Saturday, January 23, 2016

AO 6 - The Losing is the Hardest Part

Apparently, the "Dasha & Kiki Show" wrung all the drama out of this Australian Open. Well, at least the lingering hangover from last night's heroics served to make Day 6's action feel rather mundane in comparison, to say the least.

Of course, the blowouts, no-shows, out-of-their-depth, frustrated and sometimes non-competitive performances of some of the players had a little bit to do with that overall theme, too.

It really all began with the first two matches up on Rod Laver and Margaret Court, as #3 Garbine Muguruza faced off with veteran Barbora Strycova on the former and #9 Karolina Pliskova went at it with #21 Ekaterina Makarova, a semifinalist in Melbourne a year ago, on the latter. The case of the "daytime blahs" took full hold in these two matches. Not because the winners -- Strycova and Makarova -- played poorly, either. They played fine, and in the Russian's case, VERY well. The problem was their opponents. The increasingly frustrated Pliskova was never able to solve the riddle of the Makarova game (memo to Simona Halep: see, it wasn't just you), while Muguruza, seemingly a legitimate favorite to contend for the title a few weeks ago, often looked as if she didn't want to be there.

One year ago, a #10-seeded Makarova defeated #22 Pliskova 6-4/6-4 in a 3rd Round match in Melbourne. One year later, with their positions essentially switched and their battleground exactly the same (they also met on MCA on January 23, 2015), the Russian allowed the Czech only five total games as Pliskova's quest for her first career slam Round of 16 result will have to pick up once again in Paris this spring. Today Makarova jumped out to an early break lead and never relinquished her advantage. Serving for the 1st set at 5-3, she faced a break point but saved it with a forehand winner up the line, reached set point with an angled crosscourt backhand winner, then took the 1st with another forehand up the line to win 6-3 in thirty-six minutes.

Being moved around the court by Makarova's shots, unable to deal with her lefty groundstrokes and very good service day, Pliskova could never gain a foothold in the match. As the Russian continually got back the twin's usually commanding serves, and ended any of the Czech's lingering hopes of a comeback by winning any number of long rallies, Pliskova's frustrations made the eventual end result something of a mercy killing.

Makarova served out the 1:10 match to win 6-3/6-2 to reach her sixth straight AO Round of 16.

In the other early 3rd Rounder, Strycova advanced to just her second career slam Round of 16 with an even easier victory than Makarova's. After giving away a break lead after having taken the first game of the match, the Czech was quick to regain her advantage a few games later. While Strycova's game was on point, Muguruza's was pretty much pointless. As coach Sam Sumyk watched with a dazed, maybe-disbelieving-what-he-was-seeing look on his face, Muguruza seemed to be on an extended walkabout. Even when she won points, she had no positive reaction. She walked slowly around the court, was never anything but subdued, and had a forlorn expression on her face. The immediate thought was that something had to be up. Illness? A recurrence of the foot pain that caused her to retire from her only pre-AO match this season? After the loss, Muguruza didn't pinpoint her issues on the day, other than to admit how badly she played and that she couldn't gather the energy to mount a comeback.

Strycova served out the 1st set at 6-3, then opened the 2nd with a break of serve and was never made to look over her shoulder for the image of a Spaniard closing in on her. If she had looked back, she'd have seen nothing. The Czech served out the match 6-3/6-2, seeing Muguruza sail a shot well long to put an end to her own misery.

Muguruza entered this season looking for all the world to be the next young player ready to step up and into slam contention. She may still ultimately be that player over the course of the '16 season, but the foot injury raised early doubts, and now the weak effort she put forth today adds at least a temporary layer of concern onto a January that she can't put behind her fast enough.

I guess it's a good thing there's still a VERY long season ahead.

...the trend that began with the two early show court matches continued the rest of the day. The six 3rd Round matches contested in the day session were all finished off in straight sets, with the most games won in a set by any losing player being just four. Once. (Congrats, Laura Siegemund... though you also had the only bagel under the sun, too. So there was that.)

Johanna Konta defeated Denisa Allertova 6-2/6-2 to become the first British woman to reach the AO Round of 16 since 1987.

An all-German 4th Round match-up was made a reality by Annika Beck's 6-0/6-4 win over Siegemund, while Angelique Kerber continued to gain steam the farther she gets away from her near-miss escape against Misaki Doi in the 1st Round. She defeated Madison Brengle today 6-1/6-3, and will face Beck for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Kerber could be heading for a collision with Victoria Azarenka two rounds from now after the #14 seed, as she did when faced with charging newbie Samantha Crawford in Week 1, came up against qualifier Naomi Osaka and put the vast gulf in experience between them on full display. After losing serve in the first game of the match, Azarenka ran off twelve of the next thirteen games in a 6-1/6-1 victory. While there is a great deal to work with, Osaka isn't quite THERE yet, as today the occasion, possibly an injured stomach muscle and, of course, Vika herself proved.

So far in '16, Azarenka is 8-0, and has won all sixteen sets she's played (including both vs. Kerber in Brisbane, it should be noted, as the German has never beaten her in seven match-ups). She's dropped five games through three rounds at this AO, is 24-2 in Melbourne since 2012, and has won thirty-eight of her last forty-two matches in all of Australia.

If this form keeps up, well, there's really only one person left in the draw who might be able to prevent her from winning AO title #3.

(I don't really need to provide a hint as to who SHE is.) other Saturday action, the Dream Team defeated the Kichenok sisters, running their winning streak to thirty-two matches. The Chan sisters won, as well, defeating Kateryna Bondarenko (minus her sister Alona) and Olga Savchuk.

Aussie Mixed Doubles wild cards Daria Gavrilova and Luke Saville lost their opening match to Yaroslava Shvedova and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi.

...also, the junior action has begun in Melbourne. Three Canadian girls are seeded in singles including #1 Bianca Andreescu and #3 Charlotte Robillard-Millette. In between those two at #2 is Tereza Mihalikova, who won the '15 girls title and now undertakes a very rare attempt to defend a junior slam crown. The last junior to defend was 2006-07 AO girls champ Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

As of this posting, the biggest junior upset so far involves an Aussie, as unseeded Sara Tomic (yes, his sister) today knocked off #6 Zheng Wushuang of China.

For the record, I'm going with Aussie Maddison Inglis to defeat Mihalikova in the final. Of course, it's been twenty years since an Aussie girl won the title, so take that pick with a grain of salt.

...LIKE FROM DAY 6: Early in Tennis Channel's coverage, when a question was posed about whether or not Azarenka lost her confidence and swagger last season, but has regained it with her improved fitness and health, Martina Navratilova said, "She's got swagger when she goes grocery shopping."

...LEFTOVER LIKE FROM DAY 5: The best post-match answer. Well, before Dasha stole her thunder, at least.

...ANOTHER LEFTOVER LIKE FROM DAY 5: That Lauren Davis didn't fall for it...

...PROOF FROM DAY 5: That the NFL isn't the only sport that can't do coin tosses without a malfunction:

...LIKE FROM DAY 6: It was worth the seven years it took for this one to drop...

Go, Pammy, go!

...and, finally, I'll leave the late night matches -- Keys/Ivanovic & Zhang Shuai/Lepchenko -- until the 6.5 post. Really, though, it'll likely be more about the usual Lists-a-Palooza stats for the players remaining in the Round of 16.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Margarita Gasparyan/RUS
#12 Belinda Bencic/SUI vs. #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#4 Aga Radwanska/POL vs. Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER
#10 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP vs. Daria Gavrilova/AUS
#7 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. Annika Beck/GER
#14 Victoria Azarenka vs. Barbora Strycova/CZE
Johanna Konta/GBR vs. #21 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
x vs. x

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #14 Gilles Simon/FRA
#9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #7 Kei Nishikori/JPN
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #15 David Goffin/BEL
#14 Roberto Bautista Agut/ESP vs. #6 Tomas Berdych/CZE
x vs. #23 Gael Monfils/FRA
#13 Milos Raonic/CAN vs. #4 Stam Wawrinka/SUI
#8 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #10 John Isner/USA
x vs. x

2001 Jelena Jankovic/SRB def. Sofia Arvidsson/SWE
2002 Barbora Strycova/CZE def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
2003 Barbora Strycova/CZE def. Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
2004 Shahar Peer/ISR def. Nicole Vaidisova/CZE
2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Agnes Szavay/HUN
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
2007 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Madison Brengle/USA
2008 Arantxa Rus/NED def. Jessica Moore/AUS
2009 Ksenia Pervak/RUS def. Laura Robson/GBR
2010 Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Laura Robson/GBR
2011 An-Sophie Mestach/BEL def. Monica Puig/PUR
2012 Taylor Townsend/USA def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Katerina Siniakova/CZE
2014 Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS def. Jana Fett/CRO
2015 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK def. Katie Swan/GBR

1. Bianca Andreescu, CAN
2. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK (defending champ)
3. Charlotte Robillard-Millette, CAN
4. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
5. Vera Lapko, BLR
6. Zheng Wushuang, CHN (lost today)
7. Kimberly Birrell, AUS
8. Anastasia Potapova, RUS
9. Rebeka Masarova, SUI
10. Pranjala Yadlapalli, IND
11. Priscilla Hon, AUS (withdrew)
12. Chihiro Muramatsu, JPN
13. Mai Hontama, JPN (lost today)
14. Lucie Kankova, CZE
15. Katherine Sebov, CAN
16. Dayana Yastremska, UKR

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #14 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
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
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): Nominee: 3rd Rd. - Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 Mladenovic/FRA 6-4/4-6/11-9
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: Nominee: 3rd Rd. - Gavrilova/AUS d. #28 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)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia (1-8 in 1st Rd.; only AUS-born in 2nd Rd. is a Brit)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: N.Osaka/JPN(L), Zhang Shuai/CHN
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Daria Gavrilova/AUS (in 4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: J.Konta/GBR, A.Radwanska/POL, Friedsam/GER, B.Strycova/CZE, C.Suarez-Navarro/ESP
IT (??): Nominees: Gavrilova/AUS, Gasparyan/RUS, Osaka/JPN
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: V.Azarenka/BLR
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)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: D.Gavrilova/AUS, V.Azarenka/BLR, Zhang Shuai/CHN, A.Radwanska/POL

All for Day 6. More later.


Blogger colt13 said...

Mladenovic has the game to win a slam someday. Gavrilova is sort of like Cibulkova to me-more SF than F, and will be injury prone because of her style- but I like her.

Watching Makarova makes me realize that she may be, possibly Radwanska(2-13), the only person in the draw that needs Sharapova out more than Williams. She's 0-6, and hasn't really been close except for one match. Sharapova has also bounced her out of the AO 3 of the last 4 years.

Sat Jan 23, 12:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Stat of the Day-Ka. Pliskova-world #12 is 8-21 vs the current Top 11. Only ones she has a winning record against is Muguruza(2-1) and Safarova also 2-1.

Sat Jan 23, 02:03:00 PM EST  

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