Thursday, May 31, 2018

RG.5- The Most Dangerous Serena is the One You Don't See Coming (even when you know she's there)

Maybe it's just me... but haven't we seen this before?

Over the years, as she's racked up twenty-three major titles, a case could be made that the "most dangerous" Serena Williams is very much like the one who arrived in Paris for this Roland Garros. You know, the Serena who comes into a major with the field and everyone watching having no real direct knowledge about just what form she and her game are in, whether it be because she's on the comeback trail from injury, inactivity, a medical emergency or even giving birth -- or, in this, case something of a combination of a few from that list (which is surely missing at least a few other past "situations") -- other than her reputation and words from within or without the Williams camp about her "being ready" for anything. In this sort of circumstance, perhaps, everyone lets down their guard. Just a little.

"Oh, Serena won't be quite ready to be THAT Serena... not yet," some will say.

Then she'll show up and look good, but not great. Sort of how she looked two days ago in her 1st Rounder vs. Kristyna Pliskova, when she won in straight sets but was aced a record (for any of her opponents) fifteen times by the Czech. From that point on, Williams will improve with every game, set, match, round, doubles outing with Venus, and/or practice session, knocking off better and better players as she goes, transforming before our eyes from a mere mortal with a "question mark" hanging over her head into a being being fitted for a cape and cowl by the end of a two-week stretch, going from SIMPLY Serena Williams to THE Serena Williams.

When she lifts another major trophy above her head on the final weekend of said slam, everyone will say, "Well, I guess we should have seen THAT coming."

As Williams entered her 2nd Round match against #17 Ash Barty it was noted that it was the first time she'd meet a seeded player in a slam while she herself was UNseeded since the 2007 Australian Open. Hmm, why does that slam ring a bell? Hmmm. Oh, well, on with the match.

For the first set or so, Williams just looked like a player making a comeback from a long layoff and little match play. Her return game was way off and she was committing too many errors. Meanwhile, the young Aussie was on *her* game, breaking Serena at love to lead 4-2, then riding a variety-filled attack and calm approach while holding firm and taking the set 6-3. Serena won just 44% of her second serve points in the set, just 24% (6/26) of return points and had only three winners (vs. 12 UE). In the first game of the 2nd, Williams committed four quick errors and dropped serve. Things didn't look good.

But, hey, she's Serena bleepin' Williams, dammit. This wasn't going to stand, was it? Well...

Then, a game later...

And that was all it took. For the first time since her return, we saw IT. The Transformation. IT. The in-match Build. IT. The Primal Scream. IT. The notion that the "impossible" isn't really "impossible" at all, not when Serena Williams is involved.

Poor Ash. She didn't go away, but how could she not flinch a little in the face of it all? I mean, whattayagonnado, right?

Williams took the 2nd set 6-3 and headed into a 3rd (on the court, at least, as she's had her own versions of a "3rd set" off it while she was away) for the first time since BEFORE her won the 2017 Australian Open. She took a break lead at 2-1 in the 3rd, and Barty's fate was sealed. Williams held a MP on the Aussie's serve in game #9, but Barty saved it and *made* her serve it out. Okay, then. Of course, she *did*, holding at love in a game in which she produced winners via volley, forehand and, finally, a backhand on her second MP, blasting it down the line to win 3-6/6-3/6-4.

Oh, now I remember THAT 2007 Australian Open. Serena had missed two slams in 2006 and didn't reach a singles final at all that season (the only time in her entire career), and came to Melbourne as an "out of shape" world #81 whose "focus" was being questioned. She defeated #27-seed Mara Santangelo in the 1st Round, then #5 Nadia Petrova (3rd), #11 Jelena Jankovic (4th), #16 Shahar Peer (QF), #10 Nicole Vaidisova (SF) and #1 Maria Sharapova in a 1 & 2 final, becoming the first unseeded AO champ in 29 years.

Williams is currently the world #451, and there's only been one unseeded RG champ (Ostapenko last year) in the Open era. So, well, you know.

Has Serena officially started the ticking clock for the rest of the field with this win? Up next is #11 Julia Goerges. She's a round away from another match with Sharapova or a second Pliskova. Who doesn't believe that if she finds her way into the second week of this slam that there may be no denying her her 24th major title? Time is running out for the other thirty-one women left on the board... if someone doesn't "get" Serena soon, it could be that no one will.

Garbine Muguruza, for one, may not "fear" her, having beaten her twice in Paris already ('12 2nd Rd., '16 final). They could meet in the quarterfinals. But everyone else would rightly be shaking in their shoes at the prospect, and not because of any sticky red clay on their soles. The thought of a ever-improving "live" Serena running rampant in Paris COMPLETELY changes -- upends, really -- the dynamic and storyline of this tournament.

Of course, that's been the case for most of the past two decades, hasn't it?

And we know how things usually turn out when THAT Serena sets her feet down in a major.

All together now... gulp.

...Thursday was much better to the other two Aussies still in the singles draw who were not named Ash.

After coming back from a set down to win a dramatic 1st Round match over Sorana Cirstea, #24 Dasha Gavrilova did it again today in a seesaw contest with Bernarda Pera. Leads meant little in this one, as the Bannerette was up a break at 2-1 in the 1st, only to see Gavrilova win four in a row to lead 5-2, then Pera counter with a five-game run of her own to take the set 7-5.

In the 2nd, Pera led 3-1, went up a double-break and held a MP at 5-2 before it was Gavrilova who won five straight to take a 7-5 set to send things to a 3rd after the Bannerette's unfortunate collapse.

Again, the U.S. player, who reached the 3rd Round as a lucky loser in Melbourne in January, took an early break lead and was up 2-0 in the 3rd, only to see the Aussie again win five straight to lead 5-2. Then Pera won five straight... err, no, wait... sorry, force of habit. *This* time the player with the lead actually held onto it as Gavrilova closed out a 5-7/7-5/6-3 victory in 2:35 to reach the Final 32 for the first time in Paris.

While Gavrilova's act of taking the "Dasha Show" on the road is a new thing at a major, as her best previous slam results have come in Melbourne (Round of 16's in 2016-17), clay is where many of her best regular tour moments have come. She's had five of her ten career Top 10 wins on the surface, four of them coming in Rome (including a comeback win over Garbine Muguruza earlier this month), and reached the Rome QF and Strasbourg final in back-to-back weeks a year ago, as well as the semis of Rome (again) as a qualifier in '15.

Also today, former RG finalist Sam Stosur maintained her impressive run of RG results, reaching the 3rd Round for a *tenth* straight year with a straight sets win over her Paris doubles partner, #30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. As expected, the Russian failed to follow-up her impressive title run in Strasbourg, and good 1st Round victory over Polona Hercog, with a respectable run in a major. This is the fifth straight 1st/2nd Round slam exit for Pavlyuchenkova since she completed her Career QF Slam with a Final 8 result at the AO in 2017. Still, her one victory in this event added to her career MD wins at RG (17), her most at any of the slams. She'd have to win three matches in New York this summer to change that, ummm, or reach the Wimbledon. And, well, you know.

For the day, Stosur had 27 winners in the match's twenty-one games, and served at a 69% clip.

...along with Barty and Pavlyuchenkova, there were two other seeds who fell on Day 5, bringing the total for the first two rounds to just eleven, the fewest at a major in two years ('16 RG) at this juncture. Thirteen of the Top 16 seeds are still alive, and seven of the Top 8.

So, with fewer than the usual nations to choose from, I'll go with the women of Ukraine as RG's "Upset Queens." The nation kicked things off with Kateryna Kozlova's win over Alona Ostapenko on Sunday, and today Lesia "Sombrerenko!" Tsurenko downed #15 CoCo Vandeweghe, making the Ukrainians the only group with multiple wins over seeds in the first two rounds in Paris.

For the record, the other nations: AUS,CHN,COL,GER,GRE,FRA,KAZ,ROU,USA

Vandeweghe got off to a good start today, just like she did in this clay season, but cooled off considerably and ultimately came up way short in the end, losing to Tsurenko 3-6/6-4/6-0 while committing 46 unforced errors to the Ukrainian's 18 on the day.

...elsewhere, most of the top seeds, favorites, and/or big names handled their business without a whole lot of issues.

#1 Simona Halep wasn't slow off the mark on Thursday like she was on Wednesday, taking a quick 5-1 lead on Taylor Townsend in both the 1st and 2nd sets, and cruising to a short day (1:08) at the office with a 6-3/6-1 win.

#28 Maria Sharapova played a tight one against Donna Vekic, but didn't allow a potential straight sets win devolve into a necessary three-setter this time around, defeating the Croat 7-5/6-4 to advance to the 3rd Round in Paris for the thirteen time in fourteen RG appearances (her only "miss" came in her debut in 2003). The Russian held an 84-75 point advantage, and 29-22 edge in winners.

#3 Garbine Muguruza, the '16 champ who sent up a flare about her chances at this slam by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 1st Round (the other two times she did that in a slam she went on to win the title), eliminated French wild card Fiona Ferro 6-4/6-3, and is already showing some early signs of settling in for a possible BIG match in a few days, and maybe for what might come after that if she were to win it.

With Ferro out, #7 Caroline Garcia's three-set win over Peng Shuai puts her in the running along with wild card Pauline Parmentier (already the "Last WC Standing" with Ferro and Townsend's defeats) for "Last Pastry Standing." Garcia's 6-4/3-6/6-3 victory gives her a streak of seven consecutive slams in which she's reached at least the 3rd Round, after reaching the stage just twice in her first eighteen majors.

Meanwhile, #12 Angelique Kerber is feeling it, too. Her 21 winners overcame her five DF on the day (she has 8 DF and 0 aces through two rounds, by the way) en route to defeating Ana Bogdan 6-2/6-3. The German hasn't had her best slam results in Paris (she's won two of the other majors, and reached the final of another), but she did reach a QF in '12 and Round of 16's in 2013-14.

#16 Elise Mertens didn't have to stage a comeback vs. Heather Watson as she did to take her two-day affair with Varvara Lepchenko, defeating the Brit 3 & 4 while converting 8-of-11 BP chances (Watson was 5-of-5). The Waffle is now 3-0 vs. Watson. She'll face Gavrilova next, after having personally cancelled the "Dasha Show" in the 2nd Round at this year's AO under the lights on Laver en route to her maiden slam semifinal.

In other matches, #6 Karolina Pliskova was taken to three sets by fellow Czech Maiden Lucie Safarova, winning 3-6/6-4/6-1 while firing 13 aces. #18 Kiki Bertens allowed six games to Belarus' Aliakandra Sasnovich after having allowed just three to another Belarusian, Aryna Sabalenka, in the 1st Round. Andrea Petkovic downed Bethanie Mattek-Sands to reach her first slam 3rd Round since the 2015 U.S. Open. The 30-year old German reached the RG semis in '14, and QF in '11. Irina-Camelia Begu, two days after surviving a 9-7 3rd set vs. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, took out #27 Zhang Shuai, ending her string of seven consecutive 1st/2nd Round slam exits. The Romanian reached the 4th Round in Paris two years ago. And Belinda Bencic, as occurred after her 1st Round upset of Venus Williams in Melbourne, wasn't able to recover and build upon her comeback from 5 MP down vs. Deborah Chiesa, losing 2 & 4 to #19 Magdalena Rybarikova, who's into her first career 3rd Round in Paris. This is the fourth straight slam -- Wimbledon SF, U.S. 3rd, AO 4th -- at which the Slovak has set or matched her career-best result. doubles, the Big Dutch Machine saw a spanner thrown into her works as Demi Schuurs (w/ Elise Mertens) fell in a 7-5 3rd set TB to Lara Arruabarrena & Katarina Srebotnik.

Elsewhere, the *other* half of the former/possibly-still-to-be-co-top-ranked/future? partnership of the Makarova/Vesnina did just what the other did in her opening match without the other. She lost. Ekaterina Makarova & Anna Kalinskaya fell at the hands of Jennifer Brady & Vania King, 6-3/6-4.

As it stands (which was my original theory based on their past "break," so it was hardly "nonsensical," just maybe a little in the area of "thinking themselves into a dizzying spin" on the part of the Russians), though we shall see if it plays out this way in a couple weeks...

Also, the Dashas lost to Kalashnikova/Hibino.

..."HAVE YOU NOTICED...?" ON DAY 5: How freakin' happy and unbothered by anything AnaIvo always looks in ALL of her social media posts since she stopped playing?

Good for her. And today's post was actually a "lesser" version of her usual, actually.

...FROM YESTERDAY... ON DAY 5: That's just, like, umm... yeah. That's something.

...Hmmm... ON DAY 5: Large, but with an interestingly intimate look, as well.

...LIKE ON DAY 5: BJK's TBT's are probably always better than your/my/our TBT's...

...and, finally, in case someone was wondering where Kim was on "LPT Day" eve...

[won Girls & Women's titles]
Sue Barker (1974 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's Champion)
Jennifer Capriati (1989 Jr. Champion; 2001 Women's Champion)
Justine Henin (1997 Jr. Champion; 2003, '05-'07 Women's Champion)
Mima Jausovec (1973 Jr. Champion; 1977 Women's Champion)
Hana Mandlikova (1978 Jr. Champion; 1981 Women's Champion)
Martina Hingis (1993-94 Jr. Champion; 1997/99 Women's RU)
Natasha Zvereva (1987 Jr. Champion; 1988 Women's RU)
Renata Tomanova (1972 Jr. Champion; 1976 Women's RU)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2001 Jr. RU; 2009 Women's Champion)
Simona Halep (2008 Jr. Champion; 2014/17 Women's RU)
[2018 WS actives of note...]
Elina Svitolina (2010 Jr. Champion)
Dasha Kasatkina (2014 Jr. Champion)
Dasha Gavrilova (2009 Jr. RU)

2002 (Week 1 POW) Serena Williams, USA *
2003 (Week 1 co-POW) Serena Williams, USA & Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 (Week 1 POW) Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2005 (Week 1 POW) Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL *
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB *
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Venus Williams, USA
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 Maria Sharapova, RUS *
2013 Serena Williams, USA *
2014 Simona Halep, ROU
2015 Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2017 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2018 Elina Svitolina, UKR
* - won title

2008 Mathilde Johansson/FRA & Olivia Sanchez/FRA (2nd Rd.)
2009 Olivia Rogowska/AUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Jarmila Groth (Gajdosova/Wolfe)/AUS (4th Rd.)
2011 I.Bremond/FRA, C.Garcia/FRA & P.Parmentier/FRA (2nd Rd.)
2012 C.Feuerstein/FRA, M.Oudin/USA & I.Pavlovic/FRA (2nd Rd.)
2013 Virginie Razzano/FRA (3rd Rd.)
2014 Pauline Parmentier/FRA (4th Rd.)
2015 Virginie Razzano/FRA & Amandine Hesse/FRA (2nd Rd.)
2016 M.Georges/FRA, V.Razzano/FRA & T.Townsend/USA (2nd Rd.)
2017 Chloe Paquet/FRA (2nd Rd.)
2018 Pauline Parmentier/FRA (in 3rd Rd.)

2004 Ukraine
2005 France
2006 United States
2007 Romania
2008 Czech Republic
2009 Kazakhstan (ex-Russians)
2010 Australia
2011 Romania
2012 United States
2013 Slovak Republic
2014 France
2015 Croatia
2016 South America
2017 South America
2018 Ukraine

TOP QUALIFIER: Francesca Schiavone/ITA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #4 Elina Svitolina/UKR (def. Tomljanovic/Kuzmova in straights)
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU d. Tamara Korpatsch/GER 6-1/5-7/7-6(7) (from MP down and 5-2 in the 3rd for final qualifying berth)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd.: Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK 6-4/5-7/9-7 (Begu served for match at 5-3 3rd; AKS saved triple MP at 8-7; Begu converts MP #4 for 3:19 win, denying AKS first slam MD victory since 2015)
FIRST VICTORY: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (def. Zheng Saisai/CHN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #9 Venus Williams/USA (1st Rd/lost to Wang Qiang/CHN)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Latvia (0-2; first slam both DC/#5 Ostapenko and #20 Sevastova out 1st Round after ten consecutive; only second time happened since both first in same slam draw at '16 AO; also both 0-2 in doubles)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Dolehide/USA, Dulgheru/ROU, Duque-Marino/COL, Frech/POL, Garcia-Perez/ESP, Peterson/SWE (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Pauline Parmentier/FRA (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Garcia, Parmentier
IT "??": xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: S.Williams, Sharapova
CRASH & BURN: #5 Alona Ostapenko/LAT (defending champ; lost 1st Rd. to #66 Kozlova; first RG DC out 1st Rd. since '05)
ZOMBIE QUEEN OF PARIS: Nominees: Bencic (saved 5 MP vs. Chiesa in 1st Rd.); Sharapova (Hogenkamp up 3-0 in 3rd in 1st Rd.); Begu (Schmiedlova up 5-2 in 3rd in 1st Rd.); Gavrilova (down set and 5-2 & MP vs. Pera in 2nd Rd.)
Légion de Lenglen HONOREE: Nominees: S.Williams (catsuit/bodysuit II), "FlyWithCaro" (Garcia)

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.


Blogger colt13 said...

The funny thing about the Rybarikova stat is that either way, somebody was going to end a long streak.

Due to RG being Bencic's first clay tournament this year, combined with missing the 2017 clay season due to injury, and only playing one clay match in 2016, her first round win was her first on clay since 2015. Last time she won back to back? Charleston 2014, when she beat, in order, Kirilenko, Erakovic, Svitolina, Errani.

The Pliskova/Sharapova match is interesting for a number of reasons. One is that neither of them want to go to a third set. The other depends on gameplans. Pliskova has varied her gameplan this year, but the serve is still the biggest weapon. However, Sharapova's forehand should be avoided. Will Pliskova challenge her? Or go to her backhand?

Stat of the Day-53- Number of WTA events it took for Elise Mertens to win a clay title.

Note-not 53 clay events, 53 events total. And that counts qualies.

Noticing how much Mertens has improved, it is time to take a look at her numbers, and see how they compare to the Belgian legends in Henin and Clijsters. You may be surprised.

First Title-Number of Events

Not a typo-Henin entered the Belgian Open in 1999 and won her very first event. Clijsters made her debut there also. The surprise? Mertens also made her debut in Belgium-Antwerp 2015, the surprise being that the event wasn't even held between 2009-2014. And hasn't been since, replaced by St. Petersburg.

First Title on Clay

First Title on Hard

Note that Clijsters 1st title was against another Belgian in Monami.

First Title on Grass

Van Utyvanck should be scared. Henin and Clijsters each won their first grass title vs the other, so who will be Mertens victim?

First Slam Final

Henin's first finals opponent is still playing-Venus, circa 2001.

First Slam Title
Mertens-X 56*

That's right, this is only Mertens 56th event.

The other thing that has gone right with Elise's career arc? She starts off the year well. Like Romanians in Madrid, The women from Belgium have made Australia their personal playground.

Mertens has won Hobart, as did Belgians Clijsters and Van Roost(Monami), with Wickmayer reaching the final.

Wickmayer made up for that by winning Auckland, as well as Van Roost. They both also lost in finals there.

Sydney is where Henin comes in as a 3 time winner, Clijsters following with two.

For Mertens, the future is very bright, and Belgium's history makers are in the crosshairs. Next stop? The Top 10, where Monami resided.

Fri Jun 01, 08:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Good stuff on Belgian Rumble. ;)

Now... Buzarnescu. Well, well, well.

Fri Jun 01, 09:59:00 AM EDT  

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