Tuesday, January 19, 2016

AO 2 - A Year (After) of Living Dangerously

We'll soon find out how much of a difference a year really makes... this time.

One year ago, an unseeded Madison Keys was the highest-ranked teenager in the world. She arrived in Melbourne with former Australian Open champ Lindsay Davenport in tow as her new coach, as well as with loads of talent and potential. But even with one tour title already under her belt (Eastbourne '14), Keys was without anything better than a handful of 3rd Round results in her slam career. That would soon change. Keys left Australia as the tour's newest rising star, having upset Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams to become the third North American teenager in as many years to have a breakthrough semifinal result Down Under to start the slam season.

Since then, Davenport has exited (replaced by Jesse Levine), while Keys ended last season at #18, the second-youngest player ranked in the Top 50. But she didn't win a second title, and reached just one final (Charleston) in the wake of her January success. She returns to Melbourne as the #15 seed, having dealt with injuries (most recently an elbow) and an up-and-down, testing-her-new-fame-and-pressure post-AO existence in which she played her best in bigger events (three 4th Round or better slam results in '15) but failed to produce the consistency necessary to fully back up her results of twelve months ago. The previous two North American AO semifinalists suffered big drop offs in their "year after" seasons, and it's now officially time for Keys to begin her attempt to buck such recent history.

Keys opened her '16 season, after injury had prevented an earlier Dorothy Tour appearance, on Day 2 against Zarina Diyas, looking to start fresh herself after a disappointing '15 campaign. Showing the "ring rust" of her late launch, Keys -- who, truth be told, does this sort of thing in the MIDDLE of the season, too -- got off to a slow, error-prone start before she finally found her game against the Kazakh. In the 1st set alone she had thirty-three unforced errors and fell behind Diyas 5-3. She was forced to save three set points. But deep into the 1st set tie-break Keys finally seized control of her own game and the match by racing to a drop shot to flick a cross court winner. One point later, a Diyas error handed her the set. The rest was elementary.

From there, Keys found her game and pushed through to the 2nd Round with a 7-6(5)/6-1, trial-by-mini-fire win. So far, so good.

But, of course, it's all a process. This is just the opening step of the latest journey.

...things weren't as encouraging on Tuesday for #8 Venus Williams, as one has to now wonder if the price of her being in such good form so late in 2015 is for her to be laboring early in 2016.

Today, Williams was really no match for Johanna Konta. The pattern began early, as Venus took multiple bathroom breaks early, played with her thigh heavily strapped and saw the Brit control the contest throughout. Really, the only thing that kept things from being worse in the end was Konta's own inability to close the door as quickly as possible. She served at 5-2 and 5-4 in the 1st before finally putting away the set, then did the same at 5-0 and 5-2 in the 2nd before finishing off the match and notching her first win in Melbourne in her AO main draw debut.

So Venus' sixteenth Australian Open comes to a quick end one year after she was playing in Melbourne in the QF, kicking off what would be, at 35, her first Top 10 season since 2010. It's been a while since we've done it, but this one just has the look of "one of those losses" by Venus that we should just silently agree to let pass and be quickly forgotten (along with whatever it's cause or effect), as we move on to the NEXT time we'll see Williams on the court a few weeks or so down the line. Her skipping of her post-match press conference (for which she'll likely be fined) only further serves to erase the experience from the memory banks.

Hopefully, things will go better for Williams later, whenever that may be. At some point in the Venus timeline, they always seem to do just that. That won't happen forever, of course. But forever isn't tomorrow, either.

Until next time, V.

...much as happened on Day 1, when the questions swirling around Serena's health were cleared up for at least one 24-hour period, the same can be said for #3 Garbine Muguruza after Day 2. The Spaniard raced to a 6-0 1st set win over Anett Kontaveit in twenty-five minutes today en route to a 6-0/6-4 victory in which she faced zero break points.

Short and sweet. Just like Garbi wanted it.

...later in the day, #7 Angelique Kerber looked to be coasting into the 2nd Round, getting off on the right foot in the majors after having combined her best-ever "regular" season in 2015 with her worst season-long slam campaign since 2010. Against Misaki Doi, who Kerber allowed just one game in their last meeting on hard courts last summer, the German ran out to a 4-0 lead. Maybe she mistakenly felt like she had it in the bag, or maybe it was all about the Japanese woman, but the fact is that Doi grabbed the momentum as Kerber's level of play dropped, erasing the two-break deficit and taking the 1st set in a tie-break, setting up the contest to turn into the women's match of the tournament thus far.

In the 2nd, Kerber went about trying to get it right a second time. She took a 4-1 lead this time, and soon found herself serving up 5-3, 30/love only to see Doi suddenly surge again, leaving Kerber grumbling and looking for answers to all the proverbial tennis questions that go though a player's mind at moments such as this. Smacking lefty forehand winners from all over, the diminutive-but-deceptively-powerful Doi (Justine Henin was her idol, so you get the idea) won four straight points to break to get back on serve at 5-4. A zinging, clean forehand winner up the line got the Japanese woman a hold for 5-5.

Things again went to a tie-break, where Kerber's well-timed winner put her up 2-1, only to see her then give the lead back with a double-fault. At 5-5, Doi's put-away at the net gave her a match point, but her long return allowed Kerber to stay alive, even as the German was having a devil of a time avoiding (and catching up with) Doi's whipping, aggressive forehand shots. At 6-6, a long Doi backhand mercifully gave Kerber a set point at 6-6, and she converted it when Doi finally netted a forehand rather than plant it into the corner, ending the 1:01 2nd set and sending things to a 3rd.

In the deciding set, Kerber finally began to go on the attack once again. At 2-2, she got the break to take the lead. Saving a break point one game later, she managed to barely hold for 4-2. Two games later, Kerber found herself down love/40. But two Doi errors, and a Kerber slice off the corner line saved all three BP and she ultimately held on her own third GP to go up 5-3.

It was finally enough to escape Doi's web.

Kerber grabbed a 40/love lead a game later on Doi's serve, then won it with a clean forehand return winner. She let out a roar, winning 6-7(4)/7-6(6)/6-3 in 2:41 despite Doi's fifty-nine winners (Kerber had 35) and 20/26 net points won.


...elsewhere, true, honest-to-goodness hope was to be found on the grounds of Melbourne Park.

#11 Timea Bacsinszky finally posted her first victory of the season, a 6-3/7-5 win over Katerina Siniakova, while Vania King took out Mona Barthel 3-6/7-5/6-4. Ranked #349, King is in the draw with a protected ranking after missing chunks of the last two seasons. This is her first main draw slam win since the 2014 U.S. Open, where she also last picked up her most recent Top 50 win (over Francesca Schiavone) prior to today.

...of course, where there's hope there's often hell just a short distance away. And when #32 Caroline Garcia and a slam singles draw are combined, that's usually what you find. The big stage Chatrier avoiding Pastry fell 6-2/6-4 on Tuesday to Barbora Strycova in one of the least surprising upsets of the week so far, even with the good form (4-1 in Perth and Sydney) that Garcia had shown in the season's opening weeks.

Garcia has now dropped her opening match at five of the last six majors, and seven of nine. But, hey, at least she's got a shot in the doubles with Kiki Mladenovic by her side.

...meanwhile, pity the Aussies and their "poor souls." Or not.

As usual, Tennis Australia loaded up on Australians for the MD wild cards (leaving the aforementioned Schiavone's chase for history out in the cold), so it's time to see just how well those five players did:

Priscilla Hon - lost 6-0/6-3 to Annika Beck
Maddison Inglis - lost 6-3/6-0 Ekaterina Makarova
Storm Sanders - lost 6-4/6-2 to Alexandra Dulgheru
Kimberly Birrell - lost 6-4/6-4 to Karolina Pliskova
Tammi Patterson - lost 6-2/6-3 to Ana Ivanovic

So, ummm, 0-5. In all, the home nation went 1-8 in the 1st Round. So, there's that, too.

Of course, the other side of the story is that the only Australian woman who reached the 2nd Round (Gavrilova) was born in Russia, while the only Australia-born woman to notch a 1st Round win (Sydney-born Konta) represents Great Britain. After Sam Stosur's loss on Night 1, maybe the last best Aussie "hope" to join Dasha in the 2nd Round was Bratislava-born Jarmila Wolfe. She lost today, too, retiring after twelve games.

Hmmm, is this a case of the Tennis Gods dispensing a little grand slam karma? One would like to hope.

...speaking of keeping an eye on history, after seven seeds were dumped out on Day 1 the chances for the 1st Round of this year's AO to feature historic carnage was alive and well as Day 2 began. Only five women's seeds needed to fall today in order to break the record tied last year in Melbourne. Of course, this mark only tracks back to the beginning of the 32-seed slam format, which started at Wimbledon in 2001.

Four additional Day 2 seeds -- #8 Venus, #29 Begu, #31 Tsurenko & #32 Garcia -- have fallen as of this posting, bringing the total to a mark-tying eleven, with two seeds (#2 Halep & #14 Azarenka) still to complete 1st Round matches under the lights.

11 - 2002 RG, 2004 WI, 2015 AO, 2016 AO
10 - 2012 US
9 - 2005 WI, 2015 US
8 - 2002 AO, 2012 WI, 2014 WI, 2001 US
NOTE: 32-seed format began at 2001 Wimbledon

...LIKE FROM DAY 2: "Challenge accepted, sister."

..."FUTURE NAOMI" LIKE FROM DAY 2: The roll continues, with Elina Svitolina up next.

Of course, that potentially wonderful match won't catch a sniff of air time on ESPN2... but, at some point, that's almost a badge of honor, isn't it?

...INTERESTING NOTE FOR DAY 2: Following in giant footsteps wide tracks sometimes takes many different similar routes and forms. WC legend Esther Vergeer and U.S. Open WC champ Jordanne Whiley.

...A DAY 2 A LITTLE MORE TO THE LIKING OF BELGIAN WAFFLES: The Terminator Flipper won, even if she did have to stage a comeback from 5-3 down in the 3rd vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to do it...

Oh, and Barbie returned to Melbourne...

...and, finally, both Simona Halep and Vika Azarenka begin their attempts at AO runs under the lights tonight. So, as after Day 1, there may be a short Day 2.5 postscript -- with a few notes on those matches, as well as some overall 1st Round stats -- in order to clear the table before the start of Day 3.

Play well tonight, Vika. Remember, Steph will be watching.

No pressure.

2008 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic (QF)
2010 Samantha Stosur (4th Rd.)
2011 Samantha Stosur (3rd Rd.)
2012 Casey Dellacqua, Jelena Dokic & Olivia Rogowska (2nd)
2013 Samantha Stosur (2nd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua (4th Rd.)
2015 C.Dellacqua, J.Gajdosova, S.Stosur & A.Tomljanovic (2nd)
2016 Daria Gavrilova (in 2nd Rd.)

2012 GBR (0-4 1st Rd.; all on Day 1)
2013 AUS (1-6 in 1st Rd., 1-7 overall)
2014 ITA (top-seeded #7 Errani & #12 Vinci out 1st)
2015 CHN (year after Li champ, 1-5 in 1st Round)
2016 AUS (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd is a Brit)

2008 Jessica Moore, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic, AUS (QF)
2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
2011 J.Dokic/AUS, C.Garcia/FRA & A.Molik/AUS (2nd)
2012 Casey Dellacqua/AUS & Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
2013 Madison Keys/USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua/AUS (4th Rd.)
2015 K-C.Chang/TPE, O.Dodin/FRA & I.Falconi/USA (2nd)
2016 Han Xinyun/CHN (in 2nd Rd.)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): 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): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: Nominee: 1st Rd. - (Q) Kr.Pliskova/CZE d. #25 Stosur/AUS
FIRST VICTORY: #6 Petra Kvitova/CZE (def. Q/Kumkhum, THA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #17 Sara Errani/ITA (lost 1st Rd. to Gasparyan/RUS)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd Rd. is a Brit)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: N.Gibbs/USA, N.Osaka/JPN, Kr.Pliskova/CZE, M.Sakkari/GRE, A.Sevastova/LAT, Wang Qiang/CHN
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Han Xinyun/CHN (in 2nd Rd.)
IT (??): xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #24 Stephens/USA (lost 1st Rd. to Q.Wang)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Konjuh/CRO (1st Rd. - down 6-0/3-0, saved BP at 4-4 vs. U.Radwanska); #7 Kerber/GER (1st Rd. - saved MP vs. Doi)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Kr.Pliskova/CZE

All for Day 2. More later.


Blogger jo shum said...

ok, i am officially very impressed with zhang. was just peaking at how halep was doing. but wow. ok, halep is the at her best, but not bad to handle a first round supposedly.

Tue Jan 19, 04:22:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And, remember, Zhang is 0-14 in MD slam matches heading into tonight.

Tue Jan 19, 04:24:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, I guess the bottom half of the draw has cracked WIDE open now, huh?

Tue Jan 19, 04:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And Halep makes it twelve seeds, too, by the way. ;)

Tue Jan 19, 04:37:00 AM EST  
Blogger jo shum said...

and so you are counting the seeds out!

just when i said i was impressed with zhang. i am equally impressed with vika. double bagel, starting really well the tournament. just like you said, the poor soul award was correct.

but nadal went out in 5 sets, over 4 hours. sigh... would like to see him play....

Tue Jan 19, 09:03:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Well aren't you the prognosticating kiss of death? At least "Oh, Simona" contains some nice assonance!

Tue Jan 19, 10:23:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

It's a gift. :)

Tue Jan 19, 02:03:00 PM EST  
Blogger Will Corby said...

Zhang is a former world no. 30 and was once seeded at a major ('14 US)

Tue Jan 19, 03:08:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, she's been around a while and had some fits of success -- making it an odd reality that it took her so long to get a slam MD match win.

That #30 high (grrr, should have mentioned that in the Day 2.5 post) would have been when her ranking was still including her Guangzhou '13 tour level title, and WTA 125 RU in Ningbo and 125 win in Nanjing (all achieved within a span about six weeks late in fall '13). Although, even with those runs, she still didn't manage to finish either '13 or '14 in the Top 50.

Tue Jan 19, 04:01:00 PM EST  

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