Sunday, January 21, 2018

AO.7 - The Unusual Suspects

And, once again, the 2018 Australian Open's wheels spins to the side of the draw where opportunities abound. Where *someone* will ultimately emerge to play for her maiden slam crown next week, quite possibly in what is her first career major final.

The opportunities are so abundant that I've yet to even go with an initial nominee list for this slam's "Ms. Opportunity" award. There are just too many possibilities to sort out, and some natural selection is needed to pare down the contenders to a more manageable lot. On Sunday, the survival of the fittest in the bottom half of the draw took yet another important step.

In the opening match of the day, unseeded veteran Carla Suarez-Navarro faced off with #32-seeded relative newcomer Anett Kontaveit, who'd enlisted her power to prevail over her fellow Baltic twentysomething (Alona Ostapenko, who also dealing with a leg injury) in the previous round. Traditionally, CSN has been a player who can never be discounted, but also one rarely considered a *true* threat in the majors even though she's had pretty good success in slams over the balance of her career. She reached the QF (as a qualifier) in her slam debut at Roland Garros in 2008, then posted another Final 8 result in just her fourth major MD in what was her debut appearance in Melbourne the following season. Over the past decade, she'd put up three additional slam QF results, but never advanced beyond that point. The 29-year old Spaniard's career has always seemed to result in her walking up to the line of what would be a HUGE result, but never quite getting over that hump. Such a pattern was seen on the regular tour, as well, as she lost her first five singles finals from 2009-13 before finally winning her first in 2014 (she's gone 1-3 since), then she followed up her most successful slam campaign in '16 (4th Rd.+ for the first time at all four) by finishing the '17 season outside the Top 20 for the first time since 2012.

The 22-year old Kontaveit entered this season as one of the NextGen would-be stars poised to make a big leap. Seeded in this AO for the first time ever at a major, the Estonian was one of four players last season to reach finals on three different surfaces (the others, Ostapenko, Wozniacki and Goerges all finished in the Top 15, while Kontaveit was #34). In the early stages of today's Round of 16 match, she showed why she's a player to watch, too, only to falter when things mattered the most.

Kontaveit broke for a 3-2 lead in the 1st on her fourth BP in a 10-minute game, saved a BP a game later to lead 4-2, then held from double BP down to lead 5-3 en route to a 6-4 win. In the 2nd, though, she showed no such expertise in the clutch when her maiden slam QF was within reach. Still, she led 4-1, with a double-break advantage, only to see her earlier aggression wane and her error total climb as CSN reeled off five straight games to even the match. Kontaveit managed to carve out another opportunity in the 3rd, breaking the Spaniard for 5-4 and serving for the match. But, again, she played a bad game as Suarez-Navarro mostly simply played steady shots (that one-handed backhand is always reliable and a joy to watch) and allowed her to err. CSN got the break, backed it up with a love hold for 6-5, then forced Kontaveit to hold to stay alive again two games later. Finally, a long Kontaveit forehand on CSN's third MP completed the comeback, as Suarez-Navarro won 4-6/6-4/8-6 to reach her sixth career slam QF.

Of note, and maybe emblematic of CSN's career, this is her third slam QF as either a qualifier or unseeded player despite having those four consecutive seasons in the Top 20 from 2013-16.

...if a women's match scheduled in the day session could have been labeled as the "marquee" match-up to take place under the sun -- though, to be honest, we're probably a couple of rounds away from something that would rightfully be described as such, it was the one featuring Caroline Wozniacki and Magdalena Rybarikova. Unlike any of the other contests in the bottom half of the draw, this one had players with at least one sterling slam result on their resume. Former #1 (current #2) Wozniacki is a two-time slam finalist, while Rybarikova was a surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon last summer.

Oh, if only it'd lived up to it's admittedly limited billing.

The Slovak *did* manage to get out the gates quickly, posting an early break. But after the Dane battled to get the break back, their fortunes took decidedly opposite routes. After winning a back-and-forth battle at the net, Wozniacki went up love/40 on Rybarikova's serve in game #6. A double-fault handed her the break for a 4-2 lead. And that was pretty much all she wrote. Rybarikova might have been described as either "off her game" or possibly tired after back-to-back three-setters in the Melbourne summer weather against veterans Kirsten Flipkens and Kateryna Bondarenko. But Wozniacki, re-invigorated after surviving a 5-1, 15/40 hole vs. Jana Fett in the 2nd Round, was neither of those things. Having been fortunate to escape the opening days of this event, she more than any player in the bottom half knows the opportunity that has now been presented her. Maintaining her defensive prowess, but mixing in good serving and some controlled aggression that allows her to have a more first-hand say in her own fate, Wozniacki never allowed Rybarikova to get a foothold in this match after her initially quick start. Often, she had to work to even win a single point (Caro even pulled off a tweener, though Rybarikova put it away with a simple volley winner). After Wozniacki took the 1st set at 6-3, she swept the first eight points of the 2nd en route to a love set victory to close out the Slovak in straights, 6-3/6-0. Into the AO quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, Wozniacki will face Suarez-Navarro (not the big-hitting, though questionable under pressure, Kontaveit or, more importantly, Ostapenko, who's gone 4-0 vs. the Dane over the last seventeen months).

Hmmm. Opportunity, meet destiny? the final 4th Round match of the day schedule, a battle of unseeded players featured Elise Mertens (winner of two singles and two doubles titles in January the last three years, the two-time defending Hobart singles champ, and in her first slam Round of 16 in her AO debut) and Petra Martic (back from a '16 back injury that cost her nearly a year before she rode a pair of qualifying runs into 4th Rounds at RG and SW19 last season) as they looked to advance to their first career slam quarterfinal.

In both sets contested between the two, Belgium's Mertens jumped ahead, only to then be forced to hold off her Croatian opponent down the stretch. In the 1st, she led 4-0 (and nearly 5-0) before Martic rebounded to get things back on serve and into a TB after saving a SP on her serve down 5-6. Mertens ultimately claimed the breaker 7-5, then went up a break at 3-2 in the 2nd. After taking a medical timeout, Martic returned to the court and broke to level things at 4-4. Mertens broke to serve for the match, but failed to convert two MP and was broken on Martic's fourth BP of the game. Mertens immediately broke back for 6-5, then took a 40/love lead and served out the win on her third MP, 7-6(5)/7-5.

...the final Round of 16 match in the bottom half will be the last match up on Laver in the night session, as Elina Svitolina seeks her third career major QF (but first outside of Paris) against 4th Round newcomer Denisa Allertova.

...there was another Top 4 seed upset in the girls singles on Day 7. After #3 Simona Waltert (SUI) was ousted yesterday, '17 U.S. Open girls semifinalist Maria Lourdes Carle (ARG) was taken out by Bannerette Dalayna Hewitt (who's barely 17 years old and six-foot-two, by the way) in the 1st Round today.

Meanwhile, #2-seeded Traralgon champ Liang En-shuo (TPE) escaped the upset bid of wild card Aussie Olivia Gadecka, winning a 3rd set TB to advance. women's doubles, already with big wins over the Dashas and Barty/Dellacqua, Jennifer Brady & back-with-a-vengeance Vania King cruised into the QF today with a 6-4/7-6(5) win over #13-seeded Nicole Melichar & Kveta Peschke.

In mixed doubles, we moved a little bit closer to a SECOND all-Chan sisters meeting at this AO. The two have already set up a Round of 16 match against one another in the women's doubles, and today Latisha's win with Jamie Murray, along with Angel's with Michael Venus, means they're one round away from a second clash in the MX quarterfinals.

...on the ITF circuit, Sunday's $25K challenger final in Orlando, Florida will feature Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina's attempt to win a second title in two weeks. The 20-year old, a '14 U.S. Open girls finalist who lost in the women's qualifying at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open last season, won the $25K Daytona Beach title last week. She'll face Austrian Julia Grabher for the crown.

...LIKE ON DAY 7: Flight booked...

...LIKE ON DAY 7: B-day for L-Rob...

Robson recently talked about her escape without harm from the site of the concert shooting in Las Vegas last October.


...and, finally, traveling with Petko...

#1 Simona Halep/ROU vs. Naomi Osaka/JPN
#20 Barbora Strycova/CZE vs. #6 Karolina Pliskova/CZE
Hsieh Su-wei/TPE vs. #21 Angelique Kerber/GER
#17 Madison Keys/USA vs. #8 Caroline Garcia/FRA
Elise Mertens/BEL def. Petra Martic/CRO
(Q) Denisa Allertova/CZE vs. #4 Elina Svitolina/UKR
Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP def. #32 Anett Kontaveit/EST
#2 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. #19 Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK

#1 L.Chan/Sestini-Hlavackova (TPE/CZE) vs. #14 H.Chan/Srebotnik (TPE/SLO)
Golubic/Stojanovic (SUI/SRB) vs. #5 Babos/Mladenovic (HUN/FRA)
#4 Safarova/Strycova (CZE/CZE) def. Cirstea/Haddad Maia (ROU/BRA)
#8 S.Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN) def. #12 Atawo/Groenefeld (USA/GER)
#10 Begu/Niculescu (ROU/ROU) def. N.Kichenok/An.Rodionova (UKR/AUS)
Brady/King (USA/USA) def. #13 Melichar/Peschke (USA/CZE)
#6 Dabrowski/Y.Xu (CAN/CHN) vs. #11 Aoyama/Z.Yang (JPN/CHN)
#16 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE) vs. #2 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)

**WTA "CAREER QF SLAM" - active**
[with slam at which completed]
Azarenka - 2012 US (28th)
Bartoli - 2012 US (39th)
Cibulkova - 2014 AO (26th)
Halep - 2015 US (22nd)
Kerber - 2016 AO (33rd)
Kuznetsova - 2006 RG (16th)
Kvitova - 2015 US (30th)
Pavlyuchenkova - 2017 AO (37th)
Schiavone - 2011 AO (42nd)
Sharapova - 2005 US (12th)
S.Williams - 2001 RG (12th)
V.Williams - 1998 WI (6th)
Zvonareva - 2010 US (31st)

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 - 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
IT (TBD): Nominee: Kostyuk, Osaka, Mertens
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Kerber, Wozniacki, King
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: Hsieh, Kerber, CSN, Strycova
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: Mertens, Kerber, Wozniacki

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


Blogger Hoergren said...

Well Todd I think you should see this highlights from the Wozniacki vs Rybarikova match and count the FH winners and agree with me that her FH is a weapon now. Agree with me that her netplay has approved. And yes Wozniacki is basing her play on a good defense but now she's not allowing her opponent to find her play. The problem for other players now is that they still try to play her FH and is surprised that all balls (well a miss or two) come back at the lines. This was her best play untill now. So enjoy the highlights:

Sun Jan 21, 07:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, except for that blip against Fett which nearly cost her dearly she's been on her game and utilizing her aggression consistently, getting to the net and serving well. I wonder what might happen if she's facing a true power player, but she's avoided it so far and might all the way to the end (and if it'd be Pliskova in the final, well, she hasn't exactly had much trouble with her lately).

Sun Jan 21, 12:53:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I loved Mertens vs. Martic, and was mesmerized by the consistency of their serving skills. And Petra’s play-through-injury mindset was impressive. It was a pleasure to watch them.

Sun Jan 21, 01:09:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Kontaveit let one get away.

Stat of the Day-8- The number of WTA doubles titles for Shinobu Asagoe.

Depending on how Naomi Osaka's match goes tonight, you may hear about three women. The first is Japan's greatest player in Kimiko Date-Krumm, the former #4, who is the last player from Japan to have reached the SF at the AO in 1994. The second would be former #8 in singles, but also #1 in doubles, and holder of 38 WTA titles in Ai Sugiyama, who is the last to have reached the QF there in 2000.

The third? The forgotten one in Asagoe, whose moment in the rising sun came at the US Open in 2004, where she reached the QF, making her the last woman from Japan to have reached one anywhere. Oddly enough, Sugiyama did it at the previous slam-Wimbledon 2004.

Asagoe's USO run started with a win over Slovenia's Tina Pisnik, making it all the more ironic that in the last of her 3 WTA finals, way back in 2005, she lost to another Slovenian, who is in this year's doubles draw. Who was it? Katarina Srebotnik.

Sun Jan 21, 02:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Shinobu was a blast to watch, and reached the AO semifinals in doubles in 2006. Date was the only one of the three who wasn't a doubles star. Sugiyama's great partnership was with Hantuchova, and when Sugiyama retired, Hantuchova waited a while to play doubles again because Sugiyama's absence was such a loss for her.

Sun Jan 21, 02:45:00 PM EST  
Blogger colt13 said...

Youtube still has a couple of her matches up, so I did have a blast.

One note about Keys- 11 of her last 20 wins have been in slams. 15 of the 20? The slams and Stanford. Last non slam win outside of the US? 2016 YEC.

Sun Jan 21, 03:31:00 PM EST  

Post a Comment

<< Home