Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AO.3 - Two Sides of the Dane

And on Day 3, we saw both sides of the Dane.

"Two sides of the coin to choose from,
Two sides of the coin, they are mine
Two sides of the coin, I'm gettin' weary
Which one should I choose, I need time"

- "Two Sides of the Coin"
Ace Frehley (Kiss), Unmasked album, 1980

In her 2nd Round match with 21-year old, #119-ranked Croat Jana Fett, #2-seeded Caroline Wozniacki once again displayed the oft-troubling tendency to slide back into bad (unaggressive) habits. It very nearly cost her the match, too, in what was just her opponent's second career slam main draw match (it was #144 for Caro). But right when her prospects seemed to be their darkest, the dawn of Wozniacki's 2018 Australian Open arrived. That was when she called upon her far superior experience to gradually reel back from the precipice a match that seemed beyond lost into the crevasse of early-round slam flameouts. Once Wozniacki had Fett's back against the wall, she utilized her longstanding defensive abilities, metronomic ball-striking skills and stroke accuracy as an ultimate weapon to survive and live another round in Melbourne.

Early on, though, it was Fett who controlled the flow and direction of the match. The 2014 AO girls runner-up was dictating play with her power, and serving big. Meanwhile, Wozniacki spent the 1st set seemingly forgetting about the more forward, aggressive style of play that has allowed her to rise back up the rankings (though, listening to ESPN's Chris Evert and Jason Goodall, you'd think that it was Wozniacki's relationship with fiance David Lee that had done the trick... and that the installation-to-great-success-and-then-sudden-exit of assistant coach/hitting partner extraordinaire Sascha Bajin didn't even exist as a compelling component in her recent tennis storyline). Falling back into her old, too-far-behind-the-baseline habits, Wozniacki allowed Fett the chance to control her own fate. She broke the Dane to open the match and never lost form in the 1st set. Serving down 5-3, Wozniacki fell behind love/40, then threw in a backhand error to end the set after just thirty-three minutes.

But rather than dig in her heels and stubbornly go down in defeat, Wozniacki's 2nd set moment of truth presented her with the chance to show that she *could* diagnose her difficulties and change course. In the aftermath of dropping the 1st, she began to move forward and take balls earlier. She broke Fett for a 2-1 lead, then again for 4-1. When she briefly once again began to hold back she saw the Croat break serve and spark to life again at 4-2. But the more aggressive stance immediately returned a game later and Wozniacki went on to take the set 6-2.

But rather than go away herself, Fett stood up. Not holding back, she regained control of the match in the 3rd. Hitting and serving big, she pressured the off-once-again game of Wozniacki into producing more errors. She broke for 3-1, then held to take a 4-1 lead against the ever-more-frustrated Dane.

Wozniacki's fifth double-fault of the match broke own serve and she was down 5-1, Fett took a 40/15 lead on serve and held double match point. And then she finally started to show her nerves. Fett continued to go for big first serves, but now she started missing them. Her deep groundstrokes started landing shorter in the court, and Wozniacki began to take advantage.

It was here where the Dane's experience advantage truly took hold. With the Croat starting to resemble the big stage newcomer she is, Wozniacki knew she still had a chance to wiggle free from almost-sure defeat. She knew what she needed to do, too. Hit the ball deep in the court to prevent Fett's power from bailing her out of a rally, and try to never fire a ball outside the lines. Luckily for Wozniacki, she's always been expert at both. Her accuracy and ability to extend rallies and hit shot after shot after shot after shot, while it sometimes lulls *her* into a form of complacency and unwillingness to break pattern with a spark of aggression and leads to big-hitting opponents seizing their opportunity to hit her off the court, served her well here. While she did choose her moments to go for her own shots, Wozniacki rightly recognized an opponent that she could finally wear down in the closing games, waiting for the errors that now would almost surely eventually come off her racket.

The Dane got the break for 5-2, and you could feel the match teetering on the edge. She held at love for 5-3, was the benefit of a bit of luck when she mishit a return at 30/30 a game later and Fett fired a down the line forehand wide. Another break made it 5-4, followed by another hold from Wozniacki to pull even at 5-5. It was like a slow motion car wreck, and you were suddenly fairly secure in the notion that it was going to be the Dane who'd survive with nary a scratch.

With Fett desperately trying to avoid falling victim to a loss in the old, my-lead-is-never-safe-no-matter-how-big tradition of the late, great(est) Jana [Novotna], the Croat found herself in a now-or-never rally with the Dane that lasted twenty-six shots. As usual, Wozniacki refused to miss, and it was an error from Fett that lost the point, putting her down 15/30. A few points later, a double-fault handed the break and the match lead to the world #2. She then served things out for a 3-6/6-2/7-5 comeback win that may (or may not) prove to live on to be a B-I-G story well into the *second* week of this Australian Open.


(And *now* you know Jana Fett's name, too.) ;)

...Day 3 began with a trio of Ukrainians, each from a different tennis generation and the only from their nation to have been crowned a junior slam singles champ, taking center stage on the tournament's three show courts.

On Hisense, veteran Kateryna Bondarenko, the 2004 Wimbledon girls winner, took down Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2/6-3 as the Russian finally posted the aforementioned-in-this-space, and now-hardly-shocking disappointing result that was likely always going to be her inevitable fate at this slam. She'd managed to avoid it two days ago via a 3rd set comeback win in the 1st Round. But, here it is, anyway. So, one year after she completed a Career QF Slam with a final eight run in Melbourne, Pavlyuchenkova exits before the 3rd Round for the twenty-sixth time in forty-one appearances in majors.

On MCA, the reigning Australian Open girls champ continued her assault on the tennis record books. Already having become the first player born in 2002 to appear in a slam MD after making her way through qualifying, then winning her 1st Round match over the seeded Peng Shuai to become the youngest woman to win an AO match since 1996 (Martina Hingis), Marta Kostyuk put up yet another win over Aussie wild card Olivia Rogowska. The 15-year old immediately grabbed an early lead in the 1st, took the set and led 3-1 in the 2nd. Rogowska got things even at 4-4, but Kostyuk pulled away with late break to secure the 6-3/7-5 win. Kostyuk, whose mother played on tour in the 1990's, is the youngest to reach a slam 3rd Round since 1997.

Naturally, she'll face off with yet another Ukrainian. In fact, it'll be the most successful one ever: Elina Svitolina, the 2010 Roland Garros junior champion and the unlikely "betting favorite" at this AO despite having never reached a slam SF and imploding last spring in Paris when she got close. At Laver Arena, Svitolina had her hands full against talented but inconsistent Katerina Siniakova, the young Czech she'd needed three sets to defeat in the 1st Round of last year's U.S. Open.

Cleanly striking balls and showing the promise she often flashes, Siniakova broke Svitolina's serve for a 4-3 lead, and served for the set at 5-4. Svitolina, playing with somewhat less aggression than one would like, saved a set point but couldn't put away a pair of break chances in the game (making her 0-for-6 in the set), and Siniakova held on a long error from the Ukrainian on SP #2, taking the set 6-4.

In something of a reversal of expected fortunes, Svitolina was suddenly the one throwing up her hands in exasperation while Siniakova maintained a calm demeanor. Of course, all that didn't last long. Svitolina finally got her first break of serve on her seventh BP chance of the day, taking a 2-0 lead, and then held serve a game later in a five-deuce game, saving three BP of her own. Siniakova took a medical timeout down 5-2, and once she returned the momentum of the match, already turned against her, was unalterable. The newly-established tone of the match carried until the finish as Siniakova's game became less reliable and Svitolina grabbed total control, winning 4-6/6-2/6-1. player who won't be joining Svitolina or the other Ukrainians in the 3rd Round is Belinda Bencic. Yep. After putting up results like a house on fire for months, and looking like the fully-formed potential slam contender she was thought to about to become two years ago when she took out Venus Williams in straight sets in the 1st Round, the Swiss was run out of this AO in short order today by Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum. Never really in the match, Bencic went out 6-1/6-3 in maybe the most confounding result yet at this opening slam of the season.

Of course, Kumkhum, though she's never ranked higher than #85 and had never before reached a slam 3rd Round until today, is one of those players who have a knack for pulling off big stage upsets like this. She's even pulled off a more consequential shocker than this one in Melbourne, knocking out then-#6-seeded Petra Kvitova in the sweltering heat of the 1st Round in 2014.

...somewhat quietly, in the wake of Bencic's loss and Wozniacki's escape, Dasha Kasatkina followed up her first career slam Round of 16 result in New York with a straight sets 2nd Round AO upset at the hands of an injured Magda Linette (ankle), falling 7-6(4)/6-2.

Soon after, in a match highlighted by short rallies and many breaks of serve, Alona Ostapenko did what she does. Again.

Essentially, she points at a spot on the distant horizon and nonchalantly tells her opponent, "I'm going *there*. It might not always be pretty, but I'm going to pummel you with everything I can get my hands on, and it's gonna hurt." Then she flashes one of her wicked Thunder smiles and turns on her heels, saying, "Now try and f-ing stop me," as she marches toward the baseline. For many opponents, it proves to be too much to handle. Eventually, that was the case today for Duan Yingying.

Ostapenko fell behind an early break against Duan. But, as she has a tendency to do, Latvian Thunder simply played her game and things started to go her way. She got the break back, took her own break advantage and then served out the 1st set at 6-3. Duan broke for a 4-2 lead in the 2nd, only to see Ostapenko immediately get the break back, only to drop serve again (whew!) and see her Chinese opponent take the set 6-3. In the 3rd, Ostapenko led 4-1 and things seemed to have settled down, but the then tide briefly turned again as Duan got things back on serve at 4-3 before the 20-year old finished off a 6-3/3-6/6-4 win. She's now reached at least the 3rd Round at five straight majors after having lost in the 1st Round at all four in 2016.

...the doubles kicked off today, and Sloane Stephens couldn't win there, either. She and Genie Bouchard, who teamed to reach the Washington doubles final *before* Stephens' great North American roll in singles last summer, fell 6-4/6-4 to #2-seeded Elena Vesnina & Ekaterina Makarova. The Russians are seeking an AO crown to complete their big event doubles title collection, having already won at Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, WTA Finals and the Olympics. They'd be the first women's pair to ever claim all six titles.

(In case you were wondering, Venus & Serena have won five of the six, but never a season-ending championships crown.)

Other top seeds posting wins today included #1 Latisha Chan & Andrea Sestini-Hlavackova and #4 Lucie Safarova & Barbora Strycova. Safarova is trying to defend the '17 AO title she won with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Incidentally, BMS said on ESPN the other day that her rehab is going well and that she's aiming for a March return. long as they remain in the draw, expect the AO night session schedule to continue to trade off "Dasha Show" and "Barty Party" episodes. Tonight, one night after Ash Barty's 1st Round win, Dasha Gavrilova takes her turn in a 2nd Rounder on Laver against Hobart champ Elise Mertens. On MCA, Julia Goerges will try to extend her winning streak to sixteen matches against Alize Cornet.

...NOT THAT ESPN'S ON-AIR COVERAGE CARED ON NIGHT 2: Too busy showing uncompetitive men's matches to even both to do live look-ins to prove that the night schedule was something other than an only-straight-sets-allowed-here boondoggle.

...LATE UPDATE FROM DAY 2: And so it goes... 15. And counting.

In the live rankings following the 1st Round, Mladenovic was still ranked at a new career high of #9 (up because of CoCo's big points hit and Konta being only one round into matching her QF run of '17). But that'll change soon if Kiki doesn't first, as the defense of all four of her '17 finals (and one title) will take place before the end of the spring schedule.

...LIKE ON DAY 3: They just keep coming, don't they?

...LIKE ON DAY 3: As always...

...and, finally... no, it's not the traditional U.S. Open "New York Groove" time, but I'm surely not going to turn down an opportunity to listen to an Ace Frehley song from an old Kiss album. [Side Note: I think I just figured out my "And, finally..." theme for this year's Open.]

2008 Jessica Moore, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2009 Jelena Dokic, AUS (QF)
2010 Justine Henin, BEL (RU)
2011 J.Dokic/AUS, C.Garcia/FRA & A.Molik/AUS (2nd)
2012 Casey Dellacqua/AUS & Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd)
2013 Madison Keys, USA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Casey Dellacqua, AUS (4th Rd.)
2015 K-C.Chang/TPE, O.Dodin/FRA & I.Falconi/USA (2nd)
2016 Han Xinyun, CHN (2nd Rd.)
2017 Ash Barty, AUS (3rd Rd.)
2018 Olivia Rogowska, AUS (2nd Rd.)

TOP QUALIFIER: Marta Kostyuk/UKR (first player born in 2002 in slam MD)
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
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): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr./Doub.): xx
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: In 2nd Rd.: Allertova(W), Kostyuk(W), Kumkhum(W) (LL: Pera)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
LAST AUSSIE STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Barty, Gavrilova, Rogowska(L)
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk ("Teen")
CRASH & BURN: Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe & Venus Williams, USA (3 of 4 '17 U.S. Open semifinalist lose on Day 1)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Wozniacki (2r - Fett served up 5-1, 40/15 in 3rd set); Puig (1r - Stosur MP in 2nd set); Halep (1r - down 5-2 and 2 SP in 1st set vs. Aiava, rolls ankle in 2nd set); Petkovic (1r - Kvitova twice served for match; won 10-8 in 3rd); Pera (LL wins first career slam MD match)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

Svitolina considered giving Siniakova a walkover. Something is wrong, but she hasn’t revealed what it is. Hoping it’s temporary.

Wed Jan 17, 11:00:00 AM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

3rd qtr living up to the carnage.

Stat of the Day-1- The number of years it has been since 3 Jr. Champs from the same nation made the 3rd rd.

Ukraine has been the focus of week 1, but having 3 Jr. Champs make the 3rd rd was just as easy at the AO last year, as Kristyna Pliskova-3rd, Barbora Strycova-4th, and Karolina Pliskova-QF, did the same for the Czech Republic.

But the best stat for the Ukraine I can't use, because it hasn't happened yet.

Before I get to that, let's look at their slam history. 2008 was their best year in terms of getting people into slams. They got 6 into the AO, with K.Bondarenko, Julia Vakulenko and Olga Savchuk losing 1st rd, and A.Bondarenko, Mariya Koryttseva and Tatiana Perebiynis losing in the 2nd. They then added Yuliana Fedak for the French and went 0-7.

With only 4 in the 2016 USO, Kozlova lost, but Bondarenko, Svitolina and Tsurenko made the 3rd rd. Tsurenko is the key to history, because if she wins today, it will be the first time Ukraine has ever had 4 players in the 3rd rd of a slam.

Wed Jan 17, 11:32:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, wonder if that'll change the "betting favorite" story that ESPN, at least, likes to harp on so much.

Oh, since I haven't noticed you saying anything about it, did you hear the AO arena announce Svitolina as hailing from "the Ukraine" before the Siniakova match? I imagined the top of your head blowing off for a moment there. :)

I wonder if the sort of success Ukraine is looking at is more, less or equally (un)likely as Belgium's from a decade or so ago, or maybe that of Belarus more recently? I know Ukraine has a far bigger population, but the nation's history in the sport surely doesn't explain the burst of recent talent.

Wed Jan 17, 12:44:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Not only that, but Same Gore also announced it from the ESPN set--right after his co-host reminded us that KiKi Bertens is a former French Open finalist.

Wed Jan 17, 03:48:00 PM EST  

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