Thursday, January 25, 2018

AO.11 - Melbourne is Made for Second Third Chances

By the grace of the Cliffs of Simona, Melbourne was made for second third chances. Today's women's semifinals had similar endings...

But, oh, the journey getting to each conclusion was much different.

In the first semifinal of the day, Elise Mertens was looking to follow in the footsteps of Alona Ostapenko and emerge as something of a direct descendant of Latvian Thunder ("Belgian Rumble?") on the slam stage, playing without fear as she challenges for -- and maybe even wins -- a major after having dealt with very little career trial and error in the effort. Just over a year ago, the 22-year old Waffle had to qualify just to reach the Hobart maid draw, and was involved in a somewhat comical "race to retirement" with Sachia Vickery in their 2nd Round match in the event as both tried to beat the other out the door so that she could enter AO qualifying in Melbourne. Vickery retired first (one game into the "match," after both had called for trainers), while Mertens went on to win the maiden singles title that she successfully defended just a few weeks ago right before heading off to make her belated AO debut.

Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki has seen and done it all. Well, everything except for win a major, as she's spent more time at #1 (67 weeks) and won more singles titles (27) than any other woman without ever having been crowned a slam champion. Over the past year, the Dane has worked to improve her forehand, serve and, as it would naturally go hand-in-hand, her in-match aggression. It's led to her claiming her biggest career title at last year's WTA Finals and a rise back to #2 in the rankings. But the pink elephant in the room was still there.

For much of the match, things went just as so many other big match-ups have at this AO. In other words, it was a lopsided affair. Mertens was a whisper of the player she'd been in recent rounds, while Wozniacki continued the wave of aggression and precision she's ridden since finding herself down 5-1 and 2 MP in the 3rd set vs. Jana Fett in the 2nd Round. She broke for a 3-1 lead, then went up 40/love on serve a game later. After being forced to save a BP, she finally held on her fifth GP with an ace. The Belgian staved off a SP in game #8, but Wozniacki easily served out the set at 6-3 one game later.

The Dane again jumped on top in the 2nd, breaking serve on a Mertens backhand error to lead 3-2. But Mertens managed to hold on, not giving Wozniacki another break and hoping for an opportunity to get back into the match. She'd done it while erasing a 5-0 set deficit against Dasha Gavrilova early in the tournament and, at this point, it was somewhat noteworthy to remember that Ostapenko had trailed Halep in last year's RG final by a set and 3-0, then was down 3-1 in the 3rd, before staging her big run. Though Wozniacki had lost just one point on serve in the 2nd set as she stepped to the baseline to serve out the match at 5-4, remarkably, Mertens *did* get that chance.

Up 30/love, Wozniacki missed a forehand down the line that would have given her triple MP. The moment completely shifted the momentum of the set. A double-fault made it 30/30, and Mertens' forehand pass got her a BP chance. Another Wozniacki DF made it 5-5. Suddenly, the Dane was backing off her shots, while Mertens was the one aggressively moving forward. The Belgian would reel off ten straight points and hold three SP of her own on Wozniacki's serve in game #12. But the Dane bring things back together in the nick of time, coming back from 15/40 down to hold on her third GP to force a TB.

With Wozniacki having pulled the set back from the edge, she pulled ahead in the breaker. Opening with a mini-break she jumped to a 3-0 lead and never dropped a point on serve, winning 7-2 to close out the 6-3/7-6(2) match to advance to her third career slam final, where she can finally silence a career's worth of whispers and shouts wrapped in negativity about what she *hasn't* yet accomplished rather than what she has.

The second semifinal pitted a pair of players undefeated in 2018. Combined, they were 24-0, with world #1 Simona Halep coming into the day at 10-0 and '16 AO champ Angelique Kerber at 10-0 (+ 4-0 in the Hopman Cup). Both had danced with the devil in the pale moon light at this slam, with Halep rolling her ankle early and saving three MP three rounds ago, while Kerber battled tooth and rusty nail to take down Hsieh Su-wei in the Round of 16.

It was a match-up to look forward to. One in which Kerber could move closer to recapturing her '16 glory right back where it all began, and where Halep could reach out and touch the moment that would finally end her career-long quest for ultimate slam success.

The pre-match assessment of this one was that it would be close. It'd eventually get there, but it was anything but that through the first five games.

Kerber was noticeably nervous in the 1st set, or at least slow to ignite. Halep jumped on the opportunity, running down and hitting everything while the German was, quite frankly, playing plainly awful. She committed six errors in the first eleven points, and lost nineteen of the first twenty-two as Halep raced to a 4-0 lead and led love/40 in game #5. She got the break to lead 5-0. But back-to-back DF to start game #6 caused a sudden change of fortune. Kerber's game finally found its footing, as she took the stand-on-the-baseline-and-whack-balls-back stance she had in previous rounds while routing the likes of Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys. She ran off a string of seven straight points and broke Halep at love in consecutive service games to close to 5-3. But Halep wasn't going to crumble. She steadied herself as Kerber served to try to make things even tighter, going up love/40 and finally securing the set at 6-3 on her second SP.

After going 3-22 after losing the 1st set in her disappointing "year after" campaign in '17, Kerber had won in all three such situations this season, including in her Round of 16 comeback win over Hsieh.

Halep had the chance to pull away from Kerber in the 2nd, but the German stubbornly prevented it from happening. The Romanian broke for 3-1 by winning a long, defensive-oriented rally. She held a GP for a 4-1 lead, but Kerber got the break to get back on serve. As Halep's irritation level grew, Kerber was firing herself up, holding for 3-3 to level the set.

Halep held at love to stay ahead 4-3, but failed to put away a pair of BP chances (one on a Kerber shot that clipped the baseline) that again might have given her a big enough lead to separate for good on the scoreboard. Kerber then raced to a drop shot and put away a winner to hold for 4-4. A game later, after fighting back from love/30 to hold GP, Halep dropped serve again, allowing Kerber to serve out the set at 6-4 and force things to a 3rd set.

And that was where we finally got the big match drama we've been waiting for.

Kerber took the lead for the first time in the match by breaking Halep to start the set, winning the first (this one had great defense on both sides, a drop shot and a lob, just for starters) of what would be many long rallies that seemed to take up the entire court in the 3rd. The loss of the game visibly angered Halep, who would find herself perturbed often throughout the set but, as has been the case this entire tournament, it didn't serve as a prelude to a stretch during which she might loss concentration or be accused of giving up. Instead, as she did vs. Destanee Aiava and Lauren Davis and all her other opponents in Melbourne, she settled down and went back to fighting. She broke back a game later, but once again flirted with squandering a lead in a big match.

Up love/30 on Kerber's serve in game #4, she missed on a a crosscourt shot and saw back-to-back forehand errors allow the German to hold for 2-2. She held from love/30 for a 4-3 lead soon after, and strung together seven straight points to lead love/40 a game later. Kerber flied a replay to a short court return of serve and Halep broke to go up 5-3 and serve for the match.

At 30/30, Kerber took a high bouncing ball and fired a forehand winner down to line to get a BP chance, which she won on a 26-shot rally when she crouched low and fired a backhand winner. Tired from the effort, the German went down to her knees after the shot, but she had the break to close to 5-4. A game later, a successful Halep line challenge gave her two MP at 15/40, but Kerber saved the first with a backhand winner, while Halep missed on a backhand on the second. Kerber held on her third GP to level the set at 5-5, then broke Halep to lead 6-5. At that point, she was 7-for-7 on BP chances.

After seeing Davis hold triple MP against her last week, Halep saw Kerber get to double MP in game #12. But the Romanian once again found a way to survive, saving her fourth and fifth MP of this AO, then winning yet another wild rally to break for 6-6.

After serving from behind in the Davis match that ultimately ended with a 15-13 final set score, Halep was serving first here. Going up 40/15, she fired an ace to hold for 7-6, then 8-7. With Kerber the more exhausted of the two, even after the crazy adventure that Halep had endured through her previous five matches, the Romanian was the more aggressive of the two down the stretch. She took a love/30 lead in game #16, only to fire two shots long on consecutive points. Twenty seven minutes after she'd held her two previous MP, Halep pounded a backhand crosscourt and Kerber's reply went long to give her MP #3. Kerber saved it, but a forehand down the line gave the Romanian a fourth attempt. Kerber's long shot put the final nail into the coffin lid of this one as Halep, in full Swarmette Warrior mode yet again, survived with a 6-3/4-6/9-7 victory to join Wozniacki as a three-time slam finalist. She fired 50 winners in the match.

Afterward, noting how she's not given up on a single point this whole event, Halep admitted that she's proud of herself. As she should be.

With all the crazy happenings and upsets that have occurred at this AO, it's somehow both oddly and ironically fitting that the final will pit the world #1 vs. the world #2 in a slam final -- and for the first time anywhere on tour -- since the 2015 AO championship match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. The winner will not only lift her maiden slam title, but will also be the #1-ranked player in the world on Monday.

Once Kerber had saved multiple MP in today's match, it was assured that the champion of this tournament would be crowned after being down MP in Melbourne. Wozniacki has faced two MP, while Halep has now faced a total of five in *two* different matches. If Halep wins, she'll have saved more MP en route to a slam title than any woman ever, as well as becoming the first to have done so after being down MP in multiple matches during the tournament.

No one said this stuff was easy, and both Wozniacki and Halep can more than attest to that. Over the past two weeks, this Australian Open has witnessed both women willfully triumph in their moments of truth.

One of them will do it one more time two days from now.

=DAY 11 NOTES= mixed doubles, a day after defending champs Abigail Spears & Juan Sebastian Cabal lost to Timea Babos & Rohan Bopanna, the full semifinal field was set. Of the four duos, two contain players who'll face off in the women's doubles final, as well. Babos and Ekaterina Makarova (today w/ Bruno Soares she saved 3 MP in the semis) are still alive in both draws.

...the U.S. run of junior girls slam winners officially came to an end on Day 11, as the last Bannerette standing, Dalayna Hewitt, fell to unseeded Pastry Clara Burel. Another unseeded teen, Italy's Elisabetta Cocciaretto (on her 17th birthday) reached the semis with a win over #13 Daniela Vismane of Latvia, while #1 Wang Xinyu (CHN) and #2 Liang En-shuo (TPE) also won to reach the final four.

Wang & Liang are alive as a doubles duo, as well, reaching the girls final today along with Papua New Guinea's Violet Apisah & Switzerland's Lulu Sun.

...the budding wheelchair rivalry of #1 Yui Kamiji and #2 Diede de Groot is now set for two match-ups in Melbourne after both advanced to singles and doubles finals today. Kamiji defeated Sabine Ellerbrock 3 & 2, while de Groot took out Aniek van Koot 2 & 3 and they will now play each other in their second straight slam singles final. Kamiji defeated de Groot in last year's U.S. Open decider.

In doubles, #1 Kamiji & Marjolein Buis and #2 de Groot/van Koot reached the final with straights sets wins.

...LIKE ON DAY 11:


..."UMMM, YEAH..." ON DAY 11:

...NEWS ON DAY 11:

I wonder what Kiki will say?

...and, finally...

Hmmm, if only there was a sentiment you'd think people could have learned as early as in elementary school that might alleviate problems such as this. A simple standard that could be applied to many things that have a negative impact on society. Ummm, Gibbsy...


I suppose if sense and sensibility were as rampant as they *should* be certain people wouldn't get into messes by pushing conspiracy theories and racist and/or homophobic views in the first place, would they? Not to mention getting upset when people -- rather than being "unfair" to poor little them -- simply call them on their own hateful words and actions, no matter how much one professes how "Christian" they supposedly are.

I'm just sayin'.

Of course, certain people take their personal cues from their nation's so-called leaders, so...

#1 Simona Halep/ROU vs. #2 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN

#5 Babos/Mladenovic (HUN/FRA) vs. #2 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)

Martinez-Sanchez/Demoliner (ESP/BRA) vs. #5 Babos/Bopanna (HUN/IND)
#3 Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA) vs. #8 Dabrowski/Pavic (CAN/CRO)

#1 Wang Xinyu/CHN vs. Clara Burel/FRA
Elisabetta Cocciaretto/ITA vs. #2 Liang En-shuo/TPE

#1 Liang En-shuo/Wang Xinyu (TPE/CHN) vs. #7 V.Apisah/Sun (PNG/SUI)

#1 Yui Kamiji/JPN vs. #2 Diede de Groot/NED

#1 Buis/Yamiji (NED/JPN) def. Montjane/Shuker (RSA/GBR)
#2 de Groot/van Koot (NED/NED) def. Ellerbrock/Kruger (GER/GER)

29...Serena Williams (23-6)
16...Venus Williams (7-9)
10...Maria Sharapova (5-5)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
4...Victoria Azarenka (2-2)
3...Angelique Kerber (2-1)
3...Garbine Muguruza (2-1)
3...SIMONA HALEP (0-2)

8...Serena Williams (7-1)
4...Maria Sharapova (1-3)
2...Victoria Azarenka (2-0)
2...Venus Williams (0-2)
1...Angelique Kerber (1-0)
1...SIMONA HALEP (0-0)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-1)

*WTA FINALS - 2015-18*
15 - SIMONA HALEP, ROU (8-6)
15 - Angelique Kerber, GER (8-7)
13 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (6-7)
11 - Serena Williams, USA (8-3)
10 - Elina Svitolina, UKR (8-2)
8 - Petra Kvitova, CZE (6-2)
8 - Aga Radwanska, POL (6-2)
8 - Venus Williams, USA (4-4)
8 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (4-4)

2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Roland Garros - Li Na, CHN
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 U.S. Open - Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Wimbledon - Marion Bartoli, FRA
2015 U.S. Open - Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2016 Australian Open - Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 Roland Garros - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2017 Roland Garros - Alona Ostapenko, LAT
2017 U.S. Open - Sloane Stephens, USA
2018 Australian Open - Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniacki
NOTE: 6 first-timers in last ten slams

1977 Kerry Melville-Reid, AUS
1978 Chris O'Neil, AUS
1979 Barbara Jordan, USA
1980 Hana Mandlikova, CZE
1995 Mary Pierce, FRA
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2001 Jennifer Capriati, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2016 Angelique Kerber, GER
2018 Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniacki

[since end of Evert/Navratilova era]
1991 Monica Seles (Roland Garros)
2002 Jennifer Capriati (Australian Open)
2002 Serena Williams (U.S. Open)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (Australian Open)
NOTE: Halep in first slam as #1 seed at '18 AO

49 - Flavia Pennetta (2015 U.S. Open)
47 - Marion Bartoli (2013 Wimbledon)
45 - Jana Novotna (1998 Wimbledon)
Caroline Wozniacki (43rd slam)
39 - Francesca Schiavone (2010 Roland Garros)
34 - Samantha Stosur (2011 U.S. Open)
33 - Angelique Kerber (2016 Australian Open)
31 - Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open)
Simona Halep (31st slam)
29 - Jennifer Capriati (2001 Australian Open)
28 - Kerry Melville-Reid (1978 Australian Open)
26 - Lindsay Davenport (1998 U.S. Open)
25 - Victoria Azarenka (2012 Australian Open)
23 - Sloane Stephens (2017 U.S. Open)
22 - Kim Clijsters (2005 U.S. Open)

2002 Wimbledon - #2 Serena Williams def. #1 Venus Williams
2002 U.S. Oopen - #1 Serena Williams def. #2 Venus Williams
2003 Australian Open - #1 Serena Williams def. #2 Venus Williams
2004 Australian Open - #1 Justine Henin-H. def. #2 Kim Clijsters
[2004 Athens Olympics Gold - #1 Justine Henin-H. def. #2 Amelie Mauresmo]
2013 Roland Garros - #1 Serena Williams def. #2 Maria Sharapova
2013 U.S. Open - #1 Serena Williams def. #2 Victoria Azarenka
2015 Australian Open - #1 Serena Williams def. #2 Maria Sharapova
2018 Australian Open - #1 Halep vs. #2 Wozniacki

[Open era]
1986 U.S. Open - Martina Navratilova (3 vs. Graf in SF)
1991 Aust.Open - Monica Seles (1 vs. MJ.Fernandez in SF)
2002 Aust.Open - Jennifer Capriati (4 vs. Hingis in Final)
2003 Aust.Open - Serena Williams (2 vs Clijsters in SF)
2004 R.Garros - Anastasia Myskina (1 vs. Kuznetsova in 4th)
2005 Aust.Open - Serena Williams (3 vs. Sharapova in SF)
2005 R.Garros - Justine Henin-H. (2 vs. Kuznetsova in 4th)
2005 Wimbledon - Venus Williams (1 vs. Davenport in Final)
2009 Wimbledon - Serena Williams (1 vs. Dementieva in SF)
2014 Aust.Open - Li Na (1 vs. Safarova in 3rd)
2016 Aust.Open - Angelique Kerber (1 vs. Doi in 1st)
2018 Aust.Open - Halep (3 vs. Davis/2 vs. Kerber) or Wozniacki (2 vs. Fett)
[pre-Open era]
1923 Aust.Open - Margaret Molesworth (1 vs. Sylvia Lance SF)
1935 Wimbledon - Helen Wills Moody (1 vs. Helen Jacobs F)
1946 R.Garros - Margaret Osbourne (2 vs. Pauline Betz F)
1956 Aust.Open - Mary Carter (1 vs. Thelma Long F)
1962 R.Garros - Margaret Smith (Court) (1 vs. Lesley Turner F)

[4 slams+Olympic Gold+YEC]
WS: Steffi Graf, Serena Williams
MS: Andre Agassi
WD: Gigi Fernandez, Pam Shriver
MD: Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, Daniel Nestor, Todd Woodbridge/Mark Woodforde
WCS (w): none
WCD (w): Esther Vergeer/Korie Homan, Aniek van Koot/Jiske Griffioen, Sharon Walraven
WCS (m): none
WCD (m): Stephane Houdet, Michael Jeremiasz, Shingo Kunieda, Nicolas Peifer

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #21 Angelique Kerber/GER
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #17 Madison Keys/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1 - Caroline Dolehide/USA def. Conny Perrin/SUI 5-7/6-3/7-6(7) (trailed 5-0 and 6-2 in the deciding TB, saved 5 MP to record first career slam match win)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Andrea Petkovic/GER def. Petra Kvitova/CZE 6-3/4-6/10-8 (Petko up 4-0 in 3rd, 3 MP saved by Kvitova; Kvitova for match at 6-5 and 8-7)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #1 Simona Halep/ROU def. Lauren Davis/USA 4-6/6-4/15-13 (3:45; 3 MP saved from triple MP down; served out on fourth try in the 2:22 3rd set)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): Nominee: SF - #1 Halep d. #21 Kerber 6-3/4-6/9-7 (saved 2 MP after served for match and had 2 MP of own; on MP #4)
FIRST VICTORY: Duan Yingying/CHN (def. Duque-Marino/COL)
FIRST SEED OUT: #13 Sloane Stephens/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Zhang Shuai; 0-8 since winning U.S. Open)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: USA (women lose first eight 1st Rd. matches, go 1-9 on Day 1, 3/4 of '17 U.S. Open all-Bannerette semifinalists ousted)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Denisa Allertova/CZE (in 4th Rd.) (LL: Bernarda Pera/USA - 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
Ms. OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Wozniacki, Halep, Babos/Mladenovic
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk ("Teen"), de Groot ("WC"), de Groot vs. Kamiji ("WC rivalry"), Wang/Wang/Liang ("Asian Juniors")
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (2nd Rd. - Fett/CRO served up 5-1, 40/15 in 3rd set; 2 MP saved)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Elise Mertens/BEL (def. Gavrilova in 2nd Rd. in AO nighttime debut)
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Babos, Makarova, Makarova/Vesnina
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominees: Wang Xinyu and Wang Xiyu, Cocciaretto, Liang

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger colt13 said...

Picking the 3 time slam finalist to win. Oh.... Pick will be tomorrow.

Love all of the first time stats.

Errani got 2 months, Sharapova got 15. What will Cornet get?

Stat of the Day-2- The amount of times Dorte Ekner played the Australian Open.

Before Wozniacki, there was Ekner, who in 1973, became the first woman from Denmark to play the Australian Open in the Open Era. Her most famous there was her second. In 1978, she made it through qualies and reached the QF, losing to the eventual winner in Chris O'Neil.

A 7 time Fed Cup participant, she spent most of her career playing tournaments in her home country, playing the occasional WTA event.

Thu Jan 25, 09:23:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Dorte Ekner... now that's a "deep cut" as far as grand slam names. Bravo! :)

As with Errani, I suspect her explanation for missing the tests will have at least some merit (she's already trying to get her side out there, too), though it'll be hard to beat the "tortellini defense." It's just a matter of how strictly to the letter they want regulations to be followed, no matter how unreasonable they might be. Hard to imagine she won't get at least a short suspension With no actual test to contend, could they "get away" with trying to suspend her for *longer* than Errani? I wouldn't put it past them.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with the FFT's Fed Cup team roster now, and whether Garcia gets dragged into that whole mess yet again.

Thu Jan 25, 01:28:00 PM EST  

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