Saturday, January 20, 2018

AO.6 - The Match That Ate Day 6

Simona Halep may not ultimately win this Australian Open. But, gosh darn it, she'll most definitely leave in her wake a few spray painted "Simona was Here" tags strategically placed all over Melbourne Park. The latest example: on Saturday -- nearly ALL Saturday, in fact -- she and Lauren Davis spent their time coating Rod Laver Arena with a blood-and-sweat (but no tears) masterpiece in The Match That Ate Day 6.

At first glance, especially had the end result been different, this 3rd Round match might have been remembered for the multitude of sins that the world #1 committed against a player ranked seventy-five spots below her on the WTA computer. She failed to get on top of Davis in the 1st set and soon found herself having to stage yet another comeback so soon after being pushed in the 1st Round by Destanee Aiava, and she was often negligent in attacking her opponent's forehand as often as she should and could have (it'd produced most of the multitude of UE's Davis had in the match). Additionally, she squandered multiple break opportunities and chances to serve out the match that would have made the start of her weekend a whole lot less physically brutal, not to mention paring away well over an hour of match time in a contest that lasted nearly four.

But Halep won, and that changes everything, and more than underscores what she did *right*. Faced with an opponent who was giving all her five-foot-two body was able, the world #1 didn't give up, and didn't fold. Before some of her confidence-building moments from the past year, that may not have been the case. She didn't hold herself to an unreasonable standard of excellence and browbeat herself into submission simply because she didn't meet it at *every* moment, and instead scrapped, clawed, held her ground and fought until the final point went in her favor. Sure, she got frustrated, and was even a little bit "lucky," too. But in a knock-down, drag-out contest like this "instant classic" vs. Davis turned out to be, the difference between victory and defeat can be decided by a margin as thin as a single toe nail.

In this case, quite literally.

In a match that started as another challenge from a hard-hitting-with-nothing-to-lose young opponent for Halep, just two rounds after Aiava had pushed her back against the wall and then forced her to fight back from a badly-rolled ankle, Simona weathered the storm of dropping the 1st set by sending things to a 3rd, then take a commanding lead there and seeming to take full control of the action. But that's when the match took on a life of its own, and went on to consume the daytime attention span of Day 6 watchers, leaving more than just Halep and Davis exhausted and shaking their head at what what happening on Laver Arena.

In that 3rd set, Halep had the chance at 3-2 to go up a double-break and put a stranglehold on the proceedings. But Davis battled for the service hold instead. And they were off! Davis broke Halep a game later on her fifth BP, winning an important long rally with a series of defensive scrambles that extended the point until the Romanian finally committed an error. After moments earlier having been on the verge of falling out of contention, the Bannerette was back in it despite having twice as many errors as Halep. As the match headed into its second hour, though, the Romanian got the break to take a 5-4 lead and served for the match. Again, Davis' unending defensive sprints turned long rallies in her favor and she extended the match with a break of her own.

The rest of the match consisted of a "Groundhog Day" series of instances that seemed to have no natural end. Halep would surge ahead, but was unable to close out the match. She served for the win again at 6-5 and 8-7, only to come up short. At other times, Davis would edge ahead, and seemed ready to pull off the biggest win of her career as she'd outrun and at times out-hit the world #1, but Halep would then take a deep breath, set her feet, and hold on, hoping for another chance to win somewhere down the line. Serving to stay alive in the match, Halep held from 6-7, 8-9 (after having failed to convert on four BP chances in the previous game), 9-10 and 10-11.

In game #22, Halep had fallen behind love/40, only to have Davis begin to limp and pull at her feet. At first, it seemed as if she might be cramping just as she'd gone up triple match point. But, actually, she was feeling the pain of losing her toe nail on the second toe of her right foot. Halep saved all three MP to even things at 11-11, and the match was effectively turned in the Romanian's favor, though it was hardly over.

After being treated by a trainer (Halep never returned to the changeover area during the medical timeout, silently staying -- and often staring, seemingly thinking deep thoughts as she chewed on her cheek -- in the back of the AD court, where she'd eventually begin a return game vs. Davis' serve), the Ohio-born Floridian double-faulted to give Halep a 15/40 advantage. But Halep was unable to convert what turned out to be five BP chances in the game, then had to hold serve yet again while down 11-12, as well as 12-13.

But with the pain intensifying for Davis, and Halep refusing to blink, the Bannerette finally began to slow down. Halep went up love/40 on her serve in the 27th game of the set, and got the break. On her fourth opportunity to serve out the match, after falling behind 15/30, she reached her long-awaited first MP, and saw the match end when Davis pulled a shot wide.

The 4-6/6-4/15-13 match went to Halep after three hours and forty-five minutes (2:22 in 3rd set alone), making it the third-longest AO women's match ever. The forty-eight total games ties a mark set in 1996.

"I'm almost dead," Halep joked (sort of) after the match. Oh, but has she ever been so obviously *alive*?

For this AO has given ample evidence of the change that has taken place within Halep over the course of the past season-plus. A career marked by pockets of head-hanging get-me-outta-here exits is now producing more and more moments of grit and guile worthy of the major champion the Romanian wishes to become. She's overcome Aiava and a scary injury. Against Davis, she ran naked along the edge of the Cliffs of Simona and somehow didn't fall over the side. She's already done enough at this AO to make hers a truly heart-pounding, memorable run even if it produces no more highlights, but it remains to be seen whether what she has left in her body for what remains of this slam -- remember, she's not even HALF-way to a potential title, and the opponents will only get tougher from here on -- is enough to even be *able* to make a legitimate championship run.

Of course, wouldn't that fit right in line with the long-way-around aspects of Halep's slam quest? Only she could find herself in a situation where the one thing that has solidified her confidence -- finally grabbing the #1 ranking -- may have made things tougher on her in her first major as the top-ranked player. A case could be made that Halep would have been "better off" had she lost her #1 ranking to Caroline Wozniacki after Week 1, as even if she's able to muster all her forces again (and for multiple rounds) as this slam progresses, she's still got quite a few big-name opponents lurking around nearly every corner in the top half. While hardly an open-and-shut case, after the trials and tribulations she's already gone through in her first three matches in Melbourne, Halep would probably be better positioned for continued success in the "lighter-on-heavy-hitters" bottom half. Or not, I guess. Who can tell anymore, right?

Either way, while it's still relevant, it's time for the familiar refrain...

Si-mo-na! Si-mo-na!

Not TOO loudly, though... Ms. Halep needs her rest now more than ever. As long as there's also time for some chocolate, of course.

...not surprisingly, the daytime's other singles matches sort of got pushed to the margins during the Halep/Davis marathon.

Early on, Madison Keys continued her clean run through the opening week, dispatching Romanian Ana Bogdan 6-3/6-4. She's into the Round of 16 in her third straight appearance in Melbourne, though not her third consecutive AO, as she missed last year's event with a wrist injury. She reached the semifinals in 2015.

Karolina Pliskova won the all-Czech Maiden battle with Lucie Safarova, prevailing 7-6(6)/7-5. She's reached the Round of 16 at five of the last six majors. Meanwhile, Caroline Garcia finally put down Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3/5-7/6-2 to reach her maiden AO 4th Round. The Pastry has reached the Round of 16 at three of the last four slams.

Late in the day, Barbora Strycova made it THREE Czech Maidens in the Round of 16, more than any other nation (no other has more than one), with a 6-2/6-2 win over lucky loser Bernarda Pera. So, Maria Jose Gaidano's honor of being the most recent LL to reach a slam 4th Round ('93 U.S.) remains in place.

But the biggest "boom" that was heard around the grounds following the Halep/Davis earthquake was the dismantling of the last remaining Aussie in the women's draw, as Naomi Osaka took down Ash Barty 6-4/6-2 in comprehensive fashion to reach her first career slam Round of 16 in just her first major since hiring Sascha Bajin as coach. As noted before the season, their pairing might just be the most lightly-discussed (or, as far as ESPN is concerned, NEVER discussed), potentially huge, and surely most intriguing storyline of the season. If "Big Sascha" can help focus and streamline Osaka's talent, she could be this year's version of Ostapenko under the right circumstances. Needless to say, this match is a very, very good sign. doubles -- take a deep breath, because it's a doozy to come to grips with -- Kiki Mladenovic won ANOTHER match. And, no, I'm not acting like a White House Communications Director and just making stuff up, either. With Timea Babos by her side, the Pastry advanced to the WD Round of 16 with a 3-6/6-3/6-4 win over the Spanish team of ParraSantonja/Arruabarrena.

...the night schedule will feature what will be the last possible women's match-up in Melbourne of previous slam winners as Angelique Kerber and Maria Sharapova face off on Laver in the Russian's latest marquee first week match at a slam.

Aga Radwanska and Hsieh Su-wei will play even later, in the second match up on MCA. So, I'll come back on Saturday with the usual Lists-a-Palooza information, as well as (I would think) some comments about some of the (very) late results.

...UPDATE FROM NIGHT 5: Another Baltic Baller was born, at the expense of the previously most recent of the same...

...NOTE ON DAY 6: Kathy Rinaldi was watching. I'm just sayin'.

...LIKE ON DAY 6: On second thought... KING/KOALA in 2020?

...and, finally...the junior draw has been made and some 1st Round matches have been played. While *the* Simona managed to avoid a loss today, the *other* Simona -- as in Swiss #3 seed Waltert -- didn't as she was knocked off by Japanese qualifier Himeno Sakatsume. Also losing was U.S. Open girls finalist Coco Gauff, to Italy's Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

#1 Wang Xinyu/CHN d. #12 Elysia Bolton/USA
#7 Alexa Noel/USA d. #13 Daniela Vismane/LAT
#7 Alexa Noel/USA d. #1 Wang Xinyu/CHN

...if Noel (or Bolton, etc.) would make it a "Bannerette Slam" over the past year, with four straight junior girls singles champs hailing from the States. If the AO final is another all-U.S. affair, I'm not even sure *what* you'd call it (Super-Duper Slam?) since it'd mean that four straight slams have featured a Bannerette-vs.-Bannerette face-off for the title on the final weekend (after such a thing hadn't happened at all since 1992).

[Australian Open]
1989 Kim Kessaris def. Andrea Farley
[Roland Garros]
1980 Kathy Horvath def. Kelly Henry
2017 Whitney Osuigwe def. Claire Liu
1977 Lea Antonpolis def. Mareen "Peanut" Louie
1979 Mary-Lou Piatek def. Alycia Moultron
2017 Claire Liu def. Ann Li
[U.S. Open]
1979 Alycia Moulton def. Mary-Lou Piatek
1980 Susan Mascarin def. Kathrin Keil
1981 Zina Garrison def. Kate Gompert
1982 Beth Herr def. Gretchen Rush
1986 Elly Hakami def. Shaun Stafford
1992 Lindsay Davenport def. Julie Steven
2017 Amanda Anisimova def. Coco Gauff

Taiwan's Liang En-shuo (the AO #2 seed) just won the warm-up Traralgon G1 event, defeating Wang Xiyu (the #9 AO seed, not to be confused with #1-seeded Wang Xinyu, who was the youngest player not named Marta to compete in the AO women's MD) in the final.

#1 Simona Halep/ROU vs. Naomi Osaka/JPN
#20 Barbora Strycova/CZE vs. #6 Karolina Pliskova/CZE
x vs. x
#17 Madison Keys/USA vs. #8 Caroline Garcia/FRA
Petra Martic/CRO vs. Elise Mertens/BEL
(Q) Denisa Allertova/CZE vs. #4 Elina Svitolina/UKR
#32 Anett Kontaveit/EST vs. Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
#19 Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK vs. #2 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN

AO: Venus Williams (3rd)
RG: Vania King & Bethanie Mattek-Sands (3rd)
WI: Serena Williams (4th)
US: Serena Williams (RU)
AO: Serena Williams (4th)
RG: Sloane Stephens (4th) & Varvara Lepchenko (4th)
WI: Serena Williams (W)
US: Serena Williams (W)
AO: Sloane Stephens (SF)
RG: Serena Williams (W)
WI: Sloane Stephens (QF)
US: Serena Williams (W)
AO: Sloane Stephens & Serena Williams (4th)
RG: Sloane Stephens (4th)
WI: L.Davis, M.Keys, A.Riske, S.Williams, V.Williams (3rd)
US: Serena Williams (W)
AO: Serena Williams (W)
RG: Serena Williams (W)
WI: Serena Williams (W)
US: Serena Williams (SF)
AO: Serena Williams (RU)
RG: Serena Williams (RU)
WI: Serena Williams (W)
US: Serena Williams (SF)
AO: Serena Williams (W)
RG: Venus Williams (4th)
WI: Venus Williams (RU)
US: Sloane Stephens (W)
AO: Madison Keys (in 4th Rd.)

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): Nominee: Keys
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): Nominee: 3rd Rd. - #1 Halep d. Davis 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.): 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: Denisa Allertova/CZE (in 4th Rd.) (LL: Bernarda Pera/USA in 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk, Kontaveit, Osaka
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Kerber, Sharapova, A.Radwanska
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)
KIMIKO VETERAN CUP: Nominees: Kerber, Sharapova, Hsieh, CSN, Strycova
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: Barty, Mertens

All for Day 6. Lists-and-more tomorrow.


Blogger colt13 said...

Radwanska's handshake bringing back memories of 2013 Wimbledon.

With Linette and Radwanska out, 2008 AO is the last with 2 Polish women in 4th rd-Domachowska/Radwanska.

Stat of the Day-12- The members of the sweet sixteen with a hardcourt title.

Listed are their most recent, or best result.

Hsieh Guangzhou 2012
Rybarikova Washington 2013
Suarez Navarro Qatar 2016
Pliskova Qatar 2017
Keys Stanford 2017
Strycova Linz 2017
Garcia China 2017
Wozniacki YEC 2017
Halep Shenzhen 2018
Svitolina Brisbane 2018
Kerber Sydney 2018
Mertens Hobart 2018

Kontaveit Biel RU 2017, USO 4th rd 2015
Martic Malaysia RU 2012, 4th rd 3 of last 4 slams
Allertova Guangzhou RU 2016, AO 4th rd 2018
Osaka Toray Pan Pacific RU 2016, AO 4th rd 2018

Only players left in singles and doubles? Hsieh and Strycova.

Kontaveit is the only one without a hardcourt title to have a WTA title, and has reached one each on hard, grass and clay.

Martic's only final was a loss to Hsieh.

Strycova is the player who wants the roof, as her two titles were both indoor.

Rybarikova's title was 5 yrs ago, but reached last year's Linz final to Strycova.

The numbers normally run between 10-12 of the 16 having titles when I do this, but the amount of recent titles are a newer trend.

Sat Jan 20, 11:09:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Good stuff... ;)

Sat Jan 20, 12:06:00 PM EST  

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