Tuesday, January 26, 2016

AO 9 - Fitting Together the Puzzle Pieces of Serena vs. Maria

They came to Rod Laver Arena for Australia Day, then stayed for Serena vs. Maria.

Over the years -- well, let's just say it, the past decade -- the so-called tennis "rivalry" between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova has stoked imaginations, even if pulses haven't come along for the ride. Williams' 17-match winning streak over the Russian since twice losing to her in Sharapova's breakout 2004 season has grown into such a monster that, when they face off on a tennis court, it sometimes has come to overshadow the actual individuals involved in the twenty matches played before the encounter on Day 9. And that's a shame, because these matches should really be seen as a recognition of the greatness of the careers and journeys of both women, for their paths and successes are the reasons that such a bright spotlight follows "Serena vs. Maria" around, even if the results haven't really warranted such a build-up.

As Jon Wertheim noted on Tennis Channel, looking at the stats of their history is "less a head-to-head than a boot-to-neck" situation.

As was the case with "Serena vs. Venus" at last year's U.S. Open, I suppose we've gotten to the point where, rather than ever expect a classic, we should embrace the spectacle and improbability of the notion of Williams vs. Sharapova, even if the on-court activity never again lives up to the star power of the personalities involved.

Truth is, match-up XXI wasn't much better than most of the last seventeen. In fact, it was yet another example of the differences between two very contrasting personalities who have managed to co-exist on the big stage of the same sport -- as the two most successful, non-sibling players of their generation -- without ever having
either's career defined by the (more, or less) success of the other, no matter if numbers or dollar signs are easily assigned to both women. In this case, that's just the fine print. Both are their own person, not to be denied that right by any win, any loss or anyone.

Though they are very different in many ways, Williams and Sharapova are the most famous female athletes on the planet and have much in common.
Both saw their careers forged by relationships with their attention-getting fathers, who helped bring them to the forefront from way outside the tennis establishment (be it from Compton, California or Siberia). Both have completed Career Grand Slams, won Olympic medals and have Hall of Fame futures. Both saved their careers, whether from major injury or medical emergency, and went on to arguably even greater success afterward, largely based on their own competitiveness and inability to allow anyone or anything to tell them what's right or wrong for them. That's for them to decide. Both have defined themselves as much off the court as on it, and are now comfortable with who they have become. All of those factors have coalesced to allow them to survive and thrive for a very long time in a sport that often eats its young, spits them out, belches and says, "All right, who's next?"

Serena and Maria are survivors, and that's something that should be celebrated when they're on the same court.

Oh, yes, speaking of that. They DID have an Australian Open quarterfinal match to play today, too. And, as you can probably tell, the stories between the lines of this match, once again, had a bit more meat on them than the main event. But it wasn't stripped bare... at least not at the start, nor at the bitter end.

Sharapova opened strong with a break of serve, as Williams got off to a somewhat slow start. So, in the early going, the prevailing notion was that the immediate conditions that Sharapova had to be hoping for were to her liking. She came in serving well (16 and a career-best 21 aces in her last two matches) and playing with confident and powerful aggression, showing a bit of her old, my-serve-informs-my-game-rather-than-hamstrings-it style. Sharapova held for 2-0 with an ace, then reached deuce on Williams' serve in game #3.

But Williams, as would be the case with Sharapova when taken down by a young potential usurper (see her career record vs. fellow Hordettes), has a long memory, and it's been twelve years now since she's allowed the Russian to see anything much less than her best for long. The same would be the case today. Serena held for 2-1. From there, things would never quite be the same for Maria.

In the next game, the serve that carried Sharapova into another deep run in Melbourne (her tenth Round of 16 or better result in her last eleven AO appearances -- Serena has 13 of 14, but who's counting?) began to let her down. Back-to-back double-faults (giving her three in her first two service games) paved the way for a service break, then she saw Williams put forth a two-ace hold while serving into a very difficult sun to go up 3-2. Two games later, Serena saw Sharapova fire a huge return to get to 30/30, then hit another ace before a service winner off a second serve allowed her to hold for 4-3.

Sharapova double-faulted to begin game #8, then did it again (her sixth) to fall behind love/40. Suddenly, her post-surgery, serve-is-a-liability history was dragged back out into the open after having been stuffed deep inside a locked steamer chest in her last two matches. But then, the Russian suddenly found away to sit on that chest and keep herself in the set for a while longer, firing her second ace of the day to get to deuce, using a good first serve to reach game point and hitting a crosscourt forehand winner to stay even at 4-4.

But it was a short-lived reprieve. Serena pushed her off the steamer chest, pulled out a key, and did what she does. Sharapova would win just one more game in the match.

The Russian contined to employ an ultra-aggressive return game. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Mostly, it just brought out the best in Serena.

A Williams DF in game #9 gave Sharapova a break point and a chance to have the set on her racket. Naturally, Serena hit an ace (somewhere, IBM Watson "smiled"), then saved a second BP with a big serve up the "T" and a forehand winner. Her eighth ace gave her game point. She didn't convert it, but did on GP #2 with, you guessed it, an ace up the middle (#9) for a 5-4 lead.

In game #10, Sharapova made her final stand. She battled valiantly, but it was to no avail, as her first serve failed to maintain the high level of potency it had in recent days. After saving three BP/SP (two when Williams netted returns of second serves), Sharapova saw Serena put away #4 in a point dominated by three consecutive Williams forehands, the last a swing volley winner to win the set 6-4.

In game #2 of the second set, with Williams up 1-0 and having just gotten to deuce on the Russian's serve, ESPN's Pam Shriver took note of Sharapova glancing toward the player box for the first time in the match with a look of resignation, as if she'd tried to change the pattern of this series in this match, but she no longer thought it was possible. Whether or not that was what was in the front of her mind at that moment, it WAS the reality of the match. It's one of the odd facts about this series, as Sharapova -- whose confidence never flags vs. any other opponent -- often finds herself, when playing Serena, face-to-face in the mirror with her own, hidden tennis "other." And for going on twelve years now, Maria has always blinked. Sometimes early, sometimes late. But always.

Two points after the moment that Shriver noticed, Sharapova was broken for 2-0, then saw Williams hold at love then break once again as Sharapova's first serve win percentage dipped dangerously low. Williams secured her seventh straight game with a GP ace in game #5 before Sharapova finally held to get on the 2nd set scoreboard.

Maybe the cheers ("Don't give me your pity!") from the crowd irked her, but in the next game Sharapova seemed to make a point of showing her competitiveness in what would be the final game of the match. Serving with new balls, Williams hit her thirteenth ace on the second point of the game. But Sharapova didn't fold, not by a longshot. Clenching her fist, slapping her thigh and urging herself on, she fired a return winner to reach BP, then reached BP again soon afterward, still seeking an opportunity to get a foothold from which she might be able to climb back into the match. It was a characteristic stretch of points for Sharapova, though it was ultimately an unsuccessful one.

Williams put away MP to win 6-4/6-1, winning her eighteenth straight match over Sharapova, and her thirteenth and fourteenth straight sets.

So, nothing really changed here. Despite having the favorable conditions to make a match of things, at least on her end, Sharapova's first serve failed her, while Williams' drove herself forward with one of the best first serves in the game, and THE best second serve ever. The end result of this match is likely all that will be talked about when it comes up over the next twenty four hours but, as noted earlier, it was just a single part of the overall fascinating picture (puzzle?) that is Serena vs. Maria.

Who knows, maybe one of these days even the match will live up to the hype. But, once again, "all" we had on this day was Williams and Sharapova. Together. On a tennis court. Continuing to play out their own remarkable stories. Together, as well as apart.

And, really, in the whole scheme of things, that's not too bad.

...before the two most famous female athletes on earth took to Rod Laver Arena court, though, Aga Radwanska and Carla Suarez-Navarro met to decide who be the semifinalist waiting for them. Radwanska was looking to extend her eleven-match winning streak, reach her second AO semifinal in three years, and her second such result in a major in less seven months (Wimbledon '15); while CSN was seeking her first career slam semi in her fifth major QF, her first in Melbourne since she put up the result in her AO debut in 2009.

Radwanska had gotten to this point in the tournament without having displayed the more aggressive game plans that helped her win the WTA Finals at the end of last season. But, then again, she hadn't needed to employ such risky tactics. Positioned quite nicely within her own little Melbourne bubble (while so many other seeds saw their chances popped by lesser-ranked players), Aga had been content with holding back, playing good defense, and constructing points with the thought in mind that her opponent couldn't go very long without committing an error. She'd been right, for the most part, and when she wasn't (vs. Anna-Lena Friedsam in the 4th Rd.) she managed to escape with a win when her opponent began to cramp down the stretch and stumbled over the finish line ten minutes after Radwanska had seemed fated to be this AO's latest upset victim. Meanwhile, CSN had greatly benefited one round earlier by Daria Gavrilova's admitted "spoiled brat" reaction to having a few games not go her way, as the Spaniard survived being a set and 2-0 (and a point from 3-0) down in the 2nd set, as well as the 3rd.

Suarez-Navarro's focus has been admirable in the moment... but it didn't carry over into Day 9.

In the opening games of the QF match, CSN's error-strewn game put her behind the proverbial 8-ball, and ultimately prevented her from taking advantage of the good things she was doing, allowing Radwanska to continue to tentatively play from the baseline or beyond and get away with it to live another round, where things will likely have to change if she's to put up a real fight.

The Spaniard committed nine unforced errors in the match's first three games, two of which featured breaks of the CSN serve by Radwanska. Aga won the first four games of the day, even while Suarez-Navarro's deep shots were pushing Radwanska behind the baseline in points that would often nonetheless end with an error off CSN's racket. Radwanska was taken to deuce in game #6 in a last ditch effort to make a game of things in the 1st set, but the Pole held for 5-1. The 28-minute stanza ended, as it should have, with a Suarez-Navarro forehand era that handed the 6-1 set to Aga.

Things carried over to the 2nd set as Radwanska took a 2-0 lead before Suarez-Navarro finally got her first break of the day, only to give it back a game later. In game #6, CSN ended the set's breaks of serve streak at four games when she saved three BP and held for 3-3. But it was too little, too late. Possibly sensing the need to begin to move forward or else risk the match getting away from her as it did vs. Friedsam, Radwanska finally began to assert herself a bit more. She moved to the net for a volley put-away to reach her second BP of game #8. CSN's error gave the Pole a 5-3 lead. Serving for the match, Radwanska faced a BP, but held to close out the 6-1/6-3 victory, as the Spaniard committed forty-five errors in sixteen games, while Aga had just thirteen.

So far, so good for Radwanska. But, even before she knew which future Hall of Famer she'd face next, she sensed she'd have to do better if she wants to reach her second career slam final.

While the Pole, as she showed in Singapore, has the ability to be more assertive in key spots during matches, she often prefers to play with less risk. While she'll never out-hit Williams, she'll need to take advantage of every opportunity for winners that she gets (something she didn't do vs. the likes of CSN, Friedsam or Monica Puig at this AO) while still playing with the change of pace and high-level thinking that has become her career trademark. She managed to do just that in a three-set Wimbledon final vs. Williams in 2012, when she came within four games of winning a slam and becoming the #1-ranked player in the world.

Can she do it on the hard courts of Melbourne? Weeeeell...

...meanwhile, in the women's doubles, the beat still goes on for the Dream Team. Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld & CoCo Vandeweghe (a very intriguing, and very tall and big-serving, duo -- they'd be smart to play together at SW19) in three sets, 6-2/4-6/6-1. The match ended on a wonderful MP that included Hingis chasing balls from side to side, then dancing across the court into Mirza's arms to celebrate the pair's 34th consecutive victory.

Both were set to return later in the day (Hingis on the very same MCA court) for mixed, where they stood one win with both their partners away from facing EACH OTHER in the quarterfinals. Of course, if Hingis wins both the WD and MX in Melbourne, she'd head to Paris with a shot at a Swiss Miss Slam -- four straight slam titles with BOTH Mirza and Leander Paes.

Well, unless Mirza would happen to beat her in the QF, of course.

Hingis held up her end of the deal, as she and Paes defeated Sloane Stephens & Jean-Julien Rojer 6-1/6-2. Minutes later, Mirza & Ivan Dodig finished off a win over Shvedova/Qureshi 7-5/6-2.

So it's on -- Dream Teamer vs. Dream Teamer.

Elsewhere, the all-Czech team of Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka defeated the #2-seeded Chan sisters 2-6/7-5/6-3 to reach the WD semis. They were excited.

...in juniors, the singles Round of 16 is now complete. After seeing much success from Bannerette girls in recent slams, no U.S. player is still alive in the draw. Of course, there was only one (Maria Mateas) who actually made the trip to Melbourne, and she lost in the 1st Round.

While #3-seeded Charlotte Robillard-Millette was an early upset victim, two Canadians are still alive -- #1-seed Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov -- along with two Russians, two Ukrainians and a trio of Aussies (including Sara Tomic -- who officially "outlasted" her brother in this event).

And, as Mirza's career and fame may finally be seeing some movement in Indian tennis, two players who have shined in the junior competitions at the WTA Finals in Singapore the last two years -- Karman Thandi and Pranjalla Yadlapalli -- have reached the singles 3rd Round.

The breakdown:

3 - AUS (Apisah, Lin, Tomic)
2 - CAN (Andreescu, Sebov)
2 - IND (Thandi, Yadlapalli)
2 - RUS (Kalinskaya, Potapova)
2 - UKR (Yastremska, Zarytska)
1 - BEL (Salden)
1 - BLR (Lapko)
1 - JPN (Muramatsu)
1 - SUI (Masarova)
1 - SVK (Mihalikova)

...and, finally, the wheelchair draws are out. U.S. Open champ Jordanne Whiley is the #1 singles seed at a slam for the first time, but the news coming out of the announcement was that Whiley and Yui Kamiji, who won the Grand Slam as a duo in '14, aren't paired in this event.

When asked, Whiley gave Twitter reassurance that the partnership isn't over, though, and that they'll be back together down the line.

One wonders if Whiley's pairing with fellow Brit Lucy Shuker might have some connection to the Paralympics event that will be held in Rio after the Olympics there this summer.


Fine, but just as Simona Halep's truly problematic issues (just some current ones) won't likely be solved by nose surgery, I'm not sure coaching is really what's been holding Kvitova back in between her Wimbledon title runs, either. Looking after her health (and getting more answers there), changing her training/well-being regimen and the like would seem to be the first culprits to investigate and experiment with if the Czech is going to take a more complete, more consistent next step in her career. Her game, per se, is still slam-worthy, it's the rest that isn't up to snuff most of the time.

That said, change for change's sake can sometimes have immediate benefits. We shall see. Still, it's odd to make the change just a few matches into a new season, rather than having done so after last season, when a new coaching relationship could be tried out before risking burning through (at least) a quarter of a season before possibly realizing something isn't going to work and having to make ANOTHER change before the end of '16. At that point, you become Ana Ivanovic.

The timing just makes it feel like more of a knee-jerk, desperate response to a slow start than a reasoned step in a comprehensive plan of action. (Sigh.) Oh, Petra.

...LIKE FROM DAY 9: The Celebrated Jumping (& Dancing) Petko of Darmstadt

...I-COULD-GO-WITH-THAT FROM DAY 9: On Tennis Channel, while talking about the Kvitova coaching change and who could move into the position, Jon Wertheim went with probably what everybody else was thinking when the question was posed.

"If we only knew a lefty Czech who knows something about elevating (a player's tennis game)," he not-so-subtly began, with an unseen wink pointed in the direction of a particularly well-known TC colleague.

Of course, a few moments later, the coverage was thrown back to the Radwanska/CSN match... with commentary provided by Martina Navratilova.

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 9: Having to continue to hear how much "fun" Gael Monfils is to watch play, and how much of a "genius" he is on the court. Yadda-yadda-yadda.

Umm, no.

Not that mine is a widespread opinion, but I have no interest whatsoever in watching the Frenchman play. When ESPN moved over from Azarenka/Strycova the other day, I immediately turned down the sound and turned on Watch ESPN to continue to follow the actual match that was being played there rather than the would-be exhibition. No matter that it was a straight sets contest, while Monfils/Kuznetsov turned into a five-setter. And I'd do the same 1000 times out of 1000 times, too. I have ZERO interest in watching the Frenchman play... at least until he seriously prefers winning to entertaining. Otherwise, it's a waste of time.

Of course, the only reason that match went five was because Monfils, as usual, did something crazy-ass on the court -- flying through the air way behind the baseline to try to hit a ball he'd never get back over the net, coming down on his wrist, being treated for an injury and then not being able to fully swing on his forehand for a couple of sets. While the video of the leap has been show often since then, often accompanied by head-shaking and exasperated comments about Monfils' crazy, unnecessary antics, it's rare that he's truly called out on it since everyone prefers to wax on about how "entertaining" he is.

Umm, no. It's not entertaining. Well, unless, I suppose, you think it's entertaining to watch a slam-worthy talent essentially sabotage his career with on-court stupidity. If so, then have at it. Personally, I have no real yen to watch "stunt tennis."

Earlier in this event, Monfils himself even admitted to being happy at not missing any "stupid shots" in a win. Yet it took only a handful of days before he was back at it, potentially endangering a real shot to reach a slam SF or better at this tournament.

Hopefully, Milos Raonic will put an end to this story in the QF, then Monfils can head to the next tournament and continue to fill out his audition video for Cirque du Soleil. (Which I don't particularly like, either... but whose performers' abilities I do admire, and can understand why others would be excited to watch.)

There... I think that officially fulfills my once-a-year annual screed against Le Tennis Player "Entertainer" (it's sort of replaced the Anabel Medina-Garrigues Slam Futility Update). I guess I'll pick this up again in 2017.

...LIKE FROM DAY 9: Flavia's membership application photo for the Equestrian Club at Backspin Academy. I think she's a shoo-in to be accepted.

...COACHING TOOLS FROM DAY 9: Really, coaches of young tennis players -- or young athletes, period -- should show the final game of the Williams/Sharapova match to their charges, covering up the score. The kids should be told to focus on Sharapova, playing with that look of intensity, clenching her fists and generally pumping herself up to give her all on every point, then asked what they think the score of the match was in that game.

"5-5 in the 3rd?"


Hopefully, they'd get the point.

...REALIZING THAT "THEY" DON'T KNOW ANY MORE ABOUT "OUR" GEOGRAPHY THAN "WE" DO ABOUT "THEIR" GEOGRAPHY FROM DAY 9: When the online commentator on the Hingis/Paes - Stephens/Rojer match mentions that Stephens won her first tour singles title in Washington. "Washington, D.C., not Washington, Oregon."

...LIKE FROM DAY 9: When the female commentator on that Hingis MX match mentioned that 22-year old Sloane Stephens must feel as if "she's out with her parents' friends" playing a match with the likes of the older Leander Paes (42), Hingis (35) and Jean-Julien Rojer (34).

...PLEA FROM DAY 9: If you've watched coverage on ESPN2 these past nine days, I hope you'll agree with me about wishing for the "bush birds" to stop calling EVERY blessed commercial break. Please, for all that is eternal in the Gavrilovian Mind, just STOP. Please.

For VisitMelbourne.com, the ad is fine. Except for when you've had to hear it a few hundred times in a little over a week. Isn't there a bird of prey that someone can send on a seek-and-destroy-bush-birds mission? I mean, Australia -- land of a million animals, insects and reptiles that can kill you in a milisecond -- surely has SOMETHING that can take care of those birds, right?


That's more like it. (Fist bump.)

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

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #7 Kei Nishikori/JPN
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #6 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#23 Gael Monfils/FRA vs. #13 Milos Raonic/CAN
#8 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #2 Andy Murray/GBR

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

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

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

#1 Bianca Andreescu/CAN vs. (WC) Baijing Lin/AUS
Karman Thandi/IND vs. (Q) Sara Tomic/AUS
#4 Anna Kalinskaya/RUS vs. #15 Katherine Sebov/CAN
#12 Chihiro Muramatsu/JPN vs. #5 Vera Lapko/BLR
#17 Anastasia Zarytska/UKR vs. #9 Rebeka Masarova/SUI
#16 Dayana Yastremska/UKR vs. (WC) Violet Apisah/AUS
#8 Anastasia Potapova/RUS vs. #10 Pranjala Yadlapalli/IND
Lara Salden/BEL vs. #2 Tereza Mihalikova/SVK

#1 Mate Valkusz/HUN vs. Oliver Anderson/AUS
Eduard Guell Bartina/ESP vs. (WC) Max Purcell/AUS
#4 Felix Auger-Aliassime/CAN vs. #15 Kenneth Raisma/EST
Wu Tung-Jin/TPE vs. #5 Chung Yunseong/KOR
#6 Alex De Minaur/AUS vs. #12 Youssef Hossam/EGY
Liam Caruana/USA vs. #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas/GRE
#7 Jurabek Karimov/UZB vs. Oh Chan-yeong/KOR
#13 Yosuke Watanuki/JPN vs. #2 Miomir Kecmanovic/SRB



#1 Jiske Griffioen/NED vs. Lucy Shuker/GBR
Jordanne Whiley/GBR vs. Marjolein Buis/NED
Kgothatso Montjane/RSA vs. Aniek Van Koot/NED
Sabine Ellerbrock/GER vs. #2 Yui Kamiji

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN vs. Gordon Reid/GBR
Gustavo Fernandez/ARG vs. Adam Kellerman/AUS
Joachim Gerard/BEL vs. Maikel Scheffers/NED
Nicolas Peifer/FRA vs. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) vs. Whiley/Shuker (GBR/GBR)
Montjane/Ellerbrock (RSA/GER) vs. #2 Buis/Kamiji (NED/JPN)

#1 Houdet/Peifer (FRA/FRA) vs. Kellerman/Scheffers (AUS/NED)
Fernandez/Gerard (ARG/BEL) vs. #2 Reid/Kunieda (GBR/JPN)

Anna??? Nah. Couldn't be.

2004 Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
2005 Nathalie Dechy, FRA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Serena Williams, USA
2008 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2009 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2010 Zheng Jie, CHN & Li Na, CHN
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Sara Errani, ITA
2013 Sloane Stephens, USA
2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2015 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2016 Johanna Konta, GBR

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: Johanna Konta/GBR
IT (??): Nominees: Sh.Zhang/CHN, 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 9. More later.


Blogger colt13 said...

Stat of the Day? 0-5 Myskina's record vs Serena. This was relevant because she was the last slam winner who did not have a career win against Serena. Guess to be the best, you have to beat the best. There is now an asterik, as Pennetta won with a slam with a record of 0-7, but won a match due to a walkover. So the records of those left vs Serena-and Azarenka should thank Maria for taking the heat off of her for this.
Konta 0-0
Zhang 0-2
Radwanska 0-8
Kerber 1-5
Azarenka 3-17! But 8 of their matches have gone 3 sets- including the last 3, and there have been 8 sets that have gone to a tiebreak.

Tue Jan 26, 10:11:00 AM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Best rant ever on Le Hot Dog! I can't believe anyone would take on coaching him at this point.

Todd, your take on the Serena-Maria phenomenon is one I wish were universally expressed. It's a case (at least for now, and maybe always) of "it is what it is." No, they're not Chris and Martina, and they're not Steffi and Monica. It's just one of those odd sporting situations turned into a "rivalry" by those who do not understand the meaning of words (despite being paid to say and write them, but hey--let's not get crazy and have minimally reasonable standards). There is every reason to respect and admire Sharapova, even if she can't beat the world number 1.

As for those bush birds--I believe Woz is wrestling with one as I speak :D

Tue Jan 26, 10:37:00 AM EST  
Blogger Karen Williams said...

Hi Todd, its been awhile since I visited these parts but man I am sorry it took me so long to come back.

I was probably one of the few that actually thought that Maria had a chance. Serena was just way too calm during her previous matches and as someone pointed out she has not been made to play struggle tennis as she usually does in the earlier rounds of a Major. That being said, I don't know how good Maria has to be to take a match, much less win a set.

Something must have been said or done in some way shape or form why Serena always rises to the occassion. I don't think either of these women will ever let us know but it can't be that Maria has tried everything and nothing has worked. I mean Roberta Vinci beat Serena in a Grand Slam. I just don't get it.

Tue Jan 26, 11:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

And Vika had some huge leads and/or match points in some of those losses, too. That's why those discussions about how well she plays against Azarenka so often leave out the actual head-to-head record (at least until the very end). Because that's one of those cases where the actual numbers don't tell the whole story of the history.

Gee, I'd almost forgotten that Kerber had beaten Serena.

I just have to get that Monfils opinion out once every year (like how the Fed Cup should play doubles in the third match... so I guess THAT'LL be coming up in a week or two, as well). :)

The opinion of others has shifted a bit the last two years, as they used to never criticize him. But, to me, it's time to stop doing backflips (something Gael hasn't done on a court... yet) about some of the things he does, because they're ultimately meaningless since this isn't a judged sport and he's not some traveling acrobat. Remember, he almost won the Grand Slam as a junior in '04.

I've told this story before, but I can remember that season, after Monfils won the first three boys majors, John McEnroe talking on NBC about how he had to work hard to even convince Monfils to play and TRY to win the U.S. Open junior title that year. That really should have said it all about his future ambitions. You'd think a young, up-and-coming player with slam-winning potential, amazing athleticism and all those shots would want to achieve something so special. Apparently not. He did eventually play, losing in the 3rd Round.

Welcome back! Always love your comments (here or on WWS). ;)

Yeah, you wonder how Serena might react -- in a final vs., say, Vika -- if she finally gets pushed to the limit and hasn't had any recent "practice" pulling one of those matches as she usually does during slam runs. Might make a big difference.

Going in, I thought Maria might have had as good a chance to win -- or come close -- as she has in quite some time just based on how she was serving. But her serve really let her down. Big time. Right from the start, really. Granted, that probably had something to do with who was on the other side of the net, whether it be how she played or how Sharapova THOUGHT she would, which caused her to put so much pressure on herself that the shot went awry.

One thing I mentioned in this post was that these matches don't define EITHER Serena or Maria. But, I should say, one PART of them does -- Serena's seeming vow to herself to never allow what happened in 2004 to happen again. There is always talk about Sharapova's great mental edge over opponents, or at least her belief in herself outweighing any belief the person on the other side of the net might have. But that's just not the case with Serena, and I think Maria knows it. It's what makes this such a unique match-up, even if the results are always the same.

In some ways, it's similar to how Federer was beating everyone at his peak, but then Nadal came around and seemed to mentally have an edge of Federer after the same result kept on happening over and over and over again (even at Wimbledon in "The Greatest Match Ever Played" final). The look of resignation on Federer's face was something that was never seen when he played anyone else, then or now (even Djokovic, who he knows he still at least has a SHOT at defeating if he doesn't make mistakes).

Of course, Federer still beat Nadal once in a while back then. You wonder if Serena will ever ALLOW that to happen.

Oh, but if it did, it'd make the NEXT match-up between the two -- with Sharapova with a dose of new confidence, and Serena angry about having allowed it to see the light of day -- REALLY interesting.

Maybe that's one of the reasons there's still a sense of excitement/expectation when they play. Maybe THIS will be the match. Maybe it will turn HERE. Maybe. Probably not. But MAYBE...

Tue Jan 26, 01:14:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

History. The Williams/Sharapova thing is something we have seen before, but with a different spin. When you look at former/current #1's vs each other, Sharapova might be -17(2-19), but there was someone who was -20. Who? Sanchez Vicario(8-28) vs Graf. Different in that the longest unbeaten streak Graf had was 7, with a 15-3 streak during the middle of the rivalry. Graf had a 9-4 advantage in slams, but it was 5-4 until Graf won the last 4 in 95-96.

Tue Jan 26, 02:01:00 PM EST  

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