Monday, January 25, 2016

AO 8 - There They Go Again

At last year's U.S. Open, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber came together to produce a Match of the Year candidate. Two weeks ago, they met in the Brisbane final and the Belarusian put down the sort of dominating performance that has come to be her norm in 2016. In order to set up yet another match against each other this Aussie summer in the AO quarterfinals, both first had to win one more match on Day 8.

In back-to-back matches at Rod Laver Arena on Monday, Kerber and Azarenka made quick work their opponents. While Azarenka has garnered much attention for her form in Melbourne, Kerber has gone through a bit under the radar. She opened up at this Australian Open by winning probably the best least-watched match of the tournament, a three-set thriller against Misaki Doi in which the German was forced to save match point.

Since surviving there, #7 seeded Kerber hasn't dropped more than four games in any set in the three matches she's played, including today's 6-4/6-0 win over 21-year old countrywoman Annika Beck, the world #55. In a match filled with service breaks, including in seven of the first nine games of the match, Kerber held for the 1st set when given the opportunity in game #10, then sailed through the 2nd, taking it at love. After playing in a rather subdued mood throughout the opening set, as she fully spread her wins in the 2nd Kerber's aggression and clenched fists were common down the stretch. Her win places her in the first AO quarterfinal of her career, as she now completes a Career QF Slam, becoming the latest active player to have reached the Final 8 at all four majors. A season after having her best "regular season" campaign, while also having her worst overall slam results in years, Kerber's run in Melbourne has already gone a long way toward changing the scoreline of her success.

Up next was Azarenka, who came in having tied an AO record by allowing just five games through the first three rounds of play. While th #14 seed faced stiffer competition from Czech vet Barbora Strycova today than she had in earlier rounds, and the Belarusian was slow to see her aggressive game click in (it took her several games to get her first winner), Vika still managed to run her '16 record to 9-0 and claim her seventeenth and eighteenth straight set. Keeping a step ahead of Strycova throughout the 2nd, Azarenka won 6-2/6-4 to advance to her fifth career AO quarterfinal, her fourth in her last five trips to Melbourne.

Still, kudos to Strycova for reaching her second career slam QF and, if for nothing else, for this pretty brilliant point.

(The question is: can she possibly beat out Aga Radwanska for Shot of the Month?)

...Azarenka is 7-0 in her career vs. Kerber, 6-0 on tour and 1-0 in the Wimbledon juniors twelve years ago.

2004 Wimbledon Jr. 2nd Rd. - AZARENKA 1-6,7-5,6-3
2012 WTA Championships RR - AZARENKA 6-7(11),7-6(2),6-4
2012 Olympics QF - AZARENKA 6-4,7-5
2012 Indian Wells SF - AZARENKA 6-4,6-3
2015 U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - AZARENKA 7-5,2-6,6-4
2015 Doha 1st Rd. - AZARENKA 6-0,6-3
2016 Brisbane Final - AZARENKA 6-3,6-1
2016 Australian Open QF - ??

The other two women's Round of 16 matches on the Day 8 schedule included '15 AO semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova vs. Brit Johanna Konta; with another '15 semifinalist, Madison Keys, vs. qualifier-turned-main-draw-achiever Zhang Shuai in the final night match on Laver.

I'll update those results tomorrow, as well as has some slam quarterfinalist lists, on the Day 8.5 post alter. the MCA match prior to the start of Makarova/Konta, the Dream Team took on the veteran duo of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Roberta Vinci. Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza took a 5-0 lead in the 1st set, and won it 6-1, but only after saving all six break points they faced in the set. They went on to to win 6-1/6-3 in 1:21, extending their winning streak to thirty-three matches. Two more wins and the Dreamers would win their third straight slam, and would have a chance to head to Paris with a shot at a Dream Slam (four straight major titles). Week 3 ITF circuit action, 17-year old Bannerette Sonya Kenin claimed her first career pro singles title at the $25K challenger in Wesley Chapel, Florida. After making it through qualifying, the '15 U.S. Open girls finalist defeated top-seeded Shelby Rogers in the semis and then took out Czech Jesika Maleckova 6-2/6-2 in the final.

Elsewhere, 2014 U.S. Open junior champ Marie Bouzkova ran her career ITF singles final record to 5-0 with a win over Pastry Theo Gravouil in the Petit-Bourg, France $10K. And in the $25K challenger in Guaruja, Brazil Paraguay's Montserrat Gonzalez won her seventh career title with a three-set win over Romanian Sorana Cirstea.

Cirstea is something of the story here. The 25-year old is a one-time world #21, Roland Garros quarterfinalist (2009), and 2013 Toronto runner-up (she famously broke down in the post-match ceremony and was comforted by champion Serena Williams).

Since then, though she's had a bit of Fed Cup success, Cirstea has been bedeviled by injuries and poor results. The player who finished 2012 at #27, then 2013 at #22, ended 2014 barely inside the Top 100 (at #93) and came into this week ranked #243 on the WTA computer. Her run to the final, which included wins over Jil Teichmann and #3-seeded Beatriz Haddad, comes exactly a year after she played her last slam main draw match in Melbourne last January.

...and, finally, speaking of Romanians and Fed Cup, we're just two weeks away from the opening FC weekend of 2016, one in which Romania will host the two-time defending champion Czech team in Cluj-Napoca.

Of course, this space has been on a campaign for a few years now looking for the Swarmettes to make a run at a Fed Cup title in 2016-17, and when the draws came out for the '16 1st Round the thought ws that it presented the deep Romanian team with a golden opportunity to possibly catch the Czech team "sleeping" and steal the tie. The Czech Republic, in recent years, has had some close calls in the 1st Round, and is often playing without one (or more) of the nation's very best players.

The same will likely be the case this time, as the ill Lucie Safarova probably can be assumed to be absent (or at least not a full playing member), while what Petra Kvitova's status will be is anyone's guess. Will Karolina Pliskova again be called upon to carry the load? How about her twin sister, she of the 31-ace match? The rosters should begin to leak out this coming week.

After the way Simona Halep played in front of a Romanian crowd vs. Spain last year, while she's the highest ranked player in Romania, almost felt like a detriment to the 2016-17 FC title run cause. Well, Halep's announcement that she'll miss six weeks due to nose surgery puts her out of the equation, likely allowing the same fiery team that took out Canada a year ago (w/ the likes of Alexandra Dulgheru leading the way) to once again get the call.

Considering the opponent, especially if Kvitova is on the roster, one would have thought that Romanians would try to choose a neutral surface such as clay. But the tie will be held on an indoor hard court. So I guess they'd better HOPE that Kvitova isn't on the roster.

Hey, there's always 2017, right?

...TIP IN FROM DAY 8: It was really no shock that Simona Halep admitted to a problem between her ears. Although, I'm not sure her nose is the exact spot between her ears that most were expecting. But, hey...

..."AND POOF... she was gone" FROM DAY 8:


...LIKE FROM DAY 8: Someone at Tennis Channel having some working knowledge of grammar. During this day's coverage, TC ran a graphic that highlighted Kerber's 2015 success. It was titled "Amongst the Best."

If it'd been on ESPN, it'd likely have said "Among the Best." For sure.

...PARTING SHOT TO JONAS ON DAY 8: The view from the foot of a "snow mountain"...

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#4 Aga Radwanska/POL vs. #10 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
#7 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. #14 Victoria Azarenka
Konta/GBR or #21 Makarova/RUS vs. #15 Keys/USA or (Q) Sh.Zhang/CHN

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #7 Kei Nishikori/JPN
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #6 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#23 Gael Monfils/FRA vs. #13 Raonic/CAN or #4 Wawrinka/SUI
#8 David Ferrer/ESP or #10 John Isner/USA vs. #16 Bernard Tomic/AUS or #2 Andy Murray/GBR

#1 Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) vs. #12 Groenefeld/Vandeweghe (GER/USA)
#13 Goerges/Ka.Pliskova (GER/CZE) vs. King/Kudryavtseva (USA/RUS)
Rodionova/Rodionova (AUS/AUS) vs. #15 Xu Yifan/Zheng Saisai (CHN/CHN)
#7 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. #2 Chan/Chan (TPE/TPE)

#1 Rojer/Tecau (NED/ROU) vs. Mannarino/Pouille (FRA/FRA)
#13 Klaasen/Ram (RSA/USA) vs. #7 J.Murray/Soares (GBR/BRA)
Nestor/Stepanek (CAN/CZE) vs. #14 Huey/Mirnyi (PHI/BLR)
#9 Pospisil/Sock (CAN/USA) vs. #16 Cuevas/Granollers (URU/ESP)

#1 Mirza/Dodig (IND/CRO) vs. Shvedova/Qureshi (KAZ/PAK)
Hingis/Paes (SUI/IND) vs. Stephens/Rojer (USA/NED)
#4 Srebotnik/J.Murray (SLO/GBR) vs. Groenefeld/Farah (GER/COL)
SW Hsieh/Peya (TPE/AUT) vs. #5 Vesnina/Soares (RUS/BRA)
Kudryavtseva/Lindstedt (RUS/SWE) vs. Klepac/Huey (SLO/PHI)
#3 YJ.Chan/Bopanna (TPE/IND) d. Hlavackova/Kubot (CZE/POL)
Vandeweghe/Tecau (USA/ROU) vs. Errani/Fognini (ITA/ITA)
Stosur/Peers (AUS/AUS) vs. #2 Mattek-Sands/B.Bryan (USA/USA)


**WTA "CAREER QF SLAM" - active**
[with slam at which completed]
Victoria Azarenka, BLR - 2012 US (28th)
Dominika Cibulkova, SVK - 2014 AO (26th)
Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN- 1995 WI (23rd)
Simona Halep, ROU - 2015 US (22nd)
Ana Ivanovic, SRB - 2012 US (32nd)
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS - 2006 RG (16th)
Petra Kvitova, CZE - 2015 US (30th)
Francesca Schiavone, ITA - 2011 AO (42nd)
Maria Sharapova - 2005 US (12th)
Serena Williams - 2001 RG (12th)
Venus Williams - 1998 WI (6th)
Vera Zvonareva - 2010 US (31st)
ALSO: Petrova - 2006 AO (24th)

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 (saved MP)
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 AUSSIE STANDING: Daria Gavrilova/AUS (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: J.Konta/GBR, A.Radwanska/POL, C.Suarez-Navarro/ESP, Sh.Zhang/CHN
IT (??): Nominee: Gavrilova/AUS
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: V.Azarenka/BLR, Sh.Zhang/CHN, V.King/USA
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

All for Day 8. More later.


Blogger Zidane said...

Question from a non-native speaker of English: what's the grammar difference between among and amongst? I always thought they were mostly a question of American English and British English preferences.

Mon Jan 25, 08:51:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Stat of the Day- 1. Todd, this is inspired by you. Yesterday's Backspin had the listing of the Women's Doubles Round of 16. Being used to the Italians doing both singles and doubles, it struck me that at the time, Strycova was the only one of those 32 women who was alive in singles. So that got me thinking to look at the final 8 + 1 in regards to doubles slams and getting proper rest. Seems to be that once they think they are slam worthy, they pull the plug.

The plus one is Makarova, who deserves mention as a 2 time slam winner, and until skipping the USO last year, had entered 30 in a row.
S.Williams-13 time champ had the mysterious ailment at Wimbledon, but played the USO in 2014. Hasn't played a slam since
Sharapova-2nd round was her farthest as she only played 3 slams-the last being 2004 AO. We all know what came 5 months later.
Azarenka-3 time finalist-played 14 slams in a row between 07-10, stopped with 2011 French. Won her first singles slam less than a year later.
Kerber-3rd round-Played 10 out of 12 slams from 2010-2012, hasn't played one since 2013 French.
Radwanska-QF-Had a streak of 23 consecutive slams which stopped when she didn't enter USO in 2012. What happened at Wimbledon in 2012?
Suarez-Navarro-SF-Didn't enter here, had played 16 of the last 17 slams.
Zhang-QF-The unexpected contender has played in 16 slams.
Konta-2nd round-saved her for last, because she is the anomaly that just switched. What I mean by that is not only is she the only one of the final 8 that played doubles at this AO, statistically it is different for her too. Coming into this slam, she had only played 4 doubles slams. All of them were at Wimbledon.

Mon Jan 25, 10:12:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

One thought about the Sharapova-Williams rivarly. One of the reasons it took off, is that not only did Maria beat Serena 2 of the first 3, but beat Venus the first 2 times they played. In an odd note, Maria, who is 5-3 vs Venus, has not played her in 3 years, in which time she has lost 8 times to Serena.

Mon Jan 25, 12:37:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

That's the official thought, but from what I was always taught, amongst, as a general rule, is used when you're referring to a group of three or more. That's the rule I've always followed. Technically, they're used interchangeably now (I've even broken down recently and used "among" when I would normally use "amongst," since it can sometimes sound a bit archaic) and is supposed to have the same meaning. In my heart of hearts, I don't believe that, though.

Just a little pet peeve of mine. Sort of like using "canceled" rather than "cancelled" (which I prefer), or "judgement" over "judgment" (at least the Terminator movie got it right), or using "a" rather than "an" before historic, as in "an historic event." Both, in all cases, are "correct"... but I just think "a historic" sounds more awkward and "an historic." :)

That's interesting -- I hadn't seen that breakdown, though I guess we sort of get the feeling that top players now use doubles as a stepping stone to singles success, then often don't look back, unlike players in the past (Navratilova, who played all three -- and won EVERYTHING sometimes -- for so long)

I sort of figured Muguruza, say, wouldn't play as much doubles in '16. I don't know if CSN not playing the AO was tied to her or not, and whether Muguruza's injury prevented her and CSN teaming up for the AO, or if it was fully a choice by both. Might be interesting to see in Paris and London.

I wonder if Olympic eligibility in doubles might skew some of those numbers THIS year. Since partners have to be from the same nation (why, though, can't they be mixed up, I wonder -- it'd lead to a better competition since, say, world co-#1 Sania Mirza will likely be a non-factor in WD in Rio w/o an equal female partner from India), I wonder if some of the top players will end up playing a bit more doubles to prepare. The two remaining pre-Olympic slams would provide a nice spot for that.

Mon Jan 25, 01:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

Oh, thanks for the info, I'll apply it this way from now on!

Canadian English is often in the middle of American and British, I'm confused sometimes about which of the two styles to use.

Mon Jan 25, 02:50:00 PM EST  

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