Thursday, January 26, 2017

AO.11 - They Might Just Make It After All

The Williams Sisters are, quite simply, the tennis gift that keeps on giving. Outliving all others, their story seemingly has a neverending supply of new chapters.

On Thursday, the latest came when they both yet again contested separate slam semifinal matches on the same afternoon, this time in Melbourne, hoping to set up yet another star-spangled sibling final with a pair of victories on Australia Day.

In the first match-up on Thursday, Venus Williams, nineteen years after she'd played in her first, was playing in her twenty-first slam semifinal against a player, CoCo Vandeweghe, who was in just her first. When Williams defeated Irina Spirlea in that maiden semifinal in New York in 1997, Vandeweghe was all of five years old, and about to watch the careers of the likes of Venus, her sister Serena and Jennifer Capriati inspire her own tennis dreams while growing up in a family of superior athletes.

Through this tournament, Williams has advanced while riding a classy, classic, emotional wave that often obscured the fact of just how well she was actually playing. She arrived on Day 11 having not dropped a set, often resembling (or as close to it as one can expect from a 36-year old now starting her third decade on tour) the player who was THE ORIGINAL Williams back in the day. You know, when everyone thought father Richard's boasts about ANOTHER sister were just, well, Richard talking to hear himself talk.

Meanwhile, as so many heart-tugging, emotional storylines have played out in Melbourne, sometimes it's seemed as if Vandeweghe has been playing in an alternative tournament, cutting a sometimes-brilliant, sometimes-ragged swath through the draw in a style all her own. In other words, with as little subtly as possible. As far as she's concerned, just like the many reactions she engenders because of her in-your-face and sometimes over the top style, there's no such thing as "a light touch" when CoCo is around.

She opened last week against former slam finalist Roberta Vinci, getting ill and throwing up on court when down 4-2 in the 2nd set. After an eight-minute delay, Vandeweghe resumed play in fine form while the Italian couldn't keep a ball in the court as CoCo staged a swift comeback to win in straight sets. She followed up by blowing a lead vs. Pauline Parmentier, wrecking a racket, then making a comeback from 4-2 down in the 3rd set vs. former slam finalist Genie Bouchard in a match in which she was heckled from the stands before overtly throwing those ill feelings back at her critics once she'd polished off match point. A round later, she smirked and shrugged her way to a ever-more-dominating win over world #1 and defending AO champ Angelique Kerber, sparking still more negative attitudes against her, then mercilessly destroyed defending Roland Garros champ Garbine Muguruza in the QF with a brand of power tennis rarely seen this side of, well, a Williams Sister. It was the sort of performance that had a heavyweight boxing KO feel to it that couldn't help but send a shiver down the spine of anyone watching, right before they instinctively moved to the edge of their seat to get a better view of the carnage taking place before their eyes, that is.

The feeling was that if Vandeweghe played as had in the previous two rounds she'd be difficult to beat. But, again, that was because the sentimental feelings everyone has held close when its come to Venus' run at this slam somehow, seemingly, caused her to not get the credit she deserved. Faced with the challenge of taming Vandeweghe's game, Venus stepped up. Just like she used to do on a regular basis.

The match began with back-to-back breaks of serve, with Vandeweghe taking the initial lead on her fourth BP of the opening game, then, after CoCo had failed to put away two game points on her own serve, Venus reaching BP in game #2 with a running crosscourt forehand winner from the right corner of the court. She got the break back on her first opportunity when Vandeweghe double-faulted. Through the bulk of the set, it was a case of "classic" Venus, running wide during rallies and striking shots that sent Vandeweghe chasing balls into the sidelines of the court. Essentially, it was the Venus that Vandeweghe had seen when she was a kid, watching Williams and wanting to be the same sort of big-hitting tennis star. Quite simply, partly due to Williams' play but maybe also because of the lingering nervousness of playing in her first slam semifinal, she was unable to move her feet and get on top of Venus' power shots as she had vs. Muguruza in her destruction of the Spaniard in her previous match.

While Williams' game was showing no cracks, the set nevertheless remained on serve throughout after the initial exchange of breaks. But in game #9, with the score knotted at 4-4, Vandeweghe showed her first signs of settling down and finding the rythym that had allowed her to "freight train" through her last few opponents. She stepped into the court and clocked a Williams serve with the sort of conviction and free-swinging thunder that got her to this point at this AO. She didn't win the game, but it was a sign that she was coiled and ready to explode, hoping to finally make her game great again.

But with Venus serving well, maintaining her position on the baseline and taking Vandeweghe's big shots as early as possible, she kept a full step ahead on the scoreboard. It would take a tie-break to separate the two. Once there, after ten straight holds of serve between them, it was the returner who won the first five points in the breaker. Finally, when Vandeweghe followed an approach shot to the net and executed a drop volley that a scrambling Venus got to but couldn't keep in the court, the first service hold gave CoCo a 4-2 lead. From there, her power and confidence increased almost exponentially. With Williams throwing her service toss into the sun, Vandeweghe's backhand return down the line left Venus flat-footed, as CoCo won her fifth straight point to reach set point at 6-2. With her first SP on her own serve, Vandeweghe took the TB at 7-3 when Venus' backhand return went long. Despite having been the better player for the majority of the opening set, a slight dip in Williams' play has coincided with a rise in that of her younger countrywoman's at precisely the wrong time, and now she would have to go the distance for the first time at this AO if she was going to continue her turn-back-the-clock run.

After Vandeweghe held to open the 2nd with a forehand and drop volley combination, it was as if Venus was incensed that she'd managed to lose the 1st with a poorly-timed lull. In game #3, she jumped on CoCo by a love/40 score, working herself up between points. A big Williams return elicited an error to get the break, and Vandeweghe tossed her racket in frustration. Venus ultimately ran off ten straight points to get to 30/love in the next game, then held after saving two BP to consolidate the break with a 3-1 lead. Back-to-back double-faults from Vandeweghe gave Williams a double-break lead, causing CoCo to fire a ball into the stands. Vandeweghe tried to find a way back into the set, firing big shots to go up love/40 in game #6 (Venus held for 5-1), but when she stepped in and put far too much power behind a forehand return on BP in game #8 (making her 0-for-7 on BP in the set, 1-for-11 in the match vs. Venus' 3-for-3 success rate) it ultimately set the stage for Venus to hold with back-to-back aces to close out the 6-2 set.

With determination written on her face and in her actions, Williams opened the 3rd set with another break of Vandeweghe's serve, then saved two BP (CoCo: 1-for-13 on the day) to hold for a 2-0 lead. Much like the 1st set, Williams looked for all to be the player in the better form, but Vandeweghe managed to maintain contact by holding serve and hoping for an opportunity to turn the momentum in her favor at the last moment yet again. But CoCo's propensity to try to get her disadvantage on the scoreboard back in one chunk ultimately only worked against her, as there is no tennis equivalent to basketball's three-point shot. She over-shot an open court forehand in game #6 that would have given her a chance to pressure Venus' serve, and then Williams simply fired an ace moments later to go up 4-2. At 30/30 two games later, Venus, her serve still cooking with grease, fired another ace, then her deep-in-the-box body serve prevented Vandeweghe from getting a full swing on the ball and the lead went to 5-3. Serving to stay in the match, Vandeweghe fell behind 15/40. She continued to blast shots, making Venus take four match points to finally put away the 6-7(3)/6-2/6-3 victory.

Once she did, Williams flung her racket forward and it was as if joy began to radiate from within, then suddenly burst forth from deep inside her, blasting out in all directions. Out her eyes. Through her fingertips. She could barely contain herself. At 36 years, 226 days of age, she'd officially become the oldest Australian Open singles finalist, reaching her first championship match in Melbourne since 2003, and her first first slam final since 2009.

When Venus left the court she wasn't certain which woman she'd play in the final, but she made it clear that she wanted her opponent to also be named Williams.

So, with a 28th all-Sisters meeting hanging in the balance, as well as a fifteenth match-up in a major (nineteen years after their first in Melbourne in the 2nd Round in 1998), the twelfth in a final, and the ninth time with a slam title at stake, their paths might not have literally crossed as Venus left Laver Arena court just before Serena walked onto it... but we sort of knew that it would only be a matter of time before they would.

...with Venus's place secured in the final, #2-seeded Serena didn't seem to want her big sister to have to wait too long before knowing that it'd be another family affair on Saturday. Her opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, had ridden a magic carpet ride to a fairytale slam semifinal, but with her worn-out legs still considerably taped and her emotional unburdening less than twenty-four hours old following her QF victory yesterday, one wondered just how much the 34-year old Croat would have left for this match. As it turned out, not so much. But Serena simply wasn't going to lose today, anyway, not under these circumstances. So this match will ultimately barely be a footnote in Lucic's remarkable comeback story.

Williams and Lucic has actually met on the court twice before, but not since 1998. Since then, Williams, while also experiencing moments of tragedy and health scares off the court, has spent her career claiming twenty-two major titles and becoming an (if not THE) all-time great, while Lucic had to literally run for her life before even having the audacity to think she could ever reclaim her tennis career. As it turned out, it took her nearly two full decades to do it.

In their match today, Serena went up early in both sets, fairly well coasting to a 6-2/6-1, 50-minute victory in which she dropped just two points on her First Serve, and just ten on serve in the entire match. Her victory puts her into her twenty-ninth career slam final, eighth in Melbourne, and sets her up on Saturday to break her Open era tie with Steffi Graf with career major #23 AND reclaim the #1 ranking she lost to Angelique Kerber following last year's U.S. Open, and do so one year after losing to the German in the 2016 AO final.

"All" she has to do is deny her big sister quite possibly what would be the greatest moment of her entire career. Sigh. Things have always been complicated when the Sisters have met on the court. Thankfully, though, they've managed to sort much of that out in recent years, and what was once an historic, but usually less-than-entertaining, match-up has actually developed into a nice series with hints of the long-desired entertainment value between the lines that its always had outside them. Since they last met in a slam final in 2009, three of their five matches have gone three sets, with Venus winning in '14 in Montreal and the two no longer showing the reluctance to bring their best tennis against their best friend and soulmate that had, in many ways, checkered the historic run of big stage finals in which they faced off in the early 2000's.

The first all-Bannerette slam final since 2009 (Wimbledon - Venus/Serena), and the first in Melbourne since 2005 (Serena/Davenport), will now offer us yet another chance to bask in the tennis/life story that is the neverending gift that we've been opening for two decades. Since they arrived on the tennis scene, not only have Venus and Serena's personal stories become those of legend, but they've spawned an entire era in the sport. "Big Babe" tennis likely would never have become a thing if not for their influence. They forced their generation of players to raise their game in order to survive, and their presence and impact has inspired the current generation of power players, as well as opened doors for others and implanted dreams in still more (see the likes of Stephens, Keys, Vandeweghe, Osaka and more). And, even today, after two decades of work, this week alone they've likely put the gleam and desire for future success in still ANOTHER generation players who might be playing on courts around the world two decades from now.

In recent years, we've wondered when Venus and Serena have played each other whether it'd be their last meeting, but as they has persevered both sisters have outlived that bit of sometimes-forced nostalgia. In 2017, both women are still proving that there story has not yet reached the point of needing to subsist on recollections of past greatness. They're still great. Always have been, always will be.

And they've still got a supply of new stories to tell, too. The next one will be told two days from now.

...meanwhile, the rest of this year's AO seemed to collectively race toward the finish on Day 11, as finals were set up left and right all day long.

In the girls singles, #1-seed Rebeka Masarova moved within two wins of her second junior slam title ('16 RG), defeating #10 Mai Hontama in straight sets. As it turned out, all four girls QF matches were wrapped up in straights, with only one of the eight sets seeing the eventual winner lose even as much as four games.

#7 Bianca Andreescu defeated #4 Emily Appleton, 6-2/6-2, and will face Masarova in the semis. The other semifinal will pit #11 Marta Kostyuk (def. Liang En Shuo, 6-3/6-1) against #16 Elena Rybakinva (def. Zeel Desai, 6-4/6-3).

The girls doubles championship match is set, as well, as Andreescu is the only junior still in the running for two titles. She and fellow North American Carson Branstine will face the all-Polish duo of Maja Chwalinska & Iga Swiatek, both of whom have rebounded well from 1st Round exits in singles (Swiatek had swept both the singles and doubles titles at Traralgon last week).

...the wheelchair competition finals will feature the usual names, with one exception in what will likely be just the first of many slam finals for the latest NextGen star in the long-time Dutch WC machine.

#1-seeded Jiske Griffioen defeated Sabine Ellerbrock 6-2/6-1, while #2 Yui Kamiji took out Lucy Shuker. The two will next meet in their second AO final in three years. Dutch veteran Griffioen is the two-time defending AO champ.

Meanwhile, the doubles will see #1 Griffioen & Aniek van Koot face off against #2 Kamiji & 19-year old Diede de Groot, the future star looking for her maiden slam title while filling in for Kamiji's injured regular partner, Jordanne Whiley. mixed doubles, Martina Hingis' run in this AO ended just a few hours after her 1998 AO-winning doubles partner (Lucic) suffered the same fate. She and Leander Paes fell to the Aussie Sams -- Stosur & Groth. Of note, if Hingis/Paes had won, it would have set up a SF match with Sania Mirza & Ivan Dodig. The other semi will feature Abigail Spears & Juan Sebastian Cabal vs. Elina Svitolina (yes!) & Chris Guccione. Svitolina/Guccione advanced out of the QF today when they received their second walkover through the MX draw's first three rounds.



...LIKE ON DAY 11: The countdown begins...

...WORTH READING ON DAY 11: Rebecca Marino's story isn't unique. She's just chosen to talk about it.

...LIKE ON DAY 11: Memories to last a lifetime... the 2017 Australian Open.

..."Oh, Petko..." ON DAY 11:

...Yep, We're Some People One Person is STILL talking about crowds ON DAY 11: It's been six days. (The Art of the Distraction.)

...LIKE ON DAY 11: A little more Venus in our life... especially in light of the above.


...and, finally... some interesting thoughts about Australia Day.

#13 Venus Williams/USA vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#12 Hlavackova/Peng (CZE/CHN) vs. #2 Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE)

Svitolina/Guccione (UKR/AUS) vs. Spears/Cabal (USA/COL)
(WC) Stosur/Groth (AUS/AUS) vs. #2 Mirza/Dodig (IND/CRO)

#1 Rebeka Masarova/SUI def. #10 Mai Hontama/JPN
#7 Bianca Andreescu/CAN def. #4 Emily Appleton/GBR
#11 Marta Kostyuk/UKR def. En Shuo Liang/TPE
#16 Elena Rybakina/RUS def. Zeel Desai/IND

#5 McNally/Subhash (USA/USA) vs. #3 Andreescu/Branstine (CAN/USA)
Chwalinska/Swiatek (POL/POL) vs. Nagata/Naklo (JPN/THA)

#1 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
#2 Yui Kamiji/JPN def. Lucy Shuker/GBR

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) def. Buis/Shuker (NED/GBR)
#2 de Groot/Kamiji (NED/JPN) def. Ellerbrock/Kruger (GER/GER)

Happy Australia Day ???? Be graceful like me ?? ???? Take a guess what shot is that? ??

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

34...Chris Evert (18-16)
32...Martina Navratilvoa (18-14)
31...Steffi Graf (22-9)
29...SERENA WILLIAMS (22-6)*
18...Evonne Goolagong (7-11)
15...VENUS WILLIAMS (7-7)*
13...Monica Seles (9-4)
34...Chris Evert (18-16)
32...Martina Navratilvoa (18-14)
31...Steffi Graf (22-9)
29...Margaret Court (24-5)
29...SERENA WILLIAMS (22-6)*
22...Helen Wills Moody (19-3)
18...Billie Jean King (12-6)
18...Doris Hart (6-12)
18...Evonne Goolagong (7-11)
29...SERENA WILLIAMS (22-6)*
15...VENUS WILLIAMS (7-7)*
12...Martina Hingis (5-7)
10...Maria Sharapova (5-5)
4...Victoria Azarenka (2-2)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
3...Angelique Kerber (2-1)
2...Petra Kvitova (2-0)
2...Garbine Muguruza (1-1)
2...Francesca Schiavone (1-1)
2...Samantha Stosur (1-1)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (0-2)
1...Genie Bouchard (0-1)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)
1...Sara Errani (0-1)
1...Simona Halep (0-1)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Sabine Lisicki (0-1)
1...Karolina Pliskova (0-1)
1...Agnieszka Radwanska (0-1)
1...Lucie Safarova (0-1)
1...Roberta Vinci (0-1)
[active - AO finals]
6...Martina Hingis (3-3)
4...Maria Sharapova (1-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
1...Angelique Kerber (1-0)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)

2001 U.S. Open - Venus Williams 6-2,6-4
2002 Roland Garros - Serena Williams 7-5,6-3
2002 Wimbledon - Serena Williams 7-6(4),6-3
2002 U.S. Open - Serena Williams 6-3,6-4
2003 Australian - Serena Williams 7-6(4),3-6,6-4
2003 Wimbledon - Serena Williams 4-6,6-4,6-2
2008 Wimbledon - Venus Williams 7-5,6-4
2009 Wimbledon - Serena Williams 7-6,6-2
2017 Australian - ??

9...Serena Williams (2/30,2/31,1/32,3/33,1/34)
3...Martina Navratilova (2/30,1/33)
3...Margaret Court (2/30,1/31)
2...Billie Jean King (1/30,1/31)
2...Chris Evert (1/30,1/31)
1...Flavia Pennetta (33)
1...Virginia Wade (31)
1...Li Na (31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30)


AO: (8) Kerber d. (1) S.Williams
RG: (3) Muguruza d. (1) S.Williams
WI: (1) S.Williams d. (8) Kerber
US: (8) Kerber d. (7) Ka.Pliskova
AO: (1) S.Williams vs. (13) V.Williams

2002 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Sharon Walraven/NED
2003 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Maaike Smit/NED Sonja Peters/NED
2004 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Maaike Smit/NED Sonja Peters/NED
2005 Sharon Walraven/NED def. Korie Homan/NED
2006 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Florence Gravellier/NED
2007 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Florence Gravellier/NED
2008 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Korie Homan/NED
2009 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Korie Homan/NED
2010 Korie Homan/NED def. Florence Gravellier/FRA
2011 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Daniela di Toro/AUS
2012 Esther Vergeer/NED def. Aniek van Koot/NED
2013 Aniek Van Koot/NED def. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
2014 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER def. Yui Kamiji/JPN
2015 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Yui Kamiji/JPN
2016 Jiske Griffioen/NED def. Aniek Van Koot/NED
2017 Griffioen vs. Kamiji

TOP QUALIFIER: Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #5 Karolina Pliskova/CZE
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Ons Jabeur/TUN def. Dalila Jakupovic/SRB 2-6/7-6(5)/7-5 (comeback from 6-2/4-1 down)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Lucie Safarova/CZE def. Yanina Wickmayer/BEL 3-6/7-6(7)/6-1 (saved 9 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #8 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS def. Jelena Jankovic/SRB 6-4/5-7/9-7 (3:36; blew 4-1 lead in 2nd, back from 0-3 in 3rd)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): x
TOP LAVER/MCA NIGHT MATCH: 3rd Rd. - #5 Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Jelena Ostapenko 4-6/6-0/10-8 (double-break down at 5-2 in 3rd set)
FIRST VICTORY: #29 Monica Puig/PUR (def. Tig/ROU)
FIRST SEED OUT: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (lost to Rogers/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (First Loss, First Seed Out & two players ranked in Top 32 ousted in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Mona Barthel/GER & Jennifer Brady/USA (4th Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: Dasha Gavrilova (4th Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
IT (Party): (Ash) "Barty Party"
COMEBACK PLAYER: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
CRASH & BURN: #4 Simona Halep/ROU (1st Rd./Rogers; 2 con. AO 1st Rd. exits)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Lucie Safarova/CZE (1st Rd. - saved 9 MP vs. Wickmayer)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Venus Williams/USA & Serena Williams/USA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Karolina Pliskova/CZE (back from 5-2 in 3rd vs. Ostapenko on Night 6; cancelled "The Dasha Show" on Night 8)
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hlavackova/Peng, Mattek-Sands/Safarova, Svitolina, Spears
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominees: Andreescu/CAN, Rybakina/UKR, Kostyuk/UKR

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger Leif Mortensen said...

It's in a way a pity that AO has ended with an all Williams final. WHy becuase sisterhood will end with a Serena victory so she can be: #1 and get GS #23. All in all we've seen potential in the WTA tournament but most players are inconsistent and have an outburst in one or two and most times it's when they meet a higher ranking player and wins . Next match they play something else. Coco Puff and jo Konta are examples of plyers with a longer stamina that in the end collapse anyway. A risk of a boring final awaits and I think I'll skip it and maybe see a highlight.

Thu Jan 26, 05:37:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Although today's stat should be about Venus, that will be tomorrow. To me the story is not her age, it is the fact that this is one of the few titles she has never won.

Stat of the Day-12- Number of Doubles slams won by Americans other than the Williams sisters since the Williams won their first. Mattek-Sands will try to make it 13. The fact that she has Safarova as a partner is a symbol of the global game, as of those 12, only 2 have been won with All American teams(Davenport/Morariu-99-Wim and Raymond/Huber-11-USO).

Thu Jan 26, 12:15:00 PM EST  
Blogger Debra Washington said...

So happy for Venus! Although I like both sisters, theirs something special about the oldest. Hoping the finals brings a great match with the youngest Williams sister congratulating her big sis. All things are possible if you believe.

Thu Jan 26, 09:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

If Venus wins, it'd surely go down as one of the most emotional slam results in, hmmm, probably at least the last twenty years. Maybe Schiavone's RG win would rank the highest over that stretch up until now.

Fri Jan 27, 03:17:00 AM EST  

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