singles QF, #2-seeded Slovak Tereza Mihalikova moved one round closer to becoming the first junior to defend a girls singles slam title since Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won back-to-back AO crowns in 2006-07. Mihalikova defeated #8-seeded Russian Anastasia Potapova in straight sets on Day 11.
In the semis, she'll face #9 Rebeka Masarova, looking to become just the third Swiss girl to win a slam singles title after Martina Hingis and Belinda Bencic (neither ever won the junior AO crown, but Hingis won three AO women's titles as a teenager, her first at age 16 in '97).
The other SF will feature Aussie qualifier Sara Tomic (no AUS girl has won in Melbourne since 1995) against #5-seed Vera Lapko, trying to become the first Belarusian girls slam winner since Victoria Azarenka won the U.S. Open junior title in 2005. Lapko squandered a big lead in the 2nd set today vs. #4 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia before recovering to win the match in three sets.
...the final mixed doubles semifinal pair was determined on Day 11 in the Dream Teamer vs. Dream Teamer match-up between Martina Hingis (w/ Leander Peas), looking to win a third straight slam title, and Sania Mirza (w/ Ivan Dodig). With an odd sort of haziness hovering over the match, what with Hingis & Mirza having to square off against each other, Mirza and Soares ran away with the 1st set tie-break (going up 5-0) as Hingis and Paes made a series of uncharacteristic errors, then took the match 7-6(1)/6-3 to end Hingis' chances of a "Swiss Miss Slam" and "Mixed Slam" later this year.
Mirza & Dodig beat Paes and Hingis in QF. Wow that's awkward for her.— Nemish Shah (@Snoozymandias) January 28, 2016
But, of course, the Dream Team Slam is still alive, as the other night Hingis & Mirza advanced to the WD final with an easy SF win over Julia Goerges & Karolina Pliskova to run their win streak to 35 matches. With their third straight slam crown at stake, they'll next face the all-Czech team of Hlavackova/Hradecka in the championship match.
...in wheelchair action, #1-seed and defending champ Jiske Griffioen defeated Dutch countrywoman Marjolein Buis 6-2/6-2 to reach the final, where she'll meet another player from the Netherlands -- her doubles partner, Aniek van Koot. Van Koot knocked off #2-seed Yui Kamiji (still without that elusive AO singles titles) 7-5/7-5. Kamiji had served to force a 3rd set at 5-3 in the 2nd, but was unable to secure the hold and then failed to win another game down the stretch.
Meanwhile, top-seeded Griffioen & Van Koot also advanced to the WC doubles final, where they'll face #2-seeds Kamiji & Buis (Kamiji is playing this AO without usual partner Jordanne Whiley).
...and, finally, the remaining rosters for next week's Fed Cup action have now all been released. And there was at least one big surprise. Well, two if you count the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez DOESN'T seem to have found a way to sabotage the U.S. team before any matches have been played this time around. Though, of course, there's STILL time for that, I suppose.
=1st Round Match-Ups=
CZE at ROU
SUI at GER
ITA at FRA
NED at RUS
=World Group II=
AUS at SVK
ESP at SRB
POL at USA
BLR at CAN
The big shocker was that a week after announcing that she'd been dealing with all sorts of health/physical issues and that she'd miss six weeks to have nose surgery, Simona Halep has pushed all that back a week in order to make herself eligible for Romania's huge home tie against the defending champion Czechs, including Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova.
Considering what happened the last time Halep played FC in front of a Romanian crowd, let's hope she doesn't regret the move, especially since she'd have quite a while to stew on it if that should occur. But, that said, the Swarmettes really DO need her here on an indoor hard court with Petra in the house. Well, as long as the good Halep shows up in a pressure situation, not that "other" one.
Meanwhile, despite a dispute with the Russian Tennis Federation about her Olympic eligibility, Maria Sharapova is set to play for the Hordette squad against the Dutch. Now, THIS is a nice team:
Apparently, the Federation is insisting that Sharapova needs one more FC tie to become Olympic eligible. Back from his suspension, during which the Hordette Fed Cup team returned to prominence without behind the scenes disputes causing dissension (coincidence?), Federation head Shamil Tarpishchev recently suggested Sharapova was unwilling to play for Russia in the 1st Round tie, according to Russia's R-Sport agency. Reportedly, he said, "If we lose and she doesn't play, that means she won't play at the Olympics."
I think we sort of knew anyway, but it sure looks like we may have once again come back around to the heart of the problem that plagued the Russian team a few seasons ago, leading to nearly all the top players boycotting Fed Cup until Anastasia Myskina moved up from her assistant position and replaced Tarpischev as the Team Captain.
Meanwhile, in other 1st Round action, Germany will give it ANOTHER try after last year's semifinal debacle (though one wonders if Kerber's AO success might mean she'll play a secondary roll once again).
Meanwhile, Team Italia in a post-Flavia world is still pretty sweet (but still no Errani/Vinci reunion):
One year after France's 1st Round upset of the Italians (from 0-2 down, on clay, in Italy), Captain Mauresmo's charges return for a rematch, this time as the host nation (though without Alize Cornet, replaced in key moments by Mauresmo last time out).
In World Group II, the Serbian team is WITHOUT The Bracelet. But, have no fear, it's apparently not an anti-Good Luck Charm sneak attack, as Aleksandra Krunic is injured and having surgery... though at least Ana Ivanovic (also not on the team) said this week that she wants to play doubles in Rio with her diminutive Fed Cup sometimes-teammate. As it is, JJ is in charge next weekend.
And, while the Swiss Dream Squad of Bacsinszky, Bencic & Hingis (w/ Golubic, too) is a pleasant surprise, and the Radwanska-less Polish team a disappointment, it's hard not to be flabbergasted by the U.S. roster for that tie against the Poles.
It's actually pretty good. We must have slipped into an alternate universe when I wasn't looking.
MJF has once again found a Williams to have her back, a good young player in Sloane, a versatile veteran with doubles experience in BMS and a young two-way player in case of emergency (fresh off great doubles runs in Melbourne, too) in CoCo Vandeweghe.
I can't help but wonder when the other shoe will drop on this. You know, Venus being injured, Sloane being a late pull-out, Vandeweghe being forced into a HUGE role and imploding while Mattek-Sands watches it all from the bench, never being called up to do anything. Hey, remember, even if it's Kania and Linette rather than Aga and Ula on the other side of the net, MJF will be making decisions in Hawaii during the tie... so keeping the dark clouds at bay isn't a given.
All the Fed Cup rosters can be found at the official website.
...LIKE FROM DAY 11: Another return in Indian Wells...
...LIKE FROM DAY 11: Sveta channels "Annie Hall." Sort of.
..."HA! YOU CALL THAT SNOW, DOMI?" FROM DAY 11:
...LIKE FROM DAY 11: She shall survive, even if her "alias name" isn't spelled correctly.
Lol Konta: "Actually I am a tri-citizen. I've got a Hungarian passport as well. I'm pretty much the female version of Jason Borne." #AusOpen— Australian Open (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2016
There you go.
...LIKE FROM DAY 11: Go figure... what are the odds?
I+got+"Very+Much+Venus"+on+"Which+Williams+Sister+Are+You?"+What+about+you? https://t.co/omj9iEqaGW— Venus Williams (@Venuseswilliams) January 27, 2016
...WOULDN'-YOU-KNOW-IT? FROM DAY 11: In the slam final in which Serena will try to match Germany's Steffi Graf with a 22nd Open era major singles title, she'll face another German in Kerber... who now credits practicing in Las Vegas early last year with her childhood idol Graf as a key moment in her career, leading directly to her best-ever "regular" season in '15 and now her first-ever slam final in '16.
..."UMM, HONESTLY, GENIE..." FROM DAY 11: ...considering how things have gone in the past, I doubt the other Canadian Fed Cuppers were holding their collective breath hoping that you'd show up. Probably more like the opposite, actually.
*WOMEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #7 Angelique Kerber/GER
*MEN'S SINGLES SF*
#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI
#13 Milos Raonic/CAN vs. #2 Andy Murray/GBR
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#1 Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) vs. #7 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
*MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#7 J.Murray/Soares (GBR/BRA) vs. Nestor/Stepanek (CAN/CZE)
*MIXED DOUBLES SF*
#1 Mirza/Dodig (IND/CRO) vs. #5 Vesnina/Soares (RUS/BRA)
Klepac/Huey (SLO/PHI) vs. Vandeweghe/Tecau (USA/ROU)
*GIRLS SINGLES QF*
(Q) Sara Tomic/AUS def. (WC) Baijing Lin/AUS
#5 Vera Lapko/BLR def. #4 Anna Kalinskaya/RUS
#9 Rebeka Masarova/SUI def. #16 Dayana Yastremska/UKR
#2 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK def. #8 Anastasia Potapova/RUS
*BOYS SINGLES QF*
Oliver Anderson/AUS def. (WC) Max Purcell/AUS
#5 Chung Yunseong/KOR def. #15 Kenneth Raisma/EST
#6 Alex De Minaur/AUS def. #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas/GRE
#7 Jurabek Karimov/UZB def. #13 Yosuke Watanuki/JPN
*GIRLS DOUBLES SF*
#6 Yastremska/Zarytska (UKR/UKR) def. Cho/Miyamoto (JPN/JPN)
#2 Kalinskaya/Mihalikova (RUS/SVK) def. Fourlis/Ingils (AUS/AUS)
*BOYS DOUBLES SF*
#8 Klein/Rikl (SVK/CZE) def. Benchetrit/Furness (FRA/FRA)
De Minaur/Ellis (AUS/AUS) def. (WC) Jones/Purcell (AUS/AUS)
*WOMEN'S WC SINGLES SF*
#1 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Marjolein Buis/NED
Aniek Van Koot/NED def. #2 Yui Kamiji/JPN
*MEN'S WC SINGLES SF*
Gordon Reid/GBR def. Gustavo Fernandez/ARG
Joachim Gerard/BEL def. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA
*WOMEN'S WC DOUBLES SF*
#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) def. Whiley/Shuker (GBR/GBR)
#2 Buis/Kamiji (NED/JPN) def. Montjane/Ellerbrock (RSA/GER)
*MEN'S WC DOUBLES SF*
#1 Houdet/Peifer (FRA/FRA) vs. Kellerman/Scheffers (AUS/NED)
Fernandez/Gerard (ARG/BEL) vs. #2 Reid/Kunieda (GBR/JPN)
*MULTIPLE SLAM FINALS - ACTIVE*
26...SERENA WILLIAMS (21-4)
14...Venus Williams (7-7)
10..Maria Sharapova (5-5)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
4...Victoria Azarenka (2-2)
3...Ana Ivanovic (1-2)
2...Petra Kvitova (2-0)
2...Francesca Schiavone (1-1)
2...Samantha Stosur (1-1)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (0-2)
2...Vera Zvonareva (0-2)
NOTE: Hingis (5-7)
*SLAM FINALS BY NATION - in the 2010's*
12....UNITED STATES (Williams)
3...Belgium, Czech Republic
2...Australia, GERMANY (Kerber)
1...CAN, DEN, ESP, FRA, POL, ROU, SVK
*ACTIVE SINGLES PLAYERS - FIRST SLAM FINAL*
1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Agnieszka Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Genie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza
2015 U.S. Open - Roberta Vinci
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber
NOTE 1: first-time finalists in 4 consecutive, and 7 of last 9 slams
NOTE 2: M.Hingis, 1997 Australian (W)
**MOST SLAMS BEFORE FIRST TITLE**
49 - Flavia Pennetta (2015 U.S. Open)
47 - Marion Bartoli (2013 Wimbledon)
45 - Jana Novotna (1998 Wimbledon)
39 - Francesca Schiavone (2010 Roland Garros)
34 - Samantha Stosur (2011 U.S. Open)
31 - Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open)
29 - Jennifer Capriati (2001 Australian Open)
28 - Kerry Melville-Reid (1978 Australian Open)
26 - Lindsay Davenport (1998 U.S. Open)
25 - Victoria Azarenka (2012 Australian Open)
NOTE: Kerber in 33rd slam
*AUSTRALIAN OPEN FINALS - ACTIVE*
7...SERENA WILLIAMS (6-0)
4...Maria Sharapova (1-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
1...Ana Ivanovic (0-1)
1...ANGELIQUE KERBER (0-0)
1...Venus Williams (0-1)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)
NOTE: Hingis (3-3)
**FIRST-TIME SLAM CHAMPS AT AUSTRALIAN OPEN - OPEN ERA**
1977 Kerry Melville-Reid, AUS
1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
1980 Hana Mandlikova, CZE
1995 Mary Pierce, FRA
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
TOP QUALIFIER: Naomi Osaka/JPN
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #14 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2 - Virginie Razzano/FRA d. #6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA 6-1/4-6/6-1 (ends streak of 61 con. slam MD)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): #7 Angelique Kerber/GER d. Misaki Doi/JPN 6-7(4)/7-6(6)/6-3 (saved MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 6-4/4-6/11-9
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 3rd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 6-4/4-6/11-9
FIRST VICTORY: #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE (def. Q/Kumkhum, THA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #17 Sara Errani/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Gasparyan/RUS)
UPSET QUEENS: Russia
REVELATION LADIES: China
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd Rd. is a Brit)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Zhang Shuai/CHN (QF)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Han Xinyun/CHN (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Daria Gavrilova/AUS (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Johanna Konta/GBR
IT (??): Nominee: Sh.Zhang/CHN, S.Tomic/AUS
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Sh.Zhang/CHN, Hlavackova/Hradecka
CRASH & BURN: #2 Simona Halep/ROU (lost 1st Round to Q/Zhang Shuai, CHN - first Top 2 AO seed out in 1st since Ruzici/ROU in '79)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Monica Puig/PUR (2nd Rd. - saved 5 MP vs. Kr.Pliskova/CZE, who set WTA record w/ 31 aces in match)
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): Angelique Kerber/GER
LADY OF THE EVENING: "The Dasha Show"
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hingis/Mirza, C.Vandeweghe, A.Klepac, E.Vesnina
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 11. More tomorrow.