AO 7 - Old School Supernova
There was a time when the heart and quality of Sharapova's game radiated from her serve outward. When it shined its brightest, providing the tide that lifted all the boats of her tennis existence, she was a powerful figure on the court who was nearly unstoppable in full flight. But all that changed after the 2008 shoulder surgery that could have, but didn't, end or greatly diminish her career. The Russian survived, and likely even improved because of, the injury. But it changed the legacy of the Sharapova serve and what it meant to her success. After surgery, it was no longer a reliably consistent weapon, and on occasion was even nearly a liability. Rather than prop up the rest of her game, providing its fuel, it was often something that had to be overcome. To her credit, she did just that. Improving her court movement, quickness and variety in the "second phase" of her career, Sharapova transformed herself from an awkward clay courter into one of the best in the world on the surface, and took home a pair of Roland Garros titles because of it.
Without a slam title in '15, Sharapova continued to see injuries and missed time begin to creep into her reality last season. After an Australian Open runner-up result a year ago, she was only able to be fully match-tough and prepared a few times during the remainder of the season. After Wimbledon, she didn't play a complete match until the WTA Finals, then a forearm injury delayed the start of her '16 campaign until she arrived in Melbourne.
Going into the 4th Round, for the most part at this AO, Sharapova had been in better form than anticipated. Save for a very poor, error-strewn 2nd set against Lauren Davis in her last match, the Russian had had little real trouble. Sharapova fired sixteen aces -- something she used to do with regular frequency in the "old days" -- against Davis. While many latched onto the one poor set against Davis, the renewed strength of the Sharapova serve may have been the real story, for it may have provided the confidence she needed to charg into the Round of 16 match on Sunday against Belinda Bencic with seeming fire in her eyes.
Playing with dominating power and dangerous serve of a younger version of herself (when she came to be known in these parts as the Supernova), Sharapova put on a display against the 18-year old Swiss that suddenly makes the notion of something great happening for her in Melbourne something a bit less fantasy-filled than a nice bedtime story. While the errors (46 in the match) remained today, they were the byproduct of an aggressive game that was kept afloat by a hunger for winners (58 to Bencic's 10) and a serve that produced a career-high twenty-one aces that helped to cover Sharapova's imperfections.
Though Bencic wasn't able to match Sharapova's power, and struggled to develop the same sort of aggressive gameplan that helped her to her biggest career title in Toronto last summer, much credit goes to the Swiss for managing to be opportunistic and staying close enough with Sharapova on the scoreboard that the result remained in question throughout the tight, 7-5/7-5 victory by the Russian.
In the 1st set alone, Bencic faced break points in all six of her service games. She saved nine of the first eleven she faced, while converting both of her own BP chances, before Sharapova finally converted on her second BP of game #12 (her fourth set point) to take the lead in the match. Sharapova had set the tone for her day early, firing four aces in her first two service games, then displayed her characteristic fight through the middle portion by twice countering Bencic breaks of serve by immediately breaking back one game later.
It was a fight that proved necessary in the 2nd set, as well.
Sharapova faced and saved break points in games #1, #3 and #5 in the 2nd set, ending the latter with an ace up the "T" for a 3-2 lead. Needing her power and serve to overcome her rising error total, Sharapova finally pulled away from Bencic down the stretch, but it was never a runaway. A two-ace game allowed her to hold for 5-4, and a hold in game #11 forced Bencic to serve to stay in the match. Sharapova's 57th winner gave her a match point, but error #46 prevented her from converting it. On MP #2, winner #58 -- a backhand shot that landed near the baseline but was called out -- was awarded via a replay challenge that showed the Sharapova ball clipping the line.
While the Russian roared with approval, Bencic initially argued that she felt that the point should be re-played. But it didn't take her long to realize that it was a lost cause.
Speaking of lost causes, the one thing that hasn't changed for Sharapova since those mid-2000's days has been her inability to defeat one player. And guess who she'll face next.
Oh, well. No matter what happens two days from now in a rematch of last year's AO final, Sharapova can at least be reassured that this Australian Open's first week has proven that she is still capable of turning back her career clock and reliving some of her previous glories... and do it "old school" style, too.
There was a time when those glories also included a pair of wins over that aforementioned player, as well. In fact, they were the starting point for her original Supernovic rise. Sure, that was a dozen years ago... but maybe today planted at least a small seed in Sharapova's mind that everything old can still be new again.
Could she be so lucky?
=DAY 7 NOTES=
...in the other 4th Round matches playing during the day, Serena Williams continued her personal quest to reignite the Cold War by taking down yet another Russian with relative ease. After handling Daria Kasatkina two days ago, it was Margarita Gasparyan's turn in the Williams Thunderdome today. After getting five games off Serena when they met at Wimbledon last year, she only got three games off her today.
Of course, now yet another Russian moves into her crosshairs.
...meanwhile, on Hisense, Aga Radwanska had her hands full with unseeded German Anna-Lena Friedsam. Aggressively going for broke in her best slam run, the 21-year old was on her game early. Riding an early break, she held her advantage to 4-1 before Radwanska's defensive abilities finally began to pay dividends, as Friedsam was forced to hit additional balls until she finally produced a error. The Pole got back on serve with a break for 4-3 and ran off four straight games to take a 5-4 lead.
Serving for the 1st set, though, things went away at 30/30 when Radwanska left a drop shot short of the net. She saved the resulting break point, and held a set point, but was unable to hold Friedsam back, as the German got the break for 5-5. The set went to a tie-break, where a surging Friedsam grabbed a 5-3 lead before Radwanska pulled back even at 5-5. But Friedsam then fired a backhand winner down the line to end a long rally to reach set point. After an error failed to convert, she got a second chance and took the breaker 8-6.
Friedsam, who'd expended much energy to first grab the lead and then late stage her comeback in the 1st, wasn't able to carry over her momentum into the 2nd as Radwanska seemed to seize control of the match for good. She won the set at 6-1, then took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. But it was then that Friedsam's power advantage once again began to flash, pushing Radwanska into a corner and making it look to be nearly a sure thing that she was going to be the next big seed to fall in Melbourne.
The German reeled off five straight games to take a 5-2 lead, and served for the match at 5-3. And then it all began to fall apart.
After being broken in game #9, Friedsam was treated for a left thigh injury. With her opponent potentially compromised, Radwanska took advantage of her issues by moving her around the court. Back and forth, and up and back. As the German now battled against severe cramps, Radwanska held for 5-5. A game later, Friedsam often served through tears as her pain increased. Trying to stretch out her hamstring, Friedsam was given a time violation before serving the first point then, unable to push off without pain, she tried to serve underhanded. It didn't work (not everyone can be Michael Chang). Dragging her legs, she was called for a foot fault, and was soon down a break point after chasing down a short ball but being unable to get it back. She doubled over and nearly went down in pain in front of the changeover area as she grabbed the back of her unwrapped leg. Delaying and slowly walking back to the baseline, she was given another time violation, which resulted in a lost point that handed Radwanska the break for a 6-5 lead.
Friedsam in pain & tears. Looks like she's missed her chance despite an inspired performance. pic.twitter.com/NawOJPDCKU— Live Tennis (@livetennis) January 24, 2016
Ten minutes after dangling over the edge of an Australian Open cliff, Radwanska was suddenly serving for the match. Securing the hold, she won 6-7(6)/6-1/7-5 to advance to her fifth AO quarterfinal in six years.
Easy-peasy. Yeah, right. Of course, surviving this experience will now lead to Aga NOT having to face off with both an Aussie and a home crowd in the next match, since her opponent won't be Daria Gavrilova. It'll be Carla Suarez-Navarro (another player who might be bringing a leg injury into a match against Radwanska).
Playing in her first match at Rod Laver Arena, Gavrilova seemed to have everything going for her in the 1st set. And the 2nd. And the 3rd.
The energized Aussie took the 1st at love from CSN, with the Spanish veteran winning just one point on her first serve in the set. In both the 2nd and 3rd sets, Gavrilova led 2-0 and was a point away from a 3-0 lead. After failing to get the game in the 2nd, she became frustrated and lost four straight games. Up 4-3, Suarez-Navarro took a medical timeout to treat a patella tendon injury, then returned to win the set 6-3.
But Gavrilova was still seemingly in the driver's seat in the deciding set. Up 2-0, she again was a point away from a 3-0 lead. Again, she failed to get it. Again, she got frustrated. Again, she couldn't gather herself enough to turn the tide back in her favor.
In fact, in the 3rd set, she sort of mutated into a Russo-Aussie version of Jelena Jankovic. Clanging her racket against whatever was handy, wild gesticulating at herself and her players box. Yelling "it's wrong!" to her coaches while reading the notes that had been prepared for her before the match, then angrily gesturing in the direction of her team when they didn't stand up and cheer when she won a point. The move made coach Nicole Pratt chuckle... but she still never budged from her seat. Only Luke Saville ever seemed to do that.
While she put together a few points down the stretch, the storyline turned into a case of Gavrilova never being able to focus and put herself back into the mindset necessary to win the match. Suarez-Navarro ran off the last six games, winning 0-6/6-3/6-2 as Gavrilova failed to become just the second Aussie woman to reach the AO quarterfinals in the past decade.
With the good comes the bad. While the newly-minted Australian proved at this slam that her career prospects are bright, she showed on Night 7 that she's still got some fine-tuning to do, too.
...in doubles, both the Chans and the Rodionovas won.
That special feeling.... pic.twitter.com/2hyW72PktM— Anastasia Rodionova (@arodionova) January 24, 2016
In the mixed, Martina Hingis & Leander Paes won their 1st Round match, moving to within one round of Hingis facing off with doubles partner Sania Mirza (w/ Ivan Dodig). While Hingis/Mirza have won thirty-two straight matches, Hingis/Paes have won nine straight in slam mixed competition, as well as the last two majors AND last year's AO.
...in juniors, one of the top seeds fell as girls' #3 Charlotte Robillard-Millette lost to Italy's Ludmila Samsonova, 6-7(1)/6-1/6-4. Meawhile, I guess I Kuznetsova Cursed Maddison Ingliss by picking the Aussie WC tournament winner for a berth in the women's MD to go on to claim the girls title. She was upset on Day 7 by Spaniard Eva Guerrero Alvarez.
...and, finally, Backspin HQ is indeed still standing. Of course, if it were to fall the forty inches of snow surrounding it on all sides would surely keep it up. At least temporarily. Yes... forty.
...DISLIKE FROM DAY 7: While she started out well when she first joined the ESPN tennis team, Chris McKendry has somehow been infected by the rest of "the crew." Most notably Hannah Storm, who through co-hosting duties with McKendry through the last couple of years has, apparently, passed on her maddening penchant for adding/transposing letters/sounds to players names and pronouncing them as if the unnecessary sounds should be there.
For quite a while, Storm would consistently refer to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as "Jo-Wilifred," and that example is just one of several similarly odd "changes." Well, this week McKendry has taken to referring to Gavrilova as "Gavrialova." Eventually, someone must have pointed things out to Storm, because at some point she gave up the "Jo-Wilifred" habit (though not others). Apparently, no one has gotten to McKendry yet. So I'll just let it come from the proverbial Hordette-turned-Aussie's mouth when introducing herself in a video from last season:
Sounds like "Gavrilova" to me.
Interestingly, in the post-match wrap-up following the Gavrilova/CSN match with Mary Joe Fernandez, McKendry actually almost seemed to purposely shy away from saying the name at all. Numerous times she referred to her as "the Aussie," while MJF called her Gavrilova.
...NEWS FROM DAY 7: ...concerning Simona Halep
...FACT FROM DAY 7 (as expected): I don't even notice Serena's outfit now
...LIKE FROM DAY 7: the ESPN commentating team of Pam Shriver and Chris Evert, whose friendly sniping back and forth is quickly becoming an art form. And when it happens while they're calling a Gavrilova match, with all the Aussies ticks and loopy reactions, it's simply a "perfect storm" of crazy. But maybe that's just me.
...NOTE TO SELF FROM DAY 7, by Genie Bouchard: "Make sure to text Rennae Stubbs about my final decision..."
Trying to adult pic.twitter.com/HfvOtdyT29— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) January 24, 2016
*WOMEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Serena Williams/USA def. Margarita Gasparyan/RUS
#5 Maria Sharapova/RUS def. #12 Belinda Bencic/SUI
#4 Aga Radwanska/POL def. Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER
#10 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP def. 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
#15 Madison Keys/USA vs. (Q) Zhang Shuai/CHN
*MEN'S SINGLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #14 Gilles Simon/FRA
#7 Kei Nishikori/JPN def. #9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #15 David Goffin/BEL
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE def. #14 Roberto Bautista Agut/ESP
Andrey Kuznetsov/RUS vs. #23 Gael Monfils/FRA
#13 Milos Raonic/CAN vs. #4 Stam Wawrinka/SUI
#8 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #10 John Isner/USA
#16 Bernard Tomic/AUS vs. #2 Andy Murray/GBR
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) d. Kuznetsova/Vinci (RUS/ITA)
#12 Groenefeld/Vandeweghe (GER/USA) d. Lucic-Baroni/Strycova (CRO/CZE)
#3 Garcia/Mladenovci (FRA/FRA) vs. #13 Goerges/Ka.Pliskova (GER/CZE)
King/Kudryavtseva (USA/RUS) vs. #5 Pavlyuchenkova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
Rodionova/Rodionova (AUS/AUS) d. Cibulkova/Flipkens (SVK/BEL)
#15 Xu Yifan/Zheng Saisai (CHN/CHN) vs. SW.Hsieh/Kalashnikova (TPE/GEO)
#7 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) d. #10 Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja (ESP/ESP)
#2 Chan/Chan (TPE/TPE) d. Rae/Smith (GBR/GBR)
*MEN'S DOUBLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Rojer/Tecau (NED/ROU) vs. Cecchinato/Seppi (ITA/ITA)
#12 Cabal/Farah (COL/COL) vs. Mannarino/Pouille (FRA/FRA)
#3 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #13 Klaasen/Ram (RSA/USA)
#11 Inglot/Lindstedt (GBR/SWE) vs.#7 J.Murray/Soares (GBR/BRA)
Nestor/Stepanek (CAN/CZE) d. Andujar/Carreno Busta (ESP/ESP)
#14 Huey/Mirnyi (PHI/BLR) d. #4 Bopanna/Mergea (IND/ROU)
#9 Pospisil/Sock (CAN/USA) d. (WC) Groth/Hewitt (AUS/AUS)
#16 Cuevas/Granollers (URU/ESP) d. #2 Dodig/Melo (CRO/BRA)
??????? pic.twitter.com/dpb9Qa4FjK— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 23, 2016
?????????? https://t.co/Kl1t7K84uP— Daria Gavrilova (@Daria_gav) January 23, 2016
*RECENT AUSTRALIAN WOMEN IN AO ROUND OF 16*
[since AO seven-round event in '87]
1987 QF - Elizabeth Smylie
1987 4th Rd. - Janine Tremelling
1987 4th Rd. - Wendy Turnbull
1988 QF - Anne Minter
1989 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
1990 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1991 4th Rd. - Rachel McQuillan
1993 4th Rd. - Nicole Provis
2003 4th Rd. - Nicole Pratt
2004 4th Rd. - Alicia Molik
2005 QF - Alicia Molik
2006 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2008 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2009 QF - Jelena Dokic
2010 4th Rd. - Samantha Stosur
2015 4th Rd. - Casey Dellacqua
2016 4th Rd. - Daria Gavrilova
*UNSEEDED/WC/Q in AO QF SINCE 32-SEED DRAW (2002-present)*
2002 Adriana Serra-Zanetti/ITA
2003 Meghann Shaughnessy/USA, Virginia Ruano-Pascual/ESP
2006 Martina Hingis/SUI (wc)
2007 Serena Williams/USA [won title], Lucie Safarova/CZE
2009 Jelena Dokic/AUS (wc), Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
2010 Justine Henin/BEL (wc) [reached final]
2012 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS, Sara Errani/ITA
2013 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
2015 Madison Keys/U
UNSEEDED TO PLAY 4th Rd: Beck, Konta, Strycova, Zhang (Q)
*UNSEEDED/WC/Q in SLAMS QF SINCE 2011*
11 WI - Sabine Lisicki/GER (wc), Tamira Paszek/AUS
11 US - Angelique Kerber/GER
12 AO - Ekaterina Makarova/RUS, Sara Errani/ITA
12 RG - Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (q)
12 WI - Tamira Paszek/AUS
13 AO - Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
13 RG - Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
13 WI - Kaia Kanepi/EST
13 US - Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
13 US - Flavia Pennetta/ITA
14 RG - Garbine Muguruza/ESP
14 WI - Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
14 US - Belinda Bencic/SUI
14 US - Peng Shuai/CHN
15 AO - Madison Keys/USA
15 RG - Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL
15 WI - CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
15 US - Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Roberta Vinci/ITA [reached final]
UNSEEDED TO PLAY 4th Rd: Beck, Konta, Strycova, Zhang (Q)
*SLAM MATCH WINS - OPEN ERA*
289...Serena Williams (into QF) *
231...Venus Williams *
183...Maria Sharapova (into QF) *
301...Roger Federer (into QF) *
211...Novak Djokovic (into QF) *
198...Rafael Nadal *
TOP QUALIFIER: Naomi Osaka/JPN
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #14 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
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
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)
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 (in 4th Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Han Xinyun/CHN (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Daria Gavrilova/AUS (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: J.Konta/GBR, A.Radwanska/POL, B.Strycova/CZE, C.Suarez-Navarro/ESP, Sh.Zhang/CHN
IT (??): Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: V.Azarenka/BLR, Sh.Zhang/CHN
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): Nominee: B.Strycova/CZE, Sh.Zhang/CHN, (doubles vet)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: D.Gavrilova/AUS, V.Azarenka/BLR, Sh.Zhang/CHN, A.Radwanska/POL
DOUBLES STAR: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 7. More later.